National Security

North Korea Invites International Media to Watch Nuclear Test Site Shutdown

North Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced on Saturday that the communist regime would hold a ceremony on a date between May 23 and 25 to permanently shut down the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site, and journalists from five countries, including the United States, were invited to attend. The announcement appeared on the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) website, and appeared to be a gesture of goodwill towards the international community, which has pressured North Korea for years to dismantle its illegal nuclear weapons program. The ceremony will occur less than a month before a planned in-person meeting between dictator Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump, scheduled for June 12. The press release from the Foreign Ministry did not specifically name the Punggye-ri site, describing it only as the “northern nuclear test ground of the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea].” There is no evidence, however, that North Korea possesses any other nuclear test sites, active or otherwise. “A ceremony for dismantling the nuclear test ground is now scheduled between May 23 and 25, depending on weather condition,” KCNA announced. “Dismantlement of the nuclear test ground will be done in the following sequence: making all tunnels of the test ground collapse by explosion; completely blocking entries; removing all observation facilities, research institutes and structures of guard units on the ground.” The North Korean Foreign Ministry affirms that, following the ceremony, the site will be “completely closed.” It adds that international journalists will be welcomed into the country “to conduct on-the-spot coverage in order to show in a transparent manner the dismantlement of the northern nuclear test ground.” Journalists applying to cover the event will be limited to citizens of China, Russia, the United States, the United Kingdom, and South Korea, due to the remote and diminutive nature of the site. The North Korean communist regime will also provide transportation directly from Beijing, claiming this to be necessary “in consideration of the fact that the test ground is located in the uninhabited deep mountain area.” Full control of transportation and lodging will allow North Korean officials to control the movements of the journalists and prevent them from encountering any individuals unauthorized to speak to foreigners or venture into territories the government does not wish them to see. North Korea already implements these strict controls with tourists, who are assigned a personal “guide” for the entirety of their stay in the country that prevents them from steering away from government-designated areas and keeps foreigners from asking potentially compromising questions or interacting with North Korean citizens, potentially exposing them to ideas hostile to the Kim dynasty. Kim Jong-un has repeatedly expressed a desire to see the full denuclearization of the Korean peninsula in several unprecedented meetings held this year – two with Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping and one with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. In a meeting with senior South Korean officials in March, Kim reportedly said that denuclearization was father Kim Jong-il’s “dying wish.” Skeptics note Kim has not specifically rejected the notion of North Korea being armed with nuclear weapons and could be defining “denuclearization” as the removal of American nuclear assets from the region, present as a result of the aftermath of World War II and the Korean War. How much of an effect dismantling the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site will have on North Korea’s nuclear development has become a matter of intense debate in the West. Following North Korea’s sixth nuclear weapons test in September, Japanese media reported that the chamber of the test site where the bomb was set off, deep within northern Mount Mantap, had collapsed into itself, killing 200 workers. Satellite images reportedly showed significant damage to not just the Nuclear Test Site, but the mountain itself. In April, two separate groups of academics independently concluded, citing satellite images, that Mount Mantap had partially collapsed, rendering it useless as a nuclear test site – any further testing could collapse the mountain and send clouds of nuclear fumes blasting into the sky, threatening nearby China. This week, a new study using the relative distance between international satellites and Mount Mantap found that the mountain had lost half a meter in height and expanded by 3.5 meters. Evidence suggests, the researchers observed, that the mountain was still sinking.

Idaho State University loses weapons-grade plutonium capable of making a dirty bomb

Idaho State University was fined last week for losing a small amount of radioactive, weapons-grade plutonium that is too small to make a nuclear bomb, but could be used in a dirty bomb, according to a regulatory commission. Dr. Cornelis Van der Schyf, vice president for research at the university, blamed partially completed paperwork from 15 years ago as the school tried to dispose of the plutonium. “Unfortunately, because there was a lack of sufficient historical records to demonstrate the disposal pathway employed in 2003, the source in question had to be listed as missing,” he said in a statement to The Associated Press. “The radioactive source in question poses no direct health issue or risk to public safety.” The school, which reported the material missing on Oct. 13, was hit with an $8,500 fine and has 30 days to dispute the measure. Victor Dricks, a U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman, said the agency “has very rigorous controls for the use and storage of radioactive materials as evidenced by this enforcement action,” he said of the proposed fine for failing to keep track of the material. The agency said a school employee doing a routine inventory discovered the university could only account for 13 of its 14 plutonium sources, each weighing about the same small amount. Idaho State University has a nuclear engineering program and works with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory, considered the nation’s primary nuclear research lab and located about 65 miles northwest of the school. The plutonium was being used to develop ways to ensure nuclear waste containers weren’t leaking and to find ways to detect radioactive material being illegally brought into the U.S. following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the school said in an email to the AP. The school searched documents and found records from 2003 and 2004 saying the material was on campus and awaiting disposal. However, there were no documents saying the plutonium had been properly disposed. The last document mentioning the plutonium is dated Nov. 23, 2003. It said the Idaho National Laboratory didn’t want the plutonium and the school’s technical safety office had it “pending disposal of the next waste shipment.” The school also reviewed documents on waste barrels there and others transferred off campus since 2003, and opened and examined some of them. Finally, officials searched the campus but didn’t find the plutonium. The nuclear commission said senior university officials planned to return the school’s remaining plutonium to the Energy Department. It’s not clear if that has happened.

Holy crap!!

Opinion/Analysis: Trump Dumps Iran Deal — Hallelujah!

President Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal is the greatest boost for American and global security in decades. If you think that is an exaggeration, then you evidently think the Obama administration’s injection of well over a hundred billion dollars — some of it in the form of cash bribes — into the coffers of the world’s leading state sponsor of anti-American terrorism was either trivial or, more delusionally, a master-stroke of statecraft. Of course, there’s a lot of delusion going around. After repeatedly vowing to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons (with signature “If you like your health insurance, you can keep your health insurance” candor), President Obama, and his trusty factotum John Kerry, made an agreement that guaranteed Iran would obtain a nuclear weapon. They rationalized this dereliction with the nostrum that an unverifiable delay in nuclear-weapons development, coupled with Iran’s coup in reestablishing lucrative international trade relations, would tame the revolutionary jihadist regime, such that it would be a responsible government by the time the delay ended. Meantime, we would exercise an oh-so-sophisticated brand of “strategic patience” as the mullahs continued abetting terrorism, mass-murdering Syrians, menacing other neighbors, evolving ballistic missiles, crushing domestic dissent, and provoking American military forces — even abducting our sailors on the high seas. And, of course, the most risible self-deception of all: The only alternative to this capitulation was war. In point of fact, war was not the alternative to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. War was the result of the JCPOA. Obama said the mullahs would use the windfall to rebuild their country (while Kerry grudgingly confessed that a slice would still be diverted to the jihad). Instead, billions of dollars poured into Iran by Obama’s deal promptly poured out to Syria, where it funded both sides of the war. Cash flowed to the Taliban, where it funded the war on the American-backed government. It flowed to Hamas and Hezbollah for the war on Israel. It flowed to Yemen, funding a proxy war against Saudi Arabia. The JCPOA made Iran better at war than it has ever been — and that’s saying something. The challenge of Iran has never been the specter of nukes. The challenge is the jihadist regime. But the JCPOA was a lifeline to a regime whose zeal to acquire mass-destruction weapons betrays its fear of internal revolt. The regime came to the bargaining table knowing Obama could be rolled, but it was driven to the table by a global economic-sanctions framework, principally constructed by the U.S. Congress. The sanctions choked the pariah regime, providing the great mass of Iranian dissenters with hope that their tormentors could be overthrown — hope that Obama had dashed in 2009, when he turned a deaf ear as the regime brutalized protesters. The JCPOA empowered the totalitarians. Trump’s exit squeezes them. The deal was a farce that literally obligated the United States not merely to accede to Iran’s enrichment of uranium but to help protect Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Exactly!!  Pulling out of the JCPOA was exactly the right thing to do.  So, kudos to President Trump for correcting this mistake that Obama made, and left us with the bill.  For more of this outstanding op/ed by attorney Andrew C. McCarthy, click on the text above.  Excellent!!    🙂

‘Adversaries’ jamming Air Force gunships in Syria, Special Ops general says

The head of the U.S. military’s Special Operations Command said Wednesday that Air Force gunships, needed to provide close air support for American commandos and U.S.-backed rebel fighters in Syria, were being “jammed” by “adversaries.” Calling the electronic warfare environment in Syria “the most aggressive” on earth, Army Gen. Tony Thomas told an intelligence conference in Tampa that adversaries “are testing us every day, knocking our communications down, disabling our AC-130s, etc.” Thomas’ remarks, which were first reported by the website The Drive, come on the heels of reports that Russian forces are jamming U.S. surveillance drones flying over the war-torn nation. An Air Force AC-130 gunship was among the U.S. military aircraft used to kill dozens of Russian mercenaries in Syria in early February. The Pentagon said the mercenaries attacked an outpost manned by American commandos and U.S.-backed fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), comprising Syrian Kurdish and Arab fighters. Wednesday was not the first time General Thomas has been so forthcoming about Syria in a public setting. Last summer, speaking on a panel at the Aspen Security Forum hosted by Fox News’ Catherine Herridge, Thomas said he had told Kurdish-led fighters battling the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria that they needed to change their “brand” from YPG — a group Turkey considers a terrorist organization — to something else. Thomas called it “a stroke of brilliance” for the Kurdish fighters to add “democracy” to their name. Today, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) is the U.S. military’s best ally in the fight against ISIS in Syria, helping to take back 90 percent of territory formerly held by ISIS. It consists of well over 50,000 Syrian Kurdish and Arab fighters. There are currently about 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria.

Opinion/Analysis: In Syria, Trump needs a strategy to keep Russia, Assad and Iran off-balance – and US involvement to a minimum

President Trump has sent a message that his “red line” will not be crossed. It was important to degrade Syria’s chemical weapons capability and that’s what we did. In addition, President Trump’s actions were not lost on Kim Jong Un and I believe this also weighed into the president’s calculus. The North Korea nuclear threat is the greatest threat facing the United States today. American strength and leadership has brought Kim Jong Un to the table to discuss denuclearization. Kim Jong Un was watching how we would respond to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s latest chemical attack on his own people, and he saw that with this president, “red lines” will not be crossed. Another complicating factor was Iran. Iran has been a “great enabler” of the North Korean nuclear threat, but they are also in Syria. This also had to weigh in on the president’s decision making process. The big question now is “What is the next step?” It is important that the United States execute a “3 Pronged Strategy” simultaneously designed to drive a wedge between Russia, Assad, and Iran. Let’s keep them busy and off balance, focusing on their own problems, so they have less time for mischief and we can focus on our greatest national security challenge—North Korea. Here’s a framework of how it could look: Assad—Support an international campaign to go after him as a war criminal. Yes, I understand the problem of having the UN Security Council (because of a Russian veto) referring this to the International Criminal Court at The Hague. However, look at what’s going on in Sweden and Germany. Swedish and German prosecutors have been in the forefront of prosecuting Syria war crimes. And the Swiss have begun legal proceedings against Rifaat al-Assad, former Syrian Vice President and Bashar al-Assad’s uncle. Further, Carla del Ponte, a former member of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, has said the evidence is there to convict Bashar al-Assad of war crimes. Let’s build on all of this. Russia—Here, let’s focus on the 2013 UN Security Council Agreement to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons program. Why has Russia been AWOL for the past five years and what happened to the inspections and required monthly reports? And why did Russia veto the continuation of the Joint Investigative Mechanism which was investigating chemical weapons use in Syria? Iran—Tension has been growing with a number of Arab states who have had it with Iran. In the fall of 2016, some 11 Arab nations complained to the United Nations that Iran was a state sponsor of terrorism. This was followed up in late 2017 with several Arab nations saying they would bring specifics to the UN Security Council. Let’s encourage these Arab nations to have a sustained plan to keep Iran busy having to deal with its own problems. Anyone who looks at the history of Syria realizes that the phrase “constant turmoil” best describes it. It is a quagmire and the U.S. needs to take steps now so that our involvement there doesn’t escalate and the situation doesn’t get out of control. President Trump’s action in degrading Syria’s chemical weapons capability was the right one and it showed both Assad and Kim Jong Un that with him, “red lines” won’t be crossed. Implementing a “3 Pronged Strategy” designed to drive a wedge between Russia, Assad and Iran and force them each to focus on their own problems will help ensure that American involvement in Syria doesn’t escalate and we can focus on the greatest national security threat to America today—North Korea.

An interesting op/ed by former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Army, Van Hipp.  If only it were that simple…

China engaged in massive theft of US technology, analysts reveal

China is engaged in large-scale theft of American research and technology from universities, using spies, students, and researchers as collectors, experts told Congress on Wednesday. Compounding the technology theft, the administration of President Barack Obama weakened U.S. counterintelligence efforts against foreign spies by curbing national-level counterspy efforts, a former counterintelligence official disclosed during a House hearing. Michelle Van Cleave, former national counterintelligence executive, said shortly after the creation of the office of the director of national intelligence in 2004, a national counterspy program against foreign spies was restricted during the administration of President George W. Bush. “Unfortunately, the backsliding continued under President Obama,” Van Cleave told two subcommittees of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. Van Cleave said a directive issued by then-DNI James Clapper in 2013 and still in force reduced the national counterintelligence program authority by directing all counterspy programs to be run by individual departments or agencies. “The national head of counterintelligence was rebranded director of a security and CI center, his duties further dissipated by the fixation on leaks and insider threats driven by the grievous harm done by Snowden, Manning, et al,” Van Cleave said, referring to intelligence leakers Edward Snowden, an NSA contractor, and Army Sgt. Bradley Manning. “Gone was any dedicated strategic [counterintelligence] program, while elite pockets of proactive capabilities died of neglect,” she said. “Read between the lines of existing CI guidance and you will not find a whiff of a national-level effort left, other than caretaker duties such as taking inventory and writing reports.” Several intelligence and security experts testified during the hearing that China poses the most significant threat of technology theft from an estimated $510 billion spent annually on U.S. research and development. “China has a government-directed, multi-faceted secret program whose primary task is technology acquisition, as well as a highly refined strategy to develop and exploit access to advantageous information through the global telecommunications infrastructure,” Van Cleave said. Along with Russian intelligence agents, Chinese technology spies have developed specific lists of technology for theft. Beijing uses clandestine agents, front companies, and joint research ventures in the theft program. “Indeed, the United States is a spy’s paradise,” Van Cleave said. “Our free and open society is tailor-made for clandestine operations.”

Indeed..  To read more of this outstanding, yet shocking, analysis by best-selling author Bill Gertz, click on the text above.  Bill knows his stuff..

Extreme vetting: State Dept. to demand tourists’ social media history

The State Department will publish new rules this week that would require most visitors and immigrants to the U.S. to turn over their recent social media histories, carrying out one of President Trump’s key security enhancements from his extreme vetting executive order. Travelers would also be asked to list previous phone numbers, email addresses and international travel during the previous five years, and to detail any immigration problems they’ve had, whether with the U.S. or elsewhere. They’ll also be asked about potential family connections to terrorism. And in a striking human rights move, would-be immigrants from countries where female genital mutilation is prevalent would be directed to a website ensuring they’re aware the practice — common in some African countries — is illegal in the U.S. The proposals are laid out in two new documents slated to be published Friday, kicking off a comment period before the government finalizes the policies. “This upgrade to visa vetting is long overdue, and it’s appropriate to apply it to everyone seeking entry, because terrorism is a worldwide problem. The aim is to try to weed out people with radical or dangerous views,” said Jessica Vaughan, policy studies director at the Center for Immigration Studies. She also called the effort to discourage female genital mutilation “innovative.” “The message needs to be sent that ‘we don’t do that here,’ ” she said. Security experts have demanded the government collect more information from visitors and immigrants for years, but civil liberties groups have been wary of the move. Homeland Security had floated plans to track social media of immigrant applicants, but the State Department’s new proposal would apply to tourists and others coming on temporary visas. Some 14 million people would be affected by the request for information, the department’s documents say. Don Crocetti, a former senior fraud investigator for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said it makes sense to collect the information — but said officers need to stay within privacy rules, too. He said in the immigration context, looking at social media can help an adjudicator assess whether the story the applicant is telling for applying for a benefit rings true — such as in the case of a marriage petition. But Mr. Crocetti said someone’s refusal to turn over the passwords or other non-public social media information can’t be used on its own to deny approval. “The use of social media is a wrench in their tool box. It’s not that you use that same wrench for everything you do, but it’s a wrench, it’s a different sized tool, and you have use that selectively,” he said. The State Department said it already collects limited information about travel history and family relations. The new information will go beyond that to include prior passport numbers, information about family members, and a longer history of past travel, employment and contact information. “Collecting this additional information from visa applicants will strengthen our process for vetting these applicants and confirming their identity,” the department said. Ms. Vaughan said she wished the State Department had also requested information on the visitor application asking whether female travelers are intending to enter the U.S. for the purpose of having a child. She said that could cut down on what’s known as “birth tourism,” where women in the late stages of pregnancy visit the U.S. in order to give birth on American soil, which secures citizenship for the child.