The DPRK Has Conducted Another Ballistic Missile Test

I’m sure Cheryl will be along with greater details once we have them, but in the meantime:

This is a little unusual for this time of year. The typical pattern is that the DPRK essentially stops weapons testing from the late fall through the winter.

Pyongyang’s last recorded weapons test occurred 73 days ago, on Sept. 15. That launch, in which a missile was fired over Japan, capped a bout of activity that had heralded a number of technological developments in North Korea’s weapons program, including the test of its most powerful nuclear bomb yet.

The DPRK’s military training cycle also contributes to the annual fourth quarter slowdown’s in testing.

North Korea hasn’t fired a missile for 60 days, but that may have more to do with its own winter training cycle than with Pyongyang easing off on provocations.

Since Kim Jong Un took power in late 2011, only five of the isolated nation’s 85 rocket launches have taken place in the October-December quarter, according to The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies’ North Korea Missile Test Database.

The Korean People’s Army regularly enters its training cycle every winter “and getting ready for it involves a calm before the storm,” said Van Jackson, a strategy fellow at the Center for Strategic Studies at Victoria University of Wellington.

“Fall is the harvest season, and a lot of military labor is dedicated to agricultural output when not in war mode; inefficient, but it’s the nature of the North Korean system,” said Jackson, a former U.S. Department of Defense adviser. “It’s a routine, recurring pattern, which means we should expect a surge in provocations in the early months next year.”

North Korea’s last launch was on Sept. 15, when the isolated state fired its second missile over Japan in as many months. That missile that flew far enough to put the U.S. territory of Guam in range.

As more information becomes available, what we know about today’s launch is likely to change. So stay frosty!



Rex Tillerson’s Speech at the Wilson Center

The famously reclusive Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, emerges to say something.

(Let’s see if I can do this embed thing)

 

 

Or you can find it here. Nothing much happening yet.



Steele Dossier Claims Updated

In February, I published a breakdown of the claims in the Steele dossier in table form, so that they might be more amenable to analysis.

I have now updated that breakdown with material relevant to the claims. My objective is not to prove or disprove the material in the Steele dossier, but rather to provide evidence that has surfaced. What I have collected is not exhaustive, and it is more detailed for some claims than for others. I have used primarily major news sources.

Overall, there is much support for the claims of the dossier. Not surprisingly, there is much less information about interactions within the Kremlin than other claims. Other material that sometimes has been hailed as supporting the dossier’s claims does not fully connect all the parties or actions.

So here it is, a work in progress.

 

Cross-posted at Nuclear Diner.



Russiagate Open Thread: Young Prince Jared Is Troubled

And well he should be! Gabriel Sherman, at Vanity Fair, says “’Kelly Has Clipped his Wings’: Jared Kushner’s Horizons Are Collapsing within the West Wing”

[I]t wasn’t long ago when Trump handed Kushner a comically broad portfolio that included plans to reinvent government, reform the V.A., end the opioid epidemic, run point on China, and solve Middle East peace. But since his appointment, according to sources, Kelly has tried to shrink Kushner’s responsibilities to focus primarily on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And even that brief appears to be creating tensions between Kushner and Kelly. According to two people close to the White House, Kelly was said to be displeased with the result of Kushner’s trip to Saudi Arabia last month because it took place just days before 32-year-old Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman arrested 11 Saudi royals, including billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal. The Washington Post reported that Kushner and M.B.S., as the prince is known, stayed up till nearly 4 a.m. “planning strategy,” which left Kelly to deal with the impression that the administration had advance knowledge of the purge and even helped orchestrate it, sources told me. (Asked about this, Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded, in part: “Chief Kelly and Jared had a good laugh about this inquiry as nothing in it is true.”)

Where this all leaves Kushner in Trump’s ever-changing orbit is a topic that’s being discussed by Republicans close to the White House. During Kelly’s review of West Wing operations over the summer, the chief of staff sought to downsize Kushner’s portfolio, two sources said. In the early days of the administration, sometimes with the help of a small cadre of Ivy League whiz kids who staff his Office of American Innovation, Kushner dreamed up scores of business “councils” that would advise the White House. “The councils are gone,” one West Wing official told me. With some of their purview being whittled away, “they seem lost,” the official added…
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ARA San Juan: The Argentinian Navy is Reporting All Hands Lost

The ARA San Juan went missing on November 15th. Provided it didn’t sink below its crush depth, and without being able to surface and employ her snorkel, it had seven days of oxygen reserves. Those reserves would have been exhausted yesterday and it appears that the Argentinian Navy has come to the conclusion that the ARA San Juan is lost. The San Juan carried a crew of forty-four, including Argentina’s first female submariner.

Since it was first written in the mid 19th Century, a number of additional verses have been written by different authors for the Navy Hymn. These cover naval aviators, Coast Guardsmen, naval aviators who have become astronauts, Sea Bees, and, of course, submariners. Here is the specific verse penned for the members of the silent service:

Lord God, our power evermore,
Whose arm doth reach the ocean floor,
Dive with our men beneath the sea;
Traverse the depths protectively.
O hear us when we pray, and keep
Them safe from peril in the deep.
David B. Miller (1965)



Sources and Methods: The Betrayal of an Intelligence Partner

Vanity Fair‘s Howard Blum has done an excellent, long form piece of journalism that finally shed’s light on exactly what the President did when he betrayed the Israelis and told Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and Ambassador Kislyak about their anti-ISIS intelligence mission.

The covert mission into the forbidden plains of northern Syria was a “blue and white” undertaking, as Israel, referring to the colors of its flag, calls ops that are carried out solely by agents of the Jewish state.

Yet—and this is an ironclad operational rule—getting agents in and then swiftly out of enemy territory under the protection of the nighttime darkness can be accomplished only if there is sufficient reconnaissance: the units need to know exactly where to strike, what to expect, what might be out there waiting for them in the shadows. For the mission last winter that targeted a cell of terrorist bombers, according to ABC News, citing American officials, the dangerous groundwork was done by an Israeli spy planted deep inside ISIS territory. Whether he was a double agent Israel had either turned or infiltrated into the ISIS cell, or whether he was simply a local who’d happened to stumble upon some provocative information he realized he could sell—those details remain locked in the secret history of the mission.

The sources agree, however, that the teams got in and out that night, and, even before the returning choppers landed back in Israel, it was confirmed to the jubilant operatives that the audio intercept was already up and running.

Now the waiting began. From an antenna-strewn base near the summit of the Golan Heights, on Israel’s border with Syria, listeners from Unit 8200 monitored the transmissions traveling across the ether from the target in northern Syria. Surveillance is a game played long, but after several wasted days 8200’s analysts were starting to suspect that their colleagues had been misinformed, possibly deliberately, by the source in the field. They were beginning to fear that all the risk had been taken without any genuine prospect of reward.

Then what they’d been waiting for was suddenly coming in loud and clear, according to Israeli sources familiar with the operation: it was, as a sullen spy official described it, “a primer in constructing a terror weapon.” With an unemotional precision, an ISIS soldier detailed how to turn a laptop computer into a terror weapon that could pass through airport security and be carried on board a passenger plane. ISIS had obtained a new way to cause airliners to explode suddenly, free-falling from the sky in flames. When the news of this frightening ISIS lecture arrived at Mossad’s headquarters outside Tel Aviv, officials quickly decided to share the field intelligence with their American counterparts. The urgency of the highly classified information trumped any security misgivings. Still, as one senior Israeli military official suggested, the Israeli decision was also egged on by a professional vanity: they wanted their partners in Washington to marvel at the sort of impossible missions they could pull off.

They did. It was a much-admired, as well as appreciated, gift—and it scared the living hell out of the American spymasters who received it.

I highly recommend you click over and read the whole thing, however, I’d like to highlight just one or two more of the important portions of Blum’s reporting. Back in January I wrote:

Last week Yediot Ahronot reported, now confirmed by Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post, that Israel’s Intelligence Community has itself been warned to be careful sharing and transferring information and intelligence with the White House during the next Administration.  Now the Sunday Times of London and The Guardian are reporting that our British allies are very, very concerned.

The concern is that any information and intelligence shared after the transition  will wind up with the Russians and the Russians would likely provide it to the Iranians (and the unspoken bit here for the Israelis is the Iranians would share it with the Syrians and Hezbullah). That this information quickly leaked from the Israelis is not an accident or a coincidence. It was intended to leak in order to provide the same message to our other allies and partners: that anything shared with the incoming Administration’s White House team may wind up with Russia. Through the Israeli leak the US’s other allies, partners, and clients have now been warned. This includes the other four members of the Five Eyes Intelligence alliance, the rest of our NATO allies, and other allies and partners. They have all been put on notice that the US Intelligence Community thinks that the incoming President, Vice President, their strategy, policy, and communication advisors, the incoming National Security Advisor and his deputies, and the rest of the incoming White House team cannot be trusted with classified information.

This means that the US will have its ability to see and hear seriously restricted starting next Friday. We won’t be blind, as we’ll still have our own capability, but our vision will be significantly dimmed and our hearing significantly dulled. This will make managing and mitigating the foreign, defense, and national security problem sets that we are currently facing, let alone the ability to anticipate future ones, much more difficult. And this includes the ongoing Russian active measures, influence, and cyber operations directed at us, at our allies, and at our partners.

We are off the looking glass and through the map.

Blum’s reporting confirms that what was reported in other sources in January was accurate, but he provides new and important details.

It was against this reassuring backdrop of recent successes and shared history, an Israeli source told Vanity Fair, that a small group of Mossad officers and other Israeli intelligence officials took their seats in a Langley conference room on a January morning just weeks before the inauguration of Donald Trump. The meeting proceeded uneventfully; updates on a variety of ongoing classified operations were dutifully shared. It was only as the meeting was about to break up that an American spymaster solemnly announced there was one more thing: American intelligence agencies had come to believe that Russian president Vladimir Putin had “leverages of pressure” over Trump, he declared without offering further specifics, according to a report in the Israeli press. Israel, the American officials continued, should “be careful” after January 20—the date of Trump’s inauguration. It was possible that sensitive information shared with the White House and the National Security Council could be leaked to the Russians. A moment later the officials added what many of the Israelis had already deduced: it was reasonable to presume that the Kremlin would share some of what they learned with their ally Iran, Israel’s most dangerous adversary.

Currents of alarm and anger raced through those pres­ent at the meeting, says the Israeli source, but their superiors in Israel remained unconvinced—no supporting evidence, after all, had been provided—and chose to ignore the prognostication.

But it is Blum’s conclusion that is the real chilling peace of his reporting:

“Trump betrayed us,” said a senior Israeli military official bluntly, his voice stern with reproach. “And if we can’t trust him, then we’re going to have to do what is necessary on our own if our back is up against the wall with Iran.” Yet while appalled governments are now forced to rethink their tactics in future dealings with a wayward president, there is also the dismaying possibility that a more tangible, and more lethal, consequence has already occurred. “The Russians will undoubtedly try to figure out the source or the method of this information to make sure that it is not also collecting on their activities in Syria—and in trying to do that they could well disrupt the source,” said Michael Morell.

What, then, was the fate of Israel’s agent in Syria? Was the operative exfiltrated to safety? Has he gone to ground in enemy territory? Or was he hunted down and killed? One former Mossad officer with knowledge of the operation and its aftermath will not say. Except to add pointedly, “Whatever happened to him, it’s a hell of price to pay for a president’s mistake.”

We are off the looking glass and through the map!



Ruthenium-106 over Europe

 

In September, a cloud of ruthenium-106 spread over Europe. Ruthenium-106 is used in nuclear medicine, and it is extracted from used nuclear reactor fuel. The amounts were tiny – one of the things about radioactive materials is that they can be detected at very, very low concentrations.

There are many atmospheric sampling stations around Europe, and their readings were mapped. The top graphic is the result. The center of the cloud was between the Ural Mountains and the Volga River. The amounts over Europe were not dangerous to health, but the amounts closer to the source might have been. Ruthenium was no longer detected in France after October 13. Read more