HomeFeaturesDailyBriefingsRapidReconSpecial ReportsAbout Us

« May 2009 | Return to RapidRecon | July 2009 »

June 28, 2009

U.S. Bio Research & Defense

As time passes, the discussion of "The Risk/Reward Ratio" of BioResearch becomes more interesting and complicated. Last week, while the Senate approved the first $36 million designated for the construction of the National Bio and Agro Defense facility at the campus of Kansas State University, However, the House version of the Appropriations bill for the Department of Homeland Security, omitted that funding. Instead, the House allocated $5 million to fund an independent study the safety of conducting research into Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) at a mainland laboratory.

The differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill still must be resolved during Conference Committee meetings. However, the Kansas delegation is understandably unhappy with the House position.

"The House Appropriations Committee had a responsibility to fund the NBAF, and I am extremely disappointed they shirked that responsibility," said Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan.

Construction on the NBAF facility is currently slated to begin in November 2010. That date could be in jeopardy if the funding isn't resolved. However, a number of issues continue to circle this project, including the Government Accountability Office position that the DHS risk analysis of conducting FMD research on the mainland was flawed, as well as the GAO's rejection of a DHS environmental assessment for the lab. And then there is the issue of natural disasters and violent weather. Unfortunately, when so much is at stake (the total amount of the funding, the economic development impact for the region and most importantly, National defense and safety), politics and bioresearch come together.

June 27, 2009

F-22 Raptor Program

One of the concerns raised about the new Administration has been the possible reduction of budgets for warfighter efforts and the possible elimination of other defense programs. Despite threats of vetos on the Defense Appropriations bill, the Senate Armed Services Committee voted to authorize $1.75 billion for the Raptor program.

If you want to get a patriot chill, take a look at this photograph of a supersonice flyby executed by an Air Force F-22 Raptor.

web_090622-N-7780S-014.jpg

Some things are simply awesome.

June 26, 2009

Iran Turmoil Causes Terrorism Economic Crisis

Aaron Klein, who has perhaps the deepest contacts within Palestinian terrorist organizations of any journalist in the world, made note Monday that the turmoil in Iran had caused the Iranian regime to miss its regularly scheduled subsitance payment to at least one group, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. As of Friday, the Iranian regime's regular terror stipend has still not arrived, preventing the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist leadership from paying its henchmen.

This is what happens when the world's foremost state sponsor of terrorism meets with conflict of its own. As an Islamic Jihad source told Klein nearly a week ago, "If money is not sent one way or another, we may have to close some agencies and bureaus."

Oh, money is pouring out of Iran in a big way. But they're not transfers from the terrorist regime to its foreign legions. They are transfers by businesses rushing to deposit their millions out of Iranian banks and into more stable environments abroad.

In radio interviews over the past two weeks on the situation in Iran, I ahve often asked hosts and listeners to close thier eyes and imagine the region beyond Iran's borders when the cash cow of international terrorism is no longer there to be the lifeline of Hizballah, Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. They starve, with their chief supplier of money, arms and training no longer available to feed them. They will be forced to rely almost solely upon the support of Arabs once the sustaining Persian money line is severed.

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad is tellig us this right now, either the first group to feel the effects of the people's revolt in Iran or, more likely, the first terrorist group to actually say so publicly. Or perhaps Hamas and Hizballah had their cash flow uninterrupted by supplying reinforcement thugs for Iran's Basij militia. It has been reported often by Iranians that there have been many Arabic-speaking forces among the Farsi-speaking Basij on the Iranian city streets. Whatever the Iranian terror cashflow dynamics, the Palestinain Islamic Jihad is feeling the pain.

There is "no shame in being poor," they have told Klein in his most recent update. And we at ThreatsWatch concur. We in fact encourage an increased piety among the Palestinian Islamic Jihad leadership and ranks and the closure of more "agencies and bureaus."

June 24, 2009

Cheap & Easy: Supporting Regime Change

I am no expert on Iran, nor am I schooled in the ways of international relations. What I do know is that if you are the nation in the world that is synonymous with liberty and freedom, there is more that can be done than issue strongly worded letters and judiciously crafted speeches.

Kind words will never overthrow oppressive regimes, but action will. Not the sort of action that is most commonly associated with our past attempts at regime change, but actions that could accelerate regime change under Iranian power and on Iranian terms. Some low-hanging fruit:
  • Mobile Phones. It's the personal communications and computing platform of millions around the world and arguably the primary way short bursts of information and pictures of what is taking place on the ground in Iran is getting to the outside world.
  • One Laptop Per Demonstrator. The One Laptop Per Child program aims to put the primary tool of the information age into the hands of students in the emerging world. Small, simple to use, ready to communicate and rugged enough for the hinterlands, it's a way to expose the world to more substantial content related to current events.
  • Subversive Technology. Promulgation of technology designed to overcome government firewalls and censorship technology has already been put to use in Iran, but more can be done. The lessons learned defending our information infrastructure from attacks could be used to help those fighting the regime.
I'm sure together our nation's best and brightest could come up with many more ideas that cost little or nothing, could be done covertly, and could be used to support the vigorous but struggling crowds that are taking to the streets, armed only with fists and rocks, fighting for the sorts of freedoms many in this nation have long since taken for granted.

Rafsanjani Has Votes To Remove Khamenei?

Once again, another tidbit regarding the power moves behind the scenes in Qom that cellphone cameras and live-bloggers in Iran cannot capture. From the International Business Times, Rafsanjani has enough support to remove Khamenei: reports.

According to unconfirmed reports Rafsanjani is currently lobbying and meeting with members of the Assembly of Experts to gain support for the removal of Khamenei and for replacing the position of Supreme Leader with a form of collective leadership. According to Al-Arabiya, high-up sources say that Rafsanjani has already gained enough support within the Assembly for the removal of Khamenei, but has found less of a positive response to the proposal to replace the position of Supreme Leader altogether.

As a commenter noted on our earlier post on this, Regime Change Iran: Movement Seeks to Eliminate 'Supreme Leader' Position, al-Arabia is a Saudi Arabian news outlet and no friend to the Iranian regime. But rather than use that as a manner of dismissing, I think it actually buttresses the credibility of the source on this matter. Because Rafsanjani can now be seen as also. clearly, no friend of the Iranian regime. or, more specifically, neither friend nor defender of 'Supreme' Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

Unimaginable Horror In Tehran Today

Iran has executed its Tiananmen Square. Baharestan Square has become synonymous with barbarity, cruelty, massacre and inhumanity.

An Iranian blogger (whose URL I will not publish) live blogging from Baharestan Square in central Tehran today captures but brief glimpses of the unimaginable horror that took place today. Bus loads of protesters were stopped and unloaded from their buses by "black-clad police" and literally herded. When the massing was sufficient, as the barely controllably distraught Tehran caller to CNN described first hand, hundreds of the regime's Basij thugs poured out of an adjoining mosque and commenced a massacre with axes, clubs, guns and gas.

From the live blogger's eyewitness account:

>More than 10.000 Bassij Milittias get position in Central Tehran, including Baharestan Sq.
>Army Helycopters flying over Baharestan and Vali Asr Sq.
>The streets, squares and around BAHARESTAN (Approx. South-eastern of Tehran) is swarming with military forces, civilian forces, the security motorists
>The croud have moved to the south of baharestan, the situation is bad, the shooting has started
>In Baharestan Sq. in the Police shooting, A girl is shot and the police is not allowing to let them help
>In Baharestan we saw militia with axe choping people like meat - blood everywhere - like butcher

This is the Iranian regime, wading into its own unarmed people and axing them to death, bludgeoning women (seen as the greatest threat to the regime) and throwing them to their deaths from pedestrian bridges. The same Iranian regime whose embassy officials are invited to American embassies around the world to celebrate on July 4th, of all things, a successful revolution.

This frantic phone call from a Tehran woman will break your heart as you consider our standard response has been "that there are sets of international norms and principles about violence" and that "the international community is watching." Part of yesterday's response by President Obama in a press conference included "that there is a peaceful path that will lead to stability and legitimacy (of the Iranian regime) and prosperity for the Iranian people. We hope they take it." The Iranian theocratic regime clearly is not interested.

There should not be - nor should have ever been - invitations to the ruthless Iranian regime's international ambassadors to celebrate anything with us, anywhere, unless it is an invitation to a tribunal on charges of crimes against humanity.

To my intelligent friends who have been arguing the logic of our president's near silence on the issue of Iran - and not without merit on certain points - you can disengage from me now. I will entertain none of it any longer.

This is an axe wound, just one, doled out by the regime's thug basiji animals on Saturday, June 20, 2009.

axe-wound.jpg

This was a brutal murder of an assuredly unarmed protester of the up-close-and-personal variety. An act, and one not isolated, which requires the presence of inhumane malice and aggression and the absence of humanity. The traits required for massacres upon the unarmed. There is no nuance, no logical approach, no deft explanation that covers near silence and inadequate, tepid condemnation of the meekest sort. To decline any mention of possible repercussions on the regime for these acts "because we don't know how this is going to turn out" is moral cowardice of the highest order. Look at the picture above and listen to the frantic woman calling in to CNN again. They seem to "know how this is going to turn out."

There is a way to condemn a regime axing its citizens in the streets of Tehran and other cities across Iran without "making this about the US." You, and our president, are intelligent men and women and lacking no gifts of speech and prose. Find what's missing. Each of you frustrate and sadden me. Argue your eloquent points elsewhere. My ears are deaf as of now.

June 22, 2009

Talking Iran: Steve Schippert Show - June 21, 2009

Last night I posted a rapid response analysis of the news that former Iranian president Ayatollah Rafsanjani has been holding talks with other Ayatollahs and clerical leaders about a form of government change in Iran that would not include a 'Supreme Leader' atop the system or society.

In Regime Change Iran: Movement Seeks to Eliminate 'Supreme Leader' Position, I mentioned that just hours before the news broke, I had discussed the significance of the presence of a representative of Iraq's Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani at those meetings on my weekly RFC Radio program, The Steve Schippert Show. Below are the audio archives of the aired program in two 30-minute parts.

In the first segment, I speak with "Winston," an Iranian by birth Canadian citizen who has played a central role in getting information out from Iran to the rest of the world via phone contact, e-mail, Twitter and blogging.







[To download the Steve Schippert Show 2nd half hour audio, click here or right-click, then select 'Save Target As'.]

In the second segment, I begin with discussion of the roles of Mousavi and Rafsanjani and what the Shah of Iran in 1979 has in common with Supreme Leader Ayalollah Khamenei in 2009. Then the discussion turns to consider the significance of Rafsanjani's inclusion of Iraq's Ayatollah Sistani. That significance was proven true in the news that broke just after the program aired.







[To download the Steve Schippert Show 2nd half hour audio, click here or right-click, then select 'Save Target As'.]

Events in Iran are proving to be the most significant event since 9/11. And if Iran emerges as a true democracy which no longer serves as the lifeline for Hizballah, Hamas and others, it will have proven even more significant from a global perspective.

June 21, 2009

Regime Change Iran: Movement Seeks to Eliminate 'Supreme Leader' Position

[Update at Bottom.]

Folks, this is huge. Huge. A report from Saudi Arabia's al-Arabiya, Iranian clerics seek supreme leader alternative, indicates that Rafsanjani is seeking to eliminate the Supreme Leader. Not just the man, but the position and role presiding over Iranian politics and the Iranian society.

Religious leaders are considering an alternative to the supreme leader structure after at least 13 people were killed in the latest unrest to shake Tehran and family members of Ayatollah Rafsanjani were arrested amid calls by former President Mohammad Khatami for the release of all protesters.

Iran's religious clerks in Qom and members of the Assembly of Experts, headed by former President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, are mulling the formation of an alternative collective leadership to replace that of the supreme leader, sources in Qom told Al Arabiya on condition of anonymity.

Skipping down a bit, here's what they seem to have in mind, obviously a bit sketchy at this point.

Members of the assembly are reportedly considering forming a collective ruling body and scrapping the model of Ayatollah Khomeini as a way out of the civil crisis that has engulfed Tehran in a series of protests,

The discussions have taken place in a series of secret meetings convened in the holy city of Qom and included Jawad al-Shahristani, the supreme representative of Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who is the foremost Shiite leader in Iraq.

An option being considered is the resignation of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as Iran's president following condemnation by the United States and other European nations for violence and human rights violations against unarmed protestors.

This is a huge development. One of the biggest questions I and others have had since the Iranian protests/revolt/revolution began was whether Mousavi would be any different in tangible effect (Hizballah & Hamas support, etc.) than Ahmadinejad and whether Rafsanjani was seeking to sack 'Supreme' Leader Khamenei simply to acquire the powerful position for himself. That question perhaps may have been answered today.

My ears first perked up when word made it through the grapevines over the weekend that Rafsanjani had been meeting with other Ayatollahs and clerics in Qom, and had among them a representative of Iraq's Ayatollah Ali Sistani.

Why? Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in 2007 made two very critical statements: that "I am a servant of all Iraqis, there is no difference between a Sunni, a Shiite or a Kurd or a Christian," and that Islam can exist within a democracy without theological conflict. You will never hear such words slip past the lips of Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei. Ever.

Sistani's presence at the Rafsanjani talks in Qom, Iran, through a representative brings therefore added significance. And the al-Arabiya report above seems to suggest that Rafsanjani is not seeking Sistani's support for superficial reasons.

In November 2007 at National Review Online, I wrote about this aspect of Ayatollah Ali Sistani, including a reference to another analysis I had written earlier in the spring.

In fact, what exists is a deep rivalry between the revolutionary Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini and the traditionalist Grand Ayatollah Sistani, both claiming authority over the Shi'a faith. While the Khomeinist revolutionary Khameini clearly believes in Shi'a theocracy, the Iraqi Ayatollah Sistani believes that the faith can exist within a democracy without theological conflict. And while the Iranians work to spin the growing Sunni tribal rejection of al-Qaeda as Americans "negotiating with terrorists," Sistani himself has always had open channels of communication with American forces and the Iraqi government.

Why does this matter for Iran and Iranians? Pay close attention here, for Iraq's Sistani carries great weight among the Iranian Shi'a faithful.

Sistani's appeal does not end at the Iraqi border, as Iranians increasingly observe his leadership with interest and fondness. Some are "intrigued by the more freewheeling experiment in Shi'ite empowerment taking place across the border in Iraq," which is fundamentally different in approach than the Iranian theocratic brand of dictated observance and obedience. The Boston Globe's Anne Barnard reports that within Tehran's own central bazaar, "an increasing number of merchants are sending their religious donations, a 20 percent tithe expected from all who can spare it, to Iraq's most senior Shi'ite cleric."

If that didn't quite sink in, go read that paragraph again. many Iranian merchants have been sending their 20% tithes to Sistani, not Khamenei. Since at least 2007.

I spoke to the significance of Rafsanjani seeking Sistani's support earlier on 'The Steve Schippert Show' on RFC Radio just before the al-Arabiya story broke. His name is an attention-getter for those aware of players and forces in both Iran and Iraq. And for good reason.

Perhaps in Iran, just as in Iraq today, true democracy can exist "without theological conflict" with the Shi'a faith. And perhaps the most unlikely cast of available men in Iran are set to bring that to be. Perhaps only something close, or closer.

But whatever the change, and the extent of the change - and it appears the intent is significant change and not simply a game of Shuffling Ayatollahs - it will be positive for Iranians, for the region, for Americans and for the entire world. I think it is nearly inevitable at his point, and time is not on the regime's side.

I have been telling friends and peers for a week that we are witnessing the most significant - if relative slow motion - event since the attacks of 9/11. Most have shrugged that off. Well, when one considers the potential effects afoot, this may prove more significant than 9/11. (Think the possible implications for client terrorist organizations Hizballah and Hamas when the cash cow disappears.)

Because whatever the pasts of Rafsanjani and Mousavi - and they are significantly unpalatable - they appear to be taking on the face of the people, the face of a Revolution. Hizballah and Hamas thugs were brought in by the regime to quell the demonstrators and have killed Iranians in the process. Rafsanjani and Mousavi will have to "dance with who brung ya," and it was not Hamas or Hizballah. The people will have little stomach for supporting those who murdered their sons, daughters, brothers and sisters.

And that is a reality the realists among us will have to accept. Before it's easy to condemn the losers and support the winners. Now.

Regime Change Iran. It's not just a slogan for the Persian diaspora. It's coming.

UPDATE: The audio archives of the above mentioned Steve Schippert Show episode that discussed the significance of Iraq's Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani at Rafsanjani's Iranian talks before the above news broke have been published and can be heard (stream) and downloaded here.

UPDATE II: Rafsanjani Has Votes To Remove Khamenei?

June 20, 2009

Neda: The Voice of Iran

Her name was Neda. It means the 'voice' or the 'call' in Farsi. And in a struggle largely fueled by Iranian women's demands for rights, Neda most tragically becomes the Voice of Iran.

It is heartbreaking to watch, with her father screaming in unimaginable agony.

It is this anguish and agony that is shared throughout Iran. It has assured that the mullah regime's crackdown will fail.

Neda is now the Voice of Iran. The horror one feels when watching her passing is the Face of the Regime.

Analysis to follow.

June 14, 2009

Neural Interfaces - New Age Neurotechnology

A group of neuroscientists, engineers and computer scientists based at Brown University have started the second phase of clinical trials under an "investigational device exemption" on a "neural interface" brain-plug system. They hope that the system will allow users to control machines and computers by thinking the commands. While the system is not completed, it would be used to let paralyzed or amputated patients to "telekinetically" perform functions like unlocking doors, turning on light or machines or work with computer.

The "kit" that is name Braingate, is still in prototype form and is not certifed as medically safe, is being tested on volunteers. However, it promises to turn thought into action.

brain_gate_interface_plug.jpg
The implications of this leading edge neuro research are vast.

The Brown researchers hope to find a way of using their cortical implant to send signals to other implants on undamaged nerves controlling paralysed limbs, effectively attaching jumper leads to bridge the broken nerve connections and restoring the brain's control over the relevant muscles.

Braingate was initially funded by a $4.25 million grant from the Department of Defense. The program has received an additional $8 million in funding over the last three years from the Naitonal Institutes of Health and from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

BrainGate2 is part of a larger mission to help paralysis victims regain control of their bodies. "We want to reconnect the brain back to the muscles and eventually back to the entire limb," John Donoghue, a Brown neuroscience professor and director of the Brown Institute for Brain Science says. "We are attempting to recreate parts of the nervous system that have been disconnected from the brain."

Additionally, in the case of amputees, the potential is to enable improved control of prostheic limbs and wheelchairs, as well as other household devices. When you consider the extent to which modern medicine now allows severely wounded soldiers to not only survive often catastrophic injuries, but return to their homes and families, developments such as Braingate only begin to open the possibilities of the future effect of technology on our lives.

Twitter Feed: Rolling Iran Coverage

For those interested in following, I have been providing rolling Iran coverage via Twitter. My personal Twitter feed is below.

Twitter: Steve Schippert

I have probably logged about a couple hundred updates through the night so far tonight, monitoring multiple feeds and sources for what precious little information is still leaking out of Iran past the grip of the regime.

Waiting nervously for some sources to come back online. Their silence since last messages leaves an eerie uneasiness. While they need to sleep, it is a nervous wait to see them back online. Continued silence after sunrise in Iran gives rise to fear over their possible fate.

You do not need to subscribe to Twitter nor create an account to follow the rolling page linked above.

June 13, 2009

Iranian Courage

This is courage.

iranian-courage.jpg

Think about that as you go about your relatively calm day in Liberty already earned.

I said a few years ago when the regime began another wave of strict enforcement of Islamic (by their definition) dress code while women openly protested: Follow the women of Iran. For, as go the women of Iran, so will go the men. For they will be the barometer of revolution.

This is borne out today in the popularity of Mrs. Mousavi's outspokenness on women's rights during this campaign, and the resultant record turnout for the vote, and the (so far) wide-spread and brave protests to an election once again stolen.

When Iran's women have decided it is time, their men will rise with them.

Today, the second day of protest after the election, will determine momentum and what is to come - or not come - of the people's revolt. Will it be revolution, or will it be the reassertion of dominance by a regime which fears its own people more than any American or Israeli weapon?

We in the West may hope for revolution and the self-liberation of a freedom-starved Iranian people. But we must also fully understand the amount of courage required for the unarmed to rise against the armed and brutal. Focus on the picture above. Imagine the sounds, the smells, the danger, the fear. That is a picture of courage.

June 12, 2009

Opinion Piece: Hatred in America

Earlier this week brought another in a series of examples of hatred being expressed in America by someone from one group or another against some other group. We've seen our share of hatred through our Nation's history and across the globe.

Dr. Martin Luther King was murdered because of hatred of Blacks. His killing was not so much for political reasons than it was for the ignorance of one man, James Earl Ray. It is said that Nichols and McVeigh attacked the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City in 1995 to lash out against the Federal Government.

So, James Von Brunn is not the last and certainly was not the first to act out in anger and hatred. Von Brunn's hatred of the Jewish people is as irrational as many others who simply blame their sorry lives on a targeted group of people. The papers and media have been strewn with theories and claims that he was pushed to his act of violence at the Holocaust Museum by conservatives or liberals or the acts or words of certain individuals.

But Von Brunn had a history of hate

"The Holocaust is a lie", the note read. "Obama was created by Jews. Obama does what his Jew owners tell him to do. Jews captured America's money. Jews control the mass media."

Brunn was so good at his hatred that at one point he "had his own file with watch groups such as the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League. He wrote an anti-Semitic text and maintained his conspiracy theories on the Web site."

Of great concern is that both polarized sides of the political rhetoric spectrum, the so-called "liberal" left and the equally so-called "conservative" right blame the other for Von Brunn. One article in the Fox Forum exclaims "Left Blames Holocaust Museum Attack on Conservatives" while the other side of the spectrum at the Daily Kos claims that Von Brunn "was also one of a growing number of people with a misguided, conspiratorial view of the world," and then proceeds to assert that people like Limbaugh and Gingrich and conservative bloggers in general have dragged political discourse to the extreme right. The real problem with that is that too many people will accept that view and adopt it as their own.

What can be another view? James Von Brunn was an avowed Holocaust denier. That "belief," however aberrant in the face of truth and reality, is more widely held than many would like to think. There is a man who refused to see the movie "Schindler's List" because he felt that it was a work of fiction. Luckily, that man's ignorance was not passed to his children. So Von Brunn went to the Holocaust Memorial to play out his hatred of Jewish people. How ironic is it that Von Brunn would go to a place memorializing a tragically historic event that he contends never happened, but seeks to kill more people out of his hatred. To those on either of the polarized spectrum who seek to push blame for Von Brunn's hatred on the other, perhaps they should realize that Von Brunn's brand of hatred is neither "right" nor "left." It is simply ignorant.

One of the immediate results of the shooting is that every museum in Washington DC is now reassessing the visibility of their security forces. Of course, in the face of an irrational act like Von Brunn's it is appropriate (moreso) to look at policies and procedures to ensure the safety of visitors. But logically, if the concern is another Von Brunn, then the museum of the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington is more vulnerable than the Air and Space Museum. In similar fashion, more diligent security at the Smithsonian's Anacostia Commnity Museum that focuses on African American history and culture would be indicated.

Hatred in America comes in many shapes, sizes and colors. Some of that hatred is directed toward religious groups (like people of the Jewish faith) or toward racial groups (like American Blacks). Historically, hatred has spewed against newly arrived immigrant populations. In many ways, these, like the bias toward Italians and the Irish, abated and passed with time. Unfortunately, the hatred and bias against Jews and Blacks lingers. Finally, there are those who believe that people supporting strong immigration laws and security along our Nation's border with Mexico translates to a bias against Mexicans and Hispanics in general. There is a difference, at least in this opinion, between support of the rule of law and hatred toward a group of law abiding people. Regardless, sadly, there is no accounting for ignorance.

June 11, 2009

Friday, Iranian Regime Wins

Eager for a diplomatic opening, Western optimists have hailed the upcoming Iranian presidential elections as an opportunity to replace hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with a potential partner in Tehran. Much of this hope rests with reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, who is presently running in a virtual dead heat with Ahmadinejad. Unfortunately, a Mousavi victory on Friday may not presage the types of domestic (much less foreign policy) changes in Iran that Western advocates of greater engagement desire.

Mohsen Sazegara, co-founder of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps and a former government official in Iran, is uniquely well versed in the internal dynamics of the Islamic Republic. As such, Sazegara is also uniquely qualified to predict the positive ramifications, if any, of a Mousavi victory on Friday. In an article for the Boston Globe, Sezagara was not overly optimistic.

As was made clear during the presidency of Ahmadinejad's reformist predecessor, Mohammad Khatami, the conservative establishment does not go quietly into the opposition when its candidates lose.

For all the reforms made during the Khatami era, real power in Iran never left the hands of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The supreme leader's conservative allies retained control over the security forces, as well as the judiciary and the media, and simply circumvented the rule of law when their stranglehold on the country was challenged.

The violation of Iranian and international law by Khamenei loyalists was rampant between 1997 and 2005. Throughout Khatami's presidency, a vast parallel intelligence apparatus operated beyond the authority of the government, brutally intimidating and silencing those viewed as critical of the regime.

Recent pronouncements from members of Iran's intransigent ruling elite lend credence to Sazegara's pessimism. Revolutionary Guards Corps official Yadollah Javani reputedly claimed that the reformist opposition will allege voter chicanery and may take to the streets if Ahmadinejad wins. In that event, according to Javani, street violence will be quelled and opposition "crushed."

These, as Sazegara can attest, are no idle threats. In 2003, the former deputy prime minister for political affairs was incarcerated at Tehran's Evin Prison for roughly four months. Others doubtlessly received harsher treatment, including torture.

Budgetary Legacy - Defense Into the Future

The residual impact of decisions made is often overlooked by the uninitiated. That goes for diplomatic and foreign policy decisions that are inherited by subsequent Administrations as well as budgetary decisions. And much like the case of former President Clinton being blamed now three Administrations later for cutbacks in the defense and national security, the new Administration is embarking on an attempt to achieve zero growth in the budget for the Department of Defense that could result in stagnation in our nation's warfighting and intelligence capabilities.

While not "slashing" defense spending, the Administration is adopting a zero real growth policy when it comes to the base budget of the DoD. Over the next five years, the current plan is to allow for 2% growth. But when inflation is expected to average 1.5% in the same period, that yields effectively no growth.

The Administration's outlook is to increase diplomatic and aid programs while reigning in defense spending. Yet as expressed in Michael O'Hanlon's piece in the Washington Post, "Obama's Defense Budget Gap", downsizing the size of the DoD "force structure" is not an option. At the same time, the cost of maintaining the armed forces, even at static levels, continues to rise with the inflation rate. As noted by O'Hanlon, these contemplated cuts are not immediate. They are reductions in future plans. Even then, if plans like the Strike Fighter or Osprey are executed, replacement and/or refurbishment of aging equipment still remain an expense. Other cost elements also are viable, but still cannot totally freeze costs.

Stagnating the budgets of the Defense Department is difficult at best to accomplish without seriously limiting the future capabilities of our military.

Congressional Budget Office has estimated that real defense spending would have to be about 10 percent greater than today over roughly the next decade to afford what is on the Pentagon's books. The CBO has not recalculated in light of Gates' plans, but a rough estimate suggests the need for 7 to 8 percent higher spending for an average year in the future. That is another way of saying that we need roughly 2 percent real growth per year, while Obama offers zero. By 2014, this amounts to a difference of about $50 billion in the annual budget, and a cumulative five-year discrepancy of about $150 billion. Once increased, defense spending would still decline as a fraction of gross domestic product, but not as much as is currently forecast. The plan will have to change. The question is whether we do it now or do it later.

Admirable social programs and financial bailouts all lead to a pressure to balance the budget in other ways. The mostly likely targets for those cost savings lie in the larger pots of money in places like the Defense Department. In addition to the important observations and comments raised by O'Hanlon's piece in the Washington Post, however, there are the questions of the unpredictable nature of the future landscape of the War on Terror, or simply, on the landscape of global instability. It is a difficult balance to strike - an economic crisis today versus an unpredictable future conflict requiring capabilities perhaps still in development. Clearly, today's budget cuts impact on the future. We've already seen the impact of reductions made more than a decade ago. But it could be argued that the future is more dangerous than the past.

June 9, 2009

Iran: Khamenei's 'Principles' for 'Final Victory'

No matter who wins the Iranian presidential election, the trajectory of Iran will not change. If you read the Financial Times article from Tuesday on the rancor among the candidates, 'Voters grapple with foreign policy claims', and get through the whole thing, you should take attentive note to the last three paragraphs. And so should the candidates.

Whether voters will be swayed by assertions that Iran's pride has been severely wounded remains to be seen. But the election has at least unleashed a rancorous debate over the country's direction, at a time when the US is hoping for dialogue with Tehran.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has often backed Mr Ahmadi-Nejad's approach, has taken notice. Last week he responded to the criticism by insisting the "honour of the nation" was "reflected in the world".

"I do not accept the sayings of those who imagine that our nation has become belittled in the world be-cause of its commitment to its principles," he said. "This path will continue until final victory."

Those principles are embodied within its support and leadership in international terrorism. And it is illustrative that the regime's goals are not a 'state of the state' or a condition for its people, but rather a "final victory." In every victory, someone must, by definition, be defeated. That's you, the non-Muslim Westerner and Israeli Jew.

No matter the president, the Supreme Leader is precisely that: Supreme in Iran. And the principles consistent with that high position, be it held by Ayatollah Khomeini or Ayatollah Khamenei, will remain so.

To the extent that the West chooses a candidate to brand 'moderate,' one should ask: Moderate by which standards, ours or the regime's?

And we should never forget that the Guardian Council, which vets all candidates on every ballot, ensures that no true moderates (by Western standards) ever makes that ballot.

The debate in the West over who should be backed in the Iranian election is a fool's errand. The Iranian president - who will never be a true moderate under this regime's hijacking of the democratic process - cannot change the trajectory of the Iranian state and regime. And the Supreme Leader will remain.

We should hope that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wins. For as one candidate said, he has been "a miracle and invaluable divine gift." But not because of his radicalism, but rather because of his preference to express it openly. That is the principle difference between Ahmadinejad and the West's uber-moderate, former president Khatami. Ahmadinejad wears no mask for the West, while Khatami is and was a stage show.

Clarity. In all things, clarity. The bad will be bad and the good will be good. Without clarity, the foolish cannot understand the difference.

GITMO Detainee Arrives in NYC for Trial

In the first test of the Administration's promise to close the terrorist detention camp in Cuba and bring suspected terrorists to trial in criminal courts, Ahmed Ghailani has been shipped to New York City. The first "interesting" quote is:

A law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to discuss the case, told The Associated Press that Ahmed Ghailani arrived in the early morning hours Tuesday, to be held in U.S. law enforcement custody until his trial in New York City.

Brought to the US in the custody of the US Marshals Services, Ghailani is charged with conspiring with Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda members to kill Americans anywhere in the world. Separately he is charged with murder for the deaths of each of the 224 people killed in the August 7, 1998, U.S. Embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya.

Ghailan is being held in lower Manhattan (presumably in a place known as the "Tombs") to await trial. In his press release, Attorney General Eric Holder said:

"The Justice Department has a long history of securely detaining and successfully prosecuting terror suspects through the criminal justice system, and we will bring that experience to bear in seeking justice in this case."

On the one hand, this case pits the Administration's position that detaining suspected terrorists in a Camp at Guantanamo prevents or inhibits their being brought to trial, and having justice served. Still, the concern is that under trial in a US court, terrorists will be tried as criminals and benefit from the US system. Ghailani is said to have helped build one of the bombs that exploded at the US Embassies, but also left Africa before the bombings happened on August 7, 1998. After the bombings he worked for al Qaeda as a document forger, a trainer in terrorist training camps and even as a body guard for bin Laden.

It will be interesting to see this scenario unfold. Will the media be given access to the trial and will pictures be plastered across the front pages of newspapers? Somehow, in considering the guilt or innocence of known al Qaeda terrorists, it is difficult to accept the equivalency of dead and maimed victims and a trial under American juris prudence.

June 8, 2009

Cuban Espionage: The Best?

Unfortunately, there has been no shortage of turncoats within the ranks of US intelligence officers over the years. Most go for money, a few are simpatico with an opposing ideology, a few even think they're doing the right thing because our Uncle is not.

The common thread: most of them start off as loyal officers.

The Cubans, for all the short shrift most (mostly uninformed) give them in other areas, have an excellent record of getting their agents early and working them long term. I'm not aware of any Cuban agents who didn't show up on the job on day-one already turned.

Open up to Cuba? Maybe if it included having their instructors school our recruiters, because its clear where the true expertise is.

Future Tech - What Might Lie Ahead

Almost every day there are releases from a variety of sources about new technologies being developed that could have an impact on the way battles are fought or the security is implemented in the future. So here is another sampling of things that are being evaluated.

First we have a special bullet being developed by Alliant TechSystems that can be shot by a newly designed XM25 rifle that is equipped with a laser rangefinder that is able to calculate the exact distance to an obstruction when targeting an adversary. The radio controlled bullet is able to clear whatever obstruction and then detonate within 3 metres of the target. The rangefinder on the rifle uses a radio signal to a chip embedded in the bullet and calucaltes the distance to the target based on the known bullet rotation through the barrel of the rifle. This approach clearly does not allow shoot an adversary around a corner, but does enable our troops to detonate the round near the target, even if there is an obstruction. This technology is being descirbed as the first leap ahead in technology for our troops.

"This airburst shell gives the close-combat capability of a grenade launcher, combined with the ability of indirect fire weapons to hit stuff on the other side of the wall," says John Pike, a defence analyst with Washington DC think tank GlobalSecurity.org.

The Army plans to field test this new weapon soon, and could put it into operational use as early as 2012 in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The second interesting area is the development of a perspiration detector by the US Army. Although the concept has been around for some time, the Army has requested proposals for an enhanced suite of biometric sensors that would check for "abnormal perspiration and changes in body temperature."

A favorite saying from the "Dry Idea" antiperspirant advertising is "never let them see you sweat." While anyone could argue that a "sweat detector" is frivolous, when recognizing that it adds to existing biometric information would make it less so.

June 7, 2009

Steve Schippert Show Tonight: 8PM EDT

For those interested, I've begun doing an Internet Radio program so imaginatively titled with my name (for lack of ideas that aren't worse) that streams from RFC Radio tonight at 8PM for one hour. I discuss added context for today's DailyBriefing, focusing somewhat on Iran.

I've learned that one hour is both difficult and easy to fill - meaning that it appears tough to fill an hour talking, but what is found out is that after providing useful context and background, there is not nearly enough time to cover all of the topics intended.

The first show was intended to have more humor than it ended up having. It is not devoid of humor by any stretch, but it ended up being less than the 50-50 mix intended. And the end of the show is a wondering aloud about Government Motors, Chrysler and FIAT that I am stunned I haven't heard anyone coin before.

The program will air at 8PM EDT tonight at the link provided below, and I will also be manning my post inside the chat room during the show for discussion, questions and debate. (The Chat Room launch button is right nest to the Listen Live button at the link.)

RFC Radio: The Steve Schippert Show

June 6, 2009

IAEA: Iran Has Centrifuges for Two Nuclear Weapons Per Year

This article in the New York Times, Iran Has Centrifuge Capacity for Nuclear Arms, Report Says, should get your attention. Hopefully the report dispels in the eyes of some the incorrect conclusion that those of us who have been warning of the Iranian race for nuclear weapons are fear mongers and over the top. They now have the capability. It is only the desire which can be seen as debatable, even though arguing 'peaceful nuclear power' intentions requires an unhealthy leap of faith and a disconnect from logic, reason and past actions.

A week before Iran's presidential election, atomic inspectors reported Friday that the country has sped up its production of nuclear fuel and increased its number of installed centrifuges to 7,200 -- more than enough, weapon experts said, to make fuel for up to two nuclear weapons a year, if the country decided to use its facilities for that purpose.

That's 7,200 centrifuges - as you will learn later, 4,920 in production and 2,300 installed and awaiting activation.

In its report, the International Atomic Energy Agency said that it had found no evidence that any of the fuel in Iran's possession had been enriched to the purity needed to make a bomb, a step that would take months. But it said that the country had blocked its inspectors for more than a year now from visiting a heavy-water reactor capable of being modified to produce plutonium that could be used in weapons. It also said that Tehran had continued to refuse to answer the agency's questions about reports of Iranian studies obtained by Western intelligence agencies that suggest that its scientists had performed research on the design of a nuclear warhead.

Why does Iran want a heavy water plant? There is only one answer, which is its only purpose: Plutonium production, which is the process of enriching spent uranium fuel - the byproduct of all nuclear plants and the remaining left-over from the uranium enrichment process - into the exponentially more potent plutonium.

Why does Iran want plutonium weapons? Because it alleviates the delivery systems challenges, currently stuck on how to get a large and heavy uranium warhead the distances required. With a plutonium warhead being much smaller and lighter, the missile challenges the West says will take years - based on a likely false uranium warheads assumption - are reduced to nearly nill in comparison.

Keep keenly in mind that North Korea produces plutonium weapons. And that their first blast was demonstrated with its primary customer on hand: General's and scientists from Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

Iran is required under three United Nations Security Council resolutions to cease the enrichment of uranium and to provide answers to those questions. The Iranian authorities have vigorously denied the authenticity of the studies on warhead design.

Wold you expect any different?

The report, one of a series made quarterly to the agency's board, described how the pace of enrichment and the installation of new centrifuges is accelerating at an enormous underground bunker in the desert at Natanz. It said that nearly 4,920 centrifuges were currently enriching uranium, and that 2,300 more were ready to go. That represents an increase of 30 percent in the total number of installed centrifuges since a February report.

You got that, right? A 30% increase in Iranian centrifuges since the last IAEA report, only 4 months ago.

Since we referenced North Korea in its proper context, readers may be interested in another major item tucked away later in the article.

In a separate report released Friday, the agency said it had found new evidence to support the claim that the complex that Israel bombed in the Syrian desert in 2007 was in fact a clandestine nuclear reactor. The clue, it said, was information uncovered on Syria's procurement of "a large quantity of graphite," a material that American intelligence officials have said was central to the reactor's operation.

Not only was it a clandestine nuclear reactor laid waste by Israel's Air Force, it was a plutonium plant which was a joint venture between Syria, Iran and North Korea. Iranians and North Koreans were among those killed in the Israeli strike. Again: Plutonium, Iran, North Korea.

But wait, there's more.

The agency also reported its discovery of particles of uranium in a Damascus laboratory and their "possible connection" to uranium traces already discovered at the bombed desert site. Firming up that link, it added, would require further analysis.

Uranium traces in Damascus. Not the desert site of the Israeli strike, but in a Damascus laboratory.

But it will take more time for the UN to investigate and analyze, naturally. Surely not unlike how it has taken since 2005 for the UN to complete the cycle of investigating, analyzing and capitulating on the Syrian assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, not to mention the many other anti-Syrian Lebanese assassinated or silenced.

UPDATE: In haste, I failed to make the observation also shared in the Los Angeles Times that Iran is still having significant issues with centrifuge designs and operational breakdowns.

Curiously, the young man the LA Times tapped for the observation can't figure out why Iran won't let the IAEA into its heavy water facility at Arak.

Kemp doesn't see why Iran won't allow international inspectors into its heavy-water research reactor near the town of Arak. "That makes no sense to me," he said.

Sigh. And he was doing so well up to that point.

June 5, 2009

Screening the Prison Systems for Illegal Aliens

In what is the first program of its kind, the Texas prison system is now capturing the digital fingerprints of the approximately 1,500 new inmates each week. These digital prints are then sent to the Department of Homeland Security. The program is intended to identify and then deport criminal aliens who have "committed serious crimes such as major drug offenses, murder, rape, robbery and kidnapping while living illegally inside the United States."

This program is not intended to search for and deport those among the more than 11 million illegal immigrants that are otherwise law abiding. Instead, and encouragingly, this program targets the tens of thousands of criminals who already populate our prison systems.

Imprisoned criminal aliens who entered the country illegally or have disobeyed a deportation order can be processed for deportation during their prison terms to get them out of the country faster once their sentence is complete. As many as 450,000 criminal aliens are imprisoned in federal, state and local facilities across the nation.

This is clearly a good step. In the past, states and municipalities, and even federal agencies like ICE, would not deport illegal immigrants unless they had committed another crime. It is expected that California will soon follow Texas and implement a similar program. But in what could be seen as an interesting policy contradiction, The City of Oakland plans to issue photo-ID cards to illegals to enable them to ease their "access to services, improve their civic participation and encourage them to report crimes."

The two sides of Oakland's decision to issue these cards pits Ira Mehlman spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform who says, "The problem is you have cities who are aiding and abetting people who are violating federal immigration laws. It sends a message that what they are doing is OK." against Jesse Newmark, a staff attorney with Centro Legal de la Raza who said that "he was pleased with the council's most recent action, adding that the ID card is tangible confirmation of Oakland's sanctuary status."

Quite a contrast.

June 3, 2009

Nuclear Ooops

While not considered a security threat, the accidental public posting of a confidential listing of U.S. stores of nuclear material is considered a breach of information. Even though some of the information is already public:

David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, said that the information could "provide thieves or terrorists inside information that can help them seize the material."

The inadvertant release of highly sensitive information was first noted by the Federation of American Scientistis.

"Somebody screwed up," Federation of American Scientists' Steven Aftergood, an advocate of open government who described the document's disclosure as a "net plus" from a public policy standpoint, said in an e-mail. "When the president declares a document to be sensitive on May 5, it is not supposed to show up on a government Web site on May 22. But that's what happened."

The breached document is described in CSO Magazine as:

is titled The List of Sites, Locations, Facilities, and Activities Declared to the International Atomic Energy Agency, and contains detailed information on hundreds of civilian nuclear sites in the country, including those storing enriched uranium. The report lists details on programs at nuclear weapons research labs at Los Alamos, Livermore and Sandia.

An interesting comment from the CSO Magazine article:

"Upon being informed about potential sensitive nature of the attachment in this document, the Public Printer of the United States removed it from GPO's website pending further review," the statement said. "After consulting with the White House and Congress, it was determined that the document including the sensitive attachment [should] be removed from the website," it added.

As noted, this isn't the first time that sensitive information has come out, and it probably won't be the last. But it also illustrates one of the reasons that "insider threats" represent dangers.

June 2, 2009

Science Fiction Blends with S&T Reality

From the recent Homeland Security Science and Technology Stakeholders Conference comes the news that stepping out of the box, DHS received the pro-bono assistance of science fiction writers to take a snapshot of the future.

David Montgomery of the Washington Post wrote that the recent Homeland Security S&T Stakeholders meeting felt more like a convention of futuristic yarn-spinners . By involving the pro-bono assistance of science fiction writers from Sigma - The Science Fiction Think Tank, DHS sought to "help managers think more broadly about projects, especially about potential reactions and unintended consequences."

SIGMA is a group of science fiction writers who offer futurism consulting to the United States government and appropriate NGOs. We provide a new concept in public service "think tanks"-- an association of speculative writers who have spent careers exploring the future.
Many SIGMA members are Ph.D.-level scientists and engineers; all are science fiction writers who have spent careers applying their technical and literary talents in exploring the future of science, technology, society and cultures. SIGMA provides a significant pool of talent for volunteer pro bono consultation with the Federal government and other organizations which need the imagination that only speculative writers can provide.

Certainly, getting pro-bono assistance from sci-fi writers could be valuable. However, futurists skilled in security applications actually exist. I know of at least one whose reputation of "seeing" trends in applied technology crosses the boundaries of a few of the 3-letter agencies. Additionally, and aside from the fact that DARPA is charged with seeking high-risk research solutions to emerging problems, "Yankee ingenuity" is known to be innovative and freethinking. There is probably no shortage of "game changing" technologies and solutions to homeland security problems already being explored and developed by American entrepreneurs and research labs. It might be interesting for DHS to call a meeting of technologists whose efforts are focused on homeland security solutions in which a series of brainstorming sessions might also reveal insightful directions.

June 1, 2009

Timely

2001: We're attacked by Arabic speakers; we go to war against speakers of Arabic, Pashto, Dari and Urdu.

2009: Intelligence agency surges against the aforementioned languages, with a goal of increasing number of language proficient officers by 2014.

  • AudioFebruary 2, 2010
    [Listen Here]
    What on Earth can Usama bin Laden, the mystical calculus of climate change and US Homeland Security have in common? Does bin Laden really agree with the President of the United States on matters weather? How is it that the...

Special Reports

Recent Features