from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2015, Issue No. 29
April 23, 2015

Secrecy News Blog:


A Russian satellite tracking facility in Siberia has produced rarely-seen photographs of a U.S. intelligence satellite.

The U.S. Lacrosse radar satellite was captured in images generated at Russia's Altay Optical Laser Center, apparently between 2005 and 2010. A selection of images was compiled and analyzed by Allen Thomson. See "An Album of Images of LACROSSE Radar Reconnaissance Satellites Made by a 60 cm Adaptive Optics System at the G.S. Titov Altai Optical-Laser Center."

"The images contain enough information (range, angular scale) to perform a bit of technical intelligence (i.e., sophomore high school trigonometry) on the radar antenna size, which is a significant parameter affecting capability," Mr. Thomson, a former CIA analyst, told Secrecy News.

While provocative, the intent of the imagery disclosure was obscure, he said.

"Why did the Russians release the images? The US is highly paranoid about releasing resolved images of spysats, ours or others. The Russian paranoia is at least as great, so how did these images get out? What was the purpose?"

The images themselves seem to be mostly just a curiosity. But perhaps they underscore the growing visibility and the corresponding vulnerability of U.S. space-based assets.

"Our asymmetrical advantage in space also creates asymmetrical vulnerabilities," said Gil Klinger, a defense intelligence official, last year. "Our adversaries recognize our dependence on space and continue to think of ways to respond to our space advantage."

He testified at a 2014 House Armed Services Committee hearing on U.S. national security space activities, the record of which has recently been published. Space protection, orbital debris, the industrial base and related topics were addressed.

Russia's Altay Optical Laser Center was profiled by Mr. Thomson here:


President Obama this week transmitted to Congress the text of a proposed agreement with the People's Republic of China concerning cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

Known as "123 agreements" based on section 123 of the Atomic Energy Act, such accords are intended to regulate international traffic in nuclear materials and technology. The agreements generally provide for physical safeguards on subject materials, require consent for transfers of materials or technology to third countries, and impose restrictions on enrichment and reprocessing.

As of early last year, there were 23 agreements under Section 123 in effect.

"We want other nations to enter into 123 agreements with the United States because our [nuclear safeguards] standards are the highest in the world," said Daniel B. Poneman, Deputy Secretary of Energy, at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing last year. "In our view, the more 123 agreements that exist in the world, the stronger the nonproliferation controls that will apply to all nuclear commerce." (The record of that January 2014 hearing entitled "Section 123: Civilian Nuclear Cooperation Agreements" was published last month.)

In practice, the picture is a bit murkier, as such agreements by definition facilitate international transfers of nuclear materials and technology with long-term consequences that cannot always be foreseen. Beneficiaries of prior 123 agreements that subsequently lapsed include pre-revolutionary Iran, Israel, Venezuela, and Vietnam.

The U.S. and China previously reached an agreement on nuclear cooperation in 1985, though its implementation was blocked until 1998. For detailed background, see U.S.-China Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, Congressional Research Service, updated April 20, 2015:

That existing agreement with China expires this year, hence the President's submission this week of a new proposed text. Among several proliferation-related issues likely to be considered in finalizing the pending agreement are Chinese missile technology exports and its nuclear support to Pakistan.

"China's expanding civil nuclear cooperation with Pakistan raises serious concerns and we urge China to be more transparent regarding this cooperation," the State Department's Thomas Countryman told the Foreign Relations Committee last year.

Meanwhile, Iran is reportedly discussing its research on neutron transport and nuclear modeling with officials of the International Atomic Energy Agency. An extensive bibliography of nuclear research published by Iranian scientists including neutron transport problems and many other topics prepared by researcher Mark Gorwitz in 2010 is available here:


New and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

Cybersecurity and Information Sharing: Comparison of H.R. 1560 and H.R. 1731, April 20, 2015:

FY2016 Appropriations for the Department of Justice (DOJ), April 15, 2015:

Domestic Human Trafficking Legislation in the 114th Congress, April 16, 2015:

Trade Promotion Authority (TPA): Frequently Asked Questions, April 20, 2015:

Mountaintop Mining: Background on Current Controversies, April 20, 2015:

FEMA's Public Assistance Grant Program: Background and Considerations for Congress, April 16, 2015:

Cuba: Issues for the 114th Congress, April 17, 2015:


Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

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