Feb 28, 2007

Pattern Analysis Gains Traction

The hot new thing in government data-mining now is "pattern analysis."

"Link analysis" is such old hat.

The Department of Homeland Security is testing a data-mining program that would attempt to spot terrorists by combing vast amounts of information about average Americans, such as flight and hotel reservations. Similar to a Pentagon program killed by Congress in 2003 over concerns about civil liberties, the new program could take effect as soon as next year.

But researchers testing the system are likely to already have violated privacy laws by reviewing real information, instead of fake data, according to a source familiar with a congressional investigation into the $42.5 million program.

Bearing the unwieldy name Analysis, Dissemination, Visualization, Insight and Semantic Enhancement (ADVISE), the program is on the cutting edge of analytical technology that applies mathematical algorithms to uncover hidden relationships in data. The idea is to troll a vast sea of information, including audio and visual, and extract suspicious people, places and other elements based on their links and behavioral patterns.

The privacy violation, described in a Government Accountability Office report that is due out soon, was one of three by separate government data mining programs, according to the GAO. "Undoubtedly there are likely to be more," GAO Comptroller David M. Walker said in a recent congressional hearing. ...

The issue lies at the heart of the debate over whether pattern-based data mining -- or searching for bad guys without a known suspect -- can succeed without invading people's privacy and violating their civil liberties. ...

The Disruptive Technology Office, a research arm of the intelligence community, is working on another program that would sift through massive amounts of data, such as intelligence reports and communications records, to detect hidden patterns. The program focuses on foreigners. Officials declined to elaborate because it is classified.

Officials at the office of the director of national intelligence stressed that pattern analysis research remains largely theoretical. They said the more effective approach is link analysis, or looking for bad guys based on associations with known suspects.

Feb 27, 2007

EFP Show and Tell

Some details on yesterday's U.S. military EFP show and tell in Baghdad.

But while the find gave experts much more information on the makings of the E.F.P.'s, which the American military has repeatedly argued must originate in Iran, the cache also included items that appeared to cloud the issue.

Among the confusing elements were cardboard boxes of the gray plastic PVC tubes used to make the canisters. The boxes appeared to contain shipments of tubes directly from factories in the Middle East, none of them in Iran. One box said in English that the tubes inside had been made in the United Arab Emirates and another said, in Arabic, "plastic made in Haditha," a restive Sunni town on the Euphrates River in Iraq.

The box marked U.A.E. provided a phone number for the manufacturer there. A call to that number late Monday encountered only an answering machine that said, "Leave your number and we will call you back."

Anthony H. Cordesman, who holds the Arleigh A. Burke chair in strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said that despite those confusing new elements, the United States has been cautious in how it has presented the possible evidence of Iranian involvement.

"The case that has been made has been very careful and very restrained," Mr. Cordesman said. "If this is unrealistic, it can't be blamed on the intelligence community. This has had the highest possible policy level review, and credibility on an international level is clearly the major criteria in reviewing everything that was said."

Other analysts have expressed skepticism that the American military has made a strong case for the Iranian origin of the E.F.P.'s as tensions are running high between the United States and Iran over its nuclear program.

Items in the cache included the concave copper dishes called liners that cap the canisters and roll into deadly armor-piercing slugs when the explosive detonates. There were also various kinds of electronics, presumably for arming and triggering the devices, the PVC tubes, and two types of rockets and mortar shells that Major Weber said had markings and construction that identified them as being Iranian in origin.

The PVC tubes, of several different sizes, appeared to be fittings of the kind of used to splice two stretches of PVC tube together in routine applications.

Feb 26, 2007

New Piece By Seymour Hersh On Iran War Plans

From Seymour Hersh's new piece on plans for the Iran war:

The Administration is now examining a wave of new intelligence on Iran's weapons programs. Current and former American officials told me that the intelligence, which came from Israeli agents operating in Iran, includes a claim that Iran has developed a three-stage solid-fueled intercontinental missile capable of delivering several small warheads—each with limited accuracy—inside Europe. The validity of this human intelligence is still being debated. ...

(Yesterday's launch of Iran's "space rocket" will give a boost to one side of the "debate.")

Still, the Pentagon is continuing intensive planning for a possible bombing attack on Iran, a process that began last year, at the direction of the President. In recent months, the former intelligence official told me, a special planning group has been established in the offices of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, charged with creating a contingency bombing plan for Iran that can be implemented, upon orders from the President, within twenty-four hours.

In the past month, I was told by an Air Force adviser on targeting and the Pentagon consultant on terrorism, the Iran planning group has been handed a new assignment: to identify targets in Iran that may be involved in supplying or aiding militants in Iraq. Previously, the focus had been on the destruction of Iran’s nuclear facilities and possible regime change.

Two carrier strike groups—the Eisenhower and the Stennis—are now in the Arabian Sea. One plan is for them to be relieved early in the spring, but there is worry within the military that they may be ordered to stay in the area after the new carriers arrive, according to several sources. (Among other concerns, war games have shown that the carriers could be vulnerable to swarming tactics involving large numbers of small boats, a technique that the Iranians have practiced in the past; carriers have limited maneuverability in the narrow Strait of Hormuz, off Iran’s southern coast.) The former senior intelligence official said that the current contingency plans allow for an attack order this spring. He added, however, that senior officers on the Joint Chiefs were counting on the White House's not being "foolish enough to do this in the face of Iraq, and the problems it would give the Republicans in 2008."

The Best Laid Plans...

The first brigade of 2,700 American reinforcements is patrolling the capital, bringing the total U.S. troop presence in Baghdad to 40,000, and members of three additional Iraqi military brigades have entered the city, though not at full strength. Soldiers have opened 14 of the estimated 30 joint policing stations they will operate in the capital. ...

The so-called joint security stations envisioned under the plan are intended not only to generate intelligence about insurgents and militias but also to bring together Iraqi military and police personnel, who often fail to communicate, as well as U.S. troops. The stations will be scattered throughout the city's 10 newly designated security districts. ...

Lt. Col. Christopher C. Garver, a U.S. military spokesman, said that although part of the stations' function is to encourage Iraqis to visit, their locations would not be disclosed because of concern within the Iraqi government that such information would facilitate attacks.

Feb 24, 2007

Son of SCIRI Chief Detained By U.S. At Iran Border

American troops seized and then released the eldest son of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, perhaps the most powerful Shiite political leader in Iraq, after he crossed the border from Iran into Iraq on Friday morning.

The detention heightened tensions with one of Iraq’s most formidable political movements just as the planned American troop buildup was beginning in Baghdad to try to rescue the capital from the grip of Shiite militias and Sunni insurgents.

Allies of the Hakim family denounced the detention as a serious insult, and a senior adviser to the family asserted that American forces also had assaulted several guards. The Hakims control the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the backbone of the Shiite political alliance that has dominated politics during the occupation.

State-run television said Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, a Shiite who depends on Mr. Hakim's support, intervened to help release the son, Amar Abdul Aziz al-Hakim.

In an interview after he was released from an American military base in Kut, Amar al-Hakim said that American forces had treated him roughly and that their justification for seizing him -- that he crossed the border with an invalid passport -- was untrue.

An official with the Iraqi force that guards the border said American troops had been lying in wait to apprehend the Hakim convoy as it drove into Iraq. But a spokesman for the American Embassy in Baghdad, Lou Fintor, said that the Americans followed standard procedures and that there had been no effort to "single out" Mr. Hakim. ...

The detention worsened relations with the Hakims — who spent years in exile in Iran and remain close to Tehran — two months after American forces raided the Hakims’ elaborate Baghdad compound near the Green Zone and detained two Iranians whom they accused of running guns and planning sectarian attacks.

That raid came just a few weeks after the elder Mr. Hakim met with President Bush in Washington. Mr. Hakim has generally been an ally of the United States presence, but he has criticized the Americans for what he said was favoring the interests of Sunnis over Shiites. ...

One of Amar al-Hakim’s most prominent public roles of late has been canvassing the Shiite provinces of southern Iraq to build support for his father’s controversial plan to cleave nine Shiite provinces into an autonomous region that would have wide authority over its security and natural resources.

Sunni political groups as well as some Shiite parties have objected to the plan, saying it would drive Iraq toward a three-way partition, with a Kurdish state in the northeast, a Sunni state in the west and northwest, and a Shiite state in the south.

One Shiite coalition that objects to the plan is the bloc allied with Moktada al-Sadr, the anti-American Shiite cleric who controls the Mahdi Army militia and whose political movement is the only one within the Shiite alliance whose power rivals that of Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or Sciri. ...

The detention led to a large demonstration in front of the offices of Mr. Hakim’s party in Basra by a crowd protesting the son’s treatment. A senior Sciri party official in Najaf, Sadr al-Din al-Qubanchi, called for a demonstration there.

Feb 23, 2007

U.S. Operated Out of Ethiopia Against Somali Islamists

The outlines of this story aren't exactly news to readers of this blog. See Who's Doing Who - Somalia.

The American military quietly waged a campaign from Ethiopia last month to capture or kill top leaders of Al Qaeda in the Horn of Africa, including the use of an airstrip in eastern Ethiopia to mount airstrikes against Islamic militants in neighboring Somalia, according to American officials.

The close and largely clandestine relationship with Ethiopia also included significant sharing of intelligence on the Islamic militants' positions and information from American spy satellites with the Ethiopian military. Members of a secret American Special Operations unit, Task Force 88, were deployed in Ethiopia and Kenya, and ventured into Somalia, the officials said.

The counterterrorism effort was described by American officials as a qualified success that disrupted terrorist networks in Somalia, led to the death or capture of several Islamic militants and involved a collaborative relationship with Ethiopia that had been developing for years.

But the tally of the dead and captured does not as yet include some Qaeda leaders -- including Fazul Abdullah Mohammed and Fahid Mohammed Ally Msalam -- whom the United States has hunted for their suspected roles in the attacks on American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. With Somalia still in a chaotic state, and American and African officials struggling to cobble together a peacekeeping force for the war-ravaged country, the long-term effects of recent American operations remain unclear.

Feb 22, 2007

Haaretz Reports That Iran is Aiding Syria's Military Buildup

Responding to a Haaretz report that Syria is boosting its army and moving troops closer to its border with Israel, Defense Minister Amir Peretz said Thursday that Israel should refrain from making further statements regarding Syria, and urged officials to avoid a verbal escalation of tensions.

Speaking at his weekly meeting with Defense Ministry officials, Peretz said that the situation would be assessed based on concrete information, and that the army would prepare itself as necessary. ...

The Syrian armed forces are being strengthened in an unprecedented way in recent memory with the help of generous funding from Iran and its troops appear to be moving closer to the border with Israel.

The Syrians are bolstering their forces in all areas except the air force, which has been believed to be weak for some time. The main emphasis of the efforts has been missiles and long-range rockets to compensate for the weak air force.

The Syrian navy, after years of neglect, is also being reinforced with an Iranian version of a Chinese anti-ship missile, similar to the one used by Hezbollah during the second Lebanon war to strike the Israeli destroyer INS Hanit.

In addition to the overall strengthening of the armed forces in Syria, there has been a redeployment of forces along the front lines. It appears that the Syrians have moved forces closer to the border with Israel on the Golan Heights.

The Yom Kippur War on the Syrian front began with a raid by helicopter-borne Syrian commandos on the Hermon listening post, which they then occupied. The position was not taken by Israeli forces until the end of the war in a very costly battle involving Golani and Paratrooper Brigade troops.

Syria's rebuilding of its military strength has also included test launches of ballistic missiles. Lately, the Syrians test-fired a Scud-D surface-to-surface missile, the latest version of a Soviet-era missile. The Scud-D has a 400-kilometer range and covers most of the territory of Israel.

That's A Stumper

Jay Leno:

"The British announced they were pulling their troops out of Iraq. Dick Cheney immediately called it good news. He said, 'It's a sign that we're winning.' How come when our allies pick up and leave, that's a victory for us? But when we leave, it's a victory for al Qaeda? How does that work?"

Feb 21, 2007

Britain Trimming Exposure in Iraq

Maybe Blair wants to make sure that his troops aren't sitting ducks in the event that the war expands into Iran.

Tony Blair announced on Wednesday that Britain will cut the number of UK troops stationed in Iraq by about 1,600 – the first time the UK's military presence in the country has been reduced since the 2003 invasion.

Mr Blair told MPs that the current UK contingent in Iraq –- numbering 7,100 troops –- is to come down to 5,500. The reduction in troop numbers will pave the way for Iraqi forces to begin taking control of the city of Basra.

In a statement to the Commons, Mr Blair presented the reduction in troop numbers as an initially modest move that does not undermine the UK's fighting capability.

However, Mr Blair also said that a large part of the UK military in and around Basra will now start to return to barracks, acting as a potential back-up force for the Iraqi military as it begins to take full control of Basra. ...

For Mr Blair, in his final months as prime minister, Wednesday's announcement is highly symbolic. After being dogged by the debacle in Iraq for nearly four years, Wednesday's statement allows him to leave office conveying the impression – albeit a limited one – that the UK intervention has had some success.

Feb 20, 2007

Why Iran? Why Now?

The idea that all the bluster from the U.S. about Iran is an info-op seems to be gaining traction.

So, why the dramatic flurry of "revelations" and ratcheting-up of hostility towards Iran? A serious theory - which could be a coherent military strategy in the hands of any but the Bush administration - is that the anti-Iran PR campaign is to assist Bush's so-called military "surge" in Iraq. Wayne White, a former Middle East analyst with the state department's bureau of intelligence and research, believes that the sudden tough-talk campaign (which has been so pliantly relayed by the US and UK media) is to intimidate Iran into scaling back its operations inside Iraq and thus help the "surge" succeed.

But if and when it fails, White says, the administration is also setting up Iran as a convenient scapegoat. Taking swingeing military action against Iranian elements inside Iraq therefore becomes much more politically acceptable to the American public if it is convinced that it is Iranians - rather than those vague, shadowy Iraqi "insurgents" - who are actually killing American boys in ever greater numbers in Iraq. If this theory is correct, the administration is thus providing itself with a handy excuse to go on the military offensive inside Iraq, and at the same time providing a reason for why its escalation fails.

Feb 19, 2007

Iran Points To U.S.-Paki Op in Recent Attacks

The Iranian Foreign Ministry charged Sunday that Sunni insurgents from Iran used Pakistan as a base to plan a bombing that killed 11 people and wounded more than 30 in the southeastern border city of Zahedan last week. The ministry said it had demanded an explanation from the Pakistani ambassador. ...

A car loaded with explosives detonated in front of a bus carrying members of the Revolutionary Guards last Wednesday.

A second bomb was set off in Zahedan on Friday evening. The semiofficial Fars news agency reported that it caused no casualties. But the news agency said the police clashed with an armed group and exchanged gunfire after the blast.

Zahedan, the capital of the province of Sistan-Baluchistan, is home to many ethnic Baluchis, who are Sunni Muslims. A majority of Iranians are Shiites. A Baluchi group opposed to the government, the Jondollah Organization of Iran, claimed responsibility for both attacks. ...

Iran has accused the United States and Britain of provoking the Sunni insurgents. The authorities have said that the efforts are part of the plot to sow discord among Sunnis and Shiites in the country. Gen. Mohammad Ghaffari, a commander of security forces in the province, told the Fars news agency that a film that was confiscated from the suspects proved that the group was “affiliated to intelligence agencies of some of the foreign countries, such as the U.S. and Britain.”

The news agency also quoted what it called informed sources as saying that the explosives used in the bombings were American.

Feb 17, 2007

That's a Very Good Question

Last Sunday's U.S. military briefing in Baghdad on the alleged Iranian weapons assistance to Iraqi Shiite militias has been roundly criticized even in the mainstream media for overstating various claims, and presenting some anomalous physical evidence:

But the documentation remains scant. And considerable doubts continue to surface about the intelligence presented at the Baghdad slide show, including the fact that the writing on the conventional weapons displayed was in English, not Farsi. U.N. Ambassador Zarif also says that the date markings are American-style—that is, the month comes first. "There is every reason to believe that this evidence is fabricated," he said. U.S. officials say the weapons were apparently built for the international market. Asked why the writing on the weapons allegedly made in Iran was in English, one U.S. intelligence official responded: "That's a very good question."

Feb 16, 2007

Biden To Move To Repeal Iraq War Authorization

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said Thursday he would move to repeal the authority Congress gave President Bush in 2002 to send U.S. troops into Iraq and replace it with a narrower mandate.

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said the legislation was based on the idea that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and was designed to oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

"The WMDs were not there," Biden said at the Brookings Institution, a private research group. "Saddam Hussein is no longer there. The 2002 authorization is no longer relevant to the situation in Iraq."

The Delaware senator, who voted in 2002 to authorize military intervention in Iraq, said he was working to repeal the authorization and to replace it with "a much narrower mission statement for our troops in Iraq."

Congress should make clear the mission is to draw down U.S. forces in Iraq while continuing to combat terrorists, train Iraqis and respond to emergencies, he said.

"We should make equally clear what their mission is not: to stay in Iraq indefinitely and get mired in a savage civil war," Biden said.

Biden long has criticized Bush's strategy in Iraq. It is not clear whether he would be able to draw enough congressional support to succeed in his effort which also would face a Bush veto.

Feb 15, 2007

Will We, Or Won't We?

A former senior CIA official, who preferred to remain unidentified, but who has broad experience in the Middle East:

The Bush Administration's combative rhetoric—its accusations about Iran's nuclear program, involvement in Iraq, and support for Hezbollah and Hamas—looks like a prelude to military action. It's eerily reminiscent of the fall 2002/winter 2003 rhetoric on Iraq, when the administration was talking about WMDs and Saddam Hussein's meddling in the region. It's back to the future. The administration is unlikely to embark upon military action immediately, but it's trying to squeeze Iran, to egg on the government, and hoping that Iran commits some sort of military action that the Bush Administration can use as justification for a strike. The administration was hurt by the accusation that it conducted a war of choice against Iraq, so it's trying to create a situation where it can say this is a war of necessity against Iran. But its actions are essentially the same thing as planning to go to war.

I see four types of evidence that the administration is planning military action. First, it is escalating its anti-Iran rhetoric. Second, it is parading evidence about Iranian involvement in Iraq, citing intelligence reports, serial numbers of weapons, and so on. Third, the United States is building up its military presence in the Gulf. Fourth, pro-United States regimes in the region, with encouragement, clearly, by the Bush Administration, are issuing statements denouncing Iran's threatening posture towards them, and its alleged efforts to pressure for the "Shiite-ification" of Sunni communities.

Despite differences between Shiites and Sunnis, a U.S. attack on Iran would be viewed in the region as the fifth in a series of American wars against Islam—after Afghanistan, Iraq, Hamas, and Hezbollah. Iran and its supporters will seek to respond, including through attacks on Israel. An American strike poses a huge threat to Israel, which I'm not sure the administration has thought through. It will also destabilize pro-American regimes in the region, solidify the jihadists in Iraq, and unify Iranians around their government.

Feb 14, 2007

Shelter From The Storm

He who fight and run away ...

The powerful Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr has left Iraq and has been living in Iran for the past several weeks, senior Bush administration officials said Tuesday.

With fresh American forces arriving in Baghdad as part of the White House plan to stabilize the capital, officials in Washington suggested that Mr. Sadr might have fled Iraq to avoid being captured or killed during the crackdown. ...

Neutralizing the power of Mr. Sadr, whose Mahdi Army has sporadically battled American forces for the past four years, has been a particular concern for American officials as they try to rein in powerful Shiite militias in Baghdad.

With the new American offensive in Baghdad still in its early days, American commanders have focused operations in the eastern part of the city, a predominantly Shiite area that has long been the Mahdi Army’s power base.

If Mr. Sadr had indeed fled, his absence would create a vacuum that could allow even more radical elements of the Shiite group to take power. ...

American and Iraqi officials have said that recent intelligence points to signs of fracturing within the Mahdi Army, and that radical splinter groups who are not under Mr. Sadr’s control could be carrying out commando-style raids and assassinations.

Officials have suggested that these splinter groups could be receiving orders from officials in Iran, but have not offered direct evidence to back up their claims. ...

An aide to Mr. Sadr, reached by telephone on Tuesday night, denied that Mr. Sadr had left Iraq and said that the cleric was planning a televised address in the next several days.

Feb 13, 2007

EU Document Shows Serious Iran Nuke Threat

FWIW, Solana has long been known to be friendly to Washington's agenda. Even helpful at times.

Iran will be able to develop enough weapons-grade material for a nuclear bomb and there is little that can be done to prevent it, an internal European Union document has concluded.

In an admission of the international community's failure to hold back Iran's nuclear ambitions, the document – compiled by the staff of Javier Solana, EU foreign policy chief – says the atomic programme has been delayed only by technical limitations rather than diplomatic pressure. "Attempts to engage the Iranian administration in a negotiating process have not so far succeeded," it states.

The downbeat conclusions of the "reflection paper" – seen by the Financial Times – are certain to be seized on by advocates of military action, who fear that Iran will be able to produce enough fissile material for a bomb over the next two to three years. Tehran insists its purposes are purely peaceful.

"At some stage we must expect that Iran will acquire the capacity to enrich uranium on the scale required for a weapons programme," says the paper, dated February 7 and circulated to the EU’s 27 national governments ahead of a foreign ministers meeting yesterday.

"In practice . . . the Iranians have pursued their programme at their own pace, the limiting factor being technical difficulties rather than resolutions by the UN or the International Atomic Energy Agency.

"The problems with Iran will not be resolved through economic sanctions alone."

Safety Valve Closing For Iraqis

This is one of those developments that may augur ill for the already less-than-stellar political situation in Iraq.

Syria, the last Arab country to accept large numbers of Iraqi refugees, is now calling a virtual halt — with new rules aimed at curbing a flood that already has brought 1 million desperate people here.

Jordan and Egypt, with 700,000 and 130,000 Iraqi refugees respectively, already had previously signaled they would take no more, leaving the estimated 40,000 or more refugees who still flee Iraq each month with few places to go. ...

Syria has pledged to the U.N. that it will deport no Iraqis, the U.N. said last weekend — but fear among Iraqis here is widespread.

In practice, the new rules mean that many Iraqis will be forced to either leave Syria or stay on illegally, and that any Iraqi newcomers will find only a very brief haven.

All that has led the U.N. to urgently increase its calls for international help with the Iraqi refugee issue in recent days. ...

Several Iraqis told The AP in recent days that their visas have expired and that they are scared to go to the Syrian immigration department for fear of being deported — and plan to just stay illegally. ...

Khazaal Karim, who worked at the Information Ministry under former dictator Saddam Hussein, ... fears that if he returned, he would be killed like dozens of journalists in the past three years. His visa and that of his large family has expired but he, also, is scared of going to authorities.

"If I am forced to go to Iraq for a month, I will be dead for sure," he said.

Perception Management Made Easy

Nationally syndicated columnist, media critic, and author Norman Solomon presents an outline of some of the key perception management techniques that have played significant roles in the promotion of U.S. wars in resent decades.

He presents significant similarities in the efforts of various administrations to justify, and retain public support for war.

Keynote: Norman Soloman Part I & Part II
Producer: Jeffrey Keating
Length: 28m 5s / 29m 9s

[Watch I] [Watch II] (streaming video)

**RealPlayer is required to play the video.

Feb 12, 2007

Third Carrier Fnord?

Newsweek becomes the vehicle for a U.S. information operation:

At least one former White House official contends that some Bush advisers secretly want an excuse to attack Iran. "They intend to be as provocative as possible and make the Iranians do something [America] would be forced to retaliate for," says Hillary Mann, the administration's former National Security Council director for Iran and Persian Gulf Affairs. U.S. officials insist they have no intention of provoking or otherwise starting a war with Iran, and they were also quick to deny any link to Sharafi's kidnapping. But the fact remains that the longstanding war of words between Washington and Tehran is edging toward something more dangerous. A second Navy carrier group is steaming toward the Persian Gulf, and NEWSWEEK has learned that a third carrier will likely follow.

The Ronald Reagan did leave San Diego on a short notice deployment on 27 Jan., supposedly for the Western Pacific. They may either be covering for the John C. Stennis -- which is the second carrier group destined for the Persian Gulf region (joining the Eisenhower) -- or may be the rumored third carrier group.

But I think the third carrier group story is a psy-op.

Feb 10, 2007

The Economist on War With Iran

The new issue of The Economist has several articles about the possibility of a U.S./Iran war.

The ponderous process of adopting a new sanctions resolution at the UN will probably get under way next month. But Iran is already feeling a much sharper pinch from financial sanctions that do not require further UN approval. Operating under the United States Patriot Act, as well as on the basis of a presidential directive adopted in 2005 to target the funds of proliferators, officials from America's Treasury Department have been criss-crossing the globe to persuade governments and banks to curb their business with Iran.

As a result, Iran is finding it increasingly expensive to borrow money. Foreign government-backed credits are getting harder to come by; Japan is among countries that have scaled back their plans to invest in Iran's oil and gas industries. Even legitimate businesses are suffering, as foreign banks find it hard to be certain that the transactions they handle are not being diverted, for nefarious purposes, through Iran's network of front companies. All dollar exchanges, including small transfers for private individuals, have become extremely complicated, and it is very hard to use a credit card to buy online from inside Iran. Already capital is fleeing the country, much of it reportedly ending up in Dubai. ...

Iran has buried many of its nuclear facilities deep underground and has carefully dispersed them, so there is no single target. Senior Israeli security officials argue that, if there is to be military action, it should be carried out by the United States.

Arguably, the best opportunity for a surgical strike has already passed. The Isfahan conversion plant, which produces uranium hexafluoride (UF6, the uranium compound that is passed as a gas into the centrifuges to be enriched), is above ground and vulnerable to attack. It was the first part of the nuclear programme to be restarted by Iran in 2004, and has since produced about 250 tonnes of UF6—enough for 30-50 atomic bombs. But it is now thought to be stored in underground bunkers, much harder to hit.

Another choke-point is the Natanz enrichment facility; but this is buried some 15-18 metres under soil and concrete, and modern bunker-busting bombs might not be able to destroy it. The use of ground forces to secure the area long enough to do the job would be highly risky; the use of a low-yield nuclear weapon, as some suggest, might work physically but is hardly conscionable politically—or morally.

Feb 9, 2007

Gates Pushes Iran-As-Weapons-Provider Story

I guess nobody has told Mr. Gates that we are on to the bullshittery.
Serial numbers and markings on explosives used in Iraq provide "pretty good" evidence that Iran is providing either weapons or technology for militants there, Defense Secretary Robert Gates asserted Friday.

Offering some of the first public details of evidence the military has collected, Gates said, "I think there's some serial numbers, there may be some markings on some of the projectile fragments that we found," that point to Iran.

At the same time, however, he said he was somewhat surprised that recent raids by coalition and Iraqi forces in Iraq swept up some Iranians.

Just last week, Gates said that U.S. military officers in Baghdad were planning to brief reporters on what is known about Iranian involvement in Iraq but that he and other senior administration officials had intervened to delay the briefing in order to assure that the information provided was accurate.

Speaking to reporters at a defense ministers conference here, Gates said Friday, "I don't think there was surprise that the Iranians were actually involved, I think there was surprise we actually picked up some."

Feb 8, 2007

The View From Tehran

Iran's top authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said on Thursday the Islamic Republic would target U.S. interests around the world if it came under attack, state television reported.

Iran and the United States are locked in a dispute over Tehran's nuclear program, which Washington says is being used to build atomic bombs. U.S. officials say they want diplomacy to end the standoff but have not ruled out force if that fails.

"The enemies know well that any aggression will lead to a reaction from all sides in the Iranian nation on the aggressors and their interests around the world," Khamenei was quoted as saying by state television.

"We believe that no one will make such an unwise and wrong move (to attack Iran) that would endanger their country and interests. Some say that the U.S. president is not the type who acts based on calculations or thinks about the consequences of his action. But even these people can be brought to their senses," he said.

Feb 7, 2007

Iran Alleges U.S. Provocation

Iranian officials in Iraq on Tuesday accused U.S. forces of collaborating with Iraqi soldiers in what they described as the kidnapping of an Iranian diplomat in downtown Baghdad.

Four Iraqis allegedly involved in the kidnapping Sunday evening of diplomat Jalal Sharafi were arrested and interrogated by Iraqi police, according to two Iranian officials in Baghdad. The detained Iraqis, who wore military uniforms and carried military identification cards, were "not under the Ministry of Defense control, they were directly connected to the American control," said an official at the Iranian Embassy who spoke on condition of anonymity. ...

The Iranian officials condemned the disappearance of Sharafi, whom they identified as a second secretary at the embassy in Baghdad, and said his abduction was part of the Bush administration's effort to counter Iranian influence in Iraq.

"The Islamic Republic of Iran considers it a responsibility of U.S. forces in Iraq to protect members of the diplomatic community, including Iranian diplomats, and will hold them responsible for obtaining the release of the abducted Iranian diplomat," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad-Ali Hosseini told the Islamic Republic News Agency. ...

Meanwhile, U.S. officials said they are investigating a report that a member of the Iraqi parliament had been convicted in the 1983 bombing of the U.S. and French embassies in Kuwait.

"We are actively investigating these serious allegations and continue to be in close contact with the government of Iraq to pursue this case," said Lou Fintor, a U.S. Embassy spokesman in Baghdad. He said he had no further details.

Citing "U.S. military intelligence," CNN reported Tuesday that Jamal Jaafar Mohammed, a member of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Dawa party, was sentenced to death for his alleged role in the bombings, which killed five people and injured more than 80.

Feb 6, 2007

The EFP as an Info-Op Prop

Interesting info on the propaganda meme that Iran is supplying a certain type of nasty IED to Iraqi malefactors:

Significantly Odierno did not claim that the anti-armor roadside bombs known as explosively formed projectiles (EFPs), which represent the most lethal armor-piercing technology now being used in Iraq, were manufactured in Iran. Instead, he asserted that the technology itself and "some of the elements to make them are coming out of Iran."

That has been the refrain of the Bush administration and the U.S. command for nearly a year. The Deputy Chief of Staff for intelligence of the Multinational Forces in Iraq, Major General Richard Zahner, gave a press conference last September in which he argued that Iran's culpability in the appearance of EFP technology is proven by the fact that the C-4 explosive used in EFPs in Iraq has the same Iranian batch number as the C-4 found on the Hezbollah ship carrying arms to Palestinian militants that was intercepted by the Israelis in 2003.

Zahner's assertion is contradicted, however, by the most in-depth study of the subject so far -- an article by Michael Knights published in Jane's Intelligence Review late last month. Knights, vice-president and head of analysis for the Olive Group, a private security company based in London, has been following the evolution of EFPs in Iraq for nearly three years.

In the article and in an interview with me, Knights suggested that the evidence does not point to Iran as the primary force behind the use of EFPs in Iraq. "There is no need to see an Iranian policy driving it," he told me. Knights said it is far more likely that Hezbollah policy drove the phenomenon. He points out that it was Hezbollah, not Iran, that transferred EFP devices and components to Palestinian militants after the second Intifada began in 2000.

The remarkable coincidence of the same batch number of C-4 appearing in the intercepted Hezbollah ship and in southern Iraq indicates that the Shiite militias have been getting supplies not from the Iranians, but from Hezbollah. (If Iran had deliberately shipped the explosive to southern Iraq last year, the batch number would have been different from a batch that was given to Hezbollah years earlier.)

In the article, Knights suggests that the number of Hezbollah specialists helping Iraqi Shiites learn to use the technology "need not have exceeded one or two bomb-makers," since the numbers of EFPs produced has rarely exceeded 100 per month. That number, he concludes, could have been made in a single modest workshop with one or two technicians.

Knights acknowledges that there is no direct evidence of even such a minimal Hezbollah presence. He infers such a presence from the fact that the technology did not appear in crude experimental form in Shiite areas of southern Iraq during the Sadrist uprising in 2004, but rather as a complex, fully developed technology.

U.S. intelligence has made much of the fact that a Hezbollah manual for making EFPs has been captured in Iraq. Knights notes, however, that the manual was actually found in the hands of Sunni insurgents. Knights says the Sunnis "might also have access to EFP expertise through Palestinian groups." The Sunnis used EFPs on a number of occasions, but most often have relied on the less powerful "shaped charges" that they appear to make themselves.

Regardless of how the technology was initially picked up by Shiite militants, Knights points out that the trend since early 2005 has been toward the emergence of networks of Shiites who make the EFPs themselves, supply them to Shiite militias, and serve as middlemen in importing both devices and components. The network of middlemen, according to Knights, is not aligned with any particular Shiite group and is typified by the one discovered by British forces in Basra in December 2006. It consisted of members of the Basra Police Intelligence Unit, the Internal Affairs Directorate of the police, and the Major Crimes Unit and was drawn from policemen representing every major Shiite faction in Basra.

Knights' research on EFPs illustrates that the Bush administration campaign to blame Iran for the Shiite use of modern weapons is based not on intelligence but rather, once again, on its own faith-based worldview. The syllogism underlying the anti-Iran campaign is: Hezbollah has been helping Shiites. Hezbollah is an Iranian proxy. Therefore, Iran is arming the Shiites. As Knights cautiously put it in the interview, "It may be that they are taking a data point and blowing it out of proportion."

Feb 5, 2007

Baghdad Offensive To Begin Today

The security conditions in Baghdad as the "surge" is being readied are not exactly earning any votes of confidence among the Shiite community.

In advance of the plan, which would flood Baghdad with thousands of new American and Iraqi troops, many Mahdi Army checkpoints were dismantled and its leaders were either in hiding or under arrest, which was one of the plan's intended goals to reduce sectarian fighting. But with no immediate influx of new security forces to fill the void, Shiites say, Sunni militants and other anti-Shiite forces have been emboldened to plot the type of attack that obliterated the bustling Sadriya market on Saturday, killing at least 135 people and wounding more than 300 from a suicide driver's truck bomb.

Meanwhile, today marks the official kickoff of the new U.S. "strategy."

A command center for a joint U.S.-Iraqi military offensive aimed at restoring security in Baghdad is due go into operation today.

The command center is to be headed by Iraqi Lieutenant General Abbud al-Jambar.

U.S. Colonel Doug Heckman, an adviser to the Iraqi Army, said the planned offensive will be of a much greater magnitude than previous security crackdowns against militants in Baghdad.

Heckman said the offensive was expected to begin soon after the command center becomes operational.

It was not immediately clear how many Iraqi and U.S. troops will take part in the offensive.

Feb 4, 2007

Mysterious Death of Iranian Nuclear Scientist

A prize-winning Iranian nuclear scientist has died in mysterious circumstances, according to Radio Farda, which is funded by the US State Department and broadcasts to Iran.

An intelligence source suggested that Ardeshire Hassanpour, 44, a nuclear physicist, had been assassinated by Mossad, the Israeli security service.

Hassanpour worked at a plant in Isfahan where uranium hexafluoride gas is produced. The gas is needed to enrich uranium in another plant at Natanz which has become the focus of concerns that Iran may be developing nuclear weapons.

According to Radio Farda, Iranian reports of Hassanpour's death emerged on January 21 after a delay of six days, giving the cause as "gas poisoning." The Iranian reports did not say how or where Hassanpour was poisoned but his death was said to have been announced at a conference on nuclear safety.

Rheva Bhalla of Stratfor, the US intelligence company, claimed on Friday that Hassanpour had been targeted by Mossad and that there was "very strong intelligence" to suggest that he had been assassinated by the Israelis, who have repeatedly threatened to prevent Iran acquiring the bomb.

Hassanpour won Iran's leading military research prize in 2004 and was awarded top prize at the Kharazmi international science festival in Iran last year.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is expected to announce next Sunday — the 28th anniversary of the Islamic revolution — that 3,000 centrifuges have been installed at Natanz, enabling Iran to move closer to industrial scale uranium enrichment.

Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency say that hundreds of technicians and labourers have been "working feverishly" to assemble equipment at the plant.

Feb 2, 2007

New NIE On Iraq -- Key Judgments

The key judgments of the 90 page NIE on Iraq -- which was presented to the White House yesterday -- have been declassified and posted on the DNI website.

Some highlights:

Iraqi society’s growing polarization, the persistent weakness of the security forces and the state in general, and all sides’ ready recourse to violence are collectively driving an increase in communal and insurgent violence and political extremism. Unless efforts to reverse these conditions show measurable progress during the term of this Estimate, the coming 12 to 18 months, we assess that the overall security situation will continue to deteriorate at rates comparable to the latter part of 2006. If strengthened Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), more loyal to the government and supported by Coalition forces, are able to reduce levels of violence and establish more effective security for Iraq’s population, Iraqi leaders could have an opportunity to begin the process of political compromise necessary for longer term stability, political progress, and economic recovery.

• Nevertheless, even if violence is diminished, given the current winner-take-all attitude and sectarian animosities infecting the political scene, Iraqi leaders will be hard pressed to achieve sustained political reconciliation in the time frame of this Estimate.


• Despite real improvements, the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF)—particularly the Iraqi police—will be hard pressed in the next 12-18 months to execute significantly increased security responsibilities, and particularly to operate independently against Shia militias with success. Sectarian divisions erode the dependability of many units, many are hampered by personnel and equipment shortfalls, and a number of Iraqi units have refused to serve outside of the areas where they were recruited.


The Intelligence Community judges that the term “civil war” does not adequately capture the complexity of the conflict in Iraq, which includes extensive Shia-on-Shia violence, al-Qa’ida and Sunni insurgent attacks on Coalition forces, and widespread criminally motivated violence. Nonetheless, the term “civil war” accurately describes key elements of the Iraqi conflict, including the hardening of ethno-sectarian identities, a sea change in the character of the violence, ethno-sectarian mobilization, and population displacements.

Coalition capabilities, including force levels, resources, and operations, remain an essential stabilizing element in Iraq. If Coalition forces were withdrawn rapidly during the term of this Estimate, we judge that this almost certainly would lead to a significant increase in the scale and scope of sectarian conflict in Iraq, intensify Sunni resistance to the Iraqi Government, and have adverse consequences for national reconciliation.

• If such a rapid withdrawal were to take place, we judge that the ISF would be unlikely to survive as a non-sectarian national institution; neighboring countries—invited by Iraqi factions or unilaterally—might intervene openly in the conflict; massive civilian casualties and forced population displacement would be probable; AQI would attempt to use parts of the country—particularly al-Anbar province—to plan increased attacks in and outside of Iraq; and spiraling violence and political disarray in Iraq, along with Kurdish moves to control Kirkuk and strengthen autonomy, could prompt Turkey to launch a military incursion.


Iraq’s neighbors influence, and are influenced by, events within Iraq, but the involvement of these outside actors is not likely to be a major driver of violence or the prospects for stability because of the self-sustaining character of Iraq’s internal sectarian dynamics. Nonetheless, Iranian lethal support for select groups of Iraqi Shia militants clearly intensifies the conflict in Iraq. Syria continues to provide safehaven for expatriate Iraqi Bathists and to take less than adequate measures to stop the flow of foreign jihadists into Iraq.

Psy-Ops Gitmo Style

A well informed prisoner is a happy prisoner. Right?

Military officials have removed a poster of Saddam Hussein from the American detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, after complaints from a detainee that it was intended to intimidate the prisoners there.

Lawyers for the detainee said the 7-by-3-foot poster, in a small recreation area for prisoners, featured images of Mr. Hussein being sentenced to death and a heading in Arabic that stated, "Because Saddam chose not to cooperate and not to tell the truth, because he thought by lying he would get released, for that reason he was executed." ...

"A recent poster showed Saddam Hussein's capture, court appearances and sentencing," (chief military spokesman in Guantánamo, Cmdr. Robert Durand) said in an e-mail message. "The intent of this poster was to show that the Iraqi people are making progress and have delivered justice."

Lawyers for the detainee who complained, David Hicks, an Australian who was captured in Afghanistan in 2001, said news articles about Mr. Hussein's execution were also displayed in the recreation area. Other articles described the accidental decapitation of a Hussein co-defendant in a subsequent hanging. ...

Since the camp's opening, American military officials have displayed posters they created in Arabic and other languages that conveyed news events. Lawyers for the detainees said they focused on the arrests of terrorism suspects and the deaths of Iraqi and Afghan insurgents. Military officials described the posters as balanced.

In the past, military officials barred lawyers for the prisoners from describing outside events to them or giving them news articles.

Feb 1, 2007

The Little Boy Who Cried Wolf

This is to be expected when you have a reputation as the little boy who cried wolf.

The Bush administration has postponed plans to offer public details of its charges of Iranian meddling inside Iraq amid internal divisions over the strength of the evidence, U.S. officials said.

U.S. officials promised last week to provide evidence of Iranian activities that led President Bush to announce Jan. 10 that U.S. forces would begin taking the offensive against Iranian agents who threatened Americans.

But some officials in Washington are concerned that some of the material may be inconclusive and that other data cannot be released without jeopardizing intelligence sources and methods. They want to avoid repeating the embarrassment that followed the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, when it became clear that information the administration cited to justify the war was incorrect, said the officials, who described the internal discussions on condition of anonymity. ...

The Bush administration has charged repeatedly that Iranian agents and military personnel have been bringing in explosives and other weaponry for use in Iraq by Shiite Muslim militants. U.S. intelligence and military officials have said they have substantial evidence of Iranian involvement, but have not made it public.

In an interview broadcast today on NPR, Assistant Secretary of State Nicholas Burns was asked about the topic of yesterday's post here on SMC.

NPR: There's been much interest in a particular incident in recent days near the city of Karbala, where a number of insurgents in U.S. military uniforms, or what looked like them anyway, got past a number of checkpoints and were involved in a gunfight in which a number of Americans were killed. Do you believe Iran had a role in that specific incident?

BURNS: That was a despicable event, and we did lose five young Americans in that attack. We don't know who was responsible. That's under investigation.

NPR: Are you looking at Iran?

BURNS: You know, Steve, it's hard to say. I don't want to say anything that would be inaccurate. And, obviously, we're looking at all sources, and we'll try to find those who are responsible and hold them accountable. But right now it's not possible to say exactly who those people were. But the larger point is this: Iran is seeking a position of dominance in the Middle East. It's very clear. Iran has a regional agenda, which is very much at odds with that of the United States.

NPR: Mr. Burns, you mentioned that the United States has the right of self-defense here. Does that right of self-defense give the United States the right to strike targets within Iran in response to this, should the president choose to do so?

BURNS: Well, the president has said, and others have said, that we don't intend to strike into Iran itself. We're concerned with our obligations and our interests within Iraq. As you know, American military forces are in Iraq under a United Nations resolution. So we have every right to be there. We're there at the invitation of the Iraqi government. The Iranian paramilitary and intelligence forces who we believe are in Iraq are not there under U.N. authorization or at the invitation of the Iraqi government. So there is a clear legal and, I would say, political and moral difference between what the United States is doing — which is to try to unify Iraq and bring the country to a greater measure of stability — and what the Iranians are doing.

NPR: I just want to clarify something here. President Bush, in an interview with NPR earlier this week, said that the United States did not intend to invade Iran. Are you saying the United States does not intend to strike Iran in any way, which I suppose would say you don't intend an airstrike or any other kind of military operation?

BURNS: Well, we have said for a number of years that all options are on the table concerning Iran. But we've also said very clearly, and we've followed this very assiduously, that we're on a diplomatic path. We believe it can be resolved by diplomatic means.

NPR: But I want to understand which of the statements is operative: You don't intend to invade, or you don't intend to strike, given this particular context.

BURNS: We've been very clear we don't intend to cross the border into Iran, we don't intend to strike into Iran, in terms of what we are doing in Iraq.