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.

News you may have missed #687

Hans BlixBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Analysis: Is Obama abusing the US Espionage Act? Prosecutors may still attempt to indict WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange under the 1917 Espionage Act, though their case will likely depend on exactly how he received his information. But, WikiLeaks aside, the Obama administration has made increasing use of the act to clamp down on whistleblowers.
►►Ex-head admits IAEA does work with spies (shock, horror). The International Atomic Energy Agency, which acts as the nuclear watchdog of the United Nations has been closely cooperating with the world’s spy agencies, including on Iran and Syria, for years, according to its former director. Hans Blix told RT that the IAEA’s cooperation with the world’s intelligences started following the Iraqi crisis of the 1990s. “Of course, intelligence can always try to fool everybody”, he said. “Half of the information may be true, half of it may be disinformation, and therefore they have to examine it critically”.
►►Afghanistan arrests diplomat on spying charges. Afghanistan’s State Intelligence Agency (KHAD) on Monday said that a senior foreign ministry diplomat and three other government officials had been arrested over charges of spying for Iran and Pakistan. The men were detained “on charges of spying for neighboring regions” and “the arrests were made with concrete evidence”, KHAD’s spokesman, Lutfullah Mashal, said. An unnamed source in the same agency also claimed that the deputy head of KHAD’s Asia desk and two government employees had been arrested in a similar incident in the eastern Afghan province Nangarhar a month before.

US spy agencies see no clear evidence of Iran building nukes

Cover of the 2007 National Intelligence EstimateBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS| intelNews.org |
The United States intelligence community still believes Iran has no immediate goals to produce nuclear arms, and says that Tehran terminated its atomic weapons program in 2003, according to American officials. This is not to say that Iran is not interested in potentially building nuclear weapons. Most intelligence analysts agree that Iran’s long-term goal is to explore the possibility of establishing a nuclear arsenal. However, putting aside the broad concurrence of opinion about Iran’s long-term goal, very little is clear about the current state of Tehran’s nuclear program. Iran maintains that its goal is peaceful, namely to invest in nuclear energy so as to free up large quantities of oil for exports. It is important to stress that the consensus among America’s intelligence agencies is that this is in fact Iran’s immediate goal. This was pronounced in the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), a publicly available annual report cooperatively authored by the heads of all 16 US intelligence agencies. The 2007 report stated “with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program”. The US intelligence community has come under sustained criticism from many who have denounced the 2007 and subsequent NIEs as mistaken, or even reckless. Last Friday, however, a New York Times article citing “current and former American officials” said that the consensus among US intelligence analysts remains “that there is no hard evidence that Iran has decided to build a nuclear bomb”. According to the article, the US intelligence community’s consensus remains “broadly consistent” with the 2007 and 2010 NIEs. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #675

Maria del Pilar HurtadoBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Panama refuses to extradite Colombian ex-spy chief. Panama’s foreign ministry cited the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights, an international accord on asylum and Panamanian law, as reason for denying Colombia’s request to extradite Maria del Pilar Hurtado, who faces charges in Bogota over an illegal wiretapping scandal. Currently enjoying asylum in Panama are former presidents of Guatemala, Jorge Serrano Elias; and Ecuador, Abdala Bucaram; as well as erstwhile Haitian military strongman Raoul Cedras.
►►Russian spy chief to visit Syria. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday he and Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) head Mikhail Fradkov will visit Syria and meet with President Bashar al-Assad on February 7. The visit will be made on instructions from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Lavrov did not reveal any details of the upcoming the visit.
►►US spy chief: ‘we don’t know if Iran is building a bomb’. At a hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence last Tuesday, James Clapper, the US Director of National Intelligence, released the following statement: “We assess Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons, in part by developing various nuclear capabilities that better position it to produce such weapons, should it choose to do so.  We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons”.

CIA installed nuclear surveillance device atop Himalayas mountains

Nanda DeviBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The United States Central Intelligence Agency tried at least twice to install a nuclear-powered surveillance device atop the Indian Himalayas, in an effort to spy on China. The decision to plant the device was taken in 1964, soon after communist China detonated its first nuclear bomb. In 1965, a team of CIA operatives attempted to climb Nanda Devi in the Garhwal Himalayas, which, at 25,645 feet (7,816 meters), is the highest mountain peak located entirely within Indian territory. But the top-secret mission failed miserably after adverse weather forced the CIA team to give up its effort approximately 2,000 feet below the summit. Battling against a heavy snowstorm, the CIA officers abandoned the 125-pound device, which was eventually swept away (.pdf document) by an avalanche. Incredibly, the team members deserted the surveillance device even though they knew it contained plutonium 238, which can emit radioactivity for over 500 years. In 1966, the same CIA team returned to Nanda Devi, in an effort to recover the complex surveillance instrument, but failed to locate it. In response to the second failed mission, the Agency decided to close the book on Nanda Devi, and instead constructed an identical surveillance device, which was transported and installed on Nanda Kot, a mountain peak located about nine miles (15 km) southeast of Nanda Devi. At 6,861 meters, Nanda Kot is about 3,000 feet shorter and far less steep than Nanda Devi. In 1967, a successful CIA attempt was made to reach the peak of Nakda Kot, where the radioactive surveillance device was installed. It is believed that it served its purpose before being abandoned there in 1968. Ten years later, in 1978, both operations were revealed in an article published in US-based Outside magazine. The revelation caused a major political uproar in India, as many Indians consider the Himalayas ‘sacred’ ground. Now the National Archives of India has released a batch of previously classified internal documents from India’s Ministry of External Affairs. Read more of this post

Nuclear Iran ‘not an existential threat to Israel’, says Mossad chief

Tamir PardoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The director of Israel’s primary external intelligence agency, the Mossad, has said that it would be wrong to consider a nuclear-armed Iran an “existential threat” to Israel. For years, senior Israeli politicians and American military planners have described the prospect of a nuclear-capable Iran as an “existential threat” to the Jewish state. But this widespread belief is apparently not shared by Tamir Pardo, head of Israel’s revered Mossad intelligence agency. Pardo outlined his view while speaking yesterday before an audience of over 100 Israeli ambassadors and consuls general, at a conference dealing with diplomatic security issues and public affairs. Lectures at the conference, which is held annually at the Israeli Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, are given behind closed doors. But Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz quoted three Israeli ambassadors who attended Pardo’s talk; they confirmed that the Mossad director rejected the view that Israel’s existence would necessarily be endangered by an Iranian nuclear arsenal, and dismissed the maxim “existential threat” as a “term used too liberally”. The Israeli newspaper quoted Pardo as saying: “Does [a nuclear-armed] Iran constitute a threat to Israel? Certainly. However, if we were to claim that a nuclear weapon in Iran’s possession was an existential threat [to Israel], it would simply mean that we would have to terminate [our operations] and go home. But this is not the case. The term [existential threat] is used too liberally”. The unnamed ambassadors told Ha’aretz that Pardo’s comments did not imply that the Mossad would stop its covert war on Iran, nor that Israel would accept the prospect of a nuclear Iran as inevitable. “However, what [Pardo’s] remarks undoubtedly imply is that he does not view a nuclear-armed Iran as an existential threat to Israel”, they said. Pardo’s comments closely echo those of his predecessor, Meir Dagan, who last May condemned a possible Israeli attack on Iran as an act that would be “patently illegal under international law” and “the stupidest thing [he had] ever heard”. Read more of this post