Monthly Archives: September 2012

US Special Forces in Iraq to Stop Russia

The civil war in Syria is testing Iraq’s fragile society and fledgling democracy, worsening sectarian tensions, pushing Iraq closer to Iran… just nine months after American forces ended their long and costly occupation here.  Fearing that Iraq’s insurgents will unite with extremists in Syria to wage a two-front battle for Sunni dominance, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki recently ordered guards at the western border to block adult men…along with thousands of refugees seeking to escape the grinding war next door.  Farther north, Iraqi officials have another concern, also related to the fighting across the border. Turkish warplanes have stepped up attacks on the mountain hide-outs of Kurdish insurgents galvanized by the war in Syria, underscoring Iraq’s inability to control its own airspace.

The hardening of the antagonists’ positions in Syria — reverberating across Iraq — was made clear Monday at the United Nations when the new special envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, gave a bleak appraisal of the conflict to the Security Council and said he saw no prospect for a breakthrough anytime soon.

The Syrian war’s spillover has called attention to uncomfortable realities for American officials: despite nearly nine years of military engagement, an effort that continues today with a $19 billion weapons sales program, Iraq’s security is uncertain and its alliance with the theocratic government in Tehran is growing. Iraq’s Shiite-dominated leadership is so worried about a victory by Sunni radicals in Syria that it has moved closer to Iran, which shares a similar interest in supporting the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad.,,,

In response, the United States has tried to secure its interests in Iraq. It has unsuccessfully pressed Iraq to halt flights from Iran that traverse Iraqi airspace to ferry weapons and fighters to the Assad government, although The Associated Press reported that over the weekend a government spokesman said Iraq would begin random searches of Iranian aircraft.  While some Congressional leaders have threatened to cut off aid to Iraq if the flights do not stop, the United States is trying to speed up weapons sales to Iraq to secure it as an ally, said Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen Jr., the American commander in charge of that effort. As regional security deteriorates, the United States is finding it hard to deliver the weapons — especially antiaircraft systems — quickly enough to satisfy the Iraqis, who in some cases are looking elsewhere, including Russia.

“Although they want a strategic partnership with the United States, they recognize the vulnerability, and they are interested in going with the nation that will be able to provide them, and meet their need, their capabilities gap, as quickly as possible,” said General Caslen, who oversees a Pentagon office here, under the authority of the American Embassy, that brokers weapons sales to Iraq.  The United States is providing Iraq with refurbished antiaircraft guns, free of charge, but they will not arrive until June. In the meantime, the Iraqis have collected cold war-era missiles found in a junkyard on an air base north of Baghdad, and they are trying to get them in working order. Iraq is negotiating with Russia to buy air defense systems that could be delivered much more quickly than those bought from the United States.

“Iraq recognizes they don’t control their airspace, and they are very sensitive to that,” General Caslen said. Each time Turkish fighter jets enter Iraq’s airspace to bomb Kurdish targets, he said, Iraqi officials “see it, they know it and they resent it.”  Iskander Witwit, a former Iraqi Air Force officer and member of Parliament’s security committee, said, “God willing, we will be arming Iraq with weapons to be able to shoot down those planes.”

The American military withdrew at the end of last year after negotiations for an extended troop presence collapsed because the Iraqis would not agree to extend legal immunities to any remaining force. Once the Americans left, Iraq celebrated its sovereignty, even as military officials in both countries fretted about the deficiencies of Iraq’s military and sought ways to work together that would not require a public debate about immunities.  Iraq and the United States are negotiating an agreement that could result in the return of small units of American soldiers to Iraq on training missions. At the request of the Iraqi government, according to General Caslen, a unit of Army Special Operations soldiers was recently deployed to Iraq to advise on counterterrorism and help with intelligence.

Excerpts from TIM ARANGO, Syrian War’s Spillover Threatens a Fragile Iraq, NY Times, Sept. 24, 2012

Drones: the Politics of Fear and Complacency

Excerpt from the Executive Summary Living Under Drones Death, Injury, and Trauma to Civilians From US Drone Practices in Pakistan (Stanford and NYU, Sept. 2012)

In the United States, the dominant narrative about the use of drones in Pakistan is of a surgically precise and effective tool that makes the US safer by enabling “targeted killing” of terrorists, with minimal downsides or collateral impacts. This narrative is false…

The US publicly describes its drone program in terms of its unprecedented ability to “distinguish …effectively between an al Qaeda terrorist and innocent civilians,” and touts its missile-armed drones as capable of conducting strikes with “astonishing” and “surgical” precision. First, while civilian casualties are rarely acknowledged by the US government, there is significant evidence that US drone strikes have injured and killed civilians. In public statements, the US states that there have been“no” or “single digit” civilian casualties.” It is difficult to obtain data on strike casualties because of US efforts to shield the drone program from democratic accountability, compounded by the obstacles to independent investigation of strikes in North Waziristan. The best currently available public aggregate data on drone strikes are provided by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ), an independent journalist organization.

TBIJ reports that from June 2004 through mid- September 2012, available data indicate that drone strikes killed 2,562-3,325 people in Pakistan, of whom 474-881 were civilians, including 176 children. TBIJ reports that these strikes also injured an additional 1,228-1,362 individuals….

US drone strike policies cause considerable and under-accounted for harm to the daily lives of ordinary civilians, beyond death and physical injury. Drones hover twenty-four hours a day over communities in northwest Pakistan, striking homes, vehicles, and public spaces without warning. Their presence terrorizes men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities. Those living under drones have to face the constant worry that a deadly strike may be fired at any moment, and the knowledge that they are powerless to protect themselves….

Publicly available evidence that the strikes have made the US safer overall is ambiguous at best. The strikes have certainly killed alleged combatants and disrupted armed actor networks. However, serious concerns about the efficacy and counter-productive nature of drone strikes have been raised. The number of “high-level” targets killed as a percentage of total casualties is extremely low—estimated at just 2%. Furthermore, evidence suggests that US strikes have facilitated recruitment to violent non-state armed groups, and motivated further violent attacks…..

Drone strikes have also soured many Pakistanis on cooperation with the US and undermined US-Pakistani relations. One major study shows that 74% of Pakistanis now consider the US an enemy.

Current US targeted killings and drone strike practices undermine respect for the rule of law and international legal protections and may set dangerous precedents. This report casts doubt on the legality of strikes on individuals or groups not linked to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2011, and who do not pose imminent threats to the US. The US government’s failure to ensure basic transparency and accountability in its targeted killing policies, to provide necessary details about its targeted killing program, or adequately to set out the legal factors involved in decisions to strike hinders necessary democratic debate about a key aspect of US foreign and national security policy. US practices may also facilitate recourse to lethal force around the globe by establishing dangerous precedents for other governments….

In light of these concerns, this report recommends that the US conduct a fundamental re-evaluation of current targeted killing practices, taking into account all available evidence, the concerns of various stakeholders, and the short and long-term costs and benefits. A significant rethinking of current US targeted killing and drone strike policies is long overdue. US policy-makers, and the American public, cannot continue to ignore evidence of the civilian harm and counterproductive impacts of US targeted killings and drone strikes in Pakistan….

The US should fulfill its international obligations with respect to accountability and transparency, and ensure proper democratic debate about key policies. The US should.

–Release the US Department of Justice memoranda outlining the legal basis for US targeted killing in Pakistan;

–Make public critical information concerning US drone strike policies, including as previously and repeatedly requested by various groups and officials: the targeting criteria for so-called “signature” strikes; the mechanisms in place to ensure that targeting complies with international law; whichlaws are being applied; the nature of investigations into civilian deathand injury; and mechanisms in place to track, analyze and publicly recognize civilian casualties;

–Ensure independent investigations into drone strike deaths, consistent with the call made by Ben Emmerson, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism in August 2012

–In conjunction with robust investigations and, where appropriate,prosecutions, establish compensation programs for civilians harmed by US strikes in Pakistan.

–The US should fulfill its international humanitarian and human rights law obligations with respect to the use of force, including by not using lethal force against individuals who are not members of armed groups with whom the US is in an armed conflict, or otherwise against individuals not posing an imminent threat to life. This includes not double-striking targets as first responders arrive.

–Journalists and media outlets should cease the common practice of referring simply to “militant” deaths, without further explanation. All reporting of government accounts of “militant” deaths should include acknowledgment that the US government counts all adult males killed by strikes as “militants,” absent exonerating evidence. Media accounts relying on anonymous government sources should also highlight the fact of their single source information and of the past record of false government reports

Excerpt from the Executive Summary Living Under Drones Death, Injury, and Trauma to Civilians From US Drone Practices in Pakistan (Stanford and NYU, Sept. 2012)
See also http://livingunderdrones.org/

The iPhone, radioactive waste and rare earths: the Lynas case

Lynas Corporation, an Australian based mining company are constructing a rare earth processing plant, known as the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP) in Gebeng industrial estate in Kuantan, Malaysia. The LAMP will process lanthanide concentrate which will be trucked from the mine site in Mt Weld Western Australia to the Port of Fremantle where it will be shipped to Malaysia. This report provides an assessment of the emissions from the LAMP plant rather than Lynas Corporation‟s activities in Western Australia. The LAMP plant will have significant atmospheric, terrestrial and waterborne emissions of toxic chemicals and radionuclides including uranium, thorium and radon gas.

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A Malaysian high court put on hold until October 4 a temporary operating license granted to Lynas Corp Ltd’s controversial rare earth plant near the eastern city of Kuantan, prompting an 8 percent fall in the Australian firm’s shares on Tuesday (Sept. 24, 2012).  The rare earth plant – the world’s biggest outside China – has been ready to fire up since early May, but the company has been embroiled in lengthy environmental and safety disputes with local residents since construction began two years ago [regarding the handling of radioactive waste at the plant].

The plant is considered important to breaking China’s grip on the processing of rare earths, which are used in products ranging from smartphones to hybrid cars.

Lynas confirmed the Kuantan High Court’s decision on Tuesday, but said it would not affect production at the plant and that it plans to strongly assert its rights at the next court hearing…Lynas shares plunged more than 8 percent after the court order to A$0.795, their lowest close in almost three weeks as investors closely track each move in the sensitive case. Earlier this month they rose up to 50 percent when Malaysia approved the license.

Activists linked to the environmental group, Save Malaysia Stop Lynas, want the court to suspend the temporary license until two judicial review cases challenging the government’s decision allowing the plant to operate are heard.  “It’s a small victory, but there is still a long way to go,” Tan Bun Teet, a spokesman for the group, told Reuters after the court decision. “We will fight tooth and nail. We have a lot at stake,” he added.  The group’s previous attempts to legally stop the plant had failed.

Lynas received a temporary operating license for its long-delayed $800 million rare earth plant earlier this month, enabling it to start production as early as October.  The Malaysian Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) issued the permit following an earlier recommendation from a government committee.  Protests over possible radioactive residue have drawn thousands of people and the project has become a hot topic ahead of an election that must be held by early next year.

Sources

Lee Bell, Rare Earth and Radioactive Waste: A Preliminary Waste Stream Assessment of the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant, Gebeng, Malaysia, National Toxics Network. April 2012

Siva Sithraputhran, Malaysian court puts license on hold for Lynas rare earth plant, Reuters, Sept. 25, 2012

Nuclear Protests in India and Foreign-Funded NGOs

This week police in Kudankulam, in southern Tamil Nadu, fired at thousands of anti-nuclear protesters on the beach, killing a fisherman. The locals were opposing a new, Russian-designed, 2,000MW nuclear plant, India’s biggest, which is now being filled with fuel. The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami killed over 10,000 Indians. Now fears grow of another big wave that could bring a Fukushima-style disaster.  Protesters also claim harassment, saying officials have slapped sedition notices against 8,000 who have dared speak out. Opposition has flared before. The state’s chief minister, Jayaram Jayalalitha, once backed the protests but has now swung in favour of the plant—perhaps betting that anger over power shortages trumps anti-nuclear outbursts.

The reaction of the national government, under the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, has been mixed. Committees of investigation called the plant safe. The High Court in Chennai heard, and ruled against, a petition by locals over safety. The Supreme Court will hear an appeal.  The government’s argument that politicians not protesters should decide the country’s energy mix is reasonable. But, twitchy at criticism, it veered off in suggesting opponents merely did the bidding of a foreign hand. Mr Singh, in an interview with a science magazine in February, blamed protests on NGOs, “mostly I think based in the United States”. A tough new law is in force, severely restricting foreign money going to local NGOs.  Mr Singh’s frostiness is best understood in the context of America’s moans that a civil-nuclear deal signed with India has not led to American investors getting energy contracts. Strict liability laws scare its private investors, whereas government-backed ones, such as Russians, feel more secure. Could Mr Singh be implying that American activists are stirring the trouble in Kudankulam because the plant is Russian-built?

Nuclear Power in India: The Kudankulam conundrum, Economist, Sept. 15,2012, at 39

The Swiss Nuke Smugglers, CIA and Libya

Three Swiss engineers are set to escape jail for nuclear smuggling, in part because they helped the CIA bust a global ring that was supplying Libya’s atomic weapons program.  Urs Tinner, his brother Marco, and their father Friedrich are accused of aiding the smuggling network of Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan.  But according to Swiss prosecution documents released Tuesday setting out a plea bargain deal, the three also cooperated with U.S. authorities who were able to seize a shipment of nuclear equipment destined for Libya in 2003.  The CIA operation ultimately destroyed the Khan network and Libya gave up its efforts to acquire nuclear weapons.

Prosecutors say their work was hampered by the Swiss government’s decision to destroy key evidence in the case.  The plea bargain will be put before a Swiss court for approval next week.

Swiss nuke smugglers who helped CIA to escape jail, Associated Press, Sept. 18, 2012

How to Avoid the Carbon Tax

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS),  a Climate of Corporate Control, statements and actions on climate science and policy by 28 U.S. companies, shows how these contributions can be problematic, and suggests steps that Congress, the public, the media, and companies themselves can take to address the problem.  Corporations have the right, of course, to weigh in on public policy issues that affect their interests. But too often they do so irresponsibly, misrepresenting and misusing science at the public’s expense, and in recent years their influence has grown.

Corporations skew the national dialogue on climate policy in a variety of ways—making inconsistent statements across different venues, attacking science through industry-supported organizations, and taking advantage of the secrecy allowed them by current legal and regulatory structures.

Inconsistency: Having It Both Ways–Some corporations are contradictory in their actions, expressing concern about the threat of climate change in some venues—such as company websites, Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings, annual reports, or statements to Congress—while working to weaken policy responses to climate change in others.  For example, ConocoPhillips has acknowledged on its website that “human activity…is contributing to increased concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that can lead to adverse changes in global climate.” Yet in its comments on the 2009 EPA Endangerment Finding, the company claimed that “the support for the effects of climate change on public health and welfare is limited and is typified by a high degree of uncertainty.”

Using Outside Organizations: Contrarians By Proxy–One way a company can work against effective climate policy while avoiding accountability for that work is to provide funding to outside groups that lobby against climate legislation and regulation or engage in advocacy campaigns against climate science. Such groups range from business associations such as the National Association of Manufacturers to front groups like the Heartland Institute.

Echoing the inconsistency in their other statements and actions on the issue, many companies belong to groups lobbying on both sides of the climate policy debate. For example, Caterpillar is affiliated both with the World Resources Institute and Nature Conservancy, which advocate global warming solutions, and with the Cato Institute and Heritage Foundation, which oppose them.  Of course, corporations may point out that the organizations they support work on many issues besides climate—but the fact remains that many of these groups take starkly anti-science positions on climate change and work aggressively to challenge science-based climate policies.

A Lack of Transparency–When business interests can hide their influence on policy-making processes from public view, it becomes easier for them to manipulate perceptions of science and skew policy discussions. There are several areas in which greater transparency is needed:  Charitable contributions. Current law only requires corporate foundations to disclose their donations to the IRS; companies can get around this requirement by making their donations directly, bypassing their foundations. This information is also hidden from shareholders: several corporations have received proposals from their shareholders demanding access to the company’s charitable contributions, and legislation to require such disclosure has been proposed in Congress.  Lobbying and political expenditures. While companies are legally required to report their total expenditures on political contributions and lobbying, they are not required to disclose the particular issues for which these contributions are targeted. So it is not possible to determine how much lobbying corporations are doing on climate issues. Business risks from climate change. Publicly traded companies are required to discuss risks that might materially affect their business in their annual SEC filings. The report shows that compliance with this requirement with regard to climate change is not consistent; some companies address climate-related risks fully, some discuss only the possible impacts of climate regulation, neglecting the physical impacts of climate change, and others ignore the issue entirely.

Good and Bad Behavior–It’s not all bad news out there: The report shows that some companies, such as NIKE, appear to be consistently constructive in their climate-related statements and actions.  At the other extreme, some companies appear to be almost uniformly obstructionist on climate issues. This list is dominated by fossil-fuel companies such as Peabody Energy and Marathon Oil.  But because of the lack of disclosure, it is impossible to say for sure whether companies are completely constructive or obstructionist.  Inappropriate corporate influence on the national dialogue on climate science and policy is a large-scale, complex problem requiring large-scale, complex solutions.

Excerpt from A Climate of Corporate Control

Right to Participate: Indigenous Peoples of Peru

Peru’s official human rights ombudsman, Defender of the People Eduardo Vega, is set to convene the first the first “prior consultation” with Amazonian indigenous peoples on oil development in their territory, under terms of a new law passed earlier this year setting terms for the process. The consultation concerns a planned new round of oil contracts planned for Bloc 1AB, currently held by Argentine firm Pluspetrol, in the watersheds of the Pastaza, Corrientes and Tigre rivers in the northeast of Loreto region. The Regional Organisation of Indigenous Peoples of the East (ORPIO), with an office in the city of Iquitos, it to represent the impacted indigenous peoples. Vega pledged the process would be carried out “with the utmost clarity so that rights of the indigenous peoples will be respected and the same process can serve for other consultations that will subsequently be carried out.”  But after years of conflict over resource extraction in the region and accusations of broken promises by the government, many indigenous residents remain skeptical about the process.

Peru: first “prior consultations” on Amazon oil development, WW4 Report, Sept. 15, 2012

The Legality of Targeted Killings

The CRS memorandum, entitled “Legal Issues Related to the Lethal Targeting of U.S. Citizens Suspected of Terrorist Activities,” was prepared in May 2012 by legislative attorney Jennifer K. Elsea. It presents an overview of the pertinent legal context, and then carefully parses official Administration statements in an attempt to infer a detailed legal rationale for lethal targeting. A copy was obtained by Secrecy News.

“This memorandum is an effort to clarify the debate by providing legal background, setting forth what is known about the Administration’s position and identifying possible points of contention among legal experts and other observers,” the memo states.  In the end, CRS concludes that none of the established legal frameworks is a perfect fit for the Administration’s lethal targeting operations because the current U.S. practice of lethal targeting involves features that are improvised, inconsistent or otherwise questionable.

For example, CRS says the Administration appears to have redefined the meaning of “imminence,” one of the required elements for justifying the use of force in self-defense on the territory of another country. The standard definition of imminence refers to an overwhelming threat that allows “no moment for deliberation.” But the Administration uses imminence idiosyncratically “to refer to the window of opportunity for striking rather than the perceived immediacy of the threat of an armed attack.” This novel usage “may pose some challenge to the international law regarding the use of force,” CRS said.

The CRS memo notes that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled — in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld — that when a U.S. citizen is detained as a suspected enemy combatant he must be given notice of the factual basis for his detention and an opportunity to rebut it. Yet, in contrast, when a citizen-suspect is to be killed rather than detained the Administration’s position is that no such notice or opportunity is required.  This embrace of unchecked executive authority may prove difficult to reconcile with the majority holding in Hamdi, the memo suggests.  In fact, CRS says, the Administration’s position “seems to conform more with Justice Thomas’s dissenting opinion in Hamdi, in which Justice Thomas argued that in the context of wartime detention for non-punitive purposes, ‘due process requires nothing more than a good-faith executive determination’.”

By withholding its own Office of Legal Counsel opinion on the legality of lethal targeting of suspected terrorists who are U.S. citizens, the Obama Administration seems intent not on protecting sensitive operational details but on suppressing public awareness and debate. The CRS memo is not a substitute for the OLC opinion, but it nonetheless can serve to advance public understanding of the underlying issues.

Excerpt, Steven Aftergood, Legality of Targeted Killing of Suspected Terrorists Reviewed by CRS, SecrecyNews.com, Sept. 10, 2012

Flooding Nuclear Power Plants Close to Dams

Below we reproduce verbatim the letter of Richard Perkins to the Office of Inspector General US Nuclear Regulatory Commission dated Sept. 14, 2012

From: Richard H. Perkins, P.E., Division of Risk Analysis, Office of Nuclear Regulatory Research, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

To: Hubert T. Bell, Office of the Inspector General, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, MS 05-E13, 11555 Rockville Pike, Rockville MD 20852

Dear Mr. Bell,

Subject: Concealment of Significant Nuclear Safety Information by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

I allege that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has intentionally mischaracterized relevant and noteworthy safety information as sensitive, security information in an effort to conceal the information from the public. This action occurred in anticipation of, in preparation for, and as part of the NRC’s response to a Freedom of Information Act request for information concerning the generic issue  investigation on Flooding of U.S. Nuclear Power Plants Following Upstream Dam Failure. (pdf of censored report)  Specifically requested was the completed screening analysis report for this issue, of which I am the lead author.  Portions of the publically released version of this report are redacted citing security sensitivities, however,the redacted information is of a general descriptive nature or is strictly relevant to the safety of U.S. nuclear  power plants, plant personnel, and members of the public. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff has engaged in an effort to mischaracterize the information as security sensitive in order to justify withholding it from public release using certain exemptions specified in the Freedom of Information Act. Evidencesupporting this allegation includes the redacted text from the analysis report, e-mails and written correspondence within the NRC, and e-mail correspondence with other Government agencies. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff may be motivated to prevent the disclosure of this safety information to the public because it will embarrass the agency. The redacted information includes discussion of, and excerpts from, NRCofficial agency records that show the NRC has been in possession of relevant, notable, and derogatory safety information for an extended period but failed to properly act on it. Concurrently, the NRC concealed the information from the public.

Because this concern involves a violation of law and is not related to a technical opinion or distinction, I am not submitting this concern to (or though) the NRC’s Differing Professional Opinion Program. It is my intention to cooperate fully with NRC Office of the Inspector General. It is also my intention to make a copy of this letter available to the public shortly after I have submitted it to your office; therefore, please consider this allegation to be public information.

United States,Taliban, and the spin doctors

Days after deciding to blacklist an insurgent group linked to the Taliban and responsible for some of the deadliest attacks in Afghanistan, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declined to say whether she also would brand the Taliban a foreign terrorist organization.  Asked in an interview yesterday with Bloomberg Radio if the Taliban — whose government gave sanctuary to Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda terror network before the 2001 U.S. military actions — should be blacklisted, Clinton didn’t directly answer.

“You know, we do a very intensive analysis before we designate someone as a foreign terrorist organization,” she said. “We have reached that conclusion about the Haqqani Network, and we think it’s the right decision.”  Clinton’s decision on Sept. 7 to designate as a terrorist organization the Haqqani Network — a militant group with operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan that is closely affiliated with the Afghan branch of the Taliban [or simply another name for Taliban]– came after months of inter-agency debate.  One issue was the potential impact on already difficult relations with Pakistan. The Haqqanis operate from havens in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal region with what U.S. officials have said are ties to Pakistan’s intelligence agency.  Clinton said in the interview that blacklisting the Haqqanis wasn’t a message aimed at Pakistan.  “No, it is about squeezing” the Haqqanis, she said.  “It’s part of the continuing effort to try to send a message to them — not to anyone else, but to them — because of the really incredibly damaging attacks they have waged against us, against other targets inside Afghanistan, and it’s important that we use every tool at our disposal to go after them,” she said in the interview in Vladivostok, Russia, at the end of an 11-day trip through the Asia-Pacific.  The U.S. had already slapped the Haqqani group’s leaders with individual sanctions, and has long targeted them in military operations and clandestine drone strikes.Adding the Haqqanis to the group blacklist “gives us much greater reach into any financial assets or fundraising that they may engage in, it gives us better traction against assets that they might own,” Clinton said. “It’s important that we use every tool at our disposal to go after them.”

Though the Haqqanis were behind some of the highest-profile attacks on American and NATO interests in Afghanistan, including a day-long assault last year on the U.S. embassy in Kabul and an attack on NATO headquarters there, the debate on whether to blacklist them involved arguments that doing so might hinder U.S. policy goals.

The decision followed months of discussion within the White House, State Department, Pentagon, Treasury Department, Justice Department and the intelligence community over the merits and the timing of blacklisting the Haqqanis, according to officials from different agencies who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Opponents of blacklisting the Haqqanis had argued that slapping them with a label might hinder prospects for engaging them in reconciliation talks to take them off the battlefield. The same may be said of the Taliban…Another concern about blacklisting the Haqqanis — which can also be said of the Taliban — is that affixing a terror label to the group may affect U.S. relations with Pakistan. Some U.S. officials, including former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, have said Pakistani intelligence and security forces have aided the Haqqanis in order to wield influence in Afghanistan. Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta have said Pakistan needs to do more to crack down on the group.  Pakistan also has ties with the Afghan Taliban, whose leadership is based in the Pakistani city of Quetta, according to U.S. intelligence officials.  The U.S. wants Pakistan to use its influence with the Taliban to engage them in serious peace talks with the Afghan government to help bring an end to the 11-year conflict.

Excerpts, Indira A.R. Lakshmanan, Clinton Doesn’t Say If Taliban Should Be on Terror List, BusinessWeek, Sept. 9, 2012

BP: Culture of Corporate Recklessness

The Obama administration has accused BP of gross negligence and willful misconduct in causing the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010. In a new court filing, the Department of Justice appears bent on blaming BP for the worst oil disaster in U.S. history.  The court document blasts BP’s leadership in no uncertain terms. Referring to “A Culture of Corporate Recklessness,” it states that “The behaviour, words and actions of these BP executives would not have been tolerated in a middling size company manufacturing dry goods for sale in a suburban mall.” It criticizes “the utter lack of any semblance of investigation of the systemic management causes deeply implicating the corporate managers and leadership who caused and allowed the rig-based mechanical causes to fester and ultimately explode in a fireball of death, personal injury, economic catastrophe, and environmental devastation.”

Referring to a “negative pressure test” performed by BP and Transocean hours before the blowout, the report states, “That such a simple, yet fundamental safety-critical test could have been so stunningly, blindingly botched in so many ways, by so many people, demonstrates gross negligence.”  The designation of “gross negligence” under the Clean Water Act, is an important distinction because it would mean the company could face $21 billion in civil damages alone—almost quadruple the penalty if “gross negligence” is not confirmed. BP also faces criminal charges.

The case may not go to trial, which is scheduled to begin January 14. Both sides are negotiating to reach a settlement to resolve both civil and criminal violations.  The Justice Department reportedly sought a $25 billion agreement from BP, but now may be willing to settle for $15 billion.

Justice Dept. Accuses BP of “Gross Negligence” over Gulf Oil Spill, AllGov.com, Sept. 7, 2012

Drones: Rules and Reality

In his most comprehensive public comments yet on the US covert drone war, President Barack Obama has laid out the five rules he says the United States uses to target and kill alleged terrorists – including US citizens.  The president has also warned of the need to avoid a ‘slippery slope’ when fighting terrorism, ‘in which you end up bending rules, thinking that the ends always justify the means.’  Obama’s comments were made in an on-camera interview with CNN’s chief White House correspondent Jessica Yellin. Only once before has the president publicly discussed the US covert drone policy, when he spoke briefly about strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas.  Now Obama says there are five rules that need to be followed in covert US drone attacks. In his own words:

1 ’It has to be a target that is authorised by our laws.’

2 ’It has to be a threat that is serious and not speculative.’

3 ’It has to be a situation in which we can’t capture the individual before they move forward on some sort of operational plot against the United States.’

4 ‘We’ve got to make sure that in whatever operations we conduct, we are very careful about avoiding civilian casualties.’

5 ‘That while there is a legal justification for us to try and stop [American citizens] from carrying out plots… they are subject to the protections of the constitution and due process.’

Obama twice referred to what he claims has been ‘misreporting’ by the media of his drones policy.  Apparently responding to recent allegations that his administration prefers to kill rather than capture suspects, the president said that ‘our preference has always been to capture when we can because we can gather intelligence’ but that it’s sometimes ‘very difficult to capture them.’  CNN’s Yellin did not bring up the issue of civilian casualties – despite CNN itself reporting multiple civilian deaths in a suspected Yemen drone strike just hours earlier. However Obama insisted that ‘we are very careful about avoiding civilian casualties, and in fact there are a whole bunch of situations where we will not engage in operations if we think there’s going to be civilian casualties involved.’

Obama also took on the contentious targeted killing of US citizens – the subject of a number of high profile legal cases. Insisting that there was ‘legal justification’ for such killings, the president conceded that ‘as an American citizen, they are subject to the protections of the constitution and due process.’  The US Department of Justice (DoJ) is presently trying to block publication of administration legal opinions which allegedly provided the justification for the killing of US citizen Anwar al Awlaki and others.  In a recent court submission the DoJ insisted that Obama’s January comments on the covert drone war could not be taken as an admission that it was taking place: ‘Plaintiffs speculate that the president must have been speaking about CIA involvement in lethal operations…. This is insufficient to support a claim of official disclosure.’  With Obama now publicly laying out the ground rules for the covert drone war, the DoJ’s position appears further damaged.

The president also discussed in some detail his moral concerns regarding the campaign, admitting that he ‘struggle[s] with issues of war and peace and fighting terrorism.’  Our preference has always been to capture when we can because we can gather intelligence.’  He said that he and his national security team needed to ‘continually ask questions about “Are we doing the right thing? Are we abiding by the rule of law? Are we abiding by due process?”‘  If that failed to happen, the president warned, there was the risk of a ‘slippery slope… in which you end up bending rules, thinking that the ends always justify the means.’  The continuing deaths of civilians – and CIA tactics such as the deliberate targeting of rescuers – have led some to argue that the US is already bending or even breaking those rules.

Chris Woods, Obama’s five rules for covert drone strikes, Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Sept. 6, 2012

CIA Operations in Syria: the leaks

The U.S. is ramping up its presence at Syria’s Turkish border, sending more spies and diplomats to help advise the rebel forces in their mismatched fight against the better armed Syrian regime, and to watch for possible al-Qaida infiltration of rebel ranks.  U.S. officials briefed on the plan said the modest surge in U.S. personnel in the past few weeks — estimated at fewer than a dozen people — has helped improve rebels’ political organizing skills as well as their military organization. The officials spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to discuss the plans publicly.

It’s part of a two-pronged effort by the Obama administration to bolster the rebels militarily without actually contributing weapons to the fight, and politically, to help them stave off internal power challenges by the well-organized and often better-funded hardline Islamic militants who have flowed into the country from Iraq and elsewhere in the Persian Gulf region.  The increased intelligence gathered is intended to help the White House decide whether its current policy of providing only non-lethal aid is enough to keep momentum building in the nearly 18-month revolt against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Spokesmen for the Pentagon and White House declined to comment Thursday.

The diplomats and intelligence operatives from the CIA and other agencies stay outside war-torn Syria and meet with rebel leaders to help them organize their ranks, while also studying who makes up those ranks, how they are armed and whom they answer to, the officials say.  Information is also gathered from Syrian defectors and refugees as well as rebel troops, officials say.  “The model is to keep case officers away from conflict, and you collect through local forces,” said former CIA officer Reuel Gerecht, now a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington-based policy group that focuses on terrorism.

The effort is concentrated on the Turkish border instead of the border with Jordan where many Syrian refugees are fleeing, a U.S. official said, because the traffic between Syria and Turkey is still far greater…. Syrian rebels have complained they are outgunned by the Syrian military and must rely on contributions in money and small arms from Gulf countries, and increasingly from hardline Islamic militants, including Iraq’s branch of al-Qaida.

US sends more spies, diplomats to help organize, train and study Syria’s rebel ranks, Associated Press, Sept. 6, 2012

The Nuclear Proliferation Potential of Laser Enrichment

The following is being released by Physicians for Social Responsibility:  The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is putting U.S. nuclear non-proliferation policy at risk if it decides not to require a formal nuclear proliferation assessment as part of the licensing process for a uranium laser enrichment facility in Wilmington, N.C.  That’s the message from 19 nuclear non-proliferation experts in a letter sent today asking the NRC to fulfill its statutory responsibility to assess proliferation threats related to the technologies it regulates. The letter is available online at http://www.psr.org/nrcassessment.

Global Laser Enrichment, LLC, a joint venture of General Electric (USA), Hitachi (Japan) and Cameco (Canada), has applied for a license to operate a laser enrichment facility in Wilmington, North Carolina, based on Australian SILEX technology. The NRC licensing review schedule sets September 30, 2012 as the date of license issuance.  One of the authors of the letter, Catherine Thomasson, MD, executive director, Physicians for Social Responsibility, said:“It is a widely shared view that laser enrichment could be an undetectable stepping-stone to a clandestine nuclear weapons program. To strengthen U.S. policy and protect the U.S. and the world from nuclear proliferation, the NRC should systematically and thoroughly assess the proliferation risks of any new uranium enrichment technology BEFORE issuing a license allowing their development.”  Dr. Ira Helfand, co-president of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, said: “If the U.S. is going to have moral authority in dealing with proliferation threats in other nations, such as Iran, it must do a better job of taking responsible steps in relation to proliferation threats in our own backyard. In fact, a persuasive case can be made that laser enrichment technology requires even more immediate action, since this is a known danger that can be addressed directly by the NRC under its existing regulatory authority.”

In the letter, the experts note that the NRC has no rules or requirements for a nuclear proliferation assessment as part of this licensing process. The experts are concerned that the Commission is falling short in its duties since a 2008 NRC manual on enrichment technology clearly states that laser enrichment presents “extra proliferation concerns due to the small size and high separation factors.”

Previous letters to the NRC asking for a proliferation assessment, signed by many of today’s signatories, have been rebuffed. NRC is on record stating that the National Environmental Policy Act does not require preparation of a proliferation assessment. However, a March 27, 2012 memorandum from the Congressional Research Service clearly concludes that the NRC has legal authority “to promulgate a regulation” requiring a proliferation assessment as part of the licensing process.  Both the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act of 1978 and the Atomic Energy Act are cited by the experts as statutory basis of the NRC’s responsibility to assess proliferation risks.

Excerpt, 19 Experts: Nuclear Proliferation Risks Of Laser Enrichment Require Fuller NRC Review, PRNewswire, Sept 5, 2012

Laser Weapons

The notion of using energy as a weapon of war dates back at least as far as the ancient Greeks. In the late 1970s and early 1980s the idea was revived when American strategists began thinking in earnest about the technologies they would need to shoot down nuclear-armed ballistic missiles. Among the more fanciful ideas taken up by Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defence Initiative (more commonly known as Star Wars) was the X-ray laser, which aimed to harness the energy of an atomic explosion to generate powerful laser beams….

The main appeal of using an energy beam to shoot things is that it travels at the speed of light, which means, in practice, that it will hit whatever it is aimed at. Trying to shoot down an incoming missile or warhead with a physical projectile, by contrast, is much more difficult. The guidance challenges of trying to “hit a bullet with a bullet” are enormous and are only gradually being solved using complex radars and missiles equipped with expensive sensors. A second attraction of lasers and other energy weapons is that in most cases they cannot run out of ammunition, and can keep firing for as long as they are plugged into a power source. The initial costs may be quite high, but each shot may then cost only a few dollars, compared with a price-tag of $3m or more for the latest missiles used to shoot down aircraft or other missiles.

Yet until very recently, despite the billions of dollars invested in them, military lasers have had a less than glowing record. The most famous (and expensive) experiment was America’s Airborne Laser Test Bed. This programme, which cost the Pentagon about $5 billion over more than 15 years, was an effort to cram a huge laser gun into a Boeing 747. It was intended to shoot down ballistic missiles in their “boost phase”, after their launch but before they had picked up enough speed to leave the atmosphere. The logic was that this is a particularly vulnerable time for a missile, since it is moving relatively slowly and because even minor damage to an accelerating rocket could prove fatal given the enormous stresses it is subjected to.

The airborne laser showed some promise in tests, but the programme was ignominiously zapped in 2011 by the Pentagon, which couldn’t quite work out how it would be able to keep a big, slow-moving jumbo jet airborne around the clock, deep within enemy territory, while waiting for a missile to blast off nearby.  Another laser that came close to being practical enough to use was the Tactical High Energy Laser, also known as the Nautilus laser which was designed to shoot down incoming artillery rounds. It was successfully tested in Israel, where it intercepted incoming rockets and shells, but Israel and America decided to pull the plug on it. One reason that it and the airborne laser were shot down was that military planners fell out of love with chemical lasers. These are very large and not especially portable lasers that are powered by a chemical reaction. As well as being bulky, they require large amounts of toxic and perishable chemicals, which can run out, limiting the number of shots that the laser can fire.

For the moment, the idea of shooting down big nuclear-tipped missiles with lasers has been put on hold, and proponents of laser weapons are aiming instead at more flammable targets. Much of the work in this field is now being done by the American navy….

The big trend now is to try to scale up three other sorts of laser that are far more compact than chemical lasers and can fire away merrily as long as they have power and don’t get too hot. The first sort is the fibre laser, in which the beam is generated within an optical fibre. Because this is already used in industry for welding and cutting, prices are falling, power output is increasing and reliability has been steadily improving. Industrial lasers can be turned into weapons pretty easily, simply by strapping them to a weapons mount.  But they are not very powerful. The Tactical Laser System being developed for the American navy by BAE Systems, a British firm, has an output of just 10kW, enough to run a few household kettles. Even so, it might be useful for frightening off (or burning holes in) small boats that look threatening but wouldn’t warrant a hail of machinegun fire. A slightly bigger version puts out about 33kW of power and fits neatly on existing turrets that house the rotary cannons used to shoot down incoming anti-ship missiles. It could blind optical or heat-seeking sensors on enemy missiles, or puncture small boats.  Plans are afoot to scale military fibre lasers up to about 100kW, which would enable them to shoot down small unmanned aircraft. The technology is relatively mature: a study by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), an American government-research body, (pdf) reckons it would cost around $150m to develop a prototype, and that such lasers could be in service by 2017.

The second technology being worked on is the slab laser… It would be less useful for shooting down targets flying directly at the laser because of “thermal blooming”….The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a think-tank based in Washington, DC, argues that various sorts of solid-state lasers could be in service on American ships by 2018. It thinks that they could also be used to counter cruise missiles flying directly at a ship, using relay mirrors mounted on nearby unmanned aircraft.

To be really suitable for shooting down ballistic missiles, however, a laser with a power level of more than a megawatt would be needed. That would mean using a third technology, called a free-electron laser….

Although lasers have many advantages, in short, they also suffer from quite severe limitations. The main one is their relatively low power output. So much energy is needed to burn through the armour of a tank, for instance, that it is easier simply to fire a rocket at it. Even people do not make particularly good targets for lasers: human bodies can absorb a lot of energy before heating up substantially. (Eyes make a better target, but international conventions ban lasers designed to blind.)

A further limitation is that laser light can be absorbed or scattered by pollution, fog or smoke. Missiles or other targets can also be protected by coating them with mirrors or wrapping them with insulation. In addition, laser beams travel in a straight line, which means they are less useful than conventional artillery when shooting at something on the other side of a hill. It seems likely that laser weapons will have been deployed on ships by the end of the decade. They will have their uses, but they remain rather less fearsome than their science-fiction reputation might suggest.

Excerpts, Energy weapons: Zap, crackle and pop, Economist Technology Quarterely, Sept. 1, 2012, at 12

Canada and its Nuclear Waste

Since the 1960s,  Canada’s nuclear power plants have generated more than two million bundles of highly radioactive used fuel. And they’re all still stored on the sites of the plants that produced them.But the pace of finding a site to store Canada’s most potent radioactive waste permanently is about to pick up.  Twenty Canadian communities have said they’ll consider volunteering to host the storage site.  That list is about to close. The Nuclear Waste Management Organization, whose job it is to find and build the site, will stop taking new names on Sept. 30, 2012.  The impending cut-off is ratcheting up the pressure on the technocrats charged with selecting a site; on the boosters who want to snare the multi-billion-dollar repository for their community; on the activists who harbour deep suspicions about safety; and on the aboriginal leaders who say they’ve been cut out of the process….

A fuel bundle for a Candu nuclear power reactor is about the size of a fireplace log. As of June 30, 2011, Canada had 2,273,873 used fuel bundles stored at its nuclear plants in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick.  Another 85,000 or so have been added since then.  In total, they’d fill about six NHL hockey rinks, stacked up as high as the boards.

The Nuclear Waste Management Organization, formed by the three electric utilities that run nuclear reactors, wants to bury the waste deep underground in caverns excavated from stable rock, where it can lie undisturbed forever.  The depth will probably depend on the site’s geology. A facility proposed to hold less-potent radioactive waste at the Bruce nuclear site near Kincardine will be 680 metres deep. By comparison, the CN Tower is 553 metres tall.  The NWMO is looking for a “willing” community to agree to take the $16-to-$24-billion project. The host community itself will decide how to define “willing.” Candidate communities will have multiple opportunities to withdraw if they get cold feet, the NWMO says.  As it moves through a nine-stage selection process, the NWMO hopes to have narrowed the field to one or two communities by 2015, then spend until about 2020 deciding on a specific site within the chosen community.  After that, it will take three to five years to do an extensive environmental assessment of the site. The proponents will also have to satisfy the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission that their plan makes sense, and obtain a license to construct and operate the facility.  Then, it will take six to 10 years to build. The NWMO doesn’t expect the first bundles to be stored until 2035.  The plan is to seal the waste in sturdy, radiation-proof containers and store it deep in a stable rock formation where — even if the containers were to crack and leak — there’s be no danger of contaminating groundwater used by humans. (Although that’s the current strategy, the NWMO says it would consider a different plan if compelling evidence emerged that another technique is superior.)

Current designs call for surface buildings and facilities to cover about 100 hectares (250 acres), says the NWMO’s Michael Krizanc.  “As well, there may be a need to limit activities in the immediate area surrounding the surface facilities in order to meet regulatory or other requirements.”  Underground, the excavated caverns will cover an area of about 2.5 kilometres by 1.5 kilometres. That’s 375 hectares, or 930 acres.  “The NWMO would need to have rights to the land above the repository,” says Krizanc, but “alternative uses could be considered, with the community, for portions of the land.”….

Meanwhile in Saugeen Shores, a lively battle is under way as members of a citizens group dubbed save Save Our Saugeen Shores, or SOS, fights what they see as an attempt to impose the waste site on their community on the shore of the Great Lakes….SOS also worries that U.S. power plants might be able to force Canada to take U.S. nuclear waste in a Canadian waste site, through terms of the free trade agreement between the countries…..Up in Elliot Lake, contractors Stephen Martin and Marc Brunet can’t wait for the project to start….Elliot Lake has been identified with uranium since its founding, he shrugs: “We’re the uranium capital of the world…. This thing will be a tourist attraction. I think it’s the best thing that could happen.”

John Spears, Nuclear waste seeks a home, Toronto Star, Sept. 1, 2012

Cyberwar: Attacking the Pipelines

The vast U.S. network of natural gas and hazardous liquid pipelines is integral to U.S. energy supply and has vital links to other critical infrastructure. While an efficient and fundamentally safe means of transport, this network is vulnerable to cyber attacks. In particular, cyberinfiltration of supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems could allow successful “hackers” to disrupt pipeline service and cause spills, explosions, or fires—all from remote locations.

In March 2012, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reported ongoing cyber intrusions among U.S. natural gas pipeline operators. These intrusions have heightened congressional concern about cybersecurity in the U.S. pipelines sector. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is authorized by federal statute to promulgate pipeline physical security and cybersecurity regulations, if necessary, but the agency has not issued such regulations. TSA officials assert that security regulations could be counterproductive because they could establish a general standard below the level of security already in place for many pipelines…. While the pipelines sector has many cybersecurity issues in common with other critical infrastructure sectors, it is somewhat distinct in several ways:

• Pipelines in the United States have been the target of several confirmed terrorist plots and attempted physical attacks since September 11, 2001.

• Changes to pipeline computer networks over the past 20 years, more sophisticated hackers, and the emergence of specialized malicious software have made pipeline SCADA operations increasingly vulnerable to cyber attacks.

• There recently has been a coordinated series of cyber intrusions specifically targeting U.S. pipeline computer systems.

• TSA already has statutory authority to issue cybersecurity regulations for pipelines if the agency chooses to do so, but it may not have the resources to develop, implement, and enforce such regulations if they are mandated….

In March 2012, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reported ongoing cyber intrusions among U.S. natural gas pipeline operators. The incidents drew new attention to an Al Qaeda video obtained in 2011 by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reportedly calling for “electronic jihad” against U.S. critical infrastructure.  These cybersecurity events coupled with serious consequences from recent pipeline accidents have heightened congressional concern about cybersecurity measures in the U.S. pipelines sector.

Excerpt, Paul W. Parfomak, Pipeline Cybersecurity: Federal Policy, CRS Report for Congress, Aug. 16, 2012