Revisiting the Decision to Go to War in Iraq

It is to be expected that national intelligence services will sometimes fail to identify and discover a threat to the nation in a timely fashion.  But when intelligence warns of a threat that isn’t really there, and then nations go to war to meet the phantom threat — that is a serious, confounding and deeply disturbing problem.

But in a nutshell, that is the story of the war in Iraq, in which the U.S. and its allies attacked Saddam Hussein’s Iraq because of the supposedly imminent threat posed by Saddam’s stockpile of weapons of mass destruction — a threat that proved illusory.

A new book published in the United Kingdom called “Failing Intelligence” provides a remarkable account of the British experience of how intelligence on the Iraqi WMD program was shaped and packaged to support the decision to go to war in Iraq.  The book’s author, Brian Jones, was the chief specialist in weapons of mass destruction on the UK Defence Intelligence Staff.  He was also a skeptic of the stronger claims made about the existence of Iraqi WMD stockpiles.  The book documents his mostly unsuccessful attempts to register that skepticism, to moderate the extreme claims made by government officials, and later to hold those officials accountable for their actions.

He provides a detailed first-hand account of how his efforts were consistently deflected in the rush to war, and how intelligence declined into propaganda.  It’s a grim but instructive case study in the overlapping failure of intelligence gathering, intelligence production, and intelligence oversight.

The National Security Archive has recently published three richly informative collections of declassified U.S. and British government documents on the lead-up to the Iraq war (including several key documents cited or relied upon by Brian Jones).

“The more deeply the processes of creating the government reports on the alleged Iraqi threat are reconstructed — on both sides of the Atlantic — the more their products are revealed as explicitly aimed at building a basis for war,” wrote John Prados of the National Security Archive and journalist Christopher Ames in an analysis of the documents.

“In the light of a decision process in which no serious consideration was given to any course other than war, the question of whether American and British leaders set out to wage aggressive war has to be squarely faced,” they wrote.

Scrapping the Unsafe Nuke

The author next to a B53 shape outside the Atomic Museum in Albuquerque, NM. This open-air display is located at these coordinates: 35° 3’54.78″N, 106°32’7.09″W.

By Hans M. Kristensen

The National Nuclear Surety Administration (NNSA) has announced that it has authorized the Pantex Plant in Texas to begin dismantlement of the B53 nuclear bomb.

Everything about the B53 is big: it weighs as much as a minivan and has an explosive yield of nine megatons, equivalent to 600 Hiroshima bombs.

Initially designed to annihilate Soviet cities, the large yield later earned the B53 one of the longest careers in the U.S. nuclear arsenal as a nuclear shovel; literally to dig up Soviet underground command bunkers. The mission was seen as so important that the B53 was even saved from an earlier retirement and allowed to serve for another decade until 1997 even though the Pentagon knew it had serious safety and security flaws. Continue reading

Overview: HHS Screening Framework for Providers of Synthetic dsDNA

DNA Helix (Credit: The DNA Project)

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released its much-anticipated Guidance report on Wednesday, Oct. 13th 2010, describing a recommended screening method for synthetic double-stranded DNA (dsDNA) manufacturers. The report provides the recommended framework for the screening of orders to ensure manufacture compliance with current Select Agent Regulations (SAR) and Export Administration Regulations (EAR) and reduce the risk of supplying products to individuals that may exploit this dual-use technology for malicious intent. Continue reading

Nuclear De-Alerting Panel at the United Nations

Panelists from left: Hans M. Kristensen (FAS), John Hallam (Nuclear Flashpoint), Dell Higgie (New Zealand Ambassador for Disarmament), Christian Schoenenberger (Swiss UN Mission), Col Valery Yarynich (Institute of the United States and Canada, Russian Academy of Sciences), Stephen Starr (Physicians for Social Responsibility)

By Hans M. Kristensen

On Wednesday, October 13th, I gave a briefing at the United Nations on the status of U.S. and Russian nuclear forces in the context of the interesting article Safe and Smaller recently published in Foreign Affairs.

One of the co-authors, Valery Yarynich, a retired colonel who served at the Center for Operational and Strategic Studies of the Russian General Staff, spoke about the main conclusion of the article: that is possible to significantly reduce the alert-level of U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear weapons without creating risks of crisis instability.

That conclusion directly contradicts the Obama administration’s recently completed Nuclear Posture Review, which rejected a reduction of the alert rates for land- and sea-based ballistic missiles because, “such steps could reduce crisis stability by giving an adversary the incentive to attack before ‘re-alerting’ was complete.”

The panel coincided with the meeting of the First Committee of the General Assembly, during which New Zealand submitted a resolution on decreasing the operational readiness of 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.

Security in Yemen: Thinking Beyond Terrorism

• Yemen faces severe water shortages within the next decade
• access to water resources is already a critical security matter in Yemen
• to prevent large-scale resource conflict innovative water provision and management solutions are necessary

Last week in Sana’a a British diplomatic convoy was attacked by Al Qaeda militants armed with an RPG. Incidents such as these are putting Yemen in the headlines with stories proclaiming the threat of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s (AQAP) growing presence, U.S. drones striking remote villages, attacks on western embassies and diplomats, and kidnappings.

But in this volatile region security is more than an Al Qaeda presence, more than a tribal rebellion, more than the realist notions of security based on military strength, coercive power, or advanced weaponry.

Security in Yemen is increasingly a matter of resource access and availability. And while scarcity and unequal distribution will not be the sole cause of conflict in the coming years and may not lead to the large-scale resource wars predicted by many international relations scholars,* both will undoubtedly be important exacerbating factors.

Models predict that the capital city of Sana’a will empty its water reservoir in as little as a decade, more than 40% of the population lives on less than USD2 per day, one in three Yemenis suffers from malnourishment, and the country’s population will double in just over twenty years.
Add to this social context the evidence that the fossil reservoirs in Sana’a are depleting at a rate of more than 5 meters per year as agriculturalists sink deeper and deeper wells, the nation’s production of the narcotic qat crop continues to expand, and a poor resource management system inhibits effective government action to control water use and quality. While a tribal management system was long effective in regulating water use, it largely disappeared with the creation of the Republic of Yemen and the deployment of diesel well pumps; what remains is an unregulated and unsustainable use pattern across the country—a race to use more water, faster, before it disappears.

Water shortage has already produced casualties in 1999, 2006, and 2009 and is cited as a factor in dozens of tribal conflicts and disagreements. And as seen in FAS’ interviews and conversations with government officials, tribal agriculturalists, Sanaani, and academics while in Yemen, the people of Yemen are themselves very concerned about future water availability and consider a likely cause of large-scale conflict in Yemen in the near future.

Meanwhile, security analysts consider the southern secessionist movement to be the single-greatest threat to the state’s stability and longevity. Chief amongst their claims against the central government in Sana’a is the government’s failure to provide access to essential resources, especially a stable water and energy supply. And in the wake of the military campaign against the Houthis in Sa’ada, more than 200,000 internal refugees were created and the region suffered extensive infrastructure loss and damage, exacerbating existing resource shortages and inequalities. (The extent of the damage is still largely unknown due to the government’s tight control over travel in and the rural nature of the Sa’ada region.)

Any security strategy toward Yemen must involve a comprehensive plan to improve access to and the availability of water resources. Without addressing this and other critical resource needs, without addressing the broken distribution mechanisms, without addressing a very real future of extreme water scarcity, all the armaments and military interventions and anti-terrorism trainings will be wasted. Western security policies toward Yemen must pull back from a narrow focus on countering terrorism and address these underlying structural problems.

Science diplomacy that focuses on critical environmental issues can be a key security policy tool to mitigate environmental threats, address structural inequities and challenges, and to improve science and global engagement in Yemen. (For more on the potential for science diplomacy see FAS President Charles Ferguson’s piece The Ecology of International Security.)

Felix Arabia, Happy Arabia to the Romans, the one-time breadbasket of Arabia, is on a path to run out of water completely by mid-century. And with no water there can be no stability and security.

A Guide to Better, Safer, Greener Affordable Housing

The Federation of American Scientists has just released its latest tool to improve energy efficiency, sustainability, healthfulness, and safety in the affordable housing market.

In cooperation with six Habitat for Humanity affiliates from all over the U.S. and experts at the Florida Solar Energy Center (FSEC), Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBL), FAS has created The High Performance Building Guide for Habitat for Humanity Affiliates.  Funded by the Building Technologies Program at the U.S. Department of Energy, the goal of this Guide is to provide Habitat’s construction partners (called affiliates) with the knowledge, resources, and basic background to make educated decisions about improving their building practices, materials and technology choices, and decision-making and planning processes.

Targeted to the needs of the Habitat for Humanity building community, this Guide features profiles and case studies of excellent Habitat affiliates, practical recommendations and steps for improving building practices and decisions, and guidance on obtaining the partners, education, and resources necessary to make the transition to higher performing housing.

Get the High Performance Building Guide on the FAS website here.

To learn more about the Guide and to read a synopsis of its contents, check out the new Earth Systems Program blog.

DNI Disbands the Intelligence Science Board

The Intelligence Science Board (ISB), which was established in 2002 to provide independent scientific advice to the Director of National Intelligence, has been disbanded by the new DNI, James R. Clapper Jr., as part of a process of reorganizing and streamlining the ODNI organization.

“My understanding is that the Director will be disbanding all 20 of his advisory boards, which includes the ISB,” one participant in Intelligence Science Board studies told Secrecy News.

DNI Clapper “did a zero base review of all outside advisory boards as part of an efficiency review,” an ODNI official said.  “The new strategy is to have one Senior Advisory Group and then convene Task Forces on specific issues as needed.”  The Task Forces in turn “may have expiration dates.”  The membership of the new umbrella Advisory Group is now in formation, the official said.

The overall contribution of the Intelligence Science Board is difficult for an outsider to assess, since little of its work has been made public.  But the Board’s 2006 report on “Educing Information” (pdf), which authoritatively explained that there was no empirical justification for the use of coercive interrogation (or torture), remains a milestone in the field.  It demonstrated independent judgment as well as immediate policy relevance.

An ODNI spokesman said the move to eliminate the Board should not be seen as a rejection of science advice, but as a step toward a smaller standing bureaucracy and increased efficiency.

“One of the things I’m doing is… essentially restructuring the Office of the Director of National Intelligence” said DNI Clapper at an October 6 speech (pdf) to the Bipartisan Policy Center.

A Look Back at the Soviet Army

“The Soviet Army is the best prepared force in the world to conduct both offensive and defensive NBC [nuclear, biological and chemical] operations,” according to a 1984 U.S. Army manual (large pdf) that is newly available online.

The three-part manual, based on Soviet military literature and other open sources, provides a dauntingly detailed account of almost every aspect of Soviet military structure and operations.

So, for example: “The Soviets recognize three basic types of smoke screens: blinding, camouflaging, and decoy. Each type is classified as being frontal, oblique, or flank in nature, depending on the placement of the screen.”

Perhaps of equal or greater importance, the manual implicitly documents the U.S. Army’s perception of the Soviet military late in the Cold War.

“In the Soviet view, the correlation of forces has been shifting in favor of the socialist camp since the Soviet defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II. Soviet Marxist-Leninist ideology requires the correlation to shift continuously in favor of socialism. The correlation of forces may be advanced by both violent and nonviolent means. When it is advanced by violent means, the military component of the correlation is the dominant factor.”

The first volume of the manual, originally “for official Government use only,” has not previously been published online.  See “The Soviet Army: Operations and Tactics,” Field Manual 100-2-1, July 16, 1984 (203 pages, large pdf).

The second volume is “The Soviet Army: Specialized Warfare and Rear Area Support,” FM 100-2-2, July 16, 1984 (100 pages, pdf).

The third volume is “The Soviet Army: Troops, Organization, and Equipment,” FM 100-2-3, June 1991 (456 pages, large pdf).

In February 1957, the Army produced an extremely detailed “Glossary of Soviet Military and Related Abbreviations” (pdf), Army Technical Manual TM 30-546.

Eco-Affordable Housing: FAS Helps Habitat Build Green

  • The Building Technologies Program at FAS is releasing the High Performance Building Guide for Habitat for Humanity Affiliates
  • This report provides practical guidelines, resources, and advice to improve the quality of affordable housing while minimizing cost
  • Check the guide out here.

High performance housing has long been the privilege of the high-end residential market.  Higher up front costs are driven by such expenses as better HVAC systems, superior engineering and construction, innovative and sustainable materials, and a suite of green technologies.

But these homes have benefits needed and deserved not just by those capable of affording a high-end home, but by all consumers; they are healthier and safer for residents, use fewer resources, produce less waste, and take into consideration the inhabitants’ specific needs. And over the lifecycle of the house, the total cost (defined as initial costs + operating costs) of high performance homes are frequently less expensive than an average house.  Improved materials,  engineering, and construction can yield lower costs, less maintenance, and healthier residents.

Habitat for Humanity International is a major player in the affordable housing market, building and financing decent, safe, affordable homes for low-income families who in turn, contribute their own labor (sweat equity) to the construction of their house.  Over the past  year FAS has teamed up with several excellent Habitat affiliates and partners from Seattle and Tacoma, Washington; Denver, Colorado; Washington, DC; Danville, Virginia; Orlando, Florida, and New York, New York to create a High Performance Building Guide for Habitat for Humanity affiliates.

This practical guide to energy efficient, green construction provides a practical road map and affiliate case studies to aid Habitat affiliates in constructing high performing houses.  Based on the principles of whole building design–the guide covers the full building process from finding green partners and training staff and volunteers, to design, construction management, and verification and reporting.

The guide is divided into 16 key element or steps, each of which is essential to building a higher performing house that uses safer, healthier, and more efficient materials, techniques, and processes.

Each of the 16 sections includes:

  • recommendations on and priorities for improving  building practice and decision making;
  • an overview of the benefits to improving performance for that element;
  • design guidelines and specifications;
  • building process and evaluation guidelines and specifications;
  • explanations of the available tools and their uses; and
  • lists of resources available to achieve project goals.

This green building guide was written for Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and funded by the Department of Energy’s Building Technology Program.

FAS Celebrates 65 Years of Science, Security, and Policy

Last Wednesday, FAS celebrated its 65th anniversary by hosting an awards dinner at the Carnegie Institution for Science. Dr. John Holdren and Ms. Barbara Pyle were honored with the FAS Hans Bethe and Public Service Awards for their work on important global issues. Dr. Holdren is the Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and Science Adviser to the President of the United States, and Ms. Pyle is an executive producer, director, and noted environmentalist. Human rights activist Bianca Jagger served as the master of ceremonies. For more details, pictures, and video, click here to read the President’s blog.