Trial announced for Swiss nuclear smugglers said to be CIA agents

Urs Tinner

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Switzerland has officially charged three Swiss citizens with assisting the nuclear smuggling network of Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear program, who gave nuclear information to North Korea, Libya and Iran. But the scope of the trial will be severely limited under a peculiar plea bargain struck with the three defendants, which will prevent the court from examining their claims of having worked as agents of the United States Central Intelligence Agency. Friedrich Tinner and his two sons, Urs and Marco, were arrested by German and Italian authorities in 2004 and extradited to Switzerland. Soon afterwards, Swiss authorities came under political pressure from the US Department of State, which appeared displeased with the prospect of a trial for the Tinners. Swiss government investigators quickly realized that the Tinners were considered valuable assets by the CIA, something which Urs Tinner himself admitted in a January 2009 interview. So convinced were Swiss authorities of Urs Tinners’ CIA connection claims, that they turned down repeated requests by the Tinners’ lawyers to release their clients on bail, fearing the three suspects would escape to the United States. In 2007, there was further uproar in Swiss public opinion, when it emerged that the Swiss Federal Department of Defense had secretly shredded 30,000 pages of vital evidence in the Tinners’ case, ostensibly to prevent their falling into the hands of foreign governments or terrorists. Several pundits accused Swiss authorities of destroying the documents under heavy political pressure from Washington. These suspicions were rekindled this week, after Switzerland’s attorney general announced that the Tinners would be tried for “aiding the illegal nuclear weapons program of an unknown state”. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #645

Turki al-Faisal

Turki al-Faisal

►►Polish authorities arrest retired spy. The former head of Poland’s State Protection Bureau (1993-96) has been detained by officers of the country’s Central Anticorruption Bureau. Identified as Gromoslaw Cz., the arrestee is a retired general and intelligence officer, who participated in the extraction of CIA officers in Iraq in 1990. According to TVN 24 news, Gromoslaw Cz.’s detention is connected with events surrounding the privatization of the G-8 group of energy companies in the years 1994-2004, which eventually set up Energa concern in 2005.
►►Are China’s hotel rooms bugged? What could have been a dull security conference in Canada last week turned into a pretty interesting one, when former diplomat Brian McAdam claimed that “virtually all” hotels in China are rigged with hidden microphones and video cameras. The latter, he said, are used by the Chinese government to recruit many of its informants, by catching them in the act in carefully planned liaisons.
►►Ex-spy chief says Saudi Arabia may join nuke arms race. Saudi Arabia may consider acquiring nuclear weapons to match regional rivals Israel and Iran, its former intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal said on Monday. “Our efforts and those of the world have failed to convince Israel to abandon its weapons of mass destruction, as well as Iran […]. Therefore it is our duty towards our nation and people to consider all possible options, including the possession of these weapons” Faisal told a security forum in Riyadh.

Blast reported in Isfahan, site of major Iranian nuclear facility

Iran

Iran

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Iranian media are reporting a blast in the city of Isfahan, in central Iran, which is home to one of Iran’s most active nuclear facilities. News reports, including one from Iran’s state-operated FARS News Agency, say that the blast was heard across the city at 2:40 p.m. on Monday, and that an investigation is currently underway to determine its cause. With a population of nearly two million, Isfahan, capital of the province by the same name, is Iran’s third largest city. It is also home to one of the country’s premier nuclear research facilities, which includes a nuclear plant that produces uranium pellets for use in nuclear reactors. Intriguingly, after an initial period of silence, regional government officials in Isfahan appeared to downplay reports of the explosion. Speaking to Iran’s Mehr news agency, the Deputy Governor of Isfahan, Mohammad-Mehdi Ismaeli, said characteristically that reports of an explosion were “unfounded”, and speculated with a dose of sarcasm that “maybe someone’s water heater blew up”.  But Western reports from Iran, including one by United Press International, interpret the media attention given to the Isfahan blast as an indication of “how the country is being spooked by cover operations against its nuclear program”. Reports of the alleged blast come only weeks after a major explosion at a military base 25 miles west of Iranian capital Tehran killed 17 members of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards Corps, including Major General Hassan Moqqadam. The late General was described by Iran’s state media as the “founder of Iran’s missile program” and a pioneer in the country’s missile development after the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Meanwhile, the former Director of Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, Meir Dagan, has reiterated his warnings against plans by Tel Aviv to attack Iran. Speaking on Israeli television on Tuesday, Dagan cautioned Israel Read more of this post

News you may have missed #606

Gaza Freedom Flotilla raid

2010 Flotilla raid

►►N. Korea planned to trade nukes for full ties with US. North Korea in 2008 indicated it would retain its nuclear bombs until the end of the six-party talks as a final bargaining chip for attaining full diplomatic relations with the United States, according to US diplomatic cables leaked recently by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.
►►Judge refuses to sanction CIA for destroying torture tapes. A federal judge won’t hold the CIA in contempt for destroying videotapes of detainee interrogations that included the use of a torture technique known as waterboarding, ruling instead that the spy agency merely committed “transgressions” for its failure to abide by his court order. The Obama administration has kept its promise to the CIA.
►►Turkey says NATO members will not share intelligence with Israel. Turkey has says it is certain that NATO member states will keep their promise of not sharing the Alliance’s intelligence within with Israel. Turkish-Israeli relations badly damaged last year, after Israeli naval commandos stormed a Turkish ship carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza to breach the naval blockade, killing nine Turkish civilians.

News you may have missed #566 (analysis edition)

Jeffrey Richelson

Jeffrey Richelson

►►Stuxnet virus opens new era of cyberwar. Well-argued article by quality German newsmagazine Der Spiegel on Stuxnet, the sophisticated computer virus that attacked the electronic infrastructure of Iran’s nuclear program last year. The article argues that, in terms of strategic significance, the virus, which is widely considered a creation of Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, is comparable to cracking Germany’s Enigma cipher machine by Polish and British cryptanalists during World War II.
►►The fallout from the Turkish Navy’s recent spy scandal. Recently, the Turkish High Criminal court indicted members of an alleged spy ring operating inside the Turkish Navy. According to the indictment, members of the ring stole more than 165,000 confidential documents and obtained dozens of surveillance records and classified military maps. Its biggest customers were allegedly the intelligence services of Israel, Greece and Russia.
►►New edition of classic intelligence handbook published. A new edition of Jeffrey Richelson’s encyclopedic work on Read more of this post

News you may have missed #565 (United States edition)

DHS seal

DHS seal

►►Secret watch-list proposal causes US privacy groups protests. The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is planning to duplicate the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Database to expand an extensive database called Watchlist Service. The proposed database will include names, birthdays, photos and biometrics of targeted individuals. But the DHS has proposed to exempt the database from Privacy Act provisions, which means that a person can never know if they are on it.
►►US blacklists Syrian banks over WMD ties. The Obama administration unveiled punitive measures on Wednesday against two Syrian financial institutions for their alleged ties to nuclear proliferation in Syria and North Korea. The government-run Commercial Bank of Syria and a subsidiary, the Syrian-Lebanese Commercial Bank, are now prohibited from engaging in transactions with US individuals and from accessing any assets under US control. The US Department of the Treasury alleges that the banks have carried out transactions on behalf of the Scientific Studies and Research Center in Syria and the Tanchon Commercial Bank in North Korea, both of which the US blacklisted several years ago for supporting “WMD proliferation activities”.
►►FBI revises surveillance exam after cheating revelations. About a year ago, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation revealed that hundreds of its agents were caught having cheated on an examination about new surveillance guidelines (known as Read more of this post

US government wants to use secret witnesses in CIA leak trial

James Risen

James Risen

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Prosecutors in the case of an ex-CIA officer accused of disclosing classified information to a journalist have asked the court for permission to introduce evidence in secret and to use privacy screens to shield the identities of witnesses. Jeffrey Sterling, who worked for the CIA’s Iran Task Force,  faces 10 felony counts and up to 120 years in prison for sharing information about the CIA’s operations in Iran. Court documents do not name the recipient of Sterling’s information, but it is common knowledge that Sterling spoke to James Risen, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for The New York Times. In chapter 9 of his 2006 book State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration, Risen details a botched operation by the Iran Task Force, which tried to pass to the Iranians a series of faulty nuclear bomb design documents. To do this, the CIA apparently recruited a Russian former nuclear scientist, who had defected to the United States. The unnamed scientist was told to travel to Vienna, Austria, in early 2000, and offer to sell the documents to the Iranians. But the documents contained a deliberate technical flaw, which, Risen alleges, the Russian CIA operative thought was so obvious that it could make him look untrustworthy in the eyes of the Iranians, thus endangering the entire mission. The Russian scientist ended up letting the Iranians know about the flaw, reveals Risen. He further alleges that the CIA operation may have actually helped the Iranian nuclear weapons program, as Iranian scientists would have been able to “extract valuable information from the blueprints while ignoring the flaws”. Read more of this post

‘We killed Iranian scientist’ claims Israel intel source

Daryoush Rezaei

Daryoush Rezaei

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A source in Israeli intelligence has told a quality German newsmagazine that Israel was behind the recent killing of an Iranian physicist in Tehran. The 35-year-old physicist, Darioush Rezaei, was shot twice in the throat on July 23, by two men on a motorcycle, as he and his wife were picking up their four-year-old daughter from kindergarten. Iranian authorities dismissed early reports that Rezaei was a nuclear academic, saying that there had been “some confusion” about the dead man’s identity, and that Rezaei was simply studying for a masters’ degree in electronics. It later became clear, however, that Rezaei’s electronics expertise was in the use of high-voltage switching systems for triggering nuclear warheads explosions. Rezaei was the fourth Iranian physicist or nuclear expert to be assassinated since 2007, after Ardeshire Hassanpour,  Masoud Ali Mohammadi and Majid Shahriari. Another nuclear scientist, Fereydoon Abbasi, who was injured in a separate bomb attack on the same day Dr Shahriari was killed, now heads Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization. There is little doubt in intelligence circles that the attacks on the Iranian researchers are part of a wider Western and Israeli covert action program that includes —apart from assassinations— sabotage and cyberwarfare. Now an article in German quality newsmagazine Der Spiegel quotes an unnamed “Israeli intelligence source” as saying that Rezaei’s July 23 assassination “was the first serious action taken by the new Mossad chief Tamir Pardo”. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #554

Bat Khurts

Bat Khurts

►►UK and US tried to delay Pakistan nuclear weapons program. We have written before about attempts by the CIA to delay or stop Pakistan’s nuclear program. Now newly declassified documents show that the United States and Great Britain undertook a coordinated secret diplomatic campaign between 1978 and 1981 to prevent Pakistan’s attempted covert purchasing of “gray area” technology for its nuclear weapons program.
►►FBI monitoring new phone technologies. According to an internal FBI document, obtained by the Federation of American Scientists through a FOIA request, the FBI continuously monitors the surveillance challenges posed by new mobile phone technologies. The document highlights the Bureau’s concerns that that 4G will require agencies to “deal with significantly higher data rates than in current wireless network intercepts”.
►►Mongolian ex-spy chief to be extradited to Germany. Britain has decided to extradite Bat Khurts, former director of the General Intelligence Agency of Mongolia, to Germany. Read more of this post

US helped France go nuclear to keep Europe divided, documents show

Henry Kissinger

Henry Kissinger

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS| intelNews.org |
The government of the United States secretly helped France expand its nuclear arsenal, in order to promote its rivalry with Britain, according to newly declassified documents. The clandestine assistance to France, which tested its first nuclear bomb in Africa in 1960, began during the Richard Nixon administration, and was actively directed by Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s senior National Security Advisor. The documents, which were obtained by researchers at the George Washington University and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, include a 1973 memorandum authored by Kissinger, in which he writes: “We want to keep Europe from developing their unity as a bloc against us. If we keep the French hoping they can get ahead of the British, this would accomplish our objective”. Toward that goal, the US ought to provide the French with information that will make them “drool but doesn’t give [them] anything but something to study for a while”. By doing so, Washington would be able to force Britain to stop “behaving shitty” and conform to American foreign policy objectives: “if they know we have another option, they might buck up”, writes Kissinger. Read more of this post

Did compromised laptop prompt Israel to bomb Syrian nuclear reactor?

Al-Kibar reactor

Al-Kibar reactor

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
One of the Middle East’s biggest mysteries in recent years concerns Operation ORCHARD, the September 6, 2007, attack by Israeli fighter jets on a site deep in the Syro-Arabian Desert. Many observers, including former CIA Director, General Michael Hayden, have called for the secrecy surrounding the covert operation to be finally lifted. But it has been more-or-less confirmed that the attack targeted a plutonium production reactor, which was part of Syria’s secret nuclear weapons program. And officials in Tel Aviv have repeatedly hinted that Israel was behind the operation. The burning question, however, is how did Israel learn of the existence of Syria’s nuclear reactor at Al-Kibar, a secret and isolated site deep in the Syro-Arabian Desert? The authoritative account of the operation, which appeared in German newsmagazine Der Spiegel in 2009, suggested that the initial tip came from the US National Security Agency, which “detected a suspiciously high number of telephone calls between Syria and North Korea”. But it also alleged that the Mossad managed to acquire vital clues about the Al-Kibar building site by installing a stealth “Trojan horse” program on the laptop of a Syrian government official, while the latter was visiting Britain. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #502

News you may have missed #479 (Iran edition)

  • Iran arrests alleged CIA agent. Iran’s intelligence minister, Heidar Moslehi, has told the country’s state TV that authorities arrested an Iranian that he says was working for the CIA, and allegedly set up a network of aides to gather information during anti-government protests last week.
  • Yemen charges family with spying for Iran. Yemeni prosecutors allege that Muhammad al-Hatmi was a paid Iranian agent from 1998 to 2010, and passed money to rebels so they could expand their activities into Saudi Arabia. Al-Hatmi’s wife and son have been charged with aiding him by conveying money and communications.
  • Leaked intelligence report claims Iran intensifies uranium hunt. The Associated Press has published the findings of a leaked intelligence report, from an undisclosed IAEA member-country, which claims that Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi met secretly last month with senior Zimbabwean mining officials “to resume negotiations […] for the benefit of Iran’s uranium procurement plan”.

News you may have missed #465

  • Germany denies secret spy collaboration with the US. Germany’s aerospace center denied Monday that it is working with the US on a $270 million high-tech secret spy program, insisting that its plans for a high-resolution optical satellite have purely scientific and security uses. The denial was in response to US State Department cables obtained by WikiLeaks and revealed by Norwegian daily Aftenposten.
  • Was Iranian nuclear defector tortured? Iranian nuclear scientist Shahram Amiri, who returned to Tehran in July after what he called a “kidnapping” by the CIA, has been held in detention by Iranian authorities for two months and tortured so badly he was hospitalized, according to a dissident Iranian web site.
  • WikiLeaks reveals France leads industrial spying in Europe. France is the country that conducts the most industrial espionage on other European countries, even ahead of China and Russia, according to leaked US diplomatic cables, reported in a translation by Agence France Presse of Norwegian daily Aftenposten‘s reporting.

Leaked cable confirms end of US-NZ spy quarrel

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
To regular readers of this blog, this is not so much a revelation, as it is a confirmation. Back in October of 2009, we wrote about a peculiar comment made Hillary Clinton. The United States Secretary of State had told a press conference that “we [the US] are resuming our intelligence-sharing cooperation [with New Zealand], which we think is very significant”. Resuming? When had it been disrupted, and why? Most intelligence observers agree that the only glitch that could have caused the cooperation to end would have been New Zealand’s nuclear ban. It was in 1984 when, under mounting popular pressure, the Labour government of David Lange voted to bar nuclear-powered or nuclear-armed ships from entering New Zealand territorial waters. At the time, the ban was heralded by the global nuclear disarmament movement as a major victory. But Washington did not see it that way. Successive US administrations pressured Wellington to repeal the nuclear-free legislation and allow US warships to make use of strategic New Zealand ports. Washington’s pressure increased in the years after 9/11, culminating in 2006, when it threatened to cancel a free-trade agreement between the two countries if New Zealand refused to repeal the ban. It appears that, at some point in time, possibly after 9/11, the US actually terminated intelligence sharing between the two countries in order to force New Zealand to comply. Read more of this post