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April 30, 2007

At NRO's MilBlog, 'The Tank'

For those interested, I will be contributing occasional items to National Review's new MilBlog, The Tank. The heavy lifting there has been largely and ably done by W. Thomas Smith, Jr. If you've not visited The Tank yet to see for yourself, you should check out his brief archive. His first-thing daily 'Military Roundup' posts are an excellent jump on the day.

Thanks to the folks at National Review for the invitation. I'm looking forward to joining the conversation.

April 28, 2007

FEMA Missing Disaster Plan Deadline

When Hurricanes Katrina and Rita slammed into the Gulf Coast and inundated New Orleans and other Gulf cities, it was Mike Brown, then the head of FEMA who took the brunt of the criticism. Almost immediately, our emergency response efforts at all levels – local, state, and federal were scrutinized. First and foremost was the implication of the poor response was a requirement for much needed changes in our disaster planning and preparedness. The second was that the US needed a more reliable and redundant communications systems, including a better emergency warning system. If the country wasn’t able to deal with a natural disaster, what would occur in the event of another mass casualty terrorist attack?

After Katrina, FEMA updated the National Response Plan (May 25, 2006) and established a comprehensive all-hazards approach to enhance the ability of the United States to manage domestic incidents incorporating incident management best practices and attempting to integrate the efforts of homeland security, emergency management, law enforcement, firefighting, public works, public health, responder and recovery worker health and safety, emergency medical services, and the private sector (see the January 2005 news release announcing the then “new” National Response Plan – nine months before Katrina flooded New Orleans).

Last week, FEMA announced that it was very likely going to miss the June 1st deadline for its new National Response Plan. Last year, the hurricane season was unexpectedly tame. Now, with the 2007 season bearing down on us, FEMA says that the development of the new plan had been delayed by unexpected issues, and more time is needed to resolve them. The real problem is that no new timetable was announced, leaving FEMA to implement the modified version of the pre-Katrina era.

"Every post-Katrina report cited the enormous flaws with the current national response plan, yet here we are six weeks until hurricane season and FEMA has once again dropped the ball," said Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. "Failing to have a revised plan in place and relying solely on the previously failed one is irresponsible and unacceptable.

This follows a report last September (2006) that FEMA urban rescue teams were understaffed and unprepared.

Early predictions for 2007 are that the Caribbean will see greater than average activity , with the potential for a Gulf Coast strike of 49% (versus a normal of 30%). And it appears that FEMA isn’t ready.

April 26, 2007

Lieberman Jolts Senate Debate On Iraq

Today during Congressional debate over the Iraq withdrawal proposal (there's little wiggle room to call it much else), Senator Joe Lieberman challenged his fellow Senators and passionately implored them to reconsider "congressional micromanagement of life-and-death decisions about how, where, and when our troops can fight." National Review's Kathryn Lopez provides the full text at the new NRO blog, The Tank. The key graphs - though still a lengthy excerpt - are below.

In sum, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t withdraw combat troops from Iraq and still fight Al Qaeda there. If you believe there is no hope of winning in Iraq, or that the costs of victory there are not worth it, then you should be for complete withdrawal as soon as possible.

There is another irony here as well.

For most of the past four years, under Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, the United States did not try to establish basic security in Iraq. Rather than deploying enough troops necessary to protect the Iraqi people, the focus of our military has been on training and equipping Iraqi forces, protecting our own forces, and conducting targeted sweeps and raids—in other words, the very same missions proposed by the proponents of the legislation before us.

That strategy failed—and we know why it failed. It failed because we didn’t have enough troops to ensure security, which in turn created an opening for Al Qaeda and its allies to exploit. They stepped into this security vacuum and, through horrific violence, created a climate of fear and insecurity in which political and economic progress became impossible.

For years, many members of Congress recognized this. We talked about this. We called for more troops, and a new strategy, and—for that matter—a new secretary of defense.

And yet, now, just as President Bush has come around—just as he has recognized the mistakes his administration has made, and the need to focus on basic security in Iraq, and to install a new secretary of defense and a new commander in Iraq—now his critics in Congress have changed their minds and decided that the old, failed strategy wasn’t so bad after all.

What is going on here? What has changed so that the strategy that we criticized and rejected in 2006 suddenly makes sense in 2007?

The second element in the plan outlined by the Majority Leader on Monday is “the phased redeployment of our troops no later than October 1, 2007.”

Let us be absolutely clear what this means. This legislation would impose a binding deadline for U.S. troops to begin retreating from Iraq. This withdrawal would happen regardless of conditions on the ground, regardless of the recommendations of General Petraeus, in short regardless of reality on October 1, 2007.

As far as I can tell, none of the supporters of withdrawal have attempted to explain why October 1 is the magic date—what strategic or military significance this holds. Why not September 1? Or January 1? This is a date as arbitrary as it is inflexible—a deadline for defeat.

How do proponents of this deadline defend it? On Monday, Senator Reid gave several reasons. First, he said, a date for withdrawal puts “pressure on the Iraqis to make the desperately needed political compromises.”

But will it? According to the legislation now before us, the withdrawal will happen regardless of what the Iraqi government does.

How, then, if you are an Iraqi government official, does this give you any incentive to make the right choices?

When read in full, Senator Lieberman's spirited words echo in part the arguments made in my article published at National Review Online yesterday, This Is Counterterrorism, Senator.

Because Senator Lieberman read them? Hardly, and unlikely in any event. The arguments sound strikingly similar because, quite bluntly, "it ain't exactly Rocket Science."

Though, with what Senator Lieberman faces among his colleagues, one would think it was an advanced form of such science. His words in full are worth your time today.

Iran's Green Cards for Sunni Terrorists

Osman Ali Mustapha is a former Kurdish police officer who turned to Iranian intelligence for gainful employment as a terrorist. The New York Sun's Eli Lake has interviewed him in Iraq, and what Mr. Mustapha shares regarding Iranian facilitation of Sunni terrorists within its own borders is especially noteworthy. Mustapha is currently in an Iraqi prison after being arrested for his first attack, where he chose the target, delivered explosives from Iran into Iraq and coordinated the suicide bombing attack. He readily admits to his actions, which are both personal in nature and compelling. The headline is apt: For Iraqi Terrorists Inside Iran, Membership Has Its Privileges.

The opening graphs of Eli's important report from Sulaimaniya, Iraq are below.

For Iraqi terrorists in Iran, membership has its privileges.

The leaders of many of the Sunni jihadist groups that are harbored there are issued a special political refugee card. With the laminated photo identification card, described this week in an interview by a former Kurdish spy for Iranian intelligence, the terrorists can sail through checkpoints and border checks.

If ever a jihadist were to encounter a problem with the local police, flashing the card would make his problems disappear, in part because the all-powerful intelligence ministry, known as Ettelaat, and Revolutionary Guard are the only people allowed to issue them. As such, these ministries have files with photographs and biographical information on most of the Iraqi terrorists in Iran.

The status of the Al Qaeda affiliated jihadists in Iran was recounted Tuesday in an interview with Osman Ali Mustapha, a former Kurdish police officer who was recruited as a spy for the Iranians. In his first interview with the press, and his second conversation with any American, the former spy for Iran said of the terrorists who operate across the Iranian border from Iraqi Kurdistan: "Each one of them filled out a form at Ettelaat. They bring them to Ettelaat. It is a green card for political refugees. When you want to go through a checkpoint, the green card will let you go." Later, he said these cards "are not issued to non-Islamists. Normal refugees do not get this."

Mr. Mustapha added, "If you have this card you are treated better than a Kurd. When the Kurds want to go somewhere, the authorities have a suspicion about relations with Kurdish parties. When you have this card, it means you are working for them."

Those who continue to question the level of cooperation possible between the Iranian Shi'a terror masters and Sunni terrorists who are deemed useful should take careful note of Mustapha's first hand accounting of this facilitation. Note with interest that Mustapha's conduit to Iranian intelligence was a senior member of Ansar al-Islam, an Islamist terrorist organization that was based in northern Iraq which carried out chemical weapons testing and production at their camps.

Mr. Mustapha is in a position to know Iran's relationship to Al Qaeda. He was recruited in 2004 to the Ettelaat by a senior leader of what was then Ansar al-Islam, the Sunni jihadist group that linked up with Al Qaeda's Iraqi chief, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The terrorist who served as a liaison to the Iranian intelligence officers went by the nom de guerre of Ali Mujahid, or Ali the holy warrior. Soon after Mr. Mustapha was fired from his job as a police officer at Halabja in the early spring 2004, Ali Mujahid gave him a number in Tehran and had him meet him in the town of Marywan.

In another piece of excellent work, Eli Lake's accounting of Mustapha's path from the Iraqi Kurdish police to Iranian intelligence and his travels back and forth across the border, as Mustapha tells it, should be read in full. The implications are just as clear as the dismissals are surely forthcoming.

Blunting TALON

This is disturbing, but not alarmingly so:

The Pentagon's new intelligence chief intends to dismantle an anti-terrorism database that civil liberties groups have criticized for gathering information about antiwar groups, churches and student activists, Defense Department officials said.

The database was begun in 2003 to house intelligence reports about possible threats to military bases within the United States, but it was expanded to include reports by local law enforcement agencies and military security personnel about nonviolent demonstrations and rallies.

The decision disclosed Tuesday was one of the first moves by James Clapper since he took over as the Pentagon's top intelligence official earlier this month. Department officials said Clapper had recommended to Defense Secretary Robert Gates that the database, called Talon, be dismantled.

When “religious” and “peace” activists think nothing of storming military bases and damaging combat equipment, perhaps keeping at least nominal tabs on them in the interest of both troop safety and national defense isn’t exactly unwarranted.

Claims about a return to the bad old days of COINTELPRO and CHAOS have been inflated if not outright unfounded. On the off chance that no one has noticed, we have two major shooting wars going on. If a military intelligence trooper or law enforcement agent isn’t deployed in support of those missions, he or she is just coming off of deployment or gearing up to go again. The amount of time and resources needed to “spy on Americans” is more limited now than it ever has been.

The key graph comes later in the article:

A lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, Ben Wizner, called Clapper's decision a "positive step" but said he was concerned that the Pentagon could carry out similar activity in the future under different names.

Read the government’s own report – courtesy of the ACLU – about TALON, its missteps, its shortcomings, and its value. If anything the report documents your standard government response to a pressing new need for which there are no new resources: shoe-horning an existing system in an attempt to kludge together a solution.

There is a very good chance that TALON will be shut down, and Mr. Wizner is almost assuredly right in thinking that it will be revived under a new name. Hopefully, when it does reappear, it will have all the proper features, and come with a clearer set of policies, necessary to support legal and necessary force protection and domestic intelligence missions.

ThreatsWatch At National Review and The Examiner

National Review Online published an article by ThreatsWatch's Steve Schippert Wednesday. A response to DC politicians calling for the President to "Transition the Mission" and change it in order to "focus it more narrowly on counterterrorism, going after al Qaeda camps that might arise in Iraq,” Steve titled it This Is Counterterrorism, Senator. Introducing Senators Reid and Schumer to powerful Sunni Sheikh Abdul Sattar, a close Coalition anti-al-Qaeda ally, Steve argues that it is incredulous to conceive any "mission transition" from hunting and killing al-Qaeda terrorists to one that would "go after al-Qaeda camps" is in any possible way "more narrowly focus[ed] on counterterrorism."

Also, ThreatsWatch's Michael Tanji was tapped to write a blog for The Examiner newspapers. He has called it The SPOT Report. In his inaugural post at The Spot Report, Michael says:

What is a SPOT Report? In military parlance a SPOT Report is:
"...a concise narrative report of essential information covering events or conditions that may have an immediate and significant effect on current planning and operations..."
That's the essence of what I hope to accomplish here: Get quickly to the point about relevant issues and explain why you should care.

To regular ThreatsWatch readers, perhaps the 'essence' sounds somewhat familiar. National Security and Intelligence Community observers who appreciate Michael's insights, perspective and wit will want to check in regularly.

April 24, 2007

West Cedes A Nuclear Victory To Iran

There are many reports circulating today about the coming EU-Iran nuclear talks set for Wednesday, and most of them are characterizing the Iranian regime and its position as fundamentally changed and suddenly pragmatic. Digest them (and associated headlines) with extreme caution. First up, from the Associated Press, the final paragraph gets directly to the heart of the matter at hand.

The approach on both sides ahead of Wednesday's talks, however, might make a compromise easier, because of a new willingness to examine possible ways of redefining an enrichment freeze, said the officials, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because their information was confidential.

First, understand that Iran has long said that its nuclear program is non-negotiable. Period. Judging by past actions and words, this should be accepted at face value.

Second, understand that Iran has demanded talks 'without preconditions,' specifically the US - and presumably European - demand that Iran first cease enrichment. The West Cedes this to Iran by holding the EU-Iran Wednesday talks without precondition.

But most importantly, please note that after ceding this, the West is considering a ground-up redefinition of the central term 'enrichment.' Be very wary of diplomatic hocus-pocus with the magic wand of language. Observe specifics (resultant language) coming from discussions very carefully.

Next up is from the UK's Guardian Unlimited, where the headline informs the reader of the intended message: Iran tones down rhetoric ahead of nuclear talks.

Iran's unusually conciliatory tone ahead of two key meetings tomorrow raised hopes that its tense confrontation with the US and some western countries on nuclear and security issues is beginning to subside.

Speaking prior talks with the EU on Tehran's suspect nuclear programme that are due to resume in Ankara, foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini described the west's approach as "positive and realistic" and said grounds for optimism existed.

"The western side has not set any preconditions for this round of talks and has called for holding negotiations in a calm atmosphere," Mr Hosseini told Irna news agency. "So coming to a purposeful and working agreement is imaginable."

Again, why would Iran wield its customary rhetoric when the West is ceding Iranian demands for talks without precondition? How reasonable of the Iranians, no? Quite "positive and realistic" indeed of the West.

Cede Iran what it wants and the regime becomes quite reasonable indeed. Unless, of course, one is paying attention to Iranian activities in Lebanon or Iraq. It begs one to wonder, how on earth does al-Qaeda get its new recruits from Diyala Province to Pakistan? No matter. Iran is 'toning down its rhetoric,' so move along, please.

It requires an Arab media outlet for proper context beyond the afforded press conferences hyping up the 'progress' ahead in Ankara, and the 'softening' of both sides toward a supposedly more reasonable approach. From the United Arab Emirates' Khaleej Times, their corresponding article is headlined quite differently: Iran vows no nuclear retreat on eve of EU talks.

Iran’s unwavering defiance over its nuclear programme has further dampened hopes of a breakthrough at talks with the European Union on Wednesday.

Iran and the EU resume discussions in Turkey with the 27-nation bloc hoping to persuade Teheran to halt sensitive work major powers fear is aimed at making atom bombs, in return for a suspension of sanctions against it.

But Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told Reuters in an interview on Monday the Islamic state would not accept any such ‘double suspension’ and the government spokesman took a similar line on Tuesday.

‘This issue (Iran’s nuclear activities) will not go backwards and we have followed a legal path for the country’s progress,’ Gholamhossein Elham told a regular briefing.

In order to accept the popular Western media accounts for the message(s) they intend to project, one must first trust an Iranian regime that leads the world in state sponsored terrorism and that hid its nuclear program for 20 years.

The important thing to take from the news cycle today is that the West is ceding to Iranian demands, Iran is getting precisely what it wishes, and it intends to use these talks to redefine the very term 'enrichment,' necessarily bringing the entire process of the Iranian nuclear crisis back to square one.

Translation: "We're being awfully nice. We're making progress in our enrichment. Let's start this over again on new grounds. We could really use the time."

You've been warned.

Dangerous Assumptions

From our own Steve Schippert last week in Dangerous Liaisons:

...gracing the pages of the New York Times’ International Herald Tribune is a commentary, Hezbollah and Al Qaeda, by a researcher and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy which attempts to dispel the notion of al-Qaeda – Hizballah (and thus, Iranian) cooperation....

and Monday in the Times Online:

AL-QAEDA leaders in Iraq are planning the first “large-scale” terrorist attacks on Britain and other western targets with the help of supporters in Iran, according to a leaked intelligence report. (emphasis mine)

There is no shortage of articles and reports that attempt to dismiss connections between Sunni and Shia groups. Thankfully, those of us who assume the role of Devil's Advocate have ample evidence from which to draw. Unfortunately, while the contrarians risk a charge of animal cruelty for beating a dead horse, peddlers of the demonstrably false are still viewed as unassailable experts.

In the intelligence business people love to talk about the importance of history. No one wants to doom themselves and their supported policymakers by repeating bad history; everyone cherry picks their favorite historical example to support their conclusions about present-day affairs. The danger of course is that if you are basing your conclusions on bad historical information, you're not avoiding doom, you're driving straight for it.

Proponents of the "Sunnis don't work with Shias" meme will no doubt point out that the inter-faith cooperation we see today is a historical anomaly, but history is not just a catalog of the past, it is a map of myriad evolutions. Good analysis doesn't repackage the past, it attempts to predict the future, which makes looking too far back a mistake and a disservice.

Of course drawing conclusions based on incomplete information is a risk all external commentators run, regardless of how well documented their findings. However, if recent history has taught us anything, it is the importance of the seemingly implausible that lies right in front of our faces.

April 21, 2007

Depression Sets In: Visiting Afghan Police

Writing from Afghanistan, Michael Fumento shares pointed and stunning observations while touring some Afghan Police outposts. As he puts it, it was A Depressing Day Visiting the Cops.

All the outposts were assigned an RPG and one had two of them, but again with almost no ammunition. "Last week the Taliban attacked and we fired two RPG 'bullets' at them," we were told, "so we have no more." ...

Each station had one 7.62 PK machine gun. These are inferior to the RBKs the Romanians use but at least they sometimes had a decent supply of ammo for them. I got the feeling that the PK was the one thing keeping the Taliban from overrunning the outposts. Yet, not being overrun seemed near the outer limits of what these outposts could do.

At one station they told us, "'We ask in the villages why are you helping the Taliban?' and then they say 'They take our sons and brothers' and there's nothing we can do.'" At another: "We see Taliban driving by on motorcycles but we don't have good weapons to shoot them." The outposts are intentionally positioned high on hilltops and while a PK might be able to hit a stationary target, it would take one heck of a lucky shot to pull off an "Easy Rider" shot from that hilltop in the day. At night it would be all the harder.

All the Romanians can say for now is, "We'll try to give you enough ammo and enough weapons." But for the time being it's a pipe dream, although it shouldn't be. Consider that an AK bullet might cost 10 cents. That's $3 a magazine. For a fifteen-man station, we could provide them each another magazine for $45. Meanwhile, we drop bombs that cost $27,000.

You'll want to read it all. Also note at the bottom, "Michael Fumento has paid for this trip entirely out of pocket, including roundtrip airfare to Kuwait, war insurance, and virtually all his gear." Some readers may wish to assist him and his initiative.

April 20, 2007

"Lost" Lost in Translation

While elements on our political left have declared the war in Iraq “lost,” people with a vested interest in success have taken a different view:

A group of Sunni tribal leaders in beleaguered Al Anbar province said Thursday that it intended to form a national party to oppose insurgents such as Al Qaeda in Iraq and reengage with Iraq's political process. […]

The driving force behind the new party, Sheik Abdul-Sattar abu Risha, said in an interview that the tribal leaders would be pushing a slate of candidates in Al Anbar provincial elections later this year, as well as in the next round of national parliamentary balloting, scheduled for 2009.

One purpose of the party, Sattar said, is to promote a better image of American-led forces "to the Iraqis here." He added that the tribes also would participate in a U.S.-backed effort to reestablish a court system in Ramadi, the provincial capital.

Al Anbar has not always been a garden spot for US forces. Sunni tribes did nothing to stop the rise and spread of the insurgency after the fall of Saddam and in some cases actively supported it. The flaw in this laissez faire approach was soon revealed as the barbarity of the foreign fighters – against Americans and Iraqis alike – became evident. In response Sheiks encouraged eligible tribesmen to join the the Iraqi security forces. The end result has been a dramatic drop in terrorist attacks in Ramadi, the provincial capitol.

The involvement in local and national politics by tribal sheiks is a significant development on several fronts. The application of the tribal system can help indigenous and allied forces quickly root out foreign insurgents. Additionally, it fuses the widely respected tribal system with the democratic matrix overlaid upon the country by first the provisional and now elected government. It gives the federal government more legitimacy and in the long run should make reconciliation easier and devolution more difficult.

Iraq is not a done-deal by any stretch, but one cannot dismiss a development of this nature. That those who were recently aiming to kill US forces are now actively promoting US efforts sounds about as far from “lost” as one can reasonably expect.

'Plan B' Anyone?

At the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, Cliff May raises a generally avoided question:

Imagine that it’s 2009 and a Democrat is in the White House. He (or she) determines that the U.S. mission in Iraq has failed irretrievably. What happens next?

His column, also published at National Review Online, uses the Brookings Insitution Saban Center for Middle East Policy's report, 'Things Fall Apart: Containing the Spillover from an Iraqi Civil War', as the catalyst for discussion. As Cliff points out, Brookings' Daniel Byman and Kenneth Pollack are among a very few who have taken a deep, open and public look at what the effects of failure in Iraq would mean or look like. Kudos to Byman, Pollack and Brookings for that.

Byman and Pollack call for a plan to effectively cordon off Iraq as best as possible, serving also to guard refugee camps heavily populated by Iraqis fleeing the internal bloodletting. The 140-page report is Iraq-centric by design. But of greater consequence is the 'spill-over' effect.

A withdrawal of US ground forces to the periphery cedes entire provinces as al-Qaeda havens. Air power can disrupt but not break a motivated terrorist organization internally. And what would almost certainly happen as a result is an eventual return of many al-Qaeda terrorists to AQ points of interest, particularly back into Saudi Arabia. They will not be returning for retirement benefits.

Consider also that, at the end of the day, Musharraf's grip on power in Pakistan exists largely due to the fact that the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance in the tribal areas has not made a concerted push eastward upon Islamabad yet. But, with the needed chaos reigning unfettered in Iraq and their fighters returning to the Arabian Peninsula, the time will be right for the push with the dominoes lined up for the fall.

Recall that Hamid Gul has openly called for an Iranian-Pakistani military alliance and a Pakistani "Islamist nuclear power that would form a greater Islamic state with a fundamentalist Saudi Arabia after the monarchy falls."

More on this in greater detail in the coming days. But for now, it is sad commentary that there is practically no political will or support from Washington behind the mission tasked General Petraeus in Iraq. He has effectively been handed the keys while our elected leaders work diligently to wash their hands of any ownership of the situation in Iraq.

They must recognize that they cannot wash their hands of the consequences of failure borne of non-support. We will all own a stake in the aftermath, which could well mean the black banners of jihad from al-Qaeda and Iran gracing nearly all of the western and eastern shores of the Persian Gulf.

Cliff May concludes quite rightly:

More to the point, reading Pollack and Byman describe how catastrophic an Iraqi collapse would be, and how much effort — not least military — the U.S. would need to exert to protect its interests, leads to one clear conclusion: Gen. Petraeus’ mission should be given unstinting and bipartisan support as long as there is any possibility it can succeed. That is what would be best for America — and also for the next president, not least if he (or she) happens to be a Democrat.

The longer we treat Petraeus and Plan A as an inconvenience we'd sooner wish away, the more critical (and almost impossible) an effective Plan B becomes.

More soon.

April 19, 2007

Iran Refuses IAEA Inspections

In another display that should confirm that talks (or talks of talks) with Iran are like seeking a hare in an empty rabbit hole, Iran denied the IAEA permission to inspect operations and equipment at their Arak heavy water reactor in western Iran.

Iran stopped inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) from conducting design information verification at the country's heavy water reactor at Arak, violating agreements with the United Nations nuclear watchdog.

In a letter to Iran, IAEA chief inspector Olli Heinonen criticised Iran's decision, reminding Iranian authorities that the agreements in question could not be modified unilaterally by Teheran.

Iran said it would only provide design information on Arak or similar sites six months before nuclear material was introduced. The reactor, scheduled to go online in 2009, would have the potential to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons.

In light of to Iran's refusal to cooperate with the IAEA, the EU is considering strengthening its sanctions against Teheran. Israel urged the United States on Thursday to adopt a harder position against Iran, while Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki reiterated his country's inalienable right to nuclear power.

In the letter dated April 18, the IAEA also confirmed that Iran set up two additional centrifuge cascades for uranium enrichment at is enrichment plant at Natanz, bringing the total number to 8 cascades with a total of around 1,300 centrifuges.

Recall that Ali Larijani, the head of Iran's National Security Council, reiterated just four weeks ago that Iran's nuclear dispute should be handled within the framework of the IAEA. Western readers should not confuse this title with its name-only equivalent in the US (National Security Advisor, Stephen Hadley), as Larijani is far more than an 'advisor.'

Larijani said, "We had long discussions with Dr. ElBaradei concerning nuclear talks and finding ways to solve the issue in a logical and wise manner." He then suggested, "Dr. ElBaradei and I both believe that this issue should be solved in principle in the agency, because IAEA is a supervisional body and a center of professional work in this concern."

"Supervisional" up until the point of actual supervision, of course.

How many times do various members of the Iranian regime have to declare that their nuclear quest is non-negotiable before it sinks in?

April 18, 2007

RE: Preliminary Blacksburg Observations

Upon learning that one of the senselessly murdered young men and women on the Virginia Tech campus was from my own small suburban community, there is an unwelcome additional sense of personal connection felt. Though I did not know the young man – a model citizen with aspirations of becoming an officer in American military service – or his parents personally, there is that increased sense of direct loss associated with the personal nature of small family-oriented communities like mine. In a community known locally for seemingly having nearly as many parks for our children throughout town as fire hydrants, there is an additional and personal feeling of sadness.

I believe we all awoke and looked at our children with more amazement and love, an extra hug and a tighter squeeze, somehow clinging to the sense of our ability to protect them right then, right there. We cherish that ability borne of instinct, but yield reluctantly – especially today - to the reality that we cannot protect them from everything and everyone.

Bearing this in mind, it is with due respect to my friend and colleague, Jay Fraser, that I must profoundly disagree with assertions that we have ‘learned nothing’ or that Procedure X or Policy Y would have prevented this senseless act of murderous indiscretion.

The students did not die because of guns or gun laws, nor did they die because of failed policy or police inaction. They did not even die because of miserable American debauchery.

They died because a lunatic wanted to kill them. Period. No policy or police action, given what appear the knowns and ‘known unknowns’ at the time, would have changed the net effect of the barbaric attack on apparent random victims.

It's just never the lunatic to blame. Dead men don't give quotes.

Consider the tone heard in one of the first early afternoon news conferences of that fateful day as the chief of the Virginia Tech campus police fielded questions. In what seemed the 47th question regarding procedures and emergency policy, a journalist asked with discernable attitude about why the campus had not been ‘locked down.’

Paraphrasing, the police chief initially responded, “Do you mean after the first incident, locking down the whole campus?” The journalist quickly quipped, “Well, yeah,” and continued in his incredulous tone (again, paraphrasing), “Don’t you have procedures?”

It was at this early point that I saw what appeared to be media battle lines being drawn. This is not to disqualify any question on the subject meaningless. The question is valid. But the tone then and since has been one of looking to affix blame upon those who killed no one. The sense of self-righteousness among some of the journalists covering and some of the discussions on and offline is simply incredulous.

What procedures, I ask with a stern measure of both frustration and anger? Precisely what procedure or policy, police or citizen action short of positively identifying the gunman and removing the oxygen from his lungs would have changed things?

A “campus lockdown”? Who among the righteous yammering on such brilliant solutions missed the chains and padlock part of Cho Seung-Hui’s murderous equation? It seems he quite wanted a lockdown, doesn’t it? So perhaps it would have been a different building, but in another building it would most certainly have been, with 32 different murdered targets. Why? Because a lunatic wanted to kill them.

An evacuation of buildings? To do what? Herd confused student outside rather than inside, where they would be clumping together in discussions trying to figure out what was happening? Once again the net effect, short of identifying and killing or capturing the heavily armed killer, would have been to alter the specific targets without altering the specific outcome: As many dead as possible. Why? Because a lunatic wanted to kill them.

In this instance, the blame must be affixed squarely upon the quiet and clearly disturbed emotional recluse who clad his chest with ammunition and set out to kill as many fellow students as he possibly could. The blame must not be deflected to anyone or anything else.

Our campus environments are open and free and must remain so. We need not ‘learn’ from attacks – terroristic or criminal in nature – that we must create Fortress University or even Contingency Community College.

Should there be policies and procedures flexible enough to be applied to an array of unthinkable (and thinkable) situations? Of course. But let’s be careful we do not blur the lines of liberty in a quest for impenetrable security.

And let’s also be careful not to forget that the dead are no longer with us because of the planned, deliberate and determined deadly actions of a man. They are not gone because of the failures of others, through inaction or ineffective policy.

April 17, 2007

Preliminary Observations about Blacksburg

While the tragedy of the mass murders at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg Virginia is still being absorbed, the enormity of the event goes beyond almost anything we can imagine. In the wake of the shootings, 32 students plus the shooter are dead and dozens more are injured. Why is this an issue for a homeland security article?

Let us start with the immediate speculation on some of the “less rational” blogs that the shooter was a Muslim. Will it now always be the first inclination to blame Muslims and terrorism for acts of violence like this one? In fact, Cho Seung-Hui, 23, a senior from South Korea has been identified as the shooter. No one can ask him why he did what he did, and law enforcement authorities at this point seemingly have no motive. That among the first victims was Emily Hilscher, some early reports suggested that she was Seung-Hui’s girlfriend, pointed to a jealous rage, but that remains to be seen. Newer reports pointed toward a disenchentment with “American rich kids and debauchery.” Even later reports revealed that Seung-Hui may have been taking medication for depression and that he was becoming increasingly violent and erratic.

Other questions have been raised about gun control in this country. But clearly, that and the 2nd Amendment arguments should not trascend the issue of whether anyone who knew Seung-Hui was aware of anything affecting his mental outlook and stability. The same article suggests that Seung-Hui alarmed professors and classmates with his twisted, violence-drenched creative writing and left a rambling note raging against women and rich kids. If someone close to him knew of anything that was wrong with him, then it remains society’s fault, not that of the 2nd Amendment.

But the real question is how come we seem to have learned nothing from other events. If you then add in the fact that counterterrorism funding has nearly tripled since 2001, the lack of preparedness or a response plan presents a contradiction. The following is not intended to be a criticism of the Virginia Tech administration, but rather, raises questions of safety, preparedness and response on our college campuses.

- The President of Virginia Tech had to make a decision on when, or even IF he should send out notices to students that a shooting had occurred. By the time he made that decision, more people were being shot. Why was there no procedure in place? This raises the question of communications on a campus like Virginia Tech. It has been reported that many students were angry that they were not warned of any danger until more than two hours after the first attack at a dormitory - and then only in an e-mail from the university. Clearly that wasn’t enough. A number of multi-node communications capabilities exist. This incident may prove a windfall for some of the disaster response and recovery companies.

- The President of VT stated evacuating the campus was nearly impossible in the time it would have taken to prevent this from happening. How long does it really take to evacuate a building? It seems unreasonable that students were not evacuated, and instead left to huddle in corners.

- Why, two hours after the first shooting, were no police in Norris Hall where Seung-Hui was allowed to barricade himself and shoot at will. This delay in response is hard to understand. If nothing else, it can be concluded that the administration at Virginia Tech was reacting but not responding and following a plan. At least one teacher (possibly more) died trying to keep the classroom door closed while the gunman was shooting his way inside. Given that this was the second incident in a year involving Virginia Tech (in August 2006, opening day classes were cancelled and the campus closed when an escaped prisoner allegedly killed a hospital guard off campus and fled to the area around the campus), why was there no plan?

Like it or not, this incident, while isolated for now, is indicative of the nature of college campuses. Colleges are soft targets in the truest sense. Whatever precautions and actions we plan and take when it comes to large buildings or shopping malls or other public places, should reasonably be put in place when it comes to our institutions of higher learning. Have we learned nothing?

April 15, 2007

Underspending IED Defense

Improvised Explosive Devices continue to kill and maim our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, these roadside bombs account for more deaths than any other weapon. The Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) is tasked with identifying and deploying measures address the problem. Last month, though, it was reported in the Christian Science Monitor, that the JIEDDO had underspent its Appropriated budget of $4 billion by 25%, raising questions among Congressional committee members. And yet, the JIEDDO is asking for 30 percent more for 2008.

Representative Jim Moran (D-Virginia). "I don't want to require [them] to spend it on things that are not necessary. But on the other hand, we need to figure out how to stop these deaths of these kids riding in convoys."

Montgomery Meigs, the retired Army four-star general who heads JIEDDO has indicated that much of the agency's budget is spent on "capabilities," he said. That includes communications, equipment, jammers to disrupt bomb-triggering devices, and some force protection equipment. The agency also spent $20 million on medical research in mitigating casualties from IED blasts. Nearly 10 percent of its budget is spent on training, Meigs said.

"We buy a lot of gear," Meigs said. "We invest in a lot of things that result in a capability."

The Senate Appropriations Committee in its markup of the bill to fund the war:

The Committee is concerned that the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization [JIEDDO] is operating under a broad directive from the Deputy Secretary of Defense that does not provide enough clarity and definition for its roles and authority within the Department of Defense. The Committee understands that a strategic plan has been under development for quite some time.
That is not to say that contracts aren't being awarded, as can been seen by this recent newsrelease from Defense Link.

One of the problems is that with each innovation to counter the IEDs, al Qaeda seems to be able to move one step further ahead. It is suspected that al Qaeda is could be acquiring its advanced electronic warfare technology from Iran, which also supplies the IEDs to Iraq’s Shiite militias and Sunni insurgents. However, al Qaeda itself may be developing its own electronic capabilities. It may also be possible that a private entity outside Iran has contracted to develop al Qaeda’s counter-jammers for a price running into hundreds of millions of dollars. As previously noted here a Threatswatch, millions are available for the al-Qaeda mission.

The task is important and daunting. Finding a means to combat IEDs is essential to protecting our troops now and in future fields of battle.

April 13, 2007

Monolithic Foreign Policy Needs A Net-Centric Overhaul

At Democracy Project, Mark Safranski makes a compelling case of why we need "to create a flatter, more adaptive, fast-moving, structure for foreign policy implementation than the industrial age mammoth bureaucracies." The easy task is identifying the problem. But what separates Safranski's offering from the rest is his deft tackling of the solution, difficult as it may be for an entrenched bureaucratic culture to swallow.

Technically, what I am proposing in organizational terms is that the United States begin executing foreign policy through modular networks, which combine the advantages of specialization and control offered by hierarchies with the supple resilience and adaptive capacity of scale-free networks. In practical terms, this would mean pulling experienced, suitably senior, personnel out of their respective bureaucracies and putting them into IT-networked multidisciplinary, field teams with a strict task orientation and real decision authority. A reform that will only bear fruit if future budgets and individual promotions are removed from the hands of bureaucratic managers back in Washington and tied directly to team performance, with team members practicing a 360 degree review system.

These field teams must be financially autonomous, answering not to their departmental hierarchies in Washington but to the NSC collectively, with the National Security Adviser as liason. The current situation, where many have the ability to say “No” with no one person having the clear authority or accountability being able to say “ Yes”, must go. Reforming the foreign policy process by “flattening” it, will yield a number of advantages over the present system.

He continues to list the clear (and spot on) advantages that a flatter, net-centric approach affords over the 'immovable objects' of today's bureaucracies. Those who have read Networks and Netwars: The Future of Terror, Crime, and Militancy will have a jump-start and likely a fuller appreciation for his approach. Modern Foreign Policy Execution is today's Must Read.

The crucial issue is the existing institutions' inability to regularly interact and cooperate with any alacrity, consistency or theater-level effectiveness. As a prime example of the absence of synergy, consider the foreign policy turf war on display recently in Somalia

The apparent current search for a 'Czar' to address the same problems is not the solution. The current bureaucratic inefficiencies and ineffectiveness is akin to viewing State, Defense and other institutions as individual trains, bound to their own tracks and propelled by their own inherent inertia.

Appointing a 'Czar' at an even higher level puts the proposed solution even farther from the problem, which at the end of the day is an ineffectiveness to introduce any modicum of 'mission synergy' where the rubber meets the road. The problem there is one of various parts pulling away in following their seemingly independent sets of tracks rather than converging in any effective 'flow.'

The solution, as Safranski ably elaborates, needs to be implemented at the 1,000 ft. to ground-level in respective regions and/or theaters. It cannot possibly be effectively employed in this manner from the 25,000 ft. level of a Washington, DC über-bureaucrat.

Trains can only be trains, and a 'Czar' at the end of the day is nothing more than the ultimate conductor. Consider the implementation of the new National Director of Intelligence or, to a lesser extent, the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. One introduced a new 'ultimate conductor' and the other simply laid the tracks for a new DC train line. We need the mission mobility and flexibility of packs of ATVs, working together with the ability to decide to turn left, right, accelerate or brake depending on the terrain before them. The above creations, at best, dressed up the trains as ATVs, but they still never looked up or around and never deviated from the tracks still followed. Bounding trains are monolithic and not adaptive, and the latter is precisely how today's foreign policy needs to be executed.

Safranski's on to something fundamentally important. Unfortunately, it requires the Executive and Legislative branches to coordinate and cooperate for the good of foreign policy mission(s), present and future, at war and in peace. It appears impossible to envision any positive movement until there is a new congress and a new president...to say nothing of the institutions and career turf lords whose function and power requires necessary redistribution.

Media Masking and Prisoner Detention in War

Classic Wretchard at The Belmont Club on the wartime prisoner detention. Taken to task is the contemporary issue of double standards borne of little more than accessibility and the danger level presented to the would-be (or should-be) observers.

This creates a bi-modal regime, or if you prefer, a "forward slope" and "reverse slope" in which facilities like Guantanamo Bay attract all the political fire, while Changi prison or some Chechen stockade is totally masked from criticism. Once this is understood, it is readily comprehensible why some detainees at Guantanamo Bay would do anything not to be released -- when that means being returned to Egypt, Saudi Arabia or Jordan.

The hypocritical Human Rights establishment is directly to blame for this hideous state of affairs. In a kind of reverse triage, their priorities are to find human rights abuses where they are least likely to be found and ignore them where they are most common.

Read the rest here.

April 11, 2007

Congressman Proudly Claims Syria Trip 'Led To Embarrassment'

Enough. It is time to lay the hammer down and put an end to what has been referred to even by the Washington Post as the 'shadow presidency'. Regardless of what carefully chosen words have been used thus far by participants in explaining their mission in visiting with Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, Congressman Tom Lantos makes their end-game abundantly clear in an interview he gave to Assad's regime-controlled Syrian Arab News Agency. But, with teeth fully clenched, this is not a game, nor is it an election campaign tour. Brace yourself for the text in full.

Washington, (SANA)- Democratic Member of the US. House of Representatives and Chairman of the United States House Committee on Foreign Affaires Tom Lantos has underlined that Syria vehemently believes in the dialogue in its relations with the US and in dealing with the issues. In an interview on Tuesday, Lantos described the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi's recent visit to Damascus as important to open dialogue channels with it as saying: "The visit expressed in a marvelous way interests of the US, that led to embarrassment of the current US administration which has closed doors for dialogue with Syria."

Any questions? But Lantos continues...

"President Bashar al-Assad strongly encourages the continuation of the Syrian-American dialogue," Lantos added.

Well, you bet Assad "strongly encourages the continuation of the Syrian-American (read: American Congressional) dialogue." Lantos, Pelosi and all others from both sides of the aisle are a gold mine for the state sponsor of terrorism. But wait, there's more...

Lantos expressed desire to visit Damascus once more and that he will not comply with the policy of the US President George W. Bush regarding it. [All emphasis added.]

Again, any questions? This is an interview with Assad's media organ. Before grinding my teeth to powder, two points that must be considered in the context of the above and the current global conflict at hand.

First, in a round-table interview that ThreatsWatch participated in yesterday with Ambassador David Satterfield, Senior Advisor to the Secretary of State and Coordinator for Iraq, in discussing the security situation in Iraq with regard to Assad's Syria, he said the following:

The fact is, as has been the case since 2004, the majority -- some 85, 90 percent of all suicide bombers, the people who are blowing up innocent Iraqi men, women and children, are coming across the Syrian border. They are 80 to 90 percent-plus foreign, not Iraqi in nationality. There is a reason why these individuals are transiting in those numbers through Syria and not through Jordan, not through Saudi Arabia. Syria has a responsibility, an obligation as a sovereign government to take control of its territory and its borders and stop this transit.

Has this fact escaped those who insist that tea with Bashar will lead to a solution? Syria is not a contrived addition to the State Department's list of State Sponsors of Terrorism.

Furthermore, any position or view held is a moot point considering that it is the Executive Branch - and expressly not the Legislative Branch of the United States Federal Government - who holds sole responsibility for conducting Foreign Policy. When I asked him earlier in the week regarding this (and the application of Logan's Law), my friend Andy McCarthy then made this abundantly clear at National Review yesterday.

It is settled beyond peradventure that the authority of the United States over the conduct of foreign relations rests exclusively with the executive branch. As John Marshall, later to become the nation’s most important Chief Justice, famously observed, “The President is the sole organ of the nation in its external affairs, and its sole representative with foreign nations.… The [executive] department is entrusted with the whole foreign intercourse of the nation.” In 1936, the Supreme Court explicitly acknowledged in its Curtiss-Wright Export decision, the “delicate, plenary and exclusive power of the President as the sole organ of the federal government in the field of international relations[.]” And, as convincingly explained in the Wall Street Journal by the eminent Professor Robert F. Turner, the congressional debate over passage of the Logan Act demonstrates that the law was understood to bar legislative interference with the president’s management of American diplomacy.

Now, as the title of his column suggests ("Don’t Investigate Pelosi -- Debate Her"), Andy was disposed at the time to forgo pursuing actual charges against Nancy Pelosi in deference to the greater wisdom of debating her, even though "there isn’t much question that Speaker Pelosi has committed a felony violation of the Logan Act." I agreed with his conclusion that, "For a change, how ‘bout we go with the silk purse rather than the sow’s ear?"

The question at the time was one of whether the Bush Administration was suddenly up to a debate or whether it would once again be left to 'us' to effectively engage. The words of Congressman Tom Lantos being touted in the Syrian press arm today has caused me to reconsider the 'silk purse.' Perhaps, though, there remains hope that the regime's SANA media organ possibly concocted the entire missive. It would not be the first time for them. But that is probably an unlikely scenario, given past statements by traveling members of Congress.

As a writer, I have worked hard over the past two years to embrace a more professional use of language and expression. Learned have been the necessary tools of measure, moderation and the avoidance of knee-jerk rapid responses and rants without pause for deeper consideration before penning incomplete thoughts. Yet today, the sudden rush of anger brought on by a very real sense of betrayal - in a national sense, not a political sense - presents a stern test of applying these things.

Congressman Lantos' words today have given rise not only to personal anger, but pause and reconsideration to the attractiveness of the 'silk purse' alone. Doubts about the Administration's inability to effectively communicate in defense of its own policies - and in this case, exclusive Constitutional obligations - and the relatively muted effect when left to others to engage give reason to suspect that the 'silk purse' has a good chance of never leaving the 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue shelf in the department store of domestic debate.

The bravado with which the Damascus visits by members of Congress are "undermining the president by going against his wishes, and... undermining the policy" is maddening. The legislature has tools at its disposal, which can be seen in the current debate over the Iraq War Supplemental Spending Bill. But Foreign Policy must have a single execution point abroad.

Lantos' words could not speak any clearer to that very point. Assad gets it and is clamoring for more. It's time our elected officials get it, too.

Otherwise, the next stop is Iran, and Ahmadinejad has more goodie bags and vases anxiously awaiting their arrival.

April 9, 2007

Iran, Hamas And Non-Negotiable Points

The European Union has decided that it will not deal with Hamas because the group would not overtly renounce terrorism and recognize Israel's right to exist, two key Quartet requirements for normalization and the restoration of international financial assistance. In keeping with this stance, Hamas' Khaled Meshaal reiterated that Hamas ' policies won't change.

Hamas leader-in-exile Khaled Mashaal denied on Saturday that there had been any change in his organization's policies, and declared that Hamas would neither abandon "armed resistance" nor agree to give up an "inch of Palestinian land."

Though there have been some minor attempts at muddying the waters in hopes of winning the restoration of foreign cash, the Hamas position remains clear. And, consequently, the European Union will not be talking with Hamas members in the Palestinian government.

Yet just as Hamas' position remains firm, so too, then, remains the Iranian position: It's nuclear enrichment program is not negotiable.

Iran says it will not negotiate its inalienable nuclear rights but is ready to hold talks without preconditions on any ambiguities or concerns.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad-Ali Hosseini in a press conference on Sunday said the West is adopting double standards towards the Iranian nuclear case, issuing resolutions on the one hand and calling for talks on the other.

Hosseini said Western demands for Iran to suspend uranium enrichment were in violation of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

"We will not do anything against the NPT and have repeatedly emphasized (the demand) is illogical," he stressed.

The headline means what the headline says: "Nuclear rights nonnegotiable." Do not confuse the above with an over-arching headline not supported by the actual quoted statements of Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad-Ali Hosseini. Press TV is an Iranian state-run outlet.

Iran has been engaged in talks virtually since its secret program was revealed in 2003. These talks have been primarily through the European Union. Iran has maintained throughout and - like Hamas - reaffirms today that there is zero shift. Enrichment is not on the table for negotiation. Eventually, the message will get through.

It hasn't yet, however, as the EU has once again restarted the process of talking the unspeakable and negotiating the non-negotiable. After the Security Council vote expanding Iran's sanctions was completed and the 15 British sailors and Marines were in Iranian hands, the head of the EU's Foreign Policy Javier Solana said, "We are committed to seeking a negotiated solution to the nuclear question."

But, consistent with virtually every Iranian statement on negotiating Iran's nuclear program yet, Hosseini has made it clear that any talks will serve little European purpose. It is difficult to weave nuance into the term 'non-negotiable.'

For Iran, talks are good. Any time it garners is good development time for the enrichment program.

Yet, the talk of talks continues. At least on the European side.

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana discussed prospects for negotiations on Iran's nuclear program with Iranian negotiator Ali Larijani in a telephone call shortly before Iran freed 15 captured British navy personnel, an EU official said on Thursday. ... "The contents are confidential, but I can say they discussed the nuclear file and the possibility of getting back to negotiations," the official said, adding that contacts remained open and another telephone call was likely soon.

At the end of the day, the irony is rich. The European Union will not hold talks with any members of Hamas because they are on the EU's terrorist organizations list. Yet, the EU leadership seems ready to fall over themselves with eagerness to negotiate the non-negotiable with the Iranian state that funds the Hamas terrorists in the EU's own absence.

In America, we've squandered decades that should have been used to properly support the Iranian people in opposition to the mullah regime. Now we are left with a runaway state sponsor of international terrorism nearing nuclear weapons capability. And somehow, the only prospect that seems tenable to decision makers is a reliance upon European negotiations trying to bargain the non-negotiable...the same Europe that cannot bring itself to economically divest itself from a regime which would find nothing but joy in Europe's total collapse.

Perhaps if the Palestinians had oil. For then the European Union could talk to Hamas and forget about this silly terrorism nonsense.

Damascus - 27 km

Or so one sign on the 'Road to Damascus' surely reads. And that's about the sum total of what can pass for pleasantries along the way. Yet, American politicians, left and right, seem obsessed with traveling that road and enduring their own manipulation by a dictator and terror sponsor and exporter...so long as the resultant photos and news clips can be perceived as productive media.

But the adventures of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi have squarely backfired as angry criticism is fielded from all sides. Hopefully, what can come of this ill-advised and self-serving junket is a lesson laid out plainly by Michael Barone today in a column titled simply, The Road To Damascus.

Akin to this is the feeling shared by most Democrats and, it seems, by most American voters, that if we can just get our troops out of Iraq, all will be well in the world.

I recall reading a few weeks ago an article on Democratic fund raising that quoted a woman as saying that "we were very safe under the Clinton administration." No, we weren't "very safe" — we just thought we were. Bill Clinton knew we weren't "very safe," and he took some steps — unfortunately, not enough — to make us safer.

You can say the same of George W. Bush during his first eight months in office. There are evil leaders out there — the mullahs of Iran, Mr. Assad and his thugs, Kim Jong Il, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and his pal Fidel Castro — who hate America and want to do us as much damage as they can.

They don't hate us just because the Republican Congress didn't raise the minimum wage or because George W. Bush has a stubborn streak and speaks with a West Texas accent. They hate us because of our freedoms and because we have worked to export those freedoms around the world.

Friendship, hope, and a determination to be on the road to peace are not enough to protect us in this world. A speedy exit from Iraq might make many Americans less unsettled while watching cable news — for a while. But it wouldn't make us safer. It will just leave us more likely to face the kind of surprise we had on September 11, 2001.

To be sure, coddling dictators and terror sponsors is not the Road to Peace. The Road to Damascus remains quite simply the Road to Damascus. Nothing more. Nothing less. Nothing different than it has been in recent memory.

The sign may have said "Damascus, 27km." But if it was "Peace" they were looking for, the traveling parties need to calibrate their navigation equipment before setting out again upon the highways and byways of international relations and foreign policy.

After all, "friendship, hope, and a determination to be on the road to peace" are sentiments largely reserved for our friends and allies. But then, perhaps that linguistic compass requires more urgent calibration.

April 7, 2007

Torture, Lies and Videotape

Iranian Jalal Sharafi is described by Iran as a 'diplomat' and second secretary for the Iranian embassy in Baghdad but, as reported by the New York Sun's Eli Lake, "is believed by American military intelligence also to be a member of the lethal Quds Force, the terrorist-supporting organization whose members have been fair game for American soldiers and Iraqi allies since a change in the rules of engagement was issued in December."

Sharafi was released just ahead of Iran's release of the 15 British sailors and Marines and (via AP) today's Washington Post headline blares: Iranian Diplomat Alleges CIA Torture. Just what sort of interrogation the suspected IRGC Quds Force operative was subjected to and by whom is quite unclear. However, his - and Iranian leadership's - claims fail to hold up to the test of logic.

[Iranian] State television said signs of torture were still visible on Sharafi, who is being treated at an Iranian hospital. Images of Sharafi were not shown.

This claim is almost certainly bunk for several reasons.

Foremost among them is the need to believe inverted logic from an Iranian regime eager to use international imagery. Publicly aired imagery was employed with regard to the British hostages in order to gain a perceived PR boost at home and in the region (as well as an attempt to put a finger in the West's eye). Conjured 'confessions' that no one in the world truly believed genuine were repeatedly released and aired for the purpose of fronting 'proof' that the Iranian captors were not only in the right, but being wrongly portrayed as the aggressor rather than protectors of territorial sovereignty.

Yet suddenly, the regime refuses to air images of what would certainly be seen as proof to their claims of torture at the hands of Americans. Not even the release of images of bruises to Sharafi that they themselves could inflict for this purpose. Any release of such images now, after the non-release, should be seen as just that: Regime-inflicted wounds 'still visible' for propaganda purposes.

Consider also: Of all of the people that could have been released, why would one be chosen who would exhibit 'signs of torture still visible'? The entire claim defies logic. Bunk.

But we should thank the Associated Press for carrying the regime's water and publishing and thus forwarding their claims without an ounce of analytical review. All that was offered was a line that the United States "denied involvement in the Iranian's disappearance or release," and a solitary quote from the U.S. Embassy spokesman in Baghdad, Lou Fintor, saying, "As we have said repeatedly, we were not involved in the abduction, detention or release of this individual."

It is up to us to analyze properly. Unfortunately, our readership is in the thousands, not the millions and millions this AP story will reach.

UPDATE: Since this post published, the headline at the Washington Post has changed to read "U.S. Denies Iranian Claim of CIA Torture." The Associated Press has also added three paragraphs to the body.

"The United States had nothing to do with Mr. Sharafi's detention and we welcome his return to Iran," said Gordon Johndroe, a White House spokesman who was with President Bush in Texas on Saturday.

"The Iranian propaganda machine has been in overdrive since they paraded the British sailors around on TV. This is just the latest theatrics of a government trying to deflect attention away from its own unacceptable actions," Johndroe added.

A U.S. intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said the CIA vehemently denies any role in the capture or release of Sharafi. The official dismissed any claims of torture, saying "the CIA does not conduct or condone torture."

The lengthy Iranian account remains in full.

It is unfortunate that the Associated Press and, by extension, the thousands of media outlets who subscribe to their wire services, decided to run the story initially without any rebuttal whatsoever. Shoddy and irresponsible editing in our media is more dangerous in the Long War than explosives in the hands of terrorists.

April 4, 2007

The Unnatural Linkage of Hariri, Pelosi and Assad

Much has been said and written of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's trip to meet with Syrian dictator Bashar Assad. But for all the criticism, little if any has been leveled at perhaps the most stunning statement to date made by a public figure (this side of Ahmadinejad). It was made by Speaker Pelosi while visiting Beirut Tuesday. Lebanon's Daily Star headline alone is enough to grab the attention of the mildly observant: Pelosi stresses dialogue with Syria as medicine for what ails Lebanon. But the quote within is a jaw dropper.

"The road to solving Lebanon's problems passes through Damascus," Pelosi told reporters after meeting with Lebanese parliamentary leader Saad Hariri at Qoreitem.

That she believes "the road to solving Lebanon's problems" passes anywhere near Damascus is troubling enough, as 'solving' has nothing to do with it.

But that a major US political figure uttered such after speaking with the son of a man assassinated at the command of Bashar Assad - who happens to live in Damascus, coincidentally - is simply stunning. Stunning. I've no other words.

I had sent this article and quote to a few friends. One of them, a counterterrorism analyst I spoke to later by phone, replied, "She seriously said that? I thought it was a joke." The conversation then naturally led down the path of such similarly proud moments as the new sitting Chairman of the House Committee on Intelligence not understanding the fundamental difference between Sunni and Shi'a just days before his confirmation. But even that pales in comparison to pontificating to Saad Hariri that 'dialogue' with his father's assassin will solve Lebanon's problems.

Lebanon's biggest problem is it's Syria-supported Hizballah terrorist 'state within a state.' Up there also is Lebanon's sitting pro-Syrian president, Emil Lahoud, still in office though installed during Syrian occupation. And the assassinations of anti-Syrian Lebanese figures after Rafik Hariri was blown up with 19 others by a Beirut truck bomb? All of these roads lead to Damascus.

For those who may criticize these words here as a 'partisan attack,' I offer:

Exhibit 'A': Who is Next?

Pay special attention to the last frame, as the words in the presentation's title are not mine. They are Lebanese in origin.

Madam Speaker, with all due respect, you owe Saad Hariri an apology.

Pandemic Flu: Potential for U.S. Economic Recession

We have heard the estimates that the attacks of September 11, 2001 cost the terrorists about $500,000 to execute. Yet the effects, both immediate and afterward, were devastating. The value of the human lives lost on September 11th is truly incalculable.

As heartless as it may seem, the authors of a study from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Measuring the Effects of the September 11 Attack on New York City, estimated that the lost lifetime wages of the nearly 3,000 victims would have aggregately reached $7.8 billion. Simply looking at the dollar cost of the attacks of September 11th, it has been estimated that more than $30 billion was spent in earnings losses, property damage, and cleanup costs. According to another report by the NY Fed, spending for homeland security rose from $56.0 billion in 2001 to $99.5 billion in 2005.

This is all dwarfed by the estimated impact on the U.S. economy of the second worst recession that would occur in the event of a severe pandemic flu outbreak. According to a recently released report, Pandemic Flu and Potential for U.S. Economic Recession released in Trust for America's Health (TFAH)'s March 2007 report, U.S. GDP could drop over 5.5 percent, leading to an estimated $683 billion loss. While there continue to be questions about the spread of Avian Flu, it was also recently discovered that two “small mutations” could result in H5N1 jumping to humans.

The TFAH report opens stating flatly that "Flu pandemics occur 3 to 4 times each century, when a new influenza virus emerges against which people have little-to-no immunity. The major questions are when the next pandemic will occur, what strain of the virus will be involved, and how severe the outbreak will be." It makes clear that a new flu pandemic outbreak is inevitable, historically speaking.

April 3, 2007

The Lingering Question of Questionable Railway Security

Rail security is an unsolved issue. Since September 11th, there have been periodic threats and subsequent upgrades in the alert level for our Nation’s railways. Its no secret that major city transit systems like NY (Grand Central Station and Pennsylvania Station), Washington DC (Union Station) and places like Boston are likely targets, especially for a suicide bomber, the release of toxins or the explosion of a dirty bomb.

Even before the Madrid train attacks on March 11th, 2004 it was clear that the busy matrix of tunnels and tracks that connects Penn Station to Queens and New Jersey was a security nightmare. With 21 tracks and 16 miles of tunnels to Queens and New Jersey, Penn Station is one of the nation's busiest. More than 750 trains and 500,000 commuters pass through the station every weekday, in addition to millions of travelers each year from Washington, D.C., and Boston. Even with an improved ability to detect intruders as well as chemical, biological and radioactive threats in the tunnels, critical upgrades of ventilation, fire standpipes, escape routes and emergency communication systems are not yet complete.

If you needed only one example of the implications of a terror attack on a subway one only has to remember the Aum Shinri Kyo release of sarin gas in the Tokyo subway system in 1995. If you wanted to find a perfect transport method for chem-bio toxins, just stand on a platform in Grand Central Station, or any subway stop in NY City, and feel the whoosh! as a train goes by.

After the Madrid attacks, the question of the safety of America’s trains was raised.

Are the trains safe? The simple answer is no, nothing is. But can anything be done to make them safer? "You can't do the things that you can do at an airport," says New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. “It's a daunting challenge. We have 468 subway stations right here in New York City. It's a tremendous challenge.”

In July 2005, the minute the London bombings became known, the NY City police held the first Platoon (midnight to 8am shift) over indefinitely. Additionally, then New York Governor Pataki authorized police and law enforcement from NJ, Pa. and Ct. to ride transit into Manhattan with "full force of authority" to reassure NY'ers that the city had mobilized every resource available and Secretary Chertoff raised the Threat Alert Level to Orange for all U.S. rail and travel infrastructure. In the NYC area, Penn Station, Grand Central Station, AMTRAK Station and Port Authority had clearly visible armed guards and bomb sniffing dogs on patrol, surveillance and search of vehicles on all bridge and tunnel crossings was increased, and what was already a visible presence became more visible.

And at the same time, DHS Secretary was criticized for not doing enough on rail security and insisting that localities have a major role in protecting transit systems.

Chertoff explained the agency's focus on aircraft safety over rail and transit in an Associated Press interview, saying, "The truth of the matter is, a fully loaded airplane with jet fuel, a commercial airliner, has the capacity to kill 3,000 people. A bomb in a subway car may kill 30 people.

That brings us to the current day when it seems that very little has changed. An article that originally came from Stratfor, Rail security an ongoing threat warned of gaps in the homeland security and transportation threat assessment program. In her January 18, 2007 testimony to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation:

Cathleen Berrick, the GAO's director of homeland security and justice issues, noted that despite the history of terrorist attacks against passenger rail systems -- including those in London and Mumbai -- the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has yet to complete its own risk assessment of the passenger rail system in the United States. Even more to the point, the agency has not yet even finalized a methodology for analyzing and characterizing such risks.

Based on this testimony, characterized by Stratfor author Fred Burton as “couched in bureaucratic language,” it was observed that DHS had not finished efforts to come up with a framework that helps government and private-sector agencies develop a consistent approach in analyzing risks across different transportation sectors, including passenger rail. The Stratfor article went further to say:

There is little question that the U.S. passenger rail system is at risk. There are numerous reasons that terrorists consider rail systems to be an attractive target -- even without considering the factors that make it hard to protect in the United States: the sheer size of a rail system, daily volumes of passengers, and the patchwork of government agencies and private-sector security elements involved at different points along the way.

Clearly, our railways, both commuter and commercial represent soft targets for terrorists. Consider that 11.3 million passengers, in 35 metropolitan areas and 22 states, use some form of rail transit every weekday. The New York City system alone carries more than 4.6 million passengers every weekday. This makes airport-like screening systems difficult if not unfeasible. And security is further complicated by the frequent stops with passengers getting on and off at each stop.

...even a small improvised explosive device (IED) can cause mass casualties. When that metal box is placed inside a concrete tunnel, the confined space can further amplify the blast effects of the IED, resulting in maximum "bang for the buck." Moreover, there are chances of follow-on casualties as the tunnel fills with smoke and fire, causing confusion and panic among the surviving passengers. This often results in people being trampled or injured by smoke inhalation. Thus, an attack on a subway or commuter-rail car can result in a higher body count than an attack using the same IED against a crowd in another setting.

Recent numerous successful strikes (London, Madrid, Moscow and Mumbai) and yet many more disrupted and stopped. However, the problem of course is considering the options of defending against a possible attack. For those of you not familiar, take a look at the map of the New York Subway System or the Washington DC Metro System.

These vulnerabilities are further examined by a recent reports by the Council on Foreign Relations, Rail Security and the Terrorist Threat (3/12/07) and Tracking Rail Security (3/12/07)
Among the concerns raised by these two reports are that the U.S. rail system transports freight, including highly toxic chemicals. These shipments often have minimal security, even though they pass through populated areas, endangering thousands of lives.

Many of the tracks that carry passenger trains run parallel to those carrying freight shipments throughout the United States, meaning rail cargoes often travel along the same heavily populated corridors. Much of the freight presents little danger to people living near the tracks, but some does—particularly certain industrial chemicals. The deadliest of these chemicals are almost identical to those used as weapons on the battlefields of World War I, and in 2005 former White House Deputy Homeland Security Adviser Richard Falkenrath told the Senate these chemicals pose “the single greatest danger of a potential terrorist attack in our country today.”

Given what is described as lax security and often unmonitored railyards, these tankers represent “pre-positioned WMDs.” This raises the serious question of rail security which is noted as being quite related to chemical security. Among the measures discussed are rerouting hazardous rail cargo so it bypasses densely populated areas (which in turn creates delays and added costs). Of course none of this is to minimize the importance of improving passenger security.

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