Anti-Leak Measures in Senate Bill Target Press, Public

The Senate Intelligence Committee markup of the FY2013 Intelligence Authorization Act, which was officially filed yesterday, devotes an entire title including twelve separate provisions to the issue of unauthorized disclosures of classified information, or leaks.

But several of those provisions aim to disrupt the flow of unclassified information to the press and the public rather than to stop leaks of classified information.

As reported in the Washington Post today, one of the proposed measures (section 506 of the bill) would dictate that only agency leaders could present background briefings to the press.  Other agency personnel, such as intelligence analysts, would be barred from providing any background information to the press, even when such information is unclassified.

Background briefings are essential “because they help journalists understand the full context of a story, get key details right, and ensure that individuals or the United States as a whole will not be harmed by the publication of incorrect information,” according to the Sunshine in Government Initiative, a press advocacy coalition.

Questioned by the Post, Senate Intelligence Committee chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein acknowledged that she had no evidence that such briefings, which are prized by reporters as valuable sources of information, had contributed to unauthorized disclosures.  And yet they would be forbidden.

See “Anti-leak measure targets background briefings” by Greg Miller, Washington Post, July 31.

Other provisions in the new bill were also roundly criticized by public interest groups concerned with access to government information.

A provision to prevent former government officials from providing paid commentary to news media outlets on intelligence matters is very likely unconstitutional, said Kate Martin of the Center for National Security Studies in a new analysis of the bill.

“The over-breadth of this provision in prohibiting commentary and analysis even when no classified information is disclosed would violate the First Amendment,” Ms. Martin wrote. “Indeed the provision seems drafted in order to chill public discussion of information that is not classified rather than being narrowly tailored to simply target disclosures of classified information.”

Another provision (in section 511) would grant intelligence agency heads the authority to unilaterally revoke the pension of an employee if the agency head “determines” that the employee has violated his or her non-disclosure obligations.

This section “would give intelligence agency heads nearly unrestrained discretion to suppress speech critical of the intelligence community– even after an employee has resigned or retired from an intelligence agency– and to retaliate against disfavored employees or pensioners, including whistleblowers,” wrote the Project on Government Oversight and several other public interest organizations in an open letter to the Senate Committee yesterday.

Fundamentally, the Senate bill “changes the relationship between the press and the federal government,” according to the Sunshine in Government Initiative.

Drafted in secret and without the benefit of any public hearing, the Senate bill includes provisions that are “crude and dangerous,” the Washington Post editorialized today.

The bill was approved by the Senate Intelligence Committee by a vote of 14 to 1, with Sen. Ron Wyden in opposition.  The text of the bill is here.

The accompanying Committee report including commentary on each provision and Sen. Wyden’s dissent may be found here.

Trade with Sub-Saharan Africa, and More from CRS

Newly updated reports from the Congressional Research Service that Congress has not authorized for broad public distribution include the following.

U.S. Trade and Investment Relationship with Sub-Saharan Africa: The African Growth and Opportunity Act and Beyond, June 26, 2012

The Global Climate Change Initiative (GCCI): Budget Authority and Request, FY2010-FY2013, July 27, 2012

Navy Force Structure and Shipbuilding Plans: Background and Issues for Congress, July 26, 2012

Housing for Persons Living with HIV/AIDS, July 3, 2012

Federal Pollution Control Laws: How Are They Enforced?, July 7, 2012

Cuba: Issues for the 112th Congress, July 20, 2012

FAS Roundup: July 30, 2012

Cost of B-61 life extension program, nuclear Japan, new report on U.S. transitional housing and much more.

From the Blogs

  • U.S. “Secretly” Circumvents Somalia Arms Embargo: In apparent violation of an arms embargo on Somalia that it helped to impose 20 years ago, the United States is providing clandestine military support to Somali security services without notifying United Nations monitors as required by the embargo.
  • Justice Department Defends Use of State Secrets Privilege: “The Government has invoked the state secrets privilege sparingly and appropriately,” the Department of Justice said in a 2011 report to Congress that was released this week. The 8 page report describes the features of the internal process for determining whether to assert the state secrets privilege in a particular case, including the standards and procedures for validating the use of the privilege.
  • B61-12: NNSA’s Gold-Plated Nuclear Bomb Project: Hans Kristensen writes that the disclosure during the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on July 25 that the cost of the B61 Life Extension Program (LEP) is significantly greater that even the most recent cost overruns calls into question the ability of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to manage the program and should call into question the B61 LEP itself. Kristensen writes that if these cost overruns were in the private sector, heads would roll and the program would probably be canceled.

Continue reading

Defense, Critique of NSA Classification Action Released

A persistent controversy involving allegations of overclassification reached a new level of intensity on Friday when the National Security Agency released its explanation for the disputed classification of an NSA email message that was used to support an Espionage Act prosecution.

Also cleared for release on Friday was the 2011 complaint filed by former secrecy czar J. William Leonard which presented a withering critique of the NSA classification decision.

The dispute concerns the validity of the classification of an internal NSA email message entitled “What a Wonderful Success!” that was found in the home of former NSA official Thomas Drake and that served as the basis for a felony charge against him, which was ultimately dismissed.  The email message, which was formally declassified in 2010, was itself publicly released the week before last.

On the surface, at least, the contents of the “What a Wonderful Success!” email message appear harmless and and even banal.  But a newly-disclosed NSA “expert disclosure letter” dated November 29, 2010 said that the mail message was properly classified at the Secret level because “the information contained therein reveals classified technical details of NSA capabilities and a specific level of effort and commitment by NSA.”

That sounds impressively ominous.  But it is false and misleading, according to J. William Leonard, who previously served as the nation’s most senior classification oversight official.  He also served as an expert for the defense in the Drake case.

“As a plain text reading of the ‘What a Success’ document reveals, this explanation is factually incorrect– it contains absolutely no technical details whatsoever,” wrote J. William Leonard, the former director of the Information Security Oversight Office, in a complaint he filed with the current ISOO director, John Fitzgerald, a year ago.

As for the line about revealing “a specific level of effort and commitment by NSA,” Mr. Leonard wrote, “it is also factually incorrect in view of the fact that the document is absolutely devoid of any specificity.”

Instead, “all that is revealed in this otherwise innocuous ‘rally the workforce’ missive is multiple unclassified nicknames with absolutely no reference to the classified purposes, capabilities, or methods associated with the programs or other classified events or initiatives represented by the unclassified nicknames.”

A second newly-disclosed NSA letter dated March 7, 2011 proposed a different rationale for classification of the email message: “This document also discussed NSA efforts related to a malicious computer attack by an external actor or third party on a U.S. government computer system….  The fact that a specific malicious computer activity had been found on a U.S. government computer system or network, and the U.S.’s identification of and/or response to the malicious activity, was classified as SECRET. Unauthorized disclosure… of the success or failure of a malicious computer activity against a U.S. government computer system would provide a determined adversary insight into the strengths and/or vulnerabilities of U.S. government computer systems or networks and allow a more focused intrusion.”

Mr. Leonard concurred that “specific information associated with a malicious attack on a U.S. government computer system could be classified.”  But, he said, “no such information is contained” in the NSA email message.  Moreover, if it had contained such information, “it should rightfully continue to be classified to this day,” which it has not been.

In short, the NSA rationale for classification of the “What a Wonderful Success” email message appears vulnerable to independent scrutiny even — or especially — from a leading proponent of the classification system.

In his formal complaint to the current ISOO director, Mr. Leonard stressed that together with classification authority comes a responsibility to exercise that authority properly, and that “Section 5.5 of the [executive order on classification] treats unauthorized disclosures of classified information and inappropriate classification of information as equal violations of the Order subjecting perpetrators to comparable sanctions.”

In an email message to Secrecy News, Mr. Leonard said he was not particularly urging that the individual who originally composed and classified the email should be sanctioned.  Rather, he said that it was the senior officials who reviewed the email and allowed it to be used as a basis for a felony prosecution who had violated the public trust and needed to be held accountable.

“Through their conduct, these high level officials at both NSA and DoJ have displayed contempt for the critical national security tool of classification. If these individuals are not held accountable for this abuse of the classification system, I cannot imagine any other circumstance warranting accountability for improper classification of information, thus rendering that provision of the executive order utterly feckless.”

The current efforts in the executive branch and in Congress to combat unauthorized disclosures of classified information suffer from a related failing to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate secrets, he said.

“Notwithstanding the recent plethora of ‘anti-leak’ initiatives, the Government appears unwilling to take one of the most effective and obvious steps they can to protect classified information, i.e. ensure that only truly sensitive information is protected by the classification system in the first place.”

Mr. Leonard’s complaint is still pending at the Information Security Oversight Office, said the current ISOO director, John Fitzpatrick.

“I have great respect for Bill Leonard and admire his high ideals for the classification system,” Mr. Fitzpatrick said in an email message this morning.  “With regard to his complaint, I hesitate to comment in depth, as it is my intent to provide him with a response directly when all inquiries are complete.  I will say that the Order provides clear guidance for resolving the classification questions in his complaint, though it is less clear on the interaction of such issues in the context of criminal prosecution.  It is my aim to address both.”

The story was first reported a year ago in “Complaint Seeks Punishment for Classification of Documents” by Scott Shane, New York Times, August 1, 2011.

“The more that classification is used to hide the trivial, inconvenient or embarrassing, the less useful it is for genuine national security secrets,” the Washington Post wrote in an editorial on Saturday about Mr. Leonard’s complaint.  See “Is the U.S. classification system dysfunctional?”, July 28, 2012.

US Army on Military Mountaineering

The U.S. Army has published an updated training manual on military mountaineering (very large pdf).

“Mountains exist in almost every country in the world and almost every war has included some type of mountain operations,” the manual states. “This pattern will not change; therefore, Soldiers will fight in mountainous terrain in future conflicts. Although mountain operations have not changed, several advancements in equipment and transportation have increased the Soldiers’ capabilities.”

From bowline knots to glacier traverses and emergency evacuations, the 300-page manual covers the basic techniques and essential skills of mountaineering.  It is intended as a training aid and naturally cannot serve as a substitute for training by an experienced instructor.  To the contrary, “Improper use of techniques and procedures by untrained personnel may result in serious injury or death.”

See Military Mountaineering, Training Circular 3-97.61, July 2012.  See, relatedly, Mountain Operations, Field Manual 3-97.6, November 2000.

For military doctrine and training in other environments see:

Desert Operations, Field Manual 90-3, August 1993

Jungle Operations, Field Manual 90-5, August 1982

Cold Region Operations, ATTP 3-97.11, January 2011

The Executive Budget Process, and More from CRS

New reports from the Congressional Research Service that Congress has not made readily available to the public include these.

The Executive Budget Process: An Overview, July 27, 2012

“Amazon” Laws and Taxation of Internet Sales: Constitutional Analysis, July 26, 2012

The Obama Administration’s Proposal to Establish a National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, July 25, 2012

Moving to a Territorial Income Tax: Options and Challenges, July 25, 2012

An Overview and Comparison of Senate Proposals to Extend the “Bush Tax Cuts”: S. 3412 and S. 3413, July 25, 2012

State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs: FY2013 Budget and Appropriations, July 23, 2012

Military Service Records and Unit Histories: A Guide to Locating Sources, updated July 26, 2012

Up for Debate: Iran Sanctions

Dr. Fariborz Ghadar of the Center for Strategic and International Studies; Ms. Malou Innocent of The CATO Institute; Dr. Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute; and Dr. Djavid Salehi-Isfahani of Virginia Tech and the Brookings Institution debate about the United States and United Nations sanctions policy towards Iran.

Debate: Should the United States Rethink Sanctions Against Iran?

The United States has imposed new sanctions targeting Iranian oil sales to increase pressure on Tehran over its nuclear program. Iran continues to insist that its nuclear program is purely for peaceful purposes. The U.S. sanctions prohibit almost all trade with Iran.

The United Nations ratified four rounds of sanctions against Iran between 2006 and 2010 in reaction to its refusal to halt uranium enrichment and cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA). These sanctions include a ban on the supply of heavy weaponry and nuclear-related technology to Iran, a block on Iranian arms exports, and an asset freeze on key individuals and companies.

Dr. Fariborz Ghadar of the Center for Strategic and International Studies;  Ms. Malou Innocent of The CATO Institute; Dr. Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute; and Prof. Djavad Salehi-Isfahani of Virginia Tech and the Brookings Institution debate below about the United States and United Nations sanctions policy .


Dr. Fariborz GhadarCenter for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)

Longer term implications of Iran Sanctions

Few nations have ever experienced the depth and breadth of economic sanctions such as those that are imposed on Iran. Whether these sanctions can bring about the changes in Iran’s nuclear ambitions desired by the West and Israel is a matter of much debate, but what is certain is the sanctions have had a substantial negative impact on Iran’s economy. The European Union, whose import represented nearly 20 percent of Iran’s oil export, has instituted a total embargo on Iranian oil. South Korea has stopped all oil imports. Even nations that had close ties to Iran have felt the need to significantly reduce their oil imports from Iran in order to achieve exemptions from the sanctions.

India achieved the exemption by reductions of more than 10 percent; Japan cut its imports by 22 percent; and China has directed more of its oil imports towards Saudi Arabia and has reduced its imports by an amount estimated at 15-20 percent. The net result has been a reduction in Iran’s oil exports varyingly estimated at between 30-40 percent. The IAEA says 40 percent. According to Secretary Clinton this represents a reduction of 10 percent of Iran’s GDP.  Add to the oil embargo sanctions on Iranian banks and foreign companies that insure tankers that carry Iranian oil, as well as foreign firms that invest in Iran, and one can appreciate the extent of the economic hardship we are imposing on Iran and Iranians. The removal of Iranian institutions from SWIFT, the international bank messaging service, further isolates Iranian companies from International trade. The extent of the economic war that has been launched against Iran is unprecedented.

The result has been a dramatic drop of the value of the Rial by about 50 percent and a rapid rise of inflation to over 25 percent annually, with particularly rapid price increases on imported food. Bread prices have increased more than 10 fold.

These measures are intended to make the Iranian government accept restrictions on its nuclear program. To a limited extent the actions seem to have been successful. The Iranian negotiators are once again at the table and a technical level meeting seemed to explore a number of options. However the results have been very limited. The proposal to stop uranium enrichment at the 20 percent level, ship Iran’s current stock out of the country, and shut down its underground nuclear plant near Qom in exchange for the removal of certain commercial aircraft parts from the embargo is unlikely to go very far.

With U.S. elections in November and the unwillingness of the current administration to ease up on sanctions, it is unlikely that even a partial resolution will be achieved before the end of the year. The press constantly reminds us that Israel may consider military action and that joint military maneuvers by Israel and the U.S. are planned. Iran is flexing its muscle by carrying out military maneuvers of its own and demonstrating its newest missiles.

One cost that few mention is the impact of these actions on the Iranian people. Will they blame their own government and put pressure on them for a more moderate posture or will they blame the U.S. for the hardship they are made to endure? This should be of concern to U.S. policy makers.  The Iranian people are the most pro-American populace in the Middle East (with the possible exception of Israeli nationals). The Iranian regime is hard at work convincing its people that their hardships are due to sanctions imposed on them by the U.S. with pressure from Israel and not by their own government’s incompetence.

Iranians are reminded of the 24th anniversary of the downing of Iran Air Flight 655 by the U.S. battleship Vincennes. It resulted in the killing of 290 passengers and crew, including 66 children. The U.S. government has refused to even apologize for the incident. The Iranian Foreign ministry issued a statement carried by all the local press that indicated this “inhumane crime is proof of the Iranian Nation’s innocence and evidence that the U.S. is not committed to any international legal and ethical principles.”

The sanctions along with Iranian government propaganda against the U.S. are eroding the soft power of the pro-American attitude of the Iranian public. We are giving away our chance to regain Iran as our ally in the region. Is there not a more reasonable way to bring about a productive negotiation? A negotiation that involves more give-and-take and less one-sided demands? In any case, we will not know until the next U.S. election. Unfortunately the Iranian public must suffer this economic warfare until then.

Ms. Malou Innocent, (Twitter: @malouinnocentThe CATO Institute

The Limits of Coercive Diplomacy with Iran

History shows that inflexible sanctions rarely yield the desired result. If current sanctions on Iran fail to leverage its behavior or catalyze its people to revolt, then the West should resist the urge to impose more sanctions and lift the ones in place.

Proposing diplomacy with Iran does not make one an apologist for the ayatollahs. That Iran commits objectionable deeds is not in dispute. What is disputed are the benefits of flexibility. Effective sanctions must be carefully calibrated and responsive to cooperation. The U.S. in particular must be willing to dial back sanctions in exchange for Iranian concessions short of renouncing enrichment. This is easier said than done given election-year pressures on Capitol Hill and from the Romney campaign. Indeed, Washington has been reluctant to budge, so whether Iran suffers from sanctions or not has become largely irrelevant.

After years of enduring sticks—sanctions, Stuxnet, threats of military strikes, and attacks on its nuclear scientists—and carrots—peace overtures, goodwill gestures, and four New Year’s messages from President Obama to the Iranian people—Tehran has sought partial relief from sanctions in exchange for compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Iran has also offered to export its 20 percent uranium and suspend enriching to that level in exchange for the West providing medical isotopes and scrapping sanctions. Those deals collapsed.

Today, the West demands that Iran stop, shut, and ship”: stop enrichment, shutter Fordow, and ship the 20 percent stockpile—this despite the NPT, to which Iran is a signatory, allowing for peaceful enrichment. Moreover, as the National Iranian American Council’s David Elliot and the Brookings Institution’s Suzanne Maloney observe, Congress passed sanctions that are not conditional on Iranian behavior.

Demanding Iran’s complete capitulation for no relief from sanctions is a maximalist position with zero chance of success. Extrapolating from the case of Libya’s dismantlement of its nuclear program, Duke University Professor Bruce W. Jentleson and doctoral candidate Christopher A. Whytock find that one of the most crucial aspects of coercive diplomacy is that there are clear benefits to cooperation and that those benefits are realized when the coerced state cooperates.[i] Similarly, Jonathan B. Schwartz, deputy legal adviser to the Department of State, argued from his personal capacity that reciprocity is critical to any sanctions regime.[ii]

Chaim Braun and Christopher F. Chyba, of Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation,  argue that the manipulation of economic sanctions and the amelioration of regional security threats are key, as there must be incentives to go along with disincentives.[iii] International security experts Kurt M. Campbell, Robert J. Einhorn, and Mitchell B. Reiss explain about Iran and North Korea, “Getting them genuinely to forswear nuclear weapons at this stage will require not just the threat of very harmful consequences if they persist but also the prospect of a much brighter future if they reverse course.”[iv]

Evidence suggests that effective sanctions on Iran will prove difficult not because of Iran, but because of the intransigent approach of the sanctioning states. Talks are ongoing. Nevertheless, the diminishing returns of economic warfare and international ostracism could lead us down a dangerous path to conflict.

To take a twist on an old saying, if goods do not cross oceans, bombs will. If restricting trade accomplishes little, then failure will galvanize hawks who seek to reckon with Iran militarily. Although Iran has not yet decided to build, test, and deploy nuclear weapons, what it has done is learn the technical and industrial capabilities needed to develop them. Tehran’s knowledge of the nuclear fuel cycle is a major reason why a military strike would prove fruitless; not only would an attack spur Iran to reconstitute its nuclear program but also show to the world that it had a compelling reason for doing so.

The limits of coercive diplomacy are fast approaching. Abandoning rigid sanctions and rethinking the incentives needed for compliance would be the first step and the last chance for a peaceful resolution.

[i] Bruce W. Jentleson and Christopher A. Whytock. “Who “Won” Libya?: The Force-Diplomacy Debate and its Implications for Theory and Policy,” International Security 30, No. 3 (Winter, 2005): 47-86.

[ii] Jonathan B. Schwartz, “Dealing with a ‘Rogue State’: The Libya Precedent,” The American Journal of International Law, Vol. 101, No. 3 (July 2007): 553-580.

[iii] Chaim Braun and Christopher F. Chyba, “Proliferation Rings,” International Security 29, No. 2 (Fall 2004): 43-45.

[iv] Kurt M. Campbell, Robert J. Einhorn, and Mitchell B. Reiss, The Nuclear Tipping Point, pp. 332.


Dr. Michael Rubin, (Twitter: @mrubin1971American Enterprise Institute (AEI)

The debate about how to counter Iran’s apparent pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability is not new. Two decades ago, European officials took the lead on the Iran portfolio, hoping to prove that diplomacy coupled with trade could bring the Islamic Republic in from the cold. They failed. Between 2000 and 2005, European Union trade with Iran almost tripled. During the same period, Iranian authorities invested perhaps 70 percent of the hard currency windfall in military programs and, according to IAEA reports, actively worked on nuclear bomb components.

Iranian officials have acknowledged their diplomacy is geared less toward conflict resolution and more toward delay. In June 2008, against the backdrop of reformers seeking to claim credit for Iran’s nuclear progress, Abdollah Ramezanzadeh, former President Mohammad Khatami’s spokesman, suggested the “Dialogue of Civilizations” was a tactic to distract the West from Iran’s nuclear progress. Then, in October 2011, former nuclear negotiator Hassan Rowhani credited his willingness to suspend Iran’s nuclear enrichment with successfully delaying Security Council action at a time when Iran needed to install new centrifuges anyway.

Effective sanctions are necessary if the West seeks to avoid either an Iranian nuclear breakout or preventive military action. Twice before, Iranian authorities have abruptly reversed course on demands and policies they swore were unalterable. In January 1981, Ayatollah Khomeini released American hostages because Iraq’s invasion the previous September had made the cost of isolation too great to bear. Then, in July 1988, after more than six years of stalemate, Khomeini accepted a ceasefire ending that war, abandoning his goal to oust Saddam and “liberate Jerusalem.” He described that decision as “drinking a chalice of poison” but regime survival took precedent.

The question for policymakers then becomes what sanctions or combination of sanctions might raise the cost of Iran’s nuclear pursuits too high for the regime to bear.  Narrowly targeting sanctions to specific individuals and companies does not work: Khatam al-Anbia, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)’s economic wing, can shift operations from one front company to another quicker than international agencies can designate them. The only way to plug such loopholes is to sanction entire industries.

Banking sanctions have proven themselves effective. Russia and China may condemn them, but as the North Korea experience shows, the international financial system gives Moscow and Beijing little choice but to comply. Sanctioning oil exports is wise, although two can play the insurance game. A single Iranian mine dropped into the Strait of Hormuz would send insurance rates surging for all ships traversing that waterway. Blocking Iran’s gasoline imports is trickier: While the impact would be crippling, any challenge to the blockade could accelerate military conflict.

Other sanctions are also important. Banning international air travel to and from Iran would not only isolate the regime, but would also undercut Khatam al-Anbia’s bottom line, as the IRGC controls not only 25 gates at Imam Khomeini International Airport but also the entire Payam International Airport near Karaj. Forcing ordinary Iranians to fly from Turkey or Pakistan would not be too high a price to avoid military conflict. Preemptive contract sanctions-declaring contracts signed after a specific date with Tehran to be null and void-would also undercut the willingness of Chinese, Russian, and Indian firms from profiteering off the sanctions regime.

As important as the sanctions are is how they are applied. Leverage comes not from gradually ratcheting up sanctions, but rather from imposing them all at once as the international community did with Libya after the Lockerbie bombing. Rather than offer Iranians economic and diplomatic inducements—-a strategy that, as with Pyongyang, incentivizes bad behavior-Western powers can lift sanctions in response to changes in Iranian behavior.

Iranians are nationalistic and would rally around the flag in event of military strikes, but they have never accepted regime propaganda blaming their economic woes on the outside world. Indeed, every time gasoline has run short and food prices have increased, Iranians direct their anger at the regime. It is that anger that the outside world should encourage.

There is no magic formula and sanctions alone will not stop Iran’s nuclear program. The West should support Iran’s nascent independent trade union movement, and help Iranians break the government’s attempts to impose internet controls. Any coherent strategy should have diplomatic, economic, informational, and military components. Sanctions, however, are a keystone to a broader strategy.


Dr. Djavad Salehi-Isfahani, Virginia Tech and the Brookings Institution

I have been less than a week in the medium-sized city of Neishabour, Iran, visiting relatives, and I can see no sign of a country hunkering for intensifying sanctions and looming difficult times.  Sidewalks are full of shoppers and people seem to go about their business as usual.  People are complaining about rising prices but they keep buying.  There are extravagant wedding parties every evening as hopeful couples tie the knot before the holy month of Ramazan starts, on Friday July 20.  Looking at the pace of normal life, one can understand why Iranian leaders seem in no hurry to throw in the towel in the nuclear standoff with the West, and why Western claims of imminent economic doom are exaggerated.

But all is not well, not by a long shot. The dollar has gone through the roof, food prices have skyrocketed, industrial production is down, and unemployment is rising. The oil embargo has cut into Iran¹s oil revenues and financial sanctions have limited the country¹s access to the global economy.  Spot shortages and sharp price increases for key food items are already being felt across Iran. This provincial city was rocked on July 23 when hundreds marched down its main street protesting the shortage of chicken at the official price. There is no doubt that ordinary Iranians will pay a heavy price as sanctions intensify; the big question is how sanctions will influence Iran¹s behavior in the international stage.

When sanctions were “smart” and aimed to make life difficult for Iran’s leaders, ordinary Iranians acted as disinterested bystanders. But now that sanctions aim to make life difficult for them, they will have to take sides. Or so goes the theory: put pressure on the people  — “economic warfare,” as one conservative commentator told the New York Times — so they get their government to compromise.

Since this theory is about to be put to an extremely costly test, it is important to consider a few things before we commit to this path.

First, international sanctions only work when the population they are imposed on identifies with the objective of the sanctions. This is the big difference between the sanctions to end apartheid in South Africa and those to force Iran to abandon nuclear enrichment. Most Iranians are not all that invested in nuclear enrichment, one way or the other, but few would see stopping Iran’s enrichment as their cause.

Furthermore, history shows that, when threatened by sanctions, Iranians are unlikely to rise up against their own government.  In 1952, a Western-imposed embargo on Iranian oil devastated Iran’s economy, but people tolerated the pain and stood with their government. It took a US-sponsored coup a year and a half later to topple the nationalist government and help Western powers achieve their objectives.

True, Iranians are more polarized today, especially after the rise of the Green movement following the controversial election of 2009. But it is a misreading of Iran’s political scene to believe that sanctions will revise or strengthen the protest movement. The opposite may be true.  The Green movement was built on economic growth and an expanding middle class. Thanks to economic growth fueled by rising oil revenues, 40percent of Iranians have joined the middle class and the lower 40 percent aspire to the same.  The economy has not been doing well lately, the average Iranian still enjoys a decent standard of living, has access to basic services, health, and education.   Significantly, last year’s Human Development Report that ranks countries based on income, health, and education placed Iran above Turkey, which is the best performing country in the region.

Sanctions are slowly transforming Iran from a country with an expanding middle class and a rising private sector into a country with a shrinking middle class and private sector.  Financial sanctions have placed private firms at a disadvantage relative to government-owned firms in making global transactions.  Where the private sector withdraws, the state is often ready to move in.

More severe sanctions will go beyond hurting the private sector and threaten the living standards of the middle class.  As basic services deteriorate, and the shortages and long lines that were common sights during the Iran-Iraq war reappear, the government will once again become not the source but the remedy to their problems.

The sanctions will do much to undermine the belief among Iranians about the benefits of the global economy.  Such beliefs are what distinguish India from Pakistan.  If there is hope for Egypt and Tunisia after the Arab Spring to become stable societies it is the belief in the benefits to their citizens of remaining connected to the global economy.  The short-term gains from nuclear gamesmanship must balance the long-term cost of alienating the Iranian middle class.

Spreading faith in global cooperation used to be the White Man’s Burden, but no longer.  Leaders in Brazil, China, India and Turkey have done a lot to persuade their people that working within the global economy is not a threat but an opportunity.  Many leaders of the Islamic Republic have pushed a similar view.  The year President Ahmadinejad took office, in 2005, the Fourth Development Plan he inherited was subtitled “In Conformity with the Global Economy.”  These leaders believed in the Islamic Republic as a development state. They built infrastructure and schools and promoted family planning.  Naturally, they do not want to gamble all they have achieved in a high stakes nuclear game.  If by chance they are contemplating to revive the Islamic Republic as a development state, the world should help them succeed, not undermine their effort.


About the Debaters:  
Fariborz Ghadar is a distinguished scholar and senior adviser at CSIS. He is also the William A. Schreyer Professor of Global Management, Policies, and Planning, and founding director of the Center for Global Business Studies at Penn State University. Earlier in his career, he served as an investment banker at the International Finance Corporation (World Bank); as president of the Export Promotion Center, a vice ministerial position in the Shah of Iran’s government; as well as research coordinator of the Harvard Multinational Enterprise Project. Dr. Ghadar is a recipient of the Weyerhaeuser Educator of the Year Award and CIO Magazine’s Global Leaders Award. Business Week named him one of the top 10 Star’s of Finance, and he was named one of the top 10 thought leaders and practitioners of strategy coaching in The Art and Practice of Leadership Coaching: 50 Top Executive Coaches Reveal Their Secrets (Wiley, 2004). Dr. Ghadar is the author or editor of 12 books on global economic topics, including Global Tectonics: What Every Business Needs to Know; Financing Growth in Developing Economies; and New Information Technology and Its Impact on Global Business Management, all published by the Center for Global Business Studies at Penn State. He received his B.A. and M.S. in mechanical engineering from MIT and his M.B.A. and doctorate from the Harvard Business School.
Malou Innocent is a Foreign Policy Analyst at the Cato Institute. She is a member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, and her primary research interests include Middle East and Persian Gulf security issues and U.S. foreign policy toward Pakistan, Afghanistan, and China. Innocent has published reviews and articles on national security and international affairs in journals such as Survival, Congressional Quarterly, and Harvard International Review. She has also written for Foreign Policy, Wall Street Journal Asia, Christian Science Monitor, Armed Forces Journal, the GuardianHuffington Post, the Washington Times, and other outlets both in the United States and overseas. She earned dual Bachelor of Arts degrees in Mass Communications and Political Science from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Master of Arts degree in International Relations from the University of Chicago.
Michael Rubin a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute; senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Civil-Military Relations; and a senior editor of the Middle East Quarterly. Between 2002 and 2004, Rubin worked as a staff advisor for Iran and Iraq in OSD/ISA/NESA at the Pentagon. He regularly instructs senior military officers deploying to the Middle East on regional politics, and teaches Iranian history, culture, and politics onboard U.S. aircraft carriers. Rubin has lived in the Islamic Republic of Iran, and spent time with the Taliban before 9/11. He is currently completing a history of U.S. diplomacy with rogue regimes. He is author of Into the Shadows: Radical Vigilantes in Khatami’s Iran (Washington Institute, 2001), co-author of Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos (Palgrave, 2005), and co-editor of Dissent and Reform in the Arab World: Empowering Democrats (American Enterprise Institute Press, 2008). Rubin was primary drafter of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s 2008 taskforce report, Meeting the Challenge: U.S. Policy toward Iranian Nuclear Development. Rubin received a B.S. degree in biology from Yale University, and a Ph.D. in history from the same institution.
Djavad Salehi-Isfahani is a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution.  He is also a professor of economics at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) in Blacksburg, VA, where he has taught since 1984 and was department head from 1995-2000. In 2009, Salehi-Isfahani became Dubai Initiative fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. During 1979-80, he served as an economist in the Research Department of the Central Bank of Iran. He is active in the Economic Research Forum, a network of Middle East economists based in Cairo, where he is a Research Fellow since its inception in 1993. His research covers a wide area in energy, population, development economics, and Middle East economics. His articles have appeared in Economic JournalJournal of Development Economics, Economic Development and Cultural Change, and the Journal of Economic Inequality, among others. He is the co-author with Jacques Cremer of “Models of the Oil Market” (1991), editor of “Labor and Human Capital in the Middle East” (2001), which was selected as a Noteworthy Book for 2001 by the Princeton University Industrial Relations Program, and co-editor of “The Production and Diffusion of Public Choice” (2004). He received a  B.Sc. of economics at the University of London, Queen Mary College and a masters and PhD from Harvard University.

About Up for Debate:

In Up For Debate, FAS invites knowledgeable outside contributors to discuss science policy and security issues. This debate among experts is conducted via email and posted on FAS invites a demographically and ideologically diverse group to comment – a unique FAS feature that allows readers to reach conclusions based on both sides of an argument rather than just one point of view.



Please read the guidelines for the official debate and rebuttal policy for participants of FAS’s ‘Up For Debate.’ All participants are required to follow these rules. Each opinion must stay on topic and feature relevant content, or be a rebuttal. No ad hominem and personal attacks, name calling, libel, or defamation is allowed, and proper citations must be given.

B61-12: NNSA’s Gold-Plated Nuclear Bomb Project

Escalating cost estimates for the B61 Life- Extension Program threaten to make the new B61-12 bomb the most expensive ever.

By Hans M. Kristensen

The disclosure during yesterday’s Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing that the cost of the B61 Life Extension Program (LEP) is significantly greater that even the most recent cost overruns calls into question the ability of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to manage the program and should call into question the B61 LEP itself.

If these cost overruns were in the private sector, heads would roll and the program would probably be canceled.  Continue reading

Senate Intelligence Committee Adopts a Dozen Anti-Leak Measures

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s markup of the 2013 intelligence authorization bill includes 12 provisions that are intended to combat unauthorized disclosures of classified information.

The proposed steps, which are of varying weight and severity, include:

  • a requirement to notify Congress when intelligence information is disclosed to the public (outside of the FOIA or the regular declassification review process) and to maintain a record of all authorized disclosures of classified information
  • a requirement to establish formal procedures for leak investigations
  • a requirement to assess procedures for detecting leaks, including expanded use of polygraph testing in other parts of the executive branch
  • a prohibition on cleared personnel (or formerly cleared personnel for up to a year after employment) serving as paid consultants or commentators to a media organization regarding intelligence matters
  • a requirement that only certain designated intelligence community officials may communicate with the media
  • a requirement for all intelligence community employees to report any contacts with the media
  • a requirement for the Attorney General and the DNI to submit a report to Congress on possible improvements to current procedures governing leak investigations
  • establishment of provisions to require surrender of federal pension benefits as a penalty for unauthorized disclosures
  • a provision to prohibit security clearances for individuals who make unauthorized disclosures of covert action information

“The culture of leaks has to change,” said Committee Chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein in a news release. “Leaks of classified information regarding intelligence sources and methods can disrupt intelligence operations, threaten the lives of intelligence officers and assets, and make foreign partners less likely to work with us.”

In several respects, the proposed new measures are not a dramatic departure from the status quo.  Unauthorized disclosures are already barred by non-disclosure agreements that all cleared personnel must sign.  Unauthorized contacts between intelligence personnel and the press are already discouraged or prohibited.  The Director of National Intelligence has already ratcheted up leak investigations and started an insider threat detection program.

Significantly, the proposed anti-leak provisions would not amend the Espionage Act.  They would not make all disclosures of classified information a felony.  They would not impose restrictions on the unauthorized receipt of classified information, or penalize publication of such information (although one provision invites the Attorney General to reconsider limitations on subpoenas to members of the media).

And yet there is something incongruous, if not outrageous, about the whole effort by Congress to induce stricter secrecy in the executive branch, which already has every institutional incentive to restrict public disclosure of intelligence information.

In an earlier generation of intelligence oversight, leaks led to leak investigations in executive agencies, but they also prompted substantive oversight in Congress.  When Seymour Hersh and the New York Times famously reported on unlawful domestic surveillance in December 1974, the urgent question in Congress was not how did Hersh find out, or how similar disclosures could be prevented, but what to do about the alarming facts that had been disclosed.

In contrast, while pursuing leaks and leakers, today’s Senate Intelligence Committee has not held an open public hearing for six months. The Committee’s investigative report concerning CIA interrogation practices from ten years (and two presidential terms) ago has still not been issued.  Upon publication — perhaps this fall — it will essentially be a historical document.

Most fundamentally, the Committee’s new draft legislation errs by treating “classification” as a self-validating category — i.e., if it’s classified, it warrants protection by definition — rather than as the flawed administrative instrument that it is.

As far as the Committee is concerned, the unauthorized disclosure of any classified information — even the substance of a constitutional violation that was recently committed by a US intelligence agency — would constitute a punishable offense, regardless of its public policy significance.

Last Friday, the DNI agreed to declassify the bare fact of such an actual violation, in response to a request by Senator Ron Wyden (as reported by Wired, but altogether overlooked in the Committee’s latest report on FISA last month).  This disclosure by the DNI would apparently trigger the proposed new requirement to notify Congress of public releases of intelligence information since it was “declassified for the purpose of the disclosure” — which is just silly.

“The whole notion of classification in this building has degenerated into a joke, most reporters and a lot of officials would agree,” said Tony Capaccio of Bloomberg News at a Pentagon press briefing on Tuesday.  He asked how the Pentagon planned to distinguish between legitimate secrets and spurious secrets when monitoring news stories for leaks.

“What steps are you going to be taking to make sure when you analyze these news stories that it’s really classified-classified versus B.S.-classified information?”

“I don’t have the answer yet, Tony,” replied Pentagon press spokesman George Little.

Neither does the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The full version of the FY2013 Senate intelligence bill and the accompanying report is expected to be filed on Friday.  The proposed anti-leak provisions “are the product of work over the past several weeks within the Committee, in discussion with the Executive Branch, in consultation with the House Intelligence Committee, and reflecting input from nongovernmental organizations,” according to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

From Tonnage to Feelings: Evaluating Campaign Ads


Negative campaign ads that leave a sour taste in your mouth and an unsettling feeling in your stomach might not be all bad, according to new interpretations. YouGov analyzed a random sample of 600 individual’s reactions to political ads, representative of the U.S. population at large. This topic was the foundation for a panel discussion hosted by  The Brookings Institute in Washington, DC on July 23rd .

The panel, New Ways of Evaluating Campaign Ads featured panelists John Geer Professor and Chair of Political Science at Vanderbilt University, Doug Rivers, President and CEO of YouGov/Polimetrix, Lynn Vavreck  Professor at UCLA and director of the Center of the Study of Campaigns, Jeremy Peters, political reporter for The New York Times, and Ken Goldstein, Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The event began with an overview of the history and discussion of different broadcast mediums. The initial emergence of broadcasting in the 1960’s came about with the introduction and growing use of television being utilized to reach as many people as possible with no limiting measures. Then came narrow casting in the 1970’s and 1980’s with the introduction of cable creating the  capability to target different demographics with certain ads or messages, the 1990’s and the Internet brought about mircocasting allowing candidates to narrow their focus even further, and finally to present-day and nanocasting using social media networks. This topic is of interest to political scientists (especially those that focus on advertising)to see how people respond to these different types of broadcasting and their reactions to both positive and negative ads. The continuous narrowing of casting has allowed for campaigns to be even more tailored and more effective in targeting a certain demographic with certain campaign ads.

Continue reading