Intelligence agencies doubt North Korea bomb test was hydrogen

PyongyangIntelligence agencies outside North Korea, including those of South Korea and the United States, are skeptical of Pyongyang’s claims that it conducted a successful test of a hydrogen bomb. On the surface, North Korea’s announcement on Wednesday that it tested a hydrogen bomb is consistent with the policies of the Kim Jong-un administration. The North Korean leader, who succeeded his father as the nation’s supreme leader in 2012, has repeatedly said that he intends to strengthen and modernize the country’s nuclear arsenal. In December, North Korea issued several warnings that it would soon test a hydrogen bomb, nearly a decade after the regime announced its first successful test of an atomic weapon. Unlike atom bombs, which rely on nuclear fission to release energy, hydrogen bombs are based on nuclear fusion; they are far more powerful than atom bombs, which they use as a trigger to reach even more massive levels of energy release.

There was initial shock on Wednesday when Pyongyang announced it had successfully detonated a “miniaturized hydrogen bomb”. A 5.1 magnitude earthquake was registered at a site that had been used in the past by North Korea to test nuclear weapons. A few hours later, however, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters in Washington that “initial analysis” conducted by US intelligence agencies was “not consistent” with North Korea’s claims. The explosion had been measured “in the single digit kilotons”, he said, whereas a thermonuclear device, which uses the energy from an initial nuclear device to ignite a secondary, much larger nuclear reaction, is typically measured in megatons. South Korean intelligence observers agreed that some kind of test occurred on Wednesday, but it did not display signs of a hydrogen bomb. Some South Korean officials cautioned that it could have been a failed test of a hydrogen device, or that the North Koreans could have tested only the initial trigger of a hydrogen bomb, which would be a much smaller explosion caused by fission. But Earnest insisted on Wednesday that “nothing [had] caused the US government to change our assessment of North Korea’s technical and military capabilities”.

Some media reports indicated that US intelligence agencies had expected a nuclear test by Pyongyang in 2015 or 2016, but had no specific information on a precise timeframe. It is also worth noting that assessments by US and South Korean intelligence agencies indicate that China was not informed by North Korea about an impending nuclear test and that Beijing was caught by surprise by Wednesday’s developments. China issued a statement condemning the alleged nuclear test soon after it was announced by North Korea.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 07 January 2016 | Permalink

Saudi Arabia closer than Iran to acquiring nukes, BBC reports

Saudi ArabiaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Saudi Arabia is able to obtain atomic bombs “at will” through a secret pact with Pakistan, and can acquire nuclear weapons far quicker than Iran, according to the BBC. On Wednesday, the British broadcaster’s flagship Newsnight television program cited “a senior decision maker” at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, in claiming that Pakistan had already built nuclear weapons ordered by Saudi Arabia. The weapons, which include “finished warheads” that can be affixed on long-range missiles, “are now sitting ready for delivery” as soon as Riyadh asks for them, according to the BBC. The program’s producers spoke to an unnamed “senior Pakistani official” who allegedly confirmed in general terms the secret agreement between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. The pact is said to require the Pakistanis to build and maintain a nuclear arsenal for use by the oil kingdom. Another Pakistani source, identified by Newsnight as “a one-time intelligence officer”, told the program that Pakistan maintained “a certain number of warheads” and that “if the Saudis were to ask for them at any given time they would immediately be transferred”. Newsnight’s diplomatic and defense editor, Mark Urban, wrote on the BBC website that Pakistan may already have transferred several Shaheen ballistic missiles to Saudi Arabia, in preparation for delivering nuclear warheads later on. This is not the first time such allegations have surfaced in public, though it is rare for Pakistani intelligence insiders to be quoted in such reports. Claims of a Saudi-Pakistani nuclear pact have been circulating in diplomatic circles since the mid-1990s, with some sources suggesting that the Saudis funded the Pakistani nuclear weapons program in exchange for access to nuclear warheads. Read more of this post

Ex-CIA analyst says North Korea will launch strikes against South

North and South KoreaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
A former senior analyst on North Korea at the United States Central Intelligence Agency believes that the communist state will launch limited strikes against the South before moving to de-escalate the ongoing crisis in the Korean peninsula. On March 27, Pyongyang announced it was withdrawing from  the Korean Armistice Agreement, which it signed along with the United Nations and China at the end of the Korean War, in 1953. Shortly afterwards, North Korea closed all border connections with the South and disconnected the direct telephone line linking it with Seoul. It subsequently declared that it would not hesitate to launch a preemptive nuclear strike against South Korea and the United States. Pyongyang heightened its rhetoric in response to Key Resolve/Foal Eagle, a two-month-long military exercise involving US and South Koran armed forces, which includes the deployment of nuclear-armed airplanes and ships. Although some expert observers are worried, few believe that the rhetorical boxing-match between the two Koreas will result in an outbreak of hostilities. But Columbia University Professor Sue Mi Terry, who headed the CIA’s North Korea analysis unit from 2001 to 2008, believes that Pyongyang will launch military strikes against Seoul before de-escalating the tension. Speaking to Wired magazine’s Danger Room blog, Terry noted that the attack will not be nuclear, nor will it involve mass use of military force. Instead, it will be “a relative small attack” that “won’t leave many people dead”, she said. Read more of this post

Who leaked Iranian nuclear document that turned out to be a hoax?

The leaked documentBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
On November 27, the Associated Press published an alleged Iranian document which it said proved Iran was working on a nuclear bomb. The news agency said the disclosure was the latest in a series of similar leaks to the media by “officials from a country critical of Iran’s atomic program”. However, the authenticity of the document, which contained a diagram calculating the explosive force of a nuclear weapon, is now heavily disputed. An analysis of the leaked document in the latest issue of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists concluded that it was either massively erroneous or a hoax designed by amateurs. The Bulletin, a specialist publication founded by physicists involved in the Manhattan Project, said the document was “unlikely to have been made by research scientists working at a national level”. The obvious question is who leaked the disputed document and why? An article in British newspaper The Guardian cites unnamed “Western officials” who claim that the diagram, along with several previous disclosures of a similar nature, was leaked by Israel “in an attempt to raise international pressure on Tehran”. If this is so, the leak appears to have seriously backfired and may have compromised the credibility of an ongoing investigation into the Iranian nuclear program by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This is because the leaked document was part of an intelligence file on Iran’s nuclear program, compiled by the IAEA, which formed the factual basis for a new set of penalties and sanctions imposed on Iran by the United States and the European Union in November of 2011. The question that some United Nations officials are now asking is, if the leaked document is indeed a hoax, how could the IAEA guarantee the authenticity of the remaining documents on its file on Iran? Read more of this post

Former CIA senior analyst argues in favor of US deal with Iran

Paul R. PillarBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A former senior analyst in the United States Central Intelligence Agency has come out in support of a bilateral compromise between Iran and the West on Tehran’s nuclear program. In an article published last week, Georgetown University professor Paul R. Pillar, who spent nearly three decades with the CIA, dismissed the widespread view that the differences between Iran, Israel, and the West are insurmountable. Commenting on news of a nine-step negotiation plan offered by Tehran in early October, but dismissed by Washington as “unworkable”, Pillar said the offer provided the initial steps of an “eminently achievable agreement” between the interested parties. The CIA veteran, who rose to be one of the Agency’s top analysts prior to his retirement in 2005, argued that a possible outcome of bilateral negotiations would be for Iran to curtail its enrichment of uranium to the 20 percent level in exchange for the lifting of most economic sanctions imposed on Iran by Western countries. “An agreement along these lines makes sense”, he added, “because it would meet the major concerns of each side” in the dispute. He cautioned, however, that, under such an agreement, Tehran would not only be prohibited from continuing its uranium enrichment process, but would also be required to surrender all quantities of uranium previously enriched to a level above 20 percent. Such an agreement, claimed Pillar, would mean that neither Iran nor Israel and the West would receive everything they wanted at once. Instead, the process would depend on a gradual implementation of several bilateral agreements in stages, “each side giving something and getting something at each stage”. Read more of this post

Nuclear smugglers to get reduced prison sentences ‘for helping CIA’

Urs TInnerBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Three Swiss engineers imprisoned for participating in an international nuclear smuggling ring are about to have their prison sentences significantly reduced, allegedly for having acted as agents for the United States Central Intelligence Agency. Friedrich Tinner and his two sons, Urs and Marco, were arrested in 2004 in connection with a multinational investigation into the nuclear smuggling network of Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan. The father of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, who is widely known as A.Q. Khan, had for years subcontracted his nuclear services to North Korea, Iran and Libya, until 2004, when he was placed under house arrest by the Pakistani government, following pressure from Washington. Since then, the Tinners have been under “investigative custody”, a peculiar state of pre-trial detention prescribed by Swiss law. In 2009, Urs Tinner gave an interview to Swiss television, in which he claimed than he, along with his brother and father, had for years informed the CIA on Khan’s activities and assisted the US intelligence agency terminate the Libyan nuclear weapons program. It later emerged that the Swiss government had “inadvertently” shredded some crucial documents required in the prosecution case against the three engineers. Late last year there was apparently concern at Langley that some CIA secrets could surface in court, after Swiss government prosecutors announced that a trial for the Tinners would go ahead. However, new prosecution documents released on Tuesday show that a plea bargain agreement has been struck between the Swiss government and the three defendants in this highly sensitive case. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #765

Hillary ClintonBy TIMOTHY W. COLEMAN | intelNews.org |
►►MI6 chief says Iran will get nukes in 2 years. Sir John Sawers, the head of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, has been quoted as publicly forecasting that Iranian nuclear weapons efforts will likely come to fruition by 2014. Sawers is quoted in The Daily Telegraph as saying: “The Iranians are determinedly going down a path to master all aspects of nuclear weapons; all the technologies they need”, adding “it’s equally clear that Israel and the United States would face huge dangers if Iran were to become a nuclear weapon state”. He went on to assert that Iran would have achieved nuclear statehood in 2008 had it not been for clandestine efforts to thwart such ends. He did not elaborate on what he meant by his comments, for which he was criticized in Parliament earlier this week.
►►MI6 chief claims US interrogators were ‘obsessed’. In the same Telegraph interview, Sir John claimed that British interrogators, following the attacks of September 11, 2001, came “close to the line” of illegality. He went on to say that US interrogators straddled the line between legal and illegal, insinuating that US personnel may have crossed the line during interrogations. Sir John is quoted as explaining: “They [US interrogators] got so obsessed with getting a right answer that they drifted into an area that kind of amounted to torture”. He went on to claim that British personnel involved in interrogations never crossed the line, observing: “We’ve never been there, we’ve never been involved in that, and I think our accountability, our disciplines, have helped us keep on the right side of these lines”.
►►Clinton says Israeli spy Pollard unlikely to be freed. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has reaffirmed Washington’s position that Jonathan Pollard was unlikely to receive clemency or see freedom anytime soon. During a press conference in Jerusalem on July 16, Secretary Clinton stated unequivocally: “He [Jonathan Pollard] was sentenced to life in prison, he is serving that sentence, and I do not have any expectations that that is going to change”. Pollard, a former US naval intelligence analyst, was suspected of trying to provide classified information to South Africa, Pakistan, and Australia. He was arrested and convicted of espionage for providing classified information to the State of Israel. He is serving a life sentence for his crimes.

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