In the historic city of Isfahan in Iran yesterday, several thousand protesters gathered in front of the judiciary building and shouted slogans against assailants who have thrown acid on a number of women in recent weeks. Even though a spokesman for the Iranian judiciary announced Monday that four attackers had been arrested and that the harshest possible punishment will be handed out, the protesters appeared to feel that not enough is being done.
The Guardian describes the situation that led to the protests:
Assailants riding on motorbikes, in a similar sequence of events, have thrown acid in the face of at least eight women who were driving in the street with their windows pulled down. Local media say the number of victims could be higher. The attacks have so far claimed one life, an opposition website said.
Many Iranians believe that victims were targeted because they were women wearing clothes that could be deemed inappropriate in the eyes of hardliners – a claim vehemently denied by the authorities.
Isfahani citizens, horrified by the scale of vicious assaults, gathered in front of the city’s justice department on Wednesday, calling on the authorities to put an end to the crimes which has highlighted the striking challenges women face in Iran, where hijab is obligatory.
A number of protesters in Isfahan chanted slogans that described the attackers as Iran’s own version of Isis, the extremist group that has committed many atrocities in Iraq and Syria.
Somehow, I suspect that these opposition groups will be very unhappy with Thomas Erdbrink’s coverage of the protest, though. Erdbrink notes that the protest appears to have been organized through social media, which may be a hint that he thinks the opposition groups helped to organize it. The opposition groups would go along with Erdbrink’s coverage of a proposed new law at the heart of the controversy:
The acid attacks have prompted a heightened resistance to the new law, which Parliament passed on Sunday. The law is aimed at protecting citizens who feel compelled to correct those who, in their view, do not adhere to Iran’s strict social laws. The details of the law, which would officially empower the government and private citizens to give verbal or written statements on social mores, have yet to be completed.
While strict rules on dress, alcohol, sexual relations and much more are not new, the law is aimed at defining crimes against propriety or decency, which in the past would often be corrected informally. In Iran, where most people live in cities and many are highly educated, conservatives are trying to avert changes in attitudes by enforcing traditions.
But Erdbrink points out that Hassan Rouhani spoke out very forcefully against the law, providing a stark contrast to the image the opposition paints of him going along with harsh punishment meted out by conservatives:
President Hassan Rouhani strongly criticized the new law on Wednesday, saying that he feared it would divide society because, as many observers have pointed out, in reality it offers the country’s small but influential faction of hard-liners more power.
“The sacred call to virtue is not the right of a select group of people, a handful taking the moral high ground and acting as guardians,” Mr. Rouhani said during a trip to the provincial city of Zanjan. “It is upon all Muslims to exhort love, respect for others and human dignity.”
“May such a day never come that some lead our society down the path to insecurity, sow discord and cause divisions, all under the flag of Islam,” he said, his voice shaking with emotion.
What a powerful statement. Imagine if Barack Obama said “May such a day never come that some lead our society down the path to insecurity, sow discord and cause divisions, all under the flag of Christianity”. And imagine if he said it with a voice shaking with emotion.
Sadly, both Iran and the United States have already reached that point where religious conservatives have caused insecurity, sown discord and caused divisions. And that is what makes Rouhani’s statement so dangerously courageous and prevents Obama from ever contemplating doing the same.
I have long criticized David Albright for his behavior in helping those who have tried to fan the flames over the years for a war with Iran. His role usually consists of providing technical “analysis” that somehow always works to support the latest allegations from sources (most often identified as diplomats) who selectively feed information to either AP reporter George Jahn or Reuters reporter Fredrik Dahl. As the P5+1 group of countries and Iran have moved closer and closer to achieving a final deal on Iran’s nuclear program, the Iran war hawks are growing more and more desperate. That desperation this week has resulted in David Albright dropping all pretense of being a neutral technical analyst and joining forces with the terrorist group MEK in slinging new, unsubstantiated allegations about Iran’s nuclear program.
On Tuesday, Albright published a strange document (pdf) on Iran’s nuclear program at his Institute for Science and International Security website. Also on Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal published an editorial that included a quote from Albright.
The reason I say that Albright’s document at the ISIS website is strange is that the document is simply titled “Spin, Spin, Spin” and, after the author list (Andrea Stricker joins him in the byline), the document puts a very strange quotation right after the dateline:
“The bigger the lie…”
The “Spin, Spin, Spin” title could be excused as a clever pun if the article’s topic were the centrifuges that Iran uses for enrichment of uranium. Instead, the topic is exploding bridge wire detonators. The title is a complete dismissal of everything that Iran has to say about the detonators, ascribing it to spin rather than fact. But then Albright and Stricker move beyond the mere spin accusation all the way to accusing Iran of lying–before they lay out a single bit evidence to support their allegation.
The document opens by attacking press coverage of Iran beginning to discuss EBW’s with the IAEA:
Media reporting immediately following the release of the IAEA’s safeguards report focused on Iran’s willingness to discuss the exploding bridge wire (EBW) detonators. That is certainly good news, but did Iran resolve the IAEA’s concern? The answer has to be no or probably not. This fact was only lightly covered in the media over the weekend. Some misinterpreted Iran’s willingness to discuss the issue with making progress on it. One group at least even went so far as to declare that Iran had “halted nuclear activities in the areas of greatest proliferation concern and rolled back its program in other key areas.” But if Iran continues to work on aspects of nuclear weapons, as the IAEA worries, then it is necessary to reserve judgment on that question.
After a while, the document moves on to the accusation that Iran is lying:
So, while it is significant that Iran has been willing to talk about this issue for the first time since 2008 when it unilaterally ended cooperation over the matter, the key consideration is whether Iran is actually addressing the IAEA’s concerns. More plainly, is it telling the truth? The EBW issue must be taken in the context of the large amount of evidence collected by Western intelligence agencies and the IAEA over many years, detailed in the annex to the November 2011 safeguards report, indicating EBWs were part of a nuclear weapon design effort and military nuclear program. From that perspective, Iran has not answered this issue adequately and appears to have simply elevated the level of its effort to dissemble.
Ah, so Albright is basing the accusation of lying on the “evidence…detailed in the annex to the November 2011 safeguards report”. Okay then. Never mind that the annex, based almost exclusively on the “laptop of death” has been pretty thoroughly debunked and seems likely to be a product of forgery. About seven and a half years ago, some dirty hippie figured out that the most likely source of this forgery was the MEK. One can only wonder how Albright has gone from being enough of a scientist to seeing the holes in the forgery to even be quoted by Gareth Porter in a 2010 debunking of the data to now throwing his entire weight (while apparently deciding to throw away his entire reputation) behind the allegations.
The full extent of Albright’s loss of intellectual honesty becomes clear when we look at the Wall Street Journal editorial. At least the Journal is open about its latest round of accusations coming directly from the MEK: Continue reading
On Tuesday, I posited that the threat of new sanctions kicking in if a final agreement on nuclear technology is not reached could serve as a strong incentive for Iran to bargain in good faith with the P5+1 group of nations. But then, on Thursday, an actual sanctions bill was introduced. Ali Gharib took the time to read it (he got an advance copy and posted about it Wednesday) and what he found is profoundly disturbing (emphasis added):
The legislation would broaden the scope of the sanctions already imposed against Iran, expanding the restrictions on Iran’s energy sector to include all aspects of its petroleum trade and putting in place measures targeting Iran’s shipping and mining sectors. The bill allows Obama to waive the new sanctions during the current talks by certifying every 30 days that Iran is complying with the Geneva deal and negotiating in good faith on a final agreement, as well as meeting other conditions such as not sponsoring or carrying out acts of terrorism against U.S. targets.
In accordance with goals laid out frequently by hard-liners in Congress and the influential lobbying group the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the bill sets tough conditions for a final deal, should one be reached with Iranian negotiators. Among those conditions is a provision that only allows Obama to waive new sanctions, even after a final deal has been struck, if that deal bars Iran from enriching any new uranium whatsoever. The bill states Obama may not waive sanctions unless the United States and its allies “reached a final and verifiable agreement or arrangement with Iran that will … dismantle Iran’s illicit nuclear infrastructure, including enrichment and reprocessing capabilities and facilities.” (Congress could also block Obama’s waivers by passing a “joint resolution of disapproval” against a final deal.)
Although Gharib ascribes the war mongering aspects of this bill to positions advocated by AIPAC, the work (and funding money) of MEK, which advocates for (in my opinion, violent) regime change in Iran, seems to be just as likely, if not more likely, to be behind this hideous piece of legislation. The chief architect of the bill is Robert Menendez (D-NJ). He lists his cosponsors (Menendez’s original release claimed 26 cosponsors and the news stories linked below also cite 26, but Corey Booker was added to the list this morning while this post was being written. The press release was changed to add Booker to the list without changing the 26 to 27. The press release at the old URL was wiped out so that an empty page is returned. The date of December 19 for the release was also retained.):
The legislation was co-sponsored by twenty-six senators [sic], including: Senators Menendez, Kirk, Schumer, Graham, Cardin, McCain, Casey, Rubio, Coons, Cornyn, Blumenthal, Ayotte, Begich, Corker, Pryor, Collins, Landrieu, Moran, Gillibrand, Roberts, Warner, Johanns, Hagan, Cruz, Donnelly, Blunt and Booker.
Perhaps the only encouraging aspect of this long list of bipartisan backers of war is that back in June of 2012 this group got 44 signatures on a Senate letter calling for all negotiations with Iran to cease unless three conditions were met: Continue reading
Recall that back in October, near the town of Saravan in southeastern Iran, 14 Iranian border guards were killed by attackers who had infiltrated from the adjacent border with Pakistan. Iran retaliated very quickly, executing 16 prisoners the next day. A previously unknown group, Jaish al-Adl, claimed responsibility and has since been described as a radical Sunni Wahhabi group with ties to Jundallah.
We learn today from Fars News that skirmishes with Iranian border guards have continued since that attack, with as many as 100 attacks having taken place since March and up to two a day since the October incident:
Lieutenant Commander of Iran’s Border Guard Force Brigadier General Ahmad Garavand vowed tough battle against any kind of terrorist move along the country’s borders, and said the border guards have repelled tens of terrorist attacks against the country.
General Garavand pointed to constant clashes between the Iranian border guards and outlaws, and said, “We have had 100 clashes since the beginning of this (Iranian) year (started March 20) and 2 border clashes per day on average after the recent terrorist attacks in Saravan.”
It would appear that the border guards are facing a budget crisis (perhaps a product of US sanctions?):
Meantime, Garavand reiterated that the government should earmark more budget for sealing the country’s borders, and said, “Only 28 percent of the required budget for sealing the borders has been allocated in the past months.”
Where the article goes next is a very interesting development. I had missed this bit of news in the original aftermath of the October incident, but Garavand mentions that the IRGC has vowed to take action in response:
After the attack the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) in a statement vowed to take action against.
Perhaps this is just a natural outcome of the budget limitations of the border guards, but it seems more likely to me that this is a significant step that indicates just how seriously Iran views these border incidents. And right on cue, we have reports today by both Fars News and Mehr News that the IRGC took action to free two hostages who had been captured near the border. From the Fars story:
The Quds Forces of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) released the two hostages that had been taken by a group of outlaws in Southeastern Iran yesterday.
On Monday night a group of bandits took two Iranian citizens hostage in the city of Iranshahr in the Sistan and Balouchestan province.
Some hours later in early Tuesday morning, the captured civilians were released in an IRGC surprise operation which left three bandits dead and 3 others injured.
So we now have not just the IRGC, but the elite Quds force that reports directly to Khamenei involved in today’s incident. Continue reading
There will be much weeping and gnashing of teeth by Bibi (Red Line) Netanyahu, war mongers John (Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran) McCain and Lindsey Graham and paid MEK shills throughout Congress today because an agreement was reached early Sunday morning local time in Geneva, culminating a process that has been over ten years in the making to seek a peaceful route to preventing any weapons development in Iran’s nuclear technology. Although this is only an interim agreement, it takes significant steps toward making it much more likely that any move by Iran to construct a weapon would be detected and would take longer. More or less simultaneously with the announcement of the agreement, AP reported that the US and Iran have been engaging in secret bilateral talks since March, well before Rouhani’s election this summer.
A fact sheet on the agreement is posted at the White House web site.
Concern over Iran’s nuclear program had ratcheted up in early 2012 when Iran significantly increased its rate of production of uranium enriched to 20%. That concern arose because 20% enriched uranium is technically much easier to take the remaining way to the 90%+ needed for a weapon. Before that point, most of Iran’s work had been directed toward uranium enriched below 5%. Netanyahu’s famous “red line” applied to the stockpile of 20% enriched uranium that would be needed to produce sufficient weapons grade uranium for one nuclear bomb. Significantly, the agreement reached today stops all of Iran’s enrichment to 20% and calls for Iran to either dilute back to below 5% or convert to a chemical form that makes it much harder to convert to weapons grade all of Iran’s stock of 20% uranium. In addition to halting enrichment to 20%, the agreement also prevents Iran from increasing its stockpile of uranium enriched to up to 5%.
Recall that when the IAEA’s latest report came out, I noted that Iran had been showing restraint since the beginning of 2012 by not committing any of the new centrifuges it was installing to actual enrichment activity. Further, no new centrifuges had been installed since Rouhani’s election. The agreement reached today includes a commitment by Iran to take steps to reduce the the number of centrifuges that are available for enrichment, among other restrictions on centrifuges. From the fact sheet:
Iran has committed to halt progress on its enrichment capacity:
· Not install additional centrifuges of any type.
· Not install or use any next-generation centrifuges to enrich uranium.
· Leave inoperable roughly half of installed centrifuges at Natanz and three-quarters of installed centrifuges at Fordow, so they cannot be used to enrich uranium.
· Limit its centrifuge production to those needed to replace damaged machines, so Iran cannot use the six months to stockpile centrifuges.
· Not construct additional enrichment facilities.
My initial understanding of the reductions in centrifuges would apply only to those centrifuges that had been installed but were not yet in use. By consulting the actual IAEA report (pdf) from earlier this month, I calculated that there are roughly 15,660 centrifuges installed at Natanz, with about 9048 of them in use. That means there are an excess of 6612 centrifuges installed but not being used. Half of those would be about 3306 centrifuges to be made unavailable. At Fordow, there are about 2976 centrifuges installed, with 744 in operation. Of the 2232 extra centrifuges there, 1674 are to be made unavailable. Combining the numbers for the two facilities, Iran would be giving up access to 4980 centrifuges under this understanding of the agreement.
However, the fact sheet states quite clearly that the reductions apply to all installed centrifuges. With that as the case, then the reduction is much more dramatic, with 7830 centrifuges being made unavailable at Natanz and 2232 at Fordow, for a total of 10,060 centrifuges being made unavailable. These numbers seem to reduce the centrifuges actually being used for enrichment at Natanz, with the number going down from 9048 to 7830. This reduction of 1200 or centrifuges does seem to match with the number shown in the graph in Annex II of the November IAEA report that are associated with enrichment to 20%, so it would appear that those centrifuges are being shut down entirely rather than being shunted back to enrichment to 5%.
Of course, promising these changes is one thing, but verifying them is critically important. The agreement comes with much greater access to Iranian facilities by IAEA inspectors. Returning to the fact sheet: Continue reading
Before diving into Friday night’s border incident where fourteen Iranian border guards were killed and Iran retaliated the next morning by hanging sixteen prisoners already in detention, we need to look back at the important events surrounding other such outbreaks of violence at the Iran-Pakistan border.
On January 1 of 2012, Pakistan detained three Iranian border guards whom they claimed had crossed into Pakistan. Details of the event were sketchy, but Iran claimed the guards were chasing drug smugglers and most of the stories on the event brought up the likely involvement of the group known as Jundallah. Less than two weeks later, a prominent Iranian nuclear scientist was assassinated on January 11. Only two days after that event, the famous “false flag” article by Mark Perry appeared in Foreign Policy, making the remarkable claim that Mossad agents were posing as CIA agents while recruiting members of Jundallah for operations including assassinations. Marcy had a series of three posts (one, two, three) delving into the many implications surrounding the false flag accusation. Another border incident then happened in late January, where six “Pakistanis” were killed by Iranian border agents, but there was a lot of confusion over just who the victims were, including their nationality.
Here is how Reuters first broke the news Saturday on this latest incident:
Fourteen Iranian border guards were killed and three others captured by “bandits” on the southeastern frontier with Pakistan overnight, Iranian media reported on Saturday.
In response, the Iranian judiciary executed 16 people it said were elements of “terrorist” groups, according to the ISNA news agency. There were no further details of who they were or whether or when they had been tried.
A follow-up story by Dawn from Sunday has more details, with the identity of the attackers unknown (but Jundallah is still mentioned prominently in the article):
It was still unclear whether the attackers were drug smugglers or armed opposition groups.
However, Iran’s Deputy Interior Minister Ali Abdollahi called on the Pakistani government to “take measures to control the border more seriously.”
Pakistan’s charge d’affaires was received at the Iranian foreign ministry to receive an official demand that Islamabad “act firmly with officials and members of terrorist groups who have fled to Pakistani territory,” IRNA reported.
The Dawn article also notes a second, separate border incident on Sunday in which one Pakistani was killed and four others were wounded.
Responsibility for the attack has now been claimed by a group known as Jeish Al-Adl:
A little-known Iranian Sunni group says it carried out the killing of 14 border guards on Friday night.
Jaish al-Adl said the attack was in retaliation for an alleged Iranian “massacre” in Syria and the “cruel treatment” of Sunnis in Iran.
14 Iranian border guards were killed and 6 more were injured during the terrorist attack in Saravan border region in Southeastern Iran in the early hours of Saturday morning. The terrorists who have reportedly been members of the outlawed Jeish Al-Adl radical Sunni Wahhabi movement affiliated to the terrorist Jundollah group fled into Pakistan after the operation in Iran’s Southeastern Sistan and Balouchestan province.
It seems quite interesting to me that Iran would point out the “radical Sunni Wahhabi” connection of the group they are blaming. Of course, the primary sponsor of “radical Sunni Wahhabi” teachings is Saudi Arabia through their madrassas. But Iran seems to be dancing around an outright referral to Saudi involvement in this attack, even though it would make sense since we know that Bandar is now very upset both with the US “failure” to launch a strike on the Assad regime in Syria and the US diplomatic push toward Iran. This same Fars News article doesn’t name names, but refers to “two countries” providing financial support and “three countries” providing intelligence and equipment to them: Continue reading
With the world anticipating real progress at the next round of P5+1 talks set to start next week in Geneva, the MEK is getting desperate. Because they appear to only want a violent regime change in Iran, talk of actual diplomacy is their worst nightmare. Today, Reuters reports on the latest wild accusation tossed out by the MEK using the “umbrella” organization of the National Council of Resistance of Iran:
An exiled Iranian opposition group said on Thursday it had information about what it said was a center for nuclear weaponisation research in Tehran that the government was moving to avoid detection ahead of negotiations with world powers.
Reuters clearly was unmoved by the accusation, as they immediately pointed out that NCRI is biased and politically motivated. However, even in pointing out the bias of NCRI, Reuters perpetuates a myth that has been disproven:
The dissident National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) exposed Iran’s uranium enrichment facility at Natanz and a heavy water facility at Arak in 2002. But analysts say it has a chequered track record and a clear political agenda.
Uhm, yes. Having your major group spend decades on the list of terrorist organizations (before eventually buying their way off the list and registering as a lobbying group) would indeed qualify as “a chequered track record”. But Reuters insists on repeating the falsehood that the NCRI and MEK were responsible for exposing the underground enrichment site at Natanz. That myth has been thoroughly debunked by Jeffrey Lewis:
The debate about whether Iran has constructed a clandestine centrifuge program drives me nuts.
You mean other than the one we already found?
And by we, I mean the United States—or at least its intelligence community. As I understand the sequence of events, the United States—knowing full well that Iran had a clandestine centrifuge program—watched Iran dig two MASSIVE HOLES near Natanz (see the big picture), then ratted the Iranians out to the IAEA. About the same time, someone leaked that information to an Iranian dissident group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), which then released the second-hand dope in a press conference where they got the details wrong.
Lewis goes on to cite multiple independent sources to confirm that the intelligence community, not the NCRI, was responsible for discovering the Natanz facility. [It is also instructive to note the role ISIS played in the charade of promoting NCRI responsibility.]
Aside from that major error on attribution of the discovery of Natanz, Reuters was so unmoved by the newest ploy from NCRI that they didn’t even rewrite today’s article very much from the last wild NCRI accusation in July (the link here is to CBC carrying the Reuters story):
But analysts say it has a mixed track record and a clear political agenda.
But in that July story, Reuters went further in linking that accusation to a desire to derail diplomacy:
The latest allegation comes less than a month after the election of a relative moderate, Hassan Rouhani, as Iran’s new president raised hopes for a resolution of the nuclear dispute with the West, and might be timed to discredit such optimism.
Yes, the MEK clearly sees diplomacy as the real enemy. That article also rehashed the abject failure of an accusation NCRI and MEK made in 2010:
In 2010, when the group said it had evidence of another new nuclear facility, west of the capital Tehran, U.S. officials said they had known about the site for years and had no reason to believe it was nuclear.
It would appear that NCRI and MEK need to step up their acts. They have reached a level of incompetence that is barely worthy of rewriting the standard dismissal that Reuters keeps on file.
The US grand strategy of arming moderate groups within Syria’s opposition in the ongoing civil war (remember, we only arm folks so moderate that they eat enemies’ hearts) took a huge blow yesterday, as several groups previously aligned with the moderates threw their support into a group including the Islamist group Jabhat al Nusra, which has affiliations with al Qaeda. With the moderate coalition in disarray, it occurred to me to wonder whether al Nusra will now undergo a reputation-scrubbing and a lobbying campaign similar to that applied to MEK, which has been removed from the official list of terrorist organizations and continues to support US politicians who are willing to sell their services to any group with enough funding. There is hope for the future, though, as a UN treaty that would take significant steps toward stemming the flow of conventional weapons is gathering steam and has now been signed by more than half of the members of the UN.
The Washington Post brings us the news of the fractured moderate coalition:
American hopes of winning more influence over Syria’s fractious rebel movement faded Wednesday after 11 of the biggest armed factions repudiated the Western-backed opposition coalition and announced the formation of a new alliance dedicated to creating an Islamic state.
The al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, designated a terrorist organization by the United States, is the lead signatory of the new group, which will further complicate fledgling U.S. efforts to provide lethal aid to “moderate” rebels fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The defecting groups are blaming the US for failing to come through with promised arms and for not bombing Assad after the August 21 chemical weapons attack:
Abu Hassan, a spokesman for the Tawheed Brigade in Aleppo, echoed those sentiments, citing rebel disappointment with the Obama administration’s failure to go ahead with threatened airstrikes to punish Assad for using chemical weapons in the suburbs of Damascus last month, as well as its decision to strike a deal with Russia over ways to negotiate a solution.
“Jabhat al-Nusra is a Syrian military formation that fought the regime and played an active role in liberating many locations,” he said. “So we don’t care about the stand of those who don’t care about our interests.”
Toward the end of the New York Times story on this development, we see the al Nusra group being described as less radical than the new kid on the block, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS): Continue reading
In a remarkably welcome surprise, moderate cleric Hassan Rohani won last month’s presidential election in Iran and did so with a large enough margin to avoid a runoff. In the immediate aftermath of the election, there was hope that the heated rhetoric on both sides of the dispute over Iran’s nuclear technology would calm a bit:
Though thousands of jubilant Iranians poured onto the streets in celebration of the victory, the outcome will not soon transform Iran’s tense relations with the West, resolve the row over its nuclear program or lessen its support of Syria’s president in the civil war there – matters of national security that remain the domain of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
But the president runs the economy and wields broad influence in decision-making in other spheres. Rohani’s resounding mandate could provide latitude for a diplomatic thaw with the West and more social freedoms at home after eight years of belligerence and repression under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was legally barred from seeking a third consecutive term.
“This victory is a victory of wisdom, a victory of moderation, a victory of growth and awareness and a victory of commitment over extremism and ill-temper,” Rohani told state television, promising to work for all Iranians, including the hardline so-called “Principlists” whom he defeated at the poll.
Alas, those who favor violence over negotiation don’t intend to sit idly while moderation has a chance of breaking out. Today, we have a new “revelation” brought to us in a Reuters article:
An exiled opposition group said on Thursday it had obtained information about a secret underground nuclear site under construction in Iran, without specifying what kind of atomic activity it believed would be carried out there.
The NCRI said the site was inside a complex of tunnels beneath mountains 10 km (6 miles) east of the town of Damavand, itself about 50 km northeast of Tehran. Construction of the first phase began in 2006 and was recently completed, it said.
The group released satellite photographs of what it said was the site. But the images did not appear to constitute hard evidence to support the assertion that it was a planned nuclear facility.
The Reuters article identifies NCRI as the National Council of Resistance of Iran and in addition to identifying them as “exiled dissedents” also mentions affiliation with the “People’s Mujahideen Organisation of Iran (PMOI)” without noting that the more commonly used acronym for the latter group is MEK. That would be the same MEK that was only de-listed by the US Department of State as a terrorist organization last year. Promptly after de-listing, the group moved to register as lobbyists:
An Iranian group that was listed as a terrorist organization until last year has formally registered to lobby the Obama administration.
The National Council of Resistance of Iran told the Justice Department that it plans to “educate” the public and the U.S. government about the need to pursue an Iran policy “based on respect for human rights, non-proliferation, and promotion of democracy.” The council is an umbrella group of five Iranian opposition groups, the largest of which is the delisted terror group Mujahedin-e-Khalq, or MEK.
The State Department closed the council’s Washington office in 2002, calling it a front group for the MEK. Since then, the group has earned the good graces of U.S. conservatives by drawing international attention to Iran’s clandestine uranium enrichment facility in Natanz.
That bit about NCRI exposing the Natanz facility? Even though it also is cited in today’s Reuters article, there is good reason to believe that MEK came into the information through a leak to them rather than their own intelligence-gathering: Continue reading
On Tuesday, I wrote about the suggestion published by Iran’s PressTV that Israeli and British scientists are seeking to develop a version of the SARS virus that would attack only people of Arab descent. Such an approach is not genetically feasible. If Iran wants to be on alert against a potential biological attack, there is a much more likely source and a more likely biological agent they should be monitoring.
In today’s articles on the Mehr News website, there is a piece going into how hypocritical it was for the US to delist the MEK as a terrorist organization. One small detail in the article that I had missed in previous MEK discussions stood out to me:
So why has this obviously irrational delisting of the MKO taken place? Just as the Afghan mujahedin were used in a covert U.S. war to overthrow the Soviet-aligned government in Afghanistan, the MKO is being used in conjunction with Mossad to fight a covert war against the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran. And the U.S. trained members of the MKO at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Nevada Security Site under the auspices of the Joint Special Operations Command between 2005 and 2008. According to an unnamed source, as a result of the Nevada JSOC training, “MKO now has a capacity for efficient operations that it never had before.”
I had missed the suggestion that MKO members were trained by JSOC in the Nevada desert (but of course Marcy hadn’t missed it). At least one source for Mehr News in making this statement appears to be this article by Sy Hersh:
From the air, the terrain of the Department of Energy’s Nevada National Security Site, with its arid high plains and remote mountain peaks, has the look of northwest Iran. The site, some sixty-five miles northwest of Las Vegas, was once used for nuclear testing, and now includes a counterintelligence training facility and a private airport capable of handling Boeing 737 aircraft. It’s a restricted area, and inhospitable—in certain sections, the curious are warned that the site’s security personnel are authorized to use deadly force, if necessary, against intruders.
It was here that the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) conducted training, beginning in 2005, for members of the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, a dissident Iranian opposition group known in the West as the M.E.K.
As mentioned by Hersh, the Nevada National Security Site once was used for nuclear testing. In fact, its previous name is the Nevada Test Site. But Hersh’s list of the facilities at that site is missing one key facility. We learned from Judy Miller on September 4, 2001 that the Defense Threat Reduction Agency built a fully functional fermentation facility that was capable of producing anthrax. That facility was built at the Nevada Test Site. As I have mentioned previously, this site stands out as a very likely source for the anthrax that was used in the 2001 attacks.
Because we already have strong suspicions that the MEK played some sort of role in the assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists, it doesn’t seem to be too large a leap to think that they could have a supply of weaponized anthrax produced in Nevada that they intend to release inside Iran. Instead of worrying about the biologically impossible Arab-specific SARS, Iranain biodefense personnel should be preparing for a rapid response to a release of anthrax.