Tag Archive: Treaty

Iran stole the headlines in 2009 and early 2010 with its campaign to pursue a nuclear weapon, a campaign that projected the regime as a powerful new threat to global peace.  But the amazing display of widespread protests and rioting in the wake of the fraudulent 2009 presidential election showcased the fragility and tenuous hold the regime maintains.  While Iran’s nuclear ambitions dominated foreign policy discussions and America publically stated that the regime was probably a year away from developing a nuclear weapon, by the end of 2010 the talk had stopped.  Was Iran quietly pursuing their nuclear dream or had someone dealt a fatal blow to their nightmarish fantasy?

Iranian Nuclear Sites

Starting in the 1960s, under the Shah, Iran’s first nuclear program made little progress and was abandoned by the ’79 revolution.  With the takeover of its present hardline Islamic regime, Iran began to pursue a nuclear program in the mid-1990s.  Though Iran insisted it was maintaining the conventions of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, in 2002 documents revealed the existence of a clandestine weapons program.  Facing international sanctions, the relatively moderate Khatami regime agreed to suspend the program and accept higher level inspections.  With the rise of Ahmadinejad in 2005, Iran began to once again pursue a nuclear program despite the penalty of sanctions.

The Bush administration’s response was to obtain sanctions against Iran and while Vice-President Cheney pushed for possible air strikes, Bush was persuaded into diplomacy by Condoleeza Rice.  Furthermore, it was increasingly apparent that America simply did not have the resources or will to enter a third war against a Muslim state.  Israel was pushing to attack the Iranian uranium enrichment facility at Natanz with bunker busting bombs in an attempt to strike at the heart of the underground mountain complex.  However, Bush denied their requests and hinted in January 2009, that he had authorized a program to sabotage Iranian nuclear efforts.  Upon becoming President, Obama would accelerate the program that would lead to the creation of Stuxnet, perhaps the most successful computer worm ever used in a covert international action and resulting in the destruction of roughly one-fifth of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges.

American Uranium Centrifuges

At the heart of any attempt to pursue nuclear weapons is the creation of highly enriched uranium, a process that requires thousands of centrifuges to produce enough of the prized material.  Iranian centrifuge technology was based entirely on the Pakistani developed first generation centrifuge P-1.  Pakistan’s corrupt chief nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan had sold the P-1 to Iran, Libya, and North Korea.  However, the Israeli’s had managed to get their hands on a large number of P-1s and set them up at their famous Dimona complex in the Negev desert.  With a test bed of P-1s, Israel and by extension the United States could probe Iran’s nuclear technology for weaknesses.

By early 2008, the German company Siemens was cooperating with the Idaho National Laboratory, the United States’ premier nuclear technology R&D facility.  The CIA had identified Siemens controllers as a key piece of equipment at the Iranian enrichment facility at Natanz.  In April 2009, the U.S State Department even blocked a shipment of Siemens controllers headed to Iran.  The work done at Idaho National Laboratory identified vulnerabilities that would later be exploited by the Stuxnet worm.

The Infamous Natanz Nuclear Facility

Appearing in mid-2009, the Stuxnet worm was identified by the Symantec Corporation as part of a global malware search.  Symantec reported that the worm appeared primarily inside Iran, but also appeared in India, Indonesia, and other countries.  The worm was ingeniously designed and had two main objectives.  The worm would infect a system and then lie dormant checking for specific controllers running a set of processes that typically only exist in a centrifuge plant.  If the conditions were met, the rotors of the centrifuges would be sped up to unstable levels causing them to wobble and destroy themselves.  Another part of the program, the “man in the middle” would report back false normal readings from the sensors to give the illusion that the system was running properly.  One section of code identified in the worm is designed to send a signal to 984 linked machines, the exact number of machines the Iranian’s took out of service from Natanz in late 2009.

Though the worm was not a complete success and did not manage to completely destroy all the centrifuges at the uranium enrichment facility at Natanz, the nature of war is perhaps forever changed by its achievements.  As early as the beginning of 2009, the Israelis felt their only option was an air strike on the underground facility, an action that would no doubt have resulted in a huge escalation of Middle East tensions.  The ability to covertly strike at the heart of your enemy and then have the benefit of plausible deniability is a momentous change in the way war is waged.  The retiring chief of the Israeli spy agency Mossad has stated Iran’s pursuit of a bomb may now be delayed until 2015 and the Israeli minister for strategic affairs acknowledged the timetable had been postponed by the ‘recent troubles’.  Never in history has a worm done so much for world peace, but the dark side of this new battlefield is all too apparent and the threats we face are increasingly clearer.


April 1st in December

No it isn’t April 1st and no that wasn’t an Onion headline you thought you saw, the United States Congress or more specifically the Senate actually managed to pass some legislation… consecutively! Rejoice all ye faithful, Santa (or is it Jesus?) has delivered a Christmas miracle. On the heels of his much maligned ‘tax cut compromise’ bill, Obama managed to push through ratification of the START treaty, the passage of the 9/11 responders healthcare bill, and the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell just before the holidays. Many have hailed these achievements as the heralds of a new era of compromise in American politics, but this flies in the face of the facts.

While Obama’s tax cut compromise was widely viewed on both the right and left as a failure (at least initially), they don’t appreciate the delicate position President Obama found himself in. After receiving a whipping in the mid-term elections, Obama was facing a congressional session in 2011 that was shifted sharply to the right and filled with new and uncompromising faces. Republicans were threatening to filibuster all bills until the full extension of the Bush tax cuts were passed. They argued the filibuster was warranted due to the intense distress that would befall the economy if the cuts weren’t extended. Facing this kind of opposition, Obama got a far better deal than he ever got on healthcare, even if he added significant amounts to the national debt. For a President these days, that doesn’t even make the back pages. Furthermore, it opened the Senate up to new legislation before the end of the ‘lame-duck’ session.

Republican opposition to the START treaty was somewhat baffling and seemed to come from their general unwillingness to work with President Obama on anything. Republicans said they wanted ‘more time’ to consider the treaty. Those few republicans who publically cited specific problems with the treaty were concerned with provisions that would in their mind hamper American efforts at constructing a missile shield. This, despite assurances from the President that this was not the case and also with the knowledge that at worst development of a comprehensive missile shield would lead to Russia pulling out of the treaty. In the meantime, the treaty allows for inspections of Russian nuclear facilities to begin after the previous treaty expired, one year ago. However, a push from Democrats and elder Republican statesmen like General Brent Snowcroft (ret.), led to the treaty’s passage.

If Republican opposition to the START treaty was baffling, their opposition to the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was something beyond mindboggling. Republicans like John McCain, who had long been an advocate for gay rights, had begun to abruptly shift their tunes beginning in 2008 and made vague statements that essentially passed on the decision to the military brass. However, statements from figures like the Joint Chief of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen that it was time for the law’s repeal were ignored in an election season dominated by the tea party. Obama’s passage of the repeal is a historical landmark and will go some way in appeasing his liberal base, alienated by previous compromises on healthcare and tax cuts.

The fact that the 9/11 responders healthcare bill had to be even debated was probably the single biggest sign that something is extremely wrong in American politics today. The bill closed a corporate tax loophole and used the money saved to fund healthcare for those afflicted by serious health problems relating to injuries/illnesses sustained while working at ground zero. Unlike the other bills, the passage of this piece of legislation can be linked to a media push in the last few days at Fox News, MSNBC, and even the Daily Show. A trifecta not likely to be seen again! Jon Stewart began talking about the bill and the ludicrous fact that Republicans were even filibustering it on December 16th. He would even devote almost an entire episode showcasing the issue with actual 9/11 responders arguing for its passage. Rachel Maddow at MSNBC also made a concerted effort to bring the issue to light. However, in a world where nothing is real unless you saw it on TV and ratings are king, it can be argued that no one did more to expose the issue than Sheppard Smith at Fox News. Smith asked Senators “how they could sleep at night” and called out specific Senators such as Tom Coburn who were stalling its passage.

Maddow even praised Smith for his effusive coverage of the issue.

Republicans and Democrats working together to pass laws? MSNBC extending an olive branch to Fox News? Are these signs of the end times or is there really a shift in the tone and hyper-partisanship of American politics? Alas, recent events to the contrary, there doesn’t seem to be much evidence for a shift in anything. Republicans like Laura Ingraham and Dick Morris were quick to condemn Republicans for supporting the bills and even railed against the tax cut compromise as a capitulation. Why, they argued, should Republicans have to compromise after they just took over the House and picked up so many seats in the Senate? And their attitude is shared by many of the new Republican congressmen and the influential tea party. If the passage of these four landmark pieces of legislation is a Christmas miracle, it looks like it’s going to be a long and cold winter.