Possible Leaks about Iran’s nuclear threat, Russian involvement and US vulnerabilities
Stratfor has an analysis, Two Leaks and deepening Iran Crisis,” speculating about American and Israel government sources ‘leaking’ information to both the New York Times and the London Times about intelligence concerning Iranian bomb making capabilities and Russian involvement. George Friedman of Stratfor commented:
Putting the two pieces together, the presence of Russian personnel in Iran would mean that the Iranians had obtained the needed expertise from the Russians. It would also mean that the Russians were not merely a factor in whether there would be effective sanctions but also in whether and when the Iranians would obtain a nuclear weapon.
We would guess that the leak to The New York Times came from U.S. government sources, because that seems to be a prime vector of leaks from the Obama administration and because the article contained information on the NIE review. Given that National Security Adviser James Jones tended to dismiss the report on Sunday television, we would guess the report leaked from elsewhere in the administration. The Sunday Times leak could have come from multiple sources, but we have noted a tendency of the Israelis to leak through the British daily on national security issues. (The article contained substantial details on the visit and appeared written from the Israeli point of view.) Neither leak can be taken at face value, of course. But it is clear that these were deliberate leaks — people rarely risk felony charges leaking such highly classified material — and even if they were not coordinated, they delivered the same message, true or not.
If Netanyahu went to Moscow to deliver this intelligence to the Russians, the only surprise would have been the degree to which the Israelis had penetrated the program, not that the Russians were there. The Russian intelligence services are superbly competent, and keep track of stray nuclear scientists carefully. They would not be surprised by the charge, only by Israel’s knowledge of it.
The two Times (New York and London) articles about Iran nuclear weapons developments and Russian involvement cited in the long Stratfor speculative analysis would appear to be all of a piece. The Iranians have had the requisite data to assemble nuclear weapons for some time given the A.Q. Kahn network and, I suspect the Russian nuclear scientists who have been in Iran for more than a decade at Busheirs. Ken Timmerman had previously written in 2005 in his book, "Countdown to Crisis: The Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran." that the Russians made a Faustian bargain with the Iranians to supply them with nuclear reactor technologies and unemployed Russian scientists in 1995 in a vain attempt to block Iranian Islamist terror support in Chechnya. That amounts to Churchill's famous quote about what happens to those appeasers who ’feed crocodiles."
The announcement by Mohamed ElBaradei of the IAEA that the Qom facility would be inspected on October 25th, belies why the other known facilities, such as the gasification plant at Isfahan and the giant Natanz centrifuge cascade facilities weren't included in the inspection plan. Ken Timmerman in a Washington Times piece, "Big Ominous Win for Iran" quoted Sen. Joe Lieberman who made the same comment this weekend that concentrating on the Qom enrichment facility while leaving the others untouched got us snookered and enabled the Iranians to continue their clandestine work on the bomb.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, set the standard for what the talks should have produced in remarks to a conference on Capitol Hill at the very moment our negotiating team was getting snookered by the Iranians.
"If our engagement with Iran is to have credibility, the parties need to emerge from the meeting in Geneva today with a set of clear and credible benchmarks for mutual steps forward and a timetable for meeting them," Mr. Lieberman said. "These benchmarks must include verifiable suspension of all enrichment activities, as repeatedly demanded by the U.N. Security Council, and full cooperation with the [International Atomic Energy Agency] to resolve all outstanding questions about Iran's nuclear-related activities."
As to why Israeli PM Bibi Netanyahu went to Moscow, the "tashlich or bottom line"- was more likely to tell Medvedev and Putin to get their technicians out of Iran by a certain date, and confront them with a list of scientists and technicians and locations. At least that is one story told me by a source. However, the Russians are playing a dangerous version of the 'great game,' as Moscow is well within the range of intermediate ballistic missiles from Iran, a point made by Dan Diker of the Jerusalem-based JCPA in the Middle East round table discussion, we published yesterday in the October NER, "Israel, Iran and Middle East realities."
Michael Rubin's Middle East Forum analysis, "Bad Options on Iran- An Israeli Attack won’t suffice," of the dilemma of the conventional military options shows that on the surface of it Israel and the US have nothing but 'Hobson's Choices' - the least ugly solution, given the untoward economic and strategic consequences of shutting the Straits of Hormuz. If Israel does undertake conventional air ops against Iranian facilities at most it could hope for in Rubin's view is that it could close the entrances to the underground facilities entombing both Iranian and Russian scientists and technicians. As I have been a proponent of a high tech covert war against these Iranian nuclear facilities, let us just say there are perhaps some more effective means that Israel and the US may have of shutting down the Iranian efforts, if perhaps only temporarily. Israel rather than the US might have already resorted to using some of them.
Also not lost on me was the announced interest in purchase of advanced Russian S-400 anti-air defense systems and aircraft by our alleged allies, the Saudis. That tells me that the Royal Kingdom believes the US to be a 'paper tiger" under Obama and will not defend them from Iranian nuclear missiles. Further there is the implication that the US may not be a reliable supplier of such military hardware, a point ironically not lost on the Israelis.
Then there is the matter of the 'smorgasbord' of economic sanctions proposed by bi-partisan Members of Congress that were contained in a recent mailing that I received from the Israel Project with the dramatic title "Do you want war with Iran?" Their answer is "neither do we.” The realities are that effective economic sanctions are perhaps too little and too late to have any real impact on the economic situation in Iran. After all China is completing a second refinery which lessens the impact of the gas and diesel fuel quarantine proposals that have been kicking around for several years. Similarly the financial transactions and Iranian landing rights and travel ban sanctions are easily evaded.
Of greater concern is the matter of the security of the US Fifth Fleet based in Bahrain with its restive majority Shia population adjacent to the eastern province of Saudi Arabia with its captive Shia population. Iran would dearly love to foment an uprising in both areas that could result in the overthrow of the Bahraini ruling Emir, causing us to retreat from the Persian Gulf and through the Straits of Hormuz into the Indian Ocean. If the Joint Chiefs and CNO are concerned about that possibility I would be most surprised. A kamikaze attack by Iranian missile boats against the US Navy fleet there could be devastating.
The Iranians are clearly via the Rev Guards also fomenting mayhem in war torn Afghanistan by filtering IEDs and other deadly weaponry to the Taliban who are using it to good effect against American and NATO troops. In exchange for the supply of weaponry, Iran is engaging in brokering the Narco trade through the Western approaches to Afghanistan. The drug trade handle, estimated in a fascinating Fortune article, " Afghanistan's drug czar - world's toughest job " in the October edition is over $4 billion annually resulting in massive building of 'poppy palaces' in Kabul and in the Gulf region. The Taliban brokerage alone is estimated at over $400 million. Note this excerpt from the Fortune article:
Given these harsh realities, poppy cultivation "is a logical economic response to conditions of chaos," says Ronald Neumann, the American ambassador to Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007.
Indeed, higher up the chain, huge payoffs await those who can get the drugs to multinational criminal mafias that move them to Karachi, Istanbul, Dubai, Moscow, or Beijing, and onward. A UNODC official says the value of the drugs multiplies by a factor of 10 every time they cross a border. And, Khodaidad lamented, "The border of Afghanistan is wide open."
Cash flows through the hawala network, the honor-bound, Western Union-like system used in the Middle East and South Asia to move money. Traffickers also use "trade-based money laundering," says John Cassara, a former Treasury Department investigator.
They exchange drugs for commodities -- cement, luxury cars, TV sets, weapons, and more -- imported with doctored or nonexistent invoices, which are then sold for cash, later reinvested in Dubai's property market or poppy palaces or shopping centers or even banks in Afghan cities. "There's a level of sophistication out here that would probably surprise people," says Jay Fitzpatrick, a Drug Enforcement Administration agent stationed in Kabul. "It's a tough system to crack."
Distressingly, several past and present cabinet ministers, senior law enforcement officials, and even Karzai's own brother are widely suspected of profiting handsomely from the poppy trade, overseeing growing operations or enabling transport of the yield across and out of the country.
Afghanistan supplies over 90% of the world's heroin and even the Mayor of Kabul, President Hamid Karzai's brother is a drug warlord.
As I said in an Iconoclast post back in February critical of Sen. Lieberman's promotion of a "surge' in Afghanistan, that without addressing the massive drug trade and corruption, to sally forth with one time injections of US and NATO troops in a piecemeal fashion is folly. It is reflected in the misguided counter-insurgency strategy of General McCrystal that the Obama Administration thought would be the master stroke in the 'necessary war."
Now McCrystal is being viewed as the goat in the debate on the prosecution of the flawed Afghan campaign. Should, the Obama tea spoon additional US ground forces, they will only get chewed up in the procrustean bed of the 'people protection' confidence building strategy that NSC Chief Jones had approved.
The ‘people protection’ counter insurgency program of General McCrystal has clearly failed. Witness the freedom by which the Taliban attacked a Marine platoon sized firebase in the Nuristan province this past weekend killing 8 US soldiers. Not enough airlift and attack aircraft capacity was available in theater. That leaves US and NATO forces dispersed and being picked off by swarming Taliban attacks. At least the Russians had the Mig-24 Hind armored attack helicopters that ravaged the Mujahideen in the 1980's war in Afghanistan before we tipped the balance with supply of Stingers in the secret war there. But all we got from that was Al Qaeda and terrorist death from the skies and terror cells reaching America and a nine year war in a corrupt Afghanistan capable of being reclaimed by the Taliban and al Qaeda.
While in Washington recently for some Capitol Hill events, I spoke with a source about how much Generals. Petreaus and McCrystal know about the Islamic war doctrine threat pursued by the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The answer was nothing. They are instead captives of the academic theories about ’gangs’ as the threat in dealing with fundamentalist Islamic terrorists that they are other general officers and Members of Congress have bought into. The junior staff officers in the field get it, while their commanding officers, with some exceptions like Gen. Ray Odierno in Iraq, don't.
If things fall to pieces in Afghanistan, what does the US have left-the alleged "Fortress Pakistan" plan? Who has control over the nuclear weapons inventories husbanded by Dr. A. Q. Kahn and his Islamist allies there? Could it possibly be Al Qaeda, the Pakistani Taliban and allies in the Inter-Service Intelligence service in Pakistan?
In contrast to the speculations of Stratfor, the realities signify to this observer the distinct possibility of an eruption of a possible nuclear and bio-chemical war by the Jihadis against us in our most vulnerable spots across the globe. The current Administration in Washington is virtually blind to this looming threat, while what passed for American hegemony over the world's security falls to pieces amid the abandonment of our allies. All because of a benighted and mistaken strategy of 'engagement' with Mahdist madmen and Sunni terror networks across the waters and here in America.