Sunday, December 23, 2007

Time ludicrously chose to make Russia's ex-KGB agent-turned president Vladimir Putin its cover boy. They just couldn't make [General David] Petraeus man--oops--person of the year. Our liberal elites are so invested in a narrative of defeat and disaster in Iraq that to acknowledge the prospect of victory would be too head-wrenching and heart-rending. It would mean giving credit to George W. Bush, for one. And it would mean acknowledging American success in a war Time, and the Democratic party, and the liberal elites, had proclaimed lost.

The editors couldn't acknowledge their mugging by reality. That's fine. Nonetheless, reality exists. And the reality is that in Iraq, after mistakes and failures, thanks to the leadership of Bush, Petraeus, and General Ray Odierno--the day-to-day commander whose contributions shouldn't be overlooked--we are winning.

The reality is also this: The counterinsurgency campaign that Petraeus and Odierno conceived and executed in 2007 was as comprehensive a counterinsurgency strategy as has ever been executed. The heart of the strategy was a brilliant series of coordinated military operations throughout the entire theater. Petraeus and Odierno used conventional U.S. forces, Iraqi military and police, and Iraqi and U.S. Special Operations forces to strike enemy strongholds throughout Iraq simultaneously, while also working to protect the local populations from enemy responses. Successive operations across the theater knocked the enemy--both al Qaeda and Sunni militias, and Shia extremists--off balance and then prevented them from recovering. U.S. and Iraqi forces, supported by local citizens, chased the enemy from area to area, never allowing them the breathing space to reestablish safe havens, much less new bases. It wasn't "whack-a-mole" or "squeezing the water balloon" as some feared (and initially claimed)--it was the relentless pursuit of an increasingly defeated enemy.

That defeat has implications far beyond Iraq. In 2007, Iraq's Sunni Arabs fought with us against al Qaeda, and Iraq's Shia Arabs joined with us to fight Iranian-backed Shia militias. So much for the notion that Americans were doomed to fail in their efforts to mobilize moderate Muslims against jihadists. The progress in Iraq in 2007 represents a strategic breakthrough for the broader Middle East whose importance would be hard to overstate.

One additional point: Petraeus's counterinsurgency stands out not just for its conceptual ambition and the skill of its execution but for its humanity. There were those who argued that the U.S. military could not succeed in counterinsurgency because Americans were not tough and bloodthirsty enough. They said that brutality was essential in subduing insurgents and our humanity would be our downfall.

They were wrong. The counterinsurgency campaign of 2007 was probably the most precise, discriminate, and humane military operation ever undertaken on such a scale. Our soldiers and Marines worked hard--and took risks and even casualties--to ensure, as much as possible, that they hurt only enemies. Compared with any previous military operations of this size, they were astonishingly successful. The measure of their success lies in the fact that so many Iraqis now see American troops as friends and protectors. Petraeus and his generals have shown that Americans can fight insurgencies and win--and still be Americans. For that and so much else, he is the man of the year.

-- Bill Kristol

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Robert Kaplan wrote a recent essay arguing that American society has forgotten how to field an effective military because that society "believes little is worth fighting for..."

One of the conclusions of his essay regards The Powell Doctrine, which was reborne from hardships in the course of the Iraq war.

The Powell Doctrine, in which then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Colin Powell advised that the United States should not get involved in a war without overwhelming force, a near-certainty of victory and a clear exit strategy, seems overly self-constraining to many. But if one views the Powell Doctrine as a way to avoid middle-sized wars (or little wars that through miscalculation can become middle-sized ones), it makes very good sense for the needs of a non-warrior democracy like ours. Powell understood that in these wars the lack of a broad-based warrior mentality is clearly a disadvantage.

The problem, though, is that it often isn’t clear what will become a middle-sized war and what won’t. The Powell Doctrine was used by many a realist as an argument not to get involved in Bosnia in the 1990s. But we inserted troops anyway, and it did not turn out to be a messy, bloody “in-between” war. The gradual stabilization of the former Yugoslavia and the expansion of NATO to the Black Sea suggest that the Balkan interventions of 1995 and 1999 were in the nation’s interest. On the other hand, few if any of those who supported the March 2003 invasion of Iraq expected it to become a middle-sized war that would go on for years. Simply never to get involved anywhere, except in the smallest deployments, or in bigger ones without the absolute certainty of a clean victory, invites defeat by an abdication from the responsibility that comes with power. Alas, the Powell Doctrine is wise for some important purposes, but unavailing for others.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

One reads this and reasonably concludes that former CIA interrogator John Kiriakou is right on all four counts: (1) Waterboarding could be constituted as torture. (2) Waterboarding seems contrary to American ideals. (3) Waterboarding works. And (4) Waterboarding has saved the lives of American citizens and soldiers.

Waterboarding Recounted
Ex-CIA Officer Says It 'Probably Saved Lives' but Is Torture

By Joby Warrick and Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, December 11, 2007; A01

A former CIA officer who participated in the capture and questioning of the first al-Qaeda terrorist suspect to be waterboarded said yesterday that the harsh technique provided an intelligence breakthrough that "probably saved lives," but that he now regards the tactic as torture.

Zayn Abidin Muhammed Hussein abu Zubaida, the first high-ranking al-Qaeda member captured after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, broke in less than a minute after he was subjected to the technique and began providing interrogators with information that led to the disruption of several planned attacks, said John Kiriakou, who served as a CIA interrogator in Pakistan.

Abu Zubaida was one of two detainees whose interrogation was captured in video recordings that the CIA later destroyed. The recent disclosure of the tapes' destruction ignited a recent furor on Capitol Hill and allegations that the agency tried to hide evidence of illegal torture.

"It was like flipping a switch," said Kiriakou, the first former CIA employee directly involved in the questioning of "high-value" al-Qaeda detainees to speak publicly.

In an interview, Kiriakou said he did not witness Abu Zubaida's waterboarding but was part of the interrogation team that questioned him in a hospital in Pakistan for weeks after his capture in that country in the spring of 2002.

He described Abu Zubaida as ideologically zealous, defiant and uncooperative -- until the day in mid-summer when his captors strapped him to a board, wrapped his nose and mouth in cellophane and forced water into his throat in a technique that simulates drowning.

The waterboarding lasted about 35 seconds before Abu Zubaida broke down, according to Kiriakou, who said he was given a detailed description of the incident by fellow team members. The next day, Abu Zubaida told his captors he would tell them whatever they wanted, Kiriakou said.

"He said that Allah had come to him in his cell and told him to cooperate, because it would make things easier for his brothers," Kiriakou said.

... Kiriakou, whose account first appeared in a story on ABC News's Web site, said he decided to go public to correct what he says are misperceptions about the role played by CIA employees in the early months of the government's anti-terrorism efforts.

"It's easy to point to intelligence failures and perceived intelligence failures, but the public has to understand how hard people are working to make them safe," he said.

Kiriakou said he first spoke to Abu Zubaida in a Pakistani military hospital. Abu Zubaida was recovering from wounds he suffered in the gun battle that led to his capture.

After he came out of a coma, Abu Zubaida was initially talkative, holding long conversations with Kiriakou from his hospital bed. The two discussed personal matters that ranged from religion to Abu Zubaida's private regret about having never married or fathered children.

Kiriakou said he repeatedly counseled Abu Zubaida to provide details about al-Qaeda's infrastructure, leadership and plans. Abu Zubaida refused and eventually became more defiant.

He was later flown to a secret CIA prison, where he was subjected to harsher methods, including waterboarding, Kiriakou said. Kiriakou said he made a final appeal to Abu Zubaida shortly before the waterboarding began.

"You have one more opportunity to cooperate. My guys are telling me that you're being a jerk," Kiriakou recalled telling Abu Zubaida. His reply, according to Kiriakou: "They're being jerks, too."

Kiriakou said he now has mixed feelings about the use of waterboarding. He said that he thinks the technique provided a crucial break to the CIA and probably helped prevent attacks, but that he is now convinced that waterboarding is torture, and "Americans are better than that."

"Maybe that's inconsistent, but that's how I feel," he said. "It was an ugly little episode that was perhaps necessary at that time. But we've moved beyond that."

I'm sorry, but I have a hard time buying the whole "we've moved beyond that [waterboarding]."

If Mr. Kiriakou is saying we've since developed just as effective but less painful means of interrogation than so be it, and he should say so. But to just dismiss something that broke Zubaida in just 35 seconds after countless fruitless attempts previous to that using less coercive interrogation seems to be a very illogical and, excuse the pun, "tortured" argument to me.

How can Mr. Kiriakou plea that the "public has to understand how hard people are working to make them safe," and in the next breath argue that we shouldn't do something which he, Mr. Kiriakou, admits makes that very public safe? Simply to soothe his sense of morality? I'm sorry, but one has to make a stronger argument than that.

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In other words, Iran didn't abandon its nuclear weapons program. On the contrary, it went public with it. It's certainly plausible Tehran may have suspended one aspect of the program--the aspect that is the least technically challenging and that, if exposed, would offer smoking-gun proof of ill intent. Then again, why does the NIE have next to nothing to say about Iran's efforts to produce plutonium at the Arak facility, which is of the same weapons-producing type as Israel's Dimona and North Korea's Yongbyon reactors? And why the silence on Iran's ongoing and acknowledged testing of ballistic missiles of ever-longer range, the development of which only makes sense as a vehicle to deliver a weapon of mass destruction?
-- Bret Stephens, WSJ.

Read the rest.

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All too typical. And hypocritical. Were this discovery made of Republicans you can have no doubt it'd be all the rage in the mainstream media.

[Weekly Standard] Speaker Pelosi, did you really think you'd get away with this one?

The Washington Post reported yesterday:

In September 2002, four members of Congress met in secret for a first look at a unique CIA program designed to wring vital information from reticent terrorism suspects in U.S. custody. For more than an hour, the bipartisan group, which included current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), was given a virtual tour of the CIA's overseas detention sites and the harsh techniques interrogators had devised to try to make their prisoners talk.

Among the techniques described, said two officials present, was waterboarding, a practice that years later would be condemned as torture by Democrats and some Republicans on Capitol Hill. But on that day, no objections were raised. Instead, at least two lawmakers in the room asked the CIA to push harder, two U.S. officials said...

With one known exception, no formal objections were raised by the lawmakers briefed about the harsh methods during the two years in which waterboarding was employed, from 2002 to 2003, said Democrats and Republicans with direct knowledge of the matter.

The Democrats have made fools of themselves--once again. Bloggers are having a field day, and agree that this is yet more evidence that the Democrats are only concerned about their image with their left-wing base.

Bryan Preston expresses his rage at HotAir: "This story exposes the fact that the Democrats have been playing games on waterboarding for years now, publicly decrying it while privately raising no useful objection to it."

Captain Ed adds, "Only well after the practice had been abandoned did Congress raise objections to its use, and then never acknowledging their own acquiescence to it earlier. That lack of honesty allowed them to paint themselves as shocked, shocked! that waterboarding had been used as an interrogation technique."

And from Instapundit: "Lots of people who were talking tough back then subsequently changed their tunes -- out of either a sudden flowering of scruples or an unprincipled desire to go after the Bush Administration with any weapon that came to hand."

Democrats are claiming that the world was different immediately after 9/11, so techniques used then may not be necessary now--yet they continue to wonder why. The answer is obvious to the conservative bloggers.

More from Preston: "Has the actual threat of large-scale terrorism receded enough so that we can all go back to a 9-10 slumber and wash our collective hands of the tactics that we approved of in the clarifying months to years immediately after 9-11? I don't think so, though the threat has been blunted by, you guessed it, tough action in Afghanistan and Iraq."

Paul Mirengoff concludes, "We haven't been attacked in more than six years, quite possibly because of the information we obtained through waterboarding and other aggressive techniques. Thus, the partisan instinct, coupled with the joy of posturing, prevails."

And California Conservative raises a question that must be asked before November 2008:

"The first instincts after 9/11 was to do whatever it took to 'protect the American people.' It wasn't until groups like CAIR and the ACLU took exception that Democrats objected. What does that tell you about Democrats' ability to prevent terrorist attacks?"
We have to wonder.

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I'm just about NIE'd out, but over at Investor's Business Daily, Tom Joscelyn has a reiteration of his previous post questioning the validity and partisanship of the latest NIE.

It's also good to see that Republicans in Congress are going to take action beyond simple criticism that opponents could easily spin as sour grapes: Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) is going to promote a bipartisan panel to study the differences between the 2005 and 2007 NIEs, and how the conclusions could be so different from one another. He's reportedly going to base the panel on history -- the 1995 intelligence communities 15-year estimate on emerging missile threats. That 1995 study was similarly and fiercely debated in government circles.

Presidential candidate Fred Thompson justifiably argues that "It's awfully convenient for a lot of people:the administration gets to say its policies worked; the Democrats get to claim we should have eased up on Iran a long time ago: and Russia and China can claim sanctions on Iran are not necessary. Who benefits from all this? Iran." Indeed. That same NIE, supposedly absolving Iran, had fine print stating Iran "may still be able to develop a weapon between 2010 and 2015."

In other words, this is all academic, and we don't know any more about Iran today than two years ago. Or since 1979 for that matter.

The Wall Street Journal opines that the intelligence fiasco on Iran simply underscores how out of control the intel community has become under the Bush administration. "Mr. Bush has too often failed to settle internal disputes and enforce the results," says the Journal:

What's amazing in this case is how the White House has allowed intelligence analysts to drive policy. The very first sentence of this week's national intelligence estimate (NIE) is written in a way that damages U.S. diplomacy: "We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program." Only in a footnote below does the NIE say that this definition of "nuclear weapons program" does "not mean Iran's declared civil work related to uranium conversion and enrichment."

In fact, the main reason to be concerned about Iran is that we can't trust this distinction between civilian and military. That distinction is real in a country like Japan. But we know Iran lied about its secret military efforts until it was discovered in 2003, and Iran continues to enrich uranium on an industrial scale, with 3,000 centrifuges, in defiance of binding U.N. resolutions. There is no civilian purpose for such enrichment. Iran has access to all the fuel it needs for civilian nuclear power from Russia at the plant in Bushehr. The NIE buries the potential danger from this enrichment, even though this enrichment has been the main focus of U.S. diplomacy against Iran.

In this regard, it's hilarious to see the left and some in the media accuse Mr. Bush once again of distorting intelligence. The truth is the opposite. The White House was presented with this new estimate only weeks ago, and no doubt concluded it had little choice but to accept and release it however much its policy makers disagreed. Had it done otherwise, the finding would have been leaked and the Administration would have been assailed for "politicizing" intelligence.

The result is that we now have NIE judgments substituting for policy in a dangerous way. For one thing, these judgments are never certain, and policy in a dangerous world has to account for those uncertainties. We know from our own sources that not everyone in American intelligence agrees with this NIE "consensus," and the Israelis have already made clear they don't either. The Jerusalem Post reported this week that Israeli defense officials are exercised enough that they will present their Iran evidence to Admiral Michael Mullen, the Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, when he visits that country tomorrow.

For that matter, not even the diplomats at the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency agree with the NIE. "To be frank, we are more skeptical," a senior official close to the agency told the New York Times this week. "We don't buy the American analysis 100 percent. We are not that generous with Iran." Senator John Ensign, a Nevada Republican, is also skeptical enough that he wants Congress to establish a bipartisan panel to explore the NIE's evidence. We hope he keeps at it.

All the more so because the NIE heard 'round the world is already harming U.S.
policy. The Chinese are backing away from whatever support they might have provided for tougher sanctions against Iran, while Russia has used the NIE as another reason to oppose them. Most delighted are the Iranians, who called the NIE a "victory" and reasserted their intention to proceed full-speed ahead with uranium enrichment. Behind the scenes, we can expect Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to expand their nuclear efforts as they conclude that the U.S. will now be unable to stop Iran from getting the bomb.

We reported earlier this week that the authors of this Iran NIE include former State Department officials who have a history of hostility to Mr. Bush's foreign policy. But the ultimate responsibility for this fiasco lies with Mr. Bush. Too often he has appointed, or tolerated, officials who oppose his agenda, and failed to discipline them even when they have worked against his policies. Instead of being candid this week about the problems with the NIE, Mr. Bush and his National Security Adviser, Stephen Hadley, tried to spin it as a victory for their policy. They simply weren't believable.

It's a sign of the Bush Administration's flagging authority that even many of its natural allies wondered this week if the NIE was really an attempt to back down from its own Iran policy. We only wish it were that competent.

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

Following up from his previous enlightening post Tom Joscelyn does a little digging on the authors of the NIE, who had very different views just a few months ago.

As many recognize, the latest NIE on Iran’s nuclear weapons program directly contradicts what the U.S. Intelligence Community was saying just two years previously. And it appears that this about-face was very recent. How recent?

Consider that on July 11, 2007, roughly four or so months prior to the most recent NIE’s publication, Deputy Director of Analysis Thomas Fingar gave the following testimony before the House Armed Services Committee (emphasis added):

Iran and North Korea are the states of most concern to us. The United States’ concerns about Iran are shared by many nations, including many of Iran’s neighbors. Iran is continuing to pursue uranium enrichment and has shown more interest in protracting negotiations and working to delay and diminish the impact of UNSC sanctions than in reaching an acceptable diplomatic solution. We assess that Tehran is determined to develop nuclear weapons--despite its international obligations and international pressure. This is a grave concern to the other countries in the region whose security would be threatened should Iran acquire nuclear weapons.
This paragraph appeared under the subheading: "Iran Assessed As Determined to Develop Nuclear Weapons." And the entirety of Fingar’s 22-page testimony was labeled "Information as of July 11, 2007." No part of it is consistent with the latest NIE, in which our spooks tell us Iran suspended its covert nuclear weapons program in 2003 "primarily in response to international pressure" and they "do not know whether (Iran) currently intends to develop nuclear weapons."

The inconsistencies are more troubling when we realize that, according to the Wall Street Journal, Thomas Fingar is one of the three officials who were responsible for crafting the latest NIE. The Journal cites "an intelligence source" as describing Fingar and his two colleagues as "hyper-partisan anti-Bush officials." (The New York Sun drew attention to one of Fingar’s colleagues yesterday.)

So, if it is true that Dr. Fingar played a leading role in crafting this latest NIE, then we are left with serious questions:

Why did your opinion change so drastically in just four months time?
Is the new intelligence or analysis really that good? Is it good enough to overturn your previous assessments? Or, has it never really been good enough to make a definitive assessment at all?

Did your political or ideological leanings, or your policy preferences, or those of your colleagues, influence your opinion in any way?

Many in the mainstream press have been willing to cite this latest NIE unquestioningly. Perhaps they should start asking some pointed questions. (Don’t hold your breath.)

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Pat Dollard expands on the authors of the NIE... here's a hint, it's not so much a compilation of 16 intelligence agencies as it is a summary of that by three guys who don't like Bush.

Ever heard of dirty political tricks?

So can someone please explain something to me? The NIE’s three main authors, I’ll call them Larry, Moe, and Curly…are all former State Department officials with previous reputations as hyper-partisan anti-Bush officials. They are Tom Fingar, formerly of the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research; Vann Van Diepen, the National Intelligence Officer for WMD; and Kenneth Brill, the former U.S. Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Larry: Kenneth Brill served as the US Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (the IAEA). This is an agency that has actually helped Iran pursue nuclear weapons. The head of the IAEA, Mohammed ElBaradei, has been called a friend by the Iranian Theocracy. Brill was either incompetent or unwilling to put an end to Elbaradei’s efforts to help Iran. Brill was let go from the State Department being replaced by Colin Powell before being rehired, despite lots of protest, public and private, as head of the National Counter-Proliferation Center by John Negroponte.

Moe: Fingar is more Libertarian than anything else and was key in leading the dissent against the Iraq WMD case. He was a State Department employee who was an expert on China and Germany — he has no notable experience, according to his bio in the Middle East and its geopolitics.

Curly: Vann Van Diepen has spent the last five years trying to get America to accept Iran’s right to enrich uranium. He also shares a lack of experience in dealing with Iran or the region.

These three stooges, with chips on their shoulders and axes to grind with the Bush administration stink of political bullshit.

And can someone please explain to me why it is that Thomas Fingar, one of the Three Stooges, testified before the House Armed Services Committee just 4 months ago saying this:

Iran and North Korea are the states of most concern to us. The United States’ concerns about Iran are shared by many nations, including many of Iran’s neighbors. Iran is continuing to pursue uranium enrichment and has shown more interest in protracting negotiations and working to delay and diminish the impact of UNSC sanctions than in reaching an acceptable diplomatic solution. We assess that Tehran is determined to develop nuclear weapons–despite its international obligations and international pressure. This is a grave concern to the other countries in the region whose security would be threatened should Iran acquire nuclear weapons.

So…what happened between July 11, 2007 and a week ago to cause these guys to say “Um, Iran halted pursuit of nuclear weapons in 2003.”??

I’m trying to think, but nothing happens…

And then there’s this:

Last November the NIE report was supposed to be completed, that’s November 2006. Negroponte, who had rehired Brill, if you recall correctly, resigns as DNI because of a dispute over the NIE in January, and then we capture those 6 Iranian guys in Irbil, Iraq.

The report then is supposedly “completed” in February. But on February 7th, Iranian Revolutionary Guard General Ali Reza Asgari (we’ll call him Shemp) goes to Turkey and “disppears” there. It is reported in March that he is cooperating with western intelligence. A little over a month after that, it is announced that the NIE report will be delayed a little longer.

On July 11, 2007 Fingar testifies before the House Armed Services Committee, with the “We assess that Tehran is determined to develop nuclear weapons” statement.

Then, the NIE report on Iran is released unexpectedly the other day, and these Three Stooges say that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003.

Could this General Asgari, who supposedly “defected” be a plant to disseminate bogus info? Or could he simply have bad info? Or what? And since Asgari has been out of the loop since at least February, how accurate can his intel be, if indeed he is the puking pigeon?

Can someone explain why Fingar changed his tune from “We assess that Tehran is determined to develop nuclear weapons” in mid-July, to “Iran halted its pursuit of nuclear weapons in 2003?”

I got questions. Louie has questions. I smell a dead pig.

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Washington Post Op-ed by John Bolton.

Consider these flaws in the NIE's "key judgments," which were made public even though approximately 140 pages of analysis, and reams of underlying intelligence, remain classified.

First, the headline finding -- that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 -- is written in a way that guarantees the totality of the conclusions will be misread. In fact, there is little substantive difference between the conclusions of the 2005 NIE on Iran's nuclear capabilities and the 2007 NIE. Moreover, the distinction between "military" and "civilian" programs is highly artificial, since the enrichment of uranium, which all agree Iran is continuing, is critical to civilian and military uses. Indeed, it has always been Iran's "civilian" program that posed the main risk of a nuclear "breakout."

The real differences between the NIEs are not in the hard data but in the psychological assessment of the mullahs' motives and objectives. The current NIE freely admits to having only moderate confidence that the suspension continues and says that there are significant gaps in our intelligence and that our analysts dissent from their initial judgment on suspension. This alone should give us considerable pause.

Second, the NIE is internally contradictory and insufficiently supported. It implies that Iran is susceptible to diplomatic persuasion and pressure, yet the only event in 2003 that might have affected Iran was our invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, not exactly a diplomatic pas de deux. As undersecretary of state for arms control in 2003, I know we were nowhere near exerting any significant diplomatic pressure on Iran. Nowhere does the NIE explain its logic on this critical point. Moreover, the risks and returns of pursuing a diplomatic strategy are policy calculations, not intelligence judgments. The very public rollout in the NIE of a diplomatic strategy exposes the biases at work behind the Potemkin village of "intelligence."

Third, the risks of disinformation by Iran are real. We have lost many fruitful sources inside Iraq in recent years because of increased security and intelligence tradecraft by Iran. The sudden appearance of new sources should be taken with more than a little skepticism. In a background briefing, intelligence officials said they had concluded it was "possible" but not "likely" that the new information they were relying on was deception. These are hardly hard scientific conclusions. One contrary opinion came from -- of all places -- an unnamed International Atomic Energy Agency official, quoted in the New York Times, saying that "we are more skeptical. We don't buy the American analysis 100 percent. We are not that generous with Iran." When the IAEA is tougher than our analysts, you can bet the farm that someone is pursuing a policy agenda.

Fourth, the NIE suffers from a common problem in government: the overvaluation of the most recent piece of data. In the bureaucracy, where access to information is a source of rank and prestige, ramming home policy changes with the latest hot tidbit is commonplace, and very deleterious. It is a rare piece of intelligence that is so important it can conclusively or even significantly alter the body of already known information. Yet the bias toward the new appears to have exerted a disproportionate effect on intelligence analysis.

Fifth, many involved in drafting and approving the NIE were not intelligence professionals but refugees from the State Department, brought into the new central bureaucracy of the director of national intelligence. These officials had relatively benign views of Iran's nuclear intentions five and six years ago; now they are writing those views as if they were received wisdom from on high. In fact, these are precisely the policy biases they had before, recycled as "intelligence judgments."

That such a flawed product could emerge after a drawn-out bureaucratic struggle is extremely troubling. While the president and others argue that we need to maintain pressure on Iran, this "intelligence" torpedo has all but sunk those efforts, inadequate as they were. Ironically, the NIE opens the way for Iran to achieve its military nuclear ambitions in an essentially unmolested fashion, to the detriment of us all.

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Just last month, IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaradei revealed Iran had a blueprint for a nuclear warhead provided by disgraced Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan during a visit to Tehran in the 1990s.

It is this episode more than anyother that effectively renders the latest NIE moot. Perhaps 16 U.S. intelligence agencies now assert Iran cannot build a bomb until at least 2010. Butthey all assume Tehran's program is indigenous. That's a dangerous assumption, indeed. While Iranian minders usher the IAEA through the regime's declared facilities, the Revolutionary Guard could simply buy nuclear fuel or components from rogue scientists in Russia, Pakistan or Libya. The September 2007 revelation that North Korea likely supplied the Syrian government with a nuclear plant underlines this concern.

-- Michael Rubin

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[Newsbusters] The Financial Times (FT) is reporting that an Iran-bound ship seized by the United Arab Emirates last month "contained materials banned by UN Security Council resolutions 1737 and 1747, while the purchaser of the materials has been barred by the same resolutions."

Those resolutions were put in place, FT writers Simeon Kerr and Najmeh Bozorgmehr noted in their December 5 article, "to curtail its [Iran's] nuclear development programme."

Although Kerr and Bozorgmehr's Emirati government source "declined to identify the contents of the cargo or the Iranian company" that ordered them, the development is newsworthy, particularly in light of the shift in the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), that now concludes that Iran stopped its nuclear program in 2003.

A search of the December 5 Washington Post found no articles similar to Kerr and Bozorgmehr's, although it's unclear if the FT reporters have an exclusive scoop.

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

So the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), complied from 16 intelligence agencies, declares that they, "Judge with high confidence that in fall 2003 Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program."

A roundup of articles include:

U.S. report says Iran halted nuclear weapons program in 2003 (NY Times)

US: Iran Still Able to Develop Nukes (Associated Press)

U.S. Finds That Iran Halted Nuclear Arms Bid in 2003 (Washington Post)

And... my favorite... a Washington Post page-1 "news analysis" (read: opinion disguised as news) stating: "A Blow to Bush's Tehran Policy"

A blow? Really? Is it?

Or... could it mean, if true -- and there's every reason to doubt, keep reading -- that the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 had a lot to do with Iran halting its weapons program?

I mean, if Iran "halted a program" it means without doubt they (1) actually had a program to halt, (2) didn't halt it just for the heck of it, and (3) will likely start it back up once the international pressure decreases.

If... if... IF the NIE is true it can be reasonably argued that Iran had the same reaction to the 2003 invasion of Iraq as did Libya: They too had a nuclear weapons program which Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi officially revealed to the United Nations and ended in December 2003, in large part with thanks to Tony Blair's highlighting the writing on the wall to Mr. Qaddafi.

Now. Here's the rub. Just two years ago this same intelligence community released the 2005 NIE which declared that they "Assess with high confidence that Iran currently is determined to develop nuclear weapons despite its international obligations and international pressure, but we do not assess that iran is immovable."

The NIE group, better known as the National Intelligence Council, was (apparently) wrong in 2002 when it famously quantified the amounts of WMD the United States could expect to find in Iraq, it barely mentioned Osama bin Laden and never even referenced the word "al Qaeda" in their 1997 and 1999 NIEs (the last produced before 9-11), it did not accurately assess development of nuclear weapons by India and Pakistan prior to 1998, and apparently it was wrong two years ago, since, as Norman Podhoretz states, in this 2007 NIE, "they represent a 180-degree turn from the conclusions of the last NIE on Iran's nuclear program."

Thus, if the National Intelligence Council was wrong all those times why should we have confidence that they are right this time?

In other words it's difficult to say if one trusts Iran or our own intelligence community less. One wonders if other than great signal capabilities, satellite intelligence and other technological intelligence we have any spying ability (i.e., from human spies) at all.

Case in point, from the AP article above:

Some of the changes in the new report reflect the use of "open source" intelligence - public information from sources such as the news media and international organizations. An official said, for example, that photos taken at Iran's Natanz nuclear facility during U.N. inspections in 2002 were particularly useful in assessing the capabilities of the civilian uranium enrichment program.
Open sources? Great, so our federal intelligence capabilities are no different that that of you and I conducting Google Earth searches.

That doesn't leave one with much confidence in our intelligence community, does it?

But it may be that the very nature of the NIC group increases the liklihood of incompetence. Why? Because it's made up of 16 agencies who must first agree on common language prior to publication. This leads to a watered down, least common denominator of intelligence.

It's human nature: try to get 16 people (let alone agencies of people) to agree on anything and you'll generally have a fair percentage of them throw their hands in the air and collectively state "Fine! Say what you want I'm sick of arguing about it!"

So on that note, the best conclusion rests in five questions posed by Tom Joscelyn:

First, what intelligence is this assessment based upon?

Any student, or even casual observer, of the U.S. intelligence community knows that it has done a remarkably poor job of recruiting spies inside unfriendly regimes. For example, we had no meaningful spies inside Saddam's regime. That was at least part of the reason the U.S. intelligence community misjudged Saddam's WMD programs so badly. (Whatever came of Saddam's WMD, U.S. intelligence clearly did not know what was going on since the few sources it had were on the periphery of Saddam's regime.)

Reading the latest NIE does not provide, of course, any clues as to how the IC came to these conclusions. If the IC does have good sources inside the Iranian regime and its putative nuclear program, then quite naturally it would want to protect them. And we wouldn't expect to see any information about sources in a declassified "Key Judgments" such as this.

However, there are good reasons to suspect that the IC does not have good intelligence inside Iran. For example, both of the leading members (one Republican, one Democrat) of the House Intelligence Committee explained back in 2006 that we did not really know then what was going on inside Iran. And the Robb-Silberman Commission, which investigated what the IC knew about WMD programs around the world, found in 2005: "Across the board, the Intelligence Community knows disturbingly little about the nuclear programs of many of the world's most dangerous actors. In some cases, it knows less now than it did five or ten years ago."

Understandably, the Commission refrained from discussing the specifics of the intelligence community's infiltration, or lack thereof, of both the North Korean and Iranian nuclear programs. But it is a safe bet that the statement cited above applied in both cases.

Thus, we should not be confident, at all, that the IC has the type of intelligence that would allow it to make a definitive assessment one way or another. This is true no matter what conclusions the IC publishes. Who or what are the sources cited by IC? How do we know they are telling the truth? If they are members of the Iranian regime, have their so-called bona fides been established? Are they in a position to know what they claim to know? Do they have any motives to lie, or distort the truth? We should be mindful of all of these questions and more.

Second, what has changed since 2005?

As this latest NIE notes, its conclusions are at odds with what the IC believed in 2005. The last page of the declassified Key Judgments notes significant differences between what the IC believed in 2005 and what it is saying now. In 2005, the IC noted: "[We] assess with high confidence that Iran currently is determined to develop nuclear weapons despite its international obligations and international pressure, but we do not assess that Iran is immovable." Now the IC says, "…we do not know whether (Iran) currently intends to develop nuclear weapons." So, in 2005 the IC was sure that Iran was determined to build a nuclear weapon and now it is not sure at all. This is a profound change in opinion and, at a minimum, does not inspire confidence that the IC can get this story right. After all, if the IC's judgments can change so drastically in two years time, why should we believe any of its pronouncements one way or the other?

What is the basis for this flip-flop? What has been learned in the meantime to warrant such an about-face?

Third, how did the IC draw its line between a "civilian" nuclear program and a military one?

In the very first footnote the authors of the NIE explain: "For the purposes of this Estimate, by 'nuclear weapons program' we mean Iran's nuclear weapon design and weaponization work and covert uranium conversion-related and uranium enrichment-related work; we do not mean Iran's declared civil work related to uranium conversion and enrichment."

So, is the IC then assuming that Iran's "declared civil work" is necessarily benign? One of the key issues with respect to Iran's "civilian" nuclear program is its capacity, with some tweaking here and there, to be used for military purposes. For example, according to the New York Times in early 2006, the IAEA concluded that there was evidence suggesting "links between Iran's ostensibly peaceful nuclear program and its military work on high explosives and missiles." Indeed, the authors of the NIE explicitly recognize the possibility of the civilian program being diverted for military uses:

Iranian entities are continuing to develop a range of technical capabilities that could be applied to producing nuclear weapons, if a decision is made to do so. For example, Iran's civilian uranium enrichment program is continuing. We also assess with high confidence that since fall 2003, Iran has been conducting research and development projects with commercial and conventional military applications--some of which would also be of limited use for nuclear weapons.
So, then, the NIE's conclusions apply strictly to Iran's alleged halt of its military and clandestine programs. As we know, however, uranium enrichment is the most important component of developing the bomb and Iran indisputably has the capacity. (Again, with some tweaking, Iran can use its declared enrichment facilities at some point to make weapons-grade material.) But, this leads us to ask another simple question.

Fourth, how does the IC know that Iran has stopped its clandestine activities with respect to developing nuclear weapons?

Returning to the first footnote of the NIE's Key Judgments, the IC argues that, in 2003, Iran ceased its "nuclear weapon design and weaponization work and covert uranium conversion-related and uranium enrichment-related work." How does the IC know that Iran did not continue working on "weapon design and weaponization" covertly?

Does it think that its sources are so good that they can rule out that possibility? Remember that Iran carried out much of its work on its nuclear program clandestinely for the better part of two decades. And some of these clandestine activities involved dealings with the AQ Khan network, the scope of which was not fully appreciated until it had already been doing business for years. How can the IC be sure that Iran's clandestine activities ceased in 2003?

Note that the IC argues that Iran supposedly gave up its covert uranium conversion and enrichment work. How does the IC know that? Are we to believe that the IC's penetration of Iran's intelligence services, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and other parties controlled by the mullahs is so iron-clad that it can know this with certainty? Furthermore, is it possible that Iran did not need to do said work covertly because it has been openly enriching uranium?

Fifth, how does the IC know what motivated Iran's alleged change in behavior?

The NIE claims that "Iran halted the program in 2003 primarily in response to international pressure." How does the IC know what motivated Iran's alleged change in behavior? Did the Iranians tell someone? Is this coming from clandestine sources? Assuming for the moment that Iran really did halt its program, are we to believe that a substantial U.S.-led military presence in Afghanistan and in Iraq (or potential presence in Iraq, depending on when in 2003 this change supposedly occurred), had nothing to do with Iran's supposed decision? That is, are we to believe that U.S. led forces on Iran's eastern and western borders had nothing to do with Tehran's decision-making process?

We are left with a number of important questions. And without knowing the answers to these questions, the IC's opinions are best viewed with a skeptical eye.

Skeptical indeed!

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Victor Davis Hanson takes on historical revisionism of the Iranian proliferation threat.

The latest news from Iran about the supposed abandonment in 2003 of the effort to produce a Bomb — if even remotely accurate — presents somewhat of a dilemma for liberal Democrats.

Are they now to suggest that Republicans have been warmongering over a nonexistent threat for partisan purposes? But to advance that belief is also to concede that, Iran, like Libya, likely came to a conjecture around (say early spring 2003?) that it was not wise for regimes to conceal WMD programs, given the unpredictable, but lethal American military reaction.

After all, what critic would wish now to grant that one result of the 2003 war-aside from the real chance that Iraq can stabilize and function under the only consensual government in the region-might have been the elimination for some time of two growing and potentially nuclear threats to American security, quite apart from Saddam Hussein?

War is unpredictable and instead of "no blood for oil" (oil went from $20 something to $90 something a barrel after the war, enriching Iraq and the Arab Gulf region at our expense), perhaps the cry, post facto, should have been "no blood for the elimination of nukes."

In the meantime, expect a variety of rebuttals to this assurance that for 4 years the Iranians haven't gotten much closer to producing weapons grade materials.

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Who is Nihad Awad? Oh, just one of 14 officials from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) whom federal authorities have investigated for having ties to terrorist organizations. One FBI veteran called CAIR "a turnstile for terrorists and their supporters," according to World Net Daily.

Nihad Awad: For the first time, wiretap evidence from the Holy Land case puts CAIR's executive director at a Philadelphia meeting of Hamas leaders and activists that was secretly recorded by the FBI. Participants allegedly hatched a plot to disguise payments to Hamas terrorists as charitable giving.

During the meeting, according to FBI transcripts, Awad was recorded discussing the propaganda effort. He mentions Ghassan Dahduli, whom he worked with at the time at the Islamic Association for Palestine, another Hamas front. Both were IAP officers. Dahduli's name also was listed in the address book of bin Laden's personal secretary, Wadi al-Hage, who is serving a life sentence in prison for his role in the U.S. embassy bombings. Dahduli, an ethnic-Palestinian like Awad, was deported to Jordan after 9/11 for refusing to cooperate in the terror investigation.

Awad's and Dahduli's phone numbers are listed in a Muslim Brotherhood document seized by federal investigators revealing "important phone numbers" for the "Palestine Section" of the Brotherhood in America. The court exhibit shows Hamas fugitive Mousa Abu Marzook listed on the same page with Awad.

Read about the other 13 in the WND article.

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Monday, December 03, 2007

Well there's a first for everything apparently. Finally, The New York Times has published a thoughtful, unapologist, solid opinon piece condemning recent Islamic outrages without resorting to blaming American foreign policy, Israel, Dick Cheney, Fox News, or Rush Limbaugh. I'm speechless.

Muslims who wonder why non-Muslims are often baffled, angered, even frightened by some governments’ interpretation of Islamic law need only look to the cases of two women in Saudi Arabia and Sudan threatened with barbaric lashings.

In Saudi Arabia, a woman who was gang-raped was sentenced to 90 lashes. The reason? Before the rape, the woman, who was then 19, had been in a car with a man who was not a family member — a crime under the kingdom’s legal code, which is based on a strict Wahabi reading of Islamic law. Punishing the victim of a brutal rape is reprehensible. Then a Saudi appeals court more than doubled her lashings to 200 and added six months’ jail time, apparently because she had the audacity to publicly challenge the court’s ruling. Her lawyer had his license to practice suspended.

In Sudan, a British primary school teacher was originally threatened with 40 lashes, a fine, or six months in jail after her class of 7-year-olds voted to name a teddy bear Muhammad. The government accused her of insulting the Prophet Muhammad. Muhammad is one of the most common names among Muslims, including the student who suggested it for the teddy bear. On Thursday, the court reduced the teacher’s sentence to 15 days in jail, but found her guilty and ordered her deported.

Saudi Arabia and Sudan have notoriously bad human rights records and the cases have ominous political overtones. The Khartoum government — so willing to punish the crime of naming a teddy bear — is responsible for the genocide in Darfur. The case was widely seen as a warning against Westerners who protest that mass slaughter. In the Saudi case, the girl was a member of the country’s persecuted Shiite minority, and experts said her sentence was harsh even by Saudi standards.

Khartoum’s few friends, in the Arab League and China, should make clear that such cynical games will only increase its isolation. The world should expect better from Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, who has introduced some — but not nearly enough — political and judicial reforms. The king has a hallowed responsibility in Islam as Keeper of the Two Holy Mosques of Mecca and Medina. What one Muslim leader, Ibrahim Mogra of the Muslim Council of Britain, said about the Sudan case can also be applied to the Saudis’: “How does this help the cause of Islam? What kind of message and image are we portraying about our religion and our culture?”

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Bill Roggio has a disturbing report about Nawaz Sharif:

With the return of former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to Pakistan, a dangerous new actor has now reentered Pakistani politics. ABC News's the Blotter reports that Sharif has accepted a bribe from none other than Osama bin Laden.

The report is based on the interrogation of one Ali Mohamed, who "served as a special projects coordinator for bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al Zawahri in the mid-1990s." Based on the Blotter report, 'Mohamed was also in charge of selecting bin Laden's personal security team." This would be the Black Guard, and this posting along with the special projects coordinator position would place Mohamed at the heart of al Qaeda's inner working.

Mohamed, who is now in a U.S. prison for his role in the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Africa, has been cooperating with the FBI and providing them with a wealth of information on the inner workings of al Qaeda. Frmer FBI agent and ABC News consultant Jack Cloonan has questioned Mohamed over a period of years and believes the information he has provided to U.S. authorities is accurate.

Cloonan says that back in 1999 Mohamed told the FBI he arranged for a meeting between bin Laden and Sharif's representatives. Following that meeting, Mohamed told Cloonan he delivered $1 million to Sharif's representatives. Mohamed said the payoff was a tribute to Sharif for not cracking down on the Taliban as it flourished in Afghanistan and influenced the Northwest Frontier Province in Pakistan, according to Cloonan.

Sharif, who was deposed by President Pervez Musharraf in a coup in 1999, is now being courted by Musharraf to serve as prime minister in a new coalition government. U.S. ambassador to Pakistan Anne W. Patterson is set to meet with Sharif today.

As the Blotter noted, rumors of Sharif's links to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden are not new. In 2005, Khalid Khawaja, a former Inter Services Intelligence operative, told Asia Times that Sharif and bin Laden met in Saudi Arabia in 1998. According to Khawaja, Sharif accepted cash to prevent the rise of political rival Benazir Bhutto.

After Gen Zia’s death in a plane crash (1988), elections were announced and there was a possibility that the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) led by Benazir Bhutto would win, which would be a great setback for the cause of the Afghan jihad against the USSR. The situation was discussed and all the mujahideen thought that they should play a role in blocking the PPP from winning the elections. I joined my former DG Hamid Gul and played a role in forming the then Islamic Democratic Alliance consisting of the Pakistan Muslim League and the Jamaat-e-Islami. The PPP won the elections by a thin margin and faced a strong opposition.

Nawaz Sharif insisted that I arrange a direct meeting with the Osama, which I did in Saudi Arabia. Nawaz met thrice with Osama in Saudi Arabia...

Nawaz Sharif was looking for a Rs 500 million grant from Osama. Though Osama gave a comparatively smaller amount, the landmark thing he secured for Nawaz Sharif was a meeting with the (Saudi) royal family, which gave Nawaz Sharif a lot of political support, and it remained till he was dislodged (as premier) by Gen Pervez Musharraf (in a coup in 1999). Saudi Arabia arranged for his release and his safe exit to Saudi Arabia,” he told Asia Times online.

Sharif is denying any links to the Taliban or al Qaeda. "Let me be clear I have been condemning all sorts of terrorism, whether in Pakistan or outside Pakistan," Sharif told the Associated Press. "We are moderates, we follow moderation and nothing except moderation. Remarks are made by other countries without taking (into consideration) our cooperation that we have extended in the past. To me this is unreasonable and I am disappointed."

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