Monthly Archives: February 2011

Unable to Control its Virtual Borders: Iran

In a major setback to Iran’s civil nuclear program, a senior government official says technicians will have to unload fuel from the country’s first nuclear power plant because of an unspecified security problem.  The vague explanation raised questions about whether the mysterious computer worm known as Stuxnet might have caused more damage at the Bushehr plant than previously acknowledged.    The removal of fuel rods from the reactor core of the newly completed plant could also have been caused by routine technical difficulties.  Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Tehran’s envoy to the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency in Vienna, was quoted by Iran’s ISNA news agency as saying that the step was demanded by Russia, which provided the fuel.

The U.N. nuclear monitoring agency said Friday that “recently received” information is adding to concerns Iran may have worked on developing nuclear arms.  At the same time, a report by the organization — The International Atomic Energy Agency — noted that Tehran continues to stonewall its attempts to follow up on that information, which points to possible experiments with components of a nuclear arms program.  The report also said conversion work of uranium ore to the gas from which enriched uranium is made remained idle for the 18th month, indicating a possible shortage of the raw material on which Tehran’s nuclear program is built on.

A new intelligence report from an IAEA member country shared with The Associated Press says Iran is expanding its covert global search for raw uranium. It divulged a secret visit by Iranian Foreign Minister Akbar Salehi last month to uranium-rich Zimbabwe in search for the metal.  Iran denies any shortage, but the intelligence assessment is line with international assessments that Iran’s domestic supplies cannot indefinitely sustain an expanding nuclear program.

An annex to Friday’s confidential IAEA report listed “the outstanding issues which give rise to concern about possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear programme.” It included design work on a nuclear payload; experiments with explosives that could detonate such a payload and other work that could be linked to making weapons.   The list contained no new information, with much of its contents based on material that first surfaced seven years ago on a laptop United States intelligence agencies say was spirited out of Iran by a defector. A senior international diplomat familiar with the report said it was annexed to summarize suspicions for the 35-IAEA board member nations the report was meant for.  Still, the listing was unusual. Part of a longer annex of “areas where Iran is not meeting its (international) obligations,” it also appeared to reflect IAEA frustrations that Iran has rejected its attempts to follow up on the allegations since August 2008…”Based on the agency’s analysis of additional information since August 2008, including new information recently received, there are further concerns which the agency also needs to clarify with Iran,” said the report, which was also sent to the U.N. Security Council.

Tehran is under four sets of U.N. sanctions for its refusal to stop uranium enrichment — which can create both nuclear fuel and fissile warhead material…

Excerpt, In setback, Iran to unload fuel from nuclear plant, Associated Press, Feb. 26, 2011

How to Manipulate the Brain: psychological warfare today

According to the Rolling Stone magazine, the “U.S. Army illegally ordered a team of soldiers specializing in “psychological operations” to manipulate visiting American senators into providing more troops and funding for the war, Rolling Stone has learned – and when an officer tried to stop the operation, he was railroaded by military investigators.

The orders came from the command of Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, a three-star general in charge of training Afghan troops – the linchpin of U.S. strategy in the war. Over a four-month period last year, a military cell devoted to what is known as “information operations” at Camp Eggers in Kabul was repeatedly pressured to target visiting senators and other VIPs who met with Caldwell. When the unit resisted the order, arguing that it violated U.S. laws prohibiting the use of propaganda against American citizens, it was subjected to a campaign of retaliation.

“My job in psy-ops is to play with people’s heads, to get the enemy to behave the way we want them to behave,” says Lt. Colonel Michael Holmes, the leader of the IO unit, who received an official reprimand after bucking orders. “I’m prohibited from doing that to our own people. When you ask me to try to use these skills on senators and congressman, you’re crossing a line.”

The list of targeted visitors was long, according to interviews with members of the IO team and internal documents obtained by Rolling Stone. Those singled out in the campaign included senators John McCain, Joe Lieberman, Jack Reed, Al Franken and Carl Levin; Rep. Steve Israel of the House Appropriations Committee; Adm. Mike Mullen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; the Czech ambassador to Afghanistan; the German interior minister, and a host of influential think-tank analysts.

The incident offers an indication of just how desperate the U.S. command in Afghanistan is to spin American civilian leaders into supporting an increasingly unpopular war. According to the Defense Department’s own definition, psy-ops – the use of propaganda and psychological tactics to influence emotions and behaviors – are supposed to be used exclusively on “hostile foreign groups.” Federal law forbids the military from practicing psy-ops on Americans, and each defense authorization bill comes with a “propaganda rider” that also prohibits such manipulation. “Everyone in the psy-ops, intel, and IO community knows you’re not supposed to target Americans,” says a veteran member of another psy-ops team who has run operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. “It’s what you learn on day one.””

Michael Hastings, Another Runaway General: Army Deploys Psy-Ops on U.S. Senators, RollingStone, Feb. 23, 2011.

Killing Civilians: Afghanistan

According to the Reuters reported facts: Joint operations by Afghan forces and NATO-led foreign forces have killed 64 civilians in eastern Kunar province, including many women and children, over the past four days, the governor of Kunar said on Sunday.

Following are some major incidents which have led to large numbers of civilian casualties in Afghanistan:

JALALABAD, NANGARHAR PROVINCE:

On February 19, 2011, at least 40 people including Afghan security forces and civilians were killed and more than 70 wounded when seven insurgents attacked a bank in the eastern city of Jalalabad, provincial officials said. Three suicide bombers blew themselves up inside a branch of the Kabulbank, which handles salaries for Afghan security forces, while four others dressed as Afghan border police battled troops for hours.

SPIN BOLDAK, KANDAHAR PROVINCE:

On January 7, 2011, at least 16 civilians and one police commander were killed by a suicide bomber inside a public bathhouse in southern Kandahar province, provincial officials said.

DELARAM, NIMROZ PROVINCE:

On July 28, 2010, at least 25 Afghan passengers were killed and more than 20 others wounded when a roadside bomb ripped through their bus in the Delaram district of western Nimroz province, Afghan officials said.

SANGIN, HELMAND PROVINCE:

On July 23, 2010, at least 45 Afghan civilians, many women and children were killed in a NATO rocket attack in the Sangin district of southern Helmand province, President Hamid Karzai’s spokesman Siamak Herawi said.

Herawi said the civilians were crammed into a mud-walled house after fleeing the fighting between NATO-led forces and Taliban insurgents.

CHAR DARA, KUNDUZ PROVINCE:

On September 4, 2009, a NATO air strike called in by German forces in the northern province of Kunduz killed at least 30 civilians, according to the Afghan government. President Karzai said the strike was “wrong” and the incident became a major domestic political issue in Germany that led to the German defense minister at the time stepping down.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel apologized for the strike and the families of the victims are seeking millions of euros in compensation from the German government.

BALA BOLUK, FARAH PROVINCE:

On May 4, 2009, U.S. air strikes on compounds in the villages of Geraani and Ganjabad led to the deaths of an estimated 140 civilians, according to the Afghan government. The U.S. military put the civilian toll at 26 and defended the strikes as an “appropriate means to destroy the enemy threat.” The incident sparked outrage among Afghans and Karzai, and led the head of NATO forces at the time to revise military directives on avoiding civilian casualties.

KHOST AND KUNAR PROVINCES:

In one week in mid-April 2009, two air strikes by U.S. forces killed 11 civilians in separate incidents in the eastern provinces of Khost and Kunar. U.S. forces later acknowledged they killed six civilians in Kunar province and five civilians in Khost province.

SHINDAND, HERAT PROVINCE:

On August 22, 2008, a raid by U.S. forces in western Herat province led to 90 civilian deaths, according to the Afghan government. The strike was widely condemned by rights groups and caused uproar among Afghans. The U.S. military has disputed the Afghan government’s account and says up to seven civilians were killed.

KHOSHAMAND, PAKTIKA PROVINCE:

On January 19, 2001, 20 civilians, including 13 children and six women, were killed when their motorized rickshaw was hit by a roadside bomb in southeastern Paktika province, Afghan and NATO officials said.

Factbox: Civilian casualties in Afghanistan, Reuters,Feb 20 2011

Killing Civililans: Libya

Gadhafi’s regime has unleashed the bloodiest crackdown of any Arab country against the wave of protests sweeping the region, which toppled the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia. More than 200 have been killed in Libya, according to medical officials, human rights groups and exiled dissidents.

Excerpt: Libya: Protesters, Security Clash In Capital, Associated Press, Feb. 21, 2011

Killing Civilians, Somalia

African Union peacekeepers known as AMISOM on Friday expressed concern over the repeated civilian casualties committed by Somali government soldiers.  The spokesman of AMISOM forces in Somalia, major. Brigye Bahuko said in an interview with Shabelle, a local radio station based in Mogadishu, that AU troops in Somalia are very sorry the arbitrary killings against ordinary people by Somali government forces in TFG controlled districts.  Mr. Bahuko said AMISOM will not tolerate the continuation of meaningless killing against Somali innocent civilians.  He indicated that Somali people in the areas under Al Shabaab control are facing more problems that they encounter in Somali government controlled districts.

Separately, Sheikh Ali Mohamed Rage, the spokesman of Al shabaab told reporters that AMISOM statement of Al shabaab bothering sthe civilians who live in the areas they control is baseless and false.  Rage pointed out they run 10 districts in the war-ravaged Mogadishu at the same time people don’t face any promlem from the fighters of Al Shabaab.

Somalia: Amisom – We Are Sorry for the Civilian Casualties Committed By TFG Soldiers, allAfrica.com, Feb. 18, 2011

Uranium Mining v. Biodiversity in Grand Canyon

Mining has been banned within the Grand Canyon national park since President Roosevelt declared it a national monument in 1908. But since 2003, foreign companies have submitted 2,215 claims to prospect on the edge of the canyon.  Ken Salazar, the secretary of the interior, temporarily withdrew 1m acres of land from exploration in 2009 to allow time for an environmental assessment. Salazar must decide by July whether to ban “mineral entry” for two-thirds of the claims for the next 20 years…

Taylor McKinnon, campaigns director of public lands at the Centre for Biological Diversity, said the expansion of mining would threaten the park’s delicate ecosystem that ranges from desert scrub in the parched canyon to the Californian condors that wheel above the craggy outcrops.  He said: “The Grand Canyon is an international treasure and known for its breathtaking expanses. Its isolated seeps, springs and caves harbour a remarkable diversity of life, including species found nowhere else on earth. Uranium mining puts those species in the crosshairs.”

Mining companies have been drawn to the Grand Canyon area since the 1940s, because of large quantities of high-grade uranium that fuelled the nuclear weapons and nuclear power industries in the US.  But fast-paced nuclear power programmes in countries such as China and Korea are fuelling a new rush for “hard rock”, and have sent uranium prices soaring from $7.10 a pound in 2001, to $63.88 a pound in 2011.

Vane Minerals, a UK-based company, has submitted approximately 700 claims. Kristopher Hefton, the company’s director and chief operating officer, said: “The deposits are among the highest-grade deposits that you can find in the United States, so they are a good target for exploration and mining.”  Denison Mines, based in Canada, already operates one mine in the area with plans to reopen three further mines that were approved in the 1980s without being subject to the environmental review. Denison recently told investors that it will increase production by at least 10 million pounds a year by 2020, some of which will be destined for a new nuclear plant in the United Arab Emirates…

Exceprts from, Felicity Carus, Demand for uranium threatens Grand Canyon biodiversity, Guardian, Feb. 17, 2011

Dragging itself through Oily Mud: Chevron in Amazon

 

A judge in a tiny courtroom in the Ecuadorean Amazon ruled Monday that the oil giant Chevron was responsible for polluting remote tracts of Ecuadorean jungle and ordered the company to pay more than $9 billion in damages, one of the largest environmental awards ever.

The award against Chevron “is one of the largest judgments ever imposed for environmental contamination in any court,” said David M. Uhlmann, an expert in environmental law at the University of Michigan. “It falls well short of the $20 billion that BP has agreed to pay to compensate victims of the gulf oil spill but is a landmark decision nonetheless. Whether any portion of the claims will be paid by Chevron is less clear.”

Both sides said they would appeal the ruling…Pablo Fajardo, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, called the ruling a “triumph of justice,” but said it still fell short. “We’re going to appeal because we think that the damages awarded are not enough,” he said in a telephone interview. The plaintiffs were seeking as much as $113 billion, according to a report recently submitted to the court.  A Chevron spokesman, Kent Robertson, called the decision “illegitimate and unenforceable.” He said Chevron would appeal through the Ecuadorean legal system, and would not pay the damages.  “This is the product of fraud,” he said. “It had always been the plan to inflate the damages claim and coordinate with corrupt judges for a smaller judgment.”

The origins of the case go back to the 1970s, when Texaco, which was later acquired by Chevron, operated as a partner with the Ecuadorean state oil company. The villagers sued in 1993, claiming that Texaco had left an environmental mess that was causing illnesses. Chevron bought Texaco in 2001, before the case was resolved.

Chevron has been playing hardball for at least the last two years. It produced video recordings from watches and pens wired with bugging devices that suggested a bribery scheme surrounded the proceedings and involved a judge hearing the case. The judge was forced to resign, although it was later revealed that an American behind the secret recordings was a convicted drug trafficker…

Last week, Chevron filed a suit against dozens of people involved in the case, charging that they conspired to extort the company for $113 billion by making up evidence and trying to manipulate the Ecuadorean legal system. At the company’s request, an American judge issued a temporary restraining order to block any judgment for at least four weeks. A day later, international arbiters ordered Ecuador to suspend the enforcement of any judgment.

Excerpts from SIMON ROMERO and CLIFFORD KRAUSS, Ecuador Judge Orders Chevron to Pay $9 Billion, NYTimes, Feb. 14, 2011

What Wars are All About: Afghanistan

The Afghan Ministry of Mines last month presented information on 27 prospective mining sites that it says contain an estimated $3 trillion in iron, copper, gold and other prized minerals.  Here are highlights it reported on six of the prospective mining sites:

—Nearly $90 billion worth of rare earth minerals as well as niobium in southwest Helmand province.

—An estimated $30 billion in gold and copper deposits in the Zana Khan, an area of Ghazni province that Wahidullah Shahrani, the minister of mines, said could become one of Afghanistan’s largest mining operations within five years.

—Up to $60 billion in lithium deposits in Herat, Ghazni, Nimroz and Farah provinces.  A U.S. Defense Department task force projects that small-scale lithium production could begin within one year and large-scale production 2-4 years later.

—An undetermined amount of copper just north of the Aynak copper mine in Logar province, which is being run by China Metallurgical Construction Co.

—An estimated $29 billion in copper in Herat province.

—A massive copper deposit in Balkhab district of Balkh province, value undetermined, but the task force report said it could become a significant mining operating in fewer than five years.

Excerpts from Highlights of Afghanistan’s Mining Sites: Afghan officials highlight 6 mining sites as hope for future, Associated Press, Feb. 13, 2011

Being Ready for War is the Guarantee for Peace?

The following is reported by Reuters

The U.S. Defense Department’s fiscal 2012 budget request would end some troubled weapons programs while putting billions of dollars toward modernizing arms for future conflicts:

* The request seeks $9.7 billion to buy 32 Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 radar-evading fighter jets. Lockheed’s chief subcontractors on the program include Northrop Grumman Corp, Britain’s BAE Systems, and Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies Corp…

* The budget seeks $4.9 billion for the Virginia-class submarine built by General Dynamics Corp and Northrop. That compares to $5.4 billion which the administration had requested for fiscal 2011.

* It would increase funding for the new Littoral Combat ship to $2.2 billion from $1.8 billion requested in fiscal 2011. Lockheed and Australia’s Austal are each building separate designs of the new agile warship. Total spending on shipbuilding would be about $14 billion.

* Lockheed’s Advanced Extremely High Frequency communications satellite would get $975 million, up from the $598 million sought for the program in fiscal 2011. Total spending on space-based systems would be $10 billion in fiscal 2012.

* The budget also seeks $593 million for upgraded armored vehicles to better protect troops, but details were not immediately available on which vehicles were specifically included.

* Total spending on ballistic missile defense would be about $10.7 billion in fiscal 2012, up from $9.45 billion in fiscal 2010 and $10.2 billion requested for fiscal 2011.

* The Air Force said it would begin funding work on a new long-range bomber that was intended to go into service in the mid-2020s. The program, which has drawn interest from Lockheed, Northrop and Boeing, would get total spending of $3.7 billion over the next five years.

Excerpts, Factbox, Funding for major weapons programs in U.S. budget, Reuters, Feb. 14, 2011

Strategic Interests First: US and the Middle East–will reform survive?

With Egypt’s military leading a hoped-for drive to democracy, President Barack Obama’s senior military adviser was heading to the Mideast on Saturday to reassure two key allies — Jordan, facing its own rumblings of civil unrest, and Israel, which sees its security at stake in a wider transformation of the Arab world.  Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was stopping first in Amman for meetings Sunday with senior Jordanian officials, including King Abdullah II. Jordan has seen five weeks of protests inspired by unrest in Tunisia and later Egypt, though the numbers of marchers has been decreasing.  Mullen was then scheduled to travel to Tel Aviv for meetings and ceremonies Sunday and Monday marking the retirement of his Israeli counterpart, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, and talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres. Mullen had no plans to visit Egypt on this trip.

Israel is deeply worried about the prospect that Hosni Mubarak’s ouster could lead to the emergence of a government less friendly to the Jewish state. […] Both Egypt and Jordan have played leading roles, along with the U.S., in seeking a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. Egypt also controls the Suez Canal, a key route for global oil shipments.  The U.S. has provided $1.5 billion a year to Egypt, largely in the form of military assistance, and the White House has said the possibility of changing that would depend on how the current crisis unfolds. The assistance has done more than buy tanks, planes and other weaponry for the Egyptian armed forces. It has built a tradition of close ties with the U.S. military establishment, with Egyptian officers attending American academies that emphasize the primacy of civilian control in a democracy…The reverberations from Cairo are already being felt in significant ways in other Arab countries that are key U.S. allies.

Jordan’s new prime minister, Marouf Bakhit, promised Wednesday to continue political reforms demanded by protesters who forced King Abdullah II to reshuffle the Cabinet Feb 1. The changes in Amman followed protests by thousands of Jordanians who had demanded jobs, lower food costs and a change to an election law that they say gives government loyalists more seats in parliament.

U.S.-Jordanian military ties are among the strongest in the Arab world. And the revelation that a senior Jordanian intelligence officer was among the victims of a December 2009 suicide bombing in Afghanistan that also killed seven CIA employees pointed to the close and extensive cooperation on counterterrorism between U.S. and Jordanian intelligence agencies.

When he ascended to the throne in 1999, King Abdullah II vowed to press ahead with political reforms initiated by his late father, King Hussein. Those reforms paved the way for the first parliamentary election in 1989 after a 22-year gap, the revival of a multiparty system and the suspension of martial law, which had been in effect since the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.  But little has been done since then.

In Saudi Arabia, a traditional cornerstone of U.S. interests in the Mideast, a group of opposition activists said Thursday they asked the nation’s king for the right to form a political party in a rare challenge to the absolute power of the ruling dynasty  “You know well that big political developments and attention to freedom and human rights is currently happening in the Islamic world,” the activists said in a letter to King Abdullah, who was one of Mubarak’s staunchest supporters up until the end.

Last week, Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh — a key U.S. ally in office for more than three decades — bowed to pressure from protesters and announced he would not seek re-election in 2013 and would not try to pass power to his son. Yemen, home to a branch of al-Qaida, is an important battleground in the U.S. fight against terrorists.

Excerpt, By ROBERT BURNS, Joint Chiefs chairman to reassure Jordan, Israel, Associated Press, Feb 12, 2011