Western intelligence points to new Syrian nuclear plant: report

Al-Qusayr, SyriaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Western intelligence indicates that the government of Syria is in the process of constructing a new secret nuclear plant aimed at producing nuclear weapons. In the early hours of September 7, 2007, an air attack believed to have been carried out by Israel destroyed a mysterious facility deep in the Syro-Arabian Desert. The site, named al-Kibar, located 20 miles from Deir el-Zor in eastern Syria, is widely thought to have been a nuclear reactor under construction by Damascus. The Syrian government has never commented or protested about the incident. But in late 2008, the Israeli government told the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Syria was once again “actively involved in plutonium production” and that Damascus had renewed its nuclear collaboration with North Korea, which was actively supplying Syria “with nuclear materials and research”. Now a report in leading German newsmagazine Der Spiegel claims that the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had transported 8,000 fuel rods that had been destined for al-Kibar to a new location in the southwest of the country. The report, published on Saturday, cited information from “Western intelligence sources”, which it did not identify. The newsmagazine said it had seen intelligence reports containing satellite photographs and transcriptions of intercepted radio traffic, which left little doubt that the Syrian government was in the process of constructing a new nuclear reactor. The German-language publication said the plant is being constructed deep underground in a remote mountainous region near the small town of Al-Qusayr, located less than two miles from the northern Lebanese border. According to the report, construction on the al-Qusayr plant, which the Syrians appear to have codenamed “Zamzam”, began in 2009 under the watchful eye of Lebanese paramilitary group Hezbollah, which currently guards the plant with “elite units”. The site appears ideal, said Der Spiegel, as it is adjacent to significant supplies of water, and is connected to the energy grid through special access nodes. The newsmagazine said radio traffic intercepts include conversations between senior Syrian military officials and Ibrahim Othman, head of the Syrian Atomic Energy Commission. The discussions seem to indicate that the construction project is being assisted by members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The article points out that Western monitors are certain the technical aspects of the project are being led by North Korean experts, and that some of them are currently in Damascus. According to the IAEA, the Syrian government is in possession of approximately 50 tons of natural uranium, which, if enriched, could provide material for up to three nuclear bombs.

CIA sees Israel as ‘genuine counterintelligence threat’: sources

Mossad sealBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The Near East Division of the Central Intelligence Agency, America’s primary intelligence organization, views Israel as the most serious threat to its secrets, according to an exposé published yesterday by the Associated Press. Citing interviews with at least five current and former US intelligence officials, the news agency said the CIA views the Israeli spy community as “a genuine counterintelligence threat” to US interests. The intelligence officials, who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity, said the CIA believes US national secrets are less safe in the hands of Israel than in those of other governments in the region, such as Turkey, Jordan, or Lebanon. The Associated Press exposé will not surprise regular readers of intelNews, as this blog has regularly covered various aspects of the complex US-Israeli intelligence relationship. Indeed, seasoned readers of this blog may recall that a 2010 survey among officers in the CIA’s National Clandestine Service showed that they considered Israeli intelligence agencies to be the world’s least friendly and most uncooperative with their US counterparts. The survey also showed that officers in the NCS (the CIA division that includes actual operatives on the ground), also considered Israeli spy services as the world’s third most aggressive in their operations on American soil. This new report by the Associated Press seems to confirm the NCS survey results, while adding a partial explanation as to why the intelligence services of one of America’s closest geopolitical allies would be considered a threat by the CIA. It is widely thought that Israel’s intelligence agencies can often match —and sometimes surpass— their American counterparts in terms of their analytical and operational capabilities. These skills, coupled with Israel’s unique access to the inner sanctums of the American national security establishment, place the Jewish state in an unparalleled position to acquire and compromise US government secrets. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #578

Syria

Syria

►►CIA agent who helped kill Che wants payout from Cuba. This is from the “news that isn’t” department: Gustavo Villoldo, a Cuban-born CIA operative, who helped track down and kill Che Guevara in Bolivia, has won $2.8 billion in damages from the Cuban government, for confiscating his family property after the 1959 revolution. But he is unlikely to ever collect the money because Cuba does not recognize US court rulings.
►►Cheney wanted Bush to destroy suspected Syrian nuke site. Former US Vice President Dick Cheney says in a new memoir that he urged President George W. Bush to bomb a suspected Syrian nuclear reactor site in June 2007. But, he wrote, Bush opted for a diplomatic approach expressed misgivings. Eventually Israeli jets bombed the site. Cheney’s account of the discussion appears in his autobiography, In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir, which is to be published by Simon & Schuster next week.
►►South Korea indicts five for spying for North. Five South Koreans, including a former parliamentary aide, have been indicted for allegedly spying for North Korea, in connection with the Wangjaesan spy ring.

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

Israel intel chief hints at role in Syrian nuclear facility bombing

Amos Yadlin

Amos Yadlin

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Israel’s outgoing senior military intelligence chief has implied that Israel had a role in a mystery 2007 bombing of an undisclosed Syrian government facility, which is widely believed to have been a nuclear reactor. Speaking on Tuesday before the Knesset’s Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defense, Amos Yadlin, who heads Israel’s Military Intelligence Directorate, referred to having overseen intelligence operations against two nuclear programs during his tenure. Delivering a public statement before the Committee, Yadlin noted that he had “been through two wars and […] contended with two nuclear programs of enemy states”. Security observers consider this an indirect reference to Operation ORCHARD, the 2007 attack carried out by Israeli fighter jets in the night of September 6, 2007. The target location was Al-Kibar, a site deep in the Syro-Arabian Desert, twenty miles from Deir al-Zour. Neither Syria nor Israel have directly commented on the attack, which is widely thought to have targeted a Syrian nuclear reactor. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #389

  • Secrecy over attack on Syrian nuclear plant unjustified, says ex-CIA chief. The secrecy surrounding the Israeli attack on the nuclear plant in eastern Syria in September 2007 was justified only for the period immediately after the operation, according to the CIA head at the time, Gen. Michael Hayden. That secrecy had been meant to save Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from embarrassment that could have provoked him to retaliate, argues Hayden in an authorized scholarly journal article.
  • No proof yet of Colombian spying, says Ecuador. Ecuadorean Security Minister Miguel Carvajal said Thursday that allegations that Colombian security agency DAS spied on Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa and other officials is “so far just a newspaper story”. Late last month, the Ecuadorean government threatened to break off diplomatic ties with Colombia over the media revelations.
  • GCHQ releases Stalin-era Soviet intercepts. A series of newly released telegrams and telephone conversations, intercepted by the UK’s General Communications Headquarters, paint a picture of Joseph Stalin’s regime in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War.

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Analysis: The limits of Israeli espionage

Ronen Bergman

Ronen Bergman

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS| intelNews.org |
Israeli investigative journalist Ronen Bergman (The Secret War with Iran) has written an editorial in Yedioth Ahronoth, in which he argues that Israel’s espionage successes in recent years have failed to bring about significant changes on the strategic level. Bergman briefly recounts the significant post-9/11 reforms in Israeli intelligence, most notably the appointment of Meir Dagan as the director of the Mossad, Israel’s national intelligence agency. Dagan has “created a new Mossad”, argues Bergman, one that is more narrowly focused in its operations, and more collaborative with foreign intelligence agencies –notably American, Jordanian, Turkish and Indian. This shift in focus and tactics has undeniably helped Israel score some significant espionage victories, including the 2008 assassination of Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyah in Beirut, Lebanon; the seizure of several ships carrying Iranian and Syrian weapons to Hezbollah; as well as the more recent assassination of Hamas military official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai. Read more of this post