As the George Tenet book tour continues, he's sounded one consistent note: I was not a policymaker, he's argued, my job was merely to feed information to the policymakers. In theory, that's true enough. And it should be true. If the intelligence agencies get too involved in the policy business, they can compromise their intelligence gathering and synthesis missions.
But Tenet, let's remember, wasn't always a vigilant guardian of that line between policy and intelligence. In 2000, he jetted to the Middle East to negotiate an agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians. He even got a peace plan named in his honor. It was all pretty odd stuff for a Director of Central Intelligence to be doing, and it renders his current protestations a bit hollow. Principal responsibility for the litany of Iraq mistakes, of course, remains with the real policymakers. But we shouldn't forget that Tenet sometimes wanted to be one of those.
Oliver Stone may need to rush to re-edit JFK to more directly implicate LBJ in the assassination. An article by Erik Hedegaard in the new Rolling Stone centers on the claim by E. Howard Hunt's son, Saint John, that his ailing father revealed on his deathbed that LBJ orchestrated JFK's assassination.
E. Howard scribbled the initials 'LBJ,' standing for Kennedy's ambitious vice president, Lyndon Johnson. Under 'LBJ,' connected by a line, he wrote the name Cord Meyer. Meyer was a CIA agent whose wife had an affair with JFK; later she was murdered, a case that's never been solved. Next his father connected to Meyer's name the name Bill Harvey, another CIA agent; also connected to Meyer's name was the name David Morales, yet another CIA man and a well-known, particularly vicious black-op specialist. And then his father connected to Morales' name, with a line, the framed words 'French Gunman Grassy Knoll.'
Mysteriously, Hunt declined to provide these details in his autobiography. Undeterred, Rolling Stone has opened a Pandora's Box with these "revelations" and opened its blog for discussion, which has promptly devolved into a forum for the 9/11 "truth" movement. This comment by one "Debamboozler" gives you some of the flavor of the debate:
‘9/11′ was unquestionably an INSIDE JOB carried out by the CIA and Mossad and was the latest in a long and sordid history of MANUFACTURED FALSE FLAG OPERATIONS designed to obliterate our liberties and usher in the plutocratic elites’ long sought after tyrannical and despotic New World Order.
These conspiracy-minded folks see JFK's assasination and the leveling of the Twin Towers as following the same pattern: Both preceded and facilitated American wars. Perhaps Oliver Stone should take another crack at World Trade Center, his film about 9/11.
Mark Bowden, who we interviewed for last week's Seven Questions, has a fascinating cover story (sub req'd) in the latest Atlantic Monthly giving the inside story of how the U.S. military caught al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, as told by the interrogators of a dedicated unit set up by Special Operations Command in 2005.
The title of Bowden's article, "The Ploy," refers to the gambit used by interrogator "Doc," to get Abu Haydr, a high-ranking al Qaeda affiliate captured in April 2006, to give up information that eventually led to Zarqawi's whereabouts:
We both know what I want,” Doc said. “You have information you could trade. It is your only source of leverage right now. You don’t want to go to Abu Ghraib, and I can help you, but you have to give me something in trade. A guy as smart as you—you are the type of Sunni we can use to shape the future of Iraq.” If Abu Haydr would betray his organization, Doc implied, the Americans would make him a very big man indeed.
By playing on Abu Haydr's vanity and creating the impression that he, too, was secretly eager to help save Iraq from Shiite depredations, Doc got his captive to spill the beans, bit by bit. By June, Abu Haydr was singing like a canary:
He explained that Rahman, a figure well-known to the Task Force, met regularly with Zarqawi. He said that whenever they met, Rahman observed a security ritual that involved changing cars a number of times. Only when he got into a small blue car, Abu Haydr said, would he be taken directly to Zarqawi.
And that was the key piece of information that led to the U.S. air strikes that killed the al Qaeda leader on June 7, 2006. It's clear from the article that the U.S. military is eager to show that it now has clean hands; no torture, quasi torture, or abuse was used to get Zarqawi (just the threat of sending prisoners to Abu Ghraib!). Also clear: Icing Zarqawi didn't ultimately change much in Iraq.
Buried in Saturday's New York Times profile of Rudy Giuliani, Republican candidate for president and former mayor of New York City, was this embarrassing goof:
At a house party in New Hampshire, Mr. Giuliani suggested that it was unclear which was farther along, Iran or North Korea, in the development of a nuclear weapons program.
For the record, North Korea tested a nuclear device on October 9, 2006, while the Iranians have yet to do so. The U.S. intelligence community believes Iran could have a nuclear weapon as early as 2010, but most likely in the time frame of 2012-2015.
I think it's time for Rudy to get new briefers. Alternatively, he could just read the newspaper every once in a while—lots of important information in there.
Joseph Cirincione, author of the brand-new book Bomb Scare: The History and Future of Nuclear Weapons and director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Center for American Progress, has penned a hard-hitting new web exclusive for ForeignPolicy.com:
What once appeared the exception now seems the rule. Officials in U.S. President George W. Bush’s administration are gingerly walking back from claims that North Korea was secretly building a factory to enrich uranium for dozens of atomic bombs. The intelligence, officials now say, was not as solid as they originally trumpeted. It does not seem that the North Korean program is as large or as advanced as claimed or that the country’s leaders are as set on building weapons as officials depicted.
If this sounds familiar, it should. The original claims came during the same period officials were hyping stories of Iraq’s weapons. Once again, the claims involve aluminum tubes. Once again, there was cherry-picking and exaggeration of intelligence. Once again, the policy shaped the intelligence, with enormous national security costs. The story of Iraq is well known; that unnecessary war has cost thousands of lives, billions of dollars, and an immeasurable loss of legitimacy. This time, the administration’s decision to tear up a successful agreement—using a dubious intelligence “finding” as an excuse—propelled the tiny, isolated country to subsequently build and test nuclear weapons, threatening to trigger a new wave of proliferation.
After Google recently updated its satellite images of parts of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, much of the region still looked blotchy — the kind of low resolution that persists in coverage of, say, upstate New York. But several small squares (they stand out as off-color patches from 680 miles up) suddenly became as detailed as the images of Manhattan. These sectors happen to be precisely where the US government has been hunting for bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Turns out, Google gets its images from many of the same satellite companies — DigitalGlobe, TerraMetrics, and others-that provide reconnaissance to US intelligence agencies. And when the CIA requests close-ups of the area around Peshawar in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province, Google Earth reaps the benefits (although usually six to 18 months later).
Of course, any shots of an emaciated, 6'6" man dressed in white and sporting a long beard will be long out of date. But it's fun to look around one of the wildest places on Earth nonetheless.
Yeah, that Curveball. The alcoholic Iraqi defector who swore there were mobile biological weapons labs in Iraq. The one whose faulty information was the centerpiece of Colin Powell's presentation on Iraq to the United Nations in 2003. ABC News has gotten its hands on the first known photo of him.
And I can't help but think: Curveball and Bob from La Bamba, the movie I spent most of 1987 watching, separated at birth?
Bob from La Bamba
AN Iranian general who defected to the West last month had been spying on Iran since 2003 when he was recruited on an overseas business trip, according to Iranian sources.
This weekend Brigadier General Ali Reza Asgari, 63, the former deputy defence minister, is understood to be undergoing debriefing at a Nato base in Germany after he escaped from Iran, followed by his family.
A daring getaway via Damascus was organised by western intelligence agencies after it became clear that his cover was about to be blown. Iran’s notorious secret service, the Vavak, is believed to have suspected that he was a high-level mole.
The Financial Times, however, contradicts this story:
A former senior Iranian official added on Sunday to the mystery over Ali-Reza Asgari, the former deputy defence minister who disappeared in Turkey last month, by saying his family was still in Tehran.
This contradicted intelligence leaks to western and Israeli media outlets that Mr Asgari had defected, taking his family and a raft of Iran’s security secrets with him.
But the former official, a friend of Mr Asgari, told the FT there was no consensus in Tehran’s political circles over what had happened to Mr Asgari, after Iran’s police chief Esmail Ahmadi-Moghaddam said last week he had probably been “abducted by western intelligence services”.
This isn't the first time different media outlets have contradicted each other over this story. The Washington Post reported on Thursday, March 8, that Asgari was "cooperating with Western intelligence agencies ... according to a senior U.S. official." But Fox News flatly contradicted the story later that day, citing "a senior U.S. official" as the source.
Whatever the truth of the story, you can be sure that somebody is spreading disinformation to the media about Asgari's fate. It should be relatively easy to confirm whether his family is in Tehran, however, no?
Pan-Arab daily newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat is reporting that, according to "an Iranian military source," a former deputy defense minister of Iran who recently disappeared in Turkey is now in "one of the northern states of Europe." The article claims that the retired general, Ali Reza al-Asghari, is being questioned before being transferred to the United States. Asghari is apparently deeply knowledgeable about Iran's infamous Revolutionary Guards and remains a strategy and logistics consultant for the Iranian defense ministry, so his defection would be a real coup for Western intelligence services.
Asghari is one of five Iranians reportedly wanted by Interpol for their alleged role in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish Cultural Center in Argentina, so perhaps he was snatched in Turkey and has cut a deal in exchange for leniency. But that's just speculation on my part. (It appears to be a different guy. -BH)
(For those of you who don't read Arabic, you can read Haaretz's summary of the al-Sharq al-Awsat article here.)
The following are excerpts from reports on military plans of the Taliban that were aired on Al Jazeera TV on February 21 and 22, 2007:
Reporter: The fighters of the Afghani Taliban movement are in a real race against time. The spring offensive - for which the movement is preparing by means of training, surveillance, and reconnaissance, and with which the NATO forces threatened [the Taliban] – is imminent, according to the movement's leaders. This is a diligent movement, which operates at night more than by day, away from any surveillance or reconnaissance. The movement's leaders said that the attack would include all of Afghanistan, but that it would focus on the south, in order to take control of entire cities.
Taliban Military Commander Mullah Dadallah (translated into Arabic): There are 6,000 Taliban mujahideen ready to fight in the spring campaign, and the number will rise to 10,000. The greater the number of Jewish and Christian forces fighting us, the more this will encourage the people to join us.
Reporter: The Taliban says it has obtained a new anti-aircraft weapon, but it did not go into details. As proof, it presented Al Jazeera with footage in which one sees what they say is an American military helicopter burning, after it was downed in Kandahar about two months ago. [...]
Reporter: In a noteworthy development, the Afghani Taliban movement presented what it called its "new weapon," which will confront NATO's lethal weapons. This is the weapon of suicide operations. Taliban military commander [Mullah] Dadallah used this gathering to recruit over 500 suicide bombers for the coming spring campaign, which he promised would be bloody. He stressed that the Taliban is capable of multiplying their numbers.
View the entire transcript.
The Washington Post has a rather credulous follow-up story on the shooting of a Russian dissident in Washington last week. The story thus far: Russian gadfly Paul Joyal was shot outside his suburban home last week, just days after giving an interview criticizing Putin. The Post's piece today tries its best to tamp down speculation:
The noted expert in Russian intelligence who was shot outside his house in Prince George's County last week—a crime that raised the possibility of international intrigue in the Washington suburbs—also was robbed of his wallet and briefcase, law enforcement sources said yesterday. That property was taken from Paul Joyal supports the theory that he was shot during a robbery rather than in retaliation for public criticism of the Kremlin, according to two sources who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.
Now, I'm not normally inclined to conspiracy theories but, really, how hard would it be to grab the guy's briefcase and wallet and try to make the hit look like a run-of-the-mill robbery? Given the fallout from the polonium case, somebody behind the killings might well have decided that a bit more subtlety was in order this time.
We've all wasted hours playing with Google Earth and wondered what amazing things it might be useful for. Iraqi insurgents, however, have put the technology to a more sinister purpose.
British troops operating in southern Iraq have found printouts from Google Earth showing their military bases during raids on insurgent hideouts. The information (including extremely precise latitude and longitude values) could be used to target mortar attacks far more accurately than would be possible otherwise. Insurgents could dial in coordinates for specific points within bases, for instance. Today's Tuesday Map, a supposedly abandoned British base in Basra that took less than 15 minutes to find on Google Earth, is just another example of the unintended consequences of the march of technology.
Yesterday, President Putin used a wide-ranging and lengthy press conference to forcefully rebut growing criticism of his country's energy policies. Supply cut-offs and price increases, he argued, aren't an attempt to batter states in the near-abroad into toeing Russia's line; they're merely the rational application of market principles. It's actually a little more complicated than that, writes French energy banker Jérôme Guillet in a new Web exclusive for FP, but the big picture is that Europeans are unfairly blaming Putin for their own mistakes.
Energy isn't the only area in which Russia is causing concern. The Bond-esque intrigue surrounding the poisoning of ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko got a little deeper this week when word leaked that the British government might point the finger at a former KGB officer. But during the press conference, Putin dismissed concerns about possible Russian state involvement in the affair:
He was not privy to any secrets, he had been convicted in the Russian Federation for abuse of office, specifically, for beating people when arresting them when he was a security man and for stealing explosives," Mr Putin said. "All the negative things he could have said about his previous employer, he had already said a long time ago."
Which makes our Thursday Video this week all the more intriguing. In it, Litvinenko makes an appearance from beyond the grave—as a shooting target for Russian special forces:
If he was so insignificant, why did someone feel strongly enough to use his face for target practice?
Maybe the war on terrorism is just provoking nostalgia for the clear-cut lines of the Cold War. But, with journalists turning up dead in Moscow, KGB hands running everything, and Red Army surplus missiles making their way to a certain U.S. adversary, it certainly seems like a resurgent Russia is getting back its old swagger:
(Video hat tip: Russia Blog)
Most of the shining objects that our people see in Iran's airspace are American spying equipment used to spy on Iran's nuclear and military facilities."
That was Iranian Intelligence Minister Ali Yunesi commenting on the prevelance of U.S. unmanned spy drones operating over his country in 2005. Back then, the aircraft were reportedly so prevalent that they stirred up a frenzy of sightings. Yunesi then threatened to shoot down the drones. "If any of the bright objects come close, they will definitely meet our fire and will be shot down," he said at the time.
Now, at least one Iranian official is claiming that Iran has made good on that threat. Iran's Fars News Agency, in an unconfirmed report that quotes an Iranian lawmaker, says the country has shot down an unmanned American spy plane in recent days.
Whether or not the report is true, it is disconcerting. The new head of CENTCOM, Admiral Fallon, is said to be a strategic bombing guru. And the Pentagon is sending a second U.S. carrier battle group to the region in order to counter, in Defense Secretary Robert Gates's words, the Iranian perception that "we are tied down in Iraq." That escalation will no doubt mean increased air operations in the region. And if recent comments coming out of the White House are any indication, intelligence operations over Iran, whether manned or unmanned, are likely to be a part of that.
That should make any student of history a little nervous. Does anyone remember 1964, when another electronic intelligence gathering mission went bad? That one, in the Gulf of Tonkin, helped justify the escalation of the Vietnam War. At least one U.S. Congressman worries that the Pentagon may be preparting to stage a similar incident with Iran. That scenario seems a little far-fetched. But with an escalation of forces in the region, we should hope that history doesn't repeat itself.
Canadian quarters and nickels are legendary for finding their way into American pockets. Even thousands of miles away from the northern border, they sneak their way into the vending machines and laundry machines of unsuspecting Yankees.
The coins may be doing more than simply getting in the way, however. It turns out they could be tracking you:
In a U.S. government warning high on the creepiness scale, the Defense Department cautioned its American contractors over what it described as a new espionage threat: Canadian coins with tiny radio frequency transmitters hidden inside.
The government said the mysterious coins were found planted on U.S. contractors with classified security clearances on at least three separate occasions between October 2005 and January 2006 as the contractors traveled through Canada.
It's unlikely the Canadians were the ones doing the listening, as U.S. intelligence agencies already work extremely closely with them. Instead, other governments may have been trying to exploit the large size and unfamiliar weight (to Americans) of the coins to hide the tracking devices.
Worse, the coin trick is just one of many warned about in the report:
The government's 29-page report was filled with other espionage warnings. It described unrelated hacker attacks, eavesdropping with miniature pen recorders and the case of a female foreign spy who seduced her American boyfriend to steal his computer passwords.
In another case, a film processing company called the FBI after it developed pictures for a contractor that contained classified images of U.S. satellites and their blueprints. The photo was taken from an adjoining office window.
Can you keep a secret? Maybe you shouldn't. At least, that's what the creators of WikiLeaks.org think. Modeled after Wikipedia, the new website is a place for people to post uncensored documents and memos that can provide information about questionable behavior in governments or corporations. Primarily targeted at oppressive regimes in the Asia, the Middle East, former Soviet Union states, and sub-Saharan Africa, it can also be used by whistleblowers in the West who are afraid of the repercussions of speaking out publicly. The forces behind the website, ironically, want to keep their identities secret. But they are said to be political activists and open-source software engineers who don't necessarily believe that Father Knows Best. According to The New Scientist, people who post will be able to protect their identities too:
Normally an email or a document posted to a website can be traced back to its source because each data packet carries the IP address of the last server that it passed through. To prevent this, WikiLeaks will exploit an anonymising protocol known as The Onion Router (Tor), which routes data through a network of servers that use cryptography to hide the path that the packets took.
Wikileaks is expected to launch sometime next month.
Chants: Oh Muslim, arise, there is a black-eyed virgin in Paradise.
Oh Muslim, arise, there is a black-eyed virgin in Paradise.
We will return to Kabul – neither Bush nor Powell – oh heresy, don't even try, there is a black-eyed virgin in Paradise.
Oh heresy, don't even try, there is a black-eyed virgin in Paradise.
Regards to the Taliban, oh blessings of the All-Merciful, the Sunna after the Koran, there is a black-eyed virgin in Paradise.
The Sunna after the Koran, there is a black-eyed virgin in Paradise.
Regards to the Taliban, oh blessings of the All-Merciful, the Sunna after the Koran, there is a black-eyed virgin in Paradise.
The Sunna after the Koran, there is a black-eyed virgin in Paradise.
You are sufficient, oh Bin Laden, don't sign a truce, you are sufficient, oh Bin Laden, there is a black-eyed virgin in Paradise.
You are sufficient, oh Bin Laden, there is a black-eyed virgin in Paradise.
The rule of Jihad today does not require much thought, oh Muslim, arise, there is a black-eyed virgin in Paradise.
Oh Muslim, arise, there is a black-eyed virgin in Paradise.
The plane flew above the clouds, and their tower was destroyed in two strikes.
At long last, Condi will finally have a #2. John D. Negroponte, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., is leaving his current post as Director of National Intelligence to return to the State Department, this time as Deputy Secretary of State. President Bush is expected to formally announce the nomination tomorrow. There's been much ado about Negroponte's decision to step down from a Cabinet-level position as the nation's first intelligence czar to a job that's technically lower-ranking.
Frankly, that debate misses the point entirely. The real intrigue is: Why didn't the Bush administration fill the State Department slot sooner? That post has been empty since the summer. Meanwhile, diplomats have been fleeing Foggy Bottom left and right. Condoleeza Rice could sure use the help. Everywhere around her, there are vacant seats. She's been without a #2 at the State Department for months. She has no Counselor. She has no Ambassador to the UN. She has no Under Secretary for economic, business and agricultural affairs. She'll be losing her ambassador in Iraq. And rumor has it, she'll be without someone at USAID too. These are all very high-ranking positions, and leaving them empty seems irresponsible to say the least, especially when Bush's foreign policy has been increasingly under attack. In fact, the only one who seems to be keeping things running these days is Nick Burns.
Here's a little background. Last July, Robert Zoellick stepped down to return to the private sector. In early November, Josette Sheeran Shiner, then the Under Secretary for Economic, Business and Agricultural Affairs, left Foggy Bottom to become the head of the UN's World Food Program. A couple weeks after that, Condi's trusted counselor, Philip Zelikow, said he was leaving to go back to teaching. A week later, John Bolton announced he would not be considered for renomination as ambassador to the U.N. And then, in a rumor that went almost unnoticed last month when everyone was busy stuffing themselves with turkey, Zalmay Khalilzad was said to be stepping down as ambassador to Iraq. And sources tell FP that the unpopular USAID head and Director of Foreign Assistance Randy Tobias will also likely leave in the next few months.
Chances are, there will be some more high-level job-switching in the administration. Already, Bush officials have said that Retired Vice Admiral Mike McConnell will take Negroponte's intelligence gig. Khalilzad will probably become representative to the U.N., since he's widely respected and deserves a cushier post after serving time in Kabul and Baghdad. Ryan Crocker, ambassador to Pakistan, may become ambassador to Iraq. But that still leaves some crucial posts empty. The president would do well to act quickly to fill them, as he has only has two more years to redeem his foreign policy track record.
At the stroke of midnight on December 31, 2006, hundreds of millions of secret U.S. government documents will be instantly declassified.
Secret documents 25 years old or older will lose their classified status without so much as the stroke of a pen, unless agencies have sought exemptions on the ground that the material remains secret.
Historians say the deadline, created in the Clinton administration but enforced, to the surprise of some scholars, by the secrecy-prone Bush administration, has had huge effects on public access, despite the large numbers of intelligence documents that have been exempted.
And every year from now on, millions of additional documents will be automatically declassified as they reach the 25-year limit, reversing the traditional practice of releasing just what scholars request.
Theoretically, this is is great news. Imagine all the fascinating things we'll learn about the U.S. government!
But Dr. Bill Burr, Senior Analyst at George Washington University's National Security Archive project, told FP not to get our hopes up in the near term. Burr's organization does a great job of digging through declassified material and coming out with gems. They're also the ones who helped break the secret reclassification program at the National Archives earlier this year. Burr said it will probably take the resource-strapped National Archives years to sift through all the new material—we're talking millions and millions of pages of dry government prose here. So, although the declassification is a good thing, don't expect to learn the truth behind Area 51 just yet.
Today marks the 89th anniversary of the establishment of the Soviet secret police. "Day of the Chekist" is originally a Soviet holiday designated by Joseph Stalin and still celebrated by the KGB's successor, the Russian Federation's Federal Security Services (FSB). Also on this day in 1981, the Soviets created (sub. req'd.) the Vymple, a covert intelligence unit that specialized in liquidating people abroad.
This year's celebrations are (hopefully) tamer. Yesterday, members of the Movement for Human Rights staged a protest in front of the FSB building in Moscow, calling on the agency to uphold Russian law. Today the FSB website contains a message congratulating visitors on the holiday. But considering the bad publicity surrounding potential Kremlin involvement in the death of Putin critic Alexander Litvinenko, I doubt Russia's spooks are in a mood to celebrate.
Dear Representative Reyes:
Congratulations on your new position as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. With the sorry state of our intelligence community and the continued specter of transnational terrorism (not to mention organized crime, narco-trafficking and nuclear proliferation), yours is an important position and I’m sure you’re enthusiastic about the job. However, I couldn’t help but be more than a little concerned this weekend when I read that you, like so many other U.S. officials involved in counterterrorism, do not know the religious layout of the greater Middle East. Knowing the difference between Sunnis, Shiites and Arab nationalists will not simply make your job easier, it will make it possible. Because I’m sure you’re busy, I took the liberty of writing up a primer for you:
There's so much going on in Dafna Linzer's WaPo piece today about U.S. intel on Iran, it's hard to know where to start. First, there's the incredible admission by the State Dept. that a junior foreign service officer was tasked with finding Iranians the United States can slap with sanctions for having connections to the country's nuclear program.
The junior officer's intel-gathering method: Googling "Iran and nuclear" and then passing on the names that come up. Then there's the territorial cat-fighting going on between State and the CIA, which refuses to check the Googled names against their own intel because they don't want to give up their trade secrets.
That left the State Dept. in the unenviable position of recommending to the U.N. Security Council on Friday that 12 Iranians found to have some tenuous connection to the nuclear program (again, because they came up in a Google search) be hit with sanctions. The CIA wouldn't help, but someone told Linzer that:
None of the 12 Iranians that the State Department eventually singled out for potential bans on international travel and business dealings is believed by the CIA to be directly connected to Iran's most suspicious nuclear activities.
Good work, everyone. There's nothing that says "intelligence reform" less than relying on Google searches and refusing to share information between organizations. The Google thing really cracks me up. If the folks at State trust Google so much, perhaps they should check out what a search for "failure" gets them.
As Blake noted in this morning's brief, former Russian Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar is convinced that he was poisoned while in Dublin in late November. He's equally convinced that Russian authorities aren't behind it, a conclusion in stark contrast to that of deceased spy Alexander Litvinenko, who accused Putin of murder from his deathbed. Gaidar (a contributing editor to FP) gives his poisoning tell-all to the FT today, and he has a theory as to who is behind his attempted murder:
After the death of Alexander Litvinenko on November 23 in London, another violent death of a famous Russian on the following day is the last thing that the Russian authorities would want....Most likely that means that some obvious or hidden adversaries of the Russian authorities stand behind the scenes of this event, those who are interested in further radical deterioration of relations between Russia and the west.
With news that traces of the radioactive isotope that killed former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, polonium-210, are being found all over London, there's a lot of curiousity about just how hard it is to get your hands on the stuff. The Times of London recently reported that polonium is so difficult to come by that the killer must have been "well resourced and possibly state-sponsored."
Or the killer could have had an Internet connection. It turns out polonium-210 is available online for just $69 plus shipping and handling. United Nuclear Scientific Equipment & Supplies out of New Mexico, which describes itself as putting "the fun back into science" and "not like shopping at K-Mart," sells the stuff. Still, they don't do international orders and stress that the samples they sell are so small that they are completely harmless and, indeed, invisible to the naked eye. Because of all the adverse media attention on polonium-210 in recent days, United Nuclear has posted the following on their isotopes page:
You would need about 15,000 of our Polonium-210 needle sources at a total cost of about $1 million - to have a toxic amount…
If that is a tad out of your range for your enemies list, United Nuclear wants to make sure you have options:
[T]here are dozens of other far more toxic materials, such as Ricin and Abrin, both of which can easily be made, and are also undetectable as a poison and untraceable. Although it obviously works, Polonium-210 is a poor choice for a poison. Another point to keep in mind is that an order for 15,000 sources would look a tad suspicious, considering we sell about 1 or 2 sources every 3 months.
Still, keep them in mind for holiday gifts. You could just tell everyone on your list that you got them polonium-210 samples. After all, they won't be able to see them. It's kind of a George Constanza thing to do. Skip the donation to the Human Fund this year and just get everyone "invisible" isotopes.
As British investigators try to unravel the mystery of Alexander Litvinenko's radioactive death in London, some fingers are pointing at the Russian intelligence services. To shed some light on that murky world, FP spoke with Russian journalist and scholar Yevgenia Albats, who had some chilling thoughts on a secret service that may be off the rails:
At least in Soviet times it was Stalin or [Minister of Foreign Affairs Vyacheslav] Molotov who gave the order for assassinations abroad. In [Premier Leonid] Brezhnev's time, there was a politburo meeting and the head of intelligence gave the order to kill Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov in London back in 1978. At least there was a clear line of authority. Now, I believe we can safely say that there is no clear line of authority in the current secret services. They are out of hand, which is very dangerous.
Check out the whole interview.
The death of Alexander Litvinenko really is becoming something out of a John le Carré novel. The former KGB agent was a known associate of Boris Berezovsky, the former oligarch living in Britain known to be less than friendly to Putin's Kremlin. Berezovsky visited Litvinenko in the hospital before he died and accused Putin of being behind the poisoning of his friend. Yesterday, traces of the radioactive substance that killed Litvinenko, Polonium 201, were found at Berezovsky's office in London, a location Litvinenko visited the day he was allegedly poisoned. So, did Litvinenko carry the traces with him, having been poisoned earlier? Or, as some are suggesting, would the Kremlin not bother offing Litvinenko because he wasn't worth it? Here's Tom Parfitt on the Guardian newsblog:
The people who are feeding us th[e] line [about Putin's involvement] are Litvinenko's cronies: Boris Berezovsky, the businessman who lives in self-imposed exile in London, and Akhmed Zakayev, the Chechen separatist leader.
Mr Berezovsky, as we all know, is Machiavelli's Prince in living form, a notorious manipulator who once pulled the strings at the Kremlin. Mr Zakayev is the Chechen rebel envoy who saw no contradiction in serving in the government in exile headed by terrorist mastermind, Shamil Basayev, the architect of the Beslan school siege.
Slightly compromised people, no?
All intrigue, no answers.
Reading CNN's website this morning, I came across an article about how "unseasonably warm" weather in Siberia is disrupting bears' hibernation cycles. It was in the "Offbeat News" section, which contains such headlines as "Suit: Burger King served pot burgers to cops" and "Viking ship to ply North Sea; no invasion planned." So, apparently the lesser-seen effects of global warming are just another quirky story to give you a morning chuckle. I don't know what's more disturbing: This or when the U.S. Geological Survey got excited about the hydrocarbons that will become available as the artic ice caps melt.
In other signs of the decline of civilization: Answers written in "text-speak" by New Zealand's high school students taking this year's national exams will be treated as if they were written in proper English. Isn't that gr8? Lol!
Iran's Al-Kawthar TV aired a TV drama earlier this month called Remember Your Dreams, or Guantanamo, which purports to show how photos of abuse at Abu Ghraib prison and Guantanamo were made public by a fictional Gitmo detainee. The storyline, as best as I can understand it, goes a little something like this:
Innocent man is detained at Gitmo. Innocent man (a doctor with Doctors Without Borders, no less) is horrifically abused by maniacal U.S. Army major. Sample exchange:
Mustafa Nasser [in Arabic]: "I have the right to an attorney, or at least treat me according to the Geneva Convention."
Major Rosenthal: "The Geneva Convention is implemented on prisoners of war, and not on dirty terrorists like yourself, who are responsible for the destruction of the Twin Towers."
Detainee is pitied by kindly U.S. female translator, but she cannot save him from the brutality of the major.
Doctor: [Standing over detainee] After going on his food strike, he became very weak, so he fell on the back of his head and broke his skull....What about we watch the baseball game tonight?"
Major Rosenthal: "Not on that TV set in your room."
So far, lots of liberties taken, but they're playing to their audience, right? Well, the action quickly goes from the realm of sadly possible to the realm of "what the..?". The rest of the plot is a tad hard to follow from MEMRI's translation of selected scenes, but it seems to go something like this: Kindly U.S. translator smuggles abuse photos out of Gitmo, Army major (who is apparently a corporate security kingpin of some kind whose online password is "satan") engages in a shootout in Beirut with the detainee (who has since been released), there's a random Lord of the Rings reference, and someone rapes an Islamic woman for no reason. Confused? Me, too. Have a look for yourself.
The U.S. intelligence community, perhaps inspired by fans of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, has joined the Wiki craze, using Wikipedia's open-source software to create an online data-sharing system: Intellipedia. The system, which was launched in April, provides a forum for analysts from all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies to discuss and share information about global events. Officials hope that it will encourage innovative thinking and help avoid intelligence failures like those leading up to the war in Iraq. Intellipedia may even produce future National Intelligence Estimates. Its administrators have addressed security concerns by making the system private, imposing the same classification levels that exist in the offline world, and barring some information gathered from satellites and human sources. But still, something about an intel system developed with open-source software seems—how do I put this gently—extremely vulnerable to hacking.
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