Posts Tagged ‘CIA’

North Korea ‘rant’ letter shows sanctions are biting

October 20, 2017

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has called a North Korean letter to parliament “basically a rant” against Donald Trump. Turnbull praised China, saying the letter showed that fresh sanctions were hitting Pyongyang hard.

Australien Li Keqiang, Malcolm Turnbull (picture alliance/dpa/AP Photo/M. Tsikas)Turnbull, pictured here with China’s Li Keqiang, praised Beijing for piling the pressure on Pyongyang

Turnbull heaped praise on China, Australia’s largest trading partner, on Friday, saying Beijing’s involvement in the latest set of UN Security Council sanctions was helping to “squeeze” North Korea into dropping its nuclear threats.

China, notwithstanding its “very close history with North Korea,” had become part of global sanctions, especially by restricting oil exports into North Korea, Turnbull told Melbourne 3AW radio.

China, according to US estimates, controls 90 percent of North Korea’s external trade. Russia also has considerable influence in Pyongyang. The latest sanctions particularly target the import of crude oil and natural gas products, and North Korea’s textile exports.

Distributed via Jakarta

The letter entitled “Open Letter to Parliaments of Different Countries” was sent by North Korea from its embassy in Jakarta to the Australian embassy in Indonesia.

“It’s basically a rant about how bad Donald Trump is,” Turnbull said, referring to recent verbal exchanges between the US President and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Nordkorea Diktator Kim Jong-un (Reuters/KCNA)North Korea’s Kim Jong Un celebrates September test

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the letter was unusual because North Korea normally communicated with the outside world through its news agency KCNA.

“I think this shows they are feeling desperate, feeling isolated, trying to demonize the US, trying to divide the international community,” Bishop told Australia’s Fairfax Media.

Image result for kim jong un, photos

Big miscalculation, says North

In a facsimile of the letter published by the Sydney Morning Herald, North Korea said “if Trump thinks that he would bring the DPRK, a nuclear power, to its knees through nuclear war threat, it will be a big miscalculation and an expression of ignorance.”

The DPRK (the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) is North Korea’s official name.

Unanimous sanctions

The latest sanctions approved unanimously by the UN Security Council on September 11 came in response to North Korea’s sixth and strongest underground nuclear test explosion on September 3 at its Punggye-ri nuclear site.

The council banned North Korea from importing natural gas liquids and condensates as well as crude oil imports and exports of North Korean textile products.

North Korean missile launch show on South Korean television in April (Getty Images/AFP/J. Yeon-Je)North Korean missile launches have caused alarm in South Korea. A television screen at a Seoul railway station in April

The sanctions also ban joint ventures and cooperative operations and bar any country from authorizing new work permits for North Korean workers — a major source of hard currency for the reclusive northeast Asian nation.

Act as if ‘on the cusp,’ says CIA’s Pompeo

Addressing a forum in Washington on Thursday, CIA Director Mike Pompeo said North Korea was still months away from perfecting its nuclear capabilities but urged Washington to behave “as if we are on the cusp” of Pyongyang achieving its objective.

USA Mike Pompeo - Trumps Kabinett (picture-alliance/AP Photo/M. B. Ceneta)Mike Pompeo, CIA Director

“We are at a time where the president has concluded that we need a global effort to ensure Kim Jong Un doesn’t have that capacity,” Pompeo said.

In a show of power, the US flew bombers along North Korea’s coastline in late September.

On Wednesday, Pompeo’s predecessor John Brennan voiced concern about tweets broadcast by Trump and warned that prospects of nuclear conflict on the Korean Peninsula was “greater than they have been in several decades.”

North Korea began its nuclear program decades ago and recently accelerated its weapons testing. Twice in July, it launched long-range missiles.

ipj/msh (AP, dpa, Reuters)


CIA: Iran Nuclear Deal Failed To Permanently Block Iran’s Path To Nuclear Weapons

October 20, 2017
 OCTOBER 19, 2017 21:14
CIA Director: Iran deal 'failed' to permanently block Tehran's path to nukes

Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo arrives for a closed briefing before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, U.S. May 16, 2017. . (photo credit:REUTERS/AARON P. BERNSTEIN)

The Iran nuclear deal failed to permanently cut off Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon, as well as thwart its Middle East terror activities, CIA Director Mike Pompeo said at a conference Thursday.

US President Donald Trump had concluded the deal had only delayed Iran’s nuclear program, and that “the notion that entry” into the deal “would curtail Iranian adventurism, the terror threat, proved to be fundamentally false.”

Pompeo was being interviewed on stage by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Center on Sanctions and Illicit Finance chairman Juan Zarate, just days after Trump decertified Iran’s compliance with the deal in a major speech.

Though he evaded a question about whether Iran had violated the nuclear deal on a technical level, Pompeo focused on the Islamic Republic’s continued testing of ballistic missiles, prompting of Hezbollah to threaten Israel and being “at the center of so much turmoil in the Middle East.”

He admitted the deal’s inspection provisions had put things “in a marginally better place” in following Iran’s nuclear activities, but said he hoped Trump’s new pressure on Iran would lead to “more intrusive inspections.”

The CIA director expressed concern that the exchange of nuclear technology between Iran and North Korea was a major danger, and specifically mentioned them assisting each other in the area of nuclear weapons testing.

Zoning in on North Korea, he appeared to concede that Pyongyang can — or within months will have — the ability to fire a nuclear weapon against the US.

The American focus must now be on having an ability to stop or shoot down such a weapon, as well as preventing the North from developing a robust nuclear capability — meaning the ability to fire multiple nuclear missiles with accuracy.

“It is one thing to be able to deliver” one missile on “certain trajectories. It is another thing to deliver all of the pieces to develop a truly robust capability.”

Strikingly, Pompeo acknowledged that North Korea could blindside the US in terms of how quickly its capabilities were moving in the nuclear arena, even as he complimented the CIA’s current and past efforts on the issue.

Discussing Syria, he said Trump will push back against “both Iran…and the Syrian regime,” though he did not give details.

Top Israeli political and defense officials have expressed concern that Trump’s understandings with Russia regarding Syria did not address Israeli concerns about Iran and Hezbollah building a new front against Israel from the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.

Regarding ISIS, he said that, “the fall of the Caliphate is great news, a historic achievement to be sure, but a partial success at best.”

“The list is long about where they operate, what they can do. They still have the capacity to control and influence citizens all around the world,” he said.

Pompeo said he does not like the term “lone wolf terrorist,” explaining he believed that it obscured the investment and influence of ISIS and others in inspiring individuals to commit terror even if their specific actions were not ordered by ISIS.

Speaking more broadly about his actions at the CIA, he said that it would “become a much more vicious agency” in fighting adversaries.

He said he had “asked officers to reengage out in the field” and told the agency that he was “ready to accept more risk” to obtain important intelligence through “traditional espionage” or human spying.

Pompeo said US allies “are thrilled at the CIA’s return to the traditional understanding that it is out on freedom’s frontier.”

Addressing his and the CIA’s relationship with Trump, Pompeo said sometimes “the president asks really very difficult questions. He challenges us where he thought we were in the wrong place. We went back to validate our work, or correct it if we had it wrong.”

Crucially, he said, “the president has promised he will have our backs” and beyond just the question “of funding.”


CIA Official Predicts North Korean Provocation on Columbus Day

October 5, 2017

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Kim Jong Un at the test launch of a missile, Sept. 16, 2017, in North Korea. (Korean Central News Agency-Korea News Service-AP)

The things Kim Jong Un used to fear most about China and the U.S. are no longer a concern, the CIA Korea Mission Center’s Yong Suk Lee says.

By  Paul D. Shinkman, Senior National Security Writer

A top CIA official for the Korean Peninsula warned Wednesday that the U.S. should be ready for a new provocation by North Korea on Columbus Day on Oct. 9, which coincides with the anniversary of the founding of the political party that governs in Pyongyang.

“Stand by your phones,” Yong Suk Lee, deputy assistant director of the CIA’s Korea Mission Center, said while speaking at a conference organized by the agency at The George Washington University.

Lee did not speculate what North Korea might do, though it frequently carries out missile launches or nuclear tests on major state anniversaries, such as the birthday of leader Kim Jong Un or other dates associated with the lives of his father or grandfather. Oct. 10 marks the anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party of Korea in 1945.

Tensions with North Korea have reached new extremes in recent weeks, following months of increased weapons tests combined with new U.S. appraisals that Pyongyang is close to perfecting or perhaps already has made an intercontinental ballistic missile that can carry a nuclear warhead and hit targets accurately.

Lee added that Pyongyang historically has been controlled by its fear of the Chinese abandoning its support for the Hermit Kingdom, or that the U.S. would carry out a military strike. Kim Jong Un no longer has those fears, Lee said.

Putin Talks Potential Military Strike Against North Korea

“There’s a clarity of purpose in what Kim Jong Un has done,” Lee said.

He added, however, that the likelihood remains low of North Korea purposefully starting a war with the U.S. or its allies like South Korea.

“The last person who wants conflict on the peninsula is actually Kim Jong Un,” Lee said, adding that Kim, like all authoritarian leaders, wishes to rule for a long time and die in his own bed. “We have a tendency in this country and elsewhere to underestimate the conservatism that runs in these authoritarian regimes.”

President Donald Trump, who continues to utter and tweet threats against North Korea, will visit South Korea, Japan and China on a trip throughout Asia in November.

Tags: North KoreaholidaysKim Jong UnCIAworld newsmissilesnuclear weapons

Paul D. Shinkman is a national security reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at

North Korea, Iran Draw Suspicion Over Possible Nuclear Cooperation

September 20, 2017

But top U.N. watchdog says no basis to ‘rumors’ of nuke plots

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Yukiya Amano, in Vienna on Sept. 18.
The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Yukiya Amano, in Vienna on Sept. 18. PHOTO: REUTERS

President Donald Trump on Tuesday called on the international community to join forces and confront what he called the “rogue regimes” of North Korea and Iran, in his first address to the annual United Nations General Assembly.

What the two have in common are nuclear and missile programs, although Iran agreed in 2015 to curtail its nuclear activities in exchange for relief from international sanctions. Iran says its nuclear work is for purely civilian purposes, though it has continued conducting ballistic-missile tests.

And earlier this month, North Korea said it conducted its sixth nuclear test, work it has publicly championed.

President Donald Trump told the United Nations General Assembly that Iran has become an “economically depleted rogue state” whose chief export is violence and chaos in the Middle East. He also called the Iran nuclear deal an “embarrassment.” Photo: Getty

For years, those common threads have fueled speculation about possible cooperation between Iran and North Korea on nuclear and missile programs.

A February 2016 report by the Congressional Research Service said there is no evidence that Iran and North Korea, who retain diplomatic ties, have engaged in nuclear-related trade or cooperation. But missile-technology cooperation has been “significant and meaningful,” it said.

Critics of the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal have raised questions about whether North Korea could help Iran cheat the agreement.

In March, Anthony Ruggiero of the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies said in an article that “what happens in North Korea rarely stays there and Pyongyang has likely proliferated nuclear technology in secret to at least two countries: Syria and Libya.”

“Likewise, a North Korea-Iran nuclear relationship would be difficult to detect. And while North Korea won’t sell complete nuclear weapons or fissile material for nuclear weapons—as these are critical to the regime’s survival—it will sell other parts of its program, as well as its expertise,” he wrote.

Another critic of the Iran deal, former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton, said on Twitter last week that “If we let #NorthKorea retain nuclear weapons & ballistic missiles, they’ll happily sell the materials & tech to #Iran & terrorist groups.”

However, no hard evidence of nuclear cooperation has emerged.

In an interview this week, Yukiya Amano, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the body charged with overseeing Iran’s compliance with its 2015 commitments, said all there ever has ever been is conjecture on the matter.

“We have heard rumors but not more than that,” Mr. Amano said, adding that this was not something he had raised directly in talks with Iranian officials. “We do not react to rumors.”

Asked if he had any worries about possible cooperation between Pyongyang and Tehran on nuclear issues, Mr. Amano said “I do not have the information that makes me have concerns.”

Write to Laurence Norman at



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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at an undisclosed location, allegedly inspecting the loading of a hydrogen bomb into a new intercontinental ballistic missile. Independent journalists were not given access to cover the event depicted in this image distributed by the North Korean government. (Korea News Service via AP)

Could North Korea help Iran develop nuclear weapons?


  • The ominous predictions have coincided with escalating tensions between the US and North Korea
  • North Korea and Iran have collaborated on missile development in the past

Washington (CNN)As North Korea continues its march towards developing a reliable long-range nuclear missile, US officials are becoming increasingly vocal about concerns over Pyongyang’s ties to another familiar adversary: Iran.

Despite current restrictions in place to monitor and curtail Iran’s nuclear program, several lawmakers and members of the intelligence community have warned in recent weeks that Tehran could theoretically purchase technology or knowledge related to building a nuclear weapon in the future.
The ominous predictions have coincided with escalating tensions between the US and North Korea: Pyongyang conducted its sixth nuclear test and issued a variety of heated threats, including a retaliatory threat to launch missiles near the American territory of Guam.
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 Chinese paramilitary policemen build a fence near a concrete marker depicting the North Korean and Chinese national flags with the words “China North Korea Border” at a crossing in the Chinese border town of Tumen in eastern China’s Jilin province. FILE photo
North Korea and Iran have collaborated on missile development in the past, and the State Department is currently monitoring weapons transactions and attempting to determine whether there has been cooperation between the two nations on ballistic missile capability which does not fall under the restrictions agreed to in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, according to acting Assistant Secretary of State Susan Thornton, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs.
But little to no hard evidence has been presented to suggest that the Iranians are currently working with Pyongyang to enhance their nuclear program, and intelligence suggests North Korea is still addressing issues with its own efforts.
Last week, Japan asked Iran to cooperate in international efforts against North Korea’s nuclear program. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has also said that he does not want a nuclear North Korea.
So what is prompting some US officials to sound the alarm?
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Iran space launch, July 27, 2017. Iranian Defense Ministry. A missile like this is a close relative of an ICBM

Why now?


It is no secret that North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs have made major strides in recent months, and its weapons tests amid escalating tensions with the US have prompted global condemnation and increased sanctions on the rogue nation.
The standoff between North Korea and the US has raised myriad complex challenges for military and intelligence officials tasked not only with addressing the immediate threat of potential escalation but also preparing for scenarios that could emerge as Pyongyang continues to improve its capability.
Preventing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un from achieving his nuclear ambitions remains a top priority for the Trump administration — but should those efforts fail, some US officials warn that the implications could stretch beyond dealing with a nuclear-armed North Korea.
On Monday, CIA Director Mike Pompeo said it is “fair to say” that as North Korea improves its capabilities, it could be willing to share that knowledge and technology if approached by potential customers — namely, Iran.
“The North Koreans have a long history of being proliferators and sharing their knowledge, their technology, their capacities around the world,” Pompeo said in a Fox News interview.
“As North Korea continues to improve its ability to do longer-range missiles and to put nuclear weapons on those missiles, it is very unlikely, if they get that capability, that they wouldn’t share it with lots of folks, and Iran would certainly be someone who would be willing to pay them for it,” he added.
Pompeo’s comments were notably conditional as he addressed the issue of proliferation — an issue that has been a long-standing concern for US intelligence officials.
But his remarks also reflect a recent effort by some US officials and lawmakers to publicly highlight the potential link between North Korea and Iran that also coincides with recent high-level diplomatic activity between the two nations.
On Tuesday, Thornton said the State Department continues to track illicit arms shipments from North Korea to both Iran and Syria, noting “there are some transactions we are worried about,” when pressed on the issue by Texas Republican Rep. Michael McCaul.
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Iranian protesters burn representations of US and Israeli flags in their annual pro-Palestinian rally marking Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day in Tehran, Iran, Friday, June 23, 2017. AP photo
“We do track any kind of illicit proliferation networks from the North Koreans and go after those transactions, again, with colleagues at Treasury and other agencies,” Thornton told lawmakers on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
“When we find them, we try to block them or deter them, and we’ve had some success. It’s a continuing effort on our part, and we devote a lot of attention to that,” she said.
Thornton said the US is also monitoring collaboration between Tehran and North Korea on ballistic missiles but did not indicate that the relationship directly involves nuclear proliferation.
The United Nations panel on North Korean sanctions is also investigating “reported prohibited chemical, ballistic missile and conventional arms cooperation” between North Korea and Syria, according to its latest assessment.
These findings are also fueling concerns that if North Korea will sell to one malign actor in the Middle East, it could just as easily sell to a country like Iran.
In July, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Paul Selva said he agreed with assessments by the intelligence community that North Korea could become a nuclear arms proliferator.
“There’s no evidence that they have engaged in proliferation of their long-range ballistic missile technology, but they have proliferated every other weapons system that they’ve ever invented. So it’s a pretty clear pathway to the potential proliferation of these kinds of weapons systems,” Selva told lawmakers on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Links to Iran nuclear deal


US-Iranian tensions seemed to cool after international negotiators reached an agreement aimed at reining in Iran’s nuclear program in 2015.
But murmurs linking Tehran and North Korea’s nuclear program have only grown louder against the backdrop of President Donald Trump’s repeated pledges to take a tough line on Iran — including his calls on the campaign trail for the US to tear up or renegotiate the agreement, which he has decried as “the worst deal ever.”

U.S. President Donald Trump addresses the UN General Assembly on September 19, 2017.


Donald Trump and Iran: the one thing to know 01:36
While Trump has since twice re-certified the deal, most recently in July, he also recently approved new sanctions against six Iran-based satellite companies following a recent Iranian rocket launch — a move that prompted a bristling response from Tehran.
Trump will face another re-certification deadline in the coming weeks and has again signaled a desire to withdraw from the agreement despite a recent report from the International Atomic Energy Agency that all parties were in compliance.
The State Department and National Security Council did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment regarding the administration’s stance on whether links between North Korea and Iran relate to the upcoming re-certification deadline.
The Trump administration is continuing its review of the Iran nuclear deal but the policy toward Iran should include “the totality of Iranian threats, not just Iran’s nuclear capabilities,” US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Thursday in London.
Speaking at a news conference with his British counterpart, Boris Johnson, Tillerson said the preface to the agreement said its implementation “will positively contribute to regional and international peace and security.”
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Boris Johnson
“In our view, Iran is clearly in default of these expectations of the JCPOA through their actions to prop up the Assad regime (in Syria), to engage in malicious activities in the region — including cyberactivity — aggressively developing ballistic missiles; and all of this is in defiance of UN Security Council resolution 2231, thereby threatening — not ensuring, but threatening — the security of those in the region as well as the United States itself,” Tillerson added.

Talking point or proliferation threat?


Trump’s looming decision to either re-certify or withdraw from the Iran deal has been amplified by the heightened concern over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, but experts offer a range of assessments regarding the potential threat of nuclear or missile cooperation between Pyongyang and Tehran in the future.
North Korea and Iran do have a history of joint missile development dating back to the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, and both countries have been linked to Pakistani nuclear physicist and accused proliferator Abdul Qadeer Khan in the past.
Since that time, Iran has made some independent developments in its missile capability, but much of its progress has been coupled with assistance from Pyongyang, according to Bruce Bennett, a senior researcher who specializes in North Korea at the RAND Corporation.

The US and Iran through the years

The US and Iran through the years 01:49
Iran currently possesses more ballistic missiles than any other country in the Middle East but remains dependent on foreign suppliers for missile development and production — an ongoing challenge that raises questions about whether they can or will develop an ICBM capable of carrying a nuclear missile, according to the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a nonpartisan, Washington-based nonprofit organization.
“We have to anticipate that while focusing on North Korea that it is a potential trigger of great deal of proliferation,” Bennett told CNN, adding that the potential for cooperation stems from the shared goal of both countries to mount a nuclear weapon on an intercontinental ballistic missile and North Korea’s willingness to act like a “cartel” in its willingness to share information for a price.

North Korea has long maintained it wants nuclear weapons and long-range missiles to deter the United States from attempting to overthrow the regime of Kim Jong Un.


Pyongyang looks at states such as Iraq — where Saddam Hussein was overthrown by the United States, and Libya — its late leader, Moammar Gadhafi, gave up his nuclear ambitions for sanctions relief and aid, only to be toppled and killed after the United States intervened in his country’s civil unrest — and believes that only being able to threaten the US mainland with a retaliatory nuclear strike can stop American military intervention.


Many experts say they believe North Korea would not use the weapons first. Kim values his regime’s survival above all else and knows the use of a nuclear weapon would start a war he could not win, analysts say.


The idea that North Korea and Iran’s past missile-sharing relationship could eventually evolve to include nuclear weapons is “appropriate as each side has something to offer,” according to Anthony Ruggiero, a former official at the US State and Treasury departments.
“Iran and North Korea both have enrichment programs, Pyongyang has an advanced nuclear weapons program, and Tehran has cash,” he said, adding that Pyongyang desperately needs hard currency to sustain its strategic programs and its elites.
But although their history of missile cooperation indicates that the two nations could potentially strike a deal over nuclear weapons in the future, some argue that concerns over the link between North Korea and Iran misses a more urgent point.
“Proliferation is part of the problem but not the centerpiece when it comes to North Korea,” according to Leon Sigal, director of the Northeast Asia Cooperative Security Project at the Social Science Research Council in New York. Sigal added that the recent emphasis on Pyongyang’s links to Iran are the product of an internal argument within the Trump administration over the Iran deal.
Sigal’s suggestion that attempts to publicly link Iran and North Korea’s nuclear development efforts stems from conflicting views over Trump’s desire to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.
Trump and several of his top diplomats, including US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, have repeatedly made the case for abandoning the agreement despite warnings from 80 of the world’s leading nonproliferation specialists that doing so would not only isolate the US but could ultimately encourage Iran to resume its nuclear program and “create a second major nonproliferation crisis.”
“The US has to find out if North Korea is willing to negotiate, and there are people in the Trump administration willing to get to that point,” Sigal said, noting that Pompeo’s comments suggest a strong argument to negotiate in hopes of bounding Pyongyang’s program before they reach the point of being able to sell fissile material.
If the US doesn’t negotiate, then North Korea will ultimately “have an unbounded nuclear program and can sell its secrets or technology to other people,” he said, adding that the more urgent problem facing the US is that, despite levying more sanctions, it still hasn’t determined whether Pyongyang is willing to stop its programs now and come to the table.
“Negotiations mean putting forth a real proposal that addresses North Korea’s security concerns in addition to our own interest, and we are not at that point yet,” Sigal said.

Includes videos:

Data swamped US spy agencies put hopes on artificial intelligence

September 9, 2017


© GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP / by Paul HANDLEY | The US National Security Agency, which operates this ultra-secure data collection center in Utah, is one of the key US spying operations turning to artificial intelligence to help make sense of massive amounts of digital data they collect every day.

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Swamped by too much raw intel data to sift through, US spy agencies are pinning their hopes on artificial intelligence to crunch billions of digital bits and understand events around the world.Dawn Meyerriecks, the Central Intelligence Agency’s deputy director for technology development, said this week the CIA currently has 137 different AI projects, many of them with developers in Silicon Valley.

These range from trying to predict significant future events, by finding correlations in data shifts and other evidence, to having computers tag objects or individuals in video that can draw the attention of intelligence analysts.

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Officials of other key spy agencies at the Intelligence and National Security Summit in Washington this week, including military intelligence, also said they were seeking AI-based solutions for turning terabytes of digital data coming in daily into trustworthy intelligence that can be used for policy and battlefield action.

– Social media focus –

AI has widespread functions, from battlefield weapons to the potential to help quickly rebuild computer systems and programs brought down by hacking attacks, as one official described.

But a major focus is finding useful patterns in valuable sources like social media.

Combing social media for intelligence in itself is not new, said Joseph Gartin, head of the CIA’s Kent School, which teaches intelligence analysis.

“What is new is the volume and velocity of collecting social media data,” he said.

In that example, artificial intelligence-based computing can pick out key words and names but also find patterns in data and correlations to other events — and continually improve on that pattern finding.

AI can “expand the aperture” of an intelligence operation looking for small bits of information that can prove valuable, according to Chris Hurst, the chief operating officer of Stabilitas, which contracts with the US intelligence community on intel analysis.

“Human behavior is data and AI is a data model,” he said at the Intelligence Summit.

“Where there are patterns we think AI can do a better job.”

– Eight million analysts –

The volume of data that can be collected increases exponentially with advances in satellite and signals intelligence collection technology.

“If we were to attempt to manually exploit the commercial satellite imagery we expect to have over the next 20 years, we would need eight million imagery analysts,” Robert Cardillo, director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, said in a speech in June.

Cardillo said his goal is to automate 75 percent of analysts’ tasks, with a hefty reliance on AI operations that can build on what they learn automatically.

Washington’s spies are not the only ones turning to AI for future advantage: Russian President Vladimir Putin declared last week that artificial intelligence is a key for power in the future.

“Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world,” he said, according to Russian news agencies.

The challenge, US officials said, is gaining trust from the “consumers” of their intelligence product — like policy makers, the White House and top generals — to trust reports that have a significant AI component.

“We produce a presidential daily brief. We have to have really, really good evidence for why we reach the conclusions that we do,” said Meyerriecks.

“You can’t go to leadership and make a recommendation based on a process that no one understands.”


And the winner is: Assad

August 22, 2017

The US is increasingly moving away from its anti-Assad course. The Syrian president appears increasingly confident, announcing that conditions will apply to countries wanting to rejig their relationship with Syria.

Syrian President Assad speaking to diplomats

On Sunday, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad gave a speech in front of dozens of his country’s diplomats. He came across as confident: Among other things, he declared that there would be no cooperation with countries “that do not clearly and definitively cut their ties to terrorism.”

This dig was aimed at several states, including some Arab ones, especially on the Arabian Peninsula. It also refers to a number of European countries – and the United States. Assad accuses them of collaborating with “terrorists.”

Assad has reason to be optimistic. He gave this speech three days after a jihadist drove into and killed 14 people in Barcelona, injuring more than 100. Attacks like these are a gift to the Syrian president: They help make him look like a potential partner to those who have, until now, opposed him. Hardly a week goes by the West without an IS-backed terror attack, Assad told the assembled diplomats, adding: “This fact has forced Western politicians to change their attitude” towards Syria.

Read more – A timeline of the Syrian civil war

A memorial left on Las Ramblas in Barcelona (Reuters/S. Vera)Terrorist attacks in Europe and the grief they provoke are playing right into Assad’s hands

Fighting IS takes top priority

And the US has indeed been taking a new approach to Syria for some time now. A few weeks ago US President Trump announced that a CIA program supporting Assad’s opponents was being discontinued. This was in response to the venture’s lack of success. Out of thousands of fighters the US had trained, only a few had proven to be reliable partners.

And it’s not only by shutting down this program that the US has signalled that it’s increasingly distancing itself from Assad’s opponents. At the same time it is growing closer to Russia, which has always supported the Assad government. In an interview with the American broadcaster Fox News in early August, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the US still wanted to prevent Assad from staying in power. However, he went on to add that the US and Russia had a common interest in seeing a unified and stable Syria. In Russia’s view, that can only be achieved in the medium term with Assad as head of state.

Rex Tillerson in Manila (picture-alliance /dpa/Reuters Pool/AP/E. De Casto)US top diplomat Tillerson is plotting a new course on Syria

Hesitant US course

The Trump administration’s course is therefore just as hesitant as that of ex-president Barack Obama. The reason is obvious: People in Washington perceive the jihadist terrorist groups like so-called “Islamic State” (IS) and al-Qaida as a serious threat.

“The Salafi-jihadi movement – not [simply] distinct groups or individuals – threatens the United States, the West, and Muslim communities,” according to Critical Threats, a project of the conservative American think tank The American Enterprise Institute.

Its article continues: “Europe and the American homeland face an unprecedented level of facilitated and inspired terrorist attacks. This situation is not success, stalemate, or slow winning, and still less does it reflect an enemy ‘on the run.’ It is failure.”

Hezbollah as a partner?

Diagnoses like this are obviously gaining traction in Washington. The political consequences are becoming apparent: For example, the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported in early August that American special forces were training with the Lebanese military for an anticipated confrontation with IS troops.

The Lebanese military, however, cannot clearly be separated from the paramilitary group Hezbollah, which is allied to Iran. Ha’aretz quotes the Middle East analyst Faysal Itani from the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East: “Both Lebanon and Hezbollah occupy a grey area,” he says. “Lebanon isn’t really a state, and Hezbollah isn’t a terrorist group – or isn’t only a terrorist group, depending on your view.”

The USA can’t get around this entanglement, either. The Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has clearly outlined the implications of these new alliances in the common fight against IS: “The world is currently assuming that the Syrian regime is going to stay,” Ha’aretz quoted him as saying a few days later.

Hezbollah adherents in Lebanon (Getty Images/AFPM. Zayyat)Hezbollah as a partner for the west? Here young supporters of its movement march in Kfar Hatta, Lebanon

The wrong war

But the political action taken by the Obama administration in response to the jihadist threat was controversial; the Trump administration’s even more so. Rapprochement with Russia is risky, says a study by the Washington think tank Institute for the Study of War. The most problematic thing, it points out, is the choice of new allies: “Sunni Arabs view the US as aligned with the deepening Russo-Iranian coalition and complicit in its atrocities.”

It does seem that Assad is going to stay in power, at least for the time being. He has succeeded in presenting himself as a bulwark against jihadism. From his point of view, this portrayal makes absolute sense. But if the Sunnis should come to the conclusion that they were now facing an alliance of Shiites, Russia and the USA, this would probably once again fuel jihadism. The American think tanks warn that, if this should happen, the terrorism we are seeing now would be just the precursor to a subsequent, even more brutal expression.

US must pay $245mn in damage to chemical victims of Iraq-Iran war: Judiciary

August 21, 2017


Iran's Judiciary Spokesman Gholam Hossein Mohseni-Ejei speaks during a press conference in Tehran.
Iran’s Judiciary Spokesman Gholam Hossein Mohseni-Ejei speaks during a press conference in Tehran.

The Iranian Judiciary has issued a ruling demanding that the US government pay around 245 million dollars in damage to a number of victims of chemical attacks carried out by Saddam Hussein’s troops during the 1980 to 1988 imposed war on Iran.       

Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei, Iran’s Judiciary spokesman, made the remarks on Sunday, while noting that the amount would be distributed among 18 victims of the attacks who had filed for the legal action.

Hundreds of thousands of Iranians were killed in the Iraqi-imposed war and many more were affected by the chemical weapons like mustard gas that were used by the regime of the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Many of those Iranians who were attacked by chemical weapons and are alive today continue to suffer the lingering aftereffects.

Dead bodies are seen after Iraq’s gas attack on the Iranian city of Sardasht in 1987 during the rule of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Iraq once possessed a huge arsenal of chemical weapons, the production of which was facilitated by exports of chemicals as well as financial and technological support from the United States and other Western countries.

Iraq is believed to acquire the technology and the materials to develop chemical weapons from the US and a number of Western countries. According to reports, US spy agency, CIA, had knew about Iraq’s use of chemical weapons as early as 1983, but the US took no action against the violations of international law, and even failed to alert the UN.

Assad’s March East Compounds West’s Syria Dilemma

August 17, 2017

BEIRUT/AMMAN — Syria’s war has entered a new phase as President Bashar al-Assad extends his grip in areas being captured from Islamic State, using firepower freed by Russian-backed truces in western Syria.

Backed by Russia and Iran, the government hopes to steal a march on U.S.-backed militias in the attack on Islamic State’s last major Syrian stronghold, the Deir al-Zor region that extends to the Iraqi border. Damascus hailed the capture of the town of al-Sukhna on Saturday as a big step in that direction.

The eastward march to Deir al-Zor, unthinkable two years ago when Assad seemed in danger, has underlined his ever more confident position and the dilemma facing Western governments that still want him to leave power in a negotiated transition.

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The war for western Syria, long Assad’s priority, has shifted down several gears thanks to the ceasefires, including one organised by Moscow and Washington in the southwest.

But there is no sign of these truces leading to a revival of peace talks aimed at putting Syria back together through a negotiated deal that would satisfy Assad’s opponents and help resolve a refugee crisis of historic proportions.

Instead, Assad’s face has been printed on Syrian banknotes for the first time, and his quest for outright victory suggests he may retrain his guns on rebel pockets in the west once his goals in the east are accomplished. Attacks on the last rebel stronghold near Damascus have escalated this month.

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U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to end CIA support to rebels further weakened the insurgency in western Syria, while also depriving Western policymakers of one of their few levers of pressure.

They can only watch as Iranian influence increases through a multitude of Shi’ite militias, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah, that have been crucial to Assad’s gains and seem likely to remain in Syria for the foreseeable future, sealing Tehran’s ascendancy.

Assad’s opponents now hope his Russian allies will conclude he must be removed from power as the burden of stabilizing the country weighs and the West withholds reconstruction support.

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With hundreds of thousands of people killed and militias controlling swathes of the country, Assad’s opponents say Syria can never be stable again with him in power.

“There is little doubt that the Russians would like a political solution to the war. The war is costly for them, and the longer it lasts, the less it will appear to be a success for Putin,” said Rolf Holmboe, Research Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and former Danish Ambassador to Syria.

“But the Russians want a solution on their terms, which is one where Assad stays in power,” he said.

“The ceasefires do two things. They allow the Russians to take control of the political negotiations and look good internationally. But more importantly, they allow Assad and the Iranian-backed militias to free troops to grab the territory that Islamic State is about to lose.”


The eastwards advance has on occasion brought government forces and their Iranian-backed allies into conflict with the U.S. military and the forces it is backing in a separate campaign against Islamic State.

But the rival campaigns have mostly stayed out of each other’s way. Government forces have skirted the area where Kurdish-led militias supported by Washington are fighting Islamic State in Raqqa. The U.S.-led coalition has stressed it is not seeking war with Assad.

Bisected by the Euphrates River, Deir al-Zor and its oil resources are critical to the Syrian state. The province is entirely in the hands of IS except for a government stronghold in Deir al-Zor city and a nearby air base. It is also in the crosshairs of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

SDF spokesman Talal Silo told Reuters on Wednesday there would be an SDF campaign towards Deir al-Zor “in the near future”, though the SDF was still deciding whether it would be delayed until Raqqa was fully captured from Islamic State.

But questions remain over whether the government and its allies, or the U.S.-backed militias, have the required manpower. IS has rebased many of its fighters and leaders in Deir al-Zor. The Syrian army is drawing on the support of local tribal militias in its advances, local tribal figures say.

A Western-backed Syrian rebel with detailed knowledge of the area said Deir al-Zor would be a tough prospect. “Deir al-Zor tribes are more intertwined with those of Iraq,” the rebel said, describing them as religious hardliners.

Andrew Tabler, a Syria specialist at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy think-tank, said Assad hoped to regain international legitimacy through the campaign against IS.

“They believe that by doing so they can get reconstruction money, and they believe that things are going to go back to the way they were before. That’s just not going to happen,” he said.

There has been no sign that Western states are ready to rehabilitate Assad, accused by Washington of repeatedly using chemical weapons during the war, most recently in April. Syria denies using chemical weapons.


The April attack triggered a U.S. missile strike against a Syrian airbase. But the U.S. response was calibrated to avoid confrontation with Moscow, and has not resulted in further such action.

Trump’s decision to shut down the CIA programme of support meanwhile played to Assad’s advantage and came as a blow to the opposition. Rebel sources say the programme will be phased out towards the end of the year.

Damascus has been pressing ahead with its strategy for pacifying western Syria, pursuing local agreements with rebellious areas that have resulted in thousands of rebel fighters being sent to insurgent areas of the north.

But significant areas of western Syria remain in rebel hands, notably Idlib province in the northwest, a corner of the southwest, an area north of Homs, and the Eastern Ghouta of Damascus.

In the southwestern province of Deraa, one of the areas in the U.S.-Russian truce, the government is seeking investment in reconstruction, the provincial governor told al-Watan newspaper, saying the “shelling phase” was over.

Shunned by the West, the government hopes China will be a major player in the reconstruction. Seeking to project an image of recovery, Damascus this week will host a trade fair.

“The regime is quite keen to imply by signals that it doesn’t care, that ‘we are fine, we are really utterly prepared just to sit atop ruins, and to speak to friends who will help us with our project’,” said a Western diplomat.

Mohanad Hage Ali, director of communications at the Carnegie Middle East Center, said the Assads have been “masters of the waiting game”. Time is on their side, he said. “But they have two challenges: political normalisation with the world, and the economic challenge, which is significant.”

(Writing by Tom Perry; editing by Giles Elgood)

North Korea Missile Re-entry Technology Not Perfected Yet: South Korea

August 14, 2017

SEOUL/BEIJING — North Korea still does not appear to have mastered missile re-entry technology and will take at least one or two more years to do so, although its ability to miniaturize a nuclear warhead is advancing quickly, South Korea’s vice defense minister said.

Concern that North Korea is close to achieving its goal of putting the mainland United States within range of a nuclear weapon has underpinned a spike in tensions in recent months.

U.S. President Donald Trump warned at the weekend that the U.S. military was “locked and loaded” if North Korea acted unwisely, although top U.S. officials said there was no imminent risk of a nuclear war.

“Both the United States and South Korea do not believe North Korea has yet completely gained re-entry technology in material engineering terms,” Vice Defence Minister Suh Choo-suk said in remarks televised on Sunday for a Korea Broadcasting System show.

“We don’t feel they’ve reached that point yet but it’s true they are approaching it. We can’t pinpoint the exact timing, but it will take at least one to two more years,” he said.

Suh said North Korea was likely to continue provocations, including nuclear tests, but he did not see a big risk of the North engaging in actual military conflict.

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A man watches a TV showing file footage of a North Korea’s ballistic missile at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul on Sunday. AP photo

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo agreed that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was likely to continue to test his weapons.

“I am quite confident that he will continue to try to develop his missile program, so it wouldn’t surprise me if there was another missile test,” Pompeo told “Fox News Sunday”.

“I’ve heard folks talking about that we’re on the cusp of a nuclear war. I’ve seen no intelligence that would indicate that we’re in that place today,” he said.

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U.S. Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo

North Korea has been testing missiles at an unprecedented pace since last year and said last week it was developing a plan to land missiles near the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam.


Trump has urged China, the North’s main ally and trading partner, to do more to rein in its neighbor, often linking Beijing’s efforts to comments around U.S.-China trade.

Trump will issue an order later on Monday to determine whether to investigate Chinese trade practices that force U.S. firms operating in China to turn over intellectual property, senior administration officials said on Saturday.

China’s official China Daily said such an investigation would poison the relationship between the two countries.

“By trying to incriminate Beijing as an accomplice in (North Korea’s) nuclear adventure and blame it for a failure that is essentially a failure of all stakeholders, Trump risks making the serious mistake of splitting up the international coalition that is the means to resolve the issue peacefully,” it said.

“Hopefully Trump will find another path. Things will become even more difficult if Beijing and Washington are pitted against each other.”

Asian stocks bounced back on Monday after three losing sessions, but gains were capped by worries about escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula that sent investors fleeing from riskier assets last week.

Financial markets regard tensions between Pyongyang and Washington as more serious than in the past, South Korea’s finance minister said.

“The effect from North Korea-related jitters on financial and foreign exchange markets has been causing some global anxiety and we cannot rule out market volatility can widen from the smallest shock,” Finance Minister Kim Dong-yeon said.

U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford is visiting Seoul to discuss the rise in tensions ahead of major U.S.-South Korean joint military drills scheduled for later this month.

South Korean Defence Ministry spokesman Lee Jin-woo said the drills, long a source of aggravation for Pyongyang, would go ahead as planned.

“They are just, legal and annual drills that are focused on defense and to curb North Korea’s provocations,” he told a regular briefing in Seoul.

Any new military conflict with North Korea would likely escalate quickly to the use of nuclear weapons, bringing catastrophic casualties and an untold economic impact worldwide, former U.S. defense officials and experts believe.

(Writing by Lincoln Feast; Editing by Paul Tait)

Is Donald Trump Ceding Syria To Bashar al-Assad, Russia and Iran? — Confusion and lack of strategic clarity

July 29, 2017
 JULY 28, 2017 22:11


The CIA program, dubbed ‘Timber Sycamore,’ was created in early 2013 and was intended to support ‘moderate’ units from among the Syrian Sunni rebels.

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A rebel fighter of the Southern Front of the Free Syrian Army. (photo credit:REUTERS)

US President Donald Trump this week appeared to confirm a number of recent media reports suggesting that the US has scrapped the long-standing covert CIA program to provide weapons and training to Syria’s rebels.


There was much subsequent merrymaking regarding Trump’s supposed ‘revelation’ of the program via his preferred medium of Twitter. This commentary was not serious. The existence of the program, if not its details, has been an open ‘secret’ for a while.

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 Free Syrian Army fighter collects himself after a blooby battle. Photo credit Reuters, Goran Tomasevic

Nevertheless, the decision to scrap the CIA program, now confirmed by General Raymond A. Thomas, head of US Special Operations Command, is a significant development.

So is the US exiting the Syrian stage, and ceding the area in its entirety as a zone of influence to Russia. What will this mean for Syria? Does it imply the eclipse in the entirety of anti-Assad forces and an overall victory for the dictator in the long civil war in Syria?

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Observation of the available facts suggests that it isn’t that simple. The CIA program, dubbed ‘Timber Sycamore,’ was created in early 2013 and was intended to support ‘moderate’ units from among the Syrian Sunni rebels, at a time when Islamist and jihadi forces had already become entrenched and prevalent among them.

The first groups of fighters armed by Timber Sycamore began to appear in southern Syria in September 2013. Operating out of military operations centers in Jordan and Turkey, the program involved the vetting and training of Syrian rebels by US personnel, and from 2014, the provision of sophisticated weaponry.

The first reports, for example, of TOW anti-tank missiles in the hands of the rebels, appeared in April 2014. Media reports suggested the involvement of Saudi Arabia in the project, with Riyadh providing arms and money and the Americans responsible for training.

The precise extent of weaponry provided, the list of groups supported, the type of training offered, and the affiliations of the US personnel involved in the training remain classified. However, the impact of the program can be estimated from the results on the ground.

In northern Syria, US-supported groups never managed to dislodge the dominant Salafi-jihadi groups, supported by Qatar and Turkey, most importantly the Ahrar al-Sham group and the al-Qaida-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra (subsequently renamed Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, after formally ending its al-Qaida allegiance).

Instead, the US-supported groups became de facto partners with these organizations.

In southern Syria, where Salafi jihadi Islamism was weaker, the program has had a greater impact.

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With US personnel responsible for training, mainly through the Southern Front of the Free Syrian Army, the US-supported forces (also supported by Jordan and Israel) have succeeded in largely preventing the Assad regime and its allies from reconquering Deraa and Quneitra provinces.

Parallel to the CIA program, the Pentagon has been running its own train-and-equip operation for the war against ISIS. This project, after some initial hiccups, has been notably successful and is slowly and relentlessly driving Islamic State back in its ‘capital’ city of Raqqa.

The beginnings of success for the Pentagon program, however, coincide with the commencement of US cooperation not with the Sunni Arab rebels, but rather with the Kurdish YPG (People’s Protection Units).

This unlikely partnership, which began in October 2014, enabled the US to work with a ready-made coherent force on the ground, rather than to try to help establish and shape one. Subsequently, the Defense Department program has surrounded this Kurdish core with a variety of additional Arab forces, creating the multi-ethnic force which is now known as the Syrian Democratic Forces.

This program has in addition offered training and support to rebel forces in southeast Syria wishing to fight Islamic State. At present, two Arab rebel militias, Maghawir al-Thawra and Shohada al-Quartayn, are receiving training and aid from the US and allied (reportedly British and Norwegian) forces in the desert of southeast Syria.

This train-and-equip program is not being wrapped up. That is, the US is not pulling out of involvement in Syria in toto. Rather, a particular project is being terminated.

So where is this likely to have an impact? For obvious reasons, in the area east of the Euphrates, where the Pentagon train-and-equip program is the relevant project, the termination of Timber Sycamore will have no impact at all.

It will also have little noticeable effect on the remaining rebel enclaves in northwest Syria.

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Free Syrian Army Fighters photographed by Goran Tomasevic for Reuters

There, the US-supported groups are largely irrelevant. The growing force in Idleb

Province is Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, which just this week drove the rival Ahrar al-Sham from 31 villages and consolidated its control in Idleb City, the last major urban center in the hands of the rebellion.

The area where the end of Timber Sycamore may have the largest impact is in southwest Syria, in the region adjoining the Golan Heights and the border with Jordan.

Here the decision to end the program seems to follow from the cease-fire concluded on July 7, and the subsequent deployment of Russian ‘military police’ (i.e. re-designated Russian soldiers) to enforce the ‘de-escalation.’ Israel has benefited from the previously existing balance of forces in the southwest, which provided a rebel presence as a kind of buffer against the advance of the regime and its Iranian, Hezbollah and Shia militia allies.

The ending of Timber Sycamore and the de-escalation agreement might tip this balance.

However, this is not a certainty even in the southwest. Firstly, it is possible that the vacuum left by the faltering CIA program may be replaced by another US channel of support, sufficient to prevent rebel collapse in the southwest.

Secondly, Israeli, Jordanian and Gulf support for the rebels may continue to play a similar role.

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U.S. Senator John McCain became the biggest U.S. advocate of the Free Syrian Army

Thus, the impact of the demise of the ill-fated ‘Timber Sycamore’ project may be somewhat less than might be immediately apparent. The main question facing Syria today is whether the regime (which really means Iran, Hezbollah and allied militias) will continue to expand its area of control under the cover of Russian support and in the face of confusion and lack of strategic clarity from other forces.

The end of the covert CIA program of support for the rebels removes one of the less consequential barriers to this, without making it inevitable.