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In Stockholm, during the first meeting of a new Swedish-funded international commission on weapons of mass destruction, Therese Delpech, the director for strategic affairs at the Atomic Energy Commission in Paris, tells the Agence-France Presse that the 21st century will see an arms race in space and the further development of biological weapons. “Up until now, space has been militarized in the sense that military operations have made a lot of use of satellites… either for communications, for navigation, for eavesdropping or for surveillance,” she says. “What is completely new is… the weaponization of space, which is much more serious, and concerns the possibility in the (near) future of having weapons in space, or developing weapons that can destroy satellites in space. This would add another dimension to warfare. I truly believe that the 20th century was the age of physics, while the 21st century will be the age of information technology and life sciences. And that holds the potential for horrifying military applications. There are much greater possibilities of dissimulating biological activities than nuclear activities. That’s a real problem.… The military applications are absolutely devastating.” [Agence France-Presse, 1/29/2004]
At some point after the A. Q. Khan network begins to unravel (see February 4, 2004), Saeed Buhary, the younger brother of one Khan’s most important associates, is arrested in Dubai. Buhary is the brother of Bukhary Sayed Abu Tahir and the chairman of SMB Distribution, a Dubai-based company Tahir owned that was involved in Khan’s proliferation operations. According to authors Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark, Buhary is locked up “without a proper trial” in a prison known as the “Jumeira Hilton,” which has “a reputation for harsh conditions.” Buhary will reportedly still be there in 2007. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 369, 529]
Gulf Technical Industries, a Dubai-based company used by the A. Q. Khan proliferation network to facilitate Libya’s nuclear weapons program (see August 1997 and July 2000), collapses. The reason is that the firm, owned by long-term Khan associate Peter Griffin, suffers adverse publicity following Khan’s public confession to his nuclear proliferation activities (see February 4, 2004). This leads its local sponsor to pull out and its bank to close its accounts, meaning the company has to close. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 529]
The General Accounting Office (GAO) reports on an array of problems with the military’s missile defense system (see March 23, 1983 and January 29, 1991). Its report includes an unclassified list of 50 recommendations for improving the system that originated in a public report produced by the Pentagon in 2000. Instead of acting on the recommendations, the Pentagon declares the list of recommendations “retroactively classified,” thereby forbidding Congressional members from discussing the recommendations in public. House members Henry Waxman (D-CA) and John Tierney (D-MA), who requested the GAO report, send an angry letter to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld calling the decision to classify the recommendations “highly dubious” and “an attempt to stymie public debate through the use of the classification system.” Rumsfeld ignores the protest. [Savage, 2007, pp. 103-104]
The burned, mutilated corpses of two Blackwater contractors hang from a bridge outside Fallujah while Iraqi civilians celebrate. [Source: NoGW.com]Four employees of the private security firm Blackwater, Jerry Zovko, Wesley Batalona, Scott Helvenston and Michael Teague, are killed by small arms fire while driving through Fallujah. [The News Observer, 7/8/2007] Their bodies are then taken out of their convoy and mutilated by an angry mob. Images of two corpses of the contractors hanging from a bridge over the Euphrates River are sent all over the world. The families of the four slain men later file a lawsuit against Blackwater claiming that the company broke their contract by cutting corners on security costs in order to make a greater profit. The convoy that the Blackwater employees were driving lacked both armor for protection and a rear gunner, making it extremely easy for a few Iraqi gunmen to kill them. There also was an alternate path around Fallujah the men could have taken but did not know about because Blackwater did not conduct a “risk assessment,” which they were contractually obligated to do. [Nation, 5/8/2006] In July 2007, memos from another Blackwater team published in the media blame Blackwater’s Baghdad manager, Tom Powell, for sending the two teams into Fallujah undermanned, underarmed, and without maps (see June 8, 2007).
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) warns L. Paul Bremer, the head of the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), that it is likely the huge explosives cache at the Al Qaqaa military facility in northern Babil Province has been looted (see May 2003). In October 2004, a senior Bush administration official will admit that securing the facility was not a major priority at the time; officials were far more concerned with the transfer of authority to an Iraqi government (see June 28, 2004). “It’s not an excuse,” says the official. “But a lot of things went by the boards.” In October 2004, the IAEA will inform the US that at least 380 tons of explosives from the Al Qaqaa cache have gone missing (see October 10, 2004 and October 25, 2004). [New York Times, 10/25/2004]
The Iraq Survey Group concludes in its final report, authored by Charles Duelfer, that Saddam Hussein wanted to acquire weapons of mass destruction as a deterrent against the United States and Iran, but that there is no evidence that Iraq had a WMD stockpile or program at the time of the invasion. Rather evidence indicates that Iraq’s WMD capability was destroyed in 1991. Roughly 1,750 experts have inspected some 1,200 potential WMD sites since the war began. [CNN, 10/7/2004] With regard to the alleged biological weapon labs, the report says that an “exhaustive investigation” has demonstrated that the trailers found shortly after the invasion of Iraq by US forces (see May 9, 2003)
(see April 19, 2003) were not “part of any BW [biological weapons] program.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 9/30/2004; Los Angeles Times, 11/20/2005] Rather they were “almost certainly intended” for the production of hydrogen for artillery weather balloons. [Washington Post, 4/12/2006]
The letter sent by an Iraqi official to IAEA inspectors reporting hundreds of tons of missing explosives. [Source: New York Times]Dr. Mohammed Abbas of the Iraqi Ministry of Science and Technology writes a letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency warning that the huge explosives cache at Al Qaqaa (see May 2003) has been cleaned out. The IAEA had warned US officials of the likelihood of such an event months before, as well as before the March 2003 invasion (see May 2004). Abbas says that “urgent updating of the registered materials is required.” According to Abbas, the facility is missing around 377 tons of HMX, RDX, and PETN explosives, some of the most powerful explosives ever created. HMX stands for “high melting point explosive,” RDX for “rapid detonation explosive,” and PETN for “pentaerythritol tetranitrate.” The IAEA will forward the letter to the US. IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei is “extremely concerned” about the “potentially devastating consequences” of the missing explosives, according to a European diplomat. Dr. Van Romero of the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology says: “HMX and RDX have a lot of shattering power.… Getting a large amount is difficult” because most nations carefully regulate who can buy such explosives. An expert who recently led a team that searched Iraq for deadly arms says that the “immediate danger” of the looted explosives “is its potential use with insurgents in very small and powerful explosive devices. The other danger is that it can easily move into the terrorist web across the Middle East.” [New York Times, 10/25/2004]
British Prime Minister Tony Blair formally admits that he was wrong to have claimed that Saddam Hussein could deploy weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes of giving the order (see September 24, 2002 and September 24, 2002). Blair’s Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, reveals that MI6, the British intelligence agency, has formally withdrawn the claim, as well as other intelligence concerning Iraq’s ability to produce biological weapons. The claim has been heavily refuted for well over a year (see Late May 2003 and August 16, 2003). Straw refuses to say that it was a mistake to overthrow the Saddam government, saying instead that “deciding to give Saddam Hussein the benefit of the doubt would have required a huge leap of faith.… I do not accept, even with hindsight, that we were wrong to act as we did.” He notes that other governments, most notably the US government, were also convinced that Saddam had an array of WMD which could have been quickly deployed against targets in the region. Conservative MP Gary Streeter says the Blair administration owes the nation a “full apology”: “Not an apology for the intelligence but an apology for the way that the intelligence was conveyed by the government to the country.” [Age (Melbourne), 10/14/2004] Liberal Democrat Party leader Charles Kennedy accuses Blair of “avoiding answering” questions about the absence of Iraqi WMD. Liberal Democrat deputy leader Menzies Campbell says: “The withdrawal of the 45-minute claim drives a horse and cart through government credibility.… The building blocks of the government’s case for military action are crumbling before our eyes.” [Belfast Telegraph, 10/13/2004]
A 1996 photograph of one of the Al Qaqaa storage bunkers. [Source: New York Times]The US media learns that Iraq’s interim government reports that nearly 380 tons of powerful conventional explosives, used to demolish buildings, make missile warheads, and detonate nuclear weapons, are missing from a former military installation (see October 10, 2004). The facility, Al Qaqaa, was supposed to be under US control but in reality is “a no-man’s land,” in the words of the New York Times, “picked over by looters as recently as” October 24. UN inspectors and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had monitored the huge cache of explosives for years. The IAEA says that machine tools usable for either nuclear or non-nuclear purposes are also missing. White House and Pentagon inspectors admit that the explosives disappeared some time after the US-led invasion of Iraq. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice was informed of the missing explosives within the last month; according to the Times, “[i]t is unclear whether President Bush was informed.” US officials began answering questions about the missing explosives after reporters from the Times and CBS’s “60 Minutes” began asking questions. The CIA’s Iraq Survey Group has been asked to investigate the disappearance.
Similar Explosives Used in Other Terrorist Attacks - The immediate concern, according to US officials, is the explosives’ possible use in major bombing attacks against American and/or Iraqi forces. The explosives, mainly HMX and RDX, can be used in bombs strong enough to destroy airplanes or large buildings. The Times notes that the bomb that brought down Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland (see After December 21, 1988) used less than a pound of such explosive. Larger amounts of the same kinds of explosives were used in the November 2003 Riyadh bombings (see May 12, 2003) and a September 1999 bombing of a Moscow apartment complex (see September 9, 1999 and September 13, 1999). The explosives can also be used to trigger a nuclear weapon, the primary reason why it had been, until the invasion, monitored by UN inspectors from the IAEA.
Repeated IAEA Warnings - The IAEA had publicly warned about the danger of the Al Qaqaa explosives before the invasion, and after the overthrow of the Iraqi government, IAEA officials specifically told US officials that they needed to keep the facility locked down (see May 2003). Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita says that the missing explosives need to be kept in perspective, as US and allied forces “have discovered and destroyed perhaps thousands of tons of ordnance of all types.” Iraq’s Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Rashad Omar, tells Times and CBS reporters: “Yes, they [the 380 tons of explosives] are missing. We don’t know what happened.” Omar says that after the invasion, Al Qaqaa was the responsibility of the Coalition Provisional Authority, which served as Iraq’s de facto government until June 2004 (see June 28, 2004). “After the collapse of the regime, our liberation, everything was under the coalition forces, under their control,” he says. “So probably they can answer this question, what happened to the materials.” The CPA is defunct; Bush administration officials say they don’t know where the explosives could be. One senior official says that the Qaqaa complex was listed as a “medium priority” site on the CIA’s list of more than 500 sites that needed to be searched and secured during the invasion. “Should we have gone there? Definitely,” says one senior official. Another senior official says that US soldiers gave the Qaqaa facility a cursory inspection during the push towards Baghdad in early April, but “saw no bunkers bearing the IAEA seal.”
Refusal to Allow IAEA Inspections after Occupation - Satellite photos taken in late 2003 showed that two of the ten bunkers containing HMX had exploded, presumably from bombing during the US offensive, but eight remained relatively intact. The Bush administration refused to let the IAEA back into Iraq to inspect and verify the Qaqaa facility or any of the other stockpiles formerly monitored by IAEA officials. By May 2004, the IAEA was warning CPA officials that the facility had probably been looted (see May 2004).
More Unguarded Stockpiles - Iraq is dotted with unguarded stockpiles of explosives, say US military and administration officials. One senior administration official notes, “The only reason this stockpile was under seal is because it was located at Al Qaqaa,” where nuclear work had gone on years ago. [New York Times, 10/25/2004]
John Bolton, a neoconservative and the Bush administration’s chief official in charge of arms reduction, says he does not believe that the unsecured nuclear weapons and items of nuclear technology belonging to the former Soviet Union pose any threat to US security. Three years earlier, a commission reported that Russian and other Eastern European “loose nukes” posed the single greatest danger to the US. “I don’t believe that at this point, or for some number of years, there’s been a significant risk of a Russian nuclear weapon getting into terrorist hands,” Bolton says. “I say that in part because of all the money we’ve spent… but also because the Russians themselves are completely aware that the most likely consequence of losing control of one of their own nuclear weapons is that it will be used in Russia.” [Washington Post, 10/26/2004] In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will write, “This assessment flew in the face of all available evidence regarding what had and had not been accomplished in Russia.” Only 54 percent of former Soviet facilities containing nuclear materials are under satisfactory security measures. The US has no idea how many Russian tactical nuclear weapons exist, where they are stored, or how well they are guarded, if they are guarded at all. Scoblic will write, “These are the weapons that nuclear experts calculate terrorists would most likely steal because their smaller size makes them easier to transport and conceal.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 209]
Oregon National Guardsman Sean Davis tells CBS’s 60 Minutes that his unit was not provided with enough ammunition when they were deployed to Iraq and that the guardsmen lacked night vision goggles and two-way radios. He explains they used walkie-talkies that they or their families purchased on their own. “And anybody can pick up those signals, you know,” he notes. [CBS News, 10/31/2004]
The Washington Post reports that several thousand shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), once under the control of Saddam Hussein’s government, are now missing. Their disappearance prompts US military and intelligence analysts to dramatically increase their estimate of such weapons that are missing and may be in the hands of insurgents. US analysts report that as many as 4,000 SAMs are unaccounted for, raising the total of such missiles unaccounted for to around 6,000. Exact figures are uncertain. “We don’t have a good estimate,” says a senior defense official. “Some have put forward some figures, but there is none that the Defense Intelligence Agency has confidence in.” When the US invaded Iraq, it did not secure many weapons depots, and hundreds of thousands of tons of munitions were looted. Since then, some have undoubtedly been sold to terrorist organizations. It would be a relatively simple matter to use SAMs to shoot down military or commercial aircraft, and in several instances, insurgents have used such missiles to shoot down American military helicopters. [Washington Post, 11/7/2004; Unger, 2007, pp. 325]
The New York Times reports on the Pentagon’s efforts to develop its own internet, or “war net,” which the Pentagon calls the Global Information Grid (GIG). The GIG would, among other things, allow soldiers to download high-resolution imagery of the places where they are fighting. The “essence of net-centric warfare is [the]… ability to deploy a war-fighting force anywhere, anytime,” says John Garing, strategic planning director at the Defense Information Security Agency, who is quoted in the article. The newspaper reports that “[a]dvocates say networked computers will be the most powerful weapon in the American arsenal” and that “fusing weapons, secret intelligence and soldiers in a global network… will…. change the military in the way the Internet has changed business and culture.” The article quotes several officials and people in private industry who are involved in GIG. For example, Robert J. Stevens, chief executive of the Lockheed Martin Corporation, says that the DoD’s objective is to provide troops in the field with a “a picture of the battle space, a God’s-eye view” which he says will give the military “real power.” Linton Wells II, director of the Office of Networks and Information Integration, says that net-centric principles (see July 27, 2001) are becoming “the center of gravity” for war planners and that the “tenets are broadly accepted throughout the Defense Department.” The article also reports that skeptics of the program doubt that the Pentagon will succeed in its project because it will require excessive amounts of bandwidth—enough to download “three feature-length movies a second.” The Times reports that the program has a projected cost of $120 billion—roughly 5 times the total cost, in today’s dollars, of the Manhattan project to build the atomic bomb. [New York Times, 11/13/2004]
Neoconservative commentator William Kristol does not join other conservatives in lambasting Specialist Thomas Wilson for asking Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld an uncomfortable question about inadequate body armor (see December 8, 2004 and December 9, 2004). Instead, Kristol excoriates Rumsfeld for his apparently flippant response, “You go to war with the army you have.” The Army has “performed a lot better in this war than the secretary of defense has,” Kristol writes, but, he continues, “Rumsfeld is not the defense secretary [President] Bush should want to have for the remainder of his second term.” He calls Rumsfeld’s response “arrogant buck-passing” and slams Rumsfeld for his apparant callousness, quoting the secretary as telling the troops: “[I]f you think about it, you can have all the armor in the world on a tank and a tank can be blown up. And you can have an up-armored humvee and it can be blown up.” Kristol retorts sarcastically: “Good point. Why have armor at all? Incidentally, can you imagine if John Kerry had made such a statement a couple of months ago? It would have been (rightly) a topic of scorn and derision among my fellow conservatives, and not just among conservatives.” Rumsfeld has not performed well since the war began, Kristol writes, constantly resisting calls to increase troop numbers and then unfairly blaming field commanders such as General Tommy Franks and General John Abizaid for not requesting more troops. “All defense secretaries in wartime have, needless to say, made misjudgments,” Kristol writes. “Some have stubbornly persisted in their misjudgments. But have any so breezily dodged responsibility and so glibly passed the buck?” He concludes, “These soldiers deserve a better defense secretary than the one we have.” [Washington Post, 12/15/2005]
Abdus Salam, an associate of Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan, obtains US citizenship. Salam helped Khan acquire equipment for his nuclear activities in the 1970s and ‘80s (see Summer 1976 and Before September 1980), but moved to the US around 1982 (see December 31, 1982). Authors David Armstrong and Joe Trento will investigate why an associate of Khan’s was granted US citizenship, and will find that the first mention of him in immigration records dates from 1995, when he was granted work authorization, although this was more than a decade after he arrived in the country. Before getting citizenship, his immigration file contains only records of him entering or leaving the country on his British passport or alien residency card. There are no red flags and nothing about his business activities, which the two authors find “odd,” although accessible records only began in 1987. However, they find that in customs and immigration records Salam’s date of birth is a few days off, meaning that making a positive identification is difficult. In addition, his Social Security number is way off—it is actually for a completely different person with a different name and a long criminal record, including cocaine dealing. The authors think that it is unusual Salam was granted citizenship despite this “rather glaring discrepancy.” [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 114-115]
According to Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Vice President Dick Cheney applies “constant” pressure on Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kan) to stall the inquiry that is looking into the Bush administration’s use of flawed intelligence on Iraq. The investigation, known as the Phase II investigation, was supposed to have been completed shortly after the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence finished the first phase in July 2004. Cheney’s office denies that the vice president tried to influence the pace of the investigation in anyway. [McClatchy News, 1/25/2006]
Ben Carter, an employee for Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown, & Root (KBR), serves as the foreman of the water purification unit at Camp Ar Ramadi, a US military base also known as “Junction City.” At the base, both potable and non-potable water is supplied for different purposes. Non-potable water, despite not being used for drinking, is expected to meet certain safety standards so that US troops can use it for bathing, showering, shaving, laundry, and cleaning. After another KBR employee discovers larvae swimming in a toilet bowl, Carter does a test and discovers that there is no chlorine present in the non-potable water. When he tests the non-potable water tank, he is shocked to find out that “the water in the tank tested negative for chlorine; that the access lid of the tank was not in place, let alone secure, and the air vents to the tank were turned upward and left unscreened; leaving the water supply vulnerable to contamination from dust, insects, rodents or even enemy attack.” He reports his findings and urges the military to chlorinate their water tanks. But he is told by the KBR site commander that the water is not his concern. Carter is frequently hindered by higher-ups in his attempts to make sure that the water is properly purified and eventually leaves Iraq in frustration. [Democratic Policy Committee, 1/23/2006, pp. 6-8 ]
The Joint Chiefs of Staff publish a classified draft document, the Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations, laying out the rationale for the US’s use of nuclear weapons. It includes the possibility that nuclear weapons could be used during preemptive assaults on nations (see January 10, 2003) or even non-national organizations such as al-Qaeda. The draft states that nuclear weapons can be used:
Against an adversary intending to use WMD against US, multinational, or allies’ forces or civilian populations;
In the event of an imminent attack by biological weapons that only nuclear weapons can safely destroy;
To attack deep, hardened bunkers containing chemical or biological weapons or the command and control infrastructure required for the adversary to execute a WMD attack against the United States or its allies;
To counter potentially overwhelming adversary conventional forces;
For rapid and favorable war termination on US terms;
To ensure the success of US and multinational operations.
In essence, the document gives a green light for the US military, as ordered by President Bush, to use nuclear weapons under almost any circumstances, against much less powerful adversaries. Author J. Peter Scoblic will write: “The Bush administration was blurring, if not erasing, the line between conventional and nuclear weapons and lowering the threshold at which the nation would go nuclear, proposing an array of tactical uses for weapons that were supposed to only be used in strategic conflicts. The Bush Pentagon was effectively acknowledging that the United States might use nuclear weapons first, against a nonnuclear state, before any hostilities had taken place.” The document actually replaced the term “nuclear war” with “conflict involving nuclear weapons” because the first phrase implies that both sides in a conflict were using nuclear weapons, and in all likelihood any nuclear weapons deployed under the conditions envisioned in the document would only be American. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 180-181]
Blackwater Worldwide, one of several Blackwater brand companies, deploys CS nerve gas on a crowded Green Zone checkpoint from both a helicopter and an armored vehicle. Army Captain Kincy Clark documents and reports the incident. Former Army lawyers will state that use of such riot control agents requires the approval of the military’s most senior commanders. Blackwater initially had a contract to provide security for American officials in Iraq with the Coalition Provisional Authority, an agreement which did not address the use of CS gas. When the contracts for Blackwater, DynCorp, and Triple Canopy are renewed after the incident, these contracts will forbid the use of CS gas. Commanders in the field will state that they fear the incident being used for propaganda by insurgents, who will say the US was using chemical weapons. [New York Times, 1/10/2008]
The CIA launches a missile from a remotely piloted Predator drone and kills al-Qaeda leader Haitham al-Yemeni. He is killed in a village in northwest Pakistan near the Afghanistan border. He had been tracked since attending a meeting with other al-Qaeda leaders a few months earlier (see Early 2005). [ABC News, 5/13/2005; New York Times, 7/8/2007] US intelligence officials say they were hoping al-Yemeni would lead them to bin Laden, but after al-Qaeda leader Abu Faraj al-Libbi was captured in early May 2005, they worried al-Yemeni would go into hiding and decided to kill him instead. Officials claim that al-Yemeni was going to replace al-Libbi as al-Qaeda’s operations leader. However, little is known about him (including his real name since al-Yemeni means “from Yemen”), and he is not listed in either the FBI or Pakistani “Most Wanted” list. There are no prior media mentions of his name and no publicly released photographs of him either. [Washington Post, 5/15/2005] One anonymous US intelligence source disputes claims that al-Yemeni was high-ranking. [CNN, 5/14/2005]
The 2005 NPT Review Conference, held once every five years to review and extend the implementation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (see July 1, 1968), is an unusually contentious affair, and the US is at the center of the imbroglio. After the 2000 NPT Review Conference (see Late May, 2000), the US, under George W. Bush, refused to join in calls to implement the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT—see September 10, 1996). The US’s recalcitrance is, if anything, magnified five years later. Many representatives of the NPT signatories focus their ire upon the US, even though two signatories, Iran and North Korea, are, in author J. Peter Scoblic’s words, “violating either the spirit or the letter of the treaty” in developing their own nuclear weapons. Other nations send their foreign ministers to the conference, and in turn the US could have been expected to send Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. (In 1995 and 2000, the US had sent, respectively, Vice President Al Gore and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to represent the US.) Instead, the US sends State Department functionary Stephen Rademaker. Not only is Rademaker’s lesser rank a studied insult to the conference, Rademaker himself is an ardent conservative and a protege of arms control opponent John Bolton. Rademaker enters the conference prepared to use the forum to browbeat Iran and North Korea; instead, he finds himself defending the US’s intransigence regarding the CTBT. The New Agenda Coalition, made up of Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, South Africa, Sweden, and New Zealand—all allies of the US—focuses on “the troubling development that some nuclear-weapon states are researching or even planning to develop new or significantly modify existing warheads,” a Bush administration priority (see May 1, 2001 and December 13, 2001). “These actions have the potential to create the conditions for a new nuclear arms race.” Even Japan, usually a solid US ally, says that all nuclear-armed states should take “further steps toward nuclear disarmament.” Canada, the closest of US allies both in policy and geography, is more blunt, with its representative saying, “If governments simply ignore or discard commitments whenever they prove inconvenient, we will never build an edifice of international cooperation and confidence in the security realm.” And outside the conference, former British Foreign Minister Robin Cook lambasts the US in an op-ed entitled “America’s Broken Unclear Promises Endanger Us All,” blasting the Bush administration for its belief that “obligations under the nonproliferation treaty are mandatory for other nations and voluntary for the US.” For his part, Rademaker says just before the conference, “We are not approaching this review conference from the cynical perspective of, we are going to toss a few crumbs to the rest of the world, and, by doing that, try to buy goodwill or bribe countries into agreeing to the agenda that we think they should focus on rather than some other agenda.” In 2008, Scoblic will interpret Rademaker’s statement: “In other words, the administration was not going to engage in diplomacy even if it would encourage other states to see things our way—which only meant that it was quite certain they never would.” [United Nations, 5/2005; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 277-280]
Former Senator Sam Nunn (D-GA), one of the nation’s most respected defense experts, is critical of the Bush administration’s wholesale failure to work to help Russia secure its “loose nukes” (see January 10, 2001 and After and August 2002). “In measuring the adequacy of our response to today’s nuclear threats,” he says, “on a scale of one to ten, I would give us about a three.” Nunn adds that a recent summit between Presidents Bush and Putin moves the US “closer to a four.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 210]
The Bush administration reverses almost 30 years of US policy by announcing that it will “work to achieve full civil nuclear energy cooperation with India.” The US agrees to provide India with nuclear fuel, reactor technology, and dual-use goods that have both civilian and military applications. The US has been leery of such dealings with India because of its unsanctioned development of nuclear weapons (using US technology—see June 20, 1996 and May 11-13, 1998). Since 1998, the US has sanctioned India and backed a UN resolution demanding that India give up its nuclear program. In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will write, “Given that context, it was shocking that the Bush administration would renew Indian access to nuclear technology.” The deal violates the US’s commitments under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT—see July 1, 1968) and requires a fundamental rewrite of laws written specifically to constrain India’s nuclear ambitions. With the agreement, the US has turned India from a global “nuclear pariah” to a burgeoning full partner in the world’s “nuclear club.” The agreement is also guaranteed to inflame passions in Pakistan, India’s traditional enemy, which is, in Scoblic’s words, “nuclear-armed, jihadist-riddled, and politically unstable.” Pakistan is almost certain to step up its production of nuclear reactors and even weapons, a major concern considering that Pakistan is considered the nation most likely to provide nuclear technology to Islamist militants. State Department official Nicholas Burns explains that the US wants to “transform relations with India… founded upon a strategic vision that transcends even today’s most pressing security needs.” The US ambassador to India, Robert Blackwill, writes that the Bush administration decided to ignore the “nagging nannies” in the State Department who warned of the danger of nuclear proliferation. Many experts see the US as cultivating India to serve as a bulwark against Pakistan and Islamic radicalism, as well as a counter against the geostrategic maneuverings of China. Bush officials call it a “natural alliance,” and claim that arming a “democratic friend” with nuclear technology is worth the risk of unwanted proliferation. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 255-258] Two years later, the US will repeatedly sanction Indian entities for providing nuclear technology to, among other nations and organizations, Iran (see 2007).
Iran marks the imminent ascension of hardline conservative Mahmoud Ahmedinejad to the presidency (see August 3, 2005) by announcing that it is resuming its previously-suspended conversion of uranium into plutonium. [BBC, 8/3/2005; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 251]
In an interview with Christopher Deliso of Antiwar.com, former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds says that the US government—the State Department in particular—consistently blocks counterterrorism investigations that come too close to certain top-level people. “We go for the Attas and Hamdis—but never touch the guys on the top.… [It] would upset ‘certain foreign relations.’ But it would also expose certain of our elected officials, who have significant connections with high-level drugs- and weapons- smuggling—and thus with the criminal underground, even with the terrorists themselves.… [A]ll of these high-level criminal operations involve working with foreign people, foreign countries, the outside world—and to a certain extent these relations do depend on the continuation of criminal activities.” Edmonds says that the government’s investigation into the financing of al-Qaeda is a case in point. “You know, they are coming down on these charities as the finance of al-Qaeda.… [But] a very small percentage comes from these charity foundations. The vast majority of their financing comes from narcotics. Look, we had 4 to 6 percent of the narcotics coming from the East, coming from Pakistan, coming from Afghanistan via the Balkans to the United States. Today, three or four years after Sept. 11, that has reached over 15 percent. How is it getting here? Who are getting the proceedings from those big narcotics?… But I can tell you there are a lot of people involved, a lot of ranking officials, and a lot of illegal activities that include multi-billion-dollar drug-smuggling operations, black-market nuclear sales to terrorists and unsavory regimes, you name it. And of course a lot of people from abroad are involved.” She says that her allegations against co-worker Melek Can Dickerson and her lawsuit against the FBI are just the tip of the iceberg. She expresses frustration that the media wants to only focus on the whistleblower aspect of her case instead of looking into the substance of her allegations. She says that it was completely by chance that she stumbled over an ongoing investigation into this international criminal network. “You can start from the AIPAC angle. You can start from the [Valerie] Plame case. You can start from my case. They all end up going to the same place, and they revolve around the same nucleus of people. There may be a lot of them, but it is one group. And they are very dangerous for all of us.” [Anti-War (.com), 8/15/2005]
The United States signs more than $21 billion in arms sales agreements with foreign countries—twice as much as the previous year. Between September 2001 and and September 2005, annual foreign military sales was typically between $10 billion and $13 billion. The 100 percent increase in sales in attributed to several factors, including the Bush administration’s practice of rewarding loyal allies and client-states with arms; the increased purchasing power of Middle Eastern countries flush with oil revenue; and the decision to drop bans against selling weapons to countries like India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Tajikistan, Serbia and Montenegro, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. In 2005 Pakistan placed a $5 billion order for Lockheed Martin’s advanced F-16 jets. Next year’s arms sales is expected to be high also. Lt. Gen. Jeffrey B. Kohler, director of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, tells the New York Times, “We’ve got a good start on 2007.” India is hoping to purchase as many as 126 new fighter jets, while Saudi Arabia has plans to spend $5.8 billion on US weapons for its National Guard and an additional $3 billion for Black Hawk helicopters, Abrams and Bradley armored land vehicles, new radio systems, and other weapons. Christopher E. Kubasik, chief financial officer of Lockheed, tells the Times its foreign buyers are “valued customers,” adding that the company plans “to continue to grow in that area.” [New York Times, 11/1/2006]
The International Atomic Energy Agency’s Board of Governors passes a resolution declaring Iran in non-compliance with its safeguard obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The resolution calls on Iran to suspend all enrichment-related activity, cease construction on a heavy water research reactor, and provide agency inspectors access to research and development locations and documentation. The resolution also calls on Iran to “[p]romptly… ratify and implement in full the Additional Protocol,” which would require Iran to allow short-notice inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities. [International Atomic Energy Agency. Board of Governors, 9/24/2005 ] Iran has signed but not ratified it. [Washington Post, 9/27/2005] If Iran fails to comply with this resolution, the board could decide at its next meeting in November to refer the matter to the UN Security Council. A referral to the Security Council would set the stage for the possible imposition of sanctions on Iran. Iran has repeatedly stated that it will not relinquish its right under the NPT to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. The resolution, sponsored by Britain, France, and Germany, passes with 22 votes. Twelve countries abstain, including Russia, China, Pakistan, South Africa and Brazil, and only one—Venezuela—opposes the resolution. India, under strong pressure from the US (see September 10, 2005), backs the resolution, despite its close ties to Iran. The resolution marks the third time in two decades that an IAEA resolution has not been approved unanimously. [BBC, 9/25/2005; Associated Press, 9/25/2005; Washington Post, 9/25/2005; Economic Times (Gurgaon, India), 9/26/2005] Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki calls the resolution “politically motivated, illegal, and illogical,” asserting that the “three European countries implemented a planned scenario already determined by the United States.” [Economic Times (Gurgaon, India), 9/26/2005]
The US lifts an arms embargo on Indonesia. The US imposed a limited arms ban in 1991 after the Indonesian military massacred civilians in East Timor. The arms ban was strengthened in 1999 after the Indonesian military committed more massacres as East Timor voted for independence. The Bush administration had long desired closer ties with the Indonesian military, but was held back by Congress, which imposed conditions before military relations could be reestablished. In particular, the Indonesian military was required to account for some atrocities, especially the alleged killing of several US teachers by Indonesian soldiers in the province of West Papua in 2002 (see August 31, 2002). Indonesia had yet to fulfill these conditions, but earlier in the month Congress inserted a loophole in the law, allowing the restrictions to be waived by the Bush administration if it was found necessary for national security reasons. The Bush administration uses the loophole during Thanksgiving vacation while Congress is out of session, despite the lack of any new national security reason to do so. The lifting of restrictions still falls short of full military relations the US has with most other countries in the region. The US also renewed training and educational exchanges with the Indonesian military earlier in the year. [International Herald Tribune, 11/24/2005] The killing of US teachers in Papua remains unresolved. In January 2006, the New York Times will report that Indonesian police have concluded that the Indonesian military committed the killings but are unwilling to officially report this because of diplomatic sensitivities between the US and Indonesia. [New York Times, 1/27/2006]
Boeing is awarded a contract to upgrade the fleet of four E-4B National Airborne Operations Center planes over the next five years. The E-4B is a modified Boeing 747 crammed with electronics to serve as a flying command post in war or during an emergency. The contract is capped at $2 billion, but it is unclear why so much money is needed to modernize such a small number of aircraft. [Defense Industry Daily, 12/27/2005] An E-4B was seen over Washington, DC on 9/11 (see Early September 2001).
Members of the 9/11 Commission, issuing their final report on progress made in meeting the commission’s earlier recommendations, give the Bush administration a grade of “D” in its nonproliferation efforts. The administration has wholly failed to help Russia secure loose nuclear materials and actual weapons, the commission finds (see January 10, 2001 and After and June 2005). President Bush needs to make nonproliferation a priority, to “ride herd on the bureaucracy” and engage in “a maximum effort” to ensure the US’s nuclear security. “Given the potential for catastrophic destruction,” the commission members find, “our current efforts fall far short of what we need to do.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 210]
The CIA misses a chance to kill al-Qaeda leader Khalid Habib. In 2006, the CIA hears from the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, that Habib is staying at a compound in Miram Shah, North Waziristan, in Pakistan’s tribal region. An involved CIA officer will later tell the Los Angeles Times that he spends weeks at a nearby military outpost, monitoring live images from a Predator drone. He says, “We had a Predator up there for hours at a stretch, just watching, watching.” The CIA closely studies the layout of the compound in preparation for a drone strike. “They took a shot at the compound a week after I left. We got some bodyguards, but he was not there.” Under US policy at this time, the CIA needs permission from the Pakistani government before any drone strike, and getting the approval can take a day or more. Apparently, such delays contribute to the failure to successfully kill Habib. Habib will finally be killed in a Predator strike in 2008. [Los Angeles Times, 3/22/2009] There are no contemporary media accounts of any Predator strike at Miram Shah in 2006, so the date of the strike remains unknown.
Former Canadian prosecutor Guy Gilbert alleges that a judge in a trial of three associates of Pakistani nuclear proliferator A. Q. Khan was “partial” to the defense. The allegation is made in an interview for a book by authors David Armstrong and Joe Trento; the trial ended with light sentences for two of the accused and the acquittal of the third (see Late 1980 or After). Gilbert will say: “I remember the address by the judge to the jury. He almost gave them [the case] on a silver fork.” Gilbert will also recall meeting the judge, Gerald Ryan, some time after the trial. “I said, ‘Gerry, don’t tell me that you think those guys did not export the parts to make the inverters.’ He said, ‘Of course, of course they did it.’ ‘Well,’ I said, ‘that’s not the way it came out when you addressed the jury.’” Gilbert will also say that he speaks to the defense lawyers in the case occasionally: “I tease them once in a while. I say, ‘You think these guys knew what they were doing?… I think you contributed to them [Pakistan] having the bomb today.’” [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 105-106]
The US embassy in Baghdad under construction. [Source: London Times]A US Inspector General’s report into reconstruction in Iraq finds that although $22 billion had been spent, water, sewage, and electricity infrastructure still operate at prewar levels. Oil production is also significantly below prewar levels. Task Force Shield, a $147 million to train Iraqi security personnel to protect key oil and electrical sites failed to meet its goals. A fraud investigation is under way to find out why. Less than half the water and electricity projects have been completed and only six of 150 planned health clinics have been completed. By contrast, the US embassy under construction in Baghdad is the only big US building project in Iraq on time and within budget. The embassy, estimated to cost $592 million, will consist of 21 large buildings instead a 102-hectare (42-acre) site, and will be bigger than the small nation of Vatican City. The London Times comments, “The question puzzles and enrages a city: how is it that the Americans cannot keep the electricity running in Baghdad for more than a couple of hours a day, yet still manage to build themselves the biggest embassy on Earth?” [London Times, 5/3/2006]
Daily Telegraph defense correspondent Thomas Harding reports that American defense officials in the operations and planning staff at the Pentagon, with the backing of the George W. Bush administration, are requesting a “prodigious quantity” of ammunition from Russia to supply the Afghan National Army. The order is reported to include more than 78 million rounds of AK47 ammunition, 100,000 rocket-propelled grenades, and 12,000 tank shells, equivalent to about 15 times the British Army’s annual requirements. The order also suggests the Afghan Army will be equipped with T62 tanks, Mi24 Hind attack helicopters, and Spandrel anti-tank missiles. Harding’s diplomatic sources believe that the US may be offering an estimated $400 million for this “decade’s worth” of ammunition, including transport costs. All of the material will come from Rosoboronexport, the sole Russian state intermediary agency for military exports. “This is a request for a price indication from the Pentagon to the Russians,” says one arms source connected to Russia. “After that comes back they will look at their budget and turn it into an order—and it will be an order of huge magnitude.” American officials are said to be pressing for rapid processing of the order so that exports may begin before the end of this year, according to the report. Harding reports that White House “insiders” fear that Afghanistan could “drift,” and consequently want to arm President Hamid Karzai’s government before the 2008 US presidential election, especially in the event of a Democrat becoming president. The Telegraph report also indicates that some British officials and arms experts are privy to the deal. One senior British officer is quote as saying: “The point of getting Afghanistan up and running is so they can take on their own operations. This deal makes sense if we are going to hand over military control to them.” Harding’s arms industry source tells him that the Pentagon wants to “stack the country up” with arms. “It’s the equivalent of buying yourself a plane to fly to Le Touquet for lunch and you get yourself a 747 jumbo instead of a light aircraft,” he remarks. [Daily Telegraph, 5/22/2006]
A retired Army general tells authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein: “The Army is broken. It will take decades to fix.” A Pentagon veteran of the Gulf War who declines to allow his name to be used, he says of that period: “It was different then. The staffs were apolitical. And the military was taken care of. If we made a mistake, we did no irreparable harm. [Vice President] Cheney now seems oblivious to what the military needs. That’s because he trusts [Defense Secretary] Rumsfeld.… So we have an army that is broken. The DOD [Defense Department] is broken. And the process is broken. Rumsfeld has left us with the smallest army since before 1941. First time in the history of the country that we haven’t surged up the Army in time of war. We have never not surged up the Army in time of war. So we redeploy, and redeploy, and redeploy, and break down the Army.… They’re not surging up, and they’re burning through equipment in Iraq. [Cheney and Rumsfeld have done] irreparable harm” to the Army. Larry Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, agrees: “They have gone through so much equipment in Iraq,” he tells Dubose and Bernstein. He says the true test the military will face will not be on the battlefield, but in Washington. “The first challenge is going to be the reconstruction bill that will confront the next president. I mean bringing the ground forces, and to a certain extent the Air Force, back to levels pre-Iraq. They have burned up Abrams tanks, Chinook helicopters, all very expensive hardware, at a rate which is astronomical.” Wilkerson believes the Army will also find it very difficult to find large numbers of new recruits to replenish the ranks. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 221-222]
In July 2006, fighting breaks out in southern Lebanon between the Israeli military and Hezbollah. Western intelligence officials soon learn that Victor Bout, the world’s biggest illegal arms dealer, has been spotted in a Hezbollah military building in Lebanon. Officials also discover that Richard Chichakli, Bout’s longtime business partner, has recently moved from the US to Damascus, Syria. Israeli officials suspect that Bout arms Hezbollah with sophisticated Russian-made armor-piercing antitank missiles. [Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 254] Bout’s role is not confirmed at the time. But in 2008, journalist Douglas Farah, co-author of a 2007 book on Bout, will tell ABC News that recent intelligence indicates Bout did supply the armor-piercing missiles to Hezbollah. [ABC News, 3/6/2008] In 2006, Bout’s network is also supplying the US military in Iraq (see Late April 2003-2007).
The US donates $2 billion worth of military equipment to Afghanistan to equip and modernize the country’s national army. The $2 billion also covers the building of a national military command center. At a donation ceremony in Kabul, Maj. Gen. Robert Durbin says that the military donation is in addition to the more than $2 billion the United States has already committed for military equipment and facilities to Afghanistan. Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, also speaking at the ceremony, says that some 200 Humvees and 2,000 assault rifles, the first part of the donation, will arrive by the end of the year. A total of 2,500 Humvees and tens of thousands of M-16 assault rifles are expected to arrive as part of the donation. [Associated Press, 7/4/2006]
A map of the 2006 advance of the Islamic Courts Union in Somalia. [Source: Public domain / James Dahl]In late July 2006, the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), an Islamist militant group, conquers the Somali capital of Mogadishu. Somalia has long been divided by various warlords and factions, but the ICU soon takes over much of the country. Within days of taking Mogadishu, a number of large Russian-made cargo planes begin landing in Mogadishu’s newly reopened airport, bringing in weapons for the ICU. US military officials order an investigation as to who is supplying the ICU, and within weeks US intelligence concludes that the planes are owned by companies linked to Victor Bout, the world’s biggest illegal arms dealer. Soon, intelligence confirms that Bout is working closely not only with Islamist militias in Somalia, but also their allies in nearby Eritrea. [Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 254-255] The ICU will lose control of Mogadishu and much of Somalia in December 2006 after Ethiopia invades the country (see December 24, 2006-January 2007), but the group continues fighting. Bout’s flights will continue into 2007. In July 2007, a Sunday Times reporter posing as a middleman for the ICU will arrange an arms deal with Alexander Radionov, who runs a front company linked to Bout. Had the reporter paid, Radionov would have parachuted eight tons of ammunition into Somalia. [Sunday Times (London), 7/15/2007] Bout had previously worked with other al-Qaeda linked Islamist groups, including the Taliban (see Summer 2002), but he has also been supplying the US military in Iraq since war began there in 2003 (see Late April 2003).
United States Geological Survey graphic showing the location of the North Korea nuclear test. The USGS notes the test as ‘seismic activity.’ [Source: United States Geological Survey]North Korea explodes a nuclear weapon in an underground test site. The test takes place in spite of repeated US (see September 11, 2006), United Nations, and other international warnings. The North Koreans claim that the test is an unmitigated success. Both Japanese and US sources report a seismic event at the time of the test, and Russia says it is “100 percent certain” a nuclear test has occurred. The US calls the test a “provocative act”; China, in an unusually strong denunciation of its ally, calls the test “brazen,” expresses its “resolute opposition” to the test, and says it “defied the universal opposition of international society.” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan calls the test “unpardonable” and notes that the region is now “entering a new, dangerous nuclear age.” Many observers believe the United Nations will attempt to impose economic sanctions on the country, and to condemn it in a Security Council resolution. “We expect the UN Security Council to take immediate actions to respond to this unprovoked act,” says White House press secretary Tony Snow. Abe, in South Korea to meet with President Roh Moo-hyun, agrees, urging the Security Council to take “undaunted” action. Abe says the test will spur Japan and the US to speed up work on a joint missile-defense system begun after a North Korean missile test in 1998. Roh says the test creates a “severe situation” that threatens stability in the region; South Korea’s military is on high alert. For its part, North Korea says the test is a “historic event that brought happiness to our military and people,” and claims the test will maintain “peace and stability” in the region. It is “a great leap forward in the building of a great prosperous, powerful socialist nation.” [BBC, 10/9/2006] A week later, the US confirms that the North Koreans have, in fact, tested a nuclear weapon of less than a kiloton. [Bloomberg, 10/16/2006]
The Aerospace Industries Association, along with representatives from the Boeing Company and the Northrop Grumman Corporation, meet with researchers at the Heritage Foundation to discuss plans to relax arms exporting rules so the industry can increase its sales of weapons to foreign countries. They are drafting a new export control law that they hope Congress will take up next year. [Aerospace Industries Association, 10/2006 ; New York Times, 11/1/2006]
The UN General Assembly votes in favor of creating an international treaty aimed at curbing the illicit trade in guns and other light weapons. The United States, the world’s largest supplier of small arms, is the only country to vote against the resolution. Supporters of the resolution say that the small arms trade fuels conflict, poverty, and serious human rights violations. Inter Press Service reports that “independent experts who have worked closely with the United Nations on the issue of small arms proliferation estimate that in the past three years more than one million people have been killed as a result of the unchecked flow of guns and other small weapons.” [UN General Assembly, 10/26/2006; Inter Press Service, 10/27/2006]
The Chenagai madrassa after the Predator strike. [Source: BBC]The US launches a Predator drone missile strike on a madrassa (religious school) in the Bajour district of Pakistan’s tribal region, then Pakistan sends in helicopters to attack the survivors. The aim is to kill al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri, but he is not there. Pakistani officials initially claim that a number of al-Qaeda operatives are killed, including Abu Ubaida al-Masri, an operational leader. But the next day they only say that some Taliban members are killed. [ABC News, 10/30/2006; ABC News, 10/31/2006] The attack is said to have killed 82, many of them students at the madrassa located in Chenagai, a hamlet of Damadola village, which had been hit by a Predator strike earlier in the year (see January 13, 2006). [London Times, 11/26/2006]
A study conducted for the US Defense Threat Reduction Agency finds that close American allies want the Bush administration to understand that “a greater US readiness to engage on nuclear disarmament issues would pay off in increased support from other third parties in pursuing US nonproliferation issues.” Many US allies, such as Canada, Japan, Mexico, South Africa, and others, are deeply unhappy with the US’s recent refusal to follow the restrictions of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (see Late May 2005). A similar study for Sandia National Laboratories, a US nuclear research facility, finds that while other nations are not any more likely to develop their own nuclear programs because of the US’s nuclear posture, the US has lost tremendous credibility in pursuing nonproliferation efforts among other states because of its perceived hypocrisy. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 278-279]
Representatives of the Lebanese government reportedly approach the newly-formed Sunni extremist group Fatah al-Islam (see November 2006) and offer it weapons and cash to fight against Hezbollah. Lebanon is said to be flush with cash as a result of a new US policy (see Late 2006) aimed at undercutting the growing influence of Iran and Shiite militant groups in the region. [New Yorker, 3/5/2007]
During the year, the US imposes sanctions on nine different entities in India for unsanctioned nuclear proliferation—giving, or selling, nuclear technology to nations and/or organizations prohibited from having them. Perhaps the most worrisome buyer of Indian nuclear technology is Iran. Two years before, Bush officials had reversed 30 years of US sanctions against India over its unrestricted development of nuclear technology, and entered into an agreement with India to provide it with more technology and even fissile material (see July 18, 2005). [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 258]
Former Republican Congressman Curt Weldon, newly hired by private US defense consulting firm Defense Solutions, begins helping that firm broker deals between Russian and Ukranian arms dealers and the governments of Iraq and Libya. The US has banned its citizens from participating in any such deals with Libya. Weldon visits Libya to discuss a possible military arms deal, and, in the company of Defense Solutions CEO Timothy Ringgold and another Defense Solutions representative, travels to Moscow to discuss working with Russia’s weapons-export agency on arms sales to the Middle East. Defense Solutions is one of a number of American and other firms trying to profit from the growing pipeline between weapons suppliers of the former Soviet bloc and Afghanistan and various countries in the Middle East. According to a letter from Ringgold to his colleagues, Russia finds that an “intermediary” like Weldon, with his political and defense industry connections, helps it move products in Iraq. “They [the Russians] have not spoken with any American company that can offer the quid pro quo that we can or that has the connections in Russia that we have,” Ringgold wrote. Wired News will note that, a few years ago, any American firm trying to broker arms deals involving a sponsor of terrorism such as Libya would have run afoul of Congressional oversight committees. Now, though, the Bush administration is so eager to outfit countries like Afghanistan and Iraq with modern weapons that it allows, at least informally, such contacts. Defense Solutions has hired a number of influential Washington advisers such as Weldon, a former member of the House Armed Services Committee, and retired General Barry McCaffrey. Weldon speaks enthusiastically about setting up a “front company” to work with Rosoboronexport, a Russian arms agency, in selling arms to Middle Eastern nations. He also claims that the director of Rosoboronexport has approached him to work with “an American company that would act as a front for weapons these nations want to buy,” and calls the proposal an “unbelievable offer.” Rosoboronexport is barred from doing business with the US government after violating the Iran and Syria Nonproliferation Act, and Libya is on the State Department’s arms embargo list. Rachel Stohl, an expert on the international arms trade and a senior analyst at the Center for Defense Information, will say that many expert observers believe that Defense Solutions and other defense contractors may be engaging in illegal and corrupt activities, such as selling shoddy, substandard arms and equipment, or in some cases making deals for arms that are never delivered. Ringgold will deny having signed any deals with Libya, but admits he is interested in doing business there. He will also confirm Weldon’s trip to Libya on behalf of the firm, and will openly admit trying to cut deals with Rosoboronexport. [Wired News, 7/3/2008]
Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius. [Source: The Source]An extended tornado outbreak begins on May 4 and culminates with an EF5 “supercell” in Greensburg, Kansas that razes 95% of the city and kills 12 and injures at least 60. [ABC News, 5/9/2007] Governor Kathleen Sebelius notes that “what we’re really missing is equipment. And that is putting a strain on recoveries like this one.” These critical comments are in response to the deployment of the bulk of the Kansas National Guard personnel and equipment to Iraq. [MSNBC, 6/4/2007]
Russia strenuously objects to US plans to deploy 10 missile interceptors and an advanced radar system in Eastern Europe—in essence creating a missile defense system in several former Soviet satellite states. Russia says that those installations will be targeted by Russian nuclear weapons, and hints that it will accelerate its development of new ICBMs and new submarine-launched ballistic missiles, threatening a new, post-Cold War arms race. The US protests that the weapons systems are not intended for use against Russian targets, but the Russian government is not mollified. “In questions of military-strategic stability there are… immutable laws, actions, counteractions, defense, offensive systems,” says Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. “These laws operate regardless of how somebody would like to see this or that situation. The military has its own duty, to figure out threats and take countermeasures.” Russian President Vladimir Putin says that the US missile defense system plans are “destroying the strategic equilibrium in the world,” and adds, “In order to restore that balance without setting up a missile defense system, we will have to create a system to overcome missile defense, and that is what we are doing now.” If the US continues with its planned deployment, Russia says it will stop observing the limits on conventional arms in Europe, an agreement negotiated by George H. W. Bush, and will consider withdrawing from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (see December 7-8, 1987). [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 190-191]
Blackwater’s Bagdad manager gets the blame for the death of four Blackwater employees in Fallujah in 2004 (see March 31, 2004). Memos show that Blackwater sent two teams out, named Bravo 2 and November 1. Both were sent out with four men instead of the usual six. Bravo 2 protested that they weren’t ready for the mission, which was guarding empty flatbed trucks and picking up a food service company executive. They had no maps and had no time to prepare their weapons, but both teams were commanded to go anyway. Bravo 2 refused to follow their directions to drive through Fallujah, and instead drove around it and returned safely to Baghdad that evening. The four members of November 1 followed orders, went into Fallujah, and were massacred. Bravo 2 team memos blame Blackwater’s Baghdad site manager Tom Powell for giving these orders. For instance, team member Daniel Browne will later write in a memo that “we all want to kill him.” Memos about the incident will surface in mid-July 2007 after Congress opens an inquiry into Blackwater’s activities in Iraq. Like other private security firms, Blackwater has received hundreds of millions of dollars in federal contracts, with little or no oversight from Congress until 2007. Had a military officer sent four lightly armed soldiers into Fallujah and had them killed in such a brutal and public manner, that officer likely would have faced public scrutiny and a military inquiry. But Blackwater has never conducted such a public probe, and for years will refuse to provide documents such as the Bravo 2 memos to Congress. The families of the four members of November 1 have sued Blackwater in an effort to find out what happened. [The News Observer, 7/8/2007]
Christina Rocca. [Source: US State Department]Christina Rocca, the US representative to the UN’s Conference on Disarmament, makes a statement to the conference members on the US’s attempts to “reduce the threat of nuclear war and armed conflict.” Rocca refers to the 2001 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) (see December 31, 2001) as part of her claim that the US is reducing its reliance on nuclear weapons as part of its counterstrike options. Rocca says the “new thinking embodied in” that policy review has allowed for steady progress in nuclear disarmament among the US, Russia, and other countries formerly involved in the Cold War. [United States Mission to the United Nations, 10/9/2007] Unfortunately, Rocca is misrepresenting the actual thrust of the NPR. In point of fact, the NPR spearheaded a new operational policy that plans for pre-emptive nuclear strikes against countries attempting to create weapons of mass destruction, if the White House deems such strikes necessary. The NPR mandates a greater, not a lesser, reliance on nuclear arms for pre-emptive and retaliatory strikes. [Federation of American Scientists, 11/5/2007]
The cover of Plame Wilson’s ‘Fair Game.’ [Source: Amazon (.com)]Former CIA spy and case officer Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003), an expert on Iraqi WMD, publishes her memoir of her time in the CIA, Fair Game. The book’s publisher, Simon & Schuster, notes that significant amounts of material Plame Wilson originally wrote for the book were redacted by the CIA, and the redactions survived a lawsuit aimed at restoring them. “Accordingly,” the publisher writes, “Ms. Wilson’s portion of this book contains only that information that the CIA has deemed unclassified and has allowed her to include.” The portions the CIA ordered redacted are represented by blacked-out passages. Some of the incidents covered in the redacted material are revealed in an afterword written by journalist Laura Rozen. [Simon & Schuster, 9/19/2007 ] On the subject of Iraqi WMDs, Plame Wilson writes: “[I]t is easy to surrender to a revisionist idea that all the WMD evidence against Iraq was fabricated. While it is true that powerful ideologues encouraged a war to prove their own geopolitical theories, and critical failures of judgment were made throughout the intelligence community in the spring and summer of 2002, Iraq, under its cruel dictator Saddam Hussein, was clearly a rogue nation that flouoted international treaties and norms in its quest for regional superiority.” Using material and information collected by the nonpartisan Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Plame Wilson notes that by 2001, Iraq had made progress in all three major areas of WMD.
Iraq could have “probably” fabricated a crude nuclear device if it had successfully secured enough uranium or plutonium.
Iraq was a few years away from being able to produce its own weapons-grade fissile material.
It had a large, experienced pool of nuclear weapons scientists and technicians, and viable plans for building nuclear devices.
Iraq had actively sought equipment related to building nuclear devices.
Iraq had repeatedly violated UN Resolution 687, which mandated that all materials and information related to the construction of nuclear weapons possessed by Iraq must be destroyed.
Between 1972 and 1991, Iraq had an active and growing nuclear weapons development program involving some 10,000 people and $10 billion, and in 1990 it attempted to divert uranium sealed under an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for nuclear weapons development.
Iraq had plans for equipping existing Al-Hussein (modified Scud-B) missiles, with a 300-kilometer range, or possibly modifying Al-Hussein missiles, to fly as far as 650 kilometers. The US believed that, if allowed to work unchallenged, Iraq could build missiles capable of flying 3,000 kilometers within 5 years and build full-fledged ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) within 15 years.
In 1987, Iraq had reportedly field-tested some sort of radiological bomb.
Iraq was believed to have retained stockpiles of biological weapons munitions, including over 150 aerial bombs and at least 25 Al-Hussein missiles with either chemical or biological warheads. At least 17 metric tons of bioweapons growth media remained unaccounted for. Iraq was also believed to possess weaponized strains of anthrax, smallpox, and camelpox. It had conducted tests on delivering biological and/or chemical payloads via unmanned “drone” aircraft.
Iraq was believed to have bioweapons sprayers built to be deployed by its fleet of F-1 Mirage fighters.
Iraq was believed to have kept hidden bioweapons laboratories capable of producing “dry” biological weapons, which have much longer shelf lives and can be deployed with greater dissemination. It was also thought to be able to produce anthrax, aflatoxin, botulism, and clostridium.
During the 1990-91 Gulf War, Iraq had prepared, but not launched, a number of Al-Hussein missiles equipped with biological and/or chemical warheads.
Iraq had repeatedly violated the mandate of UN Resolution 687, which required that all Iraqi bioweapons capabilities be destroyed.
In 2001, Iraq was believed to possess a stockpile of chemical munitions, including at least 25 chemical or biologically-equipped Al-Hussein missiles, 2,000 aerial bombs, up to 25,000 rockets, and 15,000 artillery shells.
Iraq was believed to have the means to produce hundreds of tons of mustard gas, VX toxin, and other nerve agents.
Iraq was reconstructing its former dual-use chemical weapons facilities that had been destroyed during the 1991 Gulf War and during follow-up air strikes. A huge chemical arsenal had been destroyed by UN inspectors after the war.
Iraq retained a large and experienced pool of scientists and technicians capable of making chemical weapons.
In 1988 and 1989, Iraq had used chemical weapons against Iraqi Kurds, and from 1983 through 1989, had used chemical weapons against Iranian troops.
Iraq had repeatedly violated UN Resolution 687, which mandated that all chemical weapons technology and materials in Iraqi hands be destroyed.
Iraq was not a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention.
Plame Wilson writes that in 2001, the general view of Iraq among the US intelligence community was that the nation’s government was “dangerous and erratic,” and very interested in procuring chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons technology. The community’s knowledge of Iraq’s WMD program “was a huge puzzle with only a few pieces that fit together correctly.… [N]one of us knew what the completed puzzle would look like.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 97-98]
A new report finds that the Defense Department (DoD) is displaying a “precipitous decrease in attention” to securing and controlling US nuclear arms. The report, issued today by the Defense Science Board, is the product of a task force assigned to investigate the August 2007 incident where a B-52 bomber flew across the continental United States carrying six nuclear missiles (see August 30, 2007). The report says, “The decline in DoD focus has been more pronounced than realized and too extreme to be acceptable.” The chairman of the task force, retired Air Force General Larry Welch, testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee in conjunction with the report, and tells the assembled lawmakers of his concern that “the nation and its leadership do not value the nuclear mission and the people who perform that mission.” Welch’s task force points out that Air Force colonels, Navy captains, and mid-level civilians are currently in charge of managing the Pentagon’s nuclear programs, whereas during the Cold War that task was handled by senior flag officers. The task force recommends the appointment of an assistant secretary of defense for nuclear enterprise reporting directly to the defense secretary, and the delegation of flag officers in each of the military services who would focus solely on the nation’s nuclear arsenal. Part of the problem, the report notes, is the “widespread perception in both the Navy and Air Force that a nuclear forces career is not the highly promising opportunity of the past era.” [Washington Post, 2/13/2008]
New evidence emerges proving that, despite earlier denials, a senior press officer was closely involved in writing the British government’s September 2002 dossier that claimed Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from Niger (see September 24, 2002), a claim then known to be false. John Williams, then the director of communications at the Foreign Office, was granted access to secret intelligence as he helped prepare an early draft of the dossier (see September 10-11, 2002). Williams was a former political editor of the Sunday Mirror, a British tabloid newspaper. According to a document that until now has been suppressed by the Foreign Office, Williams was given the same access to classified information as the primary author of the dossier, then-Joint Intelligence Committee chairman John Scarlett. The Foreign Office document is only now being made available because an information tribunal reviewing pre-war intelligence ordered its release. Foreign Secretary David Miliband says the Williams document was not used as the basis for the “Scarlett dossier.” However, during the Hutton inquiry, Scarlett referred to the “considerable help” Williams had given him in writing the dossier. Additionally, Williams took part in Cabinet Office meetings on the dossier. The document refers to Iraq having missiles capable of “threatening NATO,” including Greece and Turkey, a claim repeated in the published dossier. It also states that there was “compelling evidence that Iraq has sought the supply of significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” That phrase was used in all three drafts of the dossier, though it was well known by that time that the claims of Iraqi-African uranium deals were based on forged documents. Some of Williams’s more extravagant language was not used. His draft begins: “Iraq presents a uniquely dangerous threat to the world. No other country has twice launched wars of aggression against neighbours.” Someone else wrote in the margin: “Germany? US: Cuba, Guatemala, Mexico.” William Hague, the Conservative Party’s shadow foreign secretary, says the Williams document is “further evidence that spin doctors, not intelligence analysts, were leading from the first in deciding what the British people were told about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.” [Guardian, 2/19/2008]
A missile fired from a US Predator drone kills at least 12 people in Pakistan. The missile hits a house in the village of Kaloosha, near the Afghan border. Some suspected militants are reportedly killed, but details are scanty. [BBC, 3/16/2008; Washington Post, 3/27/2008]
Victor Bout in handcuffs in Thailand on the day of his arrest. [Source: Associated Press]Victor Bout, the world’s biggest illegal arms dealer, is arrested in Thailand. The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) had set up a sting operation to nab Bout. For months, DEA agents posed as members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a militant group linked to drug trafficking and organized crime. DEA agents and Thai police meet Bout at the five-star Sofitel Silom Hotel in Bangkok, supposedly to finalize an arms deal, and immediately arrest him and his bodyguards. According to a Thai police officer, Bout does not resist arrest but merely says, “The game is over.” A relatively new DEA task force is behind Bout’s arrest, even as news reports indicate Bout’s fleet of aircraft has been shipping supplies to the US military in Iraq in recent years. The DEA agents posed as arms dealers working for FARC but went after Bout because of evidence that he had been involved in drug smuggling as well. Bout faces up to 10 years in prison in Thailand for taking part in illegal weapons deals there. US officials are also seeking Bout’s extradition to the US so he can face more charges. Bout is a Russian citizen and has been based in Russia in recent years, but the Russian government has decided against seeking his extradition. Mother Jones comments, “Willing to work for anyone, Bout’s business divorced itself from any political, philosophical, or moral constraint. It delivered military cargo with equal enthusiasm to terrorists, guerrilla insurgents, rebel warlords, embattled dictatorships, legitimate businesses, humanitarian aid groups, and sovereign governments, including the United States” (see Late April 2003-2007). He also worked with the Taliban and al-Qaeda-linked groups (see Summer 2002 and Late July 2006). Experts note that Bout’s network has been unique in providing a full range of smuggling services and it is unlikely it will survive without him. [Mother Jones, 3/16/2006]
A missile fired from a US Predator drone kills at least 16 people in Pakistan. The missile hits a house in the village of Toog in South Waziristan, part of Pakistan’s tribal region where al-Qaeda leaders are believed to be residing. The house is said to belong to an unnamed militant leader, and several militants are reportedly killed. However, details are scanty. [BBC, 3/16/2008; Newsweek, 3/22/2008]
Former Afghan National Police (ANP) trained by US forces including the controversial American security contractor Blackwater are defecting to the Taliban, according to Al Jazeera. The channel reports that around 70 former police in the province of Herat have joined the Taliban in the past two months. Recruits featured in a video report carry weapons provided by the Afghan government and certificates for weapons training from the US. Some of the fighters openly display their Blackwater-issued IDs. One new Taliban recruit, Abdul Rahim, says he received training from Blackwater for 45 days. “I can use the training to save my life in these mountains and I can also use it to fight them,” he explains. The former members of the ANP tell Al Jazeera that they have joined the Taliban for ideological reasons and are using their weapons and training to fight the coalition. Another defector, Sulieman Ameri, along with 16 men under his command, were until a month ago enlisted in the ANP and patrolling the border with Iran. “Our soil is occupied by Americans and I want them to leave this country. That is my only goal,” he says. [Al Jazeera, 10/15/2008; Al Jazeera, 10/15/2008]
A CIA drone kills al-Qaeda leader Khalid Habib. The drone strike hits the village of Taparghai, South Waziristan, in Pakistan’s tribal region. The CIA claims that Habib, an Egyptian, is the group’s fourth-ranking leader. Four people are said to be killed. It is said Habib became al-Qaeda’s chief of operations for the tribal region after Abu Ubaida al-Masri died from hepatitis around January 2008. [New York Times, 10/17/2008; Asia Times, 10/29/2008] Little had been previously reported on Habib. But in early 2007, a New York Times article listed him as one of a handful of important new al-Qaeda leaders, and the FBI called him “one of the five or six most capable, most experienced terrorists in the world.” [CBS News, 3/15/2007; New York Times, 4/2/2007] A drone strike failed to kill Habib in 2006 (see 2006).
The Pentagon Inspector General (IG) issues a report warning that serious problems with controls and accounting for US weapons and explosives supplied to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) could lead to the diversion of arms to insurgents. A later GAO audit will expand on this assessment (see February 12, 2009). The IG report identifies the following failures in the $7.4 billion program to equip and train Afghan security forces:
The Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (CSTC-A) did not issue instructions or procedures governing the accountability, control, and physical security of arms the US is supplying to ANSF, nor did it clearly define the missions, roles, and responsibilities of US training teams and mentors advising the ANSF and the Afghan Ministries of Defense and Interior.
The CSTC-A did not record the serial numbers of weapons that were issued to the ANSF and did not report these serial numbers to the Department of Defense Small Arms Serialization Program. The report warns, “weapons that fall into enemy hands may not be traceable to the responsible individual[s], if recovered.”
The US office charged with overseeing the foreign military sales program to Afghanistan is too small and its staff lack the rank, skills, and experience to monitor whether arms are being diverted. The report finds that only nine people, led by an Army major, were assigned to oversee a program that disbursed more than $1.7 billion in 2007.
The program to arm and equip Afghan forces is hindered by delays in the Foreign Military Assistance program. Military commanders want the processing time for the military aid requests cut from 120 days to 30 days. “We believe that the strategic importance to the United States of standing up the ANSF merits establishing a reduced [foreign military sales] case processing time standard for the wartime conditions it faces in Afghanistan,” the report says. [Department of Defense, Office of the Inspector General, 10/24/2008 ; Washington Times, 10/31/2008; Washington Post, 2/12/2009]
The Obama administration is moving towards seeking a worldwide ban on space-based weapons, a dramatic shift in US policy from the previous administration. While President Obama makes his inaugural speech, his advisers update the White House Web site with a number of policy statements, including a pledge to restore US leadership on space issues and seek a worldwide ban on weapons that interfere with military and commercial satellites. The statement also says that the US will consider threats to US satellites, and develop contingency plans to protect them from attack and keep information moving from them. One of the key issues surrounding the proposed ban on space weapons is defining what exactly such a weapon is. Even weather tracking satellites could be programmed to ram into and disable other satellites. No attacks on one nation’s satellites by another have been publicly documented, but both the US and China have destroyed their own satellites in recent years, showing that the capacity to bring down another nation’s satellites does exist. A defense official says that while Obama officials have not yet held briefings on the subject, it is clearly understood that the focus will shift towards more diplomatic initiatives. Work on classified projects involving what the official calls “active” military responses to attacks on US satellites may be halted in favor of more monitoring and passive protection measures, says the official, who declines to be more specific. Victoria Samson of the Center for Defense Information says, “There’s still a lot of wiggle room” in the administration’s statement on military space. “But just the sheer fact that they are discussing it represents a real shift from the Bush administration.… It’s not going to happen immediately, but it seems as though the wheels are in motion to initiate some sort of cooperative measure.” In his presidential campaign, Obama acknowledged the difficulties of securing a global treaty banning space-based weapons, and once suggested that a simpler and quicker solution might be a “code of conduct for responsible space-faring nations.” Such a code would include what Obama called “a prohibition against harmful interference against satellites.” [Reuters, 1/25/2009]
The Obama administration names Gary Samore, a former National Security Council non-proliferation expert in the Clinton administration, as its coordinator for the prevention of WMD proliferation and terrorism, or its “nonproliferation czar.” Samore’s is a new position, recommended by Congressional legislation passed in 2007 but never created or filled under former President George W. Bush. The post does not require Senate confirmation. [Foreign Policy, 1/23/2009]
Time reports on a brewing conflict between President Barack Obama and his Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, over the idea of replacing America’s aging nuclear arsenal. Gates, a holdover from the Bush administration, favors putting the $100 billion Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) Program into effect, because the nation’s nuclear weapons, many produced in the 1970s and 1980s, are becoming old and possibly unreliable. In a November 2008 speech, Gates called the RRW program “not about new capabilities but about safety, reliability, and security.” After Obama selected Gates to remain at the Pentagon, Gates told reporters that Congress must fund the RRW “for safety, for security, and for a more reliable deterrent.” Obama disagrees. After taking the oath of office on January 20, he declared on the new White House Web site’s policy section that his administration “will stop the development of new nuclear weapons.” Nuclear defense expert Michael O’Hanlon describes Obama and Gates “at loggerheads on this.” A Pentagon official asked about the issue says he doesn’t think Obama and Gates have discussed the matter as yet. Many experts such as O’Hanlon suggest retooling existing warheads to ensure their efficacy and functionality, but the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration, responsible for developing and maintaining the US nuclear arsenal, has said it cannot meet the goals set for RRW by modifying existing weapons. Congress has repeatedly refused to fund RRW. Gates has argued that by enhancing and retooling the nuclear arsenal, the US could afford to dramatically shrink its numbers. Time reporter Mark Thompson explains the logic of Gates’s argument: “After all, if you have only a 50 percent level of confidence that a nuclear weapon is going to perform as advertised, you’ll need twice as many.” Critics note that US policy tends to, in Thompson’s words, “embrace the notion that all nuclear weapons possessed by adversaries will work, while those possessed by the US won’t.” [Time, 1/26/2009]
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) presents its report on weapons accountability problems in Afghanistan to a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee. The congressionally ordered audit reveals that the US military did not track hundreds of thousands of weapons—over half of the total procured for the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF)—between 2004 and 2008. The report expands on an earlier assessment produced by the Pentagon’s Inspector General (see October 24, 2008). The Washington Post quotes subcommittee chairman Rep. John F. Tierney (D-MA) as saying that the failures could lead to American soldiers being killed by insurgents using a weapon purchased by US taxpayers. “That’s what we risk if we were to have tens of thousands of weapons we provided washing around Afghanistan, off the books,” Tierney says in a written statement. [Washington Post, 2/12/2009] The audit finds that American military officials did not keep complete records on about 87,000 rifles, pistols, mortars, and other weapons the United States sent to Afghan soldiers and police, nor did they keep reliable records on 135,000 more weapons donated to Afghanistan by 21 countries. The GAO audit also finds:
Inventory controls were lacking for more than a third of the 242,000 light weapons donated to Afghan forces by the United States—a stockpile that includes thousands of AK-47 assault rifles as well as mortars, machine guns, and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.
Until June 2008, the military did not even take the elementary step of recording the serial numbers of some 46,000 weapons the United States provided to the Afghans, making it impossible to track or identify any that might be in the wrong hands. Serial numbers for the 41,000 other weapons from the United States were recorded, but American military officials had no idea where those weapons were.
American trainers were not following their own rules, finding that weapons were issued to Afghans even when there were concerns about—or evidence of—poor security at weapons depots and corruption by Afghan officials.
Afghan security procedures were so inadequate that weapons supplied to Afghan forces were at “serious risk of theft or loss.” Many of the weapons were left in the care of Afghan-run military depots with a history of desertion, theft, and sub-par security systems that sometimes consist of a wooden door and a padlock. [Government Accountability Office, 2/12/2009 ]
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, during a tour of Asia, warns North Korea not to fulfill its threat to test a long-range Taepodong-2 ballistic missile. “The possible missile launch that North Korea is talking about would be very unhelpful in moving our relationship forward,” Clinton says. North Korea greets Clinton’s arrival in Japan, where she issues her warning, with an oblique statement that says in part, “One will come to know later what will be launched.” [New York Times, 2/16/2009; Associated Press, 2/16/2009] During the same trip, Clinton says the US is willing to provide assistance to North Korea in return for its dismantling of its nuclear program (see February 15, 2009).
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says she is not sure whether North Korea actually has a secret program to enrich uranium, as the Bush administration had long claimed. She adds that she intends to persuade Pyongyang to give up the weapons-grade plutonium it does possess. “There is a debate within the intelligence community as to exactly the extent of the highly-enriched-uranium program,” she says. “My goal is the denuclearization of North Korea,” she continues. “That means a verifiably complete accounting of whatever programs they have and the removal of the reprocessed plutonium that they were able to achieve because they were given the opportunity to do so.… When they move forward” on ending the program, “we have a great openness to working with them, [and] a willingness to help the people of North Korea.”
Broadening Focus Beyond Uranium Possession - The claim of the uranium program led to the Bush administration’s rejection of the 1994 agreement that kept the North Korean nuclear weapons program in check (see October 21, 1994), she says: “The Agreed Framework was torn up on the basis of the concerns about the highly-enriched-uranium program. There is no debate that, once the Agreed Framework was torn up, the North Koreans began to reprocess plutonium with a vengeance because all bets were off. The result is they now have nuclear weapons, which they did not have before.” When the Bush administration withdrew from the Agreed Framework (see October 20, 2002), Clinton says, North Korea restarted its plutonium-based reactor at Yongbyon and now has enough material for at least a half-dozen nuclear weapons. A 2006 nuclear test by the North Koreans prompted Bush officials to reopen negotiations and eventually craft a new agreement remarkably similar to the Agreed Framework (see February 8, 2007 and After). Most Asian nations are expected to welcome Clinton’s new position on the uranium issue, as they thought the Bush administration had put too much emphasis on North Korea’s uranium possession. [Washington Post, 2/15/2009] Clinton also warns North Korea not to test-fire a long-range ballistic missile (see February 15, 2009).
'Old Wine in a New Bottle' - The senior editorial writer for South Korea’s Hankyoreh newspaper, Jungsoo Jang, calls the Clinton proposal little more than “old wine in a new bottle,” writing: “Of course, the side by side denuclearization and normalization plan elucidated by Clinton clearly does represent a considerable change from the Bush administration, which focused on a schematic view of denuclearization first, normalization second. But Clinton’s solution does have limitations, in that normalization of North Korea-US relations cannot be pursued as long as prior issues such as total abolition of nuclear weapons and suspicions about enriched uranium are not neatly resolved.” Jang says that a conflict between a more conservative camp and a more progressive camp in the Obama State Department is currently being won by the conservatives, who favor an emphasis on US-Japanese relations and a more direct, confrontational approach to dealing with North Korea’s nuclear program. [Hankyoreh, 2/16/2009]
British Military commanders and officers brief Foreign Secretary David Miliband during his 2-day fact-finding visit to Helmand province on their discovery that British-made electronic components have been found in remote controls and roadside bombs used by the Taliban and other insurgents against coalition troops in Afghanistan. The British military concludes that British Muslims are providing the Taliban with these electronic devices, which they claim are either sent to sympathizers in the region or smuggled into Pakistan en route to Afghanistan. Brigadier Gordon Messenger, the Royal Marine commander of the British battlegroup in Helmand, leads the briefing in which the devices are displayed and details of their origin are explained. “We have found electronic components in devices used to target British troops that originally come from Britain,” a British explosives officer tells Miliband. The electronic devices range from basic remote control units that are normally used to fly model airplanes, mobile phones filled with explosives, and more sophisticated devices that can be used against military vehicles and for remote attacks from up to a mile away. The Telegraph, however, does not report any evidence the military may have to substantiate these claims. [Daily Telegraph, 2/20/2009]
White House officials give the press a broad outline of President Obama’s ambitious arms-control agenda. Obama’s plan calls for dramatic cuts in both US and Russian nuclear arsenals, an end to a Bush administration plan for a more advanced nuclear warhead, the ratification of a global treaty banning underground nuclear testing, and a worldwide ban on the production of nuclear weapons material. The long-term goal, officials say, is “a world without nuclear weapons” in which the US leads by example. Obama’s plans are striking departures from the Bush administration agenda, which had little use for arms-control treaties (see May 24, 2002 and Late May 2005) and pulled out entirely from the anti-ballistic missile treaty with Russia (see December 13, 2001). Obama has said his plans are based in part on the work of the bipartisan Nuclear Security Project, headed by former Democratic Senator Sam Nunn, former Clinton administration Defense Secretary William Perry, and former Republican Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz.
Criticism - Some conservative organizations and members of the national security community warn that Obama’s proposals could weaken US security. Henry Sokolski, a member of the bipartisan US Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism and an advocate of limited arms reduction, says: “This brave new, nuclear world may be anything but peaceful. As the qualitative and quantitative differences between nuclear weapons states become smaller, rivalries are likely to become much more dangerous.” The Heritage Foundation’s Baker Strang says of the Obama administration: “The problem is that they are betting the physical survival of the US on nothing more than the hope that other nuclear-armed states and any states or non-state actors that join the nuclear club will follow suit by disarming. This gamble involves the highest possible stakes and has an exceedingly low likelihood of success.” And neoconservative Frank Gaffney, a Defense Department official during the Reagan administration and president of the Center for Security Policy, says, “Every other declared nuclear weapon state is modernizing its stockpile and the most dangerous wannabes—North Korea and Iran—are building up their offensive missile capabilities and acquiring as quickly as possible the arms to go atop them.” Obama may also face opposition from within his Cabinet; Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a Republican holdover from the Bush administration, wants to implement the Reliable Replacement Warhead program (see January 26, 2009), a nuclear warhead replacement program that Obama opposes.
Support - Obama’s plan has strong support among Congressional Democrats: Representative Ellen Tauscher (D-CA), who heads the House subcommittee overseeing US nuclear forces, says that reducing US and Russian arsenals, negotiating a treaty to end production of new nuclear weapons material, and ratifying the test ban pact “are all achievable goals. The debate is at a point where it is a question about when we achieve these goals, not if,” she says. Ultimately, achieving Obama’s goals will be difficult, says nonproliferation expert Joseph Cirincione. “It is going to require a herculean effort,” he says. “It is completely doable, but it will require the sustained attention of the president himself.” [Boston Globe, 2/22/2009]
Entity Tags: Joseph Cirincione, Frank Gaffney, Ellen Tauscher, Barack Obama, Baker Strang, George Shultz, Henry Sokolski, Robert M. Gates, Sam Nunn, US Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, William Perry, Nuclear Security Project, Obama administration, Henry A. Kissinger
Timeline Tags: US International Relations
One month ahead of the official announcement of President Obama’s war strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan (see March 27, 2009), John McCain delivers a policy speech on Afghanistan to the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), expressing confidence that ‘victory’ is possible there. Promoting the counterinsurgency strategy advanced by David Kilcullen and the approach already begun by US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and retired Lieutenant General David Barno in Afghanistan, McCain calls for a continued shift from counterterrorism to a counterinsurgency strategy focused on providing security. He also invokes General David Petraeus and the counterinsurgency strategy employed in Iraq. “As it was in Iraq, security is the precondition for political and economic progress in Afghanistan,” he says. McCain states that the US must assist an Afghan surge of security forces, “backed with robust intelligence resources and a sufficient number of troops to carry it out.” He says that at a minimum, the US and allies need to more than double the current size of the Afghan army to 160,000 troops, and should consider enlarging it to 200,000 with the aid of an international trust fund to provide long-term financing. In conclusion, he warns that the days of the war in Afghanistan being perceived as “the good war” may be numbered as costs and casualties mount. [American Enterprise Institute, 2/25/2009]
Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says that Iran most likely has enough fissile material to make a nuclear weapon. When asked by CNN’s John King whether Iran “might now have enough fissile material to make a bomb,” Mullen replies, “We think they do, quite frankly.” He adds, “Iran having a nuclear weapon, I believe, for a long time, is a very, very bad outcome for the region and for the world.” A spokesman for Mullen later “clarifies” his remarks to emphasize that Mullen was talking about “low-grade” material, and notes that for such to be used in a nuclear weapon, it would need to be highly enriched. Defense Secretary Robert Gates contradicts Mullen, saying that Iran is “not close to a weapon at this point” (see March 1, 2009), a point with which both the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, agree. After Mullen’s interview, his spokesman, Captain John Kirby, tells CNN: “There are two components here: having enough and having it highly enriched. The chairman concurs Iran has enough low-enriched to produce a nuclear weapon, but it’s important to note it’s low-grade, and to enrich it would take time.” Iran has recently tested its first nuclear power plant, using dummy fuel rods that did not produce a nuclear reaction. [CNN, 3/1/2009]
Defense Secretary Robert Gates says that Iran is not close to having a nuclear weapon, which gives the US and other nations time to persuade Tehran to abandon its suspected nuclear weapons program. Gates tells NBC’s David Gregory, “They’re not close to a stockpile, they’re not close to a weapon at this point, and so there is some time.” Gates’s statement contradicts a recent warning from Admiral Michael Mullen, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who told a CNN audience that he believes Iran has enough fissile material to build a nuclear bomb (see March 1, 2009). Tehran insists that its nuclear program is strictly about producing electricity for peaceful purposes. Gates says there is “a continuing focus on how do you get the Iranians to walk away from a nuclear weapons program” in the Obama administration, just as had been in the Bush administration. Obama officials have called Tehran’s nuclear development program an “urgent problem,” and have said they favor a balance between economic sanctions and incentives for engagement. [Reuters, 3/1/2009]
Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, tells the Senate Armed Services Committee that the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate for Iran, and its conclusion that Iran abandoned its nuclear weapons program in 2003, is still valid (see December 3, 2007). Administration officials have issued contradictory opinions in the days before Blair’s testimony (see March 1, 2009 and March 1, 2009). Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) asks Blair: “In 2007, the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran said that ‘the intelligence community judges with high confidence that in the fall of 2003 Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.’ Is the position of the intelligence community the same as it was back in October of ‘07? Has that changed?” Blair answers: “Mr. Chairman, the nuclear weapons program is one of the three components required for deliverable system, including the delivery system and the uranium. But as for the nuclear weapons program, the current position is the same, that Iran has stopped its nuclear weapons design and weaponization activities in 2003 and did not—has not started them again, at least as of mid-2007.” [Think Progress, 3/10/2009]
The F-22 Raptor. [Source: AeroSpaceWeb (.org)]According to the Boston Globe, Defense Secretary Robert Gates is preparing to announce sweeping cuts in weapons programs over the following months. Gates, the only holdover in the Obama administration from the Bush cabinet, said before President Bush left office that the US “cannot expect to eliminate national security risks through higher defense budgets, to do everything and buy everything.” Whoever President Obama’s new defense secretary might be, he then said, would have to eliminate some costly hardware and invest in new tools for fighting insurgents. At that point, Gates did not know that he would be asked to stay on as defense secretary.
Scope of Cuts - Senior defense officials say that the impending program cuts will be the largest since the end of the Cold War, during the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. About a half-dozen programs will be canceled, including the Air Force’s F-22 fighter jet, a new Navy destroyer, Army ground combat vehicles, and other programs such as aircraft carriers and new nuclear weapons.
Gates' Role - The Globe reports: “As a former CIA director with strong Republican credentials, Gates is prepared to use his credibility to help Obama overcome the expected outcry from conservatives. And after a lifetime in the national security arena, working in eight administrations, the 65-year-old Gates is also ready to counter the defense companies and throngs of retired generals and other lobbyists who are gearing up to protect their pet projects.” Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell says, “He has earned a great deal of credibility over the past two years, both inside and outside the Pentagon, and now he is prepared to use it to lead the department in a new direction and bring about the changes he believes are necessary to protect the nation’s security.”
Support - James Shinn, who served under Gates as an assistant defense secretary in the Bush administration, says Gates is perhaps the only person in Washington who can make such drastic cuts happen: “He obviously has huge credibility as something of a hawk. No one can even remotely challenge Gates in terms of his well-informed and conservative approach toward threats and the weapon systems associated with threats.” Longtime Washington official Brent Scowcroft, one of Gates’ closest friends and mentors, says: “He is going to have a hard time. The resistance in the system is heavy. But that what Bob is trying to take on.”
Potential Opposition - However, any cuts will face strong opposition from defense contractors and members of Congress whose districts rely on defense monies. “There are so many people employed in the industry and they are spread across the country,” says William Cohen, a Republican who served as defense secretary in the Clinton administration. “Even though members of Congress may say, ‘It’s great that you are recommending the termination of X, Y, and Z,’ they will also say ‘that means 4,000 jobs in my state. Frankly, I can’t go along with that.’” The declining economy makes such arguments even more compelling, Cohen adds. [Boston Globe, 3/17/2009]
Air Force, Navy, and other coalition warplanes drop a record number of bombs in Afghanistan during this month. Warplanes release a record 438 bombs according to Air Forces Central (AFCent) figures, marking the fourth consecutive month of increasing bomb drops. The Navy Times reports that the munitions are released during 2,110 close-air support sorties, and that the total number of air strikes is even higher because the AFCent numbers do not include attacks by helicopters and special operations gun ships. The numbers also do not include strafing runs or small missile launches. [Navy Times, 5/4/2009]
Afghan Defense Minister, General Abdul Rahim Wardak, tells the Council on Foreign Relations in an interview that Washington’s commitment to equipping and expanding the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) falls short of expectations. “It was a big surprise” when the president made his announcement, he remarks. Wardak says that President Obama’s announced plan to raise 134,000 Afghan National Army soldiers and 82,000 National Police by 2011 (see March 27, 2009) is not an overall increase in numbers or pacing, explaining that those targets had been planned for months. Wardak says he was expecting a much more rapid increase of combined forces to between 400,000 and 450,000 in number. Similar numbers were floated by US military and NATO sources in earlier reports (see March 18, 2009, April 2, 2009, and March 24, 2009). Furthermore, Gen. Wardak says he has repeatedly asked the US and NATO for help in getting more and better equipment, but to no avail. “At the moment we are still lighter than light infantry,” Wardak says. “I was much [better] equipped when we were fighting the Soviets” in the 1980s. [Council on Foreign Relations / CFR.org, 4/16/2009]
Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer (D-MT) signs into law House Bill 246. It exempts Montana-made guns from federal regulation. The law is the latest in a long list of legislative initiatives designed to strip power from the federal government and give it to the states. “It’s a gun bill, but it’s another way of demonstrating the sovereignty of the state of Montana,” Schweitzer says. The impact is limited to Montana, which currently has only a small number of specialty gun makers who make mostly replica and recreation rifles from US history, and most of their customers are out of state. However, supporters of the new law hope it will trigger a court case testing the legal basis for federal rules governing gun sales. State Representative Joel Boniek (R-MT), who sponsored the bill, said during the House debate, “What we need here is for Montana to be able to handle Montana’s business and affairs.” Many legislators among the 50 states have introduced legislation designed to push back against what they see as unconstitutional federal intrusion, often in response to the Obama administration’s economic stimulus plan. Some legislators consider themselves part of, or sympathetic to, the “tenther” movement, that construes the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution as vastly restrictive of the federal government’s powers. Another Montana representative, Michael More (R-MT), recently said of the gun bill and similar legislation, “The whole goal is to awaken the people so that we can return to a properly grounded republic.” Legislatures in 15 other states are considering resolutions that attempt to take back power from the federal government. “The balance has swung far to the extreme to the empowerment of the federal government, and to the harm of the individual states,” More says. However, critics warn that the “tenther” movement and the move to give power to the states is in line with anti-government militia ideals. “When you really actually get in and look at it there is a lot of what we feel is very dangerous, very anti-government language that reads very similar to posters for the militia movement in the 1990s,” says Travis McAdam of the Montana Human Rights Network. Montana Senator Christine Kaufmann (D-MT) says, “I do think that there is a kind of renewed vehemence to this kind of right-wing rhetoric being spewed by conservative talk show hosts to rile the troops and they are using the fact that we have a Democratic, black president as one of their rallying calls.” In Montana, the states’ rights bills are being sponsored by freshman legislators who were elected as part of an effort to oust more moderate Republicans and replace them with more conservative, “tea party-friendly” representatives. Supporters of House Bill 246 now intend to find someone to challenge a regulation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) that requires federal dealership licensing to build and sell firearms; they will use that pretext to file a lawsuit that they hope will end in the Supreme Court. The Montana Shooting Sports Association, which drafted House Bill 246, has said it will raise the money to pay for any legal costs. [Associated Press, 4/16/2009] Author and columnist David Neiwert later notes, in agreement with Kaufmann, that the Montana gun bill echoes the ideas of “state sovereignty” promoted by radical-right militia groups and “constitutionalists” in the 1990s. The idea behind the bill originated with Charles Duke (R-CO), a far-right Colorado legislator from the 1990s who had close ties to the Rocky Mountain-area militias (see May 15-21, 1996). Duke is considered one of the first “tenther” proponents, and is popular with white supremacists who espouse the “Christian Identity” belief system (see 1960s and After). Neiwert will also note that the gun legislation prompts a series of segments from Fox News host Glenn Beck on the bill and how he hopes it is the first of a larger number of legislative and court initiatives that will ultimately cripple the federal government. [Crooks and Liars, 5/15/2009]
Entity Tags: Montana Shooting Sports Association, David Neiwert, Christine Kaufmann, Charles Duke, Brian Schweitzer, Glenn Beck, Michael More, Obama administration, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Joel Boniek, US Supreme Court, Travis McAdam
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Afghan President Hamid Karzai says his administration is investigating numerous reports of “unknown” military helicopters carrying gunmen to the northern provinces of the country amid increasing militancy in the area. At a press conference, Karzai says that his government has received information over the last five months from local residents and officials indicating that unmarked helicopters have been ferrying militants to Baghlan, Kunduz, and Samangan provinces, and have been air-dropping them at night. “Even today we received reports that the furtive process is still ongoing,” he tells journalists, though he does not share any evidence, arguing that the issue is too sensitive. Karzai adds that authorities have received similar reports in the northwest as well, and that a comprehensive investigation is underway to determine which country the helicopters belonged to, why armed men are being snuck into the region, and whether increasing insecurity in the north is linked to this. “I hope in the near future we will find out who these helicopters belong to,” he says. [Ferghana Information Agency, 10/12/2009; Press TV, 10/12/2009; Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 10/12/2009] Western officials will later deny there is any truth to the reports (see October 14 - 29, 2009). The Institute for War & Peace Reporting (IWPR) notes that helicopters are almost entirely the exclusive domain of foreign forces in Afghanistan; NATO forces control Afghanistan’s air space and have a monopoly on aircraft. IWPR reports that Afghans believe the insurgency is being deliberately moved north, with international troops transporting fighters in from the volatile south to create mayhem in new locations. [Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 10/29/2009] The International Council on Security and Development has reported a dramatic rise in Taliban presence and activity in the formerly peaceful north in recent months (see Between January and September 2009), coinciding with the helicopter reports. The Asia Times reports that the Taliban now have complete control over several districts in the northern province of Kunduz. [Asia Times, 10/16/2009]
Who Are the Militants? - The majority of reports cite eyewitnesses who claim the militants are Taliban. In Kunduz province, northern Afghanistan, a soldier from the 209th Shahin Corps of the Afghan National Army tells of an incident in which helicopters intervened to rescue Taliban during a battle. “Just when the police and army managed to surround the Taliban in a village of Qala-e-Zaal district, we saw helicopters land with support teams,” he says. “They managed to rescue their friends from our encirclement, and even to inflict defeat on the Afghan National Army.” Residents in a district of Baghlan province also witness a battle in which they insist that two foreign helicopters offload Taliban fighters who then attack their district center. “I saw the helicopters with my own eyes,” says Sayed Rafiq of Baghlan-e-Markazi. “They landed near the foothills and offloaded dozens of Taliban with turbans, and wrapped in patus [a blanket-type shawl].” According to numerous media reports, the district police chief along with the head of counter-narcotics and a number of soldiers are killed in the attack. The governor of Baghlan-e-Markazi, Commander Amir Gul, insists that the Taliban fighters are delivered by helicopter. “I do not know to which country the helicopters belonged,” he tells the Institute for War and Peace Reporting. “But these are the same helicopters that are taking the Taliban from Helmand to Kandahar and from there to the north, especially to Baghlan.” According to Gul, the district department of the National Security Directorate has identified the choppers, but refuses to comment. Baghlan police chief, Mohammad Kabir Andarabi, says that his department has reported to Kabul that foreign helicopters are transporting the Taliban into Baghlan. Baghlan provincial governor, Mohammad Akbar Barikzai, tells a news conference that his intelligence and security services have discovered that unidentified helicopters have been landing at night in some parts of the province. “We are investigating,” he says. [Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 10/29/2009] Other officials say the militants are not only Taliban. The provincial governor of Kunduz claims the fighters being transported are members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). Sanobar Shermatova, a Moscow-based Central Asia analyst, writes that the IMU likely comprises the bulk of Taliban-allied militants moving into northern Afghanistan. [Eurasianet, 10/13/2009; Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 11/6/2009] Afghan Lower House representative, Ms. Najia Aimaq, quotes Interior Ministry authorities who say that helicopters are transporting Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s men to the northern provinces to fight the Taliban. [Nukhost Daily via UNAMA, 10/14/2009]
Who Is Providing the Air Transport? - Unconfirmed reports are circulating that the helicopters are American, according to Iran’s Press TV. [Press TV, 10/12/2009] McClatchy suggests that although Karzai does not say which nations he suspects are providing the helicopters, his remarks stir speculation that the US is somehow involved. However, a Karzai campaign staffer will later clarify that Karzai does not mean to imply the helicopters are American (see October 14 - 29, 2009). “We believe what the American ambassador [Karl Eikenberry] has said, and that the helicopters don’t belong to America,” says Moen Marastyal, an Afghan parliament member who has worked on the Karzai re-election campaign. [McClatchy, 10/14/2009] Afghan political analyst Ghulam Haidar Haidar asserts that foreign forces led by the US are behind the increasing instability in Kunduz and that coalition forces are training and equipping the insurgents in order to spread insecurity to Central Asia. “The United States wants a base from which to threaten Russia,” he says. An unnamed resident from Chahr Dara district echoes Haidar’s analysis, insisting that the Taliban are being supported by the US. “I saw it with my own eyes,” he says. “I was bringing my cattle home in the evening, and I saw Taliban getting off American helicopters. They were also unloading motorcycles from these aircraft. Later, a local mullah whom I know very well went to talk to the Americans, and then the helicopter left.” [Asia Times, 10/16/2009] Press TV will later cite unnamed diplomats who say the British army has been relocating Taliban insurgents from southern Afghanistan to the north via its Chinook helicopters. [Press TV, 10/17/2009] According to Rahim Rahimi, a professor at Balkh University, both America and Britain are trying to undermine security in Afghanistan to justify the need for foreign forces. “They will try and destabilize the north any way they can,” he says. “It is a good excuse to expand their presence in the area, to get a grip on the gas and oil in Central Asia.” [Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 10/29/2009]
Entity Tags: North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Sanobar Shermatova, Rahim Rahimi, Taliban, Stanley A. McChrystal, Najia Aimaq, Sayed Rafiq, Mohammad Kabir Andarabi, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Moen Marastyal, Afghan National Security Forces, Amir Gul, Mohammad Akbar Barikzai, Ghulam Haidar Haidar, International Security Assistance Force, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Hamid Karzai
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
A New York Times investigation finds that some munitions procured by the Pentagon for the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) are leaking to the Taliban and other insurgents for use against American troops. Arms and ordnance collected from dead insurgents are found to be identical to ammunition the United States and other allies have provided to Afghan government forces, according to an examination of ammunition markings and interviews with American officers and arms dealers conducted by the New York Times. Military officials, arms analysts, and dealers say that poor American and Afghan controls on the vast inventory of weapons and ammunition sent to Afghanistan—as well as outright corruption among Afghan forces—may have helped insurgents stay supplied. Furthermore, military officers say that American forces do not examine all captured weapons to trace how insurgents obtain them, nor do they seek to determine whether the Afghan government, directly or indirectly, is a significant Taliban supplier. An American unit from the 26th Infantry allows the New York Times to examine the weapons it had retrieved from a raid on Taliban fighters. Examination of the Taliban’s cartridges finds telling signs of diversion in which the ammunition bears markings from an American company which sells cartridges to Afghan soldiers and police officers through middlemen. Ammo from a Czech company which has donated surplus ammo to the Afghan government is also identified.
Afghan Government and Security Forces Blamed for Weapon Diversions - The New York Times cautions that given the large number of potential weapons sources, “the probability that the Taliban and the Pentagon were sharing identical supply sources [is] small.” James Bevan, a researcher specializing in ammunition for the Geneva-based research group, Small Arms Survey, says that the munitions have most likely slipped from Afghan state custody. Mr. Bevan, who has documented ammunition diversion in Kenya, Uganda, and Sudan, surmises that interpreters, soldiers, or police officers sell ammunition for profit or pass it along for other reasons, including support for the insurgency. The American military does not dispute the possibility that theft or corruption could be steering ammunition to insurgents, but it backs Mr. Bevan’s statement that illicit diversion of arms is the fault of Afghan security forces, particularly corruption within the police. Capt. James C. Howell, commander of the unit that captured the ammunition, says the findings are unsurprising but explains that this form of corruption is not the norm, citing poor discipline and oversight in the Afghan national security forces rather than deliberate diversion. Another officer, Brig. Gen. Anthony R. Ierardi, the deputy commander of the transition command, cautions that insurgent use of American-procured munitions is not widespread, noting that the captured ammunition sampling was small and that munitions might have leaked to the Taliban through less nefarious means.
United States Military Also to Blame - The United States military was recently criticized by the Government Accountability Office and the Pentagon’s Inspector General, which blamed the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan for failing to account for hundreds of thousands of weapons issued to the ANSF, warning that unaccounted for weapons were at great risk of being diverted to insurgents (see February 12, 2009) and (see October 24, 2008). [New York Times, 5/19/2009]
Entity Tags: Taliban, Small Arms Survey, James C. Howell, New York Times, Afghan National Security Forces, Afghan National Police, Afghan National Army, Anthony Ierardi, Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, Government Accountability Office, James Bevan, Office of the Inspector General (DoD)
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
Pakistan’s army spokesman, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, suggests that NATO weapons are crossing the border from Afghanistan and going to the Taliban in Pakistan. In an interview with CNN, General Abbas links Afghanistan to the battle between Pakistani armed forces and the Taliban in Pakistan’s Swat valley, saying that the Taliban are “very well equipped from the border area.” Abbas adds that the United States should “stop worrying about the nukes and start worrying about the weapons lost in Afghanistan.” He explains that Washington is neglecting this problem by focusing too much on the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. General Abbas further suggests, without elaborating, that the Taliban are also getting weapons and support from “foreign intelligence agencies.” [CNN, 5/29/2009]
The price of the Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle more than doubles in Afghanistan. Time reports that the price of a Chinese-made AK-47 smuggled in from Pakistan has risen to $400 from $150 in just three months. The Independent reports that the weapons are going for $600 apiece and that a steady stream of them is heading to the north of the country. Both sources suggest that the surge in demand for the guns is due in part to mounting tensions over the disputed August presidential elections, which are widely perceived by Afghans, diplomats, and foreign observers as marred by fraud in favor of current President Hamid Karzai. “People are arming themselves,” Time quotes one Western official in Kabul as saying. In the Panjshir Valley, the heartland of the Northern Alliance and a Tajik stronghold of presidential challenger Abdullah Abdullah, former Mujahedeen commander Gul Shah Mohammed tells The Independent that the Tajiks will not tolerate being deprived by a fraudulent poll. “We know how to use these weapons, we haven’t forgotten how to fight,” he declares. [Independent, 9/2/2009; Time, 9/10/2009] Such a dramatic rise in price is an ominous sign of demand in a country already awash in weapons. In addition to the demand and flow of arms to the north, also portentous is the sharp rise in Taliban presence and activity in the previously peaceful northern regions of Afghanistan (see Between January and September 2009), and reports that Taliban and other insurgents are being ferried to the north by helicopter (see May-October 12, 2009).
US Brigadier General Walter Givhan says that the US military is looking to eventually equip Afghanistan’s air corps with unmanned aircraft, otherwise known as “drones,” for surveillance missions. Givhan, who is working to train and arm Afghanistan’s air force, says that although the US military is not presently seeking to arm the corps with drones, they are likely to be supplied in the future. “I think it fits into that category of things that, as we continue to develop and we get the basics down, that we look at adding to their portfolio,” Givhan says. [Agence France-Presse, 8/12/2009] Givhan explains to Agence France-Presse that the US military wants to give Afghanistan’s air force the capability to carry out reconnaissance and surveillance missions, which would initially be carried out with manned aircraft, but because Afghanistan also needs to deploy manned aircraft for moving troops and supplies, the Afghan military will eventually need to have the unmanned (drone) option. The plan to revive the country’s air force is part of a wider US-led effort to train and equip the Afghan National Security Forces. The Afghan Army’s air corps currently has 36 aircraft and 2,700 airmen, but Washington’s goal is to increase the fleet to 139 aircraft with 7,250 airmen by 2016, according to Givhan. [Agence France-Presse, 8/12/2009]
Extrajudicial Killing and High Civilian Casualties - The US has used drones extensively in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, not only for surveillance, but also for targeted missile attacks that have killed civilians and militant leaders alike, earning the widely unpopular weapon strong criticism as a legally dubious instrument of extrajudicial killing. [CBS News, 7/21/2009] A Brookings report, citing analysis by journalists Peter Bergen, Katherine Tiedemann, and Pakistani terrorism expert Amir Mir, estimates that drones may have killed 10 civilians for every militant killed in Pakistan. [New Republic, 6/3/2009; Brookings, 7/14/2009] Counter-insurgency expert David Kilcullen has cited even more alarming statistics. In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, he said that 98 civilians are killed for every two targeted individuals. [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 1/6/2009]
The US Air Force loses control of a drone it is flying over Afghanistan. As a result, the drone is shot down. The reason for the loss of control is unclear. [New Yorker, 10/26/2009]
In his biggest break from Bush administration policies to date, President Obama announces his abandonment of Pentagon plans to build a missile defense shield system in Poland and the Czech Republic. During a July Moscow visit, Obama indicated that he would order a 60-day review of the project. The findings since then are said to conclude that Iran’s long-range missile program is progressing more slowly than previously thought; the resulting report also cites US officials’ belief that Iran’s short- to medium-range program poses a more potent and immediate danger. Therefore, the system is to be replaced by other facilities, placed closer to Iran. Obama says that the new approach offers “stronger, swifter, and smarter defense” for the US and its allies. He adds that the move will more readily focus on the threat posed by Iran’s proliferation of short- and medium-range missiles, as opposed to its intercontinental nuclear capabilities. “This new approach will provide capabilities sooner, build on proven systems to offer greater defenses to the threat of attack than the 2007 European missile defense program,” he says.
Russian Reaction - Russia had asserted that the undertaking was aimed against Russia and threatened to deploy short-range nuclear weapons in the Russian region of Kaliningrad, just inside the European Union. However, now it suggests that Obama’s decision will not garner swift or generous concessions on its part, but a foreign ministry spokesman, Andrei Nesterenko, describes the move as “obviously a positive sign for us” while assuring that the decision was unilateral by Washington alone. Nesterenko says that there have been no deals with Moscow on Iran or any other issues. “That would disagree with our policy of resolution of any problems in relations with any countries, no matter how difficult or sensitive they may be.” Recently, however, analysts said that the decision would assist Obama in securing Moscow’s cooperation with a possible new sanctions package against Iran as well as further the president’s desire to reset relations with Moscow after a bleak period under the Bush administration. “Obama has taken a step in the direction of improving US-Russian relations. This will definitely help build a partnership,” Yevgeny Miasnikov, a senior research scientist at Moscow’s Centre for Arms Control, says. “Russia will also now make some concessions, maybe on strategic talks over nuclear arms reduction or maybe over Iran. Moscow will try to catalyze the process of improving US-Iranian relations and will facilitate dialogue between the two sides. I don’t think threatening Iran is the way to solve this problem,” he adds.
Prior Notification to Allies - The night before his announcement, Obama telephoned leaders of Poland and the Czech Republic to tell them he had dropped plans to construct missile interceptors and a radar station in their respective countries, telling them that his decision was prompted by advances in missile technology and new intelligence about Iran’s existing missile capabilities. He said that “updated intelligence” on Iran’s existing short- and medium-range missiles showed they were “capable of reaching Europe,” adding that the US would continue its efforts to end Iranian attempts to develop an “illicit nuclear program.”
Reaction of Poland and Czech Republic - While many Western European leaders cheer the US’s decision, the Czech Republic and Poland express disappointment with the White House’s reversal following six years of intricate negotiations. Senior government sources in the two countries say they will insist that the US honor pledges made last year by the Bush administration to North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies in exchange for agreeing to the missile defense deployment plans. Former Czech deputy prime minister and Washington ambassador Alexandr Vondra, who was intimately involved in the negotiations, says: “This is a U-turn in US policy. But first we expect the US to honor its commitments. If they don’t they may have problems generating support for Afghanistan and on other things.” According to Miasnikov, the US may now consider ways of mollifying Poles and Czechs, which might include providing Patriot interceptors that are capable of shooting down short- and medium-range missiles. [Guardian, 9/17/2009]
Following a reassessment by top US Army Allied Commander General Stanley A. McChrystal, and on the advice of Vice President Joe Biden and White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, President Obama reconsiders the military endeavor that might modify US strategy in Afghanistan. The result is a scaling back of political and economic development reforms in the strife-torn zone. During recent television news program appearances, Obama seemed to question the primary assertion that the current US approach is the proper means for achieving the US goal of hunting down al-Qaeda and its close allies.
Scaling Back Military Operations - In what White House officials call a “strategic assessment,” Obama seems to be favoring scaled-down attacks utilizing small Special Operations teams and armed Predator drones, thus averting the need for additional troops, according to US officials and experts. The renewed debate is said to have shocked some, while leaving military officials scrambling to estimate how drastic the changes could be. The shift in the White House position is said to have also come about after Obama ordered 21,000 additional US troops to help with last month’s Afghan national election, a ballot broadly seen as counterfeit. However, Obama has also questioned McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy, asking whether it is worth committing extra troops. Reports indicate that the administration might opt for a narrower objective that primarily focuses on disrupting al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and other extremist groups, a strategy that would require fewer than the 68,000 troops presently approved for the war. During a recent appearance on CNN, Obama asked, “Are we pursuing the right strategy?” while on NBC’s Meet the Press, he stated he would only expand the counterinsurgency endeavor if it aided the goal of defeating al-Qaeda. “I’m not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan… or sending a message that America is here for the duration,” Obama said. It is unclear how many additional troops McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy would require, and the dissenting view advocating a more limited Afghanistan mission not only has been strengthened by Afghan election irregularities but also growing doubts about the war among Congressional Democrats as well as the US citizenry.
'Buyer's Remorse' - During a recent meeting with the Canadian prime minister, Obama signaled that a deeper administration review was in progress. “It’s important that we also do an assessment on the civilian side, the diplomatic side, the development side, that we analyze the results of the election and then make further decisions moving forward,” he said. A defense analyst and regular military adviser speaking on condition of anonymity says the Obama administration is suffering from “buyer’s remorse for this war.” [Los Angeles Times, 9/22/2009]
With President Obama serving as chairman, the United Nations Security Council collectively approves Resolution 1887 to decrease withdrawals from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The measure also decreases the opportunity for civilians to divert nuclear resources for the development of sophisticated weaponry. Although they are not specifically mentioned, it is believed that the resolution is to ensure compliance by countries such as North Korea and Iran, each of which has either banned inspectors or rigorously restricted their access. “The resolution is not about singling out nations,” Obama says. “We must demonstrate that international law is not an empty promise, and that treaties will be enforced.” Officials of the Obama administration say that the resolution will not become binding unless and until the Security Council takes steps to subject nuclear exports to supplementary restrictions. Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown, as well as France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy, say that current sanctions against Iran and North Korea are inadequate, and ask the council for “far tougher sanctions” against Iran. Sarkozy says, “What I believe is that if we have the courage to affirm and impose sanctions on those who violate resolutions of the Security Council, we will be lending credibility to our commitment to a world with fewer nuclear weapons and ultimately with no nuclear weapons.”
"A World without Nuclear Weapons" - During his opening speech, Obama describes his vision of “a world without nuclear weapons,” as reflected in the text of Resolution 1887. He says the resolution “revitalized” the Security Council’s commitment to a world without nuclear weapons, while reaffirming nuclear proliferation as a threat to global peace and security. “We harbor no illusions about the difficulty of attaining such a world,” Obama notes, “but there will also be days like today that push us forward—days that tell a different story.”
Rare Security Council Session - Today’s session is unusual in that it is only the fifth time the Security Council has held a summit-level meeting since the founding of the United Nations in 1945. Obama, as chairman, makes history as the first US president to head a UN Security Council session.
US and Russia Meet - The day before, Obama met with Russia’s President Dmitri Medvedev for the first time since he announced that former President George W. Bush’s Eastern Europe missile defense program would be replaced by a system that Moscow sees as less menacing. Although Obama administration officials publicly deny that the missile defense replacement decision was a result of quid pro quo, for the first time, Medvedev indicates that his country would be agreeable to repeated American requests for drastically tougher Iran sanctions, should the October nuclear talks scheduled with Iran fail. “I told His Excellency Mr. President that we believe we need to help Iran to take a right decision,” Medvedev says. “Sanctions rarely lead to productive results, but in some cases, sanctions are inevitable.”
Dignitaries in Attendance - Among the dignitaries attending the session are former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, media mogul Ted Turner, and Queen Noor of Jordan; all three are active in efforts toward nuclear disarmament. [New York Times, 9/24/2009]
Days after Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced that his administration is investigating reports of “unknown” military helicopters carrying gunmen to the increasingly unstable northern provinces of the country (see May-October 12, 2009), US, NATO, and Afghan officials reject the reports and insinuations that Western forces are aiding the Taliban or other militants. US ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, denounces reports that the US is secretly helping Afghanistan’s enemies with weapons and helicopters as outrageous and baseless. “We would never aid the terrorists that attacked us on September 11, that are killing our soldiers, your soldiers, and innocent Afghan civilians every day,” he says. [Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 10/15/2009] A Karzai campaign staffer says that Karzai did not mean to imply the helicopters were American. “We believe what the American ambassador [Karl Eikenberry] has said, and that the helicopters don’t belong to America,” says Moen Marastyal, an Afghan parliament member who has worked on the Karzai re-election campaign. [McClatchy, 10/14/2009] According to the Ariana Television Network, the German ambassador to Afghanistan, Werner Hans Lauk, professes ignorance when asked about Karzai’s claim that helicopters are carrying armed individuals to the northern provinces. Germany is assigned command responsibility for the north. [Ariana Television Network, 10/14/2009] “This entire business with the helicopters is just a rumor,” says Brigadier General Juergen Setzer, who is the recently appointed commander for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in the north, which has overall control of the air space in that region. “It has no basis in reality, according to our investigations.” Captain Tim Dark, of Britain’s Task Force Helmand, is also vehement in his denunciation. “The thought that British soldiers could be aiding and abetting the enemy is just rubbish,” he says. “We have had 85 casualties so far this year.” [Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 10/29/2009]
Al Jazeera broadcasts footage showing Afghan insurgents in possession of American weapons and ammunition. The fighters depicted in the video brandish the weapons, including anti-personnel mines with US markings on them, in a remote district of Nuristan Province in eastern Afghanistan. The area was the site of a battle in which up to 300 fighters bombarded a joint US-Afghan army outpost with small arms, rocket-propelled grenades, and mortar shells, killing eight US troops and three Afghan soldiers. The US military subsequently abandoned the post and claims that its forces had removed and accounted for their equipment. NATO spokespersons Lieutenant Colonel Todd Vician and Angela Eggman confirm that the material in the footage “appears to be US equipment” but say it is unclear how or when the insurgents got the weapons. “It’s debatable whether they got them from that location,” Vician says, referring to the mountainous zone where the nearly six-hour battle took place. “Before departing the base, the units removed all sensitive items and accounted for them,” states Eggman. However, General Mohammad Qassim Jangulbagh, provincial police chief in Nuristan, says that the US destroyed most of the ammunition, but left some of it behind only to fall into the hands of insurgents. Al Jazeera reports that the insurgents say they seized the weapons from two US remote outposts in Nuristan. General Shir Mohammad Karimi, chief of operations for the Afghan Defense Ministry, expresses skepticism. “As far as I know, nothing was left behind,” he says. The Associated Press notes that it is unclear when the video was filmed. [Associated Press, 11/10/2009; Al Jazeera, 11/11/2009]
A man on board Northwest Airlines Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit is subdued by passengers after attempting to detonate a makeshift bomb hidden in his undergarments. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old man from Nigeria, tries to ignite a mixture of plastic and liquid explosives sewn into his underwear as the Airbus 330 makes its final descent into Detroit. Abdulmutallab is set afire and suffers serious burns along with two other passengers, is detained by passengers and crew, and is arrested after landing. The suspect previously flew on a KLM flight from Lagos to Amsterdam. MI5 and US intelligence officials begin an investigation into his social ties and background. Abdulmutallab is the son of a wealthy Nigerian banker and studied engineering at University College London for three years until June 2008. His father claims to have informed Nigerian and American officials of his son’s increasingly unusual behavior and activities. US officials allegedly placed the 23-year-old on a list of suspected extremists, yet he possesses a US visa valid from June 2008 to June 2010, and appears on no lists prohibiting air travel to the US. Following the event, the US government will request that all passengers traveling from Britain to the US be subjected to additional personal and baggage searches. Security measures at US airports will also be heightened. [The Telegraph, 12/26/2009; New York Times, 12/26/2009]
US-operated drones kill 708 civilians in 44 Predator attacks targeting Pakistan’s tribal areas between January 1 and December 31, 2009, according to statistics compiled by Pakistani authorities. Dawn reports that for each key al-Qaeda and Taliban militant killed by US drones, 140 Pakistani civilians also die. On average, 58 civilians are reportedly killed in drone attacks every month—about two people per day. [Dawn (Karachi), 1/2/2010] Other estimates of civilian-to-militant deaths over a longer time span vary greatly. Daniel L. Byman of the Brookings Institution, citing analysis by journalist Peter Bergen and Pakistani terrorism expert Amir Mir, estimates that since 2004, drones may have killed 10 civilians for every militant killed in Pakistan. [New Republic, 6/3/2009; Brookings, 7/14/2009] Counter-insurgency expert David Kilcullen cites even more alarming statistics, acknowledging earlier Pakistani estimates that 98 civilians are killed for every two targeted individuals. [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 1/6/2009; New York Times, 5/16/2009] Bergen and Katherine Tiedmann will later report that new analyses of drone strike deaths in Pakistan from 2004 to March 2010 indicate that the civilian fatality rate is only 32 percent. Their study estimates that of the 114 reported drone strikes in northwest Pakistan from 2004 to the early months of 2010, between 834 and 1,216 people are killed, of whom around 549 to 849 are described as militants in press accounts. [Bergen and Tiedemann, 2/24/2010 ] Apart from the statistics, the controversial weapons are regarded by human rights and legal experts as legally-dubious instruments of extrajudicial killing. [CBS News, 7/21/2009]
Lloyd Woodson. [Source: Associated Press]Lloyd Woodson, a New Jersey resident, remains in custody after being charged with possession of weapons in a suspected plan to attack a nearby Army base. Woodson was found with a cache of weapons, including guns and a grenade launcher, and a map of New York’s Fort Drum in a New Jersey motel room. Police were tipped off by a convenience store clerk in Branchburg, who called officers around 4 a.m. to report that Woodson was behaving “strangely” in his store. When police arrived, Woodson fled, and officers tackled him in a nearby parking lot. Woodson was wearing a bulletproof vest and carrying an assault rifle. Prosecutors refuse to publicly speculate on what kind of threat they believe Woodson posed. Assistant US Attorney Andrew Kogan tells a state judge why Woodson was arrested and why he should remain in custody: he was carrying weapons and had more in his motel room; he once deserted the military; he has minimal connections to New Jersey, making him more likely to flee; his history with weapons made him a threat; and he said in an interview that he intended to use weapons in furtherance of a crime. The US Attorney’s office refuses to elaborate on Kagan’s court statement. The FBI says Woodson has no known terrorist connections. Woodson enlisted in the Navy in 1988, deserted in 1989, and spent eight years as a fugitive before returning briefly to Navy custody in 1997. [Associated Press, 1/29/2010]
Al-Qaeda’s latest alleged number three leader, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, is apparently killed in a CIA drone strike in Pakistan’s tribal region. Media reports say nine others are killed in the village of Boya near Miran Shah, North Waziristan. A statement posted on an al-Qaeda website will later confirm al-Yazid’s death along with that of his wife, three daughters, and others. Al-Yazid, an Egyptian also often called Sheik Saiid al-Masri, was one of the founding members of al-Qaeda, and a member of the group’s Shura Council ever since then. He was al-Qaeda’s chief financial officer while living with Osama bin Laden in Sudan and then Afghanistan in the 1990s. In 2007, he emerged after years of hiding and revealed in a released video that he was in charge of al-Qaeda’s operations in Afghanistan. A US official says he was “the group’s chief operating officer, with a hand in everything from finances to operational planning. He was also the organization’s prime conduit to Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. He was key to al-Qaeda’s command and control.” Former National Security Council counterterrorism official Roger Cressey even says: “In some respects, [his] death is more important for al-Qaeda operations than if bin Laden or al-Zawahiri was killed. Any al-Qaeda operation of any consequence would run through him.” [MSNBC, 6/1/2010]
Dakota Meyer, an inactive reserve Marine sergeant (see May 2010), goes to work for AUSGAR Technologies in June 2010 and stays there until March 2011, at which time he goes to work for BAE Systems OASYS, LLC (see March 2011). His work at AUSGAR largely consists of training troops to locate improvised explosive devices (IEDs) with thermal imaging and optical equipment, tools that are most often used by snipers. [District Court of Bexar County, TX, 11/28/2011; Wall Street Journal, 11/29/2011]
According to ABC News, beginning in August 2010, the US begins flying a stealth drone over the newly discovered compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where intelligence experts have discovered Osama bin Laden is probably secretly hiding (see August 1, 2010). The drone is of a new type, and very little is known about it. Crucially, it is able to fly above Pakistan undetected by Pakistan’s air defenses, allowing the US to keep its interest in the town and compound a secret. [ABC News, 5/19/2011] In March 2011, a US strike force will assault the compound and kill bin Laden (see May 2, 2011).
The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) finds that the source of the anthrax involved in the 2001 attacks was not established by the FBI’s science. This conclusion is in contrast to that of the Justice Department and the FBI, which have asserted unequivocally that RMR-1029, an anthrax flask linked to USAMRIID vaccine researcher and deceased alleged anthrax-killer Bruce Ivins, was the source of the anthrax used in the attacks. The NAS was contracted by the FBI in 2009, for nearly $880,000, to review the science underlying the FBI’s investigation. The NAS council did not review other types of evidence assembled by the FBI, did not have access to classified materials, and did not do its own research. In its report, it makes no judgments regarding the guilt or innocence of any parties, or judgments about the FBI’s conclusion that Ivins was the sole perpetrator. [Associated Press, 5/9/2009; Justice, 2/19/2010, pp. 28 PDF ; National Academy of Sciences, 2/15/2011; McClatchy-ProPublica-PBS Frontline, 10/11/2011] The primary conclusion of the NAS is that “it is not possible to reach a definitive conclusion about the origins of the anthrax… based solely on the available scientific evidence.” The NAS says there were “genetic similarities” between the samples from the letters and RMR-1029, but that “other possible explanations for the similarities—such as independent, parallel evolution—were not definitively explored during the investigation,” and “the data did not rule out other possible sources.” The NAS agrees with the FBI that “RMR-1029… was not the immediate source of spores used in the letters,” and that “one or more derivative growth steps would have been required to produce the anthrax in the attack letters.” The NAS says the FBI did correctly identify the anthrax as Ames strain. It also agrees with the FBI that there was no evidence that the silicon present in the samples had been added in order to weaponize the anthrax, but says that, based on the information made available to it, “one cannot rule out the intentional addition of a silicon-based substance to the New York Post letter, in a failed attempt to enhance dispersion.” Silicon had not been present in the anthrax in RMR-1029 and it is not a normal part of anthrax spores, though it may be incorporated if it is present in its environment as the spores develop. The reason for the presence of silicon (up to 10 percent by bulk mass in the New York Post sample, though this differed with the amount measured in the spores), as well as other elements such as tin, remains unresolved. [National Academy of Sciences, 2/15/2011] At a NAS press conference accompanying the report’s release, questions are raised regarding the amount of time needed to prepare the anthrax. Committee Chair Alice P. Gast responds, “There’s a lack of certainty in the time and effort it would take to make [the powders]… the FBI has not determined what method was used to create the powders.” In some situations several months might be required, but, according to Vice Chair David A. Relman, it would have been possible to complete the work in as little as two days. Regarding the low end of the estimate, Relman says: “There are a number of factors that would have to go into that calculation, including the skill set of the person or persons involved, the equipment and resources available, and the procedures and process selected. And, on that last point, that low end would rely upon the use of batch fermentation methods—liquid cultivation methods—which are available in a number of locations.” Co-workers of Ivins and other experts previously expressed doubts that Ivins had the skill, equipment, or opportunity to prepare the anthrax used, let alone do so in as short a time as the FBI has alleged (see August 1-10, 2008, August 3-18, 2008, August 5, 2008, August 9, 2008 and April 22, 2010). [National Academy of Sciences, 2/15/2011; ProPublica, 2/15/2011] In response to the NAS report, the FBI says in a press release that it was not the science alone that led it to conclude that Ivins was the sole perpetrator: “The FBI has long maintained that while science played a significant role, it was the totality of the investigative process that determined the outcome of the anthrax case. The scientific findings in this case provided investigators with valuable investigative leads that led to the identification of the late Dr. Bruce Ivins as the perpetrator of the anthrax attacks.” [Department of Justice, 2/15/2011] The FBI has claimed to have identified, and eliminated as suspects, 419 people at Fort Detrick and other locations, who either had access to the lab where Ivins worked or received samples from RMR-1029. However, the NAS finding that RMR-1029 has not been conclusively identified as the anthrax source indicates the pool of suspects may be wider than just those with links to RMR-1029. The NAS press release notes that, in October 2010, a draft version of the NAS report underwent a “required FBI security review,” and following that the FBI asked to submit materials to NAS that it had not previously provided. The NAS says: “Included in the new materials were results of analyses performed on environmental samples collected from an overseas site. Those analyses yielded inconsistent evidence of the Ames strain of B. anthracis in some samples. The committee recommends further review of the investigation of overseas environmental samples and of classified investigations carried out by the FBI and Department of Justice.” [National Academy of Sciences, 2/15/2011]
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