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Pentagon: Maybe that Borat Voice Came from a UFO

I suggested yesterday that the voice issuing threats to the US Navy during the confrontation between three US ships and five motorboats–"I am coming to you. You will explode after a few minutes"–sounded like a frat boy playing with helium. But LS had a better suggestion: Borat. And now the Pentagon is getting into the spirit of the absurdist fun by admitting that the audio it released along with its video of the confrontation with the Iranian motorboats may not have come from those boats after all.

The audio includes a heavily accented voice warning in English that the Navy warships would explode. However, the recording carries no ambient noise — the sounds of a motor, the sea or wind — that would be expected if the broadcast had been made from one of the five small boats that sped around the three-ship American convoy.

Pentagon officials said they could not rule out that the broadcast might have come from shore, or from another ship nearby, although it might have come from one of the five fast boats with a high-quality radio system.

Oh yeah. Those fancy Iranian motorboats have such high-quality radio systems that they filter out the ambient noise of an outboard motor working at full speed while the tape taken from the US ship, taken at least partially inside the bridge, itself has the noise of a ship at sea.

Mike Nizza, who seems to be having more fun with this story than I am, offers a reader’s explanation:

All ships at sea use a common UHF frequency, Channel 16, also known as “bridge-to bridge” radio. Over here, near the U.S., and throughout the Mediterranean, Ch. 16 is used pretty professionally, i.e., chatter is limited to shiphandling issues, identifying yourself, telling other ships what your intentions are to avoid mishaps, etc.

But over in the Gulf, Ch. 16 is like a bad CB radio. Everybody and their brother is on it; chattering away; hurling racial slurs, usually involving Filipinos (lots of Filipinos work in the area); curses involving your mother; 1970’s music broadcast in the wee hours (nothing odder than hearing The Carpenters 50 miles off the coast of Iran at 4 a.m.) Read more

Are We Faking It Again?

That’s what the Iranians say. They say the US took video and superimposed audio to it with the menacing threat, "I am coming to you. You will explode after a few minutes," but that the threat (and the claimed throwing of small boxes in front of the US Navy ships) didn’t happen.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard accused the United States on Wednesday of fabricating video showing armed Iranian speedboats confronting United States Navy warships in the Persian Gulf over the weekend, according to a report carried by the semi-official Fars news agency as well as state-run television.

“Images released by the U.S. Department of Defense about the navy vessels, the archive, and sounds on it are fabricated,” an unnamed Revolutionary Guard official said, according to Fars. The news agency has close links to the Revolutionary Guard. It was the first time Iran had commented on a video the Pentagon released Tuesday.

The US, for its part, admits that it matched the audio to the video, but claims that both are authentic.

The video and audio were recorded separately and then matched, Naval and Pentagon officials said Tuesday.

Now, frankly, I’m not surprised the Iranians were playing chicken with the US Navy. With all the war-mongering Dick has been doing, you’d have to imagine they’d be testing our defenses in the Straits of Hormuz. And maybe the Iranians even radioed something to the US–though the audio here sounds more like some frat boys playing with helium than a real threat. 

But what I want to know is why–authentic or not–the military released video that looks so fake? Particularly when you watch both the YouTube and the DefenseLink version, which blacks out at the end when they play the claimed threat. And with the guy on the radio repeating the threat–somehow he can understand what helium-man says right away, with no "huh" or "what"–and no continuation of the tape to hear what came next.

See, whether or not the video is authentic, I just don’t think it particularly helps the US make the case that the Iranians threatened the US. Better to leave the video alone with the bright blue boat playing along in the ships’ wake and the horns blaring than to have something as farcical sounding as helium-man issuing odd threats. We already have damaged our credibility on these issues–and particularly on Iran. We don’t need helium-man to damage it further. 

The Sudden Change of Story on Iranian EFPs

I know we’re supposed to be focused on other stuff on IA Caucus Day (maybe I’ll get around to it by prime time). But for the moment I wanted to call attention to this Noah Shachtman post, in which he links to a story in which the ever-reliable (ha!) Steven Boylan declares that Iran has stopped providing Iraq with EFPs.

"We are ready to confirm the excellence of the senior Iranian leadership in their pledge to stop the funding, training, equipment and resourcing of the militia special groups," Col. Boylan said. "We have seen a downward trend in the signature-type attacks using weapons provided by Iran."

In October, U.S. military officials began noticing a decrease in the supply of Iranian weapons and assistance, Col. Boylan added.

 Though Boylan seems poised to declare that Eastasia is again our enemy, if circumstances so require.

"We are very much in the wait-and-see mode to see what happens," Col. Boylan said.

While Shachtman seems inclined to give Boylan the benefit of the doubt, he also notes that the dominant narrative on IEDs tends to be rather conveniently tied to larger geopolitical questions.

I’m inclined to take Boylan at his word — he’s always been straight with me.  But, the cynic in me can’t help but note that the Iran connection was overplayed last winter.  The EFPs that the U.S. military displayed as evidence of Iranian machining struck some observers as hand-hammered ashtrays. The EFPs I saw in Iraq had a similar, home-made feel — and bore no mark of Iranian manufacture.   At least two EFP factories have been found inside Iraq.

Since I’m more cynical and much less trusting of Boylan than Shachtman, I’d just like to emphasize that swing, particularly the timing of the swing back to the conclusion that Eastasia Iran is not arming Iraqi insurgents: October, about the time Bush was making his WWIII comments and Putin was proclaiming a war on Iran to be a war on Russia. And one month before the NIE stating that Iran had given up its nukes program. And two months before Abdullah and Ahmadinejad started smooching secretly behind the back of the school. 

Why the Sudden Veto of Military Pay Raises?

Digby and Steve Benen are right. Bush’s impending veto of the military spending bill is just weird. Here’s how Pelosi and Reid describe the veto:

Despite the Administration’s earlier support for the Department of Defense authorization bill, it appears that President Bush plans to veto this legislation, which is crucial to our armed forces and their families.

The Defense bill passed both houses of Congress by overwhelming bipartisan margins and addresses urgent national security priorities, including a 3.5 percent pay raise for our troops and Wounded Warriors legislation to remedy our veterans’ health care system. It is unfortunate that the President will not sign this critical legislation.

Instead, we understand that the President is bowing to the demands of the Iraqi government, which is threatening to withdraw billions of dollars invested in U.S. banks if this bill is signed.

The Administration should have raised its objections earlier, when this issue could have been addressed without a veto. The American people will have every right to be disappointed if the President vetoes this legislation, needlessly delaying implementation of the troops’ pay raise, the Wounded Warriors Act and other critical measures.

It’s weird in that Bush has had months to push a very compliant Congress to write the bill precisely as he wants. And it’s weird because the stated reason for the impending veto doesn’t make any sense. Steve points to this Yahoo article explaining why. Bush says he’s going to veto the bill because the Iraqis are worried about getting sued, but the Iraqis are already protected by law.

Sovereign nations are normally immune from lawsuits in U.S. courts. An exception is made for state sponsors of terrorism and Iraq was designated such a nation in 1990. After the 2003 invasion of Iraq, however, Congress passed a law and Bush issued a decree stating that Iraq was exempt from such lawsuits. Read more

Breaking: Persians Still Better at Chess than Americans

Is it any surprise that Iran chose this moment to ditch the dollar?

Iran, the second-biggest producer of crude oil in the Middle East, has “completely halted” all oil transactions in dollars, the state-run ISNA news agency said, citing Oil Minister Gholamhossein Nozari.

No, I don’t think so. After all, the release of the NIE this week will make it very difficult for the US to respond with full-scale war–as some believe the US did when Iraq moved away from the dollar. The Administration has been telling us for weeks now that Iraq is all peachy keen, which will make it hard to claim that Iran is destabilizing Iraq. And now the Administration has just said Iran has no active program to develop nukes–the other convenient excuse to start a war. Moreover, by pushing Europe to strong-arm Iran, all the while hoarding the information that Iran didn’t have the nuke program we claimed they did, has really pissed off our European allies.

And, at the same time, Iran has picked a moment that may have maximum effect on OPEC as a whole.

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries has set up a team to study pricing oil in another currency, the INSA cited Nozari as saying. The measure is designed to prevent further losses in revenue to oil exporters, ISNA reported.

The group’s findings will be announced at the next OPEC meeting, Nozari said, according to ISNA.

IANAE, but it seems that each time an oil producer moves away from the dollar, it’s going to be more and more tempting for others to follow. So by moving while the issue is under consideration, it may pressure those on OPEC (our Saudi bankers) who want to help the US out.

Two weeks ago, the Annapolis Conference looked like an opportunity for the US, the Saudis, and the Israelis to forge some kind of agreement that might counter Iranian power. But things haven’t gone so well for them in the interim two weeks.

John Bolton Time Warp

John Bolton, July 21, 2004

Finally, the world is safer today than one year ago because of an event
unprecedented in modern history: after years of isolation and being caught up
in a web of sanctions, the leader of a regime made a simple, but profound
strategic choice he came to the conclusion that his pursuit of weapons of mass
destruction made his country and his regime not more, but less secure. It is
not just the outside world that has benefited.

[snip]

Colonel Qhadadfi has made a strategic choice to put his people before his unjustified fears of a U.S. invasion.

John Bolton, December 5, 2007

Second, the NIE is internally contradictory and insufficiently supported. It implies that Iran is susceptible to diplomatic persuasion and pressure, yet the only event in 2003 that might have affected Iran was our invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, not exactly a diplomatic pas de deux. As undersecretary of state for arms control in 2003, I know we were nowhere near exerting any significant diplomatic pressure on Iran. Nowhere does the NIE explain its logic on this critical point.

Not to mention the fact that Bolton claims to be ignorant of the pas de deux that the Iranians, at least, attempted in 2003. Read more

Dick Vetted the Intelligence Two Weeks Ago

The NYT provides more details about the intelligence collected in mid-2007 that confirmed the judgment that Iran suspended its nukes program back in 2003. In addition to the intercepted communications, there were also notes from Iran’s military leaders.

Most interesting–at least to those who obsess about the timing of all this–is that the intelligence analysts had to present the raw intelligence to Cheney.

In the end, American intelligence officials rejected that theory, though they were challenged to defend that conclusion in a meeting two weeks ago in the White House situation room, in which the notes and deliberations were described to the most senior members of President Bush’s national security team, including Vice President Dick Cheney.

“It was a pretty vivid exchange,” said one participant in the conversation.

Good to see the Vice President hasn’t lost his affection for twisting arms.

Here’s how this looks in our big timeline: Read more

NIE Timeline, Take Three

This is a compilation of the several timelines I–and others–have done so far on the NIE.

November 2006: NIE "completed"

January 5, 2007: John Negroponte resigns as DNI, reportedly because of fight over NIE; Negroponte would move to become a top official at State

January 11: US takes six Iranians in custody after a raid on a diplomatic building in Irbil, Iraq

February 2007: NIE completed; Cheney objecting to content

February 7: Iranian Revolutionary Guard General Ali Reza Asgari arrives in Turkey; he disappears there, and is presumed to have defected or been kidnapped; in March he was reported to be cooperating with western intelligence

April 26: Thomas Fingar announces NIE will be delayed due to Ahmadinejad’s demagoguery

May 12: Cheney meets with Saudi Arabia

July 2007: Intelligence community intercepts communications that verify claim Iran’s nuclear program remains suspended; Senior Administration Officials briefed

August 2007: Bush claims he learned new intelligence exists

August 9: Bush substitutes the claim that Iran was seeking nuclear technology for earlier claim that they were seeking nukes. (h/t Froomkin)

They have expressed their desire to be able to enrich uranium, which we believe is a step toward having a nuclear weapons program. That, in itself, coupled with their stated foreign policy, is very dangerous for world stability. . . . It’s a very troubling nation right now.

August 29-30: Six nuclear warheads "accidentally" get flown from Minot AFB to Barksdale AFB in Louisiana

September 6: Israel strikes site in Syria

October 2007: BushCo considers spiking the NIE Read more

The NIE and Israel

In my banana republic thread, MinnesotaChuck asks the $64,000 question.

I wonder if the withdrawal of the resolution, which went down several days ago, had anything to do with the release of the NIE yesterday.

That–or rather the reverse scenario–seems pretty darn likely to me. Consider these data points:

November 26: Per Seymour Hersh, Bush tells Ehud Olmert what’s in the NIE.

November 27: The Annapolis Peace Conference

November 28: The day Hadley claims Bush was briefed on the NIE; Bush meets with Olmert again

November 29: Khalilzad submits a resolution endorsing Annapolis at UN; Condi calls Khalilzad in the middle of the meeting to ask WTF he’s doing

November 30: A Khalilzad deputy withdraws the UN resolution while Khalilzad is in "previously scheduled" meeting in DC with Condi

December 3: Unexpected public release of NIE showing Iran has given up nuke program

December 4: Israelis say the NIE is wrong; Bush announces his first trip to Israel as President (h/t Laura); both Annapolis and Iran’s purported nukes are on the agenda; Khalilzad calls the claim that he had submitted the resolution without vetting it bull

All of which makes me all the more curious how–and when–the NIE got declassified. Because it sure looks like Israel is only going to let Condi have her Annapolis-based legacy if she allows them to continue to war-monger in Iran. Read more

Intelligence Puts a Crimp in Dick’s War-Mongering

You’ve no doubt heard the news that the NIE on Iran’s nuclear ambitions judges (with moderate certainty) that Iran has no active nuclear weapon program.

That’s great news. But I’m just as interested in the back story of why we got this news in the first place. As the NYT reveals (h/t Danger Room), the Deputy Director of National Intelligence released the NIE to make sure it was accurately represented.

In a separate statement accompanying the N.I.E., Deputy Director of National Intelligence Donald M. Kerr said that given the new conclusions, it was important to release the report publicly “to ensure that an accurate presentation is available.”

Shorter Mr. Kerr: Stephen Hadley’s already madly spinning this result wildly, and I wanted to make sure he didn’t do worse.

But that makes me mighty curious about the timing of this decision. Take a look at the timing in this key judgment.

We assess with moderate confidence Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007, but we do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons. [my emphasis]

In other words, the most important key judgment in this NIE (in terms of impeding Dick’s war-mongering, at least) comes from mid-2007. That’s pretty fascinating timing, given the time line of Dick’s attempts to stifle the key judgments on Iran. Here’s a time line taken excerpted from this article. Read more