Mar 31, 2007

U.S. Says No Swap For Captured Brits

US officials have ruled out a deal to exchange 15 Royal Navy personnel captured in the Gulf for five Iranians seized by American forces in Iraq.

State department spokesman Sean McCormack rejected suggestions that a swap could be made.

The five, believed to be members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, were seized in January in the Iraqi city of Irbil. ...

Mr McCormack said: "The international community is not going to stand for the Iranian government trying to use this issue to distract the rest of the world from the situation in which Iran finds itself vis-a-vis its nuclear programme."

Mar 30, 2007

Nimitz Heads To The Gulf

They say the Nimitz is going to relieve the Eisenhower.

Those are the plans as of now.

The U.S. Navy said Thursday that it had ordered an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf to replace one of two patrolling the region, as the United States wound down naval war games on Iran's doorstep.

The Nimitz carrier strike group will sail from San Diego for the gulf on Monday, a navy spokesman said. It will replace the Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Strike groups typically include four or five frigates and destroyers and a submarine.

"You are looking at the early part of May that you would have the transition. It would be without any overlap. There is no plan to overlap them at all," Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Davis said by telephone from naval headquarters in Washington.

The Eisenhower and fellow carrier John C. Stennis took part in this week's war games, the largest American military exercise in Persian Gulf waters since 2003, when the U.S. led the invasion of Iraq. The drills included anti-submarine, anti-surface and mine warfare.

The 5th Fleet has said the decision to hold the exercises was made within the last two weeks, and planning was accelerated as tensions mounted between Iran and the West over Tehran's nuclear program and its capture of British naval personnel.

Mar 28, 2007

Operation Hollywood

The documentary Operation Hollywood centres on the book of the same name by Dave Robb, who was an investigative reporter for a Hollywood trade paper. He began to look through some of the documents detailing the various involvements of the US government in the movie industry and was astonished by the depth of the collaboration. Robb points out, “every film that the military assists always says that war is the answer and every film that the military assists is worse than any film that they don’t assist”.

The military has an outreach strategy. Philip Strub, a former navy colonel who headed the liaison office says it is a process of damage control. The pentagon offers its assistance to various projects. In this way the filmmakers get access to military hardware at discounted rates and the military can suggest alterations which may or may not be heeded.

The filmmakers sign a contract featuring these clauses….

“The production should help armed forces recruiting and retention programmes”.

“The production company agrees to consult with the DOD project office in all phases of pre-production, production and post-production that involve the military or depict the military”.

This creates an unfortunate climate

“Perhaps the worst thing about the collaboration between Hollywood and the military is not the censorship that goes into the films but the self-censorship. When you know that you are going to need the military’s assistance and you know that they are going to be looking at your script, you write it to make them happy right from the beginning.”

It is not hard to understand why these collaborations are so important to the military…

“To be a superpower there is a basic belief that you must glorify war in order to get the public to accept the fact that you are going to send their sons and daughters to die”.

Joe Trento – Director of public education centre.

Since 9/11 the climate has changed and the US military is much more active in its efforts to put forward its interpretation of events.

A case in point is the US TV series “Profiles from the front” which was about US soldiers in Afghanistan. This programme was presented as a documentary about the job US soldiers were doing in that country. The success of the series encouraged the military to go with the embedding strategy in Iraq. Bertram van Muster, the producer of the series was later appointed the pentagons official film maker.

Furthermore, one of the documentaries suggests that there is a “trusted list” of Hollywood people which it will come as no surprise, includes Jerry Bruckheimer.

In fact, after 9/11, at the pentagons request meetings were set up between military officials and “30 Hollywood ‘creatives’ chosen at random” who signed confidentiality agreements.

Also, since 9/11 there has been an expansion of the kinds of media being used.

The computer game “America’s Army” looks like something between a movie and a recruitment advertisement. The 50 million dollar ‘Institute for Creative Technologies’ (ICT) uses film professionals and computer experts to develop ways to train soldiers. The head of the ICT is the former head of special effects at paramount studios. The US government retains the rights to what is created at ICT but the designers may be allowed to use some of the work to sell commercially in the form of computer games.

Prisoner Abuse Lawsuit Against Rumsfeld Dismissed

Former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld cannot be tried on allegations of torture in overseas military prisons, a federal judge said Tuesday in a case he described as "lamentable."

U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan threw out a lawsuit brought on behalf of nine former prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said Rumsfeld cannot be held personally responsible for actions taken in connection with his government job.

The lawsuit contends the prisoners were beaten, suspended upside down from the ceiling by chains, urinated on, shocked, sexually humiliated, burned, locked inside boxes and subjected to mock executions.

Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights First had argued that Rumsfeld and top military officials disregarded warnings about the abuse and authorized the use of illegal interrogation tactics that violated the constitutional and human rights of prisoners. ...

Allowing the case to go forward, Hogan said in December, might subject government officials to all sorts of political lawsuits. Even Osama bin Laden could sue, Hogan said, claiming two American presidents threatened to have him murdered.

"There is no getting around the fact that authorizing monetary damages remedies against military officials engaged in an active war would invite enemies to use our own federal courts to obstruct the Armed Forces' ability to act decisively and without hesitation," Hogan wrote Tuesday.

Had the Rumsfeld lawsuit been allowed to go forward, attorneys for the ACLU might have been able to force the Pentagon to disclose what officials knew about abuses at prisons such as Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and what was done to stop it.

Hogan also dismissed the charges against other officials named in the lawsuit: retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, former Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski and Col. Thomas M. Pappas.

Mar 27, 2007

A Friendly Reminder

The Navy on Tuesday began its largest demonstration of force in the Persian Gulf since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, led by a pair of aircraft carriers and backed by warplanes flying simulated attack maneuvers off the coast of Iran.

The maneuvers bring together two strike groups of U.S. warships and more than 100 U.S. warplanes to conduct simulated air warfare in the crowded Gulf shipping lanes.

The U.S. exercises come just four days after Iran's capture of 15 British sailors and marines who Iran said had strayed into Iranian waters near the Gulf. Britain and the U.S. Navy have insisted the British sailors were operating in Iraqi waters.

Navy Cmdr. Kevin Aandahl said the U.S. maneuvers were not organized in response to the capture of the British sailors — nor were they meant to threaten the Islamic republic, whose navy operates in the same waters.

Mar 26, 2007

U.S. Economic Action Against Iran

More than 40 major international banks and financial institutions have either cut off or cut back business with the Iranian government or private sector as a result of a quiet campaign launched by the Treasury and State departments last September, according to Treasury and State officials.

The financial squeeze has seriously crimped Tehran's ability to finance petroleum industry projects and to pay for imports. It has also limited Iran's use of the international financial system to help fund allies and extremist militias in the Middle East, say U.S. officials and economists who track Iran. ...

The campaign differs from formal international sanctions -- and has proved able to win wider backing -- because it targets Iran's behavior rather than seeking to change its government. "This is not an exercise of power," (Stuart Levey, Treasury's undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence) said in the interview. "People go along with you if it's conduct-based rather than a political gesture."

Iranian importers are particularly feeling the pinch, with many having to pay for commodities in advance when a year ago they could rely on a revolving line of credit, said Patrick Clawson, a former World Bank official now at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The scope of Iran's vulnerability has been a surprise to U.S. officials, he added.

The financial institutions cutting back business ties are mainly in Europe and Asia, U.S. officials say. UBS last year said it was cutting off all dealings with Iran. London-based HSBC (which has 5,000 offices in 79 countries) and Standard Chartered (with 1,400 branches in 50 countries) as well as Commerzbank of Germany have indicated they are limiting their exposure to Iranian business, Levey said. The rest have asked the United States not to publicize their names. ...

In a related effort, the Bush administration has warned "relevant companies and countries" about the risks of investing in Iran's oil and gas sector, R. Nicholas Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs, said in congressional testimony Wednesday. Washington is generally trying to drive home to Tehran that its policies will lead to serious "financial hardship," he said.

Mar 25, 2007

NYPD Intelligence Division On The Job

For at least a year before the 2004 Republican National Convention, teams of undercover New York City police officers traveled to cities across the country, Canada and Europe to conduct covert observations of people who planned to protest at the convention, according to police records and interviews. ...

In hundreds of reports stamped "N.Y.P.D. Secret," the Intelligence Division chronicled the views and plans of people who had no apparent intention of breaking the law, the records show.

These included members of street theater companies, church groups and antiwar organizations, as well as environmentalists and people opposed to the death penalty, globalization and other government policies. ...

In at least some cases, intelligence on what appeared to be lawful activity was shared with police departments in other cities. A police report on an organization of artists called Bands Against Bush noted that the group was planning concerts on Oct. 11, 2003, in New York, Washington, Seattle, San Francisco and Boston. Between musical sets, the report said, there would be political speeches and videos.

"Activists are showing a well-organized network made up of anti-Bush sentiment; the mixing of music and political rhetoric indicates sophisticated organizing skills with a specific agenda," said the report, dated Oct. 9, 2003. "Police departments in above listed areas have been contacted regarding this event."

Police records indicate that in addition to sharing information with other police departments, New York undercover officers were active themselves in at least 15 places outside New York -- including California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montreal, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas and Washington, D.C. -- and in Europe. ...

(T)he broad outlines of the pre-convention operations are emerging from records in federal lawsuits that were brought over mass arrests made during the convention, and in greater detail from still-secret reports reviewed by The New York Times. These include a sample of raw intelligence documents and of summary digests of observations from both the field and the department's cyberintelligence unit. ...

On Wednesday, lawyers for the plaintiffs in the convention lawsuits are scheduled to begin depositions of David Cohen, the deputy police commissioner for intelligence. Mr. Cohen, a former senior official at the Central Intelligence Agency, was "central to the N.Y.P.D.'s efforts to collect intelligence information prior to the R.N.C.," Gerald C. Smith, an assistant corporation counsel with the city Law Department, said in a federal court filing.

Mar 24, 2007

Tillman Report To Be Released Monday

The Defense Department's inspector general has concluded that as many as nine officers are responsible for mistakes and irregularities during the investigation into the "friendly fire" death of former NFL player Pat Tillman in Afghanistan in 2004, problems that led to major delays and errors in explaining the facts to his family and the public, defense officials said yesterday.

The report is scheduled for public release on Monday, when Tillman's family also expects to receive a briefing in California. Members of Tillman's immediate family have been fighting for nearly three years to learn the truth about the case, amid a series of investigations into why his death was initially reported as occurring during a heroic attack on enemy fighters when instead the soldiers in his unit knew immediately that he died when they mistakenly shot him in a dusty canyon pass.

Officials yesterday declined to discuss specifics of the report but said the inspector general identified a range of problems, including minor errors in procedure up to allegations of officers making deliberately misleading statements about the case. One defense official said the report includes generals among the officers identified as having made errors in judgment. CBS News and the Associated Press reported last night that as many as four generals are blamed.

Mar 22, 2007

Assymetric Careers

I, and a buddy, spent a good chunk of 1999 keeping up with invites to attend and ocassionally actively participate in conferences, workshops, seminars, and think tank sessions spawning odd ball scenarios for national security related exercises/games de readiness - all centered around the intersecting themes of information and assymetric warfare in open societies. Anyways, I just read somewhere that my former buddy de seminars et think tanks is a co-director on this video that has apparently gone ballistic over at YouTube. Anyways...

Résumé Building 101

George P. Bush, the son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and nephew of President Bush, has been selected as one of 15 prospective ensigns for the intelligence unit of the Navy reserves.

He and the other members of the Class of 2007 will be sworn in this year, Lt. Cmdr. Bill Schroeder of the Navy Reserve Intelligence Command in Fort Worth said Wednesday. They will go through a two-week officer indoctrination school, a year of Navy basic intelligence training and be assigned to Navy reserve intelligence units close to their homes.

Navy intelligence officers collect and analyze information and provide guidance to help war fighters make decisions critical on the battlefield, Schroeder said.

Bush, a 30-year-old graduate of the University of Texas School of Law, will get no special treatment, he said.

"He will be held to the same standards as all of his other shipmates," Schroeder said. "He will go through the same training. He will have the same duties and responsibilities and have to display the same commitment as the rest of his shipmates."

The 15 were selected in February by a panel of Navy officers who considered their qualifications, skills and education.

Mar 21, 2007

U.S. Gulf Arms Sale Strategy as Geopolitical Counter To Iran

The State Department and the Pentagon are quietly seeking congressional approval for significant new military sales to US allies in the Persian Gulf region. The move is part of a broader American strategy to contain Iranian influence by strengthening Iran's neighbors and signaling that the United States is still a strong military player in the Middle East, despite all the difficulties in Iraq. ...

Senior US officials have been tight-lipped in public about what systems they hope to sell, citing the need to get congressional support for the measure first and skittishness among Arab allies that don't want the publicity. Current and former US officials and analysts familiar with the discussions say items under consideration include sophisticated air and missile defense systems, advanced early warning radar aircraft that could detect low-flying missiles, and light coastal combat ships that could sweep the Gulf for mines and help gather underwater intelligence. ...

The current arms sale proposals grew out of a diplomatic effort launched last May called the "Gulf Security Dialogue," in which US officials sought to suggest ways to bolster the defenses of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Oman. ...

Michael Knights, a fellow for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who has worked with the Defense Department on military "lessons learned" research in Iraq, said much of the negotiations on arms sales in the Gulf this past year has focused on selling the Royal Saudi Navy new Littoral Combat Ships. The small, lightly armed coastal defense ship, produced in Bath, Maine, could be equipped to sweep for mines in the Gulf and could work with unmanned undersea vehicles to conduct underwater surveillance.

Another item believed to be under consideration is Northrop Grumman's E-2D Hawkeye 2000, an early warning aircraft that the United Arab Emirates tried to acquire in 2003 to bolster its air force. The US Navy refused at the time to allow the sale of necessary communications software, so the deal fell through. But last month, Defense News, a trade publication, reported that it may now be revived. ...

Some analysts suggested that any arms sales will be merely symbolic, since none of the Gulf states have militaries capable of driving off an Iranian attack by themselves.

Mar 20, 2007

Army Readiness Slipping

For decades, the Army has kept a brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division on round-the-clock alert, poised to respond to a crisis anywhere in 18 to 72 hours.

Today, the so-called ready brigade is no longer so ready. Its soldiers are not fully trained, much of its equipment is elsewhere, and for the past two weeks the unit has been far from the cargo aircraft it would need in an emergency.

Instead of waiting on standby, the First Brigade of the 82nd Airborne is deep in the swampy backwoods of this vast Army training installation, preparing to go to Iraq. Army officials concede that the unit is not capable of getting at least an initial force of several hundred to a war zone within 18 hours, a standard once considered inviolate.

The declining readiness of the brigade is just one measure of the toll that four years in Iraq — and more than five years in Afghanistan — have taken on the United States military. Since President Bush ordered reinforcements to Iraq and Afghanistan in January, roughly half of the Army's 43 active-duty combat brigades are now deployed overseas, Army officials said.

Mar 19, 2007

Safeguards Needed at Recruiting Stations

The military is considering installing surveillance cameras in recruiting stations across the country, the most dramatic of several new steps to address a rise in misconduct allegations against military recruiters -- including sexual assaults of female prospects and bending the rules to meet quotas.

In a letter to Congress obtained by the (Boston) Globe, a top Pentagon personnel official outlined the initiatives, which also include a ban on recruiters meeting with prospective recruits of the opposite sex unless a supervisor is present.

Recruiters may also be required to give potential recruits "applicant's rights cards," spelling out what a recruiter can and cannot do to get them to enlist, and the military may set up a hot line to report violations, according to the letter.

Together, they mark the Pentagon's most forceful attempt to address what government investigators say is an increase in the number of recruiters using questionable tactics -- and breaking the law in some cases -- while trying to fill the Pentagon's need for new soldiers and Marines.

Mar 17, 2007

Protests Intensify in Pakistan

The worm may be turning in Pakistan.

Pakistani police fired rubber bullets at protesters, ransacked a television station and detained key opposition leaders Friday, as anger swelled over Gen. Pervez Musharraf's suspension of the nation's chief justice.

Opposition groups pledged to hold larger demonstrations against the government, and Pakistani political analysts said Musharraf faces the greatest challenge to his presidency since he took office in a bloodless coup in 1999.

"This has shaken the country. It has shaken the government," said Ayaz Amir, a columnist for the English-language newspaper Dawn. "It has all the potential of getting out of hand and turning into something bigger."

Musharraf last week suspended the Supreme Court's chief justice, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, citing unspecified abuses of authority. Since then, furor over the move has grown. Political opponents and journalists have speculated that Musharraf feared Chaudhry might try to force the president to step down as head of the army or might be planning to play a role in upcoming elections. ...

The protests were broadcast live on the independent television station Geo TV, and riot police stormed the station's Islamabad office during the protests in an attempt to shut it down. Geo TV representatives said the police released tear gas in the office, roughed up the station's journalists and trashed furniture. ...

The intensifying domestic pressure on Musharraf comes just weeks after a visit by Vice President Cheney in which U.S. officials pushed for greater Pakistani cooperation in anti-terrorist campaigns against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The United States has long considered Musharraf a critical ally, but since Cheney's visit there has been widespread speculation in the Pakistani news media that the relationship between Islamabad and Washington is fraying.

Mar 16, 2007

Warnings About a New Bogeyman

Intelligence officials are publicizing an Islamic militant who has formed a new organization in Lebanon, creating a new public face of Al Qaeda.

(There is) a new militant Islamic organization called Fatah al Islam, whose leader, a fugitive Palestinian named Shakir al-Abssi, has set up operations in a refugee camp here where he trains fighters and spreads the ideology of Al Qaeda.

He has solid terrorist credentials. A former associate of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda of Mesopotamia who was killed last summer, Mr. Abssi was sentenced to death in absentia along with Mr. Zarqawi in the 2002 assassination of an American diplomat in Jordan, Laurence Foley. Just four months after arriving here from Syria, Mr. Abssi has a militia that intelligence officials estimate at 150 men and an arsenal of explosives, rockets and even an antiaircraft gun. ...

American and Middle Eastern intelligence officials say he is viewed as a dangerous militant who can assemble small teams of operatives with acute military skill.

"Guys like Abssi have the capability on the ground that Al Qaeda has lost and is looking to tap into," said an American intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity. Mr. Abssi has shown himself to be a canny operator. Despite being on terrorism watch lists around the world, he has set himself up in a Palestinian refugee camp where, because of Lebanese politics, he is largely shielded from the government. The camp also gives him ready access to a pool of recruits, young Palestinians whose militant vision has evolved from the struggle against Israel to a larger Islamic cause.

Intelligence officials here say that he has also exploited another source of manpower: they estimate he has 50 militants from Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries fresh from fighting with the insurgency in Iraq.

The officials say they fear that he is seeking to establish himself as a terror leader on the order of Mr. Zarqawi. "He is trying to fill a void and do so in a high-profile manner that will attract the attention of supporters," the American intelligence official said.

Mar 15, 2007

Grassy Beard, Knolled Guy

Well there we have it kidz. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed finally confessed to (among many other a dastardly deed) being JFK's grassy knoll assassin that Zapruderian Dealey Plaza of a day back in ol' 63.

Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq -- March 2007

The Pentagon has released it's congressionally mandated quarterly report on the progress of security operations in Iraq.

Titled Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq -- March 2007 (47-page pdf), the report details the shortcomings of the U.S.-created Iraqi armed forces as well as the failure of the Iraqi government to transcend the formidable sectarian rivalries that are tearing the country apart.

Some excerpts:

Since the last report, a series of high-casualty and high-profile attacks primarily against Shi'a civilians—likely perpetrated by AQI (Al Qaeda in Iraq)— have hampered efforts to demobilize militia groups and have set back the reconciliation process. Likewise, some Shi'a extremist groups have used "death squads" to kill and intimidate Sunni civilians. This type of sectarian violence in Baghdad and the failure to reliably apprehend and punish criminals and terrorists has hampered progress toward reconciliation. ...

The conflict in Iraq has changed from a predominantly Sunni-led insurgency against foreign occupation to a struggle for the division of political and economic influence among sectarian groups and organized criminal activity. As described in the January 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, the term "civil war" does not adequately capture the complexity of the conflict in Iraq, which includes extensive Shi'a-on-Shi'a violence, al-Qaida and Sunni insurgent attacks on Coalition forces, and widespread criminally motivated violence. Some elements of the situation in Iraq are properly descriptive of a "civil war," including the hardening of ethno-sectarian identities and mobilization, the changing character of the violence, and population displacements. Illegally armed groups are engaged in a self-sustaining cycle of sectarian and politically motivated violence, using tactics that include indiscriminate bombing, murder, and indirect fire to intimidate people and stoke sectarian conflict. Much of the present violence is focused on local issues, such as sectarian, political, and economic control of Baghdad; Kurdish, Arab, and Turkomen aspirations for Kirkuk; and the political and economic control of Shi'a regions in the south. Although most attacks continue to be directed against Coalition forces, Iraqi civilians suffer the vast majority of casualties. Given the concentration of political power and population in Baghdad and the city's ethnic and sectarian diversity, Baghdad security remains the key to stability in Iraq. ...

The level of violence in Iraq continued to rise during this reporting period as ethnic, tribal, sectarian, and political factions seek power over political and economic resources. Consistent with previous reports, more than 80% of the violence in Iraq is limited to four provinces centered around Baghdad, although it also exists in other population centers, such as Kirkuk, Mosul, and Basrah. Sectarian violence and insurgent attacks still involve a very small portion of the population, but public perception of violence is a significant factor in preventing reconciliation on key issues. The conflict in Iraq remains a mosaic and requires maximum flexibility on the part of the Coalition and the GOI to uproot the main drivers of violence in different areas of the country.

Aside from the analysis of the overall political and military picture, the report goes into great detail (not Order of Battle specific, but good) about the Iraqi security forces -- down to the training and materiel that various services and units within those services have received.

The report portrays a scenario in which U.S. forces will be needed for the foreseeable future.

Avoid 'The Colbert Report', Emanuel Tells Incoming Dems

Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), the Democratic Caucus chairman, has told new Democratic members of Congress to steer clear of Stephen Colbert, or at least his satirical Comedy Central program, "The Colbert Report."

"He said don't do it ... it's a risk and it's probably safer not to do it," said Rep. Steve Cohen. But the freshman lawmaker from Tennessee taped a segment that last week was featured in the 32nd installment of the "Better Know a District" series. Colbert asked Cohen whether he was a black woman. He isn't.

Eyes (but thankfully, not heads) roll in Emanuel's office when other freshmen stumble, such as the time Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) got into a debate about the merits of throwing kittens into a wood-chipper, or when Rep. Zack Space (D-Ohio) explained that he is not his predecessor, convicted felon Bob Ney (R).

Mar 14, 2007

Rehabilitation Of Syria Questioned

Regarding Syria, the glass is either half full:

Syria is hailing its return from international isolation with a landmark visit today by the EU's foreign policy chief as diplomacy in the Middle East intensifies ahead of a key Arab League summit in Saudi Arabia at the end of this month.

Damascus is trumpeting the talks with Javier Solana as evidence that the country is coming in from the cold after being largely shunned by Europe since the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik al-Hariri, two years ago.

Or half empty:

Four Syrians held by the Lebanese authorities have confessed to bombing two buses in Lebanon last month, killing three people, Lebanon's interior minister said on Tuesday.

Hassan al-Sabaa said the men were members of Fateh al-Islam, a small Palestinian group which he linked to Syrian intelligence. Fateh al-Islam broke away last year from Fateh al-Intifada, another Palestinian group.

A fifth man, also Syrian, was on the run, Sabaa said.

"It is no secret that Fateh al-Islam is Fateh al-Intifada and Fateh al-Intifada is part of the Syrian intelligence-security apparatus," Sabaa told reporters.

Mar 13, 2007

PTSD Rates Among Iraq War Vets Soaring

Some experts believe the rate of post-traumatic stress disorder, the most common mental health problem among veterans, may even begin to exceed that seen among those who fought in Vietnam. Among the reasons cited: Many soldiers are enduring multiple tours of duty and more are surviving severe wounds than ever before.

A study of more than 100,000 veterans who have sought medical care since returning from war shows that nearly one-quarter have mental health problems. Half of those--more than 13,000 people--were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder according to the report to be published Tuesday in the Archives of Internal Medicine. The disorder affects less than 4 percent of the general public.

The unpredictable aspects of combat in Iraq seem to take a mental toll similar to what Vietnam soldiers experienced, said Dr. Chirag Raval, a psychiatrist in the Army Reserves who served in Iraq and is medical director for the mental health intensive case management program at the Hines Veterans Hospital.

"There is no front line to this war," Raval said. With hand-propelled rockets, mortars and improvised explosive device attacks "there is no true safe place in Iraq. You can be anywhere, even on your base, and still not be safe."

More than a generation after 15 percent of Vietnam vets returned with post-traumatic stress disorder, the illness generally carries less of a stigma and has better-defined standards of treatment. But many veterans and researchers say the shame of mental illness persists in military ranks, and soldiers often avoid reporting their symptoms in hopes of preserving their careers.

Mar 12, 2007

US and Iran Trade Insults at Talks

The Baghdad "Neighbors Conference" over the weekend proceeded approximately as expected:

The conference on Saturday saw a rare meeting of US and Iranian diplomats, good news to Iraqi officials who hope to prevent the two countries using their territory as a battlefield. Unfortunately for the Iraqis, reports suggest that their interaction consisted largely of trading accusations, underscoring the difficulties in reaching an accommodation between two countries whose reasons for coming to the table are divergent.

The US says it is speaking to Iran to dissuade it from destabilising Iraq, without crossing over into bilateral negotiations about Tehran's nuclear programme, which Washington says is intended to produce weapons. Iran, however, is keen to open such negotiations, and may perceive talks about Iraq as an opening into discussions over the nuclear issue.

It is unclear how much time diplomats from the two countries spent talking to each other on Saturday. Zalmay Khalilzad, US ambassador, said they met "directly . . . and in front of others" and also across a table. But Iraqi delegates said the two parties argued.

US officials reportedly told the Iranians they had proof of their support for Shia militias in Iraq. But in a later press conference, Iran's top delegate mocked the Americans and said the claims were based on false intelligence. "They have made so many mistakes . . . in Iraq . . . because of false information," Abbas Aragchi said. ...

Iran raised the issue of six of its citizens who were arrested by the US in Iraq in January, whom it claims were diplomats. Mr Khalilzad, however, said there were no diplomats held by US forces in Iraq, a reference to US claims the men were associated with Iran's Revolutionary Guard and implicated in acts of violence. ...

The Iraq meetings at least give Tehran and the US a venue to discuss their differences. The two countries will meet again, possibly at ministerial level, in April. There will also be lower-level committees to follow up on Saturday's meeting.

Mar 10, 2007

Controlling The Message

The U.S. military asserted that an American soldier was justified in erasing journalists' footage of the aftermath of a suicide bombing and shooting in Afghanistan last week, saying publication could have compromised a military investigation and led to false public conclusions.

The comments came Friday in response to an Associated Press protest that a U.S. soldier had forced two freelance journalists working for the AP to delete photos and video at the scene of violence March 4 in Barikaw, eastern Afghanistan. At least eight Afghans were killed and 34 wounded.

"Investigative integrity is one circumstance when civil and military authorities will reluctantly exercise the right to control what a journalist is permitted to document," Col. Victor Petrenko, chief of staff to the top U.S. commander in eastern Afghanistan, said in a letter Friday. ...

"When untrained people take photographs or video, there is a very real risk that the images or videography will capture visual details that are not as they originally were," he said. "If such visual media are subsequently used as part of the public record to document an event like this, then public conclusions about such a serious event can be falsely made."

The AP also raised concerns about the military's efforts to restrict its coverage of the Feb. 15 crash of a U.S. helicopter in southern Zabul province in which eight soldiers were killed and 14 wounded. Two AP journalists and their vehicle were searched extensively in an effort to prevent footage of the wreckage getting out.

Petrenko justified that action on the grounds of "operational security" exercised when "equipment, aircraft or component parts are classified."

He maintained that the U.S. military had no intention of curbing freedom of the press in Afghanistan.

Mar 9, 2007

A Short History of Covert U.S./Iranian Contacts

On the eve of tomorrow's Baghdad meeting between representatives of Iraq, the surrounding countries (primus inter pares, Iran), and key U.N. members (including the U.S.), today's L.A. Times has a piece on the mostly secret relationship between the United States and Iran.

The White House insists that the United States won't talk directly with Iran until Tehran suspends its nuclear program. But U.S. officials have been discreetly meeting their Iranian counterparts one-on-one for more than a decade, often under the auspices of the United Nations.

The little-known history of these contacts between the two nations, which have not had formal diplomatic relations since the Iranian hostage crisis ended in 1980, is one of misunderstandings and missed opportunities. ...

But whispered dealings between the foes have had a way of going wrong. In the 1980s, the Reagan administration decided to sell weapons to Iran to win its help in securing the release of U.S. hostages in Lebanon and diverted the proceeds of the arms sales to Nicaraguan rebels, leading to the Iran-Contra scandal.

In 1994, President Clinton covertly condoned Iran's arms shipments to Bosnian Muslims, at a time when the U.S. had pledged to uphold a U.N. weapons embargo. The policy was revealed in 1996 and met widespread criticism, keeping Iran, headed then by reformist President Mohammad Khatami, and the U.S. from broadening ties.

In 1999, Clinton offered an "authoritative and unconditional" dialogue with Iran, but Tehran insisted that the U.S. lift its sanctions first.

In the end, it was the U.N. that provided a discreet diplomatic safe house in which the two countries could talk.

In 1998, U.N. diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi, an Algerian, created a group called the "6+2" that met in New York to address the conflict in Afghanistan. It consisted of the country's six neighbors: China, Pakistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, as well as Russia and the United States. ...

In 2001, the U.N. created another forum to facilitate contacts between the U.S. and Iran, called the Geneva Initiative, which included Italy and Germany.

"It was really just a cover to allow the Iranians and the U.S. to meet," Brahimi said. "After a while, I told them, 'We don't have to drag the Italians and Germans in every time you want to talk.' Then when it was just us sitting at the table, I would get up and tell them, 'I will leave you alone.' "

After the Sept. 11 attacks, the two nations had a common enemy in the Taliban: the Sunni rulers of Afghanistan, whom Shiite-majority Iran regarded as a threat and the U.S. considered protectors of Osama bin Laden.

In the days before the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, American and Iranian officials held extensive talks to coordinate cooperation between Iranian-backed anti-Taliban warlords and U.S. troops.

The cooperation continued politically as well. Iranian diplomats were particularly helpful during a conference in December 2001 in Bonn that established Afghanistan's interim government.

James Dobbins, who represented the State Department at the time, said the Iranian envoys were "essential" in shaping Afghanistan's government. At one point, the Northern Alliance's Younis Qanooni insisted on controlling 18 of 24 ministries, a demand that would have prevented an agreement.

Dobbins said that after diplomats from several countries "worked him over" through the night, Iran's U.N. ambassador, Javad Zarif, took Qanooni aside and whispered into his ear, "This is the best deal you're going to get. You better take it." Qanooni conceded two ministries and the deal was sealed. "It was decisive," Dobbins said.

Iran made it clear it was interested in a broader strategic dialogue with the United States. But the U.S., thinking it had the upper hand, brushed off the overtures, Dobbins said, and then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell wrote to thank every foreign minister who had attended the conference — except Iran.

Six weeks later, in President Bush's 2002 State of the Union address, he named Iran part of an "axis of evil." Iranians had been expecting some sort of diplomatic reward in exchange for their help in Afghanistan, and took it as a slap in the face.

Still, for about a year, Iranian diplomats continued to meet in Kabul with the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, usually in Brahimi's U.N. villa, known as Palace No. 7. Khalilzad, an Afghan native who speaks Persian, was at the Bonn conference and would become a key player in the cautious diplomatic connection. Now the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, he will be at the table Saturday in Baghdad.

Later came the 2003 outreach from Iran that was rejected by the United States.

Then Ahmadinejad came to power, giving the U.S. a tangible excuse for refusing to deal (even covertly) with the Islamic Republic.

Some WWII Revisionism From Japan

The timing of the release of this historical tidbit is doubtlessly related to current domestic Japanese political considerations, particularly the tendency of recent PM's (especially the new one) to refuse to embrace the expected guilt trip for their WWII-era belligerence.

Somebody must have figured that the hawkishness isn't playing too well with the neighbors.

Emperor Hirohito, in whose name Japanese soldiers fought in World War Two, was reluctant to start a war with China in 1937 and had believed in stopping it earlier, media reported on Friday, citing a diary by his former chamberlain.

The revelation comes after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe angered Asian neighbors with controversial remarks about Japan's wartime actions, and as Tokyo and Beijing prepare for an expected April visit to Japan by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.

According to the diary by Kuraji Ogura, the late Hirohito also said Japan had underestimated China's military strength, adding that experts in the Imperial Army had failed to correctly forecast the war in China.

"Japan underestimated China. It is most wise to end the war quickly and seek to build up our national strength for the next ten years," the diary quotes Hirohito as saying in January 1941, according to the Asahi Shimbun newspaper.

Japan and China entered full-scale war following the Marco Polo Bridge incident in 1937.

In December 1942, a year after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, Hirohito is quoted as saying that the timing for ending a war is important and that war should be fought to the best of one's ability.

"Once you start (a war), it cannot easily be stopped in the middle ... What's important is when to end the war," the diary quotes him as saying.

"One should be cautious in starting a war, but once begun, it should be carried out thoroughly."

Hirohito's remarks may provide insight into the monarch's war responsibility, which academics say has never been fully pursued in Japan largely due to a decision by U.S. Occupation authorities to keep him on the throne and turn the emperor into a symbol of a newly democratic Japan.

Mar 8, 2007

SMC Delivers The Goods Again

Sometimes, if something quacks like a duck, it actually turns out to be a duck.

Our speculation a few days ago that a missing former Iranian official was actually a defector looks to have been spot on. (See Sounds Like A Defection).

A report in today's Washington Post says as much:

A former Iranian deputy defense minister who once commanded the Revolutionary Guard has left his country and is cooperating with Western intelligence agencies, providing information on Hezbollah and Iran's ties to the organization, according to a senior U.S. official. ...

Iran's official news agency, IRNA, quoted the country's top police chief, Brig. Gen. Esmaeil Ahmadi-Moqaddam, as saying that Asgari was probably kidnapped by agents working for Western intelligence agencies. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Asgari was in the United States. Another U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, denied that report and suggested that Asgari's disappearance was voluntary and orchestrated by the Israelis. A spokesman for President Bush's National Security Council did not return a call for comment. ...

Former Mossad director Danny Yatom, who is now a member of Israel's parliament, said he believes Asgari defected to the West. "He is very high-caliber," Yatom said. "He held a very, very senior position for many long years in Lebanon. He was in effect commander of the Revolutionary Guards" there.

Mar 7, 2007

New British Study of Iranian Nuclear Program

U.S. military strikes against Iran to try to stop their nuclear program could lead to a stepped-up effort to weaponize whatever material they could salvage, according to a new report by British think tank Oxford Research Group (27-page pdf).

There is a real possibility that Iran has constructed secret facilities in the anticipation of a military strike. It is also conceivable that Iran has built false targets, installations that appear to hold nuclear facilities but in fact act as decoys. With inadequate intelligence, it is unlikely that it would be possible to identify and subsequently destroy the number of targets needed to set back Iran's nuclear programme for a significant period. Furthermore, with the probable survival of key scientific personnel, it would only be a matter of time before Iran could rebuild its nuclear programme. The question is, how much time?

If Iran's nuclear facilities were severely damaged during an attack, it is possible that Iran could embark on a crash programme to make one nuclear weapon. In the aftermath of an attack, it is likely that popular support for an Iranian nuclear weapon capability would increase; bolstering the position of hardliners and strengthening arguments that Iran must possess a nuclear deterrent. Furthermore, Iran has threatened to withdraw from the NPT and, should it do so post-attack, would build a clandestine programme free of international inspection and control.

In the aftermath of an attack, following a political decision to change the nature of the nuclear programme to construct a bomb as quickly as possible, Iran could:
1 Used stored, fresh nuclear fuel to produce HEU in a small centrifuge facility to fabricate a weapon.

2 Chemically remove plutonium from irradiated reactor fuel elements - from the Bushehr or Arak reactors, if either were operational - and use it to fabricate a nuclear weapon.

3 Assemble new centrifuges and produce highly enriched uranium (HEU). Some centrifuges might survive a military attack, but it is conceivable that Iran has stored additional centrifuges in secure locations.

This process would be hastened if Iran had a secret supply of uranium hexafluoride or if it had constructed a small primitive reactor, fuelled with natural uranium, to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. It is also possible that, post-attack, Iran could purchase additional needed materials from sympathetic states or on the black-market.

In the aftermath of a military strike, if Iran devoted maximum effort and resources to building one nuclear bomb, it could achieve this in a relatively short amount of time: some months rather than years. The argument that military strikes would buy time is flawed. It does not take into account the time already available to pursue diplomacy; it inflates the likelihood of military success and underplays the possibility of hardened Iranian determination leading to a crash nuclear programme. Post military attacks, it is possible that Iran would be able to build a nuclear weapon and would then wield one in an environment of incalculably greater hostility.

It is a mistake to believe that Iran can be deterred from attaining a nuclear weapons capability by bombing its facilities, and presumably continuing to do so should Iran then reconstitute its programme.

Mar 6, 2007

Sounds Like a Defection

Iran said Tuesday its former deputy defense minister was missing while on a private trip to neighboring Turkey, and its top police chief accused Western intelligence services of possibly kidnapping the official.

Ali Reza Asghari, a retired general in the elite Revolutionary Guards and a former deputy defense minister, had arrived in Turkey on a private visit from Damascus, Syria, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported Tuesday.

Iran's top police chief, Gen. Esmaeil Ahmadi Moghaddam, said Iran was investigating the fate of Asghari through the Turkish police.

"It is likely that Asghari has been abducted by the Western intelligence services," IRNA quoted the Iranian police general as saying. The general did not elaborate.

In Turkey, the Interior Ministry said Tuesday it was investigating the matter, but would not confirm or deny that Asghari had disappeared or been kidnapped.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry had asked the Interior Ministry to investigate following a report from the Iranian Embassy in Ankara.

In Israel, security officials said the country's embassies and consulates had been alerted to possible attacks or kidnappings following media speculation that Israel was behind the Iranian general's disappearance. The security officials spoke on condition of anonymity because such security measures are classified.

The Shin Bet, Israel's security service, would not confirm that embassy security had been ratcheted up, saying only that such decisions were made "in keeping with the developments in intelligence and on the ground."

Mar 5, 2007

The Mysterious Missing Mookie

There is some debate as to why Moqtada al-Sadr is taking an unusually low profile during the U.S. "surge."

The senior Iraqi official credits pressure on Sadr from his former patrons in Iran, as well as from Ayatollah Sistani and the Marjaiyah, the Shia clerical leadership in Najaf. He says Iran is withholding military advice and aid to Sadrists as well as other rogue elements, and leaning on them to stop the killings. "Sadr is convinced that there's no real outcome of this struggle, and [death-squad reprisals have] backfired," he says.

Washington takes a less sanguine view of Iran's role in Iraq. U.S. military authorities have publicized a series of weapons seizures in recent days, including material for making the deadly "explosively formed projectiles," or EFPs, bombs allegedly of Iranian origin that can penetrate armored vehicles. But Iranian officials have publicly supported the Baghdad security plan, and have agreed to join a regional conference on Iraq's future with the United States and other nations. "Iran's strategy is to strengthen and support the [Shia-dominated] central government in Iraq," says a senior Iranian intelligence official who asked for anonymity because of his line of work, "when and how it sees appropriate."

The threat of American action certainly had something to do with Sadr's silence, too. Even before Feb. 14, U.S. and Iraqi troops had begun targeting top and middle-level officials in Sadr's organization, arresting several key ones and killing at least two who resisted. Even more critical may have been the intervention of Shia elders. Alarmed at the U.S. crackdown, Sadr had an 11 p.m. meeting with Sistani about a month ago, according to an aide to the grand ayatollah, speaking on condition of anonymity in keeping with practice in the cleric's office. "He asked the sayyid what he should do about the attacks against him, and [Sistani] told him, 'You have two options: bear the consequences, on you and Shias in general, or withdraw into a corner'."

The corner Sadr chose was likely somewhere in Iran. U.S. and Iraqi officials say he left for Iran two weeks ago. "As far as I know, he's still there," says Sami al-Askari, an adviser to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. "He's a secretive man." Both Tehran and Sadr's spokesmen vehemently deny he's hiding in Iran, but it's notable that he has been absent from his usual Friday sermons at the Kufah mosque for three weeks now, and hasn't appeared elsewhere in public.

Mar 4, 2007

Lullabies - By And For Doers Of Evil

Jon Birge of the New York based Valley Entertainment, says that his company has been blacklisted as one of the companies the Bush administration no longer wants to cooperate with.

The reason; Birge's company is the US distributor of Lullabies From The Axis Of Evil, a Norwegian CD in which women from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, North-Korea and Cuba sing lullabies in duet with western artists.

"Lullabies From The Axis Of Evil" produced in 2004 by "Kirkelig Kulturverksted" includes artists such as Nina Hagen, Rickie Lee Jones, Lila Downs, Rim Banna, Annisette, Eva Dahlgren (with whom I have enjoyed many a posh and potent cocktail...oh what an evil lesbian she is!) and Kari Bremnes. The CD has sold 10,000 copies in the US since its release, and it's received pleasant enough reviews in both The Washington Post and The Independent.

Mar 3, 2007

Taking The Show On The Road

Many are hoping a trip by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Saudi Arabia will help calm sectarian tensions threatening the Middle East, notably those in Iraq and Lebanon. ...

Saudi newspapers, which are government-guided, struck a welcoming tone in editorials, saying they hoped Ahmadinejad's visit signals an Iranian willingness to revise its regional policies and work with, rather than against, Arab governments.

"We wish you the very best on your first official visit to Saudi Arabia," said Saudi Gazette.

The paper said the challenge facing the two countries is how to unite the Islamic world, which is in danger of fragmenting because of sectarian tensions.

"How did we ever allow ourselves to slip into this situation? What good is our (the Islamic world's) common cause if we waste our energies and resources on self-destruction rather than self-preservation?" said the paper.

Ghassan Sharbil, the Lebanese editor of the Saudi-owned Al-Hayat daily, described the visit as "exceptional" and said Ahmadinejad can, if he wants to, turn it into an opportunity for his country.

"Iran has proved its capability of destabilization ... cold and hot objections," wrote Sharbil. "Now, it's time to prove its ability to participate in creating stability."

"Ahmadinejad can invest in this summit to calm down the Arab world, the Islamic world and the whole globe in order to protect Iran against isolation, the dangers of an American strike and a new resolution by the Security Council."

Iranian newspapers only published official reports that Ahmadinejad will be visiting Saudi Arabia later Saturday.

Just one newspaper included some opinion in its report. The independent daily "Tehran-e-Emrooz," or Today's Tehran, said Ahmadinejad's administration is seeking improved ties with Saudi Arabia to increases chances of resolving the Middle East conflict without much U.S. intervention and at the same time ease Saudi worries over Iran's nuclear activities.

"Trying to help improve cool relations between Saudi Arabia and Syria to resolve the Lebanese crisis ahead of the Arab League meeting is another goal of Ahmadinejad's visit to Saudi," the paper said.

Mar 2, 2007

Swiss Accidentally Invade Liechtenstein

What began as a routine training exercise almost ended in an embarrassing diplomatic incident after a company of Swiss soldiers got lost at night and marched into neighboring Liechtenstein.

According to Swiss daily Blick, the 170 infantry soldiers wandered 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) across an unmarked border into the tiny principality early Thursday before realizing their mistake and turning back.

A spokesman for the Swiss army confirmed the story but said that there were unlikely to be any serious repercussions for the mistaken invasion.

"We've spoken to the authorities in Liechtenstein and it's not a problem," Daniel Reist told The Associated Press.

Officials in Liechtenstein also played down the incident.

Interior ministry spokesman Markus Amman said nobody in Liechtenstein had even noticed the soldiers, who were carrying assault rifles but no ammunition. "It's not like they stormed over here with attack helicopters or something," he said.

Liechtenstein, which has about 34,000 inhabitants and is slightly smaller than Washington DC, doesn't have an army.

Mar 1, 2007

"Baghdad Brains Trust" Gives Mission Six More Months

An elite team of officers advising the US commander, General David Petraeus, in Baghdad has concluded that they have six months to win the war in Iraq - or face a Vietnam-style collapse in political and public support that could force the military into a hasty retreat.

The officers - combat veterans who are experts in counter-insurgency - are charged with implementing the "new way forward" strategy announced by George Bush on January 10. The plan includes a controversial "surge" of 21,500 additional American troops to establish security in the Iraqi capital and Anbar province.

But the team, known as the "Baghdad brains trust" and ensconced in the heavily fortified Green Zone, is struggling to overcome a range of entrenched problems in what has become a race against time, according to a former senior administration official familiar with their deliberations. ...

But the next six months are make-or-break for the US military and the Iraqi government. The main obstacles confronting Gen Petraeus's team are:

· Insufficient troops on the ground

· A "disintegrating" international coalition

· An anticipated increase in violence in the south as the British leave

· Morale problems as casualties rise

· A failure of political will in Washington and/or Baghdad.

"The scene is very tense," the former official said. "They are working round the clock. Endless cups of tea with the Iraqis. But they're still trying to figure out what's the plan. The president is expecting progress. But they're thinking, what does he mean? The plan is changing every minute, as all plans do."

The team is an unusual mix of combat experience and academic achievement. It includes Colonel Peter Mansoor, a former armoured division commander with a PhD in the history of infantry; Colonel HR McMaster, author of a well-known critique of Vietnam and a seasoned counter-insurgency operations chief; Lt-Col David Kilcullen, a seconded Australian officer and expert on Islamism; and Colonel Michael Meese, son of the former US attorney-general Edwin Meese, who was a member of the ill-fated Iraq Study Group.

His Codename -- "Chad" -- Is Too Confusing In This Context

Also, one of his other nicknames -- "The Windbreaker" -- apparently refers to something besides his sartorial aesthetics.

Iran's president blamed the United States and Israel for the world's problems Thursday in a lecture to Sudanese officials and intellectuals during his visit to Sudan.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's comments came as Iran and Sudan face mounting international criticism -- Iran over its nuclear activities and Sudan over the conflict in Darfur.

Earlier, Iranian and Saudi media reported that the hardline president was planning a trip to Saudi Arabia in coming days. The rival countries have been holding talks for weeks in an effort to defuse conflicts in the region, including the sectarian strife in Lebanon and Iraq.

In his lecture Thursday titled "Iran and the World," the hardline president reiterated arguments that he has made repeatedly throughout the standoff with the United States and its Western allies over Iran's nuclear activities.

"There is no place in the world that suffers from divisions and wars unless America or the Zionists' fingerprints are seen there," Ahmadinejad told his audience in Farsi translated into Arabic.