Bruce Schneier on Stuxnet

Security guru Bruce Schneier has been offering careful observations on the Windows worm Stuxnet since 7 October. Bruce linked the recent NYT article today. Since Bruce did not make note of any glaring glitches in the article, I recommend reading Bruce’s 7 October article, then the NYT article:

This long New York Times article includes some interesting revelations. The article claims that Stuxnet was a joint Israeli-American project, and that its effectiveness was tested on live equipment: “Behind Dimona’s barbed wire, the experts say, Israel has spun nuclear centrifuges virtually identical to Iran’s at Natanz, where Iranian scientists are struggling to enrich uranium.”

(…)

My two previous Stuxnet posts. And an alternate theory: The Chinese did it.

Beyond Gasoline: Congress Targets Iran’s Access to Critical Energy Know-How

Mark Dubowitz is executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and heads its Iran Energy Project. It appears that the US Congress has finally gotten serious about the Iranian nuclear weapons program. Possibly Obama will sign the new bill (?) And possibly the EU will help rather than obstruct (?)

This past week, 507 members of the United States Congress passed the toughest Iran sanctions legislation in history, with only eight members opposing. The bill, which President Obama is expected to sign this week is likely to create serious heartburn for Iranian leaders.

The Comprehensive Iran Sanctions Accountability and Divestment Act, which has now cleared both houses of Congress, lives up to its name. It is an exhaustive sanctions bill that targets the Iranian energy and financial sectors. Most of the legislation’s provisions were telegraphed in advance when the core of the bill, then known as the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act, initially passed the House and Senate in December and January. Representatives added more provisions during the conference committee, including sanctions on Iranian officials involved in serious human rights abuses, and tough measures against international financial institutions that do business with designated Iranian banks and front companies run by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

While the original bills focused only on choking off Iran’s access to refined petroleum, two tweaks that occurred in committee have the potential to inflict even greater pain on the regime’s entire energy business — beyond gasoline.

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Mullahs indubitably fancy a mushroom cloud

Christopher Hitchens offers informed commentary on some of the ways the mullahs conceal their bomb program. Excerpts:

WELL into a January 3 New York Times report on the US administration’s increasingly worried internal discussions about Iran, there came a couple of paragraphs that warranted closer scrutiny: “[Barack] Obama’s top advisers say they no longer believe the key finding of a much disputed National Intelligence Estimate about Iran, published a year before resident George W. Bush left office, which said that Iranian scientists ended all work on designing a nuclear warhead in late 2003.

“After reviewing new documents that have leaked out of Iran and debriefing defectors lured to the West, Mr Obama’s advisers say they believe the work on weapons design is continuing on a smaller scale – the same assessment reached by Britain, France, Germany and Israel.”

(…) I encourage you to view the Iranian documents for yourselves: The Times of London subjected them to considerable expertise before publishing them and is confident of their provenance. I quote here from an excellent summary by the newspaper’s diplomatic correspondent Catherine Philp: “UD3, when used in a neutron initiator, emits a stream of neutrons that ignite the core of a bomb, either weapons-grade uranium or plutonium. The stream of neutrons is released using high explosives to compress a core of solid UD3, creating fusion.”

But this in turn presents a difficulty for the surreptitious bomb-makers, because the testing of such a trigger could not be explained away as a detonation of a conventional high-explosive weapon. In other words, it would allow monitors to detect the traces of UD3. The whole interest of the newly leaked documents lies precisely in the way in which a further level of cheating is therefore so carefully discussed.

A smaller scale of test, according to the regime’s scientists, could be attempted using titanium deuteride instead. By this means, a useful flow of neutrons could still be produced but without the incriminating trace elements. The apparent idea, according to one quoted expert, was “to test the match without burning it”.

(…) How fascinating it is to sit at home and watch while this menace is permitted to reach the point of no return. Almost as gripping, in fact, as following the jaunty itineraries of suicide-murderers as they calmly buy their one-way tickets, in cash, on airplanes bound for our cities. The similarity between these two passive experiences is quite riveting as well: in both instances, we lavish billions of dollars on intelligence agencies that cannot make sense of elementary forensic evidence; that coddle and excuse our enemies and treat us like criminals when we ourselves try to travel; that meanwhile leave us unprotected under open skies; and that run a full-employment bureaucracy from which it seems nobody can be, or ever has been, fired.

Ordinary citizens, extraordinary videos

From the Google Blog:

The images are grainy, often jerky and hard to follow (like most footage shot using hand-held cameras and cellphones), but the message is unmistakable: in the months since the disputed Iranian presidential election in June, the people of Iran have become fluent in the new language of citizen video reporting. What might have seemed an isolated moment immediately following the election, when we watched videos of Iranians marching, battling and even dying on the streets of Tehran, appears to have become an essential part of their struggle.

At YouTube, we have been watching week after week as new videos have appeared on the site within hours of every single protest or similar event reported from Iran in the past six months. Thousands of uploads have brought the fear and tension of these protests to YouTube, inviting millions of views around the world. It is as if the revolts that are taking place could not do so outside the eye of the camera.

Unlike traditional news footage from foreign correspondents (currently prohibited in Iran), these videos are the voice of the people — unfiltered, unedited and with a single, sometimes disturbing point of view. No professional film could capture the one-to-one feeling of watching an ordinary citizen’s images of unrest in his or her own country.

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Iran's Agent in the Obama Administration

The Iran problem is the decisive issue on the American strategic agenda: if Iran obtains nuclear weapons, the strategic balance in Western Asia shifts decisively for the worse. And the Obama administration has just put an apologist for Iran in its top slot.

Be afraid. Be very, very afraid.

Those were David Goldman’s closing paragraphs in this post on the latest Obama foreign policy initiative:

Iran’s chief lobbyist in the US will take over the State Department’s Iran portfolio, reports Ed Lasky at The American Thinker. John Limbert replaces Dennis Ross, who “has moved to the National Security Council and has not been heard from since,” Lasky observes.

It is an alarming appointment, especially after Iran thumbed its nose at the Obama administration’s humiliating efforts to propitiate it. Writes Lasky:

Limbert is not a neutral arbiter; he serves on the advisory board of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC).

What is the National Iranian American Council?

The Council is widely considered the de facto lobby for the Iranian regime in America. It opposes sanctions on Iran, soft-pedals any controversial events in Iran, and counsels “patience” regarding Iran’s stance towards its nuclear program. The NIAC has been at the forefront of  lobbying against continued congressional funding of the Voice of America Persia service, Radio Farad, and grants for Iranian civil society.

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When the cat's away, the mice kill each other

David Goldman:

Today’s “Spengler” essay at Asia Times Online evaluates the crackup of Western and South Asia as the United States builds down its influence in the region. An excerpt:

Iran has blamed the United States for Sunday’s suicide bombing in Sistan-Balochistan province in which six Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps commanders were killed, as well as 37 other people. In an indirect way, the charge is true. No one in Washington these days would dream of blowing up Iranian officials, to be sure. America’s abdication of its position as the world’s sole superpower, though, will make incidents of this sort routine.

No one in the region doubts that America eventually will leave Afghanistan the way it left Iraq – not the way it left Vietnam, because America had won the war on the ground in Vietnam, unlike Afghanistan, where it has won nothing. That will represent a triumph for the elements of Pakistan’s military who supported the Taliban from the beginning.

The hostage-taking at Pakistan’s military headquarters in Rawalpindi on October 10 and the bombing of police headquartersin Peshawar, the capital of North-West Frontier Province, comprise part of the pattern that includes Sunday’s bombings in the Iranian border town of Pisheen: the unifying element is a demonstration of Sunni power against an external enemy, namely Iran, as well as internal enemies.

The region is full of geopolitical mines. To be name some of them:

  • India can’t let the fundamentalist side of the Pakistani military take power without responding.
  • Iran can’t let Pakistan’s Sunnis crush the 20% Shi’ite minority.
  • Israel can’t allow for the possibility of Iran developing nuclear weapons.
  • Saudi Arabia can’t let Iran dominate Iraq.
  • Turkey can’t let Iraq’s Kurds form an independent state.
  • China can’t let Turkey agitate among the 100 million Muslim ethnic Turks within its borders.

I speculate that there may be a relationship between Obama’s weird mode of governance–running everything out of his vest pocket–and the crackup of American power. Obama’s own agenda may be far more aggressive than the institutional inertia of America’s military and national security establishment can tolerate. Perhaps he can trust no-one and for that reason must run everything himself. He may take quite literally the astonishing statement he made at the U.N.: “In an era when our destiny is shared, power is no longer a zero-sum game. No one nation can or should try to dominate another nation. No world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will succeed.”

I conclude,

The president, in this view, consciously sees himself as an outsider who has become the leader of an alien tribe, rather like Eugene O’Neill’s Brutus Jones or Kipling’s Peachy Carnahan – except that Obama leads the world’s only superpower rather than a primitive tribe. He demands personal control over the reins of power, for as an outsider he can trust no one – surely not David Axelrod or Rahm Emanuel. That may be why he has no real cabinet, but rather a set of “policy czars” who reported to him directly, including the special ambassadors George Mitchell, Dennis Ross and Richard Holbrooke.

Perhaps the cat isn’t away, but locked up in the cellar. As a result the mice will slaughter each other. Those who wish to reduce American power may get what they wish for, but they might not like it.

I had written this story last week as a humor column, by reference to DSM-IV. No-one got the joke, so I decided to write it as a straight piece instead.

[From When the cat’s away, the mice kill each other]

Iran: Bruce Bueno de Mesquita updates his TED talk

TED asked Bruce Bueno de Mesquita to explain the Iranian negotiations. Do not miss his thoughtful answers at TED Blog – you will definitely not see any of this in big media. I have excerpted two fragments of his commentary, one on the nuance of sanctions, and then on the media frenzy over Ahmadinejad (who Bruce reckons is roughly #17 in the power ranking):

President Obama has also made reference to sanctions as a possible response to Iran developing their nuclear program further. How effective do you think US sanctions would be in this situation?

I’m going to try to answer this very precisely, because there’s a very important distinction to be made between the threat of sanctions and the enactment of sanctions. The threat of sanctions can be very effective if the Iranian leaders calculate that the cost of the concessions being asked for is smaller for them than the cost that sanctions will impose, and to avoid sanctions they will make concessions in negotiation. And so, threatening sanctions is a very good thing to do at this stage as negotiations get going. On the other hand, if the Iranian leaders calculate that the cost of the threatened sanctions when imposed is smaller than the benefits that they gain when maintaining the policy that we’re trying to change, then they’ll maintain the policy and the sanctions won’t work. And so, generally, except for calculation error, the threat of sanctions can be effective. Once sanctions are implemented, that’s a pretty good indicator that the target of the sanctions has made the calculation that they can bear the cost of the sanctions better than they can bear the consequences of making the concessions, and they won’t work. That’s a subtle distinction, but an important distinction.

It’s also important to distinguish between sanctions that are aimed at the general economy of Iran and sanctions that are leader-specific, that are aimed specifically, for example, at tying up the leadership’s access by the leadership to their money or their funds. Sanctions of the latter type, leader-specific, are more likely to get them to decide up front to make concessions, rather than pay that price. Sanctions of the other type, aimed at the general country, are more likely to either form an opposition to the regime which, if they anticipate, will produce concessions beforehand, or to consolidate support for the regime, sympathy for the regime internally, in which case they would backfire. I’ve not analyzed what the likely consequences are along those lines, but those are the questions from a strategic perspective that one would have to work out. The threat is, in any event, a good thing because the threat forces the Iranians to make these calculations and therefore to reveal, through the negotiations, whether they have concluded that the sanctions really would be costly to them or not.

Sanctions at our end are typically more or less cheap talk because they don’t really cost the United States a lot. It doesn’t cost us a lot not to buy oil from Iran since we currently don’t buy oil from Iran. So, we’re not really giving up much. And tying up their bank accounts doesn’t really cost us much. It costs a little credibility to our banks, but that’s about it. Sanctions are also more effective if they are politically costly to the people imposing the sanctions, because then it’s an announcement that they view the issues as so important that they are willing to pay a price. So far, we have not shown that.

There are also the negotiations around the three Americans who are being held by Iran at the moment …

They’re a bargaining piece on the Iranian side. They’re something that the Iranians can give up to make themselves look nice, thoughtful, considerate. And presumably they are going to try to extract something of value. It’s actually quite funny — Ann Curry of NBC interviewed (Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad, a week or so ago, and brought up these three alleged hikers, and he indicated that Iran was open to releasing them when the United States released several diplomats that we were holding in Iran and Iraq. She informed him that we had released those diplomats in July. He obviously didn’t know that, so he found himself in this awkward position. So now, he’s got to presumably look for something else to get.

That anecdote has an important element to it. The American media spend much too much time paying attention to Ahmadinejad. He is not a big power in Iran. Khomeini and the Supreme Council and the Guardian Council — these people are important. They’re the ones who run the show. He can’t wander very far form what they want and get away with it. Look at after he was installed, and attempted to appoint a cabinet that Khomeini didn’t like.

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Obama's time warp: The U.S. is still the bad guy

Michael Barone:

(…)But some people, including Barack Obama, whose college thesis written in those years has never been made public, seem stuck in a time warp in which the United States is the bad guy.

That, at least, seems to explain Obama’s latest foreign policy moves, starting with Honduras, where the president was ousted by the Supreme Court for violating a constitutional provision that forbids any moves to seek a second term. (Other Latin countries, notably Mexico, have similar constitutional prohibitions.) The White House immediately interpreted this as a military coup and decided that, this time, the United States would come out on the side of “the people.” In fact, we find ourselves siding with a friend of the Iranian mullahs, Hugo Chavez, who swept aside similar constitutional limits in Venezuela, and opposing the elected Congress, courts and civil society of Honduras.

Honduras is not the only or, sad to say, most important example of where this administration has come out on the side of our enemies and against our friends. Israel has been told that it must stop all settlement construction, even the adding of spare rooms for newly arrived infants, while nothing is asked of the Palestinians.

In eastern Europe, Obama acknowledged last spring the importance of placing missile defense installations in our NATO allies Poland and the Czech Republic, then reversed himself this month and canceled the program.

The president of Poland, which has sent brave and effective troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, was given an after-midnight phone call, which he declined to take. The president of Russia, which has declined to aid our efforts to stop the Iranian nuclear weapons programs, expressed his delight — and pointedly made no concessions in return.

(…) The reaction to the most recent moves has been harsh, and from unexpected quarters. Leslie Gelb, former head of the Council on Foreign Relations, and the editorial writers of The Washington Post have expressed astonishment at Obama’s apparent switch on Afghanistan. Edward Lucas, Eastern European correspondent for the Economist, wrote in the Telegraph of London, “The picture emerging from the White House is a disturbing one, of timidity, clumsiness and short-term calculation. Some say he is the weakest president since Jimmy Carter.”

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Sarkozy Snubs Obama on Nuclear Threat Stance

More background on the Sarkozy reaction to Obama

(…) Don’t take it from me. Take it from Sarkozy, who could not conceal his astonishment at Obama’s naivete. On Sept. 24, Obama ostentatiously presided over the Security Council. With 14 heads of state (or government) at the table, with an American president at the chair for the first time ever, with every news camera in the world trained on the meeting, it would garner unprecedented worldwide attention.

Unknown to the world, Obama had in his pocket explosive revelations about an illegal uranium enrichment facility that the Iranians had been hiding near Qom. The French and the British were urging him to use this most dramatic of settings to stun the world with the revelation and to call for immediate action.

Obama refused. Not only did he say nothing about it, but, reports Le Monde, Sarkozy was forced to scrap the Qom section of his speech. Obama held the news until a day later — in Pittsburgh. I’ve got nothing against Pittsburgh (site of the G-20 summit), but a stacked-with-world-leaders Security Council chamber it is not.

Why forgo the opportunity? Because Obama wanted the Security Council meeting to be about his own dream of a nuclear-free world. The president, reports the New York Times citing “White House officials,” did not want to “dilute” his disarmament resolution “by diverting to Iran.”

Diversion? It’s the most serious security issue in the world. A diversion from what? From a worthless U.N. disarmament resolution?

Yes. And from Obama’s star turn as planetary visionary: “The administration told the French,” reports the Wall Street Journal, “that it didn’t want to ‘spoil the image of success’ for Mr. Obama’s debut at the U.N.”

Image? Success? Sarkozy could hardly contain himself. At the council table, with Obama at the chair, he reminded Obama that “we live in a real world, not a virtual world.”

He explained: “President Obama has even said, ‘I dream of a world without [nuclear weapons].’ Yet before our very eyes, two countries are currently doing the exact opposite.”

Sarkozy’s unspoken words? “And yet, sacr? bleu, he’s sitting on Qom!”

At the time, we had no idea what Sarkozy was fuming about. Now we do. Although he could hardly have been surprised by Obama’s fecklessness. After all, just a day earlier in addressing the General Assembly, Obama actually said, “No one nation can . . . dominate another nation.” That adolescent mindlessness was followed with the declaration that “alignments of nations rooted in the cleavages of a long-gone Cold War” in fact “make no sense in an interconnected world.” NATO, our alliances with Japan and South Korea, our umbrella over Taiwan, are senseless? What do our allies think when they hear such nonsense?

Bismarck is said to have said: “There is a providence that protects idiots, drunkards, children, and the United States of America.” Bismarck never saw Obama at the United Nations. Sarkozy did.