Iran Fuel Negotiations: Moving Muddled Goalposts

Moving Goalposts

by Ivanka Barzashka and Ivan Oelrich

A year ago, France, Russia and the U.S.—called the Vienna Group—proposed a deal in which Iran would ship out some of its worrying low-enriched uranium (LEU) in exchange for fuel for its medical isotope reactor, called the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR). These narrow technical discussions about the TRR were meant to serve as a confidence-building effort. The negotiations fell apart because of differences about timing of the exchange of material, but they may be about to restart. A year later, the facts on the ground have changed. These new circumstances may call for new negotiating terms, but changes have to make some sense. Calculations show that numbers recently floated by the State Department seem ad hoc and arbitrary and will not have the touted threat-reduction benefits.

On October 27, The New York Times reported that a senior U.S. official believed that the Vienna Group were “very close to having an agreement” on how the original fuel swap offer, made in October 2009, should be changed. One of the new terms would be an increase in the amount of LEU provided from 1,200 kg to 2,000 kg. The State Department explained a day later that “the proposal would have to be updated reflecting ongoing enrichment activity by Iran over the ensuing year.” Iran’s larger LEU stockpile changes Washington’s threat-reduction calculus, which ultimately undermines the confidence-building aspect of the deal.

Another new circumstance is Iran’s production of 20 percent enriched uranium, ostensibly to produce TRR fuel domestically.  This is a worrying development because, compared to LEU, a stockpile of 20 percent material would cut by half Iran’s time to a bomb.

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Nonsense about New START and ICBMs

Because of what appears to have been a computer glitch, a group of nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) was temporarily off-line last week and not ready to launch on a moment’s notice. According to an article in The Atlantic, some Republicans have suggested that this means that New START, the nuclear arms control treaty awaiting Senate ratification, is unwise and should be rejected. This assertion is nonsense but is a useful illustration of how much of current nuclear “thinking” is just a holdover from now irrelevant Cold War doctrine. Continue reading

ODNI Issues New Security Standards for Intel Facilities

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has issued new standards for the construction of Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities (SCIFs).

SCIFs (pronounced “skiffs”) are rooms, vaults, or even entire buildings that are specially constructed and certified for the handling and storage of classified intelligence information known as Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI).

The total number of SCIFs around the country and the world is not known, but is likely to be in the thousands. Each of them must be formally inspected and approved (or “accredited”) for handling intelligence information and protecting it against loss, theft, unauthorized disclosure, electronic interception or other forms of compromise.

The adoption of new uniform standards for all SCIFs, including existing facilities and new construction, is intended “to enable information sharing to the greatest extent possible.”  So “Any SCIF that has been accredited by an IC element… shall be reciprocally accepted for use as accredited by all IC elements….”

Copies of the new standards are available on the Federation of American Scientists website.  See “Physical and Technical Security Standards for Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities” (pdf), Intelligence Community Standard Number 705-1, September 17, 2010, and “Standards for the Accreditation and Reciprocal Use of Sensitive Compartmented Information” (pdf), Intelligence Community Standard Number 705-2, September 17, 2010.

The Standards were signed by former Assistant DNI David R. Shedd, who became Deputy Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency on September 20, 2010.

Information Sharing: Feast or Famine

Sharing of intelligence and other sensitive information within government and with selected private sector entities remains a work in progress.  Depending on one’s perspective, there is too little sharing, or too much, or else the right stuff is not being shared.

J. Alan Orlob, the Vice President for Corporate Security at Marriott Hotels, told Congress last year (in a newly published hearing volume) that there was still plenty of room for improvement, and illustrated his point with an anecdote.

“After the bombing of the JW Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia [in 2003],” he recalled, “the C.I.A. reached out to me to give me a briefing on the terrorist group, Jemaah Islamiya.  I was impressed that they would do so.  However, during the briefing, the information that I was being presented was so vague and obtuse that I began correcting the briefer.  Again, the information that we needed was not being shared. We do not need specifics and names of individuals. We do need to understand terrorist group history, methods, and means.  Only in that way, can we ensure that we are employing proper countermeasures to deter or mitigate an incident.”

See “Lessons from the Mumbai Terrorist Attacks, Parts I and II” (pdf), hearings before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, January 8 and 28, 2009 (published October 2010).

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller told Congress earlier this year that intelligence sharing had actually increased to a daunting level.  “With improved information collection and sharing capabilities within the [U.S. intelligence Community], the FBI receives well over 100 different feeds of criminal and terrorist data from a variety of sources,” he said.  “It is a great challenge to ensure that intelligence analysts are able to efficiently understand and analyze the enormous volume of information they receive.”

See “Securing America’s Safety: Improving the Effectiveness of Antiterrorism Tools and Interagency Communication” (pdf), Senate Judiciary Committee, January 20, 2010 (published October 2010).

The release of a new government-wide policy on “controlled unclassified information” that is supposed to promote the sharing of unclassified “sensitive” information is said to be imminent, more or less.

Polygraph Testing Against Border Corruption

A bill passed by the Senate last month would require U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to administer polygraph tests to all applicants for law enforcement positions within the agency.

The move was prompted by reports (originally in the New York Times) and testimony before the Senate Homeland Security Committee that Mexican drug trafficking organizations were attempting to infiltrate the Customs and Border Protection agency by sending drug traffickers to take the entrance examination.

The CBP argued that polygraph testing of job applicants offered the most effective response, a Senate Committee report on the bill explained.

“According to CBP, less than one percent of applicants who are cleared by a polygraph examination subsequently fail the required single scope background investigation (SSBI) [for a security clearance], while roughly 22% of applicants who are not subjected to polygraph investigations fail the SSBI.”

“Because SSBIs cost an average of $3,200, CBP believes that expanding the use of polygraph examinations would cut down on failed investigations and create a more streamlined and cost-effective process for bringing new applicants on board.”  See “Anti-Border Corruption Act of 2010,” Senate Report 111-338, September 29, 2010.

The bill has been referred to the House of Representatives, where it remains pending.

Polygraph testing of CBP applicants already seems to have paid some dividends.  Last week, one job applicant was arrested following a polygraph test in which he confessed to an unrelated crime, the Florida Sun-Sentinel reported October 21.

But CBP reliance on the polygraph is unwise, said critic George Maschke, because “polygraphy is highly vulnerable to countermeasures, and members of criminal enterprises seeking to infiltrate CBP will likely fool the lie detector.”

Ridding the World of Rinderpest

Cattle dead from rinderpest circa 1900. (Credit: Texas A&M University)

Humanity’s 5,000 year struggle with the cattle disease rinderpest is over according to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization.  In 1994, the FAO launched an aggressive program to eradicate this dangerous disease through vaccinations and monitoring, and the last known case was detected in 2001.  Ten years later, in 2011, FAO will officially mark the end of disease.  However, the debate over the strategy to prevent a recurrence and how best to safely store the virus for study is just beginning. Continue reading

FAS High Performance Building Guide Featured on the Building America website

 FAS’ High Performance Building Guide for Habitat for Humanity affiliates is now published on the Building America (BA) website. To check out the Guide for yourself,  see the “Latest Additions” sidebar on the publications page or find the Guide on the BA website here or the FAS website here.

Want to know more about the High Performance Building Guide?  Read a summary of the Guide and what it offers affordable housing builders in our earlier Earth Systems blog.

The Building America Program is an industry-driven research program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, designed to accelerate the development and adoption of advanced building energy technologies in new and existing homes.

The publications and products of the Building America Program are developed and written by Building America Builders Challenge teams, which consist of building scientists and engineers, builders and developers, and high performance housing advocates from private corporations and companies, national laboratories, the Department of Energy, and non-profit organizations.

Counting the Casualties of War

Thousands of previously unrecognized civilian casualties of the war in Iraq were documented in a collection of classified U.S. military records that were published online October 22 by the Wikileaks organization.

The unauthorized release of the records was presented with Wikileaks’ usual understatement and precision.  The newly disclosed records are said to be “the first real glimpse into the secret history of the [Iraq] war,” as if there had been no declassification, no previous unauthorized disclosures of classified information, and no prior reporting on the subject in the last seven years.

But setting aside the hyperbole, it seems clear that the documents significantly enrich the public record on the Iraq war, as reported over the weekend by the New York Times, the Guardian, Le Monde, Der Spiegel, Al Jazeera, and others.

Among other things, they cast new light on the scale of civilian casualties in the Iraq war, and they document the horrific details of many particular lethal incidents.  This kind of material properly belongs in the public domain, as a last sign of respect to the victims and as a rebuke to the perpetrators and their sponsors.

“The reports detail 109,032 deaths in Iraq,” according to Wikileaks’ summary, “comprised of 66,081 ‘civilians’; 23,984 ‘enemy’ (those labeled as insurgents); 15,196 ‘host nation’ (Iraqi government forces) and 3,771 ‘friendly’ (coalition forces). The majority of the deaths (66,000, over 60%) of these are civilian deaths.”

The records “contain 15,000 civilian deaths that have not been previously reported,” said the non-governmental organization Iraq Body Count, which is one of several organizations that attempt to tally or estimate civilian casualties in Iraq.

But the counting of casualties is an imprecise business, permitting a surprisingly broad range of credible estimates.  Prior to the Wikileaks release, with its description of 66,081 civilian casualties, the Iraq Body Count organization had estimated between 98,585 and 107,594 civilian deaths.  The Brookings Institution put the number considerably higher, at 112,625.  Other estimates, both higher and lower, are also available from the Associated Press, the World Health Organization, and others.

A compilation and comparison of such estimates has been prepared by the Congressional Research Service in “Iraq Casualties: U.S. Military Forces and Iraqi Civilians, Police, and Security Forces” (pdf), updated October 7, 2010.  This report does not directly reflect the new Wikileaks disclosures or a Defense Department tally made public last summer, though it presents official estimates based on some of the same underlying data.  But it is more recent than a 2008 version of the same congressional report that was cited in the New York Times on October 22.

A companion report from the CRS considers “U.S. Military Casualty Statistics: Operation New Dawn, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Enduring Freedom” (pdf), updated September 28, 2010.  This report “presents difficult-to-find statistics regarding U.S military casualties… including those concerning post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, amputations, evacuations, and the demographics of casualties.”  While some of these statistics are publicly available through the Department of Defense website, others were obtained by CRS research.

Another CRS report addresses “Afghanistan Casualties: Military Forces and Civilians” (pdf), updated September 14, 2010.

Wash Post Traces Dealers of Crime Guns

The Washington Post is publishing a rather spectacular series of stories this week tracing the flow of guns through American society and their use in criminal activity.  The Post series directly challenges — and partially overcomes — the barriers to public disclosure of gun sales that were put in place by Congress under pressure from the National Rifle Association and gun dealers in 2003.

“At the urging of the gun lobby seven years ago,” the Post explained, “Congress removed from public view a federal database that traced guns back to stores.  The blackout helped cut off a growing number of lawsuits against and newspaper investigations of gun stores.  To break this secrecy in Maryland, Virginia and the District [of Columbia], The Post relied on its own analysis of state and local records.”  See “Industry pressure hides gun traces, protects dealers from public scrutiny” by James V. Grimaldi and Sari Horwitz, October 24.

The barriers to public disclosure of gun sale data that were enacted by Congress in 2003 were analyzed by the Congressional Research Service in “Gun Control: Statutory Disclosure Limitations on ATF Firearms Trace Data and Multiple Handgun Sales Reports” (pdf), May 27, 2009.

Israel’s Nuclear Ambiguity Reconsidered

The Israeli policy of “nuclear opacity” — by which that country’s presumptive nuclear weapons program is not formally acknowledged — is examined in the new book “The Worst-Kept Secret: Israel’s Bargain with the Bomb” by Avner Cohen (Columbia University Press, October 2010).

For a variety of reasons, the author concludes that Israel’s “nuclear opacity” is obsolete and will have to be replaced, sooner or later, with a forthright acknowledgment of what everyone already believes to be the case anyway.

Cohen, an Israeli scholar who was trained as a philosopher, provides a lucid account of how nuclear opacity has “worked,” i.e. served Israeli interests, by providing the benefits of deterrence without the negative political and strategic consequences that could ensue from overt disclosure.  But its time has passed, he says.

“I argue that the old Israeli bargain with the bomb has outlived its usefulness, that it has become increasingly incompatible with contemporary democratic values at home and with the growth of international norms of transparency, and that it is time for Israel and others to consider a new bargain.”  Among other things, he says, the continuing development of nuclear weapons-related technology in Iran is likely the force the issue to a new degree of clarity.

For the time being, however, there is no sign of any change in Israel’s position on the matter.  “Israel has a clear and responsible nuclear policy, and it has frequently reiterated that it will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East,” David Danieli of Israel’s Atomic Energy Commission told Haaretz last month.  “Israel neither adds to nor subtracts from this statement.”

Avner Cohen’s “The Worst-Kept Secret” was reviewed recently in the New York Times and the Forward.