Stories of Jihad from U.S. Intelligence

“The only ones who are spending the money and time translating Jihad literature are the Western intelligence services,” wrote Islamic radical Anwar al-Awlaki, “and too bad, they would not be willing to share it with you.” (“Born in U.S., a Radical Cleric Inspires Terror” by Scott Shane, New York Times, November 19).

In fact, a growing number of websites offer jihadist literature and sermons in English.  But it is true that U.S. intelligence maintains a prolific translation activity focused on Islamic extremist literature, and that most of the resulting translations are not intended for public distribution.

The DNI Open Source Center recently translated an Indonesian anthology of four short stories about aspiring young jihadists entitled “Wind From Paradise” (pdf). The stories describe how their protagonists came to take part in jihadist campaigns in Afghanistan, Thailand, and Chechnya, and the ensuing “martyrdom” that they or their fellows found there.

It is not a particularly rewarding collection, on any level– esthetic, theological or political.  But the narrators and their stories have several characteristic features that may be worth pointing out.

Remarkably, their primary conflicts seem to be those of adolescence.  Their Islam is not concerned with the divine will as much as it is with themselves and their own unruly passions.  (“I drowned all my feelings by reading the Koran slowly,” one says.  “So a feeling of happiness and relief runs through my whole body,” writes another.  “I also have the feeling that the guilt that has plagued me all this time has now been uprooted.”)

But above all, the stories portray jihad as an appropriate, even noble response to external oppression by the non-Muslim world.  (“The mujahidin had to fight against the Christian United States, which wanted to control and dominate Afghanistan.”  The Western enemy mercilessly abuses prisoners, “but no matter how cruelly they interrogated and tortured him, [he] kept quiet.”)

The logic of jihad is predicated on the victimization of Muslims by infidel forces, the stories repeatedly insist.  (“So now he was defending his Muslim brothers who had been so cruelly oppressed.”)  The oppression of Muslims by other Muslims is beyond the narrators’ ken.  So is the possibility of confronting oppression by non-violent political means, except perhaps through the propagation of stories like these.

The translated stories have not been approved for public release.  Rather improbably, their “authorized use is for national security purposes of the United States Government only.”  But a copy was obtained by Secrecy News.  See “Indonesia: Translation of Jihadist Book ‘Wind From Paradise’,” Open Source Center, 1 March 2009.

Army Responds to “Near Epidemic” of Suicide

Facing a rising number of suicides in its ranks, the U.S. Army last week published new guidance (pdf) for improving the mental health of soldiers and for preventing or responding to suicide attempts.

“The key to the prevention of suicide is positive leadership and deep concern by supervisors of military personnel and [Army] civilian employees who are at increased risk of suicide,” the new publication explained.

Factors contributing to suicide are said to include loneliness (“an emotional state in which a person experiences powerful feelings of emptiness and spiritual isolation”), worthlessness (“an emotional state in which an individual lacks any feelings of being valued by others”), hopelessness (“a strong sense of futility, due to the belief that the future holds no escape from current negative circumstances”), helplessness, and guilt (“a strong sense of shame associated with actions they believe are wrong”).

The Army directed its commanders to carry out a series of efforts to promote soldiers’ health, to reduce the stigma associated with addressing mental health issues, and to “manage at-risk soldiers, to include processing for separation as appropriate in a timely manner.”

The New York Times last week described the rise of military suicide as a “near epidemic,” and reported that 133 active-duty U.S. Army soldiers committed suicide this year through the end of October, making it likely that last year’s record of 140 will be surpassed.  (“Families of Military Suicides Seek White House Condolences” by James Dao, November 26.)

In its new publication, the Army said it is not always possible to detect or predict suicidal intent, and that eliminating suicide altogether was not a realistic objective.  “Some suicides may be expected even in units with the best leadership climate and most efficient crisis intervention and suicide prevention programs.  Therefore, it is important to redefine the goal of suicide prevention as being suicide risk reduction [which] consists of reasonable steps taken to lower the probability that an individual will engage in acts of self-destructive behavior.”  See “Health Promotion, Risk Reduction, and Suicide Prevention,” Department of the Army Pamphlet 600-24, November 24, 2009.

North Korea: FAS Says We Have Nukes!

By Hans M. Kristensen

North Korea’s news agency – Korean Central News Agency – apparently has issued a statement saying that “The Federation of American Scientists of the United States has confirmed (North) Korea as a nuclear weapon state.” According to a report in the Korea Herald, the statement said a FAS publication issued in November listed North Korea as among the nine countries that possess nuclear weapons.

It’s certainly curious that they would need our reaffirmation, but after two nuclear tests we feel it is safe to call North Korea a nuclear weapon state. However, the agency left out that our assessment comes with a huge caveat:

“We are not aware of credible information on how North Korea has weaponized its nuclear weapons capability, much less where those weapons are stored. We also take note that a recent U.S. Air Force intelligence report did not list any of North Korea’s ballistic missiles as nuclear-capable.”

In other words, two experimental nuclear test explosions don’t make a nuclear arsenal. That requires deliverable nuclear weapons, which we haven’t seen any signs of yet. Perhaps the next statement could explain what capability North Korea actually has to deliver nuclear weapons.

This publication was made possible by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York and Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.

Estimated Nuclear Weapons Locations 2009

Some 23,300 nuclear weapons are stored at 111 locations around the world (click for map)

By Hans M. Kristensen

The world’s approximately 23,300 nuclear weapons are stored at an estimated 111 locations in 14 countries, according to an overview produced by FAS and NRDC.

Nearly half of the weapons are operationally deployed with delivery systems capable of launching on short notice.

The overview is published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and includes the July 2009 START memorandum of understanding data. A previous version was included in the annual report from the International Panel of Fissile Materials published last month. Continue reading

New Executive Order Aims to Avoid Declass Deadline

Development of a new executive order on classification of national security information is now proceeding at an accelerated pace in order to preempt a deadline that would require the declassification of millions of pages of historical records next month.

A revised draft executive order was circulated to executive branch agencies by the Office of Management and Budget on November 16, with agency comments due back today, November 23.  A final order is likely to be issued by the end of this year.

There is an incentive to complete the development of the executive order before December 31, 2009 because of a deadline for declassification of historical records that falls on that date.  Under the current Bush executive order, classified records that are at least 25 years old and that have been referred from one agency to another because they involve multiple agency interests are supposed to be automatically declassified at the end of this year.  (See E.O. 13292, section 3.3(e)(3)).

But in order to meet this December deadline, several agencies would have to forgo a review of the affected historical records, which they are unwilling to do.  And so it seems they will simply be excused from compliance.  But in order to modify the deadline in the Bush order, it will be necessary to issue another executive order.  If the comprehensive new Obama order on classification policy (which would assign processing of such records to a National Declassification Center that does not yet exist) is not ready for release by December 31, then another stand-alone order would have to be issued, canceling or extending the looming deadline.  And officials are reluctant to issue such an order since they say it would be awkward for the avowedly pro-openness Obama Administration to relax or annul a declassification requirement that was imposed by the ultra-secret Bush Administration.

In fact, the whole process has become an awkward mix of exaggerated and deflated expectations.  The failure of the Bush Administration’s declassification deadline to take hold this year does not augur well for new, more ambitious efforts to advance classification reform.  If the “automatic declassification” procedures that were prescribed in prior executive orders are not “automatic” after all, and if binding deadlines can be extended more or less at will, then any new declassification requirements in the Obama order will be similarly subject to doubt or defiance.

The latest draft executive order has not yet become publicly available, though officials said they expected it to leak, as did a previous draft dated August 4.  “It includes some notable differences” from the earlier draft, said one official.  But another official said “It’s basically the same as the draft you already have.” (See “Draft Order Would Set New Limits on Classification,” Secrecy News, September 29, 2009.)

Ironically, today’s classification system seems to function more effectively in preventing public access to aging archival records than it does with respect to certain present-day information.

Thus, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told reporters on November 12, “I have been appalled by the amount of leaking that has been going on” about classified Administration deliberations on Afghanistan policy and other matters.

But from a different point of view, others may be appalled that Secretary Gates’ own Department still retains classification restrictions on historical records dating back to the Korean War, and even from World War II, and that it otherwise resists modernization and correction of the cold war classification system.

Some general background on the national security classification system from the Congressional Research Service can be found in “Security Classification Policy and Procedure: E.O. 12958, as Amended” (pdf), November 3, 2009.

U.S. Naval Intelligence Views Iran’s Naval Forces

A new report (pdf) from the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence describes Iran’s naval order of battle, as well as the Iranian Navy’s history, strategic options, and favored tactics.

“Today, Iran’s naval forces protect Iranian waters and natural resources, especially Iran’s petroleum-related assets and industries.  Iranian maritime security operations guard against the smuggling of illegal goods (especially drugs) and immigrants, and protect against the poaching and stealing of fish in territorial waters.”

“Additionally, Iran uses its naval forces for political ends such as naval diplomacy and strategic messaging.  Most of all, Iranian naval forces are equipped to defend against perceived external threats.  Public statements by Iranian leaders indicate that they would consider closing or controlling the Strait of Hormuz if provoked, thereby cutting off almost 30 percent of the world’s oil supply.”

The unclassified U.S. intelligence assessment was published on the Office of Naval Intelligence website, but last week it was abruptly withdrawn, along with another ONI report on China’s navy. [Update: Both documents have now been restored to the ONI website, here and here.]  A copy of the report was obtained by Secrecy News.  See “Iran’s Naval Forces: From Guerilla (sic) Warfare to a Modern Naval Strategy,” Fall 2009.

China’s Noisy Nuclear Submarines

China’s newest nuclear submarines are noisier than 1970s-era Soviet nuclear submarines.

By Hans M. Kristensen

China’s new Jin-class ballistic missile submarine is noisier than the Russian Delta III-class submarines built more than 30 years ago, according to a report produced by the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI).

The report The People’s Liberation Army Navy: A Modern Navy With Chinese Characteristics, which was first posted on the FAS Secrecy News Blog and has since been removed from the ONI web site [but now back here; thanks Bruce], is to my knowledge the first official description made public of Chinese and Russian modern nuclear submarine noise levels. Continue reading

JASON and Replacement Warheads

Claims that nuclear weapons need to be as safe as a coffee table might drive warhead replacement

By Hans M. Kristensen and Ivan Oelrich

The latest study from the JASON panel is an unambiguous rejection of claims made by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), the nuclear weapon labs, defense secretary Robert Gates, and U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) that some or all U.S. nuclear weapons should be replaced to ensure the future reliability of the arsenal.

The executive summary of the study, Lifetime Extension Program (LEP), finds “no evidence that accumulation of changes incurred from aging and LEPs have increased risk to certification of today’s deployed nuclear warheads.”  The study concludes that the lifetime of today’s nuclear warheads “could be extended for decades, with no anticipated loss in confidence, by using approaches similar to those employed in LEPs today.”  [Emphasis added.]

The JASON appears to have prevented a wasteful and counterproductive nuclear warhead replacement program. Even so, we expect parts of the report’s conclusions to be used by proponents of nuclear warhead replacements in the months and years ahead.   Continue reading

China’s Navy Makes “Impressive” Strides, Says ONI

An ongoing modernization effort has provided China with an increasingly sophisticated and proficient naval force, the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) said in a new assessment (large pdf).

Notably, China has “developed the world’s only anti-ship ballistic missile,” which ONI said was “specifically designed to defeat U.S. carrier strike groups” in the event of military conflict over Taiwan.

“China’s modernization efforts have principally focused on preparing for a Taiwan conflict, with a large portion directed at developing capabilities to deter, delay, and if necessary degrade potential U.S. military intervention,” the ONI report said.

Although China has recently deployed naval vessels far from its shores to protect Chinese shipping from piracy, “it is important to note that none of these operations indicate a desire on the part of the PRC to develop a constant global presence,” ONI said.  “Beijing’s ambition appears to remain focused on the East Asian region, with an ability to protect the PRC’s maritime interests in distant seas when required.”

See “The People’s Liberation Army Navy: A Modern Navy with Chinese Characteristics,” Office of Naval Intelligence, released November 2009 (17 MB PDF file).

The new ONI analysis was first reported by Tony Capaccio in “China’s New Missile May Create a ‘No-Go Zone’ for U.S. Fleet,” Bloomberg News, November 17, 2009.

A marked increase in Chinese submarine patrols last year was reported by Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists in the FAS Strategic Security Blog.

The Congressional Research Service provided additional information in “China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities — Background and Issues for Congress” (pdf), updated October 21, 2009.