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Syria’s Chemical Weapons: The North Korean Connection

27 Aug

Given the current crisis over use of chemical weapons in Syria, here are excerpts from a recent story from NKNews.org on the origins of North Korean Syrian chemical warfare cooperation. (Full story on NKNews.org http://www.nknews.org/2013/06/north-korea-and-syrian-chemical-and-missile-programs/)

North Korea and Syrian chemical and missile programs

North Korean military experts are training Syria how to play with chemicals
Family Ties

Family Ties

BY NATE THAYER , JUNE 19, 2013

WASHINGTON D.C. – North Korean military experts are deployed on the frontlines of the war in Syria, providing key assistance to the Assad government’s chemical weapons and ballistic missile programs, according to foreign intelligence, sources within the Syrian resistance and independent analysts.

North Korean military assistance to Syria is part of a lengthy covert war that has quietly raged for a decade, leaving a trail of dead North Korean and Syrian military scientists.

The North Korean military advisors now in Syria provide components and technical expertise to Damascus to adapt North Korean-supplied ballistic missiles as delivery systems for their chemical weapons arsenal.

Captured chemical weapons equipment from Aleppo | Photo: Syrian Free Army

Captured chemical weapons equipment from Aleppo | Photo: Syrian Free Army

AL-SAFIR : A LONG AND CRITICAL HISTORY

At Syria’s biggest chemical weapons facility and missile base at al-Safir, 20 kilometers southeast of Aleppo in northern Syria, North Koreans have long been crucial to the development of the Syrian military program.

The sprawling ballistic missile and chemical weapons development facility was designed and built by North Korean engineers and specialists in the 1990s, and has since been frequently expanded.

(Full story on NKNews.org http://www.nknews.org/2013/06/north-korea-and-syrian-chemical-and-missile-programs/)

Syrian Chemical Weapons: The odd tale of a lone Israeli spy and North Korea

27 Aug

The odd tale of a lone Israeli spy and North Korea

Given the current crisis over use of chemical weapons in Syria, here is a link to a recent story on NKNews.org on clandestine North Korean Syrian chemical warfare cooperation (see full story at NKNews.org http://www.nknews.org/2013/06/the-odd-tale-of-a-lone-israeli-spy-and-north-korea/)

Explosion kills Syrian technicians on North Korean train, Israeli agent spotted in Pyongyang
an-israel-spy-in-north-korea (1)
BY NATE THAYER , JUNE 20, 2013

WASHINGTON D.C. – In the weeks after the mysterious Ryongchon train explosion that killed a dozen Syrian weapons scientists in North Korea on April 22, 2004, the Canadian Office of Foreign Affairs announced they were investigating reports that an Israeli Mossad spy travelling on a stolen Canadian passport was in North Korea around the time of the blast.

Zev William Barkan was last seen in late April in Pyongyang, North Korea, after travelling there from Beijing using a Canadian passport issued under the name Kevin William Hunter, according to the Toronto Globe and Mail and other media reports. “The Canadian passport of Kevin William Hunter was said to have been reported stolen in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou on April 11, 2004”—11 days before the massive blast, measuring 3.6 on the Richter scale, at Ryongchon.

“Israel Mossad agent in North Korea?” read the headline in the August 4 Jerusalem Post, adding “New Zealand passport scam takes Canadian twist.”

The Canadian Press reported “Federal officials are investigating whether a suspected Israeli spy is travelling in Asia on a stolen Canadian passport.”

It said “agencies are checking allegations that Zev William Barkan – embroiled in a New Zealand espionage caper – is using a Canadian passport issued under the name Kevin William Hunter.”

“That part of the story’s being checked,” said Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Reynald Doiron. “All of that being put together, we should have a clearer picture.”

Foreign Affairs spokesman Reynald Doiron told Canadian CTV television that “We are checking the information. We know some of the answers but not all of them and we are determined to get to the bottom of this.”

(see full story at NKNews.org http://www.nknews.org/2013/06/the-odd-tale-of-a-lone-israeli-spy-and-north-korea/)

The violent consequences of the North Korea-Syria chemical arms trade

27 Aug

A recent story on NKNews.org on the North Korean Origins of the Syrian Chemical Weapons Program has renewed timeliness given the current crisis over chemical weapons use against civilians in Syria

(full story at NKNews.orghttp://www.nknews.org/2013/06/the-violent-consequences-of-the-north-korea-syria-arms-trade/

Clandestine cooperation between pariah states has left trail of bodies
BY NATE THAYER , JUNE 20, 2013

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The blast at the al-Safir facility in July 2007, killing Syrians, Iranians and at least three North Korean ballistic missile specialists, is just one occasion in which underover operatives have died working on Damascus’s WMD arsenal.

The clandestine weapons collaboration between North Korea and Damascus in recent years has left a trail of bodies from Moscow to the Syrian desert to North Korea in a deadly game of spy versus spy hidden in the shadows of the Middle East.

A mysterious blast nine years ago was one of many incidents in which individuals, including North Koreans, have met violent ends cooperating with Syria in developing weapons of mass destruction.

Photo of crater after explosion, Ryongchon 2004 | Picture credit: David Hill, ECHO

Photo of crater after explosion, Ryongchon 2004 | Picture credit: David Hill, ECHO

(full story at NKNews.orghttp://www.nknews.org/2013/06/the-violent-consequences-of-the-north-korea-syria-arms-trade/

Global Trail of Dead Scientists Price of Illicit Pyongyang-Syria Weapons Collaboration

23 Jun

Global Trail of Dead Scientists Price of Illicit Pyongyang-Syria Weapons Collaboration

Deadly Spy War Erupts When Israel Views the Two Pariah States Have Crossed a ‘Red Line’

BY NATE THAYER

JUNE 20, 2013

NKNews.org

WASHINGTON, D.C. –

In July 2007, an explosion rocked the al-Safir chemical weapons and ballistic missile research  facility buried in cavernous underground tunnels dug under a mountain near Allepo in Northwestern Syria. Under the command of the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center,  Syria’s largest and most secret military facility was constructed by North Korean specialists in the 1990’s.

Working in the pre-dawn cool desert temperatures, the blast killed North Korean missile engineers attempting to weaponize North Korean supplied Scud-C missiles with mustard gas chemical warheads  at a North Korean built weapons development base near Allepo.

photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrians walk through the rubble at the scene where multiple explosions hit the center of Aleppo, Syria on October 3, 2012.  Read more: http://www.upi.com/Top_News/Special/2012/12/13/Scud-attacks-signal-Syrian-regime-alarm/UPI-97451355420939/#ixzz2X0Vgz6Ru

photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrians walk through the rubble at the scene where multiple explosions hit the center of Aleppo, Syria on October 3, 2012.

The mysterious explosion released VX and Sarin nerve agents and mustard gas into the atmosphere, killing at least 15 Syrian military and chemical warfare specialists, “dozens” of Iranians engineers, and at least three North Korean ballistic missile experts.

Syrian defense sources told Jane’s Defense Weekly that during a 26 July “test to weaponize a 500 km ‘Scud C’ with a mustard gas warhead, an explosion occurred in a laboratory adjacent to a chemical agent storage facility” at the most heavily gaurded military camp in Syria.

While Syrian investigators privately determined the blast was an act of sabotage, one senior Israeli intelligence official told Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman, a top authority on Israeli’s secret services, that it was “a wonderful accident.’

Less than two months later, in September, 2007, Israeli F-16 fighter jets destroyed a North Korean-designed and constructed plutonium nuclear weapons plant in the remote northeastern Syrian Desert. That assault killed an estimated 10 North Korean nuclear scientists working at the secret nuclear facility near the Euphrates river.

North Korean No. 125 Factory, or “Pyongyang Pig Factory” as it is called by North Korea, in Pyongyang, produces surface-to-ship SCUD missiles. This photo was taken by a secret Burmese military delegation. The factory has also hosted missile buyers from the Middle East, including Syria.

North Korean No. 125 Factory, or “Pyongyang Pig Factory” as it is called by North Korea, in Pyongyang, produces surface-to-ship SCUD missiles. This photo was taken by a secret Burmese military delegation. The factory has also hosted missile buyers from the Middle East, including Syria.

But the two incidents were not the first time North Korean and Syrian military scientists had died during the quarter century the two pariah nations have methodically collaborated.

And it would not be the last.

The blast at the al-Safir chemical warfare and ballistic missile development facility which was built with crucial North Korean collaboration in July 2007, and the destruction of the nuclear bomb making plant weeks later by an air assault of Israeli F-16 fighter jets, are just two in a series of occasions when Syrian and North Korean clandestine operatives have died working on Damascus’s illicit WMD arsenal.

The Tirshan military museum in Damascus buily and designed by North Korea. The artist renderings are also created by the North Korean propaganda artists in Pyongyang

The Tirshan military museum in Damascus buily and designed by North Korea. The artist renderings are also created by the North Korean propaganda artists in Pyongyang

The clandestine weapons collaboration between North Korea and Damascus in recent years has left a trail of bodies from Moscow to the Syrian desert to North Korea in a deadly game of spy versus spy hidden in the shadows of the Middle East.

A mysterious blast near the Chinese border in North Korea nine years ago was one of many incidents in which key personnel have met violent ends cooperating with Syria in developing weapons of mass destruction.

SYRIA AND THE RYONGCHON ‘BOMB’

In early 2004, the United States National Security Agency detected a curious, unusually high cluster of sustained electronic communications traffic between a remote location in the northeast Syrian Desert and Pyongyang. The NSA shared the information with Israel’s military signals intelligence and cypher department, Unit 8200, which designated the information for priority monitoring.

A few months later, on April 22, 2004, an explosion destroyed a train and decimated the small northwestern North Korean town of Ryongchon, in the heart of North Korea’s missile, chemical warfare, and nuclear weapons industrial production infrastructure, as the freight train headed to the coastal shipping port of Nampo with its highly secret cargo.

The explosion, measuring 3.6 on the Richter scale and detected at international earthquake monitoring stations in Russia, Japan and the United States, was so devastating that Pyongyang appealed for emergency international humanitarian aid to address the crisis–a highly unusual public action by the secretive regime. The International Committee of the Red Cross was allowed to visit the area and reported 40% of the town had been flattened, more than 160 people killed and 1,300 injured, destroying thousands of buildings and leaving a crater 72 meters deep at the Ryongchon railway station.

Photo of crater after explosion, Ryongchon 2004 | Picture credit: David Hill, ECHO

Photo of crater after explosion, Ryongchon 2004 | Picture credit: David Hill, ECHO

Nine hours earlier, Kim Jong-il, the ruler of the world’s most closed and destabilizing nation, had passed through the station in his private rail-car on the return from a visit to his allies in Beijing.

Pyongyang officially said a train carrying fertilizer containing ammonium nitrate and petroleum accidentally came into contact with electrical wires and exploded, but in the years since a clearer portrait of intrigue has emerged suggesting intentional sabotage was responsible for the massive explosion.

In fact, the train was destroyed by a mobile telephone remote control device activated by unknown persons nearby, intelligence agencies have since concluded.

Never acknowledged is that more than a dozen Syrian ballistic missile weapons scientists and technicians employed by the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center, the agency in charge of Syria’s covert weapons of mass destruction development program, were killed in the mysterious blast.

The Syrian weapons specialists were accompanying a highly clandestine cargo of missile and other components to the North Korean port of Nampo, destined for Syria’s weapons of mass destruction development program operated by the SSRC.

Destroyed train where 12 Syrian missile scientists were killed in Ryongchon, North Korea April 22, 2004

Destroyed train where 12 Syrian missile scientists were killed in Ryongchon, North Korea April 22, 2004

North Korean military wearing chemical hazard protective suits removed debris and the Syrian bodies from the scene. Within days, Syrian military aircraft arrived under the auspices of delivering humanitarian aid to the civilian blast victims, and on May 1 departed with the bodies of the dead Syrian SSRC employees.

The approximately one dozen dead Syrians were claimed by the SSRC, and the Syrian and North Korean military personnel who transported the bodies to the Syrian aircraft were also wearing hazardous protective suits.

By mid-May, North Korean security officials had found a damaged cellphone still wrapped in duct tape near the explosion and abruptly halted the countries entire nascent mobile phone system, confiscating the 10,000 mobile devices in use in the first national cellphone network, established only months before.

North Korea did not allow mobile phone use in the country for another five years.

Chemical weapons site in Syria where North Korean technical advisers are based ( Map by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies

Chemical weapons site in Syria where North Korean technical advisers are based ( Map by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies

In the period after the blast, Israeli and other intelligence services noted more than a dozen trips to Pyongyang by senior officials of the SSRC involved in their missile, chemical warfare and nuclear weapons development program.

On May 4, Sankei Sinbun newspaper in Japan first hinted at the blast not being an accident, reporting ten Syrians working for the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center were killed “accompanying ‘large equipment’ and that the damage from the explosion was greatest in the portion of the train they occupied.”

The paper reported that North Korean military wearing protective suits responded and “removed material only from the Syrians’ section of the train.”

But the paper offered no speculation as to the cause of the blast, saying it was “not known whether the cargo was the source of the explosion or whether it had exploded following a separate explosion on another section of the train.”

The bodies of the Syrians were “taken home on May 1 by a Syrian aircraft, which had come to Pyongyang to deliver aid supplies.”

Within weeks several foreign governments had privately confirmed the Syrian plane transporting the bodies back to Damascus.

“Syrian and DPRK medical and military personnel who were involved in transporting [the Syrians and other victims] were also reportedly wearing protective suits similar to those worn by the DPRK military personnel who arrived on the scene immediately after the accident.”

According to KCNA “in connection with the explosion at Ryongchon Railway Station…Emergency relief goods came to the DPRK from China, Russia and Syria at the end of April.”

North Korean officers visit Syrian government wounded soldiers in Damascus hospital in 2012 (Photo: SANA/North Korean Leadership Watch/Michael Madden)

North Korean officers visit Syrian government wounded soldiers in Damascus hospital in 2012 (Photo: SANA/North Korean Leadership Watch/Michael Madden)

Three weeks after the accident, North Korea cut all telephone lines to the rest of the world, likely to either to prevent foreign reporting or to shield their own population from learning news about the accident

On May 18, MiddleEastNewsline reported that a “North Korean missile shipment to Syria was halted when a train collision in that Asian country destroyed the missile cargo and killed about a dozen Syrian technicians,” citing U.S. government sources. “The officials said the technicians were accompanying a train car full of missile components and other equipment from a facility near the Chinese border to a North Korea port.”

“The way it was supposed work was that the train car full of missiles and components would have arrived at the port and some would have been shipped to Syria while others would have been transported by air,” an U.S. official was quoted by MiddleEastNewsline.

The source stated that the plane came to bring the relief supply from Syria and returned with the bodies. The bodies were claimed by Syrian Technical Research Center(Centre d’Etudes et de Recherche Scientific: CERS)

The US official said the North Korean train cargo was also believed to have contained tools for the production of ballistic missiles.  North Korea has sold Syria the extended-range Scud C and Scud D missiles, according to reports by Middle East Newsline.

Officials said the North Korean shipment to Syria was not meant to have contained chemical or biological weapons.  Foreign relief workers from the International Committee for the Red Cross and the United Nations who surveyed the scene at Ryongchon the day after the blast did not report any chemical contamination.

“Syrians were wearing protective suits at the time of the accident and in the middle of transporting large packaged equipment. At the explosion, a lot of N. Korean Scud-D missiles and (rocket) propellant went off.”

Foreign intelligence sources have confirmed to NKNews that the missiles were assembled at ‘Shin-eum-ri Factory’ near Pyongyang, the rocket engines were made at ‘January 8th Factory’ in Kaechon, the missile bodies were manufactured at ‘No. 26 Factory’ in Namchondong, and chemical warheads at ‘Namheung Chemical Factory’. These components were being transported on the train at the time of the explosion.

The Tae-sung Machine Factory (a.k.a., Chamjin Missile Factory) is North Korea's primary manufacturer of ballistic missiles, conducting final assembly of components and sub-systems it has produced or from those supplied to it from other facilities and sources. While the primary responsibility for the development of the Taepodong and Unha systems lies with the No. 7 Factory of the Second Academy of Natural Sciences (SANS), the Tae-sung Machine Factory has been associated with the production phase of these systems. Includes satellite imagery from DigitalGlobe's Analysis Center. (KPA Journal/Joseph S. Bermudez Jr.)

The Tae-sung Machine Factory (a.k.a., Chamjin Missile Factory) is North Korea’s primary manufacturer of ballistic missiles, conducting final assembly of components and sub-systems it has produced or from those supplied to it from other facilities and sources. While the primary responsibility for the development of the Taepodong and Unha systems lies with the No. 7 Factory of the Second Academy of Natural Sciences (SANS), the Tae-sung Machine Factory has been associated with the production phase of these systems. Includes satellite imagery from DigitalGlobe’s Analysis Center. (KPA Journal/Joseph S. Bermudez Jr.)

But other officials said the North Korean shipment did not include chemical weapons, noting foreign rescue crews and humanitarian aid workers at the train explosion site did not report any chemical contamination.

Japan’s Kyodo News cited diplomatic sources in Vienna saying the explosion measured 3.6 on the Richter scale, a blast equaling about 800 tons of TNT — eight times that announced by North Korea. The blast statistics were compiled by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization. Korean Central News Agency had reported that the power of the blast was that of 100 tons of dynamite.

The CTBTO said the explosion was observed using seismological observation stations built to detect nuclear tests in Korea, Japan, the United States and Russia.

On May 19 all cell phones were confiscated in Pyongyang, and the next day the ban was imposed nationwide.

In secret U.S. embassy in Seoul cables from 2009 released by WikiLeaks, U.S. diplomats reported Hyundai Group Chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun, who met North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang in 2007, told U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Kathleen Stephens in 2009, “Kim believed that the explosion at Ryongchon Station was a failed attempt to assassinate him.”

Hyun was quoted in the U.S. embassy documents saying the explosion “was revealed through mobile phones” and “the introduction of mobile phones in the North was markedly delayed.”

The Chinese Chongqing Evening News in Szechuan province reported “analysts believe that the catastrophic consequences of this North Korean train explosion followed from an attempted plan to target North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il for assassination” saying “clues collected along the tracks indicated that unhealthy elements had used mobile phones. For fear that internal information would leak [to the outside], the mobile phone business would be stopped.”

The order to halt mobile phone service came “directly from the Korean National Defense Committee” ordering “that previously held mobile phones confiscated.”

By 2008, diplomats had concluded that the reports of dead Syrian scientists were true. The London Sunday times reported that “Diplomats based in Pyongyang have said they now believe reports that about a dozen Syrian technicians were killed” in the blast.

“Their bodies were flown home by a Syrian military cargo aircraft which was spotted on May 1, 2004 at Pyongyang.”

The Times said “Diplomats said the Sankei Shimbun report was now believed to be accurate.”

Large portrait of founders of Syria and North Korea at the North Korean constructed and designed Tirshan War memorial museum in Damascus

Large portrait of founders of Syria and North Korea at the North Korean constructed and designed Tirshan War memorial museum in Damascus

On May 24, the South Korean paper Chosun Ilbo reported that North Korean security police believed the explosion was an assassination attempt against leader Kim Jong Il, quoting a North Korean businessman on a visit to China as saying “The North Korean National Security Agency has investigated the incident since it took place and concluded that rebellious forces had plotted the explosions targeting the exclusive train of Kim Jong-il.  The security agency, in particular, gained evidence that cell phones had been used in triggering the explosion and reported to the North Korean leader that the use of cell phones should be banned for the sake of the leader’s safety.”

The paper quoted a defector in China saying  “It doesn’t seem to be a temporary measure, because even handsets have been conscripted following the cell phone use ban.”

Several years later, British author Gordon Thomas, in a book on the history of the Israeli intelligence service, Mossad, wrote that Israel was aware “that dozens of Syrian nuclear technicians were in a compartment adjoining a sealed wagon” and that “the Syrians had arrived in North Korea to collect the fissionable material stored in the wagon.”

He wrote that “all of the technicians were killed in the train explosion” and “their bodies were flown to Syria in lead-encased coffins aboard a Syrian military plane” and that Mossad believed that “North Korean soldiers in anti-contamination suits (who) collected wreckage and sprayed the area…were trying to recover weapons-grade plutonium.”

In the wake of the explosion, Thomas wrote, “Mossad tracked about a dozen trips by Syrian military officers and scientists to Pyongyang, where they met with high-ranking North Korean officials.”

Western intelligence officials, who say they do not know what caused the massive blast, do confirm that the Syrian military technicians were working for the SSRC, and were in North Korea carrying out the purchase of ballistic missile systems designed to be equipped with chemical warheads.

“DPRK military-related personnel wearing protective suits arrived on the scene immediately after the explosion and removed debris only from that section of the train where the Syrian group had been aboard,” according to the Japanese newspaper Sankei Shimbun on May 4, 2004.

Syrian military aircraft arrived within days under the auspices of delivering humanitarian aid to the civilian blast victims, but departed on May 1 with the bodies of the dead Syrian SSRC employees. The Syrian and North Korean military and specialists who transported the bodies to the Syrian aircraft also were wearing hazardous protective suits like those of the first North Korean responders to the blast scene.

NUCLEAR COOPERATION

While North Korean-Syrian military cooperation was known to Western intelligence services since the 1990s, North Korean-Syrian nuclear cooperation was not identified until early 2007, only months before an Israeli airstrike destroyed Syria’s nuclear reactor in a remote desert region near al-Kibar in northeast Syria.

When Bashar Assad took power in 2000 after his father died, Israel began updating its intelligence file on the young leader who had just assumed power upon the death of his father.

Analysts noted a stream of high-level Syrian and North Korean officials responsible for, according to the Israeli investigative journalist Ronen Bergman.

But the information was dismissed by the Mossad, Israeli’s legendary intelligence service, as implausible.

In the annual CIA briefings to Congress on WMD proliferation, the CIA did not list North Korea as a supplier of nuclear technology between 2001 and 2006.

But intelligence had begun to mount after 2001 that nuclear cooperation between North Korea and Syria had in fact begun “probably as early as 1997”,according to later CIA conclusions reported to congress.

Mounting evidence in the following years, in addition to the interception of an unusual amount of electronic communication between a remote Syrian desert location and Pyongyang and numerous reciprocal visits of high level nuclear officials and scientists between Syria and North Korea, was a stream of North Korean procurement of nuclear technology which they delivered to Syria, and materials gathered by Israeli intelligence in break-ins to a Syrian official’s London hotel room, where the contents of his computers were seized.

North Korean  Chon Chibu, nuclear engineer in charge of the Yongbyan nuclear processing plant with the head of Syrian Atomic Energy Agency in Syria. Note Syrian license plates on vehicle in background (Photo CIA)

North Korean Chon Chibu, nuclear engineer in charge of the Yongbyan nuclear processing plant with the head of Syrian Atomic Energy Agency in Syria. Note Syrian license plates on vehicle in background (Photo CIA)

This took place in December 2006, when a senior Syrian intelligence official came to London under a false name. Mossad agents broke into his hotel room and copied the contents of his computer.

What they found astonished them.

There were blueprints of a nuclear facility and scores of photographs of the nuclear plant under construction, apparently in the Syrian Desert.

One picture showed North Korea’s top nuclear scientist, Chon Chibu, who was in charge of North Korea’s plutonium nuclear fuel processing site at Yongybon, posing with Syria’s Atomic Energy Agency director, Ibrahim Othman. The license plates of the vehicles in the background of the two men clearly showed the rendezvous took place in Syria.

In February of 2007, a senior Iranian general attached to the Republican Guard Command defected to the west. He proved a goldmine of information. Deputy Defense Minister Gen. Ali-Reza Asgari revealed to the CIA and Mossad agents who debriefed him a bombshell of alarming information: Iran was financing a nuclear facility near completion in Syria that was designed and constructed by North Korea.

The defection was top secret and Asgari soon disappeared. Iran announced he had been “kidnapped by the Mossad and probably killed.” In fact, Asgari was whisked to a U.S. military base in Germany where he provided key details before being given political asylum.

ISRAELI STRIKE

In August 2007, Israeli commandos dressed as Syrian soldiers were inserted by helicopter into the remote northeastern Syrian Desert to the purported nuclear site near the Euphrates River. They collected samples which were brought back to Israel. Tests confirmed not only the presence of nuclear material, but the signature showed that it originated in North Korea.

Both Israel and Washington knew that there were North Korean specialists working at the site. “There are North Korean people there. There’s no question about that,” U.S. State Department official Andrew Semmel was quoted as saying in the aftermath of the attack.

That September 3, a North Korean ship, the Al Hamed, arrived at the Syrian port of Tartus with a cargo manifest claiming to be carrying cement. An Israeli agent was monitoring the ship and took photographs of the cargo. Israel contends the vessel was delivering key nuclear material for the plutonium weapons plant.

Three days later, and two months after the deadly blast at the Aleppo chemical weapons site, eight Israeli F-16 fighter jets mounted the stealth air strike on a top secret plutonium production nuclear weapons facility being built under contract by North Korea near al-Kibar .

Ten more North Korean nuclear scientists and technicians were killed in the Israeli assault.

The nearly completed North Korean-designed and built nuclear facility was the result of a secret pact signed by senior North Korean government officials with Assad in June 2002.

The estimated $2 billion nuclear weapons facility in Syria was partially financed by Iran.

North Korea was additionally paid with five annual deliveries of 100,000 tons of Syrian wheat, in a $120 million-deal personally signed by Assad, documents in the Syrian president’s handwriting show.

The bodies of the 10 North Korean nuclear advisers killed in the Israeli bombings were returned to North Korea in October.

In a secret April 2008 U.S. diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks, then U.S. Secretary of State Condaleezza Rice wrote to State Department officials that Israel had destroyed the reactor that “Syria was clandestinely constructing, we judge with North Korean assistance.”

 http://www.fas.org/irp/news/2008/04/odni042408.pdf

Rice spoke of the fear that Washington had of publicizing the information: “We have delayed sharing this information with you, because our first concern was to prevent conflict. “We believe -based on strong evidence- that North Korea assisted Syria with the reactor,” Rice wrote. “The U.S. intelligence community conducted an intensive, months-long effort to confirm and corroborate the information Israel provided us on the reactor and to gather more details from our own sources and methods…our intelligence experts are confident that the facility the Israelis targeted was in fact a nuclear reactor of the same type North Korea built indigenously at its Yongbyon nuclear facility” and “we have good reason to believe this reactor was not intended for peaceful purposes.”

 <iframe width=”420″ height=”315″ src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/yj62GRd0Te8?rel=0&#8243; frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen>

OVERCOMING SETBACK

Undeterred by either the military strike on the Syrian nuclear facility in September or the July explosions at the chemical weapons facility, North Korea and Syria exchanged high-level weapons delegations for urgent meetings immediately in September,  October, and November.

On September 10, 2007, four days after the Israeli bombing of the Syrian facility, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il sent a message to Assad reaffirming that “the excellent friendly and co-operative relations between the two countries are steadily growing stronger even under the complicated international situation.”€ A more strident message was sent the following day condemning the Israeli air assault as “illegal” and a “very dangerous provocation.”€

North Korean top envoy meeting Syrian head of state Assad in Damascus in 2006

North Korean top envoy meeting Syrian head of state Assad in Damascus in 2006

On September 22 2007, a delegation of Syrian diplomats, led by leading Ba’ath party figure Saaeed Eleia Dawood, was met by Kim Yong Nam, head of the Supreme People’s Assembly.

On September 24 of the same year North Korea’s official party newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, said, “Israeli warplanes’ intrusion into the territorial airspace of Syria and bomb-dropping are an outright violation of Syria’s sovereignty and a grave crime that destroys regional peace and security,” and that the United States supported this “brazen behavior.”

In November 2007, North Korean ground-to-ground missile engineers secretly returned to Syria to hold talks on how to resume tests to arm with chemical warheads the ballistic missiles Pyongyang provided to Damascus. The objective was to extend the range and accuracy of Syrian missiles to be able to reach the entirety Israeli territory.

ASSASSINATIONS

In February 2008, Hezbollah” chief of security”  Imad Mughniyah was assassinated in downtown Damascus.

He was also Hezbollah’s chief liaison with Pyongyang

Mughniyah had made several trips to Pyongyang and coordinated North Korean assistance to Hezbollah, which included a variety of conventional weapons, including surface-to-air missiles, training by Pyongyang of their guerrilla fighters, and the sophisticated construction of a North Korean-designed and built underground tunnel network in southern Syria along the Lebanese border.

North Korea’s connection to Hezbollah, Imad Mughniyah | Picture: Wikipedia

North Korea’s connection to Hezbollah, Imad Mughniyah | Picture: Wikipedia

Mughniyah was also one of the most-wanted terrorists and bomb-makers in the Middle East, widely recognized as the mastermind of the bombings at the U.S. Marine barracks and embassy in Beirut that killed hundreds of American troops and diplomats in the 1980s.

Israeli intelligence had information that Mughniyah was plotting a military attack in retaliation for the Israeli strike against the North Korean-built plutonium weapons facility, according to a detailed report by Der Spiegel in 2009.

On the night of February 12, 2008, Imad Mughniyah attended a party at the Iranian embassy in Damascus where other guests included the Hamas leader Khaled Mashal and the Syrian official in charge of coordinating covert weapons projects with Pyongyang, Gen. Mohammed Suleiman. After leaving the reception, Mughniyah was killed when a bomb placed in the headrest of the driver’s seat of his Pajero exploded.

Six months later, on August 2, 2008, on the coast near the Syrian city of Tartus, Suleiman was relaxing at his weekend home. Suleiman was Assad’s top military and security aide in charge of Syria’s covert weapons, including their missile, chemical and nuclear weapons-development program.

Suleiman was also Damascus’s chief liaison with North Korea.

Charged with ensuring the security of the North Korean scientists, military advisors and technicians stationed in and visiting Syria, Suleiman had made numerous trips to North Korea to personally oversee the procurement of nuclear and, chemical weapons, as well as ballistic missile components.

Suleiman was in charge of “development of missiles, chemical and biological weapons and nuclear research and development. He coordinated the transfer of the reactor’s parts to Syria and was in charge of security arrangements for the North Korean scientists and technicians involved in its construction,” wrote Michael Bar-Zohar and Nissim Mishal in their 2010 book “Mossad:  The Great Operations.”€

After the Israeli bombing destroyed the plutonium production site, Suleiman began plans to build a replacement nuclear facility, but “Suleiman’s new mission was much more complex and difficult than before, since he was now aware that he was on the Israeli and American intelligence agencies radars.”€

Accounts of what happened next vary depending on what sources are cited, but agree that Suleiman was in his vacation home when assassins’  bullets killed him while he was eating at his dinner table with family and friends.

A yacht with Israeli navy scuba divers and snipers was two kilometers off the Syrian coast.

According to the London Sunday Times, two scuba divers with guns in water-proof cases swam to shore, identified Suleiman and both fired one shot, hitting the chief of Syria’s missile, chemical and nuclear weapons program in the head. Other reports suggest Israeli snipers firing from the sea vessel.

Several days after the killing, Syria’s official media released a short statement: “Syria is holding an investigation to find those responsible for this crime.”

Secret U.S. diplomatic documents, released by WikiLeaks, quote U.S. officials saying Syria believed Israel was responsible for the assassination of Suleiman, who “enjoyed a reputation… as having special status and proximity to Assad.”

“As in other recent assassinations in Syria, speculation about who could have done it will likely be rampant,” read the classified August 2008 cable from the U.S. embassy in Damascus. “The most obvious suspects are the Israelis.”

RUSSIAN CONNECTION

In the 1990s, the commander of the Russian Military Academy for Chemical Warfare, Gen. Anatoly Kuntsevich, was also the top adviser on chemical weapons disarmament for then-Russian president Boris Yeltsin. But, as the former Soviet Union disintegrated, Kuntsevich secretly took on lucrative freelancing opportunities on the international chemical weapons black market.

In 1993, through a front company Kuntsevich created, he provided Syria 800 kilograms of key chemicals, smuggled from the Russian Military Academy for chemical warfare, to produce a sophisticated version of VX nerve gas which was adapted into chemical warheads.

Kuntsevich worked secretly for Damascus in exchange for large amounts of money to build their chemical weapons programs until 2002, when he was said to have died mysteriously on a flight from Damascus to Moscow. But Israeli investigative journalist Ronen Bergman notes that his headstone in a Moscow cemetery lists his date of death as three days before the flight’s departure.

His death came after several high level demarches from Israel to the Kremlin to force Kuntsevich to cease his chemical weapons activities went unaddressed.

And in 2010, the Russian deputy head of the GRU, the military intelligence agency, died in a purported swimming accident in Damascus.

Israeli agents are suspected of being responsible for both deaths.

HOME TERRITORY

In July 2012, the core leadership of Syria’s military and security services were killed or injured in a bomb attack at the headquarters of the National Security Bureau in Damascus. Asef Shawkat, head of military intelligence; Rajha Daud, Minister of Defence; Hesham Bakhtiar, head of the National Security Service; and Tourkmani Hassan, Chief of Staff, were killed in the blast.

What went largely unnoticed was the assassination four days later of Dr. Nabil Zougheib, Syria’s top missile scientist and head of the missile development program for the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center.

A trained missile engineer, Brig. Gen. Nabil Zougheib was a frequent visitor to Pyongyang. He had directly supervised North Korean missile engineers weaponizing North Korean supplied ballistic missile with chemical warheads.

“We have seen assassinations to people who hold key positions in research programs where the aim was to stop these research programs as with Doctor Nabil Zougheib,” Damascus based Syrian journalist Alaa Ebrahim said in media interviews.

Other Syrian scientists assassinated include a nuclear engineer and researcher, Aws Abdel Karim Khalil, and Brigadier General and chemical engineer Na elDakhil from the Department of Chemical Engineering.”

Dr. Ali Mohamad, editor-in-chief of the Syria Tribune, a pro Assad Damascus based media organization, said in a media interview “Let’s remember that the Syrian official who was responsible for all military research projects has been assassinated in Damascus by the rebels,” he said. “Let’s also remember that the person who orchestrated the Syrian long-range missile project colonel Dawoud Rajiha, was also assassinated in Damascus. This is about stopping the Syrian scientific military research projects and is about breaking the link that will help [Israel] overcome the Lebanese resistance and the Palestinians.”€

They were only the latest in a long list of dead scientists who have worked on Syria’s weapons of mass destruction development program over the last decade.

One Israeli assassin, a North Korean train explosion, dead Syrian scientists, fake Canadian passports, Dubai and New Zealand arrest warrants, and a poisoned Hamas guerrilla

21 Jun

A mysterious North Korean train explosion, dead Syrian missile scientists, fake Canadian passports, a poisoned Hamas terrorist, and the Israeli assassin: One curious tale in the bloody global spy war behind the Middle East conflict

An Israeli agent on a stolen Canadian passport spotted in Pyongyang raises eyebrows after Syrian weapons scientists are killed in a mysterious North Korean train explosion.

At the time, he was fleeing New Zealand charged with trying to steal the identity of a cerebral palsy victim. He later resurfaced with a fake beard on a French passport in Dubai in a hotel where a Hamas leader is assassinated.

Governments in Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and North America all want to talk with the American born Zev Barkin.

Canada has been looking for him for a decade…or were they?

See full story and related stories on North Korean-Syrian clandestine activities at NKNews.org

Explosion aftermath in Ryongchon, North Korea that killed a dozen Syrian missile scientists. Israeli Mossad agent Zev Barkan, inset, who was reportedly in Pyongyang at the time

Explosion aftermath in Ryongchon, North Korea that killed a dozen Syrian missile scientists. Israeli Mossad agent Zev Barkan, inset, who was reportedly in Pyongyang at the time

BY NATE THAYER

JUNE 20, 2013

 NKNews.org

See full story and related stories on North Korean-Syrian clandestine activities at NKNews.org

 WASHINGTON D.C.—In the weeks after the mysterious Ryongchon train explosion that killed a dozen Syrian weapons scientists in North Korea on April 22, 2004, the Canadian Office of Foreign Affairs announced they were investigating reports that an Israeli Mossad spy travelling on a stolen Canadian passport was in North Korea at the time of the blast.

Zev William Barkan was last seen in late April in Pyongyang, North Korea, after travelling there from Beijing using a Canadian passport issued under the name Kevin William Hunter, according to the Toronto Globe and Mail and other media reports. The Canadian passport of Kevin William Hunter was said to have been reported stolen in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou on April 11, 2004—11 days before the massive blast, measuring 3.6 on the Richter scale, at Ryongchon.

“Israel Mossad agent in North Korea? read the headline in the August 4 Jerusalem Post. “New Zealand passport scam takes Canadian twist.”€

The Canadian Press reported that “Federal officials are investigating whether a suspected Israeli spy is travelling in Asia on a stolen Canadian passport.”€

It said “agencies are checking allegations that Zev William Barkan – embroiled in a New Zealand espionage caper – is using a Canadian passport issued under the name Kevin William Hunter.”€

“That part of the story’s being checked,” said Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Reynald Doiron. “All of that being put together, we should have a clearer picture.”€

He told Canadian CTV television that “We are checking the information. We know some of the answers but not all of them and we are determined to get to the bottom of this.”

Governments on five continents have been seeking answers on the clandestine shenanigans of American born Mossad agent Zev Barkan for more than a decade.

TINKER, SAILOR, TOLD’YA HE’S A SPY

Barkan was at the time wanted by police in New Zealand in an espionage scandal that had erupted in the weeks before the North Korean train explosion.

The rare public spy scandal captured New Zealand headlines on April 17, 2004 when two Israeli Mossad agents were charged with attempting to illegally obtain New Zealand passports for the use of the Mossad operative Zev Barkan. When two other Mossad operatives were arrested, Barkan, who was in New Zealand between March 3 and 20th, vanished.

As part of the elaborate forged passport ring, Barkan attempted to assume the identity of a severely disabled New Zealand man with cerebral palsy.  He obtained the man’s birth certificate and applied for a passport under the New Zealander’s name and submitting Barkan’s real photograph, but his American accent raised the suspicions of a New Zealand official which sparked authorities to investigate.

The two Israeli Mossad spies who were arrested and jailed in New Zealand for attempted to obtain a fraudulent passport for Barkan in 2004 appear in an Auckland court. Barkan vanished

The two Israeli Mossad spies who were arrested and jailed in New Zealand for attempted to obtain a fraudulent passport for Barkan in 2004 appear in an Auckland court. Barkan vanished

New Zealand Foreign Minister Phil Goff told New Zealand radio that Barkan was a former Israel Defense Force diver and Israeli agent assigned to Israeli embassies in Vienna and Brussels between 1993 and 2001.

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark has said there was “no doubt whatsoever” that the men were spies.

Secret cables from the American embassy in New Zealand confirmed that U.S. officials knew the arrested men were Mossad agents. “We have very strong grounds for believing these are Israeli intelligence agents,” the cable, released in 2009 by WikiLeaks, said. “While Prime Minister Helen Clark would not confirm which service employed the men, she noted that if one were to lay espionage charges then one would have to be prepared to offer the kind of evidence in court which our intelligence agencies do not like coming forward to display.”€

Zev William Barkan

Zev William Barkan

One New Zealand news organization reported that  “Barkan is being investigated by Macau and Chinese Immigration for his movements in April/May. The investigation includes his alleged use of the U.S. passport in the name of Zev Barkan and a second Canadian passport in the name of Kevin Hunter – which was stolen in Guangzhou China on April 11th.”€

 From New Zealand To Pyongyang

The court arraignments on April 16 revealed the arrest of the two Israeli’s on charges of attempting to obtain a New Zealand passport, but Zev William Barkan had “fled the country and authorities concede they would not know where to find him.”

But soon reports emerged which placed Barkan, now travelling on a stolen Canadian passport, in Pyongyang in late April, according to the Australian Sydney Morning Herald and other media.

And in the ensuing weeks, months, and years, the unlikely saga only became more curious .

New Zealand, Canadian, Israeli and Australian media reported that Mossad agent Zev William Barkan was reported seen in Pyongyang working as a security adviser for the North Korean government€ where he was negotiating a contract to build a security wall along the border with China with Israeli-manufactured motion detectors and night vision equipment.

Unconfirmed accounts cited an “Asian-based NGO closely linked to New Zealand intelligence networks” at a conference in Japan on North Korean refugees saying Barkan and other Israeli agents had entered North Korea under the guise of security consultants in April.

New Zealand news site scoop.com quoted “a senior NGO chief executive with Global-Protect All Children” as saying “Barkan is there negotiating details of an extensive contract for design and technical equipment to support a security wall project, including- but by no means limited to -Israeli produced motion sensors and night vision equipment.”

“Barkan flew from Beijing to Pyongyang at the end of April. He was allegedly travelling on a Canadian passport issued in the name of Kevin Hunter, which had been reported stolen at the Canadian Consulate in the Southern Chinese city of Guangzhou in mid-April.”€

The account said Israeli experts were conducting a “feasibility study on a security fence along the 1500 KM North Korea China border.”

New Zealand believed Barkan “was trying to secure a ‘clean’ passport for use in a sensitive Israeli undercover operation in the region, less risky than a forged passport, “ according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Barkan was reported to have stolen the Canadian passport of Kevin William Hunter in Guangzhao, China and traveled to North Korea in April 2004

Barkan was reported to have stolen the Canadian passport of Kevin William Hunter in Guangzhao, China and traveled to North Korea in April 2004

ISRAELI-CANADIANS

Canada was already sensitive to Israel’s spy services carrying out black espionage operations under the cover of fraudulent Canadian passports. The Canadian investigation of Barkan followed another investigation Canada carried out only the previous week to determine why one of the two Israeli’s convicted in the passport scandal had used a Canadian passport, rather than an Israeli one, to enter New Zealand in 1999.

During his 2004 visit to New Zealand, he entered the country using his Israeli passport. Canadian authorities concluded that the arrested Mossad agent was a “legitimate citizen,” a dual Canadian-Israeli national, and that the Canadian passport he held was “genuine.”

But seven years earlier, in 1997, Israel-Canadian relations were severely strained after two Mossad agents carrying Canadian passports were caught trying to kill Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in Jordan. Mashal was injected in the ear with a poisonous toxin. Jordan immediately seized two Mossad agents posing as Canadian tourists and surrounded another six who had fled to the Israeli embassy.

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal survived a Mossad assassination attempt when two agents posing as Canadian tourists squirted poison in his ear on an Amman Jordan street in 1997

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal survived a Mossad assassination attempt when two agents posing as Canadian tourists squirted poison in his ear on an Amman Jordan street in 1997

Under the threat of execution and an embarrassing public spectacle after being caught red handed, an Israeli doctor was dispatched by airplane to Amman with an antidote for the poison which was administered to the murder target Khaled Mashal, who survived. The deal forced Israel to release from prison Hamas founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin.

After that diplomatic embarrassment, Israel promised Canada in 1997 that it would cease using Canadian passports.

After the Canadian Foreign Ministry announced they were investigating reports that Barkan was travelling on a Canadian passport in North Korea, New Zealand’s foreign minister, Phil Goff, said: “I have read with interest the Canadians are following up allegations he may have traveled at some point on a stolen Canadian passport. When he came to New Zealand my understanding was he was travelling on a U.S. passport. Clearly there would be co-operation between police forces in different countries to try to get to the bottom of these things.”€

A 72 meter crater at explosion site in North Korea that registered 3.6 on the Richter scale in April 2004. Remnants of a mobile phone wrapped in duct tape were found nearby by investigators

A 72 meter crater at explosion site in North Korea that registered 3.6 on the Richter scale in April 2004. Remnants of a mobile phone wrapped in duct tape were found nearby by investigators

“The passports that Mossad agents tried to obtain illegally might have been reserved for an assassination operation in a third country, which would have caused irreparable damage to New Zealand,” Foreign Minister Phil Goff was also quoted speculating to the Israeli newspaper Haâaretz.

In July 2004, a New Zealand media outlet reported a detailed, but unconfirmed account of how the fugitive Mossad agent, Barkan had fled New Zealand to North Korea. In an article headlined “NGOs Claim Wanted Israeli Agent Barkan In North Korea”, the report said “Zev Barkan, the suspected Israeli Mossad agent on the run from New Zealand Police, has been sighted in North Korea, according to an Asian-based NGO closely linked to New Zealand intelligence networks.”€

The train car in North Korea where 12 Syrian missile scientists were killed in bomb blast transporting weapons destined for Syria

The train car in North Korea where 12 Syrian missile scientists were killed in bomb blast transporting weapons destined for Syria

The account went on to allege, “Zev William Barkan turned up in Pyongyang as an Israeli security adviser in April, within weeks of fleeing from New Zealand prior to a suspected Israeli spy ring being sprung for attempting to illegally acquire a New Zealand passport.”€

The reports of the pilfered Canadian passport in Guangzhou, the Chinese city near the North Korean border, was only 11 days before the blast at the Ryongchon train station.

On April 22, 2004, a massive explosion tore through the train station in Ryongchon, North Korea, nine hours after North Korean ruler Kim Jong-il passed through returning from a trip to China. Wide speculation that the blast was a botched assassination attempt has lingered for years.

BOOMTOWN

A number of sources say that North Korean investigators had concluded the explosion was an attempt on the leader’s life, but more logical evidence points to sabotage directed at the cargo of sophisticated missile components destined for Israel’s enemies in Syria.

The explosion destroyed 40 percent of the town and had the fingerprints of an Israeli intelligence operation. Within days, North Korean secret police from the Ministry of People’s Security, found that a rigged cell phone triggered the blast.

The epicenter of the explosion was in railroad cars where a dozen Syrian missile technicians working for the Syrian Center for Scientific Research were accompanying missile and other components toward to port of Nampo to be shipped to Damascus. All the Syrian scientists were killed. The SSRC is the secret government agency in charge of Syria’s nuclear, missile and chemical weapons development program.

Scenes of the devastation April 2004, Ryongchon North Korea

Scenes of the devastation April 2004, Ryongchon North Korea

On May 24, 2004, South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo reported that a North Korean official visiting China said the North Korean National Security Agency had “concluded that rebellious forces had plotted the explosions.”€ The paper quoted North Korean sources saying security agencies had determined that a cell phone had been used to detonate the explosion and reported to the North Korean leader that “the use of cell phones should be banned for the sake of the leader’s safety.”

Indeed, five days earlier, on May 19th, North Korea abruptly halted the entire nationwide mobile phone service and confiscated all the 10,000 cell phones in the country. Mobile phone service was not resumed for another five years.

Reports emerged in the following days that North Korean investigators had found a damaged cell phone wrapped in duct tape near the site of the blast. Speculation among intelligence agencies and North Korean investigators was that Kim Jong-il, whose personal train had passed through the station nine hours earlier returning form a visit to China, was the target. Still widely unknown were the deaths of the Syrian weapons scientists and the destruction of their illicit cargo in the blast.

Israeli citizens Eli Cara (left) and Uriel Zoshe Kelman were sentenced to six months' jail for attempting to fraudulently obtain New Zealand passports. Photo New Zealand Herald

Israeli citizens Eli Cara (left) and Uriel Zoshe Kelman were sentenced to six months’ jail for attempting to fraudulently obtain New Zealand passports. Photo New Zealand Herald

In July, the two Israeli Mossad men in jail in Auckland were convicted in a New Zealand court of the Israeli intelligence passport acquiring scam and sentenced to six months imprisonment by the Auckland High Court. They were ordered to pay NZ $100,000 to a cerebral palsy charity.

New Zealand High Court Judge Justice Judith Potter said: “It’s difficult to see why anyone would want a false New Zealand passport unless it was intended to be used in a way ancillary to some other offending (law).” She said: “That offending is likely to be serious or perhaps very serious.”

The New Zealand judge may have been prescient.

In 2005, the year after the New Zealand passport scandal and the train explosion in North Korea, Barkan was back in the news, accused of trafficking in passports stolen from foreign tourists in Southeast Asia and was said to operate a security business in Thailand. “He goes to Laos, Cambodia, Burma and Thailand and deals with gangs who rob tourists of their valuables and passports,” an aid worker told the Sydney Morning Herald. “Barkan is mostly interested in passports and there have been a number of Australian passports.”

After disappearing from New Zealand, unsubstantiated media reports in Australia and New Zealand placed  Barkan in Cambodia, accused of running a studio making snuff and porn movies in a town on the Mekong River North of the capital, Phnom Penh, where foreign students and tourists were lured by promises of movie stardom.

Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was killed in a Dubai luxury hotel room in January 2010 by Mossad operatives using Australian, British, Irish, French and Dutch passports

Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was killed in a Dubai luxury hotel room in January 2010 by Mossad operatives using Australian, British, Irish, French and Dutch passports

In January 2010, Zev Barkan was again fingered by authorities–this time the government of Dubai—when a team of 32 Mossad agents carried out the assassination of a senior Hamas leader in a Dubai hotel room. Zev Barkan, using a forged French Passport under the name Eric Rissaneux, was caught on video wearing a fake beard, dressed in sports clothes and carrying a tennis racket, following the Hamas leader up the elevator and down the hallway to his room. Barkan then rented a room across the hall.

Dubai police chief publicly named the man using a French passport under the name Eric Rissaneux and other Mossad agents from the Kidon unit of the spy agency, responsible for assassinations and other special operations, as the culprits. There photographs were published and Interpol issued warrants for their arrest for murder.

Israeli American Zev Barkan in disguise on his forged French passport using the name Eric Rassineux

Israeli American Zev Barkan in disguise on his forged French passport using the name Eric Rassineux

At the time, Zev Barkan still had an outstanding arrest warrant in New Zealand for the passport scandal six years earlier.

The Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was killed in a Dubai luxury hotel room in January 2010 by Mossad operatives using Australian, British, Irish, French and Dutch passports, many of them apparently surreptitiously copied from unsuspecting travelling tourists who now had warrants for their arrests for murder.

The killers were all caught on hotel and other video cameras, some dressed in wigs, observed frequently changing clothes, some carrying tennis rackets as they stalked the guerrilla leader from the lobby to the elevators to the hallway outside his room. Hotel surveillance camera’s observed the agents using forged electronic room keys to enter the Hamas leader’s room shortly before he returned. He was found suffocated the next day, a paralyzing drug had been injected into his thigh.

Hamas leader exiting hotel elevator in Dubai. Behind him is Mossad assassin Eric Rassineux

Hamas leader exiting hotel elevator in Dubai. Behind him is Mossad assassin Eric Rassineux

But the Israeli team was long gone, all 32 having departed Dubai airport for different cities in Europe within an hour of the assassination the previous evening.

In August 2010, Dubai police chief Lieutenant-General Dahi Khalfan Tamimut announced that an unnamed “non-European country” had told Dubai in July they had arrested a Mossad suspect in June for the January assassination, but  Lt-Gen Tamimut complained the Country had since refused to cooperate or provide details.

But then in October, Lt-Gen Tamimut, unhappy with the delay, named Canada as the “non-European country.”

“A senior Canadian security official here told me in July that they have made an arrest of one of the suspects,” Lt-Gen Tamimut told The Globe and Mail.

Zev William Barkan in the photo he gave New Zealand authorities to obtain fraudulent passport in 2004

Zev William Barkan in the photo he gave New Zealand authorities to obtain fraudulent passport in 2004

The photo used by Barkan for his fraudulent French passport used on 2010 mission to assassinate Hamas leader in Dubai

The photo used by Barkan for his fraudulent French passport used on 2010 mission to assassinate Hamas leader in Dubai

Superimposed photo of Eric Rassineux from Dubai police over photo of Barkan from New Zealand authorities. His facial features are identical

Superimposed photo of Eric Rassineux from Dubai police over photo of Barkan from New Zealand authorities. His facial features are identical

“We want clarity on this issue. We want the Canadian authorities to tell us exactly what the details are — the thing that is discomfiting is the lack of transparency on this,” he told Reuters. “The person informed me then that this information was not to be released in the media and was only for the police. Since then we have not heard any more information and I don’t understand the secrecy.”

Shortly thereafter, the Al Ittihad Arabic daily reported the suspect was one of the two people shown on the hotel’s surveillance cameras wearing tennis outfits and carrying rackets as they followed the Hamas leader to his room up the elevator in the Bustan Rotana Hotel.

Later that month in October that year Israeli TV reported that the Mossad agent under arrest in Canada was the assassin using the alias Eric Rassineux.

The Israeli Mossad agent Zev Barkin, who fled New Zealand for attempting to obtain a fraudulent passport and was then reported to be in Pyongyang when the mysterious explosion killed Syrian scientists attempting to return home with a cargo of sophisticated weaponry,  has since been identified as the man who used the alias Eric Rassineux to murder the Hamas leader in Dubai.

Message tweeted by Israeli embassy in London the day Israeli ambassador was summoned to explain why 6 U.K. citizens had their passports used in the Dubai assassination. Barkan was dressed in a sports outfit carrying a tennis racket during the mission

Message tweeted by Israeli embassy in London the day Israeli ambassador was summoned to explain why 6 U.K. citizens had their passports used in the Dubai assassination. Barkan was dressed in a sports outfit carrying a tennis racket during the mission

But Canada soon refuted the allegations they had anyone in custody related to the Dubai murder, calling the assertion “baseless.”

Lt.-Gen. Tamimut also told The Globe that one of the suspects had entered the UAE on a fake Canadian passport.

“We have nothing to say at this point,” said Sergeant Greg Cox, a spokesman for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

“Tamimut said we gave this info to the Dubai police, and we didn’t,” Canadian embassy officials in Dubai told the Globe and Mail.

During the height of the dispute between Canada and Dubai in October, the UAE refused Canadian Defense Minister Peter MacKay’s airplane, which was returning from a visit to Afghanistan, permission to fly over Dubai airspace, forcing him to take a circuitous route over Europe.

Interpol mugshots of Mossad assassins in Dubai wanted for murder. Barkan is on the far left, third from top

Interpol mugshots of Mossad assassins in Dubai wanted for murder. Barkan is on the far left, third from top

ZEV, ZE’EV, LEV

“Former Israeli diplomat to New Zealand Zev William Barkan leads a life akin to that of novelist Frederick Forsyth’s Jackal, emerging from the shadows only to be named by authorities in connection with various crimes before again disappearing,” wrote New Zealand’s Fairfax Media in July 2011.

Zev Barkan was born Zev Bruckenstein in 1967 in Washington D.C, where his family owned a “doors and windows business” and his father was director of religious studies at a synagogue. He holds dual U.S. and Israeli citizenship after his family moved to Israel in the 1970’s.

Barkan entered New Zealand on a U.S. passport and had an American accent, according to New Zealand officials.

Other aliases he has used include Zev William Barkan, Ze’ev William Barkan, and Lev Bruckenstein. He told acquaintances in New Zealand that he was American and his name was Jay.

Dubai officials believe he was travelling on a fraudulent French passport using the name Eric Rassineux and Canadian officials were investigating him using the stolen passport of Canadian Kevin William Hunter.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Phil Goff told the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz that “The passports that Mossad agents tried to obtain illegally might have been reserved for an assassination operation in a third country, which would have caused irreparable damage to New Zealand.”€

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said “the New Zealand government views the act carried out by the Israeli intelligence agents as not only utterly unacceptable but also a breach of New Zealand sovereignty and international law. The Israeli agents attempted to demean the integrity of the New Zealand passport system and could have created considerable difficulties for New Zealanders presenting their passports overseas in future.”

She added: “The Israel government was asked for an explanation and an apology three months ago. Neither has been received.”€

When reporters for the New Zealand Herald tracked down Ze’ev Barkan’s family in October 2004, they were not well received. In the village of Shoham, 15 miles from Tel Aviv, Ze’ev Barkan wife, Irit, answered the reporter’s phone  call but claimed she did not know a Ze’ev.

His father, Yossef Barkan was more direct. “Stop calling here, you hear me. I’ve nothing to do with this business. Goodbye.”

See full story and related stories on North Korean-Syrian clandestine activities at NKNews.org

North Korea’s Hall of Mirrors: Fake Global Network of Shell Companies Key to Illicit Arms Exports

31 May

North Korea’s Global Hall of Mirrors: Shadowy front companies crucial to banned Pyongyang arms exports

Investigation reveals complex web of false shell corporations spanning the world enabling DPRK arms exports

By Nate Thayer
NK News
May 30, 2013

(See entire story at NK News http://www.nknews.org/2013/05/the-front-companies-facilitating-north-korean-arms-exports/ )
Four years after an aircraft was seized in Bangkok with a cargo of illicit weapons being sent from North Korea to Iran, the UN and other governments have concluded an investigation revealing new details of a sophisticated worldwide criminal network to circumvent UN sanctions designed to halt the proliferation of nuclear, missile, and other technologies to some of the world’s most volatile conflicts.

Dozens of shell companies involving at least 16 countries were created in the weeks before the aircraft was seized – paper industries designed to disguise the shadowy players behind the 2009 arms shipment that almost evaded international law enforcement.

On the night of December 11, 2009, the U.S. Ambassador to Thailand called the Prime Minister with an important request: U.S. intelligence had information a cargo plane had departed Pyongyang smuggling 35 tons of clandestine arms and was scheduled to land in Bangkok to refuel. The U.S. wanted the Thai army to seize the aircraft and its cargo, banned under international laws mandated by United Nations sanctions.

But when the aircraft was seized at 4.00pm the next day, the international intricate web of shell companies simply vanished into thin air.

In reality, they never existed except on paper.

The companies were all mail drops hurriedly established in obscure offices spanning the globe. They were all creations of other legal companies that exploited loopholes in national laws from New Zealand to Hong Kong to Ukraine to London – established to hide the true identities of the owners.

The officers listed on company registration papers were “nominee” directors with no power or knowledge over company operations. They received their instructions from the real owners whose true identities, nationalities, and locations they did not know.

Like an optical illusion, the complex global network was a hall of mirrors and the real identities of the powers behind the operation vanished immediately when the cargo was seized.

The only people that proved quickly identifiable were the airplane crew:–one Belarusian and four Ukrainians–who had no idea who they were working for, what cargo they were transporting, who their cache of goods was being delivered to, or even to where it was destined.

But the illicit weapons cache did yield a gold mine of documents that paint a vivid portrait of the complex global network used to evade international and national laws.

Leaked UN reports two weeks ago said their four year investigation into the Bangkok seizure had been concluded, and named three individuals who were part of the intricate web of deceit.

AN INTRICATE WEB

The 52-page confidential report by the Panel of Experts on sanctions against the DPRK named two Ukrainian citizens, Yuri Lunov and Igor Karev-Popov, and one citizen of Kazakhstan, Aleksandr Viktorovich Zykov, for their involvement in the North Korea arms cache seized in Bangkok.

Kazakh Aleksandr Viktorovich Zykov was an international arms trafficker whose company, then registered in the United Arab Emirates, owned the Russian made cargo plane until just months prior to it being used to transport the North Korean arms shipment.

Ukrainian Yuriy Lunov owned the Georgian company, Air West, who held the operating license to the aircraft, and hired the crew to fly the cargo plane.

Ukrainian Igor Karev-Popov was the mysterious figure who was “a UK based European” who controlled the New Zealand registered shell company, SP Trading, which from the shadows leased the aircraft from Air West from SP Trading’s shell mail-drop office in Kiev, Ukraine.

Upon leasing the plane, SP Trading signed an agreement with a just created Hong Kong registered front company, Union Top Management (UTM), which chartered the aircraft.

Four days later the aircraft departed Azerbaijan for a circuitous trip around the globe to Pyongyang.

From shell offices that included Kiev, Ukraine, Auckland, New Zealand, Hong Kong, and a mysterious company registered in London, SP Trading and UTM choreographed the operation. The cargo, which included 35 surface-to-air missiles that could theoretically shoot down a passenger plane, originated in Pyongyang and were destined for Hezbollah via distributers in Iran and Syria.

The real beneficial owners of the New Zealand shell company, SP Trading, ltd., and the Hong registered UTM were in real control of getting the weapons from North Korea to Tehran, where they would subsequently have gone to the Palestinian guerrilla army, Hezbollah, via Syria.

The four year UN investigation by the Panel of Experts, in cooperation with a number of law enforcement, aviation, and financial investigators and intelligence agencies, notably New Zealand, uncovered a jigsaw puzzle that has revealed remarkable details of how international criminal syndicated transport illicit commodities under the radar of international and national laws.

A PORTRAIT EMERGES

While North Korea can mask operations within its own borders, there are many national and international laws to abide by in order to operate globally – particularly in shipping, international flight operations, financial systems and company registration. This is compounded within the national borders of countries that are more sensitive to operating within the parameters of international laws and regulations.

Aircraft ownership, operator licenses, safety requirements, cargo manifests, international flight plans, etc, all required documentation – documentation that was found aboard the seized aircraft in 2009, and provided a paper trail that sparked 4 years of international investigation.

“New Zealand authorities investigated the beneficiaries of SP Trading and passed information to the (UN) Sanctions committee,” a New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson told NK News, confirming their ongoing investigation into who was behind the New Zealand-registered companies linked to the seized plane.

“New Zealand legislation will shortly be passed that will close the loophole for non-resident directors,” the New Zealand government added.

IGOR KAREV-POPOV

The “non-resident director” and beneficiary of SP Trading was Igor Karev-Popov, – the same Igor Karev-Popov identified as sanctioned by the UN Panel of Experts this May, and said to be the most important power behind the network revealed so far.

But while Karev-Popov had never previously been publicly identified by name, the New Zealand government has been aware of his identity since at least 2010.

He is is the mysterious unnamed “UK based client” who was the person behind the creation of the two key paper companies, SP Trading and UTM, who controlled decisions to lease the aircraft, create the flight plan, pay those involved, and, most importantly, approve the cargo manifest that, ultimately contained the 35 tons of proscribed armaments.

The real and beneficial owners of SP Trading and UTM were in control of getting the weapons from North Korea to Iran.

Those involved in the actual transport of the proscribed cargo and who set up the web of front companies, knew very little, if anything, about the scheme they played various compartmentalized roles in. It is routine, in fact, for flight crews to have no knowledge of the specifics of the cargo they are hauling, arms trafficking investigators say…….(See entire story at NK News http://www.nknews.org/2013/05/the-front-companies-facilitating-north-korean-arms-exports/ )

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