Saturday, December 8, 2007

Iranian humor: Iran protests U.S. Spying

This really happened - Iran protested U.S. spying following the NIE report. At least someone over there has a sense of humor.
Iran protests US nuclear 'spying'   
Iran has sent a formal protest note to Washington for "spying" on Tehran's nuclear activities, in the wake of a US report on the alleged Iranian nuclear weapons programme.
The US report earlier this week concluded that Tehran halted the development of atomic weapons in 2003 and had not resumed it since.
Manouchehr Mottaki, Iran's foreign minister, said on Saturday that the report indicated US intelligence agencies based their findings on "satellite and espionage activities," according to Irna, the country's official news agency.
Irna said that the note was handed over to the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, which looks after US interests in Iran in the absence of diplomatic relations between Tehran and Washington.
Mottaki was quoted as saying: "The day the report was issued, the foreign ministry submitted a formal note of protest to the Swiss Embassy and demanded explanations over [US] espionage activities taking place."
Source of Israel News item

Who knew what when about NIE on Iran Nukes?

Washington Post reports on how the Iran "no nukes" surprise was discovered and when. According to them, it was an innocent discovery and an innocent disclosure, not politically motivated:
The origin of the latest intelligence can be traced to the summer of 2004, when an Iranian man turned up in Turkey with a laptop computer and the phone number of a German intelligence officer. He called the number, and within 24 hours, analysts at CIA headquarters in Langley were poring over thousands of pages of drawings and information stored on the computer indicating that Iran had been trying to retrofit its longest-range missile, the Shahab III, to carry a nuclear payload. It was designated Project 1-11 and seemed to confirm a nuclear weapons program.
The information retrieved from the laptop formed the backbone of a National Intelligence Estimate issued in 2005 that declared "with high confidence" that Iran was working to build a bomb. Armed with that, the Bush administration spent the past two years pressing European allies, Russia and China to sanction Iran if it did not give up its uranium enrichment program, despite Tehran's insistence that it was only for civilian energy.
With tension rising, Congress asked last year for a new NIE. Bush was pushing for more information as well during his deep-dive sessions. "We've got to get more information on Iran so we know what they're up to," one official paraphrased Bush saying.
As analysts scrambled to finish by April, they were reaching the conclusion that Iran was still a decade away from nuclear weapons, senior intelligence and administration officials said. For three years, the intelligence community had not obtained new information on Project 1-11, vexing administration officials who worried that a cold trail would lead to doubts about the reliability of the laptop's information. "They just wouldn't budge," complained one such official, who declined to be identified to speak candidly.
By June, analysts had an almost complete draft of a new NIE, and it provoked a sharp debate. "The less data you have, the more you argue," said a source familiar with the discussions. Some officials pressed the CIA's Iran desk to follow up on Project 1-11. CIA Director Michael V. Hayden and National Security Agency Director Keith B. Alexander responded by directing vast manpower and technology toward spying on Iranians who may have been involved in the warhead effort.
With Bush pressing for more information, the intelligence community finally came up with something new -- a series of communications intercepts, including snippets of conversations between key Iranian officials, one of them a military officer whose name appeared on the laptop. Two sources said the Iranians complained that the nuclear weapons program had been shuttered four years earlier and argued about whether it would ever be restarted.
But the Washington Post Story contradicts itself regarding when when the Israelis were informed: .
(1) Still, they understood the sensitivity of the new conclusions. At first, Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, decided to keep the new findings secret, but reluctantly reversed course in a flurry of discussions last weekend out of fear of leaks and charges of a coverup, officials said. At that point, only the Israelis had gotten a heads-up. Congress, European allies and the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency were not given full briefings about the report until hours before it was released.
(2)  On Monday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called counterparts in Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China, which have been negotiating a new set of sanctions against Iran. Foreign officials groused about how it was handled. Had they known before the summit, a senior Israeli official said, "I'm not sure we would have shown up."
There are other interesting tid-bits offered in that story.
Ami Isseroff

US Government lost a few things in Iraq

According to Washington Post:
Pentagon auditors said they could not account for millions of dollars worth of rocket-propelled grenades, armored vehicles, ammunition and other supplies and equipment that were to be used to train and equip Iraqi security forces, because of inadequate paperwork and a lack of oversight personnel.
A report released Thursday by the Defense Department's inspector general looked at $5.2 billion in the Iraq Security Forces Fund, which is part of the $44.5 billion U.S. reconstruction effort in Iraq.
It found that the command in charge, known as the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq, couldn't provide "reasonable assurance" that the money for the Iraqi security forces was used properly and that it was protected from "waste and mismanagement."
The inspector general said the command was unable to prove that it received 12,712 of the 13,508 weapons it bought because the serial numbers were not kept when they were brought to the Abu Ghraib warehouse, and when they were sent out there wasn't adequate paperwork tracking them to a contract. The 13,508 weapons were made up of 7,002 pistols, 3,230 assault rifles, 2,389 rocket-propelled grenade launchers and 887 machine guns.
The inspector general's report follows an audit this summer by the Government Accountability Office that said the Pentagon lost track of about 190,000 AK-47 assault rifles and pistols given to Iraqi security forces in 2004 and 2005. The GAO report looked at weapons in the early part of the training and equipping program.
It's been over four years. If the US hasn't gotten its act straight in Iraq by now, it probably never will.
Ami Isseroff

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Will the real NIE please stand up?

"They make the bombs, they make them not. They make the bombs, they make them not. They make the bombs, they make them not. "
Shortly after insisting with "high confidence" that Iran no longer had a nuclear weapons program in place, the US National Intelligence Service insists with equally high confidence that there was reason to believe Iran still wanted an ability to make nuclear weapons.
We are now in a situation where the NIS published an intelligence estimate, but its officials are insisting that the estimate is wrong. Can anyone be expected to believe anything they say?
Ami Isseroff  
U.S. spy official says Iran ambitions not "benign"
Thu Dec 6, 2007 7:25pm GMT
By Randall Mikkelsen
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Iran retains key nuclear capabilities despite having frozen weapons development in 2003, and its ambitions cannot be considered benign, a senior U.S. spy official told Congress on Thursday.
The deputy director of National Intelligence, Donald Kerr, told a House of Representatives Intelligence subcommittee that there was reason to believe Iran still wanted an ability to make nuclear weapons.
He was responding to a Republican lawmaker who questioned the accuracy of an official National Intelligence Estimate this week that said U.S. agencies did not know whether Iran intended to develop a nuclear weapon.
The report has forced President George W. Bush to defend his assertions that Iran represented a potential nuclear threat. It backed off a 2005 conclusion that Iran was determined to develop such a weapon and said Iran had abandoned weapon design and covert enrichment in 2003.
But Iran still had the "most important" component of a future program, a uranium-enrichment plant, Kerr told the panel. That and Iran's civil nuclear power program can provide important expertise. Iran also was working on ballistic missiles, he said.
"We did not in any way suggest that Iran was benign for the future," Kerr told the panel. "What we had to do was address the evidence we had, that at least a part of their program (was) suspended in 2003."
Kerr noted the estimate also concluded with "moderate confidence" that Iran still wants a future weapons capability.
Iran has consistently denied pursuing a nuclear weapon. But it has asserted a right to develop its own civil nuclear capability.
U.S. Rep. Todd Tiahrt, a Kansas Republican, told Kerr he was puzzled by the new intelligence estimate. "We have this sort of dichotomy, the words and actions from Iran seem to be offset by the National Intelligence Estimate," Tiahrt said.
He suggested U.S. intelligence agencies had gotten too big at their headquarters and not put enough agents in the field.
Kerr responded that the new report was one of the most comprehensive National Intelligence Estimates ever, with more than 1,000 "source notes."
He also said it had benefited from reforms and restructurings in U.S. intelligence agencies since the September 11 attacks and a flawed pre-war estimate on Iraqi weapons. The estimate's findings were subjected to rigorous challenges and tests of alternative explanations, he said.
The New York Times reported on Thursday that notes obtained last summer from deliberations of Iranian military officials involved in weapons development had played a significant role in the change of views about Iran's nuclear activities.
The newspaper report, citing senior intelligence and government officials, said the notes included bitter complaints by military officers over a decision to shut down Iran's weapon-design program.
(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Arabs and Kurds trying to stop Al-Jazeera from fomenting extremism

Something to think about...
Special Dispatch-Reform Project
December 6, 2007
No. 1778
European Arabs Launch Campaign to Stop Al-Jazeera Broadcasts in Europe

Arabs in Europe have launched a public campaign to stop Al-Jazeera TV broadcasts in Europe. In a petition, they accuse the channel of fostering extremism among European Arab youth and of supporting terrorism.
While the petition's initiators have not provided their names, it seems likely that they are Iraqi expatriates; although various Arab news websites, such as Elaph,(1) have reported on the campaign, the petition itself has been posted primarily on Iraqi websites. These sites include the Iraqi news site Sotaliraq;(2) the Iraq of Tomorrow news site;(3) the Al-Najaf News site;(4) the website of Al-Fayhaa TV, a liberal Iraqi station;(5) the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan website;(6) Bahzani, a news and opinion website focusing on the Yazidi community and other Iraqi minorities;(7) the Yezidi Community website;(8) the website of the Gilgamish Center for Kurdish Studies and Research;(9) and the Kurdistan Times e-journal.(10)
In addition, on November 28, 2007, Iraqi exile Joseph Shallal wrote an article on the Arab left-liberal Modern Discussion website urging a boycott of Al-Jazeera.
The following are excerpts from the petition and from Shallal's article:
"Since Its Inception, Al-Jazeera Has Chosen the Path of Fostering Violence and Hatred"
"Why should Al-Jazeera be blocked in liberal Europe?
"More than 10 years after the emergence of the extremist Al-Jazeera channel, the time has come for Arabs who live in Europe and believe in a free Europe to defend the principles of a continent that has sacrificed millions of victims to reach its current state of progress, respect for human rights, rejection of extremism, and rejection of the fostering of hatred.
"Since its inception, Al-Jazeera TV has chosen the path of fostering violence and hatred in the world, and has acted so as to be an arm of terrorist forces, such as Al-Qaeda and other extremist forces. [Al-Jazeera TV] has already been prevented from operating in many countries, and some of its presenters and technical crew have been arrested for their involvement in aiding obscurantist terrorist forces like Al-Qaeda and others."
"The Time Has Come for...'The Bin Laden Channel' to Face Its Day of Reckoning on the European Continent"
"The time has come for Al-Jazeera TV, whose name has become 'the bin Laden channel,' to face its day of reckoning on the European continent.
"It would be difficult, in this brief [overview], to provide examples of the calamitous influence, danger, and ignominy that Al-Jazeera TV has presented and continues to present. Every day that this channel [continues to] broadcast constitutes a clear violation of the principles of the media, and poisons the minds of the youth…"
Al-Jazeera is Exploiting Europe's Democratic Environment in Order to Wholeheartedly Oppose Freedom and Respect
"One cannot remain silent in the face of the dangerous insinuations broadcast by Al-Jazeera, that are aimed at trying to show that there is an extremist religious campaign against Muslims in Europe.
"One cannot remain silent, given the statements of European political and cultural researchers as to Al-Jazeera's dangerous influence on the Arab youth in Europe.
"One cannot remain silent in the face of [Sheikh Yousef] Al-Qaradhawi calling Christians and Westerners 'infidels' on Al-Jazeera, [and in the face of] his calls for violence.

"European governments cannot but note Al-Jazeera's record in the Middle East, and the restricting orders issued against it in countries such as Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. Perhaps these countries are not models of the kind of democracy found in Europe – but their judges and media personnel presented clear and irrefutable evidence of Al-Jazeera's involvement in actions unbefitting a media outlet.
"One cannot remain silent in the face of Al-Jazeera's continued exploitation of the European continent's democratic environment in order to practice a media policy that is wholeheartedly opposed to the freedom and respect that European principles promote.
"It is not our intention here to mention further examples of the Qatari Al-Jazeera channel's extremism. We will leave it to every free and sincere Arab individual to remember the many hours of anger he has spent viewing Al-Jazeera's destructive discourse."
"Sign Your Name With Us and Take a Stand Against Hatred and Extremism"
"Who is behind this campaign?
"This is a campaign of Arabs and Europeans aimed at implementing peaceful pressure against European governments and the European Union to stop broadcasting by the extremist Al-Jazeera satellite channel on European cable networks, as a first step towards stopping the channel from broadcasting over the European satellite [service] Hotbird…
"This is an appeal to all Arabs and Europeans, those who live in the European continent and those outside it, to add their names to the campaign.
"This is an appeal to all academics and intellectuals, to provide us with their testimony regarding the terrorist channel.
"This is an appeal to all lawyers and rights specialists, in Europe and elsewhere, to help us with their legal expertise in order to draw up a legal paper that we can present to the European parliaments and the EU.
"This is an appeal to you, as an Arab and a European, and as a consumer, to join us in pressuring the European cable networks to remove Al-Jazeera...You do not want yourself, or anyone close to you, to turn to extremism and to hatred for the countries that have given us so much love.
"Sign your name with us, and take a stand against hatred and extremism. Sign on to our campaign for 'a Europe without Al-Jazeera.'
"Sign at this address:"  
"When Will Al-Jazeera's Hatred for Iraq and the Iraqis End?"
In an article titled "When Will Al-Jazeera's Hatred for Iraq and the Iraqis End?" published November 28, 2007 by the Arab left-liberal Modern Discussion website, Joseph Shallal, an Iraqi exile living in Germany, wrote that Al-Jazeera is biased against Iraq, and urged a boycott against it. (It is not clear whether Shallal is connected to the petition initiative.)  He also argued that Qatar, which sponsors Al-Jazeera, is hypocritical, since it is home to the largest U.S. military base in the region:
"The Al-Jazeera channel was struck with hysteria after the fall of the late Saddam regime…
"The goal of Al-Jazeera, and of those who stand behind it, is to harm intra-Arab relations as well as relations between Arabs and the countries of the world, and to sow and deepen religious and [Sunni-Shi'ite] sectarianism and hatred among all elements if the Arab region.
"Most guests on its shows are from a single school and tendency...If we look at the Al-Jazeera Direct broadcasts, all we see are things harmful to the Iraqis and to Iraq – speeches, meetings, and conferences by Islamist terrorists from Al-Qaeda and from [other] terrorist organizations…
"At the same time, Al-Jazeera Direct ignores anything positive, inside or outside Iraq...While it carried a speech by wanted Iraqi terrorist Harith Al-Dari, who represents nothing in Iraq, it did not carry the ceremony of Iraqi Patriarch Emmanuel Delly's ordination as cardinal…
"What can we hope for and expect from a channel whose religious spokesman [i.e. Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi] calls day and night for jihad, killing, and terrorism, and issued a fatwa permitting the killing of Iraqis, and another fatwa permitting criminal terrorist suicide operations – so-called martyrdom operations – that violate all international laws[?]…
"The channel [i.e. Al-Jazeera] says that Iraq is occupied. The occupation of Iraq was [based on] international resolutions, and was declared openly by the American administration. What we don't know is how Qatar was occupied and became the largest U.S. base...Did it take place with the agreement of the Al-Jazeera channel and its religious spokesman, or with that of the ruler of Qatar and his group?
"The occupation of Iraq will end one day. But is the ruling family of the Qatari emirate and mini-state capable of expelling the Americans from their land?...
"For these reasons, I call for a boycott of Al-Jazeera, and of Qatar. Every noble Iraqi should refrain from participating in Al-Jazeera programs, and refrain from visiting Qatar. And we demand that European countries remove Al-Jazeera from European satellite [services], particularly Hotbird, and that the channel's employees be denied entry to European and Arab countries because there are question marks regarding some of them – as was the case with Al-Jazeera correspondent and cameraman [Sami Al-Hajj] in Afghanistan.
"We demand that Iraq break off all relations with the mini-state of Qatar, its government, and its biased media…"(11)   
(1), November 8, 2007.
(2); November 5, 2007.
(3); November 5, 2007.
(4), November 9, 2007.
(5), November 7, 2007.
(6), November 6, 2007.
(7), November 7, 2007.
(8), November 8, 2007.
(9), November 7, 2007.
(10), November 6, 2007.
(11), November 28, 2007.
Source of Israel News article at MEMRI

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Barak: Israeli intelligence contradicts US intelligence on Iranian bomb

If anyone thought there is intelligence coordination between the US and Israel, they can forget about it. But since Bush and British Foreign Secretary Miliband also, essentially, disagree with the US National Intelligence Estimate, it is not surprising that Israeli intelligence doesn't agree either.
Ami Isseroff
Barak: Iran still pursuing nuclear bomb
Defense minister says Israeli intelligence disputes new US report claiming Iran no longer pursuing development of nuclear weapon. Meanwhile US President Bush says report only strengthens American resolve to push for more sanctions: 'Iran still poses danger to world'
"And there is much that needs to be done regarding the Iranian nuclear program. We need to take action in applying sanctions, in exercising diplomacy and in other venues as well."
Israeli intelligence disputes the report's conclusion, Barak said, and still believes Tehran is still trying to develop a nuclear weapon: ''It's apparently true that in 2003 Iran stopped pursuing its military nuclear program for a time. But in our opinion, since then it has apparently continued that program."
In a new assessment made public on Monday, the US National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, a synthesis of information from American spy agencies, concluded that Iran has suspended its attempt to build a nuclear weapon. The unclassified summary marked a surprising reversal of the previous US view that Iran is aggressively pursuing a nuclear weapons program.
''There are differences in the assessments of different organizations in the world about this, and only time will tell who is right," Barak said.
Asked if the new US assessment reduced chances that the US will launch a military strike on Iran, Barak said that was ''possible.''
However, he said, ''We cannot allow ourselves to rest just because of an intelligence report from the other side of the earth, even if it is from our greatest friend.''

Bush: Military option still on the table
Meanwhile on Tuesday, US President George W. Bush said that the international community should continue to pressure Iran on its nuclear programs, saying Tehran remains dangerous despite the new report.

''I view this report as a warning signal that they had the program, they halted the program,'' Bush said. ''The reason why it's a warning signal is they could restart it."

Was the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran cooked?

Speculation about the meaning and motivations of the US National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, which now asserts that Iran has no nuclear weapons program (probably) is rife. Israeli analysts claimed that it could have been released by administration opponents in order to embarrass the Bush administration. The Stratfor analysis below suggests that it was engineered by the administration in order to allow it to back away from an aggressive policy regarding Iran, and to reach a compromise with Iran over its involvement in Iraq.

Ami Isseroff

The NIE Report: Solving a Geopolitical Problem with Iran

By George Friedman - Stratfor - Strategic Forecasting, Inc.


The United States released a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Dec. 3. It said, "We judge with high confidence that in the fall of 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program." It went on to say, "Tehran's decision to halt its nuclear weapons program suggests it is less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005." It further said, "Our assessment that Iran halted the program in 2003 primarily in response to international pressure indicates Tehran's decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic and military costs."

With this announcement, the dynamics of the Middle Eastern region, Iraq and U.S.-Iranian relations shift dramatically. For one thing, the probability of a unilateral strike against Iranian nuclear targets is gone. Since there is no Iranian nuclear weapons program, there is no rationale for a strike. Moreover, if Iran is not engaged in weapons production, then a broader air campaign designed to destabilize the Iranian regime has no foundation either.

The NIE release represents a transformation of U.S. policy toward Iran. The Bush administration made Iran's nuclear weapons program the main reason for its attempt to create an international coalition against Iran, on the premise that a nuclear-armed Iran was unacceptable. If there is no Iranian nuclear program, then what is the rationale for the coalition? Moreover, what is the logic of resisting Iran's efforts in Iraq, rather than cooperating?

In looking at the report, a number of obvious questions come up. First, how did the intelligence community reach the wrong conclusion in the spring of 2005, when it last released an NIE on Iran, and what changed by 2007? Also, why did the United States reach the wrong conclusions on Iran three years after its program was halted? There are two possible answers. One is intelligence failure and the other is political redefinition. Both must be explored.

Let's begin with intelligence failure. Intelligence is not an easy task. Knowing what is going on inside of a building is harder than it might seem. Regardless of all the technical capabilities -- from imagery in all spectra to sensing radiation leakage at a distance -- huge uncertainties always remain. Failing to get a positive reading does not mean the facility is not up and running. It might just have been obscured, or the technical means to discover it are insufficient. The default setting in technical intelligence is that, while things can be ruled in, they cannot simply be ruled out by lack of evidence.

You need to go into the building. Indeed, you need to go into many buildings, look around, see what is happening and report back. Getting into highly secure buildings may be easy in the movies. It is not easy in real life. Getting someone into the building who knows what he is seeing is even harder. Getting him out alive to report back, and then repeating the process in other buildings, is even harder. It can be done -- though not easily or repeatedly.

Recruiting someone who works in the building is an option, but at the end of the day you have to rely on his word as to what he saw. That too, is a risk. He might well be a double agent who is inventing information to make money, or he could just be wrong. There is an endless number of ways that recruiting on-site sources can lead you to the wrong conclusion.

Source-based intelligence would appear to be the only way to go. Obviously, it is better to glean information from someone who knows what is going on, rather than to guess. But the problem with source-based intelligence is that, when all is said and done, you can still be just as confused -- or more confused -- than you were at the beginning. You could wind up with a mass of intelligence that can be read either way. It is altogether possible to have so many sources, human and technical, that you have no idea what the truth is. That is when an intelligence organization is most subject to political pressure. When the intelligence could go either way, politics can tilt the system. We do not know what caused the NIE to change its analysis. It could be the result of new, definitive intelligence, or existing intelligence could have been reread from a new political standpoint.

Consider the politics. The assumption was that Iran wanted to develop nuclear weapons -- though its motivations for wanting to do so were never clear to us. First, the Iranians had to assume that, well before they had an operational system, the United States or Israel would destroy it. In other words, it would be a huge effort for little profit. Second, assume that it developed one or two weapons and attacked Israel, for example. Israel might well have been destroyed, but Iran would probably be devastated by an Israeli or U.S. counterstrike. What would be the point?

For Iran to be developing nuclear weapons, it would have to have been prepared to take extraordinary risks. A madman theory, centered around the behavior of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was essential. But as the NIE points out, Iran was "guided by a cost-benefit approach." In simple terms, the Iranians weren't nuts. That is why they didn't build a nuclear program.

That is not to say Iran did not benefit from having the world believe it was building nuclear weapons. The United States is obsessed with nuclear weapons in the hands of states it regards as irrational. By appearing to be irrational and developing nuclear weapons, the Iranians created a valuable asset to use in negotiating with the Americans. The notion of a nuclear weapon in Iranian hands appeared so threatening that the United States might well negotiate away other things -- particularly in Iraq -- in exchange for a halt of the program. Or so the Iranians hoped. Therefore, while they halted development on their weapons program, they were not eager to let the Americans relax. They swung back and forth between asserting their right to operate the program and denying they had one. Moreover, they pushed hard for a civilian power program, which theoretically worried the world less. It drove the Americans up a wall -- precisely where the Iranians wanted them.

As we have argued, the central issue for Iran is not nuclear weapons. It is the future of Iraq. The Iran-Iraq war of 1980-1988 was the defining moment in modern Iranian history. It not only devastated Iran, but also weakened the revolution internally. Above all, Tehran never wants to face another Iraqi regime that has the means and motivation to wage war against Iran. That means the Iranians cannot tolerate a Sunni-dominated government that is heavily armed and backed by the United States. Nor, for that matter, does Tehran completely trust Iraq's fractured Shiite bloc with Iran's national security. Iran wants to play a critical role in defining the nature, policies and capabilities of the Iraqi regime.

The recent U.S. successes in Iraq, however limited and transitory they might be, may have caused the Iranians to rethink their view on dealing with the Americans on Iraq. The Americans, regardless of progress, cannot easily suppress all of the Shiite militias. The Iranians cannot impose a regime on Iraq, though they can destabilize the process. A successful outcome requires a degree of cooperation -- and recent indications suggest that Iran is prepared to provide that cooperation.

That puts the United States in an incredibly difficult position. On the one hand, it needs Iran for the endgame in Iraq. On the other, negotiating with Iran while it is developing nuclear weapons runs counter to fundamental U.S. policies and the coalition it was trying to construct. As long as Iran was building nuclear weapons, working with Iran on Iraq was impossible.

The NIE solves a geopolitical problem for the United States. Washington cannot impose a unilateral settlement on Iraq, nor can it sustain forever the level of military commitment it has made to Iraq. There are other fires starting to burn around the world. At the same time, Washington cannot work with Tehran while it is building nuclear weapons. Hence, the NIE: While Iran does have a nuclear power program, it is not building nuclear weapons.

Perhaps there was a spectacular and definitive intelligence breakthrough that demonstrated categorically that the prior assessments were wrong. Proving a negative is tough, and getting a definitive piece of intelligence is hard. Certainly, no matter how definitive the latest intelligence might have been, a lot of people want Iran to be building a nuclear weapon, so the debate over the meaning of this intelligence would have roared throughout the intelligence community and the White House. Keeping such debate this quiet and orderly is not Washington's style.

Perhaps the Iranians are ready to deal, and so decided to open up their facility for the Americans to see. Still, regardless of what the Iranians opened up, some would have argued that the United States was given a tour only of what the Iranians wanted them to see. There is a mention in the report that any Iranian program would be covert rather than overt, and that might reflect such concerns. However, all serious nuclear programs are always covert until they succeed. Nothing is more vulnerable than an incomplete nuclear program.

We are struck by the suddenness of the NIE report. Explosive new intelligence would have been more hotly contested. We suspect two things. First, the intelligence on the Iranian nuclear program consisted of a great number of pieces, many of which were inherently ambiguous and could be interpreted in multiple ways. Second, the weight of evidence for there being an Iranian nuclear program was shaded by the political proclivities of the administration, which saw the threat of a U.S. strike as intimidating Iran, and the weapons program discussion as justifying it. Third, the change in political requirements on both sides made a new assessment useful. This last has certainly been the case in all things Middle Eastern these past few days on issues ranging from the Palestinians to Syria to U.S. forces in Iraq -- so why should this issue be any different?

If this thesis is correct, then we should start seeing some movement on Iraq between the United States and Iran. Certainly the major blocker from the U.S. side has been removed and the success of U.S. policies of late should motivate the Iranians. In any case, the entire framework for U.S.-Iranian relations would appear to have shifted, and with it the structure of geopolitical relations throughout the region.

Intelligence is rarely as important as when it is proven wrong.


Iran nuclear intelligence mess

The USA National Intelligence Estimate on Iran is truly a masterpiece of doubletalk. About 70% of it is devoted to explaining what the US intelligence service is and explaining the difference between "high probability" and "very likely" and other such terms.
There are two "bottom lines" to the document, only one of which is given below.
1- The US estimates that Iran probably could not build a nuclear weapon for another 5 to 10 years, as outlined below.
2- The US believes that though Iran was pursuing a nuclear weapons program until 2003, it stopped doing so at the time and has never resumed the program. This is the important news, which is not really discussed below.
What it might or might not mean is anyone's guess. The document itself is essentially bumph, but it is based on thousands of bits of intelligence intercepts, including a conversation in which an Iranian officer complains that work as stopped on the nuclear program.
The intelligence estimate, like all such estimates, is characterized by totally opaque prose. For example:

Judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program. Judge with high confidence that the halt lasted at least several years. (DOE and the NIC have moderate confidence that the halt to those activities represents a halt to Iran's entire nuclear weapons program.)

What could be the difference between "halted its nuclear weapons program" and halt to Iran's entire nuclear weapons program??" Is the halt ongoing or not? Maybe:
Judge with high confidence that the halt lasted at least several years.
And what if the intelligence intercepts were plants?
Why then, was the document released now, of all times, when the US is trying to corral support for sanctions against Iran? Is it because the CIA disagrees with the administration and wants to embarrass it? Is that a way to run a government?
Ami Isseroff
Last update - 16:32 04/12/2007    
 ANALYSIS: Iran laughing at U.S. lack of nuclear intelligence 
By Amir Oren, Haaretz Correspondent 

The noise that was heard last night in Tehran, according to credible reports, was a hearty Persian laugh after looking at the U.S. intelligence service's website. The unclassified document that Director of National Intelligence, Adm. Mike McConnell published, titled "Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities," as a laundered version that faithfully represents the greatest secrets collected by the CIA and the other U.S. intelligence services, can appropriately be called "much evaluation on no intelligence."
The document's eight pages, which include embarrassing instructions on how to differentiate between different yet related terms ("it is possible," "it may be so," "one must not remove from the equation," and "it's reasonable to assume"), enable the Ayatollas' nuclear and operations officials and the heads of the Revolutionary Guards to reach this soothing conclusion - from their point of view: The Americans have no understanding of what is really happening in Iran's nuclear program. They have no solid information, they have no high-level agents and they have nothing more than a mix of guesswork and chatter. The dissemblance and concealment have succeeded, and the real dispute is not between Washington and Tehran, but within the U.S. administration itself.
Only five weeks ago, McConnell announced that as a rule, he doesn?t believe in the release of such documents. He regretted the publication of the principles of the intelligence evaluation on Iraq.
McConnel kept quiet on Monday. Donald Kerr, his deputy, was enlisted to explain why the Iran assessment followed in Iraq's footsteps. The essence of his explanation: The worst-case evaluation which has been repeatedly published since 2005 has changed, and it is important to clarify its "proper presentation." He means to say that if the politicians, President George W. Bush and Deputy President Richard Cheney, insist on leading their country into a war with Iran, this is their democratic right - on the assumption they receive Congressional support - but they shouldn't delude themselves that they can do this on the back of the CIA's investigative officers. Iraq won't repeat itself.
On one level, this is a philosophical debate: How should the lack of "indicative signs" be interpreted, in the face of a devious enemy, a certified cheat who is determined in his pursuit of the goal (also according to the intelligence assessors). The suspicious Bush and Cheney believe the absence of evidence is in fact evidence of the existence of an additional, hidden channel of nuclear development. Their intelligence services say that without proof there is no place for such an evaluation.
Responsibility is different for each rank. Intelligence is responsible for making assessments on facts collected, and the diplomats are responsible for preventing a failure at the two extremes: Not in making an over-estimation such as with Iraq (a result of former President Saddam Hussein's deception) and not in making an under-assessment such as with Al-Qaida before September 11, 2001. It is possible to say, using an Israeli parallel, like July 11, 2006, when the Israel Defense Forces Military Intelligence did not know - or did not understand what it had heard - that Hezbollah would execute a kidnapping operation on the following day.
On a second level, the debate is a professional one: How does one evaluate developments in the nuclear field, when there are no actual objects which can be felt (missiles or bombs, for example), and before tests have been conducted. It is possible to weigh from a distance the kilograms of uranium which have been made in centrifuges, and to count how much of them have been hidden or enriched; but the great mystery is the degree of success achieved by the "weapons group," the teams of experts attempting to make the material explosive.
Behind the heap of words, presented as "a low or medium level of certainty," the differences between the worst-case and the best-case views on when Iran will be capable of producing a nuclear weapon are not that great. These range from somewhere between 2009 and the following five years, starting in 2010. Even McConnell's intelligence officers agree that Iran can buy nukes off the shelf - from Syria, North Korea and maybe Pakistan - and that the renewal of the program, if it is indeed on a coffee break, depends only on the intentions of the rulers, and those intentions will change only when the rulers are replaced.
The CIA is so angry with Bush, it seems, that it is ready to go to great lengths in order to help another president. Not Ahmadinejad, God forbid, but the next president in Washington. The result is likely to be the opposite: Higher Iranian militancy along with Bush and Cheney's determination to act - regardless of what the intelligence agencies say.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Intel assessment: Iran Halted Nuke Program In '03

This story claims that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003. However, as it provides no evidence that there was a program, and no evidence regarding the end of that program, there is no way to judge the report.
Is it just political spin?
U.S.: Iran Halted Nuke Program In '03
WASHINGTON, Dec. 3, 2007

(AP) Iran halted its nuclear weapons development program in the fall of 2003 under international pressure but is continuing to enrich uranium, which means it may still be able to develop a weapon between 2010 and 2015, senior intelligence officials said Monday.
That finding is a change from two years ago, when U.S. intelligence agencies believed Iran was determined to develop a nuclear capability and was continuing its weapons development program. It suggests that Iran is susceptible to diplomatic pressure, the official said.
"Tehran's decision to halt its nuclear weapons program suggests it is less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005," states the unclassified summary of the secret report, released Monday.
Officials said the new findings suggest that diplomacy was effective in containing Iran's nuclear ambitions.
"This is good news in that the U.S. policy coupled with the policies and actions of those who have been our partners appear to have had some success. Iran seems to have been pressured," one of the officials said. "Given that good news we don't want to relax. We want to keep those pressures up."

Syrian opposition elects new leaders

 Reform Party of Syria
  Freedom - Democracy - Peace News
Damascus Declaration Elects New Leadership
Washington DC - December 4, 2007/RPS News/ -- In spite of excessive oppressive measures by the Syrian authorities, one hundred and sixty-eight members of the Syrian opposition united under the Damascus Declaration met on Sunday to choose a woman named Fida'a al-Hourani, oldest daughter to the now deceased political leader Akram al-Hourani, as president of the newly formed National Council (NC). Of the 168 Damascus Declaration representatives present, 17 were chosen in what was dubbed as the Leadership Council of which five were chosen to handle the day-to-day operations of the NC.
The five members chosen are: Fidaa al-Hourani, President and spokesman, Akram al-Bouni, brother to prisoner of conscience Anwar al-Bouni, Abdul-Hamid Darwich, Secretary General of the Kurdish Democratic Progressive Party, Riad al-Seif, ex-parliamentarian, and Riad al-Turk, labeled as the Mandella of the Syrian opposition. The biggest losers were Hassan Abdul Azim, a Syrian whose close relationships with the Syrian intelligence has been a cause of concern to the Damascus Declaration representatives, and his two deputes Raja Nasser and Abdul Hamid Manjouneh both closely associated with the pan-Arabist and the Nasserite movements inside Syria. 
These new elections by the National Council for the Damascus Declaration (NCDD) is infusing some new blood and setting a new direction, which is closely connected with liberalism and moderate Muslims. The fact that a woman was chosen as President was well received within the Syrian opposition circles because it sends a very clear signal that the policies of the Muslim Brotherhood are not acceptable to a Syria whose secularism within the rank-and-file of the opposition is much more prevalent than some political analysts give the Syrians credit for.
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Sunday, December 2, 2007

Syria and Iran: Did this make Annapolis worthwhile?

  Last update - 13:15 02/12/2007    
 Report: Syrian envoy to visit Iran, explain attendance at Annapolis  By DPA
Syria will dispatch its deputy foreign minister to Iran on Sunday, in an attempt to explain its participation in last week's U.S.-sponsored Middle East peace conference, the Iranian news network Khabar reported.
Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faysal Mekdad, who was also Syria's envoy to the Annapolis, Maryland summit, is expected to deliver a special message from Syrian President Bashar Assad to his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the report said.
Ahmadinejad and his government were angry with several Arab states, including Saudi Arabia and Syria, for having ignored Tehran's call to boycott the Annapolis conference, which the Iranian president had branded as a "venue of another Zionist plot against Palestine."
Tehran denounced the conference as "unimportant and just US propaganda for Zionists" and called its joint declaration a "piece of useless torn paper."
Syria, which agreed to attend the conference only after receiving assurances that the issue of the Golan Heights was added to the agenda, left Annapolis without a specific promise to restart stalled talks with Israel.