Posts

Explosion Reported Near Iranian Uranium Processing Facility

Iranian nuclear facilities (Wkimedia Commons map)

According to Haaertz, the Iranian Fars News Agency is reporting (although I don’t see a story yet at their website or at Mehr News) an explosion in Isfahan, where an Iranian uranium processing facility is located:

A explosion rocked the western Iranian city of Isfahan on Monday, the semi-official Fars news agency reported, adding that the blast was heard in several parts of the city.

/snip/

It should be noted that Iran operates a uranium conversion plant near Isfahan, one with an important function in the chain of Iran’s nuclear program.

It first went into operation in 2004, taking uranium from mines and producing uranium fluoride gas, which then feeds the centrifuges that enrich the uranium.

The underground centrifuge facility at nearby Natanz was previously attacked by the Stuxnet virus and is seen as perhaps the most important Iranian enrichment facility.

When today’s explosion and the recent death of Hassan Moqaddam, the head of Iran’s missile program, in an explosion of dubious origin while hawks nattered on about the IAEA Iran report, are coupled with the Stuxnet attack, it appears that the Iranian nuclear program is being attacked simultaneously at all points along the path that could lead to a weapon on a missile.

Was today’s explosion an escalation of that battle?

Pigs Money Launderers Are More Equal Than Other Pigs Money Launderers'>Some Pigs Money Launderers Are More Equal Than Other Pigs Money Launderers

Treasury is going to ratchet up sanctions against Iran today, designating it as a primary money laundering concern.

he Treasury Department plans to designate Iran as an area of “primary money laundering concern” on Monday, a U.S. official said, a move allowing it to take steps to further isolate the Iranian financial sector.

[snip]

The decision — which the official said was to be announced by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on Monday — appeared designed as a warning about the risks of dealing with Iran’s financial institutions.

Maybe if the government would actually punish those who traded with Iran–like JP Morgan Chase–rather than imposing fines but then funneling them more money than the fines, it would have an effect on entities dealing with Iran’s financial institutions?

More importantly, the Treasury Department must think “money launderer” means something different than I understand it to mean. Because these guys are still operating as a favored financial jurisdiction for Americans and American companies.

A small group of Cayman Islands “jumbo directors” are sitting on the boards of hundreds of hedge funds as demand for independent directors booms in the Caribbean tax haven.

At least four individuals hold more than 100 non-executive directorships each, and 14 have more than 70 – each worth as much as $30,000 a year.

One has been listed as on the boards of 567 Cayman entities, almost all of which were hedge funds.

So long as we allow Cayman Islands and the hedgies to set up a kind of dangerous hybrid, where the hedgies themselves get to make sure the Cayman banks operate “ethically” as they launder the hedgies money, whatever concern we try to muster about Iran will ring false.

But I guess that’s increasingly par for the course.

IAEA Iran Report Fallout Continues: France Leads Militancy, MEK Rumors, Iran Reconsiders Cooperation

Reaction to the leaked IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear technology continues.  In a remarkable article in the New York Times that reads more like an Op-Ed (h/t MadDog), we see the writer urging the US to join the more militant posturing coming from . . .France. [It appears that the world has now completely inverted from the days of Freedom Fries in 2003.]  In addition, the New York Times has joined in repeating the whispers that some sort of Mossad-MEK operation was involved in the blast in Iran that killed the head of their missile development program. Also, Iran is discussing changing the extent to which it cooperates with the IAEA. International intrigue surrounding Iran also is enhanced with conflicting reports on the cause of death of Ahmed Rezaei in Dubai. Rezaei is the son of  Mohsen Rezaei, who previously served as head of the Revolutionary Guards, ran for President of Iran and now heads the Expediency Council.  Dubai has termed the death a suicide but most Iranian sources are labeling it suspicious.

The Op-Ed piece in the New York Times masquerading as a news article is penned by John Vinocur who is based in Paris for the Times’ sister publication the International Herald Tribune.  Vinocur opens with a slap at US leadership:

If the Obama administration wants to lead from behind in imposing sanctions to halt Iran’s nuclear weapon drive, it shouldn’t look for France to play the convenient associate.

That’s not the way the French would describe their role in the world. Rather, the fact is that France, in many respects, led the United States into battle in Libya and provided much of the willpower leading to a victory over the Qaddafi regime that is shared by the Americans, British and others.

Vinocur then misrepresents the findings of the IAEA report, stating flatly that “the Iranians now have enough fuel on hand to produce four nuclear weapons”, leaving out the key piece of information that this fuel has not yet been enriched to weapons grade and that there is no evidence or even any suggestion that Iran is engaging in enrichment to weapons grade. Read more

Bibi, Albright (and Warrick) on Iran Nuke Report: “But Wait, There’s More!”

Because there hasn’t been an immediate, multinational hue and cry to bomb Iran over the leaked IAEA report, both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and David Albright, the designated point person for fomenting fears over Iran’s nuclear program in the United States, have been reduced to using their best Billy Mays voice to boom out “But wait, there’s more!”  Netanyahu’s blathering has been dutifully written down and published by Reuters while Albright has found a willing mouthpiece in the Washington Post’s Joby Warrick

Netanyahu told his cabinet yesterday that Iran is closer to getting the bomb than the IAEA report suggests.  Here is how Reuters reported his remarks:

Iran is closer to getting an (atomic) bomb than is thought,” Netanyahu said in remarks to cabinet ministers, quoted by an official from his office.

“Only things that could be proven were written (in the U.N. report), but in reality there are many other things that we see,” Netanyahu said, according to the official.

The Israeli leader did not specify what additional information he had about Iran’s nuclear program during his cabinet’s discussion on the report by the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released last week.

Yup, Netanyahu is telling us he knows more about Iran’s nuclear technology than the rest of the world knows, but he won’t give us details and he can’t prove it.  And, of course, it is important to believe everything Netanyahu says.

Meanwhile, in Washington, Joby Warrick saw fit this morning to devote an entire article to building the case that Vyacheslav Danilenko was transferring crucial nuclear technology to Iran rather than helping Iran to develop nanodiamond technology.  The accusations against Danilenko come almost exclusively from David Albright and a “report” on Danilenko prepared by Albright’s Insitute for Science and International Security.  Warrick does include one brief quotation from a former CIA Iran analyst on how analysts characterize the flow of information into potentially covert programs and a statement from Josh Pollack of Arms Control Wonk.  I will return to the Pollack quote below.

Now that Danilenko’s work on controlled high explosives detonations creating nanodiamonds has been put forward as a potentially peaceful use of the technology he was helping to develop in Iran, those who promote the view that Iran is working hard now to develop a nuclear weapon find it necessary to provide a stronger connection between Danilenko’s work and development of a bomb trigger device.  At the same time, Danilenko has responded to press inquiries with a direct “I am not a father of Iran’s nuclear program” and “I am not a nuclear physicist.” Read more

Did the US Authorize Albright and Sanger to Publish the IAEA Iran Report?

Partial screengrab from ISIS website showing link for IAEA Iran report.

Major media organizations around the world are reacting to the IAEA’s report on Iran’s nuclear technology.

Okay, anyone who reads my posts knows that the sentence above should include a link to the IAEA’s website and its posting of the original report. But I can’t include that link, because the IAEA hasn’t posted the report yet.  The report is posted (pdf) at the website for David Albright’s Institute for Science and International Security, where it showed up early yesterday afternoon, and at the New York Times (pdf), in association with a story by David Sanger and William Broad.  I believe that the Times copy was posted several hours after the ISIS copy.

The IAEA’s website has this information about the report, on a page with the heading “Report On Iran Nuclear Safeguards Sent to IAEA Board”:

An IAEA report on nuclear verification in Iran was circulated on 8 November 2011 to the Agency’s Board of Governors and the UN Security Council.

The Agency’s 35-member Board of Governors will consider the report at its next meeting in Vienna from 17 November 2011. The document’s circulation is currently restricted to IAEA Member States and unless the IAEA Board decides otherwise the Agency cannot authorize its release to the public.

The report, Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and Relevant Provisions of Security Council Resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran, was issued by the IAEA Director General. It covers developments since the last report on 2 September 2011, as well as issues of longer standing.

Note that David Albright figured prominently in many media stories leading up to the appearance of the report.  He clearly had already read the report and was busy spreading his take on what the report means.

Given that Albright’s interpretation of the report fits so well with the Obama administration’s take, a question that comes to mind is whether the US authorized Albright to post the report. The IAEA information quoted above states that the IAEA is not authorized to release the report but that it was sent yesterday to the IAEA’s Board of Governors and to the UN Security Council.  The information also states that current circulation is “restricted to IAEA Member States”.  The US is a Member State of the IAEA.

Did the US authorize Albright’s release of the report? Read more

The Declining Credibility of the IAEA

Yesterday, I pointed out that the IAEA is preparing to release a report on potential development of nuclear weapons in Iran almost exactly two years after the departure of Mohamed ElBaradei as its leader.  As discussed in that post, one of the key pieces of evidence that is anticipated to be discussed in the report is a large steel container in which explosions are carried out.  The claim will be that this chamber is being used to test the use of conventional explosives as a trigger device for a nuclear weapon.

Even before the official report comes out, there are now serious questions about the credibility of the claims on the steel tank.  In a post yesterday at Moon of Alabama, b informs us that there is a likely very different use of the conventional explosive technology and the steel chamber where the explosions are carried out.  A key to unraveling this mystery was an examination of the area of expertise for the Russian scientist cited as the source of the explosive technology in the Washington Post’s “scoop” of the expected content of the IAEA report.  From the Moon of Alabama post:

Dr. Vyacheslav Danilenko is a well known Ukrainian (“former Soviet”) scientist. But his specialties are not “weapon” or “nuclear” science, indeed there seems to be nothing to support that claim, but the production of nanodiamonds via detonations (ppt). According to the history of detonation nanodiamonds he describes in chapter 10 of Ultrananocrystalline Diamond – Synthesis, Properties, and Applications (pdf) he has worked in that field since 1962, invented new methods used in the process and is related with Alit, an Ukrainian company that produces nanodiamonds.

/snip/

Some years ago Iran launched a big Nano Technology Initiative which includes Iranian research on detonation nanodiamonds (pdf). Iran is officially planing to produce them on industrial scale. It holds regular international conferences and invites experts on nanotechnology from all over the world. It is quite likely that famous international scientists in that field, like Dr. Danilenko, have been invited, gave talks in Iran and cooperate with its scientists.

Producing nanodiamonds via detonations uses large confined containers with water cooling, for which Danilenko seems to have a patent. The Ukrainian company he works with, Alit, shows such a detonation chamber on its webpage as does the picture above from the French-German nano-research company ISL. The detonation nanodiamond explanation thereby also fits with another allegation from the IAEA report:

So it turns out that the most likely use of the “bus-sized steel container” is the production of nanodiamonds.  As b points out in an update, that explanation now has reached the Guardian (though without citing Moon of Alabama, I would note): Read more

Two Years After ElBaradei’s Departure, IAEA Joins Anti-Iran Drumbeat

Mohamed ElBaradei (Wikimedia Commons photo)

As I noted on Thursday, the “sport” of predicting when Israel will attack Iran has now moved from the progressive blogosphere to many conventional news outlets.  This week will see a major escalation in the anti-Iran rhetoric after the release of a much-anticipated report on Iran from the International Atomic Energy Agency.  Many news outlets already are saying this report will be damning for Iran.  Today, the Washington Post devotes front-page prominence to its “scoop” of details expected to be contained in the report. The title for the article, which seems meant to be read with breathless fear, is “IAEA says foreign expertise has brought Iran to threshold of nuclear capability”.

Here is the how the Post article opens:

Intelligence provided to U.N. nuclear officials shows that Iran’s government has mastered the critical steps needed to build a nuclear weapon, receiving assistance from foreign scientists to overcome key technical hurdles, according to Western diplomats and nuclear experts briefed on the findings.

So, outsiders have provided assistance to Iran so that they have “mastered key steps needed to build a nuclear weapon”.  But, if we dig a bit deeper in the article, we have a little more detail on just what these “key steps” are.  The Post seems to be relying almost exclusively on information provided by David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security, a non-partisan organization concentrating on nonproliferation:

Albright said IAEA officials, based on the totality of the evidence given to them, have concluded that Iran “has sufficient information to design and produce a workable implosion nuclear device” using highly enriched uranium as its fissile core. In the presentation, he described intelligence that points to a formalized and rigorous process for gaining all the necessary skills for weapons-building, using native talent as well as a generous helping of foreign expertise.

It would appear that the latest basis for war will be the conclusion that Iran has developed technology for a nuclear trigger. Read more

From US-Pakistan Meetings: No Pakistan Action in North Waziristan; Petraeus to Deliver Evidence Against ISI

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RaRKHVw4rUo[/youtube]

The high level meetings in Islamabad between US and Pakistani officials head into their second day today, after a marathon four hour session late yesterday.  The line-ups of officials present for the two countries is remarkable and reflects the seriousness with which the two countries view the current situation.  Pakistan’s Express Tribune provides a partial list of those present at the meetings:

Clinton was accompanied by US Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsy, Director Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) David Petraeus, US Special Envoy Marc Grossman and US Ambassador Cameron Munter, while Premier Gilani was assisted by Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, ISI chief Lt General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and other senior officials.

Despite the pomp surrounding the meetings and the seniority of those present, there seems to be little prospect that positions on the major issue will change.   As I described yesterday, Clinton is delivering the “new” catchphrase for the US of “fight, talk, build”, meaning that the US places the highest priority on fighting the Haqqani network, seen by the US as the biggest current threat and unlikely to participate in meaningful peace talks.  By contrast, Pakistan’s Prime Minister has implored the US to “give peace a chance”.  From the same Express Tribune article:

A statement issued by the Prime Minister’s press office also confirmed that Pakistan has no plans to initiate a military operation in North Waziristan.

“Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani called upon US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to give peace a chance, as envisaged in the All Parties Conference’s resolution,” said the statement.

We learn from today’s Washington Post that Clinton is warning Pakistan that they will pay a price for this refusal to attack the Haqqani network in their safe havens: Read more

The Uber-Plot: Iran, Mexican Drug Cartels, Koch Brothers, and Republicans

This plot has it all: an informant posing as a member of a Mexican drug cartel, Iranians targeting Saudis in DC’s streets, and even its own “Operation” name already.

FBI and DEA agents have disrupted a plot to commit a “significant terrorist act in the United States” tied to Iran, federal officials told ABC News today.

The officials said the plot included the assassination of the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States, Adel Al-Jubeir, with a bomb and subsequent bomb attacks on the Saudi and Israeli embassies in Washington, D.C.

[snip]

The new case, called Operation Red Coalition, began in May when an Iranian-American from Corpus Christi, Texas, approached a DEA informant seeking the help of a Mexican drug cartel to assassinate the Saudi ambassador, according to counter-terrorism officials.

You couldn’t make up a more convenient plot if you tried!

But I’m going to push it further. As Bloomberg reported last week, the Koch Brothers have illegally traded with Iran, selling them petrochemical equipment Iran needs to keep pumping oil to pay the state’s bills. So doesn’t think make the Koch Brothers accessories to this alleged terrorist plot?

Further, the Koch brothers are dumping big money into Republican causes. So doesn’t that mean the Republican Party is being funded by terrorists?

That’s the way material support laws work, after all, at least if you’re a brown person.

Ah well, I assume everyone will ignore the corporations (which include JP Morgan Chase) that have been doing business with Iran and instead march off towards the next war.

David Ignatius: Cheney Can’t Even Get Potentially Illegal Covert Ops Right

To be fair "serious person" Ignatius would never be so dismissive of so "serious" a person as Dick Cheney. But in his response to Hersh’s Sunday article, he pretty much agrees that covert stuff is going on, even while he points out that that–like our Irani policy more generally–is amateurish and ineffective (h/t Laura).

In the new cold war between America and Iran, the United States appears to be running some limited covert operations across the Iranian border. But according to knowledgeable sources, this effort shares the defect of broader U.S. policy toward Iran — it is tentative and ill-coordinated, and it undermines diplomacy without bringing serious pressure on the regime.

"Tell us what’s your policy with Iran," says one Arab official familiar with the covert program. "Are you going to talk to them or go to war with them?" This official describes U.S. operations this way: "There are attempts to cause mischief inside Iran and go after the Quds Force. Some things are being done, but not with the seriousness that’s needed."

Argues a former intelligence official, "It’s a PowerPoint covert-action program. It looks aggressive, but it’s not a tied-together, long-term strategy that would make Iran change its policy."

Looks like they’re potentially illegal covert ops just for the sake of potentially illegal covert ops, then, I guess. Huzzah to Dick Cheney and his willingness to flout Congressional oversight all in the interest of playing some big boy games!

I can’t help but think we’re hearing the same kind of report–well, worse, really–from that other area of our foreign policy that Dick is in charge of: our Pakistan policy.

Late last year, top Bush administration officials decided to take a step they had long resisted. They drafted a secret plan to make it easier for the Pentagon’s Special Operations forces to launch missions into the snow-capped mountains of Pakistan to capture or kill top leaders of Al Qaeda.

[snip]

But more than six months later, the Special Operations forces are still waiting for the green light. The plan has been held up in Washington by the very disagreements it was meant to eliminate. A senior Defense Department official said there was “mounting frustration” in the Pentagon at the continued delay.

Read more