Energy Espionage: A Good Conspiracy Story? - Energy Week


By Nicole Stinson

Photo courtesy ofs Idaho National Laboratory.

The control of energy sources for years has had governments on the edge of their seats. Like the “one ring”, for Lord of the Rings fans, it has the power to divide, cause wars, corrupt leaders and give ultimate power. Considering the importance energy has on a country’s sustainability it really is no surprise.

Energy companies are no victims though; they hold a lot of the power in this political game.

New data from the 2012 state elections found that 12 states’ highest corporate campaign contributors were energy companies or individuals affiliated with the industry. According to the report, this made it the third highest sector behind real estate and health. States included Texas, Pennsylvania, and Montana.

Anthony Froggatt, an independent consultant on international energy issues and a senior research fellow at Chatham House tells BTR, “Energy is clearly a political issue, both on the domestic and international front.  However, in many countries it is becoming more political as government policies are required to change the energy sector to reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions and because of the considerable and growing uncertainties in the global energy markets”.

Developments in energy have also led to more sustainable alternatives such as solar powered cars, wind technology to generate electricity, and hydrogen-powered cars to name a few.

But as with all things political, there is always a dark side. History has already shown us this with Japan its first victim and the escalation of nuclear arms race between the US and Russia, known then as the Soviet Union.

“Nuclear power can be highly political and can be of national importance and therefore companies and countries can go take extreme measures to try and ensure that they have access to nuclear technology,” says Froggatt.

Joseph Cox in his article ‘India’s Nuclear Scientists Keep Dying Mysteriously’ even suggests that foul play has entered the political games. In October, two prominent, Indian engineers’ dead bodies were discovered on the railway tracks. KK Josh and Abhish Shivam had been working on India’s first nuclear powered submarine. Suspicion has surrounded the nature of their death with some insinuating poisoning.

In 2009, the body of Lokanathan Mahalingam, a nuclear scientist with access to top-secret information, was found in the Kali River in southwestern India. Local authorities ruled it a suicide; however, some have questioned its validity.

“Stories surrounding the nuclear scientist’s suicide seem quite dubious. Mental health professionals generally agree that anyone contemplating suicide desires a swift death,” writes Haleema Saadia for the Pakistani Daily Times. “Why would Mahalingam choose torturous and slow death? Did somebody throw him in the river?”

The Sunday-Guardian, a Delhi based newspaper, reports that the Indian Government admits there have been at least nine unnatural deaths of scientists and engineers at just the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) as well as the Kaiga nuclear facility in the last three years.

A string of mysterious deaths has also been reported in Iran, with local authorities blaming Israel’s secret service. Since 2007, five Iranians associated with the country’s nuclear industry have been allegedly been professionally murdered. US officials have told NBC that they believe the Israel and the People’s Mujahedin of Iran are responsible for the attacks.

“As long as we can’t see all the evidence being claimed by NBC, the Foreign Ministry won’t react to every gossip and report being published worldwide,” a spokesperson for Israel’s Foreign Ministry told NBC.

So is there an undercover nuclear war going on? Froggatt believes there is some evidence to suggest that there is but is quick to add, “who is involved, this is not possible to answer as it clearly not every company that uses or supports nuclear power is engaged in a ‘war’ type attitude”.

Others like Mycle Schneider, an independent consultant on energy and nuclear policy, remain cynical to the idea.

“Generally speaking, [nuclear energy] is not a hot topic at all,” he tells BTR. “There are indeed a small number of countries that are obsessed by nuclear power. This is either an issue of image ‘playing with the big guys’ or weapons.”

According to Schneider, the country with the most expenditure on nuclear energy still spent five times more on renewable energy in 2010 and last year increased spending on renewables by 20 percent.

Beyond the potential physical nuclear warfare espionage, the cyber world has had governments hacking energy companies and rival countries’ energy departments in an attempt to gain inside knowledge.

According to documents obtained by the Guardian, the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) hacked Brazil’s mining and energy ministry and subsequently has been involved in “energy talks” with companies.

Last year, energy companies in Canada, Vietnam, and the Philippines were hacked by several Remote Access Trojans (RATs). The IP addresses for the control group link the attack to China’s Beijing Province Network. This network has been connected with similar hacks in the past.

“The evidence suggests that the same group of people is behind the sweeping cyber espionage campaigns,” Joe Stewart, a SecureWorks researcher, tells the press.

The exact motive behind these attacks has yet to be proven but it is not hard to draw a few conclusions.

While the political and economical implications of controlling energy sources remains strong, so will the competition to control them and with competition there can be extreme measures including espionage, assuming these reports aren’t a nice conspiracy concocted by the media or the governments they serve.