Very high level US diplomats, including William Burns and Wendy Sherman, are in Geneva for talks today and tomorrow (for the second time in a month) with an Iranian delegation headed by Abbas Araghchi, whose position in Iran’s Foreign Ministry is similar to theirs. This meeting follows one on Monday between the EU’s chief negotiator Catherine Ashton and Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif. Reuters has more on today’s meetings, informing us that they are a prelude to the resumption of P5+1 negotiations (which now have a November 24 deadline when the interim deal expires):
Iran and the United States met in Geneva for bilateral talks on Thursday as international diplomacy intensifies to end a decade-old dispute over Tehran’s atomic activities by a new deadline in late November.
The office of European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton confirmed Iran and six world powers would hold their first negotiating round since they failed to meet a July 20 target date for an agreement in New York on Sept. 18.
It is a wonder that Iran continues negotiations, as the US blacklisted a new group of companies last week that it accused of trying to help Iran work around sanctions. More from the Reuters article:
State news agency IRNA and a U.S. official confirmed the discussions were underway. “If there is good will and a constructive approach, we can reach a desired result before Nov. 24,” IRNA quoted Iran’s deputy foreign minister Majid Takht-Ravanchi as saying late on Wednesday. The United States last week penalized a number of Iranian and other foreign companies, banks and airlines for violating sanctions against Tehran, saying it was sending a signal that there should be no evasion of sanctions while talks continue. Rouhani said on Saturday the sanctions were against the spirit of negotiations, but added he was not pessimistic about the viability of the talks.
There is a very interesting backstory on parts of the blacklisting process. A seemingly “independent” group, United Against Nuclear Iran, has been very active in the process of “naming and shaming” individuals, companies and organizations that it accuses of violating the spirit of the sanctions against Iran. Despite the fact that they are supposed to be independent, the US has stepped into a lawsuit brought against UANI by a businessman claiming he was defamed (I owe Marcy a big thank you for alerting me to this part of the story). The government is specifically intervening to keep the funding of UANI secret:
The Obama administration has gone to court to protect the files of an influential anti-Iran advocacy group, saying they likely contain information the government does not want disclosed.
The highly unusual move by the Justice Department raises questions about the connections between the American government and the group, United Against Nuclear Iran, a hard-line voice seeking to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. The group has a roster of prominent former government officials and a reputation for uncovering information about companies that sometimes do business with Iran, in violation of international sanctions.
The Justice Department has temporarily blocked the group from having to reveal its donor list and other internal documents in a defamation lawsuit filed by a Greek shipping magnate the group accused of doing business with Iran. Government lawyers said they had a “good faith basis to believe that certain information” would jeopardize law enforcement investigations, reveal investigative techniques or identify confidential sources if released.
Wow. So this “independent” group seems to be getting intelligence directly from the government, if we are to believe what the US said in its filing. So just who are the “former government officials” in UANI? A look at their “Leadership” page is nauseating. The first entry in the section for “Advisory Board” is none other than war hawk Joe Lieberman. Next to him is Fran Townsend and directly below him is a former director of the Mossad. The Advisory Board photos go on and on, a virtual “Who’s Who” of pro-war, pro-Israel media darlings. There also is a former Deputy Director of the IAEA even though it is supposed to be apolitical. Intellectual luminaries Mike Gerson and Mark Salter appear much lower on the list, perhaps out of a semblance of embarrassment. So, regarding those “investigative techniques” and “confidential sources” that the government doesn’t want to reveal in how UANI gets its information, consider this tidbit we got recently from David Albright, another player in the Iran-smearing business, this time branching out to comment on the recent tensions over US spying on Germany (also brought to my attention by Marcy): →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
Greek shipping magnate Victor Restis is suing the group for defamation, claiming they falsely accused him of being an Iranian front.
The group said it had uncovered a letter proving there was a plan to do business in Iran. It also accused Mr. Restis of using his ships in support of Iran’s oil industry.
Mr. Restis said the letter was fraudulent, the illicit Iranian deal never existed, and his ships made only authorized humanitarian shipments. He accused the group of shaking down companies for donations; the group in turn accused him of being a “master criminal.”
The group said it based its accusations on “valid research, credible documents, distinguished relationships, and pre-eminent sourcing.” In court, Mr. Restis demanded that the group disclose those documents and its relationships.
Soon after that demand, Mr. Restis said he was approached by an Israeli businessman, Rami Ungar, with no direct connection to United Against Nuclear Iran.
According to court documents filed by Mr. Restis’s lawyers, Mr. Ungar knew details about the case and said he was “authorized to try to resolve the issues” on behalf of the group’s supporters.
It was not clear who those supporters were. Like many nonprofit groups, its donor list is secret. Mr. Restis’s lawyers said in a letter to the judge in April that they had uncovered information that United Against Nuclear Iran “is being funded by foreign interests.”
DOJ suggested they might claim a law enforcement exception to protect the files, though it has not yet formally claimed such a privilege. That might suggest the files are Treasury files that may soon be used to impose sanctions on Restis. Or perhaps it means they have files that don’t meet Treasury’s standards for imposing sanctions, and UANI exists to shame people where sanctions are unavailable. In any case, Restis wants to know how Ungar got them; I’d like to know precisely what UANI is getting from whom.
Apuzzo lists some of the characters who are behind the group: former Mideast Peace Envoy Dennis Ross, Fran Townsend, and Joe Lieberman. Otto Reich, whose role in Iran-Contra (as opposed to his role in trying to overthrow Hugo Chavez in the 2002 coup) involved illegally funneling taxpayer dollars for the purposes of lobbying, is of particular note. Restis is particularly interested in interviewing UANI advisor Meir Dagan, the long-time head of Mossad; Restis believes Dagan provided the documents to Ungar. In addition, Richard Dearlove, who was in charge of sexing up the British case for war in 2003 when he was MI6, also advises the group.
in other words, it’s a classic case of a quasi-governmental group, one that apparently plays an extra-legal purpose in the campaign to isolate Iran (to be fair, most, though not all, of its advisors have worked hard to stave off war). And Restis’ efforts to get some kind of justice against it may be stymied by US claims they’ve got privileged interests in the case.
The entire episode raises some very good questions about what goes into isolating our adversaries.
Today’s Washington Post carries a story that is quite unlike their usual coverage that tends to tilt toward violence answering most problems. In the story is a striking photo of former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, former President of Finland Martti Ahtisaari and former President of Mexico Ernesto Zedillo. Annan, Ahtisaari and Zedillo are traveling as a contingent of The Elders (Mehr News states that Desmond Tutu also traveled with the group), a group founded by the late Nelson Mandela, and are visiting Tehran. When I saw the photo and read the story, I couldn’t help noting the striking contrast between this group of elder statesmen who are traveling the globe to promote peace and diplomacy while the US is saddled with elected representatives who
travel the globe to promote war. The “Three Amigos” of Lindsey Graham, John McCain and Joe Lieberman made too many trips to count, always doing their best to promote America’s forever wars and to advocate spreading them to more countries. With Lieberman’s retirement from the Senate, the latest trip for hypocrisy tourists McCain and Graham had John Barrasso sitting in the third position as they went to Kabul to lobby for indefinite detention without charges and for Karzai to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement so that US troops can remain in Afghanistan after the end of this year.
The Post describes the Tehran trip:
Members of the Elders, a group of former statesman and high-profile peace mediators promoted by the late Nelson Mandela, are visiting Tehran to push for compromises on disagreements between Iran and world powers.
“We must rebuild trust and mutual respect in the region, which is not easy and requires patience,” former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan said Monday. Annan, a member of the delegation, made the remarks at the Iranian Foreign Ministry.
The lofty purpose of the three-day visit is to “encourage and advance the new spirit of openness and dialogue between Iran and the international community, and to explore what could be done to enhance cooperation on regional issues,” according to a statement issued by the Elders ahead of their arrival in Tehran.
In a press release Monday, after the first day of the visit, Annan had this to say:
As President Rouhani said to the UN General Assembly in September, that alongside widespread fears in the world today, and I quote:
“There are new hopes; the hope of universal acceptance by the people and the elite all across the globe of ‘yes to peace and no to war’; and the hope of preference of dialogue over conflict and moderation over extremism.”
We believe there has been a number of recent positive developments, most importantly the interim nuclear agreement, signed in Geneva last November. These efforts now need to be sustained to achieve final agreement.
In this regard, we must rebuild trust and mutual respect in the region and further afield. This is not an easy task. It will need patience and perseverance.
Contrast that diplomacy with this Lindsey Graham quote found in the New York Times coverage of the trip to Kabul and in reference to Afghanistan releasing prisoners who have been cleared by the review board at Parwarn Prison:
“If these releases go ahead, it will do irreparable damage to the relationship,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina. “There will be a backlash in the U.S. Congress.”
Graham only knows war and retribution, this time in the form of cutting off aid.
The world benefits greatly when shuttle diplomats are allowed to ply their trade to promote peace. If the shuttle war mongers are ignored, real progress is likely to ensue.
Those are some of the words Joe Lieberman and some more credible people are using to dismiss Iran’s claim that it has accessed the data from the Sentinel drone it brought down last year.
Aside from “independent experts” pointing out the obvious fact that Iran could have gotten details about the Sentinel’s use to surveil Osama bin Laden’s compound from public reports (though how would it have gotten the specific dates?), the US security establishment has offered no detailed explanation of how Iran got the data it claims to have taken from the drone.
General Hajizadeh cited as evidence data that he said was extracted from the drone’s computer hard drives revealing its operations in the months before it went down in Iran — either because it was shot down, as Iranian officials have claimed, or because it experienced a technical failure, as the Americans have said.
The drone, he said, had undergone repairs in California in October 2010 and returned to Afghanistan in November 2010, where American officials have acknowledged it operated, though without specifying where its missions took it. He added that the drone’s computer memory revealed that it had flown over the compound in Pakistan where Osama bin Laden was killed in an American raid in May 2011.
“Had we not accessed the plane’s softwares and hard disks, we wouldn’t have been able to achieve these facts,” General Hajizadeh said, according to the news agency Fars.
The White House and American intelligence officials declined Sunday to comment on the new claims, though independent experts expressed skepticism. They noted that the information about the drone’s activities — including its use in the Bin Laden raid — could have been drawn from public reports about the sophisticated aircraft.
That may not entirely confirm that the data cited by Iran is accurate, but it sure doesn’t refute it.
That said, all these experts bewailing “bluster” have not mentioned the more obvious explanation behind Iran’s claim–even though just three days ago the news was filled with reports of Russia and China asking for information on the drone and much of the coverage of this latest fact acknowledges that in their stories.
Consider: while the OBL surveillance (though not the timing) was publicly reported, the maintenance records cited by the Iranians probably aren’t. But those details are more likely to be available not in the drone itself, but on Lockheed’s networks, which were hacked (though Lockheed claims no data was compromised) last year; everyone blames China for that hack. And if China has been able to access drone data off our networks like they’ve been able to access all our other weapons development data, then it would presumably make it a lot easier to break the encryption on the Sentinel drone itself.
Our fear-mongering about Iran, as well as our overthrow of Qaddafi and efforts to overthrow Assad, has far more to do with efforts to shore up Saudi–and therefore US–hegemony in the key oil-producing region of the world than nukes. And while China has been cozying up to the Saudis in ways that ought to make us rethink our unquestioning pursuit of Saudi goals, our efforts to eliminate any counter-weight to Saudi power in the region is a real threat to China (not to mention our ability to wage war in the African countries China has spent a decade cultivating by pressing a few buttons in Nevada). Precisely the same kind of threat we judged Russian expansion into Afghanistan to be in 1979 when we started funneling money–and ultimately, some years later, Stinger missiles–to the mujahadeen. The Stinger missiles took away Russia’s air superiority and with it their ambitions to keep Afghanistan and ultimately, their commitment to empire more generally.
So while it may comfort the public to be told Iran could never manage to reverse engineer our drone, the possibility that China and Iran may be making real progress in neutralizing our favorite new weapon would presumably worry the national security establishment. Just in time for Iran to enter negotiations and in such a way that the implicit threat from China is understood.
These blustery experts should have listened to me when I warned that China’s ability to access our defense networks with ease was far more dangerous than Bradley Manning and his Lady Gaga CD.
In yesterday’s post, I pointed out the craven political decision to delay a strategic reassessment of the war strategy in Afghanistan until after the election in November. Just in case that was not enough stupidity already emanating out of Washington regarding Afghanistan, today we have the collected wisdom of John McCain, Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham informing us that not only is there success in the war effort in Afghanistan, but the US must listen closely to them in order to sustain that success. In preparation for reading the recommendations from our trio of uninvited experts, it is useful to look once again at the accompanying chart, where we see the steady increase in violent events in Afghanistan. The surge of troops in early 2010 did not reverse the trend of increasing violence. In fact, violence jumped by an even larger amount in the first year of the surge than in previous years. No benefit of the surge accrued in 2011, either, as the number of violent events continued to increase.
But McCain, Lieberman and Graham would have us believe that there is “success”:
Significant military progress has been made in Afghanistan — progress that we have personally witnessed over repeated visits. Four years ago, southern Afghanistan was overrun by the Taliban, and our coalition lacked the resources and the strategy necessary to break their momentum. Today, that situation has been reversed, thanks to the president’s surge of forces, the leadership of talented military commanders, and the courage and perseverance of our troops.
Similarly, our effort to build the Afghan National Security Forces — which was under-resourced and disorganized four years ago — has been overhauled. Growing numbers of Afghan units are increasingly capable of leading the fight.
Of course, given the current clusterfuck that is reality in Afghanistan, our mentors of mendacity were forced to open their piece with a nod to the growing desire by most Americans to get out sooner rather than later:
A series of tragic events in Afghanistan has increased the desire of a war-weary public to end our mission there. As heart-wrenching as these events have been, they do not change the vital U.S. national security interests at stake in Afghanistan, nor do they mean that the war is lost. It is not. There is still a realistic path to success if the right decisions are made in the coming months.
And just what is the “realistic path to success” that is being offered for our consideration? →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
Writing on the front page of today’s New York Times, Scott Shane finally states what should have been obvious to anyone paying attention to the steady drumbeat from the war mongers over the last couple of years:
Echoes of the period leading up to the Iraq war in 2003 are unmistakable, igniting a familiar debate over whether journalists are overstating Iran’s progress toward a bomb.
Shane notes that this time, as opposed to 2003, the Obama administration is trying to calm the war rhetoric instead of inflaming it as the Bush administration did in 2003.
However, the the bellicose
Israel war lobby in the US Senate is more than willing to take up the cause of war as the only answer. A “bipartisan” group consisting of Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Pat Toomey (R-PA), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), John McCain (R-AZ), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), James Risch (R-ID), Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Charles Schumer (D-NY) has penned a letter to President Obama, trying to take away the major negotiated settlement which could avert war. In the letter, they state:
Second, we believe it is absolutely essential that the United States and its partners make clear to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran that we intend to continue ratcheting up this pressure-through comprehensive implementation of existing sanctions as well as imposition of new measures-until there is a full and complete resolution of all components of illicit Iranian nuclear activities. This must include, at a minimum, the full, verifiable, and sustained suspension of all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities and heavy water-related activities, as required by multiple UN Security Council resolutions.
This is a pre-emptive strike by the
Israel war lobby in the Senate to prevent a negotiated settlement in which Iran suspends its work enriching uranium to the 20% level. From an editorial in today’s Washington Post:
In fact, it appears likely that Tehran perceives talks as an opportunity to undermine sanctions. Mr. Jalili’s letter referred to negotiations “based on step-by-step principles and reciprocity,” language that could describe a proposal originally put forward by Russia last year. Moscow outlined a sequence of steps in which Iran would receive relief from sanctions in exchange for incremental actions to satisfy the IAEA. Iran rejected the idea, but now the P5+1, urged on by the Obama administration, is discussing a modified version. Reportedly, it could grant some sanctions relief if Iran suspended only its higher-level enrichment of uranium, and surrendered material enriched to that 20 percent level.
Clearly, the war mongers in the Senate are demanding that sanctions be ratcheted up substantially, with complete capitulation by Iran being the only way to remove any sanctions. In other words, the Senate group is demanding that negotiations be structured in a way that they are doomed.
The carnage in Syria continues unabated, with government forces shelling citizens, especially in the city of Homs. Qatar’s minister for international cooperation described Sunday’s veto of the UN Security Council resolution by Russia and China in this way:
Khaled al-Attiyah, Qatar’s minister for international co-operation, said the vetoes sent “a very bad signal to Assad that there (is a) license to kill.”
Russia claims they are working for a peaceful settlement in Syria, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Damascus now to speak to Assad:
Lavrov told Assad, according to Russia’s RIA news agency: “Every leader of every country must be aware of his share of responsibility. You are aware of yours. It is in our interests for Arab peoples to live in peace and agreement.”
Lavrov, whose government wields rare leverage in Syria as a major arms supplier to Damascus, said Assad assured him he was committed to halting bloodshed by both sides and that he was ready to seek dialogue with all political groups in Syria.
But the arms that Russia has been supplying to Assad are still being put to use against Syria’s citizens. From the same Reuters article:
Opposition activists said the fresh assault on Homs came after 95 people were killed on Monday in the city of one million, Syria’s third biggest. More than 200 were reported killed there by sustaining shelling on Friday night.
“The bombardment is again concentrating on Baba Amro (district of Homs). A doctor tried to get in there this morning but I heard he was wounded,” Mohammad al-Hassan, an activist in Homs, told Reuters by satellite phone. “There is no electricity and all communication with the neighborhood has been cut.”
A further 19 people were killed and at least 40 wounded in Tuesday’s barrage, activists said. Some reported fighting between army defectors and government forces trying move into areas the rebels hold in Homs.
Reflecting the total failure in what passes for world “diplomacy”, the response from the West is to arm the citizens of Syria to fight back against government forces who were armed by Russia. The approach starts out positively, as an attempt to prevent the arming of the Syrian government, but by the time Joe Lieberman gets involved, it goes terribly astray: →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
Joe Lieberman has introduced what he claims to be a law targeted at Wikileaks.
“The recent dissemination by Wikileaks of thousands of State Department cables and other documents is just the latest example of how our national security interests, the interests of our allies, and the safety of government employees and countless other individuals are jeopardized by the illegal release of classified and sensitive information,” said Lieberman in a written statement.
“This legislation will help hold people criminally accountable who endanger these sources of information that are vital to protecting our national security interests,” he continued.
The so-called SHIELD Act (Securing Human Intelligence and Enforcing Lawful Dissemination) would amend a section of the Espionage Act that already forbids publishing classified information on U.S. cryptographic secrets or overseas communications intelligence — i.e., wiretapping. The bill would extend that prohibition to information on HUMINT, human intelligence, making it a crime to publish information “concerning the identity of a classified source or informant of an element of the intelligence community of the United States,” or “concerning the human intelligence activities of the United States or any foreign government” if such publication is prejudicial to U.S. interests.
Problem is, not only would it not endanger Wikileaks (as far as we know). But it would put both good journalists–like Dexter Filkins–and bad ones–like Judy Miller and Bob Novak–in jail.
As far as we know, Wikileaks has been successful in its dumps at hiding the identities of any intelligence sources. (It has exposed one of State Department’s moles in Germany, who has been fired. But a diplomatic source is not an intelligence source, is it?)
But other journalists do expose sources. Such as when Dexter Filkins reported on how much the CIA has been shoveling at Ahmed Wali Karzai. Or when Judy Judy Judy exposed the CIA ties of a Ahmed Chalabi rival. And then, of course, there’s that little matter of Bob Novak and Valerie Plame.
This is all getting really, really stupid. Doesn’t Joe Lieberman have anything better to do with his time? Like funnelling money to the TSA for some other invasive search machine? Or giving the uber-rich big tax breaks?
As you’ve no doubt heard, on Wednesday, both Amazon.com and Ecuador decided they didn’t want to be associated with Wikileaks.
In Amazon.com’s case, it’s not entirely clear they would have known Wikileaks had switched to their servers on Sunday. But on Tuesday, some of Joe Lieberman’s flunkies contacted the company to let them know that Holy Joe disapproved of the book store-and-server helping Wikileaks facilitate its leaks.
The company announced it was cutting WikiLeaks off yesterday only 24 hours after being contacted by the staff of Joe Lieberman, chairman of the Senate’s committee on homeland security.
Lieberman said: “[Amazon's] decision to cut off WikiLeaks now is the right decision and should set the standard for other companies WikiLeaks is using to distribute its illegally seized material. I call on any other company or organisation that is hosting WikiLeaks to immediately terminate its relationship with them.”
The department of homeland security confirmed Amazon’s move, referring journalists to Lieberman’s statement.
Now, given DHS’ confirmation referencing Lieberman, it’s not clear whether the government officially contacted Amazon.com, or only Holy Joe. But it is worth noting that Amazon.com presumably gets requests for “tangible things” from the government under the PATRIOT Act’s Section 215. And while the Obama Administration has not branded Julian Assange as a terrorist the way Peter “Material Support for Irish Terrorists” King has, they could presumably claim a counter-intelligence interest in obtaining records about Wikileaks under Section 215. So the government could make legitimate requests for information on Wikileaks’ hosting use, if not request it be closed down.
Then there’s Ecuador, which I find even more interesting. On Monday, Deputy Foreign Minister Kintto Lucas had said Ecuador was prepared to offer Assange asylum. But then yesterday, President Rafael Correa stated that Lucas had no authority to make the offer. As Al-Jazeera’s article on the Correa comment makes clear, Ecuador has shown as much resistance as just about anyone to US demands, particularly since the US backed a Colombian raid on FARC in Ecuadoran territory.
Nevertheless, presumably the US said something to Ecuador to make it rethink Lucas’ offer of asylum to Assange. What carrots or sticks, I wonder, would be revealed if the diplomatic cables between the US and Ecuador regarding this matter were leaked?
The point being, of course, that if Correa’s retraction of the asylum order was a response to US pressure, it means that even as the US’ heavy-handed ways are exposed in the Wikileaks dump, they continue to use those same ways to combat Assange.
The whole point of Joe Lieberman’s tea-bagger bait Terrorist Expatriation Act, according to his Republican House co-sponsor Charlie Dent, is to make it easier to launch Hellfire missiles at people. And Lieberman, too, ties his citizenship-stripping measure to Obama’s targeting of an American citizen with a predator drone.
Taking on critics who say his proposal goes too far, Lieberman pointed to news reports that President Barack Obama signed an order enabling the US military to kill US citizens like radical US-Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.
“If the president can authorize the killing of a United States citizen because he is fighting for a foreign terrorist organization,” he said, “we can also have a law that allows the US government to revoke Awlaki’s citizenship.”
Lieberman said his proposal would make it harder for US nationals who cast their lot in with extremists, and train overseas, to return and carry out an attack, and if they do would make it possible to try them in military court.
“They will not enjoy the rights and privileges of American citizenship in the legal proceedings against them. That, I believe, will make America safer,” he said at a press conference with three other lawmakers.
“The US military may have more options to use necessary force to neutralize the threat, such as Anwar al-Awlaki, without the concerns associated with targeting an American citizen,” said Republican Representative Charlie Dent.
“I suspect it’d be easier to launch a Hellfire missile at a non-citizen than a citizen,” said Dent, referring to a weapon sometimes fired from US aerial drones at suspected terrorists.
Now, there’s a lot to loathe about this bill. Shane Kadidal describes the many ways in which it is illegal here.
But what I find most astounding about it is that Lieberman ties this not to actual military preparations against the United States (as he claims in his comments to Andrea Mitchell) but simply to “providing material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization.” And while I’d be willing to consider the merits of deporting Congressman Peter King or former top Chiquita executives like Carl Lindner and Roderick Hills (though following the logic of Elena Kagan, we’d also have to deport Attorney General Holder), I’m also cognizant that the way the government currently uses material support charges, it is prone to ensnare people who donate socks or money, sometimes in the name of charity.
The logical endpoint of this, then, in the addled little brains of Joe Lieberman and Charlie Dent, is that we should consider drone strikes on brown people who might have a good faith belief that they’re engaging in charity. And not just that we should consider drone strikes, but we should try to make it easier to execute those drone strikes.