Monday, December 31

21 for 21

In recent weeks players have talked about the strange circumstances that occurred -- a gale force wind in New York that blew a punt 20 extra yards, missed opponents' field goals in which the wind blew the kicks wildly to one side, passes that seemed to hang in the air an extra second until Redskins could catch them -- and said they believed [Sean] Taylor was at work for them.
Happy New Year to my readers!

Happy New Year to the US troops and veterans!

An inspiring way for Americans to start off the new year is by reading Heroes Among Us: Firsthand Accounts of Combat from America's Most Decorated Warriors in Iraq and Afghanistan. (H/T John Batchelor Show.)

The book is by Major Chuck Larson, who served for a year with the US Army in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom and was awarded the Bronze Star.

My plan was to also wish happy new year to all those groups and individuals I knew about who have done more than just their job in supporting the US war efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and in other places around the world.

I was thinking about the kind of people who have given more than 100 per cent in their work; the kind who believe it's their responsibility to put all their heart into supporting the war effort.

But when I began drawing up the list I realized that it would need to be book length, to even begin to do justice to the many thousands who deserve credit.

So I will just wish a Happy New Year to all those who have worked overtime to support the war effort, and with a special note to those whose efforts never receive much mention -- the translators, cooks, camera crews, aides, analysts and countless other kinds of workers who have labored unsung.

And Happy New Year to my hometown football team! The Washington Redskins game yesterday was a highly symbolic and inspiring victory. Their entire astonishing comeback this season is a reminder that when your heart is fully engaged in a just cause, the winds have a way of blowing in your favor.
"The Washington Redskins were drenched with rain, sweat and even a few cathartic tears Sunday evening when they entered their locker room after a 27-6 demolition of the Dallas Cowboys.

Rock Cartwright screamed: “We won by 21! We won by 21!”

Several teammates joined in, the chants growing louder and louder, until the refrain echoed off the walls.

“No one had to explain anything,” defensive end Chris Wilson said. “We all knew what he was talking about.”

On a day when they capped an unlikely late-season surge by clinching the National Football Conference’s final playoff berth ... the Redskins’ margin of victory matched the jersey number worn by Sean Taylor, the promising safety who was shot to death last month ..."

Tuesday, December 25

Grey water, hot water, and the electric car battery deal

Although I was born and baptized a Christian I left the Church a long time ago. However, for decades I continued to celebrate Christmas, and I learned in India that the spirit of Christmas transcends religion. Yet in recent years I'd become quite a Scrooge, feeling like a stranger in a strange land around Christmas time.

John Batchelor's joyful Christmas show this Sunday for KFI radio gave wonderful gifts to his audience: discussions with the authors of A Bull in China: Investing Profitably in the World's Greatest Market; Happiness and the Human Spirit: the Spirituality of Becoming the Best You Can Be; and How to Change the World.

I thought sourly that even the segment on the dangers of asteroids and a discussion of the US presidential primary race didn't dampen John's celebration of hope for the future and affirmation of America as a beacon of liberty.

And I noted that even his discussion about Pakistan's politics with Najam Sethi, editor of Pakistan's Daily Times, ended on a hopeful note. Najam recounted that Pakistan's lawyers were joining with the country's feminist and other human rights activist groups to form the core of a revolution in the making, one that transcends tribal and religious affiliations.

Bah. Humbug. Pakistan would never change.

Then today came a knocking at my door. It was a Muslim friend bringing a Christmas present. After feeling the outline beneath the wrapping paper I figured it was a box of chocolates. When I opened the present I squealed with surprise and delight; it was a book I'd been wanting to read more than any other.

Later, knock knock. Some Jewish friends dropped by; they'd chipped in on a Christmas present. When I tore off the wrapping I found that the gift was a much-needed item.

Okay okay, I get it. Here is your present. Merry Christmas to one and all!

Very smart products, and a way to get smart product ideas around faster:

From Products We Wish Were in America:
[...] Sometimes, necessity makes for the most innovative products. In Australia, water is in short supply in many parts of the country, the result of a devastating drought. These days, Australia has become a country of water misers, with water-saving products to match. Gardeners who wish to water their plants can buy a new invention called the Water-Leech, which reuses so-called “grey water,” that is, water run-off from the bath or shower. A hose attachment hooks up to the shower or sink drain, then a pump in the relatively compact unit draws the water into a self-contained storage tank. Once the tank is full, it’s easy to wheel the unit outside to water your lawn or garden. The company says the unit can help the average household conserve 35,000 liters annually.

Another great water-saving product coming out of Australia is the instant, compact, continuous-flow hot water heater, which is slowly gaining in popularity in [America]. Rather than heating a large amount of water the way most hot water heaters in the U.S. do -- and keeping it heated -- this product instantly heats the water on demand and in a much more efficient way. Once it is activated, it delivers a constant supply of hot water. Since heating water accounts for over 20 percent of home energy use in this country, this energy-saving product could save homeowners money while also being more environmentally friendly. Also, the hardware on these systems usually lasts twice as long as that on regular tank systems. Some experts estimate that the average family can save between 30 and 50 percent of the cost of heating water each year with tankless systems.

Of course, cars are one of the biggest energy guzzlers. And driving electric cars is a great way to save on fuel. Norway has figured out a way to let consumers buy these autos at affordable prices by allowing them to lease the battery on the car. In the next few months, the two-seat, electric-powered Think City car will become available in Norway for somewhere between $15,000 to $17,000. Since the battery is the costliest part of the car (about $34,000), the company plans to allow consumers to lease it for about $100 to $200 a month, which will include other services such as insurance and mobile internet access. The web service will allow the company to remotely monitor the battery’s life, and contact owners when the battery needs to be replaced. [...]

Despite the globalization of commerce, there are still many innovative products that aren’t available in this country. That’s where web sites like Springwise come in. The company scans the globe for the most promising ideas and concepts ready for regional or international adaptation or expansion. Springwise has more than 8,000 “Springspotters” in over 70 countries who search the globe for new concepts.

“We regularly hear from readers who are interested in bringing a product or service to their own country, after reading about it on Springwise,” says Liesbeth den Toom, senior editor for the web site.

“Springwise is very much a child of globalization. By gathering ideas from a wide variety of countries and presenting them to readers based in over 120 countries, we believe we are helping to spread smart ideas faster.”

Tuesday, December 18

News Quiz: "During October what official brought up the subject of World War Three?" Syria, Iran, NIE, and nukes

September 6
Israel bombs site in Syria.

September 19
“I’m not going to comment on the matter,” Mr. Bush repeated twice when asked about the [September 6] strike at a news conference at the White House. When pressed, he added, “Saying I’m not going to comment on the matter means I’m not going to comment on the matter.”

"Mr. Bush’s remarks -- a relatively rare instance of a president flatly declining to comment -- also reflected the extraordinary secrecy here in Washington surrounding the raid. Most details of what was struck, where, and how remain shrouded in official silence. "(1)

October 3
"One month after the [September 6 bombing] the absence of hard information leads inexorably to the conclusion that the implications must have been enormous. That was confirmed to The Spectator by a very senior British ministerial source:

‘If people had known how close we came to world war three that day there’d have been mass panic. Never mind the floods or foot-and-mouth -- Gordon [Brown] really would have been dealing with the bloody Book of Revelation and Armageddon.’ " (2)

October 17
"If Iran had a nuclear weapon, it'd be a dangerous threat to world peace," Bush said. "So I told people that if you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested" in ensuring Iran not gain the capacity to develop such weapons.

"I take the threat of Iran with a nuclear weapon very seriously," he said.(3)
I have a hard time envisioning how Armageddon could have resulted from a few popguns immediately fired back at Israel, which pretty much sums Syria's arsenal.

It is public record that for years Syria was running centrifuges for Iran and that Syria is a 'client' state of Iran. Yet I don't see why hitting at a centrifuge-spinning site in Syria would immediately touch off Armageddon. But then the British official might not have been referring to a retaliation from Syria.
December 6
"Most critically, [the NIE] does not speak to the fact that the gravest injury that United States has inflicted upon the Tehran regime since the opening of the war in 2001 was the mysterious air to ground attack on September 6, 2007 against a target in eastern Syria."
-- John Batchelor(4)

Batchelor made that remark three days after the latest National Intelligence Estimate on Iran's nuclear threat was released. Up until that time, he had steadfastly refused to speculate about Israel's September 6 bombing raid on Syria.

Yet, if one wants to interpret his remarks literally, December 6 found John Batchelor implying that the Syrian sites were connected with Iran. He might have simply been referring to Syria's client status with Iran. But he just plopped out with that statement and gave no explanation or supporting data for it.

He did not provide data on December 9, either, when he stated flatly on his KFI-AM 640 radio show that "Iran has nuclear weapons."

Those who follow Batchelor's news show know that he is well connected with senior US and Israeli defense officials, and also that he is a stickler for only dealing in open source information. So while his statement about the Syria bombing raid is surprising, it is not a surprise that he wouldn't provide supporting data if he had such and if he was making a literal reference.

That leaves the public with the decision to outright reject his statements, interpret them in non-literal fashion, take a wait-and-see attitude, or try to play Sherlock Holmes with open-source data.

Given the gravity of the issues at hand, and that Pundita is not a Wait and See sort, I opted for Plan D. That means I've spent more hours than I care to recount prowling around at search engines, and trying to fit together a picture from slivers of data, anecdotal accounts, and speculations by experts in various fields.

One thing that jumped out at me after Batchelor's December 9 statement is that the NIE -- at least, what's been published of it -- avoids the question of whether Iran has nuclear weapons. The NIE is only interested in whether Iran has a program of developing nuclear weapons i.e., a program to develop indigenous or 'home-made' bombs. Just to make this distinction clear, here is exactly what the NIE says:

“For the purposes of this Estimate, by ‘nuclear weapons program’ we mean Iran’s nuclear weapon design and weaponization work and covert uranium conversion-related and uranium enrichment-related work ..."(5)
That is why I was interested in General Baluyevsky's 2002 statement that Iran has nuclear bombs. The wording of his 2006 statement is also interesting because while he seems to deny the earlier statement, his wording only pertains to "intensification."
"[The Russian military] said from the very beginning we had no data to speak about intensification of efforts in Iran in the field of nuclear armaments."(6)
If Iran already has nuclear bombs, I can see how the general might consider it imprecise to assert that Iran was intensifying efforts to acquire a nuclear weapon.

But to return to the "bloody Book of Revelation and Armageddon," initially I set aside the report that quoted the British official's remark because it contained what I considered a red herring:
According to American sources, Israeli intelligence tracked a North Korean vessel carrying a cargo of nuclear material labelled ‘cement’ as it travelled halfway across the world. On 3 September the ship docked at the Syrian port of Tartous and the Israelis continued following the cargo as it was transported to the small town of Dayr as Zawr, near the Turkish border in north-eastern Syria.

The destination was not a complete surprise. It had already been the subject of intense surveillance by an Israeli Ofek spy satellite, and within hours a band of elite Israeli commandos had secretly crossed into Syria and headed for the town. Soil samples and other material they collected there were returned to Israel. Sure enough, they indicated that the cargo was nuclear.

Three days after the North Korean consignment arrived, the final phase of Operation Orchard was launched. With prior approval from Washington, Israeli F151 jets were scrambled and, minutes later, the installation and its newly arrived contents were destroyed.(2)
All very interesting, but there were strong indications the raid had been postponed from a much earlier date:
... another report indicated that Israel planned to attack the site as early as July 14, but some US officials, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, preferred a public condemnation of Syria, thereby delaying the military strike until Israel feared the information would leak to the press.(7)
If Israel had been planning to attack in July, I doubt the North Korean vessel had been hanging around at that time.

This doesn't mean North Korea had not been making nuclear-related deliveries to the site in question for many months or even years or that the deliveries weren't part of Israel's concerns about the Syria site. But the reason for Israel striking the site much earlier than September 6 would still be open to question.

The October 3 report I quoted above, and which was published in The Spectator, was headlined, "We came so close to World War Three that day."

The headline made a splash at the time, and was known to anyone closely following the Syria bombing mystery and Iran's nuclear weapons program.

Less than a month after publication of the British official's statement, President Bush also plopped out with a reference to World War Three. It was a very odd statement -- inflammatory, even for Bush -- and caused much comment at the time.

Published commentaries assumed Bush was warning of a future threat. After reading John Batchelor's December 6 statement, it struck me that Bush might have been referring to the past. And signifying, for those who cared to dig, to look in the direction of the October 3 Spectator report if they wanted clues about the reason for the September 6 bombing raid.

Yet even if Bush and that unnamed British official were signifying that Israel struck something in Syria that actually belonged to Iran, that would still leave to speculation how the September 6 strike could have touched off a nuclear conflagration. What would Iran retaliate with? Their own popguns? Unless, they had nuclear weapons.

(It is a matter of record that Iran already has missiles capable of delivering a nuclear bomb and that the missile system can reach Israel.)

But US intelligence agencies don't seem to have invested resources in discovering whether Iran has imported nuclear warheads or key ingredients for assembling a bomb -- or at least, they've not announced such investigations. Ditto for European and Israeli intelligence agencies.

So I don't have much to chew on, aside from a moldering report about what a Russian general said in 2002 and a 2006 Russian news report that Ukraine had sold 250 nukes to Iran.(6) There is, however, the speculation of an Israeli nuke expert:
JERUSALEM (AP) November 22 - A Syrian site bombed by Israel in September was probably a plant for assembling a nuclear bomb, an Israeli nuclear expert said Thursday, challenging other analysts' conclusions that it housed a North Korean- style nuclear reactor.

Tel Aviv University chemistry professor Uzi Even, who worked in the past at Israel's Dimona nuclear reactor, said satellite pictures of the site taken before the Israeli strike on Sept. 6 showed no sign of the cooling towers and chimneys characteristic of reactors.

Even said the absence of telltale features of a reactor convinced him the building must have housed something else. And a rush by the Syrians after the attack to bury the site under tons of soil suggests the facility was a plutonium processing plant and they were trying to smother lethal doses of radiation leaking out. [...]

Last month, American analyst David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, said commercial satellite images taken before and after the Israeli raid supported suspicions that the target was indeed a reactor and that the site was given a hasty cleanup by the Syrians to remove incriminating evidence.

Albright saw a clue in the fact that the structure was roofed at an early stage in its construction.

Other analysts have said the satellite images are too grainy to make any conclusive judgment.

But in an interview Thursday with the Haaretz newspaper -- which first reported his assessment -- Even compared pictures of a North Korean reactor at Yongbyon, in which a cooling tower with steam rising from it can clearly be seen, with the Syrian images, where no such structure appears.

Even told The Associated Press that another piece of evidence against the reactor theory was that satellite pictures of the Syrian installation taken since 2003 showed no sign of a plutonium separation facility, which prepares fuel for a nuclear reactor -- typically a large structure with visible ventilation openings.

"It's very difficult to hide a separation plant," he said. "It's more difficult to hide a separation plant than to hide a nuclear reactor," Even added.

"In Yongbyon, the supposed sister facility in North Korea, you can see all those signs that I am pointing out that are missing in the Syrian place," Even said. "You can see the chimneys, you can see the ventilation, you can see the cooling towers, you can see the separation plant. All that is missing from this building in Syria."

Even said he believes the Syrian cleanup, in which large quantities of soil were bulldozed over the site, was an attempt to smother lethal radiation from a plutonium processing plant.

"I have no information, only an assessment, but I suspect that it was a plant for processing plutonium, namely a factory for assembling the bomb," he told Haaretz.[...] (8)
If Israel took out one or more factories for assembling Iran's imported nuclear bombs, that would explain why Iran might be tempted to haul out a completed nuke and hurl it at Israel.(9) That could touch off a nuclear exchange.

But if we continue to play around with Professor Even's scenario, we quickly bump into the question of why the NIE strove so hard to tamp down concerns about Iran being an imminent nuclear threat. Were the analysts who worked on the NIE so out of the loop at the DoD that they didn't know the real reason for Israel's strike against Syria?

Or would they get together after reviewing the reason for the strike and say, 'We must kick the can down the road so to prevent Armageddon any day now.'

If Even is on the mark and if Iran was indeed using Syria as the place to assemble nukes, then somehow I don't think that mere words would kick the can down the road very far.

Of course all this is speculation. Questions. Still many unanswered questions.

1) The New York Times

2) The Spectator

3) International Herald Tribune

4) Human Events

5) The New York Times: Key Judgments From a National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s Nuclear Activity

6) Pundita: Iran has nukes, Iran doesn't have nukes. Well, which is it General Baluyevsky?

7) Wikipedia: Operation Orchard

8) Associated Press: Israeli: Syrian site hit not a reactor

9) There is disagreement as to which site in Syria was bombed, leading to speculation that Israel bombed more than one radioactive site and that Syria covered up more than one site with tons of soil. See John Loftus's investigations:
"Senior sources in the Israeli government have privately confirmed to me that the recent New York Times articles and satellite photographs about the Israeli raid on an alleged Syrian nuclear target in Al Tabitha, Syria were of the completely wrong location. Armed with this knowledge, I searched Google Earth satellite photos for the rest of the province of Deir al Zour for a site that would match the unofficial Israeli descriptions: camouflaged black factory building, next to a military ammunition dump, between an airport and an orchard.

There is a clear match in only one location, Longitude 35 degrees, 16 minutes 49.31 seconds North, Latitude 40 degrees, 3 minutes, 29.97 seconds East. [...]

"Photos of this complex taken after the Israel raid appear to show that all of the buildings, earthern blast berms, bunkers, roads, even the acres of blackened topsoil, have all been dug up and removed. All that remains are what appear to be smoothed over bomb craters. [...]"

Monday, December 17

When rationality takes a back seat to uncertainty and fear: the Orleans Rumor finds echoes in the NIE rumors

I'm proud to note that my fun with General Baluyevsky made it onto Zenpundit's coveted Recommended Reading list. Zenpundit had these comments about the post:
Pundita summarizes the serpentine shifts of the Russian MoD under Putin on Iran’s nuclear weapons program. I haven’t commented on the NIE much because the nine page declassified key assessments represents less than 10% of the NIE itself. Years of watching historians arrive at starkly different interpretations of identical primary sources makes me chary of accepting or rejecting reasoning I cannot cross-check myself.
I like the evocative "serpentine shifts" and I couldn't agree more with Zenpundit's rational reluctance to analyze the NIE. The problem is that within hours of the NIE publication, rationality had fallen by the wayside. Political factions, pundits, journalists, and droves of unnamed officials and their unnamed sources leaped to interpret the reasons for the NIE's conclusions and publication.

Within 15 days of the NIE's publication, the situation has taken on overtones of the infamous Orleans Rumor incident. The Orleans incident saw thousands of otherwise sane French citizens convinced on no evidence whatsoever that a gang was kidnapping Orleans girls and selling them into slavery.

DEBKAfile helped stoke fears about the NIE's implications by listing what they termed "repercussions" of Washington's "about face" on Iran's nuclear weapons threat:
DEBKAfile's sources disclose that Iran’s extremist president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad began purging the Iranian leadership of his opponents, emboldened by what he perceived as the victory of the intransigent nuclear policy he and the Revolutionary Guards had pursued.

Still in crowing mode, Iran’s oil minister Gholam Hossein Nozari announced Saturday, Dec. 8, the cessation of oil transactions in US dollars. He labeled the greenbacks an “unreliable” currency.

Less than 24 hours after the NIE was released, the Kremlin announced resumption of Russian work to finish Iran’s nuclear reactor at Bushehr and the consignment of nuclear fuel.

In Lebanon, the Hizballah opened the door for the election of chief of staff Gen. Michel Suleiman as president. To buy a stable Beirut government, Washington accepted a pro-Syrian Hizballah sympathizer as president.

The prospects of tough UN sanctions against Iran’s continued enrichment of uranium dimmed dramatically. The Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said there is no point in the light of the US intelligence reassessment. Saturday, the Iranian ambassador in Tokyo invited Japanese investors to put their money in Iranian oil production which he said could be expanded by 30 percent. Tehran has clearly lost its fear of international economic sanctions.
It is irrational, and just plain bad reporting, to identify a cause-and-effect relationship between the NIE and such situations. It is a matter of public record that:

> Ahmadinejad had begun the purge months prior to the NIE publication.

> Iran's oil ministry had been preparing for more than a year to abandon the petrodollar.

> Washington had been backing away from Fouad Siniora's government months prior to the NIE publication.

> Russia had started and stopped their work on Bushehr several times over a period of years over a matter of money, and

> Tougher sanctions against Iran would be a tough sell even without the NIE judgment that Iran had abandoned their nuclear weapons program.

The DEBKAfile post linked above also stoked the rumor that the NIE represented a clandestine bargain between Iran and the United States that was brokered by Saudi Arabia. Not to be outdone:
Saudi journalist Jihad El-Khazen gave his version of the course of events in the Arab newspaper Al-Hayat:

"Here is what happened: The rate of violent acts dropped in Iraq; therefore the American intelligence services discovered that Iran had halted its military nuclear program in 2003. This means that the resumption of violence will make American intelligence services find out that there is a secret military program that is different from the peaceful and famous one.

The Saudi reporter went on to ask: "Is there a deal between the Bush administration and Iran? I cannot categorically assert that a deal was concluded between the two parties through direct negotiations; however, there is an understanding resulting in the 2007 national intelligence report.”(1)
There are close parallels between the underlying reasons for the Orleans incident and rumors about the NIE's implications:

Both situations rose on fears about war (in the Orleans case, fear of war with the Soviet Union), uncertainty about a pivotal upcoming national election, and uncertainty fueled by rapid changes in society.

The worst that might have occurred as a consequence of the Orleans Rumor, which began as a prank by a group of schoolgirls, is that some shop owners (who were rumored to be aiding the rumored kidnappers) would have been hurt and their shops wrecked.

We've not seen the worst that might occur from rumors about the NIE's publication, but the threat of another war is worrisome enough. On Saturday the Associated Press reported:
... a senior Israeli Cabinet minister who once headed Israel's internal security agency issued the country's harshest criticism yet of the U.S. intelligence report, calling it a "misconception" that threatened to lead to a surprise regional war.

Public Security Minister Avi Dichter compared the possibility of such fighting to a surprise attack on Israel in 1973 by its Arab neighbors, which came to be known in Israel for the Yom Kippur Jewish holy day on which it began.

"The American misconception concerning Iran's nuclear weapons is liable to lead to a regional Yom Kippur where Israel will be among the countries that are threatened," Dichter said in a speech in a suburb south of Tel Aviv, according to his spokesman, Mati Gil. "Something went wrong in the American blueprint for analyzing the severity of the Iranian nuclear threat."
Once the election resolved uncertainty about France's direction, rational observers in Orleans finally made a dent in the Orleans Rumor, which then blew over as quickly as it had begun.

The NIE has played into uncertainties the world over about how US policy in the Middle East will change with a new US administration. Yet we are still many months from the US presidential election. Until then many national governments, including Israel's, will be trying to cover all bets and jockeying for the best position whatever the outcome of the US election.

1) DEBKAfile

A note about Saturday's post

For readers who saw the 'early edition:' I published the post a few minutes before midnight. On Sunday, starting around 2:00 PM ET, I added two footnotes and two updates (at 3:00 and 7:00 PM ET), and made the following change to a paragraph:

" my knowledge World Tribune and Iran Press Service were the only news sources to pick up on Baluyevsky's statement."

Also: the links to three reports, which were provided to me by the World Tribune publisher (see 7:00 PM update), do not pertain to Baluyevsky's 2002 announcement that Iran had nuclear weapons. And the news they contain would be old to those who have spent years following reports about Iran's nuclear weapons progam. But the reports are good background so I included the links to them in the update.

There will be another post today but I'm not sure at what time; I'm aiming for 2:00 PM ET.

Regards to all,

Sunday, December 16

Here comes the cavalry: Israeli intel officers descend on Washington to dispute NIE

JERUSALEM - December 16 (Associated Press) Israel has dispatched an unscheduled delegation of intelligence officials to the U.S. to try to convince it that Iran is still trying to develop nuclear weapon — contrary to the findings of a recent U.S. intelligence report [NIE], security officials said.

[...] The U.S. and Israel will also hold additional joint formal meetings on the matter in coming weeks, the Israeli officials said recently. Israel will use these forums to try to persuade the Americans that Iran is trying to development nuclear weapons, and intends to present information classified as top secret for security reasons, the officials said.

Saturday, December 15

Iran has nukes, Iran doesn't have nukes. Well, which is it, General Baluyevsky?

"Iran does have nuclear weapons. Of course, these are non-strategic nuclear weapons. I mean these are not ICBMs with a range of more than 5,500 kilometers and more. But as a military man, I see no danger of aggression against Russia by Iran. As for the danger of Iran's attack on the United States, the danger is zero."
-- General Yuri Baluyevsky, May 2002

"[The Russian military] said from the very beginning we had no data to speak about intensification of efforts in Iran in the field of nuclear armaments."
-- General Yuri Baluyevsky, December 2007

General Yuri Baluyevsky is Russia's First Deputy Minister of Defense and, since July 2004, Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.

The general did not exactly say in the 2007 quote above that Iran had no nuclear weapons, but his other words at the time imply he said as much:
As he commented on [the December US National Intelligence Estimate report] that Iran had suspended its nuclear armaments program back in 2003, Gen Baluyevsky recalled that Russia has always met with much caution the claims that Iran was working on military applications of its nuclear program.
General Baluyevsky's comment about Iran having nuclear weapons came at a press conference during the United States-Russian Federation Moscow Treaty summit, May 23-26, 2002.

As to why his comment didn't make headlines around the globe, I imagine the World Tribune also wondered about that; to my knowledge World Tribune and Iran Press Service were the only news sources to pick up on Baluyevsky's statement.(1) The IPS report mentions that the World Tribune:
... observed that journalists at the briefing completely missed the importance of general Baluyevsky's assertion. "The Russian deputy chief of staff has just said on the record that Iran has nuclear weapons", highlighted World Tribune.
But the spring of 2002 was a different era; news services, and publics around the world, had a great many other things on their mind at that time. Iran's nuclear ambitions were near the bottom of everyone's list, which was still topped by al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations and the US presence in Afghanistan.

What would explain General Baluyevsky's flip-flop between the spring of 2002 and the end of 2007? Again, 2002 was a different era. The US and Russia were on much better terms in 2002 than today; the general's announcement about Iran's nuclear weapons came during a summit when the US and Russia were working out greater cooperation on nuclear proliferation issues.

Also, it was to be several months after the press conference before it was clear that the US intended to invade Iraq -- something that Russia was very much against. Even the famous Downing Street meeting, during which British officials first discussed the likelihood of the US invading Iraq, did not come until July 2002.(2)

By 2007 General Baluyevsky was seriously bent out of shape about US attempts to place components of a missile shield in Europe.
MOSCOW, November 13 (RIA Novosti) [...] "If the Americans deploy the radar by 2011 and anti-ballistic missiles by 2012-2013, they will certainly be directed against Russia, and we can easily prove it," the Chief of the Russian General Staff, Gen. Yury Baluyevsky said in an interview with Russia Today, an English-language state TV channel. [...]

He also reiterated that the alleged Iranian missile threat was used by the U.S. as a simple pretext to deploy weaponry close to Russia's borders, as Iran does not possess the technology to develop and produce long-range inter-continental ballistic missiles.
Iran promptly repaid Baluyevsky for his generosity by test launching the Ashoura missile, which certainly looks by the map at Missile Monitor as if it could shave easternmost Europe, and certainly cream Turkey.

So then General Baluyevsky had to do some fancy footwork, which he managed rather well:
Russia has no data to confirm reports by Iranian leaders that Teheran has tested a new long-range ballistic missile Ashura [Ashoura], General Yuri Baluyevsky, the Chief of General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces said Thursday.

An official statement on testing the Ashura missile, the effective range of which ostensibly reaches 2,000 kilometers, was made November 27 by Iranian Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar

Gen Baluyevsky quoted his U.S. counterparts as saying the test launch of the missile took place November 20. He said however that officials in the Pentagon, the Department of State and White House’s National Security Council, whom he had talks with, refused to provide any more information on the incident when he asked them about it.

“When I asked them to share technical surveillance data on it, they refused to do it,” he said.

Gen Baluyevsky reiterated that Russian missile experts carefully verify all the information pertaining to development of the Ashura missile by Iran.

“Nonetheless, I can’t tell you for sure right now that the launch took place, indeed, and that the missile covered 2,000 kilometers,” he said.

“I don’t rule out that in this case we see political bluffing on the Iranian side – something that happened in a number of cases before,” Gen Baluyevsky said.
So, General, was Iran bluffing back in 2002 when you announced they had nuclear weapons?

I add that Iran denied what Baluyevsky said in 2002:
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asifi rejects the remarks of General Yuri Baluyevsky, Russian deputy chief of staff, that Iran has the equipment to produce nuclear weapons. He adds that the Russian official was not aware of Iran's peaceful nuclear program.
— From "Iran Rejects Reports on Nuke Weapons, reiterates IAEA Pledge," IRNA (Tehran), 10 June 2002(3)
I am not sure which of Baluyevsky's statements Asifi was commenting on; there may have been several statements at that Moscow Treaty conference or at another venue:

General Yuri Baluyevsky, Russian deputy chief of staff, says that Iran has received tactical nuclear weapons from a country other than Russia. [See NTI March 1993 post, below.]
—From "Iran, Russia Again Argue Over Nukes," Middle East Newsline, Vol. 4, No. 207, 24 May 2002 (4)

Without the transcript of the press conference mentioned by World Tribune, I can't nail down where the general made the above statement.

In any case, reports of Iran acquiring ready-made nukes are an old story:

March 1993
The Arms Control Reporter reports that by December 1991, Iran had imported four nuclear weapons from the former Soviet Union, including a nuclear artillery shell, two nuclear warheads that could be launched on Scud missiles, and one nuclear weapon that could be delivered by a MiG-27 aircraft. [Note: See 24 May 2002 NTI entry.]

The report says that fissile material was exported from Kazakhstan to Iran and the rest of the components were exported from other republics of the former Soviet Union through Turkmenistan. Although the codes to arm the warheads were not provided with the missiles, the report says two experts from Russia arrived to bypass arming codes. [...] (2)

As to why I'm mucking around in old reports about Iran's nuclear ambitions, because I got tired of scratching my head over John Batchelor's statement "Iran has nuclear weapons" on his radio show last Sunday.

John has told his audience that he only deals in open source information. "Open source," to my understanding, is declassified data that is published somewhere, even if only in an obscure journal.

I don't have the resources to track down obscure journals on nuclear proliferation but I thought I'd give Google a whirl. The word string "Iran has nuclear bomb" immediately brought up the 2002 mention of Baluyevsky's statement.

That's not necessarily the report John was referencing -- and I noted that the Google page showed more than 200,000 references for the words I entered. Yet given that Russia's government was in a sharing mood during the Moscow Treaty summit, the 2002 statement by Russia's top military commander is interesting. I didn't start listening to Batchelor's show until March 2003 so it's possible he mentioned Baluyevsky's 2002 announcement at the time.

Iran Press Service, which reported on the World Tribune article in 2002, tartly observed that Baluyevsky's happy estimate of "zero" for the chance that an Iranian nuke could reach the US ignored that the Shahab-3 medium-range missile, which Iran was testing in 2002, was a threat to Middle Eastern nations. Yes, the Shahab-3 could hit any nation in the Middle East, from the map at Missile Monitor.

Next question: If Iran indeed has ready-made nukes, where would they store them? Maybe somewhere that the IAEA wouldn't think to look, if they were inspecting for an Iranian nuclear program? And would they store them in one piece, or do as Pakistan does and tuck nuke bomb components in different locations?

To be continued.

1) It is unclear from the June 6, 2002 Iran Press Service report I've linked to whether IPS picked up on Baluyevsky's statement from their own source, or from the World Tribune article that the IPS reporter quotes.

Complicating matters is that IPS did not publish the link to the World Tribune article they referenced. My attempts to locate the World Tribune article via their archives have failed, which might suggest that World Tribune was not the original source for a report on Baluyevsky's statements at the press briefing. I assumed at the time of publishing this post that I could easily locate the World Tribune link via Google, but my attempts came up dry. (Dec 16 update: I have written the World Tribune editor asking for help in locating the article and link.)

2) There was talk during the run-up to the May 2002 summit that Russia would be willing to help the US overthrow Saddam Hussein's regime provided the US supported Russia's financial interests in Iraq. But any such overtures on Russia's part came at a time when it seemed very unlikely that the US could obtain UN aproval for an invasion.

3) NTI Iran Nuclear Chronology 2002

4) NTI Iran Chronology 1993
* * * * * * * * * * *
December 16, 3:00 PM ET Update
I have added a link to my mention of the Ashoura, which underscores the relevance and gravity of Baluyevsky's 2002 statement that Iran has nuclear weapons. I might have waited until hearing from the World Tribune editor. But after reading their December 14 report on the Ashoura I set aside my obsessive insistence on providing links or at least titles for source documents before I published. The Ashoura link takes you to the World Tribune report.
7:00 PM ET Update
Thank you for writing We are familiar with the information but have had trouble with our online archives.

The following may be relevant including the piece in our password-protected newsletter.

Robert Morton, Publisher
East West Services, Inc.
April 12. 2006
Report: Ukraine may have sold Iran 250 nuclear warheads

MOSCOW — Ukraine might have sold nuclear warheads to Iran, the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported April 3. Approximately 250 nuclear warheads that had been in the Soviet arsenal were never returned to Moscow.

"Russia's General Staff has no information about whether Ukraine has given 250 nuclear warheads to Iran or not," said Russian Chief of Staff Gen. Yuri Baluyevsky, who is also deputy defense minister. "I do not comment on unsubstantiated reports." [...]"

Friday, December 14

"Ironically, the United States is financing Chávez’s Bolivarian revolution"

"I wrote the book to find out why poverty has been reduced by half across the world during the past 25 years and why this phenomenon has happened almost everywhere but Latin America. That’s why I went to China, to India, to Ireland, to the Czech Republic, to Poland, among other places. One of the main things I discovered is that [economic development] doesn’t have anything to do with ideology.

"The real difference between countries today is not how [Hugo] Chávez would like us to believe that there are “Right” countries and “Left” countries, but rather between countries that are drawing investments and countries that are scaring investments away. And the country that is attracting the most investment in the developing world is a communist country, China. That drove [Chavistas] crazy. That’s why Chávez spent one of his speeches lashing out against me."

-- Andres Oppenheimer, Latin America expert and author of Saving the Americas: The Dangerous Decline of Latin America and What the U.S. Must Do

I have one quibble with Andres Oppenheimer's brilliant analysis, which I feature in full later in this post.

I think the Leftist tilt in certain Latin American countries does not only reflect an anachronistic view of government; it also reflects a backlash against the elites in those countries who abused neoliberal economic policies, which include an acceptance of virtually unlimited foreign investment.

Yes, it's throwing the baby out with the bath water to throw out foreign investment, but some Latin American governments were falling because they couldn't translate the benefits of foreign investment into perceivable gains for the majority.

The excuse was that it would take time for the benefits to trickle down. But when an a powerful elite backed by de facto military rule controls the government, and blocks programs that would allow the majority to see some benefits of foreign investment, a Leftist backlash is inevitable.

Oppenheimer mentions Poland, but Poland and other developing countries set to join the European Union got tremendous help from the EU while they struggled to apply various aspects of neoliberal policies. Latin American countries such as Venezuela did not receive such help.

US policy toward the poorest Latin American countries must recognize that such countries are not Britain or the United States, where the introduction of Thatcher and Reagan economics, which are reflected in neoliberalism, was softened by a large middle class and strong liberal democracy.

In 2005 a reader sent me a report about a group that was making inroads at converting the 'natives' to Islam in a particular Latin American country. The name of the country escapes me at this moment but the point is that the report noted that the natives in that country were so downtrodden that they could not even step on the same sidewalk used by descendents of the Spanish conquerors.

When citizens are greatly malnourished and see no way possible to ever move up in their society, don't expect them to say, 'Okay, we'll just tighten our belts through this rough patch while foreign investment trickles down to us.'

And that is a big difference between China and the poorest Latin American countries, a difference which Oppenheimer's analysis ignores. Yes, Beijing encourages foreign investment, but they are also very careful to encourage upward mobility for the impoverished masses, and to hurl government resources at their worst-hit economic regions.

All that said, Oppenheimer is on target when he argues that the Left-Right framing of politics ignores the realities of this era. Today, it comes down to how well a government does governing. That includes getting up the gumption to read the riot act to the elite -- a point I pounded home in my 2005 rant Why Vicente Fox is going straight to hell.

If they put you in power, that doesn't excuse them being so greedy they risk touching off a Leftist revolution. A leader has to stand up to an elite that's gone that far around the bend, even if he's scared they'll bump him off. He has to capitalize on the fact that he has a majority at his back, and sell that point to the military.

Part of standing up is figuring ways to temper the long agonizing wait for the benefits of foreign investment to trickle down. This is not rocket science, for crying out loud.

Now to Andres Oppenheimer's discussion with Foreign Policy, which throws much light on Hugo Chavez's problems at this time.
Foreign Policy: Why do you think Venezuelans rejected Hugo Chávez’s proposed changes to the constitution?

Andres Oppenheimer: Conflict fatigue. About 40 percent of the Venezuelan population was opposing Chávez to begin with, and many of the others who supported Chávez were tired of his habit of picking fights—daily—with anybody who came across him. If it wasn’t the Catholic Church, it was the businesspeople; if it wasn’t the businesspeople, it was the students; if it wasn’t the students, it was the United States; if it wasn’t the United States, it was the king of Spain; if it wasn’t the king of Spain, it was the president of Colombia. And the Chávez supporters just got fed up with this polarization.

FP: How much of a factor was his failure to make good on his promises to cut poverty?

AO: There’s no question that many Venezuelans thought it a bit of a contradiction for Chávez to be talking about creating a socialist state when there were shortages of basics foodstuffs such as milk in Venezuelan stores. And there was also a lot of resentment among Chávez supporters for him to be spending billions of dollars helping what he calls “alternative Bolivarian movements” throughout Latin America. A lot of people sent him a message saying, “Why don’t you focus on your own country?”

FP: In your book, Saving the Americas: The Dangerous Decline of Latin America . . . and What the U.S. Must Do, you describe how and why Latin America, including Venezuela, has been so unsuccessful at fighting poverty. What was Chávez’s response to your argument?

AO: I wrote the book to find out why poverty has been reduced by half across the world during the past 25 years and why this phenomenon has happened almost everywhere but Latin America. That’s why I went to China, to India, to Ireland, to the Czech Republic, to Poland, among other places. One of the main things I discovered is that [economic development] doesn’t have anything to do with ideology.

The real difference between countries today is not how Chávez would like us to believe that there are “Right” countries and “Left” countries, but rather between countries that are drawing investments and countries that are scaring investments away. And the country that is attracting the most investment in the developing world is a communist country, China. That drove [Chavistas] crazy. That’s why Chávez spent one of his speeches lashing out against me.

In Beijing, they are putting out a red carpet for foreign investors, whereas in Latin America, many presidents are going out to the balcony and yelling against foreign investors. [In my book], I tell the story of when I arrived in China, and the first thing I read in the [local] paper was that the entire Chinese government was celebrating the arrival of the board of directors of McDonald’s, who were there to announce the opening of 400 restaurants in China. I had just come from Venezuela, where the Chávez government had just suspended McDonald’s restaurants for three days for some phony tax investigation and the government was taking pride in “teaching foreign capitalists a lesson.”

FP: Do you think this rejection at the polls will harm his reputation and popularity in the region?

AO: Chávez’s reputation in the region has never been very high. In the region when he’s polled, he scores at the very bottom of the list, alongside President Bush, and only second-to-last before Fidel Castro. He has strong support among very vocal, radical, leftist support groups, but his base is not widespread. I think it will embolden opposition forces in Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Bolivia who will now feel that there’s nothing irreversible about radical leftist leaders who win democratic elections and try to erode democracy from within.

Chávez is down, but not out by any means. He still controls the presidency, Congress, the military, 20 of 22 governorships, and much of the media. If this is a boxing match, he lost the round but by no means did he lose the match itself.

FP: You’ve spent a good deal of time comparing Latin America to the rest of the world. One easy comparison I see is between Chávez and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Both are semiauthoritarians who are ruling petrostates; both are hostile to the United States. Yet on the same day, they had very different electoral results. What do you make of this?

AO: Well Chávez’s concession was not a trial of his democratic instincts, although one has to be happy that Venezuelan press reports today are talking about the fact the military high command told Chávez to accept his defeat. he conceded. He delayed the announcement for about seven hours in Venezuela, and according to a government-sanctioned monitoring group, the opposition victory was larger than officially reported. So we shouldn’t rush to celebrate Chávez’s sudden conversion into a Jeffersonian democrat.

In Putin’s case, he uses the same methods Chávez uses in Venezuela: massive uses of public resources; control of much of the media. There’s not such a huge difference. [But] Putin may be focusing more on Russia and the Russian people than Chávez is focusing on the Venezuelan people. A lot of Chávez supporters resented the fact that he spends most of his time in Saudi Arabia and Iran, talking about the world revolution when they want bread and butter.

FP: You’ve written about the much-discussed wave of neopopulism in Latin America and said it is misunderstood. What do you think an election result like this says about this so-called populist wave, if anything?

AO: Well, that’s the key question. Of course I’m worried about Chávez, and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega, and Bolivia’s Evo Morales, and Ecuador’s Rafael Correa scaring away investments and making the countries poor, but that’s not the key issue in Latin America; because if you put all these countries together—Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua—they barely amount to 8 or 9 percent of Latin America’s GDP. U.S. officials and we in the press love to write about Chávez because he screams and yells and is colorful and insults everybody and he makes great copy. But the real story of Latin America is being written elsewhere: in Mexico; in Brazil; in Colombia; in Chile.

What really worries me about Latin America’s future is that we’re falling behind in education, science, technology, and research and development. If you look at all the international standardized tests for kids, Latin America has among the lowest scores in the world. When you look at the London Times’s ranking of the world’s 200 best universities, this year only three Latin American universities are among the world’s [top] 200 and they’re all between 195 and 200. This is scandalous. And it’s because, when the rest of the developing world is moving rapidly to create more skilled workforces, Latin America is talking ideology.

Look at Chávez. He speaks to the nation every day in front of a huge painting of Simón Bolívar. He changed the country to name it after Simón Bolívar. In every speech, he cites Bolívar as inspiration for every single measure he takes. The trouble is that Bolívar died in 1830—four years before the invention of the telephone and 150 years before the invention of the Internet.

FP: Do you think then that a lot of people who are agitating for democratic ideals would be better off if they channeled all of their anger and resentment toward Chávez and people like him into issues like education?

AO: When it comes to his opponents in the United States, I think Washington should bypass Chávez. Instead of focusing on Chávez and responding to him, Washington should build bridges with Brazil, with Mexico, with Colombia, with Chile, with Peru and simply ignore Chávez. If Washington is really serious and really worried about Chávez, the thing it should do is be serious about reducing America’s dependence on imported oil. The United States is financing Chávez. We buy $34 billion a year worth of Venezuelan oil. That’s what keeps Chávez alive. Ironically, the United States is financing Chávez’s Bolivarian revolution.

Andrés Oppenheimer is the author of “The Oppenheimer Report,” a prize-winning column on Latin American affairs in the Miami Herald, and Saving the Americas: The Dangerous Decline of Latin America . . . and What the U.S. Must Do (New York: Random House, 2007).

Wednesday, December 12

The Kingdom of Heaven and disillusion with authority

I received a letter from a reader asking what I've done all day, given that I had not put up a post or even a note about why I hadn't done so. Part of my day was spent in a sometimes heated exchange of emails with a correspondent. Below is some of my end of the exchange. My thoughts are not crystallized on the matter I discuss, but this post might be the closest I come to publishing anything about the deep concern I expressed in the emails.

What we are seeing unfold since the US invasion of Afghanistan is a still-building movement to completely demonize war; Ridley Scott's film The Kingdom of Heaven makes this quite clear, as does Wolfgang Peterson's Troy.

Of course this movement has its contradictory elements -- e.g., support for Palestinian terrorism against Israel and Chechen terrorism against Russia's government. But the movement plays into the hands of the enemy.

From that viewpoint, I argue that nothing is insignificant about the NIE debate, which I see as having great magnitude. I am not so much debating NIE as debating Wolfgang Peterson and Ridley Scott. Troy and The Kingdom of Heaven, both of which I saw within the past two weeks, were box office flops in the US but a success in Europe -- and KOH was also a success in Arab countries, including Egypt.

One may dismiss the historical inaccuracies in KOH and Peterson's mangling of Homer's telling of the Battle of Troy, but both directors were intent on portraying authority as evil and war under any conditions as having no merit.

Scott used Hamid Dabashi, an intellectual who is also an anti-war activist, as the 'history' consultant for KOH. Scott, according to Wikipedia, defended KOH's flights from the truth by saying that the script was "approved and verified" by Dabashi. Scott also said that in his opinion, Dabashi is an "important man in New York."

That latter defense of Dabashi is very funny. But Dabashi, as with many of his Iranian countrymen, and as with so many Arabs and Africans, is still caught up in a post-Colonial mindset. My rant a few days ago to Africans took aim at the mindset.

So the pivotal part of Dabashi's viewpoint went above Scott's head, and above the head of the KOH script writer. Yet I am trying to get at something more difficult, which I can't express adequately because I still don't understand it. Here's my best try for now:

Barack Obama is riding on the call for "change" as many political analysts term it. Lou Dobbs is riding on the same call. I am becoming fearful that change, in this context, is a stand-in, a symbol, for blind rage building against all authority.

Far from a cry for change, the rage is rooted in a desire to go back -- to return to a time when change was not happening so suddenly and from so many quarters.

That's why I warned yesterday that President Bush spoke too soon to support the NIE. At some point, people flip into a mood where they won't believe anything said by anyone in authority -- any kind of authority.

One may argue that Ridley Scott was simply duped by Dabashi but if you have seen the movie -- which Scott doesn't like because it was mangled in its theater release edits -- Scott's theme transcends Muslim-Christian themes and the Crusades.

The only 'good' authority in the movie is a leper who dies young and whose position is very tenuous. In other words, the only good in the world is too weak to stand up to the Juggernaut of evil authority in all spheres.

The Kingdom of Heaven taps into a spreading mindset in Europe that fears European Union authority, which fears being overrun by refugees from Muslim countries, which fears this era -- the era of globalization. It fears everything and flirts with nihilism.

It seems that Move On and other anti-war organizations are trying to import this mindset to the United States because it makes cannon fodder against Bush's preemption doctrine and war hawks. If so, the anti-war activists are handling something very dangerous because the mindset calls up the worst part of the Depression era.

But I am still trying to understand the mindset, and wondering whether it is tinder waiting for a match. If it is tinder, the match could be a sharp economic downturn in the United States that like falling dominoes engulfs emerging economies in Asia and Africa.

Yet I acknowledge your argument that the mindset I fear is no more than a small fleeting shadow on the sweep of history. Truly, this is a grand time to be alive, a grand time for human progress. But there is The War, which for many people distracts attention from the progress -- even though the war is part of progress away from tyrannies.

With regard to your comment about Corey and Jeff, they were not actually debating, to my reading; Corey, in his comment to Jeff's piece, was just underscoring that NCRI led him to Natanz but also that NCRI's original identification of the facility's use was incorrect.*

Corey's comment does not clarify whether NCRI led "US intelligence agencies" to their first bead on Natanz in 2002. I assume NCRI did provide the first lead, but it would be helpful to nail that down. And NCRI needs to defend themselves against Jeff's implication that NCRI intelligence is unreliable. Only in some cases, it seems; in other key aspects, they are on target.

I know you don't think my point is important. But this war, for the good guys, is all about pushing a peanut across a sawdust floor with one's nose, to quote Joyce Carol Oates out of context. Important battles about even the tiniest data mosaics. Credibility: how right has NCRI been in past? Very important question in light of the NIE key judgment that Iran shut down their nuke weapons program in 2003.

Afterthought: This is my nod to the complexity of Scott's film: I suppose that a deeply religious or spiritual reader, or a reader who is simply interested in questions of ethics, would contest my view of The Kingdom of Heaven. If you cast out many things about the film, yes, Ridley Scott does wrestle with questions about conscience versus expediency, and about what true spirituality represents.

He threw a great deal into the movie, as he did with Gladiator and Blade Runner. Yet I think a film about war, and which demands the viewer become deeply involved in the situations leading to particular battle, is a hard place in which to blank out all but spiritual issues.

An ironic coda: The Kingdom of Heaven is also a tribute to history's military engineers, although I suspect that some of the tribute ended on the cutting room floor. Scott's depiction of the siege machines used against Jerusalem is jaw-dropping. It brings home that the machines were weapons of mass destruction in their day. I don't think any other living director but Ridley Scott could have portrayed the ingenuity of the siege machine builders, and their destructive capacity, so well.

* From Jeffrey Lewis's post today for Arms Control Wonk:
[...] NCRI put out a press release declaring that Negroponte: Iran’s Uranium enrichment first revealed by Iranian Resistance. Well, not quite. I repeat, as I have before, that:

> In December 2002, Mark Hibbs reported that the US intelligence community, based on imagery and procurement data, had suspected that Iran was building a clandestine uranium enrichment plant in Natanz and a heavy water production facility in Arak for about a year.

> Hibbs also reported that six months earlier, in mid 2002, the US briefed the IAEA on the intelligence, providing “precise geographical coordinates of the sites.”

> When NCRI held its press conference a few weeks later, in August 2002, they misidentified the purpose of the Natanz facility as a fuel production plant.

> In December 2002, Corey Hinderstein, then with the Institute for Science and International Secruity, was the first person to publicly identify Natanz as a gas centrifuge facility.

You can look it up.
Here is Corey's comment about the post:
Thanks for the props, Jeff. It bugs me every time I see it. They were close, and NCRI’s info led me to Natanz, but they did not identify it correctly.

Credit should go also to David Albright, since after I found the site on satellite photos we worked together to ID it as a centrifuge plant.

— Corey Hinderstein - Dec 12, 10:51 AM

Tuesday, December 11

More NIE fallout: Iranian group claims Tehran's nuclear weapons program still operational

4:00 PM Update
So many news reports have appeared since the Wall Street Journal published their report today on the NCRI announcements that I'm having trouble keeping track of them.

Each report has some information not contained in the others. So I've culled 'unique' quotes from three of the later reports -- from AP, AFP and Fox -- and tacked them at the end of the excerpts I published earlier from the Wall Street Journal report.

One of several surprises in the Fox report relating to the NIE conclusions is that NCRI claims the Iranians did not shut down a nuke weapons site in 2003 because of international pressure but because they were caught red-handed by NCRI and wanted to stay a step ahead of the IAEA.

It's funny the way things work out; if NCRI had announced their intelligence two weeks ago, they would have gotten a yawn from most of the mainstream press with maybe the exception of Fox news. But the publication of the NIE conclusions has guaranteed that NCRI's announcements would draw attention from across the mainstream.
* * * * * * * * * * *

One problem with using intelligence provided by Mujahedin e-Khalq (MEK) and their political wing, National Council for Resistance (NCRI) is that both groups are designated as terrorist organizations by the United States and the European Union. And yet the groups have provided accurate intelligence in some cases.

Now that intelligence used by the NIE is being reassessed in many quarters, I question the wisdom of President Bush's rush to publicly support the National Intelligence Estimate. Bush's political enemies have not been mollified by his generous words for the NIE. And if Bush and the NIE group are forced by new intelligence to recant -- the public can only take so much flip-flopping on intelligence matters.

So all things considered, it would have been wiser if Bush had been noncommittal in his public statements about the NIE -- at least until Israel could respond, and intelligence experts outside the NIE group could examine the report's key judgment on Iran's nuclear weapons program.

Here are key excerpts from today's Wall Street Journal report on the NCRI intelligence:
Group Says Iran Resumed Weapon Program
by MARC CHAMPION in Brussels and JAY SOLOMON in Washington
Wall Street Journal, December 11, 2007; Page A4

The Iranian opposition group that first exposed Iran's nuclear-fuel program said a U.S. intelligence analysis is correct that Tehran shut down its weaponization program in 2003, but claims that the program was relocated and restarted in 2004. [...]

A former U.S. intelligence official who works closely with the White House on Iran said that all the intelligence related to the NIE was being reassessed and that information coming from sources such as the NCRI would be included. "You have to take seriously what they say, but you also have to realize that they have gotten things wrong," the official said. [...]

The NCRI is the political wing of the Mujahedin e-Khalq [MEK], a group that still has as many as 4,000 members in a disarmed military camp just inside Iraq's border with Iran. The MEK has its roots as a Marxist-Islamist body that fought to overthrow the Shah and has been seeking to overthrow the current government since the mid-1980s. The U.S. and the European Union list both the NCRI and Mujahedin e-Khalq as terrorist organizations. The NCRI has had a mixed record in the accuracy of its claims concerning Iran's nuclear program.

U.S. intelligence officials have declined to comment on what role the NCRI or other Iranian dissident groups may have played in developing the new intelligence estimate. The NCRI first identified Iran's covert nuclear-fuel facilities in 2002, and the White House and State Department have credited the group with helping to expose the program. [...]

According to the NCRI, Iran's Supreme National Security Council decided to shut down its most important center for nuclear-weapons research in eastern Tehran, called Lavisan-Shian, in August 2003. [...]

But at the same meeting, the council decided to disperse pieces of the research to a number of locations around Iran, according to the NCRI. By the time international nuclear inspectors were allowed to get access to the Lavisan site, the buildings allegedly devoted to nuclear research had been torn down and the ground bulldozed. [...]

The NCRI, which claims to have intelligence sources inside Iran, said Lavisan was broken into 11 fields of research, including development of a nuclear trigger and of the technology to shape weapons-grade uranium into a warhead. [...]

"What the first part of the NIE says is right, that they halted their weaponization research in 2003," said Mohammad Mohaddessin, foreign-affairs chief for the NCRI. "But the second part, that they stopped until at least the middle of 2007, is wrong. They scattered the weaponization program to other locations and restarted in 2004."

Equipment was relocated first from Lavisan-Shian to another military compound in Tehran's Lavisan district, the Center for Readiness and Advanced Technology, Mr. Mohaddessin said. Two devices designed to measure radiation levels were moved to Malek-Ashtar University in Isfahan and to a defense ministry hospital in Tehran, he said. Other equipment was sent to other locations the NCRI hasn't been able to identify, he said.

"Their strategy was that if the IAEA found any one piece of this research program, it would be possible to justify it as civilian. But so long as it was all together, they wouldn't be able to," Mr.Mohaddessin said.

The NCRI said in a report on Iran's nuclear program in September 2005 that the Lavisan facility had been closed, setting back the regime's weaponization program by approximately one year. Mr. Mohaddessin said his group was certain no other Iranian nuclear facilities were closed in 2003.

A representative of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations nuclear watchdog in Vienna, declined to comment on the claims, but said the agency would consider seriously any NCRI information. A spokesman for the Iranian government couldn't be reached for comment.
Excerpts from three later reports:
(Associated Press)Four years ago, the [NCRI] group disclosed information about two hidden nuclear sites that helped uncover nearly two decades of covert Iranian atomic activity. But much of the information it has presented since then to back up claims that Iran has a secret weapons program has not been publicly verified.
Paragraph from AFP report on NCRI announcements:
In August 2002, [Alireza Jafarzadeh of NCRI] first reported the existence of secret Iranian nuclear sites at Natanz and Arak, prompting denunciations of Tehran by Washington and hurried inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
And excerpts from Fox News interview with Alireza Jafarzadeh.
WASHINGTON (Fox news)- Twenty-one commanders of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps are the top scientists running Iran's secret nuclear weapons program, says the man who exposed Iran's nuclear weapons program in 2002. [...]The scientists working on the alleged civilian nuclear centrifuge program are IGRC commanders, said Jafarzadeh, who was providing a list of names to the press on Tuesday. But their intention is not a nuclear energy source for civilians. [...]

"It's the IRGC that is basically controlling the whole thing, dominating the whole thing," Jafarzadeh told "They are running the show. They have a number of sites controlled by the IRGC that has been off-limits to the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) and inspectors, including a military university known as Imam Hossein University. ... That site has not been inspected. They have perhaps the most advanced nuclear research and development center in that university."

Jafarzadeh said the 2003 decision to stop the weaponization program, which was operating in Lavizan-Shian, a posh northeast district of Tehran, was not Iran's own. The site had been exposed by the opposition, the National Council of Resistance on Iran, in April 2003 after revelations of several other nuclear sites that could be portrayed as dual purpose facilities; Lavizan-Shian could not, he said.

"The regime knew that this is not the site that they can invite the IAEA ... this site was heavily involved in militarization of the program," Jafarzadeh said. "They were doing all kinds of activities that were not justifiable. So they decided before the IAEA gets in — and it usually takes four to six months before they can go through the process and get in — use the time and try to basically destroy this whole facility, and that's what they did."

Jafarzadeh said the Iranians razed the buildings, removed the soil, cut down the trees and allowed the IAEA to inspect the Lavizan-Shian site, which had been turned into a park by June 2004. He noted that the regime acted as if it had succumbed to municipal pressure to open a park with basketball and tennis courts and that is why the area had been flattened.

Jafarzadeh said that "in a way it's correct for the NIE to say that in late 2003 the weaponization of the program was stopped, and they said it was due to international pressure. But they failed to say that it restarted in 2004" in a location called Lavizan 2, he said.

Lavizan 2 "has never been inspected by the IAEA," Jafarzadeh added. [...]

Monday, December 10

"Iran has nuclear weapons" and yet more fallout from NIE

The quote in the title was plopped into a discussion that John Batchelor had with Bill Roggio last night about Iran's military activities in Iraq. Batchelor made the statement almost in passing while noting that in Iraq, the US is already at war with Iran.

At first I thought I'd misheard; I thought perhaps Batchelor had said Iran has a nuclear weapons program. But about 40 minutes later, during his closing monologue for KFI 640 AM radio, he said it again, and that time there was no mistaking.

He said, "Iran has nuclear weapons. Iran has a nuclear weapons program."

If the statement, which Batchelor did not support with data, had come from any other news source I would have filed it. But from the years I've been following his news program, I know that John Batchelor is a very cautious, very careful, analyst and news reporter. The sources he features on his show have sometimes been wrong, but John's track record is virtually unblemished because he is so cautious. As an analyst he lives by the golden guideline that in war, the first three reports are wrong.

A recent example of John's cautiousness is his refusal to speculate on the target of Israel's September 6 bombing raid in Syria. And his refusal to give weight to any of the published speculations. He has told his radio audience that the only "story" we have on the bombing is that we don't have the story.

So when Batchelor stated flatly that Iran had nuclear "weapons" -- I note the plural -- that was enough to cause me to drop my jaw.

Where from here? I await further developments.

The podcast for John's show on KFI-AM last night will be available in a few days, if you'd like to check my hearing.

You can also listen right now to Bill's discussion on Batchelor's show last night. Visit Bill's Long War Journal site for a link to the podcast. (Bill generally leaves the podcasts on his radio appearances up for a few days only.)

Meanwhile, the fallout from the NIE continues to rain down:

China's leaders have leaped into the breach created by the NIE publication; they have given the nod to Sinopec to go ahead and sign a $2 billion oil deal with Iran.

It's a good thing I didn't learn of that development on a Tuesday or Thursday, which I reserve for being deeply cynical. In that case I might have commented about the China-Iran deal signing that Thomas Fingar's work is now done. More than one observer of Mr Fingar's career has termed him a Panda Hugger, for those who don't get Pundita's little joke.

More fallout: Britain's intelligence community is bent out of shape about the NIE:
British spy chiefs have grave doubts that Iran has mothballed its nuclear weapons programme, as a US intelligence report [NIE] claimed last week, and believe the CIA has been hoodwinked by Teheran. [...]

A senior British official delivered a withering assessment of US intelligence-gathering abilities in the Middle East and revealed that British spies shared the concerns of Israeli defence chiefs that Iran was still pursuing nuclear weapons. [...]

A US intelligence source has revealed that some American spies share the concerns of the British and the Israelis. "Many middle- ranking CIA veterans believe Iran is still committed to producing nuclear weapons and are concerned that the agency lost a number of its best sources in Iran in 2004," the official said.
The same report from today's (UK) Telegraph notes:
The timing of the CIA report has also provoked fury in the British Government, where officials believe it has undermined efforts to impose tough new sanctions on Iran and made an Israeli attack on its nuclear facilities more likely.
Britain's government is not half as furious with the NIE publication as some members of Israel's government. Aaron Klein reported last night for John Batchelor, and again in World Net Daily, that at Sunday's Knesset session:
[...] lawmakers here blasted the report and questioned America's commitment to Israel and its front against Iran.

"It cannot be that Bush is committed to peace as was declared at Annapolis, and then the Americans propagate such an intelligence report which contradicts the information we have proving Iran intends to obtain nuclear weapons," stated Minister Yitzhak Cohen, a member of the Shas party, a key coalition partner in Olmert's government.

Cohen compared the NIE report to what he said were faulty reports released by the U.S. during the Holocaust that Jews were not being killed in spite of information possessed by American intelligence of the existence of concentration camps.

"In the middle of the previous century the Americans received intelligence reports from Auschwitz on the packed trains going to the extermination camps. They claimed then that the railways were industrial. Their attitude today to the information coming out of Iran on the Iranians' intention to produce a nuclear bomb reminds one of their attitude during the Holocaust," stated Cohen.
Now that's what I'd call fury.

Meanwhile, the meeting took place today between Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mullen and Israel's defense minister Barak, during which Mullen was slated to review, among several other things, Israel's intelligence on Iran's nuclear weapons program.

No details have yet emerged from the meeting, with the exception of an inane statement by Mullen's spokesman, Captain John Kirby:
"Sometimes friends disagree," said Kirby of the differences of opinion between Israel and the US over Iran's agenda.
This is not about friends disagreeing and it's not about "opinion." It's about hard data, evidence, that Iran has continued with their nuclear weapons program. Israel's military says they have the data. The ball is now in the US government's court because the NIE on Iran's nuclear threat says the program was abandoned in 2003.

More NIE fallout: Pundita mumbles an apology of sorts to Mike McConnell

In a December 7 post I grumbled:
McConnell showed bad judgment in deciding to declassify the NIE right away. He rushed to get the NIE to the public and the shaky grounds that "... we felt it was important to release this information to ensure that an accurate presentation is available," explained Donald Kerr, principal deputy director of national intelligence.
That was before Retired Col. W. Patrick Lang, a former official in the Defense Intelligence Agency, said that senior CIA analysts involved in the NIE threat assessment on Iran demanded of the White House that the "gist" of the NIE key judgments be released to the public -- or they would leak the findings, even if it meant they had to go to jail.

Col. Lang's statement has been published, although I don't have the link at this time. Of course Lang's statement, which does not reference his source, might be wrong. But it is plausible enough to prompt me to hold my fire until more is known about McConnell's decision.

I still think it was the wrong decision, but it was surely made in consultation with senior White House officials and probably even President Bush. Certainly, the White House would know that any hint from CIA analysts that they would leak the key judgements would have to be taken seriously, given the recent history of leaks in Washington.

This said, I stand by my Dec 7 comments:
... the public can't have 'accuracy' on the report because certain elements of it remain classified! And because the report is public, it would be hard for US intelligence officials who signed off on the NIE to back away from the key conclusion -- that Iran had abandoned their nuclear weapons program in 2003 -- no matter what evidence Israel brings to the contrary.
As David Kay noted during an interview with Campbell Brown this weekend for CNN, the portion of the NIE that has been released is basically "headlines;" no supporting data have been published. So the public is still feeling around in the dark when it comes to assessing the NIE conclusions.

Given the grave events spinning out from the NIE publication, it might have been better to risk dealing with a leak than to have gone ahead with publication at this time. But this would be a judgment call made under great time pressure. So, for now, I'm letting McConnell halfway off the hook.

Saturday, December 8

Thomas Fingar the "principal author" of Iran NIE

Perhaps now readers will understand why I have been so focused on Thomas Fingar ever since I learned he was closely connected with the NIE:
[NIE] Report has torpedoed plans for military action and brought 'howls' from neocons
by Ewen MacAskill in Washington
Saturday December 8, 2007, The (UK) Guardian

... pivotal to the US investigation into Iran's suspect nuclear weapons programme was the work of a little-known intelligence specialist, Thomas Fingar. He was the principal author of an intelligence report published on Monday that concluded Iran, contrary to previous US claims, had halted its covert programme four years ago and had not restarted it. Almost single-handedly he has stopped - or, at the very least, postponed - any US military action against Iran. [...]
The rest of the Guardian piece is mostly a hash of speculations, rumors, and crowing about the blow to Bush's policy on Iran.

The Guardian's editors have never made a secret of their hatred for Bush and his defense/foreign policy -- and hatred is not too strong a word to use in this context. But in this case their hatred may have blinded them to unfolding events since the NIE publication. As I noted in the previous post, it's not only neocons or even Republicans who are questioning the NIE.

So can we trust MacAskill's assertion that Fingar is the chief author of the NIE? I think so, from everything I know about Fingar and the people he works for.

Friday, December 7

Democrats starting to wake from their slumber on NIE faults

I'm glad to see this because flaws in the NIE report on Iran are a defense thing, not a partisan thing. However; growing concerns about the NIE from across the political spectrum are shutting the barn door after the horse escaped. Publication of the NIE has given Russia and China -- and possibly Germany -- the excuse they needed to back away from applying pressure to Iran:
Doves find fault with Iran report too
By Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times, December 7

WASHINGTON — The new U.S. intelligence report that says Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 is suddenly raising concerns among the political center and left, as well as conservatives who have long called for a hard line against the Islamic Republic.

Moderate and liberal foreign policy experts said that U.S. intelligence agencies, possibly eager to demonstrate independence from White House political pressure, may have produced a National Intelligence Estimate that is more reassuring than it should be on the potential risks of the Iranian nuclear program.

The report, made public Monday, contradicted the Bush administration's assertion that Iran has been secretly working to build nuclear weapons. It also found that Tehran, which says it is enriching uranium solely for civilian energy purposes, appears to have a pragmatic view and has responded to outside pressure and economic sanctions, in contrast to characterizations by administration hawks.

[...] Iran expert Ray Takeyh, a former professor at the National War College and National Defense University, said that although his own politics are left of the president's, he agrees with Bush that Iran's nuclear program is a continuing threat.

"The position I take is that President Bush is right on this," said Takeyh, now at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Takeyh, who has long argued for engaging Iran in diplomacy, said the intelligence report was too easy on Tehran by not objecting to the uranium enrichment program, which many Western governments have alleged is meant to build the knowledge base to eventually develop nuclear weapons. The American intelligence agencies, in effect, accepted Iran's contention that the enrichment is for peaceful purposes, Takeyh said.

[...] Sharon Squassoni, a former government nuclear safeguards expert now with the generally liberal Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, noted that the intelligence report said Iran suspended its enrichment program in 2003 and later signed an agreement allowing U.N. inspections.

But, she said, the portion of the report made public was silent on the fact that the Iranians reversed both actions in 2006.

The ability to develop fissile materials is the most important element of a nuclear weapons program, she told reporters.

Gary Samore, who was a top arms control official in the Clinton White House, agreed that the National Intelligence Estimate did not adequately emphasize Iran's continuing efforts to enrich uranium and build missiles.

"The halting of the weaponization program in 2003 is less important from a proliferation standpoint than resumption of the enrichment program in 2006," said Samore, director of studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Samore said the report undermined Bush's warnings about Iranian efforts to develop nuclear weapons and left Tehran in a strong position, allowing it to develop its enrichment capacity without a substantial challenge from the United States and its allies. [...]

Anthony Lake, who was a national security advisor to President Clinton, found no fault with the intelligence report. But he said a key message was the importance of taking action.

"While we've got more time, we've got to use the time, because the enrichment activities are continuing," Lake said in an interview. [...]
As long as I'm ragging on Mike McConnell today (see Israel to show US evidence on Iran's continued nuclear weapons program ...), I'll toss in this mention from the above LA Times report, even though Bolton is a conservative:
In a Washington Post op-ed column Thursday, Bolton alleged that many of the officials involved [in writing the NIE] were "not intelligence professionals but refugees from the State Department" brought in by J. Michael McConnell, the director of national intelligence.

Israel to show US evidence on Iran's continued nuclear weapons program: more fallout from latest NIE

The following excerpts from a Jerusalem Post article throw some light on why US intelligence officials at work on the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran did not factor in Israel's intelligence. It seems the intelligence was ignored.

I'll grant it's possible that Israel was unwilling to share their "evidence" -- as distinct from intelligence -- until after the IDF got a look at the NIE.

Yet two things are coming clear: First, John "Mike" McConnell, the United States Director of National Intelligence, showed questionable judgment in keeping President Bush out of the loop for months about 'new' raw data on Iran's nuclear weapons program.

Second, McConnell showed bad judgment in deciding to declassify the NIE right away. He rushed to get the NIE to the public and the shaky grounds that "... we felt it was important to release this information to ensure that an accurate presentation is available," explained Donald Kerr, principal deputy director of national intelligence.

But the public can't have 'accuracy' on the report because certain elements of it remain classified! And because the report is public, it would be hard for US intelligence officials who signed off on the NIE to back away from the key conclusion -- that Iran had abandoned their nuclear weapons program in 2003 -- no matter what evidence Israel brings to the contrary.
IDF to show US nuclear data on Iran

Disappointed after failing to make their case on Iran and influence the outcome of the United States's National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) released this week, [Israel's] military Intelligence will present its hard core evidence on [Iran's] nuclear program on Sunday to the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff during a rare visit he will be making to Israel.

Admiral Michael Mullen will land in Israel Sunday morning for a 24-hour visit that will include a one-on-one meeting with IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, as well as with Defense Minister Ehud Barak. [...]

Mullen's visit to Israel will be exactly a week after the publication of the NIE report that claimed Iran had frozen its nuclear military program in 2003 and has yet to restart it. During his visit, Military Intelligence plans to present him with Israel's evidence that Iran is in fact developing nuclear weapons.

"The report clearly shows that we did not succeed in making our case over the past year in the run-up to this report," a defense official said Thursday. "Mullen's visit is an opportunity to try and fix that." [...]
Let's return to Defense Minister Barak's take on the NIE key conclusion:
"Mr. Barak also said that what appeared to be the source for the American assessment on [Iran's] weapons program was no longer functioning.

“We are talking about a specific track connected with their weapons building program, to which the American connection, and maybe that of others, was severed,” Mr. Barak said cryptically."
In light of unfolding events I don't think he was being so much cryptic as polite.

Pundita will be less polite: This is a royal mess, courtesy of America's daffy intelligence establishment.