Thursday, March 22, 2018

Israel claims it was behind 2007 bombing of Syrian nuke facility

TEL AVIV, Israel — Israel's confirmation Wednesday that it was behind the 2007 bombing of a suspected Syrian nuclear facility had a specific intended audience: longstanding enemy Iran.

The airstrike on the al-Kabur site in Deir al-Zor destroyed what was believed to be a nuclear reactor, and had been one of the most secretive Israeli military operations in recent memory. Although Israel was widely believed to have been behind the Sept. 6, 2007, strike, it has never before commented publicly on it.

Intelligence Minister Israel Katz sent "congratulations" to then-prime minister Ehud Olmert for the "decision to destroy the nuclear reactor in Syria eleven years ago."

"The operation and its success made it clear that Israel would never allow nuclear weapons to those who threaten its existence," he said on Twitter. "Syria back then — and Iran today."

Israel is deeply alarmed by Iran's growing regional power and ambitions. Tehran is allied with the government of President Bashar al-Assad in the civil war in Syria— also a longstanding enemy of Israel. Sunni powers in the region, such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, are also deeply suspicious of Iran's nuclear ambitions, which they claim have not been curbed by a landmark 2015 international agreement that saw some international sanctions lifted.

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman underlined intelligence minister Katz's statement.

"The motivation of our enemies has grown in recent years, but so too the might of the ... Israeli Defence Forces," he said in a statement. "Everyone in the Middle East would do well to internalize this equation."

Amos Yadlin, who was the head of Israeli military's intelligence at the time, told NBC News that a unique intelligence operation in Syria in 2006 led to the conclusion that Israel was "facing a project of a plutonium nuclear reactor which has only one purpose — to produce a nuclear bomb."

"The question was how much time do we have, our accurate answer was that we have six to seven months before it will be hot, and then we moved to the operational planning," said Yadlin, the current head of the Institute for National Security Studies research institute in Tel Aviv. "We understood that we have two goals: No core, no war — destroying the nuclear reactor on one hand, and avoiding a war on the other hand."

Israel and Syria were bitter enemies before the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011. Since the conflict erupted, Israel has carried out well over 100 airstrikes, most believed to have been aimed at suspected weapons shipments destined for the Iranian-backed Lebanese militia, Hezbollah.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

FBI: Chinese Huawei and ZTE phones a security threat.

WASHINGTON -- Amid heightened concern about Russian election meddling, the FBI on Tuesday warned U.S. universities about Chinese intelligence operatives active on their campuses, adding that many academics display "a level of naivete" about the level of infiltration.

At the same congressional hearing, several senators also voiced concern about China's efforts to obtain U.S. technology through investments and the rise of two of its own giants, Huawei and ZTE, telecom companies with a growing worldwide footprint and close ties to China's ruling Communist Party. Both companies have U.S. operations headquartered in Dallas-Fort Worth.

FBI Director Christopher Wray told the Senate Intelligence Committee that China has aggressively placed operatives at universities, "whether its professors, scientists, students," and the bureau must monitor them from its 56 field offices across the nation.

"It's every field office, not just major cities. It's small ones as well," Wray said.

The FBI is also "watching warily" activities at dozens of Confucius Institutes, Chinese government-sponsored academies that are often embedded within universities and public schools to offer U.S. students Mandarin language classes.

Some 350,000 Chinese students are enrolled at U.S. universities, about 35 percent of the more than 1 million foreigners attending university in the country, the Institute of International Education estimates.

The Senate hearing to discuss an annual assessment of worldwide threats focused heavily on Russian hacking and the nuclear threat from North Korea. But several senators pushed the five intelligence agency chiefs and the FBI director testifying at the hearing about China's ambitions.

Wray described China as using a lot of "nontraditional collectors" of intelligence and technology, not only in the business community but also in academia.

"I think the level of naivete on the part of the academic sector about this creates its own issues. They're exploiting the very open research and development environment that we have, which we all revere. But they're taking advantage of it," Wray said.

Having potentially unfriendly foreign companies inside the U.S. telecom network, Wray said, "provides the capacity to maliciously modify or steal information and it provides the capacity to conduct undetected espionage."

Huawei, founded in 1987 by a former People's Liberation Army officer, has galloped to a global lead in telecommunications, almost absent in the U.S. market but hugely popular in China, Europe, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East. As recently as January, it was close to bringing its smartphones in the U.S. consumer market but Dallas-based AT&T scuttled the deal at the last minute.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Russian's caught mining for cryptocurrency using nuke lab's supercomputer..

ARS TECHNICA;  Russia's Interfax News Agency reports that engineers at the All-Russian Research Institute of Experimental Physics (RFNC-VNIIEF)—the Russian Federation Nuclear Center facility where scientists designed the Soviet Union's first nuclear bomb—have been arrested for mining cryptocurrency with "office computing resources," according to a spokesperson for the Institute. "There has been an unsanctioned attempt to use computer facilities for private purposes including so-called mining," said Tatyana Zalesskaya, head of the Institute's press service.

Zalesskaya did not say how many people were detained, and the Federal Security Service (FSB) has not issued a statement on the arrests or criminal charges pending. But reports indicate that the group was caught trying to harness the lab's supercomputer to mine cryptocurrency.

The Institute is located in Sarov, a "closed" city east of Moscow where nuclear weapons research has been conducted since 1946. The facility is so secret that it was left off Soviet maps; Sarov is surrounded by fences and guarded by the Russian military accordingly. While the city is the home of Russia's Nuclear Weapons Museum, don't plan a visit anytime soon—access to Sarov is restricted, and no one who does not live in the city is allowed to visit without permission. Foreigners visiting on official business have to surrender their passports, cell phones, and other electronic devices at the city's checkpoints.
Because of the nature of the work at the Institute, technically none of the Institute's computers—including its 1-petaflop capable supercomputer, used for simulating tests of nuclear weapons designs—is supposed to be connected to the Internet. According to the Russian news service Mash, someone at the Institute attempted to connect the supercomputer to the Internet, and that attempt was detected by the FSB, launching an investigation.

Cryptocurrency speculation and mining have generated so much interest in Russia that one businessman—Alexey Kolesnik—recently bought two power plants in the Russian republics of Perm Krai and Udmurtia to be used exclusively to generate electricity for Bitcoin-mining data centers. But there have been numerous other attempts recently in Russia to harness corporate and industrial computer systems for illicit cryptocurrency mining as well.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

SpaceX launches most powerful rocket in decades...

NPR: The world's newest, most powerful rocket in decades has reached space. It took a few weather delays Tuesday, but the private space company SpaceX successfully launched its Falcon Heavy rocket from the Kennedy Space Center.

Watch the video of the launch at the here. (If you'd like to skip ahead to the very moment the rocket lifts off, you can find it about 29:50 into the video.)

Not long after the massive craft blasted off NASA's historic Launch Pad 39A, arcing a fiery path through the sky, its side boosters fell away. As the main rocket continued its journey into space, two of the boosters returned to Earth, landing successfully back on their designated pads.

UN investigating reports of alleged chlorine attack in Syria


United Nations human rights experts said Tuesday they were investigating reports of alleged chlorine bomb attacks on civilians in two Syrian towns.

"Most alarmingly, the commission has received multiple reports, now under investigation, that bombs allegedly containing weaponized chlorine have been used in the town of Saraqeb in Idlib and in Douma in Eastern Ghouta," near Damascus, Paulo Pinheiro, chair of the UN's commission of inquiry on Syria, said in a statement issued in Geneva.

The panel also expressed "deep concerned" over the escalation of violence in rebel-held Idlib province and in Eastern Ghouta, Pinheiro said.

The White Helmets, a volunteer rescue group, said three of its members and six others were injured by chlorine gas attack in Idlib's Saraqeb on Sunday night. The group posted several videos on social media showing men coughing and being put onto stretchers.

Two media activists who spoke to CNN from the nearby town of Kafranbil said they were told that the chlorine attack in Saraqeb had been launched from Syrian helicopters.


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