North Korea’s Latest Nuclear Test Updates

On Wednesday, November 29, North Korea tested an intercontinental ballistic missile that’s allegedly able to reach the mainland United States. On the same day, the country declared itself to be a nuclear state. This came a few days after US President Donald Trump put North Korea back on Washington’s state sponsors of terrorism list. In the meantime, the US and South Korea have been continuing to hold joint air drills.

It was the first time that a missile was launched from Pyongsong, a province in South Pyongan, around 29 kilometers from the capital, Pyongyang. The missile is a Hwasong-15, which is able to contain a nuclear warhead and is reportedly more powerful than missiles that had been tested earlier. It ascended to over 4,000 km into space and landed by Japan’s west coast, 1000 km from Pyongsong.

David Wright, physicist and co-director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Global Security Program said the this latest ICBM flew longer than the ones recently launched. He also said that this missile could reach any part of mainland US. “This is significantly longer than North Korea’s previous long-range tests, which flew on lofted trajectories for 37 minutes (July 4) and 47 minutes (July 28). Such a missile would have more than enough range to reach Washington, D.C., and in fact any part of the continental United States.”

However Pentagon Spokesman Col. Robert Manning said that the missile was not a threat to American territories or their allies. “The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) determined the missile launch from North Korea did not pose a threat to North America, our territories or our allies.”

After the test-firing on November 29, President Trump tweeted that he had talked to the President of China, North Korea’s biggest trade partner and ally. He also said that North Korea would be given major sanctions. “Just spoke to President XI JINPING of China concerning the provocative actions of North Korea. Additional major sanctions will be imposed on North Korea today. This situation will be handled!”

On the same day, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley delivered remarks at an Emergency UN Security Council Meeting concerning North Korea. Haley also called for all nations to sever ties with North Korea. She ended her speech saying that if North Korea would choose war, they would face destruction.

“The nations of the world have it within their power to further isolate, diminish, and, God willing, reverse the dangerous course of the North Korean regime. We must all do our part to make that happen….We have never sought war with North Korea, and still today we do not seek it. If war does come, it will be because of continued acts of aggression like we witnessed yesterday. And if war comes, make no mistake, the North Korean regime will be utterly destroyed.”

National security adviser H.R. McMaster, who spoke at the Reagan National Defense Forum on December 2, said that with every test firing, North Korea was learning more about the missiles. “It will take some time to assess each of these missile launches but what is clear is that every time he conducts a missile launch and nuclear test he gets better. Whether it is a success or failure isn’t as important as understanding that over the years he’s been learning from failures, improving and thereby increasing his threat to all of us.” The full video of McMaster’s speech can be seen here

At the Council of Defense Ministers and the Security Council of the Collective Security Treaty Organization in Minsk, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said he believes Ambassador Haley’s call for all nations to cut ties is a mistake. He further said that the US’ actions may be a provocation for North Korea to retaliate, and urged for dialogue instead.

“We have a negative view of this idea…. All resolutions introducing sanctions contained a mandatory demand to resume the political process and talks. The US side completely ignores precisely this demand. I believe this is a big mistake. In addition, it appears that the latest US actions deliberately aim to provoke Pyongyang into taking further steps. This past September, our American colleagues hinted confidentially to us (I will make no secret out of this) that the next exercise was only scheduled for spring and that the DPRK could take advantage of this pause and not make any abrupt moves either. Why not try and launch some kind of dialogue in this situation?”

China, North Korea’s closest ally, commented on North Korea’s ICBM test firing through Foreign Minister Geng Shuang, “The UN Security Council resolutions have clear stipulations about the use of ballistic missile in the DPRK’s launching activities. China expresses grave concern and opposition to the DPRK’s launching activities. China strongly urges the DPRK side to abide by relevant Security Council resolutions and cease actions that will heighten tensions on the Korean Peninsula. We hope that all relevant parties will act cautiously and work together to safeguard peace and stability in the region.”

The US and North Korea have experienced strained relations of late, with President Trump calling North Korea out for escalating their nuclear weapons program in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in September. The President also threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea in the speech.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un responded in a speech via the KCNA, the North Korean state news agency, saying that he would “tame” the US President “with fire.”

Full texts of President Trump and Kim Jong-Un’s speeches can be found at the following links:

US Prosecutors Unseal Cyber Espionage Charges Against Chinese Nationals

On November 27, 2017, US prosecutors indicted three Chinese nationals for allegedly committing identity theft, computer fraud, and abuse, and stealing trade secrets from multinational companies Moody’s Analytics, Siemens and Trimble from 2011 to 2017. These individuals were identified by US officials as Wu Yingzhou, Dong Hao, and Xia Lei, employees of Guangzhou Bo Yu Information Technology Company Limited, or Boyusec.

Boyusec is reportedly a Chinese cybersecurity firm based in Guangzhou, China. In November 2013, Boyusec was registered with the Guangzhou Administration for Industry and Commerce.

Lei is listed as an employee of Boyusec, but both Wu and Dong are listed as founding members and equity shareholders of the company. Furthermore, Dong was also Boyusec’s Executive Director and Manager.

According to the indictment, Wu, Dong and Xia conspired to launch “targeted cyber attacks against US and foreign businesses.” None of these businesses hired Boyusec, nor gave the company permission to access their computer networks.

Wu, Dong, and Xia have been charged a total of eight counts: one count each for conspiring to commit computer fraud and abuse, conspiring to commit trade secret theft and wire fraud, as well as four counts of aggravated identity theft.

These charges were announced by Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security Dana J. Boente, Acting U.S. Attorney Soo C. Song for the Western District of Pennsylvania and Special Agent in Charge Robert Johnson of the FBI’s Pittsburgh Division.

“Once again, the Justice Department and the FBI have demonstrated that hackers around the world who are seeking to steal our companies’ most sensitive and valuable information can and will be exposed and held accountable. The Justice Department is committed to pursuing the arrest and prosecution of these hackers, no matter how long it takes, and we have a long memory,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Boente.

Yingzhuo, Hao, and Lei allegedly used phishing scams and malware to steal intellectual property and sensitive information from Moody’s Analytics, Siemens AG, and Trimble. Moody’s Analytics, a unit of Moody’s Corporation in New York, furnishes financial analysis and risk management services, while Siemens is a large German technology company. Trimble, which operates from Sunnyvale, California, develops and manufactures GPS systems. The three hackers allegedly read the emails of one of Moody’s Analytics top economists from 2013 to 2014.

The emails from Moody’s Analytics had detailed confidential and proprietary economic information. In 2014, Dong Hao reportedly gained access to the computer networks of Siemens AG. Wu, Dong, and Xia then took around 407 gigabytes of the company’s commercial data concerning their transportation, technology and energy initiatives. And in 2015 and 2016, the alleged co-conspirators accessed Trimble’s systems networks and stole more than 275 megabytes of data, which included trade secrets of the company, as Trimble made advances in global navigation satellite systems, according to the indictment.

Acting U.S. Attorney Song explained how the cyber attacks were carried out. Song gave the details of how the alleged cyber hackers penetrated networks of the different businesses. “Defendants Wu, Dong, and Xia launched coordinated and targeted cyber intrusions against businesses operating in the United States, including here in the Western District of Pennsylvania, in order to steal confidential business information. These conspirators masked their criminal conspiracy by exploiting unwitting computers, called ‘hop points,’ conducting ‘spearphish’ email campaigns to gain unauthorized access to corporate computers, and deploying malicious code to infiltrate the victim computer networks.”

Warrants of arrest have been issued against Yingzhuo, Hao, and Lei, to the effect that the three men cannot travel in countries with whom the US has extradition treaties.

Special Agent in Charge Johnson admitted that cyber attacks are a growing problem. He also reiterated the need for agencies in different countries to work together to address these attacks.

“In order to effectively address the cyber threat, a threat that respects no boundaries and continues to grow in both its scope and complexity, law enforcement must come together and transcend borders to target criminal actors no matter where they are in the world,” said Special Agent in Charge Johnson.

For more details on the cyber attacks, please see:

Kellogg Replaces Flynn Who Resigns as National Security Advisor

On February 13th, General Michael Flynn resigned as National Security Adviser to President Donald Trump over his phone talks with the Russian ambassador, according to the latest White House documents released. Media reports from leaked information accuse Flynn of allegedly discussing the U.S. sanctions with Russia before Donald Trump took office. He is said to have misled officials about his call with Russia’s ambassador before his own appointment, BBC reported.

Under the law, private citizens cannot conduct US diplomacy. It is an illegal activity, BBC reported, citing U.S. code for Private correspondence with foreign governments.

“Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both,” according to the law.

Initially, Flynn denied having discussed sanctions with Ambassador Sergei Kislyak. According to other media reports, the White House had been warned by the justice department about Flynn misleading senior officials and being vulnerable to Russian blackmail.

Flynn, in his letter of resignation, said he had “inadvertently briefed the vice-president-elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian ambassador.”

The White House announced that it has named Lt. Gen Joseph Keith Kellogg as Flynn’s interim replacement.

Russian spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the Kremlin does not want to comment on Flynn’s resignation. “This is the internal affair of the Americans, the internal affair of the Trump administration,” Peskov said. “It’s nothing to do with us.”

However, some Russian lawmakers have defended Flynn. Senator Alexei Pushkov said on Twitter that Flynn had been “forced to resign not because of his mistake but because of a full-fledged aggressive campaign”. He tweeted that “Trump is the next target”.

Flynn advocated for a softer policy on Russia. He was criticized by democrats and questioned were raised for his perceived closeness to Moscow. Senior Democrat Adam Schiff said that Flynn’s departure would not end questions about contacts between Trump’s election win and Russia. Congressional democrats John Conyers and Elijah Cummings want the justice department and FBI to give a classified briefing to Congress on Flynn.

“We in Congress need to know who authorized his actions, permitted them, and continued to let him have access to our most sensitive national security information despite knowing these risks,” the democrats said in a statement.

Iran Tests Missiles, President Trump Responds

Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Hossein Dehqan confirmed reports that Iran successfully conducted a ‘ballistic’ missile test, Tasnim News Agency reported Feb. 2.

The defense minister said that the missile test was successful and does not violate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and the UNSC Resolution 2231.

However, U.S. officials criticized the missile test and claimed that Iran has violated JCPOA and the Resolution 2231. They also claimed that the test-fired Iranian ballistic missile exploded after traveling 630 miles (1,013 kilometers).

Dehqan did not say anything about the missile explosion. The Iranian defense minister, however, said that Iran will not allow the others to interfere in its defense affairs.

Meanwhile, 220 Iranian MPs recently issued a statement to voice their “full-fledged support” for the country’s Armed Forces. In a prepared statement, they said that “reinforcement of the defense capabilities of the Islamic Republic of Iran in line with deterrence strategy” is essential to ensure the country’s security.

Under the Resolution 2231, Iran cannot “undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons.”

However, Iran says that none of its missiles have been designed to carry nuclear warheads. It maintains that nuclear weapons have no place in the Islamic Republic’s defense doctrine.

In response to the reports of Iran’s missile test, Trump Administration has issued a statement, stating that Iran’s recent actions including “a provocative ballistic missile launch” underscores its “destabilizing behavior across the Middle East.”

“Recent Iranian actions, including a provocative ballistic missile launch and an attack against a Saudi naval vessel conducted by Iran-supported Houthi militants, underscore what should have been clear to the international community all along about Iran’s destabilizing behavior across the Middle East,” the White House said.

Houthi forces, which were trained by Iran, recently have struck Emirati and Saudi vessels and threatened U.S. and allied vessels transiting the Red Sea, according to the White House.

The White House criticized the Obama Administration for its failure to respond adequately to Iran’s actions including weapons transfers, support for terrorism, and other violations of international norms.

President Trump called various agreements reached between Iran, the Obama Administration, and the United Nations “weak and ineffective.”

The White House said that Trump condemns Iranian actions “that undermine security, prosperity, and stability throughout and beyond the Middle East and place American lives at risk.”

“As of today, we are officially putting Iran on notice,” the White House said Feb. 1.

Syrian Peace Talks Begin

The Syrian peace talks, that began on January 23, 2017 in Astana, the Kazakhstan capital, are the latest moves towards ending the bloody six-year old civil war in Syria. It is an initiative by Russia, Turkey and Iran and aims at consolidating a ceasefire agreement that came into force on December 30, brokered by Russia and Turkey.

Opposition spokesman Yahya al-Aridi said there are two main objectives of the ongoing peace talk: “First is the consolidation of the accord signed by Turkey and Russia on the 30th of December, concerning the ceasefire, and making this ceasefire cover all of Syria and at the same time taking care of all the breaches by the regime and Iran, especially in Wadi Barada and Homs and in southern Damascus and other areas in Syria.”

The talks began on Monday with representatives of some of the rebel armed groups sat opposite to the Syrian government delegation on a round table. They are also joined by representatives of Russia, Iran and Turkey, the UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura and the US ambassador to Kazakhstan.

Residents in the Syrian city of Aleppo express high hopes that progress can be made in the strife-torn Syria. One woman in Aleppo said, “I hope that the conference in Kazakhstan will lead to reconciliation. I hope that they all agree to stand with us and that God stands by our side too. God willing things will be well,” said one woman in Aleppo.

Kazakh Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov, said that it was time to “make the real breakthrough that Syrian people rightfully deserve”.

Some key players were not present in the talks. The prominent stakeholders like ISIS, al-Qaeda, Saudi Arabia, and the Kurdish-led, U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Council and a powerful militant group named Ahrar al-Sham are not attending the peace talks.

A spokesman for the rebel delegation, Yahya al-Aridi said that the meeting would contribute to the UN brokered Geneva talks on a political settlement, which are scheduled to resume next month.

Syria’s permanent representative to the UN Mr. Jaafari was critical of opposition delegation Chief Mr. Mohammed Alloush’s speech and said on Monday that it had ‘irritated the attendees’ diplomatic senses and experience’. A transcript of Mr. Alloush’s speech has not been released, but a video of part was posted online by a member of his delegation.

Alloush has warned “A political solution in Syria is our choice but it is not the only one because we fight for our rights; our right to live; the right of freedom; the right to decide our fate and the people’s right to decide who will represent them.”