- - Wednesday, April 27, 2016

U.S. intelligence agencies that monitor foreign missile tests have been working overtime in the past several weeks keeping tabs on test firings by China, Russia, Iran and North Korea.

The surge in missile tests began April 12 in central China with Beijing’s newest and longest-range intercontinental ballistic missile, the DF-41. The missile carried two dummy warheads that are the latest feature of China’s large-scale nuclear buildup — the addition of multiple, independently targetable reentry vehicles, or MIRVs, to its forces.

The Pentagon was silent on the test, but China’s Defense Ministry confirmed the test on April 21, describing the launch as a “normal” scientific experiment.

Then on April 19, Russia tested a revolutionary new hypersonic glide vehicle that travels at several thousand miles per hour and is capable of maneuvering to defeat missile defenses. The Yu-71 was launched atop an SS-19 long-range missile from a base in central Russia and flew east.

On the same day, Iran conducted the first test launch of what the Pentagon says is a covert long-range missile known as Simorgh. Iran has called the rocket a space launcher. The missile, which is believed to contain North Korean missile technology and equipment shipped to Iran in the past year, was fired from a launch facility at Semnan, located about 125 miles east of Tehran.

Defense officials said the missile landed within Iranian territory and did not send any objects into orbit, as would be expected. Iranian media were silent on the launch, which the State Department said might have violated the U.N. Security Council resolution on the Iran nuclear deal. The resolution calls on Iran to refrain from any rocket development that could have applications for long-range missiles.


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The Iranian rocket launch was following by Saturday’s test of a North Korean submarine-launched ballistic missile aboard a Gorae-class submarine in the Sea of Japan.

Intelligence analysts judged the launch a partial success since the missile, known as the KN-11 by the Pentagon, was launched from underwater at a depth of about 45 feet but only flew about 17 miles. Still, it is considered a significant step forward in Pyongyang’s drive for an underwater-launched nuclear weapon delivery system.

Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said the flurry of recent launches is an indication of the growing ballistic missile threat and is “something that we take very seriously with regard to all those countries.”

The spokesman added, “Clearly these countries have decided this is a moment to test those capabilities and enhance those capabilities and we see that as a concern, obviously, particularly in those cases when they are violating U.N. resolutions.”

Contra Comeback?

U.S. intelligence agencies are closely watching what appears to be the reformation of armed groups in northern Nicaragua opposed to the leftist government of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega. The groups have had small-scale firefights with Nicaraguan troops and police in remote areas along the Rio Bocay and the towns of San Jose de Bocay, Santa Rosa de Tapaskun and Ayapal.

The ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front is trying to play down the unrest, claiming the fighting is from “a criminal group” not linked to what could be a revival of anti-communist rebels once known as the Contras.

During the Reagan administration, the CIA backed a number of Contra rebel groups in Nicaragua as part of its efforts to overthrow the Cuban-aligned Sandinista regime that was arming communist rebels in El Salvador.

Free elections in Nicaragua led to the election of democratic President Violeta Chamorro and the defeat of Mr. Ortega, who shifted his politics from hardline Marxist-Leninism to democratic socialism and was elected president in 2006.

The most recent clash between the Nicaraguan government and the armed groups took place in March 28 when a number of people were killed or wounded. An earlier shootout was reported on Feb. 24.

In a YouTube video posted Feb. 17, militants from one armed group criticized the Managua government’s violation of the constitution, demanded fair elections and called upon other Nicaraguans to join their fight. A video claimed at least 45 groups have taken up arms and vowed to attack government institutions until new elections are held.

The person who posted the video used the handle “fdnnicaragua 380,” an apparent reference to the Fuerzas Democraticas Nicaraguenses — the Nicaraguan Democratic Force that was the largest Contra rebel group formed in 1980.

A human rights group in Latin America reported that one motive for the revival of the armed groups has been a series of murders of former Contra fighters in northern Nicaragua, along with complaints by demobilized Contras of government harassment and threats.

Vulnerable infrastructure

Idan Udi Edry, chief executive officer of the Israeli cyber security firm Nation-E, says critical U.S. infrastructure sites such as the electric grid, water system and other sectors are highly vulnerable to cyberattacks due to a key vulnerability: industrial operational technology (OT) that is different and less advanced than traditional information technology (IT).

“When you have an existing IT network and now you are connecting the OT part into the existing network, all of a sudden you’ve created millions of points that are completely vulnerable for cyber attacks,” Mr. Edry told Inside the Ring. “This is exactly where I see the potential threat in the United States.”

Numerous electrical infrastructure and electric power utilities currently are looking at ways to protect the infrastructure from cyber attacks through industrial operational technology, in particular the remote control and communications systems. These control networks use older technology and are in widespread use in the systems linking generators, transformers, and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems.

Nation-E, working with IBM and another firm called Checkpoint, is providing security against cyberattacks through infrastructure technology vulnerabilities, Mr. Edry said. The company currently is working with major power utilities in California, Florida and New York to harden their defenses.

Mr. Edry cited the recent case of Iranian hackers linked to attempts to hack open a dam in upstate New York. The dam cyber attack in New York was not carried out as part of a sophisticated hack into the Internet Protocol (IP) infrastructure used by traditional network. Instead, the hackers were able to carry out a relatively low-level break-in of less sophisticated, older industrial control technology.

“The potential damage from such attacks is huge and that’s exactly where hackers want to put the effort,” he said.

Staff writer Rowan Scarborough contributed to this report. Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz.

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