Monday, April 30, 2012

A Tectonic Political Shift

US Hegemony In Latin America

By Renee Parsons
Published on Thursday, April 26, 2012
Courtesy Of "Common Dreams"

...the tectonic political shift that surfaced at the recent Summit of the Americas meeting.
The Summit, an offshoot of the Organization of American States organized in 1948, consists of 35 western hemisphere nations that meet on a tri-annual basis with the U.S. historically setting the agenda since the summit's inception in 1994.
Attending were over three hundred U.S. business executives with Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue in attendance to push for a free trade deal with Brazil. 
Once China began out-hustling the U.S. for its share of the global pie in Latin America and as the U.S. bogged down in a decade of war with an enduring economic catastrophe on its hands, Summit countries took the opportunity to readjust their vision of Uncle Sam's once omnipotent authority. 
That readjusted vision has offered a measure of independence from U.S. trade markets as well as U.S. domination on policy decisions. 
While not known for its historical memory, the U.S. does not usually react kindly to previously compliant nations flexing their sovereign muscles, U.S. AID to Latin American and the Caribbean at $1.3 billion in 2010 will most likely provide the necessary tether for continued cooperation.
Out of left field, the president's usual razzle dazzle charm offensive so successful at his first summit in 2009 ran into a brick wall amid deep contentious divisions that had been brewing since the previous summit. In what may be karmic payback for one hundred and fifty years of U.S. policy imposed on Latin America, 32 nations supported a resolution that Cuba be allowed to attend the 2015 summit with only the U.S. and the reliable Canadians voting against.
Cuba had been expelled from the OAS in 1962 with the beginning of 50 years of economic sanctions and was readmitted in 2009 but not invited to the summit.
In an amiable display of hubris, the president dug in his heels insisting that Cuba cannot attend since it has "not yet moved to democracy" and is still a "single party state" meaning no adversarial political parties. As Obama spoke of democracy, the irony of the U.S. undermining democratically elected Latin American heads of state and now requiring democracy as a condition for membership must have been subject for some sarcasm among current summit leaders.
A summit rule adopted in 2001 required each participant to respect the rule of law as a 'democratic' country although Mexico, which had been a regular Summit participant since 1994, achieved real democracy only in 2000. How well each participant respects the rule of law and encourages robust political partisan debate may rest in the eye of the beholder.
It is curious that American leaders expect its citizens and other nations to not connect the dots when it comes to its own double standards. It would be educational to know how the U.S. would justify applying the summit's democracy rule to China, our third largest trading partner, or to Saudi Arabia, our favorite importer of petroleum, neither known as guiding lights for justice or equality.
If the democratic standard is that a majority vote carries the day and since an overwhelming majority of summit nations adopted the Cuban resolution, how is democracy served when a minority of two have the power to challenge that resolution's implementation and how is it that one nation gets to decide who is invited? Therein lies the problem for U.S. foreign policy around the world -- that other nations and its people are capable of 'seeing' beyond the pretense.
As a backdrop for atmosphere at the summit, the experience of Bolivia is informative. In 2008, the Bush Administration suspended 'trade preferences' including duty free status for Boliviaalleging an insufficient effort to stop drug trafficking. The move came less than a month after Bolivian President Evo Morales accused the U.S. Ambassador of fomenting violence and upheaval with right wing opposition groups. In expelling the envoy, Morales accused the U.S. of an attack on a gas pipeline and initiating an assassination conspiracy.
With the election of Barack Obama, diplomatic relations between the two countries were set back when the Bush suspension was made permanent, costing Bolivia 20,000 non-drug industry related jobs and $278 million in exports. The coca leaf is legal in Bolivia as a tea and for religious and cultural purposes.
If the discussion on Cuba was not a forewarning of a challenge to its authority, the U.S. response to decriminalizing drugs must have been especially irksome to nation who has lived with years of massive violence and corruption from the drug cartels. Fareed Zakaria reportedSunday on CNN that Mexico had suffered an unbelievable 50,000 drug related deaths in the last six years.
While U.S. strategy at the Summit may be viewed as a metaphor for American pursuit of obsolete Cold War objectives around the world, the president offered little more than platitudes and some confusion with his categorical statement that "For the sake of the health and safety of our citizens -- all our citizens -- the United States will not be going in this direction."
It remains a puzzle as to why Obama, greeted as a rock star at the 2009 summit, left no room for negotiation on an issue that isolates the U.S. from many of its south-of-the-border allies and causes great anguish for millions of American families. With over two million incarcerated and another five million on probation, the U.S. can claim to have the most citizens in jail for drug-related offenses than any other country in the world.
Latin American leaders have raised the issue with the U.S. in the past when the former presidents of Mexico, Colombia and Brazil called for decriminalization of marijuana in 2009.
The U.S. drug policy, which has spent $25 billion on ineffectual crop eradication and border interdiction efforts as it has encouraged a militarization of the failed war on drugs, the president's 'new environment of cooperation' hit a serious ditch in the road as the U.S. and Canada objected to a consensus document preferring the 'reduce-demand' theory reminiscent of Nancy Reagan's Just Say No campaign.
In what has been deemed a setback for the U.S., the sixth Summit of the Americas faltered to an unhappy conclusion for all participants with President Morales and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff predicting no future summits without Cuba.
The president seriously misread the mood in the hemisphere, especially in an awkward moment when he said "Sometimes I feel as if... we're caught in a time warp, going back to the 1950s, gunboat diplomacy, and Yankees and the Cold War, and so forth, and not addressing the world we live in."
That was, Mr. President, exactly the problem at Cartagena. The Summit wants to move forward into the 21st Century but it is the United States that clings to the past as it resists the will of the majority.
Renee Parsons was a lobbyist for Friends of the Earth in Washington, D.C. focusing on nuclear energy issues. While at FOE, she was responsible for a TRO that stopped the Dept of Energy from conducting an experimental drilling program at 12 locations along the perimeter of Canyonlands National Park as a possible high-level nuclear waste repository. Her efforts included opposing the Nuclear Waste Policy Act and organizing the coalition that successfully defunded the Clinch River Breeder Reactor. She also served as staff in the U.S. House of Representatives. In 2005, she was elected to the Durango City Council (Colorado) and served four years as Councilor and Mayor.

Torture: Legal, Essential, Justified and Successful

Former Leader Of CIA Interrogation Programme In US Prisons Overseas Says Practices Such As Waterboarding Are Justified.

Posted by "Sayf Maslul"
Last Modified: 28 Apr 2012 05:36
Courtesy Of "Al-Jazeera"

Understanding Iran’s Diplomatic Strategy

Iran Has Been Developing Nuclear Capacities In Order To Obtain Leverage In Diplomatic Talks With The United States

By Gareth Porter,
April 28, 2012
Courtesy Of "Anti-War"

In January 2009, just before Gary Samore left his position as Vice-President for Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, he summed up his rather cynical view of how Iran would conduct negotiations.
"The logical position the Iranians are bound to take," he wrote in a post on the Council’s website, "is: ‘We’re happy to talk forever, as long as we can keep building centrifuges.’" 
A few days later, Samore was named President Barack Obama’s top adviser on nuclear proliferation, making him one of the most influential figures in the administration with regards to diplomacy toward Iran.
The strategy he attributed to Tehran of using negotiations to "play for time" while advancing to the goal of enough enriched uranium for nuclear weapons has been clearly expressed in recent statements by Obama and other senior administration officials in anticipation of new nuclear talks with Tehran.
‘Coercive Diplomacy’
For Obama’s advisers, assuming Iran was simply "playing for time" justifies a heavy reliance on "coercive diplomacy", which combines a boycott of the country’s crude oil exports and hints that an Iranian failure to come to agreement would open the way for an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear sites. But that conventional wisdom, which the Obama administration inherited from the Bush administration, ignores the accumulated evidence that Iran’s diplomacy strategy is to accumulate centrifuges, not in order to support a weapons programme, but rather to negotiate a larger bargain with the United States.
That strategy, gleaned from sources in direct contact with Iranian national security officials and from Iran’s actual diplomatic record, can be summed up in three principles:
  1. Iran should negotiate with the United States only when it has achieved sufficient negotiating leverage to achieve substantial concessions.
  2. The objective of negotiations with the United States is to end US policies of overt hostility to the Islamic Republic and have them accept Iran’s legitimate role in the regional politics of the Middle East.
  3. Iran’s primary negotiating chip in any talks is a stockpile of enriched uranium.
Contrary to the convenient argument that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei resists agreement with the United States, he and leading officials on the Supreme National Security Council have long viewed negotiations with the United States as the only way that the Iran can achieve full security and emerge as a full-fledged regional power.
But Khamenei has very decided views about the timing of such negotiations. The proposal by then President Mohammed Khatemi to engage the United States in a political dialogue in January 1998 was sharply criticised by Khamenei. However, Khamenei’s argument was not that negotiations with the United States were unacceptable in principle, but rather that Iran was not yet in a strong enough bargaining position to achieve a favourable outcome.
Soon after George W Bush demonised Iran as part of the "Axis of Evil" in late 2001 and early 2002, Khamenei again denounced the idea of negotiations with the United States under those conditions as useless. But a series of seismic changes over the next year altered the Supreme Leader’s strategic assessment.
Increased Bargaining Power
The first such change was the US overthrow of Saddam Hussein. In the short run, US military presence on Iran’s border posed the threat of a possible US invasion of Iran. But if Iran had only been afraid of such an invasion, it would certainly have mobilised public opinion to prepare to defend the country.
Instead Khamenei prepared for a complex diplomatic engagement with the United States on the assumption that Iran now had new diplomatic leverage. The proposal Iran made to the Bush administration in May 2003 clearly assumed that the United States would be unable to gain control over Iraq without Iran’s help. It offered "Iranian influence for activity supporting political stabilisation and the establishment of democratic institutions and a nonreligious government".
The Iranian national security elite believed two other developments in 2002 and early 2003 gave Iran bargaining chips it could use in negotiations with Washington. One was the Bush administration’s need for Iran’s cooperation in interrogating al-Qaeda leaders who had been detained in Iran after fleeing from Afghanistan. But the biggest source of leverage, the Iranians believed, was the Bush administration’s dramatically increased concern about Iran’s ability to enrich uranium, which had taken US intelligence by surprise. After the first IAEA visit to the uranium facility at Natanz in February 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell expressed alarm, saying Natanz showed that "Iran is much further along, with a far more robust nuclear weapons development program than anyone said it had".
The convergence of those three new developments convinced Khamenei that the moment had come to engage the United States diplomatically. Khamenei approved a secret proposal to the Bush administration in April 2003 for negotiations on the full range of issues dividing the two countries.  
Despite the Bush administration’s refusal to even acknowledge it, that proposal reveals the broad outlines of what Iran hopes to accomplish in negotiations with Washington. It offered to establish three parallel working groups to negotiate "road maps" on the three main areas of contention: the nuclear programme, "terrorism and regional security", and "economic cooperation". On the issue of its nuclear programme, the Iranian proposal offered to accept much tighter controls by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), including the adoption of new IAEA protocol that would guarantee the IAEA access to any facility, whether declared or undeclared, on short notice – in return for "full access to peaceful nuclear technology".
Iran’s negotiating document also offered to accept, as part of a "grand bargain" with the United States, the March 2002 Arab League declaration embracing the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Beyond that diplomatic position, Iran offered to stop "any material support to Palestinian opposition groups [Hamas, Islamic Jihad, etc] from Iranian territory" and to put "pressure on these organisations to stop violent actions against civilians within borders of 1967".  And it even offered to "take action on Hezbollah to become a mere political organisation within Lebanon".
The 2003 proposal thus made it clear that, in the end, Iranian support for Hezbollah and Hamas against Israel represented valued bargaining chips to be played in ultimate negotiations with the United States.
Finally, the secret proposal revealed what Iran hoped to obtain in return for giving up its negotiating chips. The list of Iranian aims included an end to US "hostile behaviour and rectification of status of Iran in the US", including its removal from the "axis of evil" and the "terrorism list", as well as an end to all economic sanctions against Iran. It also sought "recognition of Iran’s legitimate security interests in the region" and Iran’s right to have an "appropriate defence capacity" – presumably meaning the deterrent capability conferred by ballistic missiles.
Ultimate Aims
The demands for an end to official US enmity towards Iran and for a seat at the table in future regional security discussions have continued to be the ultimate aims behind Iranian efforts to manoeuvre the United States into serious negotiations.
The Bush administration remained hostile to serious negotiations with Iran. Negotiations with the British, French and German governments could only advance Iran’s interests if the Europeans were willing to press the United States on direct talks. But the Europeans offered only narrow economic benefits in return for ending Iran’s uranium enrichment and refused, at the insistence of the Bush administration, to talk about Iran’s broader security interests.
By mid-2006, after Iran had resumed uranium enrichment, Khamenei and his advisers were convinced that Iran’s diplomatic leverage had increased significantly. Khamenei’s top foreign-policy adviser, Ali Akbar Velayati, Iran’s foreign minister from 1981 to 1997, offered a rare glimpse of Iran’s strategic assessment at a seminar in Tehran on May 18, 2006. Addressing the evolution of Iran’s bargaining position in relation to the United States, he said: "We have at no time until now had such powerful means for haggling."
Velayati referred specifically to "the influence we have now in Iraq and Palestine".
What he did not say was that Iran was seeking to rapidly increase the number of centrifuges at Natanz in order to create "facts on the ground" that would give the US a motive to come to the negotiating table. As top officials of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council told one observer in Tehran, the stockpile of low-enriched uranium Iran would be accumulating were bargaining chips to be used in the eventual negotiations with Washington.
Velyati was not coy about drawing the policy conclusion. "Now that we have the power to haggle", he said, "Why don’t we haggle?"
Failed Diplomatic Triumph
The Obama administration’s failure to grasp the logic underlying Iran’s negotiating strategy ensured the failure of the first round of US-Iran negotiations in October 2009. The US proposal for a swap of roughly three quarters of all the low-enriched uranium Iran had accumulated to fuel Iran’s Tehran Research Reactor was aimed at stripping Iran of most of its low-enriched uranium.
For the United States, that was viewed as a diplomatic triumph. But all of Iran’s political factions united in objecting to the demand on the grounds that it would deprive Iran of the leverage it had gained from its LEU stockpile. Mir Hossein Mousavi, Ahmadinejad’s rival in the June 2009 presidential election, expressed that complaint indirectly, observing that if Iran agreed to give up so much of its LEU, the efforts of thousands of scientists would "go up in smoke".
After no agreement was reached on a fuel swap plan, Iran began enriching uranium to 20 per cent, to serve as fuel for its research reactor. That was regarded by the West as a big step closer to weapons grade enrichment, partly on the ground that Iran could not fabricate the fuel rods needed for the reactor. But Iran was really accumulating more bargaining chips for the negotiations it still hoped to have eventually with Washington.
In the present negotiations with the P5+1, Iran is still pursuing the same objectives with the same hope of cashing in its accumulated negotiating chips. That is why Syed Hossein Mousavian, who was spokesman for Iran’s nuclear negotiating team between 2003 and 2005 and foreign policy adviser to the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, has warned that the "piecemeal approach" so dear to the hearts of US officials is a formula for diplomatic failure. 
Iran "needs to know the entire game plan, including the end goal, before committing itself to anything", Mousavian wrote. The history of Iranian efforts to achieve a negotiated settlement supports Mousavian’s warning. It is time for the United States to shed its shallow propagandistic view of Iranian strategy, and accept the necessity for real bargaining with Iran on fundamental issues.
Reprinted from Al-Jazeera with permission of the author.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

How Obama Recycled A Lie About Iran

Exclusive: President Obama has joined much of Official Washington in mistranslating a comment by Iran’s President Ahmadinejad into the provocative phrase, “wiping Israel off the map.” Obama’s falsehood recalls President George W. Bush’s bogus claim about Iraq seeking uranium in Africa, says ex-CIA analyst Elizabeth Murray.

By Elizabeth Murray
April 25, 2012
Courtesy Of "Consortium News"

In June 2007, Middle East expert and University of Michigan professor Juan Cole remarked that bad translations can sometimes start wars. Professor Cole, in this case, was referring to the misleading, yet widely circulated mistranslated remark by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during a speech in 2005 — in which he is purported to have said that Israel should be “wiped off the map.”

This old canard — long dismissed by Persian language experts as a gross distortion of Ahmadinejad’s actual words — is regularly trotted out by Israeli leaders and their supporters as proof that Iran’s regime intends genocide against Israel, thereby justifying a military attack on Iran.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at work at his desk. (Credit: Official Web Site of the President of Iran)

However, a literal translation of Ahmadinejad’s 2005 statement would be something like “this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time,” a reference back to an earlier statement made by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of Iran’s Islamic Republic, as Guardian columnist Jonathan Steeleexplained in 2006.

Ahmadinejad essentially was predicting that Israel’s rule over Jerusalem would eventually come to an end, much like the once mighty Soviet Union collapsed in the early 1990s. He and other Iranian leaders have repeated similar predictions since then, but without any suggestion that Iran would attack Israel. [For more, see "Wiped Off the Map - the Rumour of the Century" by Arash Norouzi.]

Earlier this month, Dan Meridor, Israel’s minister of intelligence and atomic energy, conceded the point in an interview with Al Jazeera. He agreed that Iranian leaders “didn’t say, ‘We’ll wipe [Israel] out,’ you’re right, but [said instead] ‘it will not survive. It is a cancerous tumor, it should be removed.’ They repeatedly said ‘Israel is not legitimate, it should not exist.’”

Though the “wiped off the map” phrase is a myth, it has been transformed into accepted wisdom in Official Washington by its endless repetition and remains a frequent refrain of U.S. politicians and the corporate media.

For instance, in an appearance last month on MSNBC, Mark Landler, the New York Times’ White House correspondent, said, “The Israelis feel the window for that [denying Iran the capability to build nuclear weapons] is closing and it’s closing really fast, and if they allow it to close without taking military action, they would find themselves in a position where the Iranians suddenly are in possession of nuclear weapons, which they’ve threatened already to use against Israel.” [Emphasis added]

The last part of Landler’s comment was an apparent reference to the Ahmadinejad misquote, with the made-up addendum that Iran has threatened to use nuclear weapons to wipe Israel off the map. In fact, Iran has not threatened to use a nuclear bomb against Israel and has even disavowed any intent of developing a nuclear bomb. [See’s “Sloppy Comments on Iran’s ‘Nukes.’”]

Also, last month, President Barack Obama repeated the “wiped off the map” fiction in front of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (to considerable applause), all the while assuring his audience of his preference for diplomacy in dealing with Tehran. In his speech, Obama said: “Let’s begin with a basic truth that you all understand: no Israeli government can tolerate a nuclear weapon in the hands of a regime that … threatens to wipe Israel off the map.”

If President Obama were truly interested in the success of diplomatic engagement with Iran, then why would he continue to issue provocative and propagandistic lies about Iran, especially before the start of delicate negotiations between Iran and the UN P5 +1 (Security Council members plus Germany) regarding Iran’s nuclear facilities?

Loose talk and inflammatory propaganda can only cheapen the United States’ international image, inflicting preemptive harm on whatever prospects for diplomatic progress might be in the offing.

The President’s use of a discredited phrase also brings to mind the careless language depicting a “mushroom cloud” bandied about by then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice as part of President George W. Bush’s effort to whip the American public into a frenzy of pro-war hysteria against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

The late Walter Lippman referred to such tactics as “the manufacture of consent.”   Hitler’s propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, called it “the Big Lie,” that is, a phrase which, if repeated often enough, would eventually pass for the truth.

Having an Iranian leader call into question the legitimacy of the Zionist system of government in Israel and predicting its eventual decline, of course, may be very insulting and offensive to the powers-that-be in Israel, but it is a far cry from a call to attack or wipe out the Israeli population.

This important nuance — acknowledged by no less than a member of the Israeli cabinet — seems to be missing from the discourse of U.S. corporate media and U.S. politicians.  Instead, Ahmadinejad’s criticism of Israel has been deliberately distorted, mistranslated and spun out of context into a physical threat against Israel, ignoring the available factual information that indicates otherwise.

Come to think of it, how did such an inaccurate phrase manage to worm its way into the text of President Obama’s speech to AIPAC? As a rule, presidential speeches are carefully reviewed by experts at the White House, National Security Council and National Intelligence Council for integrity and accuracy. After all, especially in high-profile speeches, the President’s reputation is at stake.

The intelligence officers involved in vetting a speech would have ready access to the Open Source Center’s translation of Ahmadinejad’s 2005 speech from the Persian if they had wanted to ensure the accuracy of the President’s words. Whoever allowed this piece of propaganda to slip through either committed a grave error or had a separate agenda in mind.

This episode brings to mind the criticism of former President Bush for including in his 2003 State of the Union speech a falsehood about Iraq trying to procure yellowcake uranium from Africa – a fiction that helped lead the nation into a costly war and that subsequently brought an apology from CIA Director George Tenet.

In any case, President Obama’s gaffe before AIPAC has certainly done nothing to burnish his reputation (despite the applause it received at the time) because much of the world knows better.

Elizabeth Murray served as Deputy National Intelligence Officer for the Near East in the National Intelligence Council before retiring after a 27-year career in the U.S. government, where she specialized in Middle Eastern political and media analysis. She is a member of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

NATO: An Alliance Past Its Prime

By Doug Bandow
April 26, 2012
Courtesy Of "The National Interest"

On May 20, the 2012 NATO Chicago summit will bring together the heads of state from the alliance. The agenda reads like a rundown of major world events in the past two years: the Arab Spring, the Libyan civil war, the global financial crisis and the war in Afghanistan. It seems no problem is too big for NATO.
Of these topics, the most pressing and headline-grabbing will be the plan NATO and the United States establish to gradually turn responsibility for security in Afghanistan over to the Afghan national forces. But also of note are the topics—“lessons learned from Libya” and the"Smart Defense Initiative,”—that display the reliance of Europe on the United States for advanced military capabilities. Libya in particular showcased Europe's inability to act without Washington.
The lessons from Libya are twofold, and it is important to keep them in mind as policy makers and pundits in Washington call for the next U.S. intervention, possibly in Syria or Iran. First, the results so far have been disappointing for America’s latest stab at coercive democratization.
Libya also was a disappointment as a supposed new model for U.S. intervention. In fact, that conflict reinforces the fact that NATO really stands for North America and The Others. Without the United States, the Europeans would be essentially helpless.
A new alliance study underscores Europe’s relative ineffectiveness. Reports the New York Times:
Despite widespread praise in Western capitals forNATO’s leadership of the air campaign in Libya, a confidential NATO assessment paints a sobering portrait of the alliance’s ability to carry out such campaigns without significant support from the United States.
The report concluded that the allies struggled to share crucial target information, lacked specialized planners and analysts, and overly relied on the United States for reconnaissance and refueling aircraft.
This should surprise no one. After all, during the war against Serbia—another nation which had not threatened America or any American ally—Europe was estimated to have a combat effectiveness less than 15 percent that of the U.S. The Europeans had large conscript armies, but outside of Britain and France had very little ability to project power. Later European participation in Afghanistan has been marred by the dozens of national “caveats” limiting participation in combat.
Yet alliance expansion is also on the agenda for the May NATO summit in Chicago. The list of alliance wannabes includes such powerhouses as Macedonia, Montenegro and Bosnia. Former Soviet republics notable mostly for their tangled and/or troubled relations with Russia—Georgia and Ukraine—are also on the list. All of these nations would be security liabilities, not assets, for America.
As the NATO study demonstrates, should the alliance’s Article 5 commitment get invoked, America would do most of the fighting. It would be one thing to take that risk where vital interests were at stake. But they are not in the Balkans, let alone in the Caucasus, which was part of Imperial Russia even before the Soviet Union.
Alliances should reflect the security environment. The Cold War is over. The Europeans have developed, the Soviet Union is kaput, and the potential European conflicts of the future—distant and unlikely—are linked to no hegemonic threat against America.
Instead of talking about NATO expansion, the United States should set down the burden of defending Europe. Let the Europeans take over NATO or create their own European defense organization, as they have discussed for years. The latest reminder of Europe’s relative military ineffectiveness reinforces the case for ending the Continent’s cheap ride. It is time to turn North America and The Others into simply The Others.

Babylon Flamenco

Posted by "CavalierZee"

Artist: "Ojo de Brujo, Gaudi"

Saturday, April 28, 2012



Posted by Seymour M. Hersh
April 6, 2012
Courtesy Of "The New Yorker"

From the air, the terrain of the Department of Energy’s Nevada National Security Site, with its arid high plains and remote mountain peaks, has the look of northwest Iran. The site, some sixty-five miles northwest of Las Vegas, was once used for nuclear testing, and now includes a counterintelligence training facility and a private airport capable of handling Boeing 737 aircraft. It’s a restricted area, and inhospitable—in certain sections, the curious are warned that the site’s security personnel are authorized to use deadly force, if necessary, against intruders.

It was here that the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) conducted training, beginning in 2005, for members of the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, a dissident Iranian opposition group known in the West as the M.E.K. 

The M.E.K. had its beginnings as a Marxist-Islamist student-led group and, in the nineteen-seventies, it was linked to the assassination of six American citizens. It was initially part of the broad-based revolution that led to the 1979 overthrow of the Shah of Iran. But, within a few years, the group was waging a bloody internal war with the ruling clerics, and, in 1997, it was listed as a foreign terrorist organization by the State Department. 

In 2002, the M.E.K. earned some international credibility by publicly revealing—accurately—that Iran had begun enriching uranium at a secret underground location. Mohamed ElBaradei, who at the time was the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations’ nuclear monitoring agency, told me later that he had been informed that the information was supplied by the Mossad

The M.E.K.’s ties with Western intelligence deepened after the fall of the Iraqi regime in 2003, and JSOC began operating inside Iran in an effort to substantiate the Bush Administration’s fears that Iran was building the bomb at one or more secret underground locations.

Funds were covertly passed to a number of dissident organizations, for intelligence collection and, ultimately, for anti-regime terrorist activities. Directly, or indirectly, the M.E.K. ended up with resources like arms and intelligence. Some American-supported covert operations continue in Iran today, according to past and present intelligence officials and military consultants.

Despite the growing ties, and a much-intensified lobbying effort organized by its advocates, M.E.K. has remained on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations—which meant that secrecy was essential in the Nevada training. 

“We did train them here, and washed them through the Energy Department because the D.O.E. owns all this land in southern Nevada,” a former senior American intelligence official told me. “We were deploying them over long distances in the desert and mountains, and building their capacity in communications—coördinating commo is a big deal.” (A spokesman for J.S.O.C. said that “U.S. Special Operations Forces were neither aware of nor involved in the training of M.E.K. members.”)

The training ended sometime before President Obama took office, the former official said. In a separate interview, a retired four-star general, who has advised the Bush and Obama Administrations on national-security issues, said that he had been privately briefed in 2005 about the training of Iranians associated with the M.E.K. in Nevada by an American involved in the program. 

They got “the standard training,” he said, “in commo, crypto [cryptography], small-unit tactics, and weaponry—that went on for six months,” the retired general said. “They were kept in little pods.” He also was told, he said, that the men doing the training were from JSOC, which, by 2005, had become a major instrument in the Bush Administration’s global war on terror. 

“The JSOC trainers were not front-line guys who had been in the field, but second- and third-tier guys—trainers and the like—and they started going off the reservation. ‘If we’re going to teach you tactics, let me show you some really sexy stuff…’ ”

It was the ad-hoc training that provoked the worried telephone calls to him, the former general said. “I told one of the guys who called me that they were all in over their heads, and all of them could end up trouble unless they got something in writing. The Iranians are very, very good at counterintelligence, and stuff like this is just too hard to contain.” The site in Nevada was being utilized at the same time, he said, for advanced training of élite Iraqi combat units. (The retired general said he only knew of the one M.E.K.-affiliated group that went though the training course; the former senior intelligence official said that he was aware of training that went on through 2007.)

Allan Gerson, a Washington attorney for the M.E.K., notes that the M.E.K. has publicly and repeatedly renounced terror. Gerson said he would not comment on the alleged training in Nevada. But such training, if true, he said, would be “especially incongruent with the State Department’s decision to continue to maintain the M.E.K. on the terrorist list. How can the U.S. train those on State’s foreign terrorist list, when others face criminal penalties for providing a nickel to the same organization?”

Robert Baer, a retired C.I.A. agent who is fluent in Arabic and had worked under cover in Kurdistan and throughout the Middle East in his career, initially had told me in early 2004 of being recruited by a private American company—working, so he believed, on behalf of the Bush Administration—to return to Iraq. “They wanted me to help the M.E.K. collect intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program,” Baer recalled. “They thought I knew Farsi, which I did not. I said I’d get back to them, but never did.” Baer, now living in California, recalled that it was made clear to him at the time that the operation was “a long-term thing—not just a one-shot deal.”

Massoud Khodabandeh, an I.T. expert now living in England who consults for the Iraqi government, was an official with the M.E.K. before defecting in 1996. In a telephone interview, he acknowledged that he is an avowed enemy of the M.E.K., and has advocated against the group. Khodabandeh said that he had been with the group since before the fall of the Shah and, as a computer expert, was deeply involved in intelligence activities as well as providing security for the M.E.K. leadership. For the past decade, he and his English wife have run a support program for other defectors. 

Khodabandeh told me that he had heard from more recent defectors about the training in Nevada. He was told that the communications training in Nevada involved more than teaching how to keep in contact during attacks—it also involved communication intercepts. The United States, he said, at one point found a way to penetrate some major Iranian communications systems. At the time, he said, the U.S. provided M.E.K. operatives with the ability to intercept telephone calls and text messages inside Iran—which M.E.K. operatives translated and shared with American signals intelligence experts. He does not know whether this activity is ongoing.

Five Iranian nuclear scientists have been assassinated since 2007. M.E.K. spokesmen have denied any involvement in the killings, but early last month NBC News quoted two senior Obama Administration officials as confirming that the attacks were carried out by M.E.K. units that were financed and trained by Mossad, the Israeli secret service. NBC further quoted the Administration officials as denying any American involvement in the M.E.K. activities. 

The former senior intelligence official I spoke with seconded the NBC report that the Israelis were working with the M.E.K., adding that the operations benefitted from American intelligence. He said that the targets were not “Einsteins”; “The goal is to affect Iranian psychology and morale,” he said, and to “demoralize the whole system—nuclear delivery vehicles, nuclear enrichment facilities, power plants.” 

Attacks have also been carried out on pipelines. He added that the operations are “primarily being done by M.E.K. through liaison with the Israelis, but the United States is now providing the intelligence.” An adviser to the special-operations community told me that the links between the United States and M.E.K. activities inside Iran had been long-standing. “Everything being done inside Iran now is being done with surrogates,” he said.

The sources I spoke to were unable to say whether the people trained in Nevada were now involved in operations in Iran or elsewhere. But they pointed to the general benefit of American support. “The M.E.K. was a total joke,” the senior Pentagon consultant said, “and now it’s a real network inside Iran. How did the M.E.K. get so much more efficient?” he asked rhetorically. “Part of it is the training in Nevada. Part of it is logistical support in Kurdistan, and part of it is inside Iran. M.E.K. now has a capacity for efficient operations that it never had before.”

In mid-January, a few days after an assassination by car bomb of an Iranian nuclear scientist in Tehran, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, at a town-hall meeting of soldiers at Fort Bliss, Texas, acknowledged that the U.S. government has “some ideas as to who might be involved, but we don’t know exactly who was involved.” He added, “But I can tell you one thing: the United States was not involved in that kind of effort. That’s not what the United States does.”

Illustration by Guy Billout.