Obama Urges the Senate to Take Up Key Convention on Illicit Arms Trafficking

At a press conference in Mexico City yesterday, President Obama urged the Senate to take up the Inter-American Convention against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives, and Other Related Materials, which is often referred to by its Spanish acronym, CIFTA.

The Convention aims to curtail the illicit international trade in small arms by requiring member states to establish basic export controls and to cooperate with each other to stop international arms trafficking.  These controls include the establishment of effective systems for authorizing international arms transfers, identifying and preventing arms trafficking at border points, exchanging information on illicit trafficking and best practices for combating it, and providing technical assistance to countries attempting to increase their capacity to identify and thwart arms trafficking.  As stated in the preamble, “this Convention does not commit States Parties to enact legislation or regulations pertaining to firearms ownership, possession, or trade of a wholly domestic character…”

The US played an important role in drafting the Convention, and was one of the first signatories in November, 1997.  The Convention was transmitted to the Senate in June 1998 and, more than a decade later, still awaits the Senate’s advice and consent.  To date, 29 of the 34 OAS member states have ratified the Convention.  Only the US, Canada, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and St. Vincent & Grenadines have yet to take that step.

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Russian Reactions to Minimal Deterrence Study

If you have followed Russian news media recently, you might have gotten the impression that FAS and NRDC are in charge of U.S. nuclear strike planning and are recommending increasing nuclear targeting of Russia.

Of course, neither is true.

Yet major Russian news media – and apparently also the chairman of the Russia’s parliament’s international affairs committee – have so misread and misrepresented the FAS/NRDC study From Counterforce to Minimal Deterrence that we are compelled to publish this rebuttal. Continue reading

DHS Sees Resurgence in Rightwing Extremism

Updated below

“The consequences of a prolonged economic downturn–including real estate foreclosures, unemployment, and an inability to obtain credit–could create a fertile recruiting environment for rightwing extremists and even result in confrontations between such groups and government authorities,” according to a new assessment (pdf) from the Department of Homeland Security Office of Intelligence and Analysis.

“In addition, the historical election of an African American president and the prospect of policy changes are proving to be a driving force for rightwing extremist recruitment and radicalization.”

“A recent example of the potential violence associated with a rise in rightwing extremism may be found in the shooting deaths of three police officers in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on 4 April 2009,” the DHS report said.

See “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment,” Department of Homeland Security Office of Intelligence and Analysis, April 7, 2009 (For Official Use Only).

The report has drawn attention from several conservative bloggers and talk show hosts, who interpreted the report’s references to right-wing positions on abortion, immigration and gun control as defamatory in this context.  The “document targets most conservatives and libertarians in the country,” according to The Liberty Papers blog.

The report, however, describes “extremists” more narrowly as those “that are primarily hate-oriented” and those that “reject federal authority,” not those who simply oppose abortion or immigration.

A 2001 report prepared for the U.S. Department of Energy examined “Left-Wing Extremism: The Current Threat” (pdf).

DHS reportedly issued its own analysis of left-wing extremism earlier this year. (See Leftwing Extremists Likely to Increase Use of Cyber Attacks over the Coming Decade [pdf], Department of Homeland Security Office of Intelligence and Analysis, January 26, 2009.)

Update: “Unfortunately, this report [on Rightwing Extremism] appears to have blurred the line between violent belief, which is Constitutionally protected, and violent action, which is not,” wrote House Homeland Security Committee chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson in an April 14 letter (pdf) to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano. “I am disappointed and surprised that the Department would allow this report to be disseminated to its State, local and tribal partners in its present form.”

In an April 15 statement on the report, Secretary Napolitano said: “We are on the lookout for criminal and terrorist activity but we do not – nor will we ever – monitor ideology or political beliefs.”

Sniper Training Manual Remains Offline (at FAS)

“When… dealing with multiple targets, such as two hostage-takers, [snipers] must coordinate to fire simultaneously,” according to a U.S. Army sniper training manual.  “Taking [the targets] out one at a time may allow the second suspect time to harm the hostages.”

This was the scenario facing Navy SEALs on the Indian Ocean on April 12.  They fired simultaneously at three Somali pirates, killing them and rescuing an American hostage.

“Shooting simultaneously by command fire with another sniper is a very important skill to develop and requires much practice,” the Army manual advises.

A copy of the U.S. Army Special Forces Sniper Training and Employment manual (FM 3-05.222) was obtained by Secrecy News.  Although the document is unclassified, it is subject to restricted distribution in order “to protect technical or operational information.”

For once, such restrictions appear to make sense and the 474-page manual will not be posted on the Federation of American Scientists website.  But as always, views on the question of disclosure differ.  A 2003 discussion on the “Shooter’s Forum” website presented contrasting opinions on the desirability of publishing this Manual.

Update (04/15/09): As noted at Cryptome.org today, the document has been made available online elsewhere.

CRS on the Global Financial Crisis

“There seems to be no international architecture capable of coping with and preventing global [financial] crises from erupting,” a newly updated report (pdf) from the Congressional Research Service observes.

“The financial space above nations basically is anarchic with no supranational authority with firm oversight, regulatory, and enforcement powers. There are international norms and guidelines, but most are voluntary, and countries are slow to incorporate them into domestic law. As such, the system operates largely on trust and confidence and by hedging financial bets.”

The 109-page CRS report reviews the origins of the current crisis and summarizes its impact in different regions and countries.  The report has not been made readily available to the public, but a copy was obtained by Secrecy News.  See “The Global Financial Crisis: Analysis and Policy Implications,” April 3, 2009.

Ending Nuclear Counterforce

Last Wednesday, 8 April, the Federation of American Scientists and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) jointly released FAS Occasional Paper Number 7, From Counterforce to Minimal Deterrence — A New Nuclear Policy on the Path Toward Eliminating Nuclear Weapons.  As part of the release, my coauthors, Stan Norris of NRDC and Hans Kristensen of FAS, and I held a panel discussion at the Carnegie Endowment, where each of us presented results of our research that is covered in the paper.  This essay summarizes my comments on that panel.

There are three things we describe in this paper.  First, we are proposing a new set of military missions for nuclear weapons—actually the “set” is just one mission, second, we are describing what that mission would look like, and, third, we are describing one way to actually get that single mission properly implemented.
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Iran’s Fuel Fabrication: Step closer to energy independence or a bomb?

By Ivanka Barzashka and Ivan Oelrich

Yesterday, on Iran’s national Nuclear Technology Day, President Ahmadinejad announced the country’s latest nuclear advances, which seem to have become an important source of national pride and international rancor. April 9 marks the day when Iran claimed to have enriched its first batch of uranium in 2006. Yesterday, Ahmadinejad inaugurated Iran’s Fuel Manufacturing Plant (FMP) at Isfahan and announced the installation of a new “more accurate” type of centrifuge at the Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP) at Natanz.

A fuel fabrication facility, the last element of the front-end fuel cycle, is where nuclear reactor fuel is made. For light water reactors (LWR), such as the one in Bushehr, uranium is mined, turned into yellow cake, and converted to uranium hexafluoride (UF6), the UF6 is enriched using centrifuges, converted into uranium oxide pellets, and made into fuel rods, which go into the reactor core. For pressurized heavy water reactors (PHWR), such as the one in Arak, uranium doesn’t need to be enriched, so the yellow cake is directly converted to uranium oxide pellets. Continue reading

Happy Iranian Nuclear Day! And everything you have ever wanted to know about centrifuges.

Yes, today, 9 April, is the official Iranian holiday to celebrate all the progress that the Iranians have made toward nuclear self-sufficiency. The Iranian nuclear program is getting lots of news, especially their effort to enrich uranium using centrifuges and today’s inauguration of their new fuel fabrication facility. The fundamental problem with centrifuges is that they can be used to produce uranium for a nuclear reactor but the very same machines can also be used to produce uranium for a nuclear bomb. The Iranians protest that they have every right to nuclear power while the rest of the world worries that the entire nuclear power enterprise is a thin cover for a bomb program.

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Study Calls for New U.S. Nuclear Weapons Targeting Policy

Click on image for PDF-version of full report.

By Hans M. Kristensen

The Federation of American Scientists and Natural Resources Defense Council today published a study that calls for fundamental changes in the way the United States military plans for using nuclear weapons.

The study From Counterforce to Minimal Deterrence: A New Nuclear Policy on the Path Toward Eliminating Nuclear Weapons recommends abandoning the decades-old “counterforce” doctrine and replacing it with a new and much less ambitious targeting policy the authors call Minimal Deterrence. [Update: see Washington Post – Report Urges Updating of Nuclear Weapons Policy]

Global Security Newswire reported last week that Department of Defense officials have concluded that significant reductions to the nuclear arsenal cannot be made unless President Barack Obama scales back the nation’s strategic war plan. The FAS/NRDC report presents a plan for how to do that.

The last time outdated nuclear guidance stood in the way of nuclear cuts was in 1997, when then President Clinton had to change President Reagan’s 17-year old guidance to enable U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) to go to the START-III force level that the Bush administration subsequently adopted as the Moscow Treaty force level.  The series of STRATCOM force structure studies examining lower force levels is described in The Matrix of Deterrence.

Resources: Full Report | US Nuclear Forces 2009 | United States Reaches Moscow Treaty Warhead Limit Early | Press Conference Video

Missile Watch #4: Global Update (January – March 2009)


In March, the Sunday Times of London reported on the Taliban’s alleged acquisition of Iranian-supplied SA-14 missiles, which the Afghan insurgent group reportedly wants for a “spectacular” attack on coalition forces. The accusation reportedly came from unidentified “American intelligence sources.” According to the Sunday Times, “…coalition forces only became aware of the presence of SA14s two weeks ago when parts from two of them were discovered during an American operation in western Afghanistan.” The article provides no information on the number of SA-14s allegedly circulating in Afghanistan, their condition, or Iran’s alleged connection to them. When queried about the Sunday Times article, a US military official told the Federation of American Scientists that “[man-portable air defense systems] have been recovered in Afghanistan since 2007,” but refused to provide additional details because of “operational security concerns.”

Other types of MANPADS reportedly acquired by the Taliban and other unauthorized end-users in Afghanistan include the Chinese HN-5, photographs of which were obtained by the Washington Times in 2007, and the ubiquitous SA-7.

For information on Iraq, Sri Lanka and Somalia, click here.