Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Vacuum After Qaddafi

February 27, 2011

CAIRO — Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi sounded a resonant warning, exhorting his dwindling supporters toward civil war.
“At the appropriate time, we will open the arms depots so all Libyans and tribes will be armed,” he shouted into a handheld microphone at dusk Friday, “so that Libya turns red with fire!”
That is indeed the fear of those watching the carnage in Libya, not least because Colonel Qaddafi spent the last 40 years hollowing out every single institution that might challenge his authority. Unlike neighboring Egypt and Tunisia, Libya lacks the steadying hand of a military to buttress a collapsing government. It has no Parliament, no trade unions, no political parties, no civil society, no nongovernmental agencies. Its only strong ministry is the state oil company. The fact that some experts think the next government might be built atop the oil ministry underscores the paucity of options.
The worst-case scenario should the rebellion topple him, and one that concerns American counterterrorism officials, is that of Afghanistan or Somalia — a failed state where Al Qaeda or other radical groups could exploit the chaos and operate with impunity.
But there are others who could step into any vacuum, including Libya’s powerful tribes or a pluralist coalition of opposition forces that have secured the east of the country and are tightening their vise near the capital.
Optimists hope that the opposition’s resolve persists; pessimists worry that unity will last only until Colonel Qaddafi is gone, and that a bloody witch hunt will ensue afterward.
“It is going to be a political vacuum,” said Lisa Anderson, the president of the American University in Cairo and a Libya expert, suggesting that chances are high for a violent period of score-settling. “I don’t think it is likely that people will want to put down their weapons and go back to being bureaucrats.”
There is a short list of Libyan institutions, but each has limits. None of the tribes enjoy national reach, and Colonel Qaddafi deliberately set one against the other, dredging up century-old rivalries even in his latest speeches.
There are a few respected but elderly members of the original 12-member Revolutionary Command Council who joined Colonel Qaddafi in unseating the king in 1969. Some domestic and exiled intellectuals hope that Libya can resurrect the pluralistic society envisioned by the 1951 Constitution, though without a monarch.
And there is the wild card, such as Colonel Qaddafi’s feat at age 27 as a junior officer when he engineered a bloodless coup against a feeble monarchy.
The greatest fear — and one on which experts differ — is that Al Qaeda or Libya’s own Islamist groups, which withstood fierce repression and may have the best organizational skills among the opposition, could gain power.
“We’ve been concerned from the start of the unrest that A.Q. and its affiliates will look for opportunities to exploit any disarray,” said a United States counterterrorism official, referring to Al Qaeda.
Of these affiliates, he mentioned the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, formed by the veterans who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan, and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the network’s North African affiliate, which hastened to endorse the Libyan uprising last week.
Those groups “could be more successful” in Libya than militants have been so far in Egypt, the counterterrorism official said. “Our counterterrorism experts are watching for any signs that these groups might gain a new foothold there.”
Frederic Wehrey, a senior policy analyst at the RAND Corporation who just returned from a three-week trip to Libya, said Al Qaeda might try to exploit tribal unrest and seize footholds in the vast ungoverned spaces of southwestern Libya, near the Algerian border. But he added that Sufi Islam, a mystical form of the religion popular among Libyans, has been resistant to the most extreme forms of Salafism favored by Al Qaeda.
“Al Qaeda is very skillful at exploiting tribal grievances, so that’s a concern in the south,” Mr. Wehrey said. “But in terms of whether Libyans are primed for Al Qaeda’s narrative, I don’t think that’s as ominous as some might suspect.”
Colonel Qaddafi long saw Al Qaeda as a grave threat to his rule, and was the first to request an arrest warrant for Osama bin Laden through Interpol, said Bruce Hoffman, director of the center for peace and security studies at Georgetown University. But the reality is more nuanced.
To answer the threats that after the Qaddafis comes either an Islamic or tribal deluge, Mustafa Mohamed Abud al-Jeleil, the justice minister who defected to the east, held a forum this week in the eastern city of Baida. It brought together tribal leaders, former military commanders and others who pledged future cooperation.
“We want one country — there is no Islamic emirate or Al Qaeda anywhere,” Mr. Abud al-Jeleil told Al Jazeera. “Our only goal is to liberate Libya from this regime and to allow the people to choose the government that they want.”
It was right around Baida, a city northeast of Benghazi, however, that the Islamic insurgency reached its zenith in the 1990s. Colonel Qaddafi heavily bombed the city of Darnah, also in the northeast, in the 1990s to eliminate the insurgency, and jailed those members who were not killed. His son and heir apparent Seif al-Islam el-Qaddafi led a well-publicized campaign to wean them from violence while they were in jail, but there is no assurance that the teachings will stick once they are freed. Among these groups is a Libyan Muslim Brotherhood with ties to similar organizations in Egypt and Algeria, which is mainly moderate with a few radical splinters.
Nonetheless, there are real doubts about how much appeal radical Islam holds among Libyans. In Benghazi, in the courthouse that serves as the nerve center for the opposition, Essam Gheriani, a psychologist turned merchant, said that because most Libyans are Sunni Muslims from the same sect, Islam in Libya would remain moderate. “The extremism we saw is the result of oppression,” said Mr. Gheriani, a graduate of Michigan State University who is married to a lawyer who helped organize the first protests. “As you move from that period the extremism will decline with democracy. It won’t have a chance.”
Experts also believe Colonel Qaddafi used the threat of a Muslim takeover the way many Arab leaders did — exaggerating the menace to win sympathy from a United States prone to seeing Islamic revolutions under every Koran.
Tom Malinowski, Washington director of Human Rights Watch, who has participated in several White House meetings on the crisis, said Libya’s tribal nature and absence of civil society were worrisome. But he said the experience of eastern Libya, where ad-hoc committees have taken control of local affairs, is a strikingly positive sign.
“People seem to be adopting a new identity based on their common experience of standing up to a dictator,” Mr. Malinowski said. “That doesn’t mean peace and love and brotherhood forever. But it’s a reason to hope that our worst fears about a post-Qaddafi Libya may not be realized.”
For the most part, though, few experts believe that any group can dominate.
“The current opposition movement in Libya is diverse and includes secular, nationalists, monarchists and Islamist elements,” said Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, a professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. “I don’t think that any movement is in the position, in terms of resources and ideological power, to monopolize the political process.”
But he said that some hybrid of Islamism and nationalism was likely to emerge. In Libya, the strong nationalism that has run through all the recent uprisings is more likely to take on a religious tinge, experts believe, because it is a conservative society whose royal family once drew its authority in part from its spiritual role.
Probably the greatest insurance that Libya will not descend into Somalia-like chaos is its oil. The oil — once production fully resumes — can buy social content during a rocky transition period and offers insurance that Western powers cannot afford to sit by and watch such an important oil exporter disintegrate. Last year Italy, Germany and France together bought a substantial proportion of Libya’s 1.55 million barrels of petroleum pumped daily, about 2 percent of world production.
Some experts wonder if Libya might become the first experiment in the use of the “responsibility to protect” — the idea that a United Nations force would be deployed to prevent civilian deaths in the event of widespread violence. Russian or Chinese opposition to intervening in domestic affairs might be overcome if enough Libyans accepted the idea, which is possible because the United Nations helped oversee the birth of their modern nation.
With the country now split badly between east and west, an outside protection force would lend time for Tripoli to reassert itself as the capital and establish control.
“Nobody has an interest in permanent anarchy,” said Ms. Anderson of American University in Cairo. “You have to have some kind of mechanism to ensure that people turn in their weapons,” she said. “I don’t see there is any group within the political constellation that could do it.”

Saturday, February 26, 2011

U.S. Trying to Pick Winners in New Mideast

February 24, 2011
WASHINGTON — As the Obama administration grapples with a cascade of uprisings in the Middle East, it has come to a stark recognition: the region’s monarchs are likely to survive; its presidents are more likely to fall.
In the rapidly changing map that stretches from Morocco to Iran, two presidents have already tumbled: Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia. Administration officials said they believe that Yemen’s authoritarian president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, is in an increasingly tenuous position.
Yet in Bahrain, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa has so far managed to weather a surge of unrest, winning American support, even though his security forces were brutal in their crackdown of protesters. Officials believe that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is also unlikely to be dethroned, while the emirs of the Persian Gulf have so far escaped unrest. Even in Jordan, where serious protests erupted, King Abdullah II has maneuvered deftly to stay in power, though he still has to contend with a restive Palestinian population.
This pattern of kings holding on to power is influencing the administration’s response to the crisis: the United States has sent out senior diplomats in recent days to offer the monarchs reassurance and advice — even those who lead the most stifling governments. But it is keeping its distance from autocratic presidents as they fight to hold power.
By all accounts, that is more a calculation of American interests than anything else.
“What the monarchies have going for them are royal families that allow them to stand above the fray, to a certain extent,” said Kenneth M. Pollack, the director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. “It allows them to sack the government without sacking themselves.”
Many of the monarchs have run governments every bit as repressive as the presidents’. And the American calculation of who is likely to hang on to power has as much to do with the religious, demographic and economic makeups of the countries as with the nature of the governments.
Arab presidents pretend to be democratically chosen, even though most of their elections are rigged. Their veneer of legitimacy vanishes when pent-up grievances in their societies explode. Most of the presidents oversee more populous countries, without the oil wealth of the gulf monarchies, which would enable them to placate their populations with tax cuts and pay raises, like the kings of Saudi Arabia and Jordan have done recently.
The Americans acknowledge that they have no choice but to support countries like Saudi Arabia, and that all of the situations could change rapidly.
A case in point is Libya, where Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi — neither a king nor a president — has been brought to the verge of collapse with dizzying speed.
On Thursday, the administration failed again to evacuate diplomats and other American citizens from Libya. A ferry chartered by the United States government remained tied up at a pier in the capital, Tripoli, unable to sail to Malta because of heavy seas in the Mediterranean.
The 285 passengers are safe, according to the State Department spokesman, Philip J. Crowley, but they cannot leave the ship, which he said is guarded by Libyan security forces. A hotel across the street from the pier has been the site of gun battles between rebels and loyalists of Colonel Qaddafi, witnesses said.
The stalled evacuation has led the Obama administration to temper its condemnations of Colonel Qaddafi’s government, because officials worry that the Libyan government could take Americans hostage. But Mr. Crowley said Thursday that the United States would support a European proposal to expel Libya from the United Nations Human Rights Council, when it meets in Geneva on Monday.
Unlike in the case of Egypt, where President Obama spoke by phone with Mr. Mubarak several times during the crisis there, neither he nor any other American official has spoken with Colonel Qaddafi since the violence erupted. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was unable to reach the foreign minister, Moussa Koussa, Mr. Crowley said, citing a technical glitch.
The under secretary of state for political affairs, William J. Burns, did speak twice with Mr. Koussa, he said, and conveyed the administration’s “concern” that Libya continue to cooperate with the evacuation.
The spotty American communication with Libya contrasts with the regular phone calls Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton have held with Arab monarchs. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia pressed Mr. Obama in at least two conversations to back Mr. Mubarak. Since his ouster, an administration official said, Saudi officials have expressed some misgivings about their support for the former Egyptian leader.
So far, the kings appear to be hanging on.
The administration is sanguine that the Saudi royal family will survive any upheaval, though some acknowledge that they misread the prospects for change in Egypt. Earlier this week, King Abdullah, returning home from three months of medical treatment abroad, announced a $10 billion increase in welfare spending to help young people marry, buy homes and open businesses.
The administration has urged Saudi Arabia not to impede King Hamad’s attempt to undertake reforms in Bahrain, an island connected to Saudi Arabia by a causeway and dependent on the Saudis for political and economic support. Saudi Arabia is rattled by the prospect of Bahrain’s Shiite Muslim majority’s gaining more political power, at the expense of its Sunni rulers, in part because Saudi Arabia has a substantial Shiite population in its east.
American officials have sought to keep the focus on what they insist have been concessions made by Bahrain, where the Navy’s Fifth Fleet is stationed, as a sign that the protests can prod the king, and the crown prince who will head the dialogue with the protesters, in the right direction.
Similarly, in Jordan, King Abdullah, who faces a tricky situation because of his majority Palestinian population, has signaled a willingness to cede some power to an elected government or parliament. American officials and independent experts say that they think that could allow him to hang on to power. The administration’s clear hope is that all these kingdoms will eventually be constitutional monarchies.
“That approach to Jordan or Bahrain is the right approach; these are countries that have moved in the right direction, but not enough,” said Elliott Abrams, a Middle East adviser in the Bush administration who has been a frequent critic of the Obama administration. “Constitutional monarchy is a form of democracy.”
There has been far less unrest in other Persian Gulf states, like the United Arab Emirates, Qatar or Kuwait — in part, experts say, because they are essentially regal welfare states, where citizens pay no taxes and are looked after by the government. In the United Arab Emirates, for example, when one citizen marries another citizen, the government helps to pay for the wedding and even to buy a home.
Even so, an administration official noted, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed, recently toured less prosperous parts of the United Arab Emirates to hold town-hall-style meetings — at least a nod to democratic rule.
“The truly wealthy societies like Qatar, the U.A.E. and Kuwait have greater advantages,” said Ted Kattouf, a former United States ambassador to Syria. In many ways, he added, “the monarchies have more legitimacy than the republics.”
In Yemen, a lack of legitimacy is plaguing President Saleh and the prospect of instability there poses national security problems for the United States, which has had the government’s support for counterterrorism operations. Protesters are demanding his resignation even after he pledged not to seek re-election. The administration is pushing Mr. Saleh — a crafty authoritarian who has manipulated factions in his country to cling to power for 30 years — to revive a stalled effort at constitutional reform, though an official expressed pessimism about the likelihood of progress.
“The republics — and hence, the presidents — are the most vulnerable because they’re supposed to be democracies but ultimately are not,” said an Arab diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “They pretend people have a voice, but this voice doesn’t exist. With the monarchy, no one’s pretending there’s a democracy.”

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Bahrain Blowback


February 16, 2011

Where’s the next place to blow in the Arab revolution? Candidates are many, but there’s one whose geopolitical impact vastly exceeds its diminutive size — the island of Bahrain.
This is a place run by an oppressive and corrupt little regime, long coddled by Washington because the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet is headquartered there. The future of the base is far from secure if the regime falls.
A few hard facts about the island that should give pause for thought:
First, Bahrain is a Shiite island. You won’t see it described that way, but it is — 70 percent of the population, more than the percentage of Shiites in Iraq. And like Iraq under Saddam Hussein, these Arab Shiites have been systematically discriminated against, repressed, and denied meaningful roles by a Sunni tribal government determined to maintain its solid grip on the country. The emergence of real democracy, as in Iraq, will push the country over into the Shiite column — sending shivers down the spines of other Gulf rulers, and especially in Riyadh.
Appearances are deceiving. Go to Bahrain and on the surface you won’t feel the same heavy hand that dominates so many other Arab authoritarian states. The island is liberal in its social freedoms. Expats feel at home — you can get a drink, go to nightclubs, go to the beach, party.
But if you look behind the Western and elite-populated high-rises you’ll encounter the Shiite ghettoes — poor and neglected, with high unemployment, walls smeared with anti-regime graffiti.
Free market? Sure, except the regime imports politically neutered laborers from passive, apolitical states that need the money: Filipinos, Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans and other South Asians who won’t make waves or they’re on the next plane out.
The regime also imports its thugs. The ranks of the police are heavily staffed with expat police who often speak no Arabic, have no attachments to the country and who will beat, jail, torture and shoot Bahraini protestors with impunity.
Like other Shiite populations, clerics figure heavily among the leaders. But many are liberal and open, reflecting the culturally open character of the island. Most Bahraini Shiites would look to Ayatollah Sistani in Iraq rather than to Iran for religious guidance.
Typically, however, just like most other tyrants across the region, the al-Khalifa regime in Bahrain will whip up anti-Shiite, anti-Iranian fears to gain Western backing — and they usually get it.
It’s not just that the majority is Shiite. From a Saudi perspective, the Bahraini Shiites maintain close family and cultural ties with Shiite families across the water in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi Shiite minority, probably even more oppressed, is already restive and would be responsive to Shiite political unrest nearby. This is Riyadh’s ultimate nightmare — a further strengthening of Shiite political power in this oil-rich region.
The Sunni minority of Bahrain is in a difficult position. The Sunnis worry about the rise of the Shiite majority that makes up the oppressed class. But liberal Sunnis are also highly discontent with the al-Khalifa regime and seek political reform. Many work with the Shiite leadership to attain secular reforms, but the regime has repressed them as well and fans fear of Shiites to help keep them in line.
There has been relatively little actual blood shed — at least compared to Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran and other neighboring states — in the decades-long story of Shiite resistance to the authoritarian ruling family. If the al-Khalifa thugs are let loose, that could change quickly. The temperature is rising.
Washington is now faced again with another hard choice — the legacy of shortsighted decisions made over decades: Continue to go with local repressive regimes out of a misguided sense of “American interests”? Hold on to unpopular military bases at all costs — thereby deepening local anger and perhaps giving Iran ultimately a greater voice in events?
Or should it quietly drop support for this repressive regime, allow events to take their course and accept that long-overdue change is coming? How long can we hold on to another ugly status quo? It’s really about how bad the change will get the longer we wait.

Graham E. Fuller, former vice-chairman of the National Intelligence Council at the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, is adjunct professor of history at Simon Fraser University. His latest book is “A World Without Islam.”

U.S. report finds debate in Iran on building nuclear bomb

Washington Post
February 18, 2011; 6:15 PM

By Greg Miller and Joby Warrick

A comprehensive new U.S. intelligence report concludes that Iran has resumed research on key components for a nuclear weapon, but that the slow and scattered nature of the effort reflects renewed debate within the regime over whether to build a bomb, U.S. officials said.
The finding represents a significant, if subtle, shift from the main conclusion of a controversial 2007 estimate that Iran had halted its weaponization work.
In finding that Iran has again begun taking steps toward designing a nuclear warhead, the new estimate is likely to be seen as erasing doubt that the earlier document created about Iran's intent.
But the new report reaches no firm conclusions about when Iran might acquire the bomb. The classified estimate has already triggered debate among American officials over whether Iran's apparent hesitation is the result of U.S.-backed sanctions meant to derail any weapons program.
Overall, the National Intelligence Estimate concludes that Iran is conducting "early stage R&D work on aspects of the manufacturing process for a nuclear weapon," said a U.S. official familiar with the report. At the same time, the estimate describes "serious debate within the Iranian regime . . . on how to proceed."
Anticipation surrounding the new estimate has been intense, both because it addresses one of the central national security dilemmas confronting President Obama, but also because critics regarded the previous estimate as confusing, and blamed it for undermining then-President George W. Bush's efforts to ratchet up diplomatic pressure on Iran.
The report carries particular weight because it represents the consensus view of the entire U.S. intelligence community, rather than the assessments of a lone agency.
U.S. officials have said that, unlike the estimate of four years ago, the new one will remain classified and out of public view; they would describe it only on the condition of anonymity. A Wall Street Journal article described aspects of the estimate this week.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper summarized key points in testimony before the Senate intelligence committee Wednesday, telling lawmakers that Iran's "technical advancement, particularly in uranium enrichment, strengthens our assessment that Iran has the scientific, technical and industrial capacity to eventually produce nuclear weapons."
"Iran is technically capable of producing enough highly enriched uranium for a weapon in the next few years, if it chooses to do so," Clapper said. Whether such a decision had been made, he said, remains unclear.
The new assessment does not entirely refute the 2007 report's most controversial finding, which held that Iran's leaders had halted nuclear weaponization research in 2003, even while pushing forward on uranium enrichment that is regarded as the most difficult step to building a bomb.
U.S. spy agencies remain convinced that Iranian officials ordered a temporary halt to certain military research projects aimed at mastering the complex engineering involved in building nuclear warheads. The stoppage was described in computer notes and files surreptitiously obtained by the United States.
At the time, Iran's massive enrichment plant near the city of Natanz had been exposed by an opposition group. The halt also coincided with the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
"The fact is, after 2003 the program went to ground," said a senior administration official who has reviewed the latest estimate. But even while that military-backed project remains shuttered, the official said the effort "became not a single program but multiple programs farmed out to universities and private companies. What research is being carried out, and to what end, is now much harder to pin down."
Many analysts believe that Iran intends to follow the same course as Japan and other states that are regarded as "virtual" nuclear powers - acquiring all the basic building blocks for nuclear weapons without actually building a bomb.
These analysts believe Iran would stop short of assembling and testing a bomb, a move that would subject the country to international condemnation and a possible military attack. Iran consistently denies having a nuclear weapons program.
Over the past year, U.S. intelligence officials have become increasingly convinced that Iran's progress toward building a bomb has suffered setbacks, giving the United States and other allies an additional cushion of two years or more before Tehran would be in position to test a device. Israel's former intelligence chief estimated last month that Iran could not have a bomb before 2015.
Delays to Iran's program have been attributed in part to elaborate attempts at sabotage, including the unleashing of a computer worm, called Stuxnet, that caused major equipment failures in centrifuge machines at Natanz. U.N. inspectors have concluded that hundreds of machines failed in the attack, but that Iran recovered remarkably quickly, wheeling in new machines to replace those that were lost.
Regardless of the research on developing a nuclear warhead, U.S. intelligence agencies believe Iran has continued to achieve steady progress in making low-enriched uranium (LEU), a key ingredient in fuel for commercial nuclear reactors. With further processing, LEU can be converted into the highly enriched uranium used in nuclear bombs.
The new estimate's description of intense disagreement within the regime over the nuclear program has been cited by some U.S. officials as evidence that economic sanctions have worked.
Sanctions are causing substantial pain for the government, said one U.S. official, and at a time when Tehran is facing new civilian unrest, some leaders fear the economic damage could get "even worse."
But others who have read the new report disagree. "Nothing" in the report suggests sanctions are working, said a senior congressional official. "I don't think . . . that you can conclude that [Iran] is open to influence by peaceful means."
Officials on both sides of the sanctions issue agree that Iran's leaders are probably influenced by concern over potential Israeli military strikes.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

AP sources: US sees Iran's leaders split on nukes

Feb 17, 2011
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. intelligence agencies believe Iran's leaders are divided over the question of whether to use its nuclear program to develop atomic weapons and is immersed in a serious internal debate about how to proceed in the face of international sanctions, American officials said Wednesday.

"We continue to assess Iran is keeping the option open to develop nuclear weapons in part by developing various nuclear capabilities that better position it to produce such weapons should it choose to do so," National Intelligence Director James Clapper told Congress. "We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons."
Two officials told The Associated Press that the United States believes Iran's government is fragmented on the matter and beset by divisions. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the findings of a new classified assessment of Iran that Clapper told lawmakers on Wednesday had been completed recently.
The key finding of the new NIE — that Iran's leaders remain divided over whether to go forward with a bomb — was first reported by the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday.
The new National Intelligence Estimate replaces a 2007 version that controversially concluded Iran had abandoned attempts to develop nuclear weapons in 2003. That report was disputed by Israel and several European intelligence services.
Discussing the broad outlines of the findings, Clapper told the Senate Intelligence Committee that Iran remained a challenge and a potential threat despite the internal debate.
"We see a disturbing confluence of events: an Iran that is increasingly rigid, autocratic, dependent on coercion to maintain control and defiant toward the West, and an Iran that continues to advance its uranium enrichment capabilities along with what appears to be the scientific, technical and industrial capacity to produce nuclear weapons if its leaders choose to do so," he said.
At the White House, when asked about the new intelligence estimate, national security spokesman Tommy Vietor said he would not comment on intelligence matters.
But Vietor said the administration's approach is driven "by the fact that Iran has failed to demonstrate clearly peaceful nuclear intentions."
"Iran has engaged in a constant pattern of deception on its nuclear program," Vietor said. "Iran has pursued its nuclear program in ways that only deepen the world's concerns, including by building a secret enrichment plant, enriching uranium to higher levels, and refusing to meet its international obligations."
In December, the top U.S. military officer said he believes Iran is trying to build a nuclear bomb, which he said poses a threat to its neighbors, and the United States is "very ready" to counter Iran should it make a move.
"From my perspective I see Iran continuing on this path to develop nuclear weapons, and I believe that that development and achieving that goal would be very destabilizing to the region," Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said then.
Iran denies it is seeking a nuclear weapon, and denies U.S. claims that it sponsors terrorists. Iran has wary relations with many of its neighbors, who are trading partners with the oil producer but distrust the theocratic government.
The United States fears that if Iran masters the technical challenge of building a bomb it could set off a nuclear arms race around the Persian Gulf area.
Mullen said in December that he supports the current strategy of applying economic and political sanctions on Iran to try to dissuade it from building a bomb, while engaging Iran in international negotiations over the scope of its nuclear program. Iran insists it is seeking nuclear energy.
Mullen repeated his view that a pre-emptive military strike on Iran's known nuclear facilities is a bad option that would set off "unintended consequences," but one the United States reserves the right to use. The Obama administration has said it will not allow Iran to become a nuclear weapons state but has never said exactly what it would do to prevent that.
Last April U.S. officials said Iran is pursuing an aggressive missile program, including intercontinental missiles it would need outside expertise to perfect.
Once Iran decided to build one bomb, it could amass enough highly enriched uranium to do so in as little as 12 months, Gen. James Cartwright, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in April. He added that Tehran still would need additional time to test the weapon and make it usable against an enemy.
New nuclear nations generally need three to five additional years to make a usable weapon, Cartwright said, but the time line could be shortened if Iran should pursue a warhead and a missile or other delivery system at the same time.
Opinions vary on how much damage a U.S. or Israeli military strike could do to Iran's nuclear program, which is intentionally opaque and spread among multiple facilities.
U.S. officials generally say that a strike on one or more known facilities would set the program back a few years but not stop it.
The United States also has acknowledged that once a nation has sufficient nuclear scientific and technological prowess, it could rebound from nearly any assault on the facilities used for bomb development.

Exclusive: New National Intelligence Estimate on Iran complete

The Cable
feb. 15, 2011

The U.S. intelligence community has completed and is circulating a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran's nuclear weapons program that walks back the conclusion of the 2007 NIE, which stated that Iran had halted work on its covert nuclear weapons program.

Intelligence officials briefed executive branch policymakers on the revised NIE last week. The document is being shared with members of Congress and their staff this week, an administration official and several Capitol Hill sources told The Cable. This is in advance of an early March meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency's Board of Governors, where there may be another resolution on Iran's nuclear program, the official said.
The 2007 NIE was attacked in public due to its conclusion: "We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program." The new estimate might not directly contradict that judgment, Hill sources report, but could say that while the intelligence community has not determined that Iran has made the strategic decision to build a nuclear weapon, it is working on the components of such a device.
Several sources said they are being told there will be no declassified version of the new NIE, and that only those cleared to read the full 2007 NIE (pdf) will be able to see the new version.
"It does exist," House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI) said in an interview with The Cable. Rogers said the administration was right to take its time to revise the 2007 NIE before releasing the updated version. "Intelligence is a fluid thing, sometimes you get great stuff and sometimes you don't get great stuff to make good conclusions. I think they were prudent in what they've done."
House Foreign Affairs ranking Democrat Howard Berman (D-CA) told The Cable he had heard the new NIE would walk back the controversial conclusions of the 2007 version, but that he hadn't read it yet. Regardless, he said, the 2007 Iran NIE was now obsolete and discredited.
"Nobody had been paying attention to the older NIE. A few people on the outside focused on it because they didn't want us to go down the sanctions route but neither the administration nor the Congress paid it much attention," Berman said. "I thought the NIE estimate then was a faulty one because it focused on some aspects of weaponization -- even as Iran was continuing to enrich."
Revelations that Iran had a secret uranium enrichment facility at Qom, which occurred after the release of the 2007 NIE, were further proof that the Iranian regime was pursing nuclear weapons, Berman said. Regardless, the Obama administration has disregarded the 2007 Iran NIE, he said.
"For a year and a half the administration has been convinced that Iran has been pursuing a nuclear weapon. That's what they whole sanctions push is based on," Berman said. "There can be no serious doubt that Iran wants to have a nuclear weapons capability."
Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), a former intelligence officer for the U.S. Navy, told The Cable, "The 2007 NIE was a mistake," and this document appears to be more realistic. He urged the intelligence community to take a less technical and more comprehensive look at the Iranian leadership's actions when making such judgments.
"My hope is that the current leaders of the intelligence community look not just at technical details and also comment regularly on Iran's leaders," Kirk said. "In Intelligence 101 we are taught to measure both capability and intent politically, and the intent here on the part of the Iranian regime is pretty clear."
Several lawmakers refused to discuss the new NIE because it was classified or because they hadn't read it yet. Senate Armed Services Committee ranking Republican John McCain (R-AZ) told The Cable he had been briefed on the new NIE, but declined to comment on its contents. Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) told The Cable she hadn't yet seen the new NIE but planned to review it soon.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI), who supported the conclusions in the 2007 NIE, contended that the old estimate was misconstrued as an attempt by its authors to head off an attack against Iran by the Bush administration.
"I think it was interpreted incorrectly," Levin told The Cable.
The NIE is compiled by the National Intelligence Council, but rollout and classification decisions are ultimately made by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

U.S. Spies: Iran Split on Nuclear Program

FEBRUARY 17, 2011

WASHINGTON—A new classified U.S. intelligence assessment concludes that Iran's leaders are locked in an increasingly heated debate over whether to move further toward developing nuclear weapons, saying the bite of international sanctions may be sowing discord.
The new national intelligence estimate, or NIE, says Tehran likely has resumed work on nuclear-weapons research in addition to expanding its program to enrich uranium—updating a contested 2007 estimate that concluded the arms program had all but halted in 2003.
But it doesn't conclude that Iran has relaunched a full-blown program to try to build bombs. According to the assessment, Iran's debate over whether to do so suggests international sanctions may be causing divisions in Tehran, U.S. officials said.
The new assessment, which was shared this week with key congressional committees, comes as protesters in Tehran ramp up pressure on Iran's leaders, amid a wave of popular revolts sweeping the Mideast. Tehran took steps Wednesday to stifle passions inflamed by the killings of two students during protests.
Adding to tensions, Israel Wednesday said the deployment of an Iranian warship to Syria via the Suez Canal was a "provocation" by Iran that Israel couldn't ignore.
The NIE's findings suggest that, in the U.S. view, at least some Iranian leaders are worried that economic turmoil fueled in part by international sanctions could spur opposition to the regime—though officials acknowledge it is impossible for outsiders to determine the precise effect of sanctions on decision-making in Tehran.
Iran's government has also taken steps to stifle any possible unrest in response to its own economic measures, after Tehran significantly cut subsidies for fuel, electricity and basic food items in late December.
An NIE is considered the consensus view of all the various U.S. intelligence agencies, and, as a result, carries more weight than an analysis coming from any one part of the intelligence community.
The new assessment is the first full, new analysis by the intelligence community since the 2007 estimate, which concluded that Iran had halted its nuclear-weapon design and weaponization work, as well as its covert uranium enrichment-related activities. Those findings were disputed by some European spy agencies. Iran denies it is trying to develop nuclear weapons.
U.S. officials say at least some of those 2007 assertions have been revised in the new NIE. But the new assessment stops short of rejecting the earlier findings.
"The bottom line is that the intelligence community has concluded that there's an intense debate inside the Iranian regime on the question of whether or not to move toward a nuclear bomb," a U.S. official said. "There's a strong sense that a number of Iranian regime officials know that the sanctions are having a serious effect."
Such conclusions are likely to stiffen the resolve of Obama administration officials to tighten sanctions further. The White House declined to comment on the new intelligence assessment.
U.S. officials pointed to Iran's violent crackdown on protests this week as a sign the regime is concerned about its vulnerability after the fall of longtime leaders in Tunisia and Egypt.
President Barack Obama has voiced support for the rights of protest leaders in Iran, whom the regime has threatened with execution. The State Department has been tweeting messages expressing support for the rights of Iranians to hold protests.
The new intelligence findings also reflect a growing consensus among the U.S. and its allies that Tehran's suspected effort to obtain a warhead has been significantly slowed by the combination of sanctions and problems at its nuclear facilities.
Senior Israeli officials said last month that Tehran may be at least four years away from being able to produce a nuclear weapon because of technological difficulties, a notably longer timeline than Israelis had used previously. Soon after, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Washington believed Iran's nuclear program faced mounting "technical" problems.
In a separate threat assessment presented to the Senate Intelligence Committee Wednesday, the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, said the U.S. believes Iran should be capable of producing enough highly enriched uranium for a weapon "in the next few years," provided Tehran makes the decision to do so.
Officials in the U.S., Europe and Asia credit, in part, an international campaign that they say has restricted Iran's ability to procure the raw materials needed to build an atomic bomb.
Officials say Iran has had difficulty acquiring carbon fiber and a particular high-strength steel, two critical components for making machinery used in producing enriched uranium.
Iran's nuclear program also appears to have been slowed by problems in the computer system used to run its enrichment equipment, officials said.
Officials say Tehran is encountering problems deploying advanced centrifuge machines that could drastically accelerate the production of highly enriched uranium, which is needed for a nuclear bomb.
Experts attribute equipment failures among such machines at Iran's main uranium-enrichment plant to a computer worm known as Stuxnet. Iran has acknowledged the computer attacks. Experts speculate that Stuxnet was developed by Israel or the U.S., or both, though neither government has confirmed any role.
A report issued on Wednesday by David Albright, an expert on Iran's nuclear program who heads the Institute for Science and International Security, said it is increasingly accepted that a successful Stuxnet attack in late 2009 or early 2010 destroyed about 1,000 Iranian centrifuges out of about 9,000 at the site.
"The effect of this attack was significant," Mr. Albright said in the report. "It rattled the Iranians, who were unlikely to know what caused the breakage, delayed the expected expansion of the plant, and further consumed a limited supply of centrifuges to replace those destroyed."
Mr. Clapper, in testimony to Congress, said the intelligence community believes Iran is "keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons in part by developing various nuclear capabilities that better position it to produce such weapons, should it choose to do so. We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons."

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Iran's Natanz nuclear facility recovered quickly from Stuxnet cyberattack

By Joby Warrick

Washington Post Foreign Service

Wednesday, February 16, 2011; 12:00 AM

VIENNA - In an underground chamber near the Iranian city of Natanz, a network of surveillance cameras offers the outside world a rare glimpse into Iran's largest nuclear facility. The cameras were installed by U.N. inspectors to keep tabs on Iran's nuclear progress, but last year they recorded something unexpected: workers hauling away crate after crate of broken equipment.
In a six-month period between late 2009 and last spring, U.N. officials watched in amazement as Iran dismantled more than 10 percent of the Natanz plant's 9,000 centrifuge machines used to enrich uranium. Then, just as remarkably, hundreds of new machines arrived at the plant to replace the ones that were lost.
The story told by the video footage is a shorthand recounting of the most significant cyberattack to date on a nuclear installation. Records of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N. nuclear watchdog, show Iran struggling to cope with a major equipment failure just at the time its main uranium enrichment plant was under attack by a computer worm known as Stuxnet, according to Europe-based diplomats familiar with the records.
But the IAEA's files also show a feverish - and apparently successful - effort by Iranian scientists to contain the damage and replace broken parts, even while constrained by international sanctions banning Iran from purchasing nuclear equipment. An IAEA report due for release this month is expected to show steady or even slightly elevated production rates at the Natanz enrichment plant over the past year.
"They have been able to quickly replace broken machines," said a Western diplomat with access to confidential IAEA reports. Despite the setbacks, "the Iranians appeared to be working hard to maintain a constant, stable output" of low-enriched uranium, said the official, who like other diplomats interviewed for this article insisted on anonymity to discuss the results of the U.N. watchdog's data collection.
The IAEA's findings, combined with new analysis of the Stuxnet worm by independent experts, offer a mixed portrait of the mysterious cyberattack that briefly shut down parts of Iran's nuclear infrastructure last year. The new reports shed light on the design of the worm and how it spread through a string of Iranian companies before invading the control systems of Iran's most sensitive nuclear installations.
But they also put a spotlight on the effectiveness of the attack in curbing Iran's nuclear ambitions. A draft report by Washington-based nuclear experts concludes that the net impact was relatively minor.
"While it has delayed the Iranian centrifuge program at the Natanz plant in 2010 and contributed to slowing its expansion, it did not stop it or even delay the continued buildup of low-enriched uranium," the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) said in the draft, a copy of which was provided to The Washington Post.

The worm's effect
The ISIS report acknowledges that the worm may have undercut Iran's nuclear program in ways that cannot be easily quantified. While scientists were able to replace the broken centrifuge machines this time, Iran is thought to have finite supplies of certain kinds of high-tech metals needed to make the machines, ISIS concluded. In addition, the worm almost certainly exacted a psychological toll, as Iran's leaders discovered that their most sensitive nuclear facility had been penetrated by a computer worm whose designers possessed highly detailed knowledge of Natanz's centrifuges and how they are interconnected, said David Albright, a co-author of the report.
"If nothing else, it hit their confidence," said Albright, ISIS's president, "and it will make them feel more vulnerable in the future."
The creator of the Stuxnet computer malware remains unknown. Many computer security experts suspect that U.S. and Israeli intelligence operatives were behind the cyberattack, but government officials in the United States and Israel have acknowledged only that Iran's nuclear program appears to have suffered technical setbacks in recent months.
While Israel's government has previously said Iran was on the brink of acquiring a bomb, the country's outgoing intelligence chief estimated last month that the Islamic republic could not have a bomb before 2015. Other intelligence agencies have said Iran could obtain nuclear weapons in less than a year if it kicks out U.N. inspectors and launches a crash program. Iran denies it is seeking to build a nuclear weapon.
Stuxnet was discovered this summer by computer security companies that eventually documented its spread to tens of thousands of computers on three continents. While the worm appears to spread easily, an analysis of its coding revealed that it was harmless to most systems.
The computer security firm Symantec, which authored several detailed studies of the malware, found that Stuxnet was designed to target types of computers known as programmable logic controllers, or PLCs, used in certain kinds of industrial processes.
Moreover, the worm activates itself only when it detects the precise array of equipment that exists in Iran's uranium-enrichment plant at Natanz. The underground plant contains thousands of centrifuges, machines that spin at supersonic speeds to create low-enriched uranium, which is used to make fuel for nuclear power plants. With further processing, the machines can produce the highly enriched uranium used in nuclear bombs.
Stuxnet followed a circuitous route to Natanz, according to an analysis by Symantec. Initially it targeted computer systems at five Iranian companies with no direct ties to Iran's nuclear program. Then it spread, computer to computer, until it landed in the centrifuge plant.
Once inside the enrichment plant, Stuxnet essentially hijacked the plant's control system, causing the centrifuges to spin so rapidly that they began to break. At the same time, the malware fed false signals to the plant's computer system so the operators thought the machines were working normally, Symantec's experts found.
ISIS and Symantec analysts concluded that the Natanz facility was attacked twice by the worm, once in late 2009 and again in the spring. By autumn, when Iranian officials confirmed the attack, the damage was so severe that the plant had to be briefly shut down.
"An electronic war has been launched against Iran," said Mahmoud Liaii, director of the Information Technology Council of the Ministry of Industries and Mines.
As the attack was underway, IAEA inspectors were able to gauge its effectiveness by counting the carcasses of damaged centrifuges being hauled out of the facility. Under an agreement with the Tehran government, the watchdog agency is allowed to operate a network of surveillance cameras aimed at each of the plant's portals, to guard against possible nuclear cheating by Iran. Any equipment that passes through the doors is captured on video, and IAEA inspectors arrive later to eyeball each item.

Machines leaving plant
Iran's centrifuges are notoriously unreliable, but over a few months last year the flow of broken machines leaving the plant spiked, far beyond normal levels. Two European diplomats with access to the agency's files put the number at 900 to 1,000.
IAEA inspectors who examined the machines could not ascertain why the centrifuges had failed. Iranian officials told the agency they were replacing machines that had been idled for several months and needed refurbishing. Whatever the reason, the plant's managers worked frantically to replace each piece of equipment they removed, the two European diplomats confirmed.
"They were determined that the IAEA's reports would not show any drop in production," one of the diplomats said.
While U.S. officials declined to comment on the major equipment failure at Natanz, the speed of Iran's apparent recovery from its technical setbacks did not go unnoticed. "They have overcome some of the obstacles, in some cases through sheer application of resources," said U.S. Ambassador Glyn Davies, Washington's representative to the IAEA in Vienna. "There's clearly a very substantial political commitment."
Still far from clear is whether Iran has truly beaten the malware. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in a November statement acknowledging the attack, said the worm had been quickly contained and eliminated. But independent analysts are not as sure.
Albright and other nuclear experts discounted news reports suggesting that the worm posed a serious safety threat to Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant. But the ISIS and Symantec reports noted that parts of the malware's operating code appeared to be unfinished, and Stuxnet has been updated with new instructions at least once since its release.
IAEA inspectors were unable to determine whether Iran's efforts to erase the worm from its equipment had succeeded, raising the possibility of subsequent attacks.
Albright said it was possible that the Natanz facility could become infected a second time, since so many computers in Iran - an estimated 60,000 or more - are known to have been affected. But he questioned whether the worm's limited success so far justifies the use of a tactic that will probably provoke retaliation.
"Stuxnet is now a model code for all to copy and modify to attack other industrial facilities," Albright wrote in the ISIS report. "Its discovery likely increased the risk of similar cyberattacks against the United States and its allies."

Iran Uses Force Against Protests as Region Erupts


Published: February 14, 2011

Hundreds of riot police officers in Iran beat protesters and fired tear gas Monday to contain the most significant street protests since the end of the 2009 uprising there, as security forces around the region moved — sometimes brutally — to prevent new unrest in sympathy with the opposition victory in Egypt.

The size of the protests in Iran was unclear. Witness accounts and news reports from inside the country suggested that perhaps 20,000 to 30,000 demonstrators in several cities defied strong warnings and took to the streets.

The unrest was an acute embarrassment for Iranian leaders, who had sought to portray the toppling of two secular rulers, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, as a triumph of popular support for Islam in the Arab world. They had refused permission to Iranian opposition groups seeking to march in solidarity with the Egyptians, and warned journalists and photographers based in the country, with success, not to report on the protests.

Iranian demonstrators portrayed the Arab insurrections as a different kind of triumph. “Mubarak, Ben Ali, now it’s time for Sayyid Ali!” Iranian protesters chanted in Persian on videos posted online that appeared to be from Tehran, referring to the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The Iranian authorities have shown that they will not hesitate to crush demonstrations with deadly force. Other governments across the Middle East and the Persian Gulf also moved aggressively to stamp out protests on Monday.

In Egypt, the army stuck to its promise not to attack demonstrators, but the death toll during the protests leading to Mr. Mubarak’s downfall reached about 300 people, according to the United Nations and human rights organizations. Most fatalities appeared to have occurred when pro-government thugs attacked demonstrators.

On Monday, the police in Bahrain fired rubber bullets and tear gas into crowds of peaceful protesters from the Shiite majority population. So much tear gas was fired that the officers themselves vomited. In Yemen, hundreds of student protesters clashed with pro-government forces in the fourth straight day of protests.

In the central Iranian city of Isfahan, many demonstrators were arrested after security forces clashed with them, reports said, and sporadic messages from inside Iran indicated that there had also been protests in Shiraz, Mashhad and Rasht.

Numbers were hard to assess, given government threats against journalists who tried to cover the protests. Aliakbar Mousavi Khoeini, a former member of Parliament now living in exile in the United States, said that 20,000 to 30,000 people had taken part across the country.

Ayatollah Khamenei and the Iranian establishment have tried to depict the Arab movements as a long-awaited echo of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, though Islamist parties had a low profile in both the Egyptian and Tunisian uprisings. The Iranian opposition has painted the Arab protests as an echo of its own anti-government movement in 2009, when citizens demanded basic rights like freedom of assembly and freedom of speech after the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Mehdi Karroubi, an opposition leader, said in an interview last week that the opposition had decided to organize a day of demonstrations to underscore the double standard of the government in lauding protesters in Arab countries while suppressing those at home. Mr. Karroubi has been put under house arrest, with outside communication links severed, opposition reports said, as has Mir Hussein Moussavi, the other main opposition leader.

The Fars news agency, a semiofficial service linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, indirectly confirmed the protests by saying an unspecified number of demonstrators had been arrested. It called participants “hypocrites, monarchists, ruffians and seditionists” and ridiculed them for not chanting slogans about Egypt, the nominal reason for the protests.

The authorities’ tactics on Monday indicated that they were resolved to stifle unrest — starting with the refusal to issue a permit for a nationwide demonstration. Reports that did emerge suggested that security forces had tried to prevent people from gathering by blocking the access routes to main squares in major cities and closing train stations in Tehran.

The crackdown came as the protests flared in Yemen and Bahrain. While those outbreaks were reported in some official Iranian state news media, which had also covered the 18-day Egyptian uprising selectively, there was no immediate mention of the clashes in Tehran and elsewhere on such state broadcasters as the English-language Press TV in Tehran.

Iran’s Islamic government gradually stamped out the 2009 protests through the shooting of demonstrators, mass trials, torture, lengthy jail sentences and even executions of those taking part.

Reports from inside Iran on Monday were harvested from a special Facebook page set up for the day called 25 Bahman, Twitter feeds, telephone calls and opposition Web sites.

They indicated that one tactic for sympathizers hoping to avoid a beating at the hands of the police was to drive to the demonstrations, with huge traffic jams reported in Tehran. Security forces on motorcycles tried to run down protesters, witnesses said.

Callers to the BBC Persian service television program called “Your Turn” said demonstrators had tried to gather in small knots until the police turned up in force, at which point they would run into traffic to seek refuge with strangers who opened their car doors.

“It has not turned into a big demonstration mostly because they never managed to arrive at the main squares,” said Pooneh Ghoddosi, the program’s host.

Cellular telephone service was shut off around the main squares and the Internet slowed to a crawl, activists said. Echoing tactics in Egypt and Tunisia, sympathizers outside Iran set up the 25 Bahman Facebook page — named for Monday’s date on the Iranian calendar — to collect videos, eyewitness accounts and any information.

Twitter feeds informed demonstrators to gather quickly at a certain intersection, then disperse rapidly. One video showed them burning a government poster as the chant against Ayatollah Khamenei rang out.

The authorities had made no secret of their resolve to stop the demonstrators. “The conspirators are nothing but corpses,” Hossein Hamadani, a top commander of the Revolutionary Guards, said last week in comments published by the official IRNA news agency. “Any incitement will be dealt with severely.”

Monday’s clashes erupted as the Turkish president, Abdullah Gul, was in Iran. Speaking at a news conference alongside President Ahmadinejad, he said, “We see that sometimes when the leaders and heads of countries do not pay attention to the nations’ demands, the people themselves take action to achieve their demands.”

A Reuters report said he did not refer directly to Iran. “In this age of communication, in an age where everybody is aware of each other, the demands and desires of the people are very realistic,” he said in a response to a question about events in the Middle East.

In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said, “We wish the opposition and the brave people in the streets across cities in Iran the same opportunity that they saw their Egyptian counterparts seize in the last week.”

U.S. Policy to Address Internet Freedom


Published: February 14, 2011

WASHINGTON — Days after Facebook and Twitter added fuel to a revolt in Egypt, the Obama administration on Tuesday announced a new policy on Internet freedom, intended to help people get around barriers in cyberspace while making it harder for autocratic governments to use the same technology to repress dissent.

“The United States continues to help people in oppressive Internet environments get around filters, stay one step ahead of the censors, the hackers and the thugs who beat them up or imprison them for what they say online,” said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, laying out the policy in a speech at George Washington University.

The new policy, a year in the making, had been bogged down by fierce debates over which projects it should support, and even more basically, whether to view the Internet primarily as a weapon to topple repressive regimes or as a tool that autocrats can use to root out and crush dissent.

Mrs. Clinton defended an expansive approach that embraces a variety of tools for responding to threats to Internet freedom.

“Some have criticized us for not pouring funding into a single technology — but there is no silver bullet in the struggle against Internet repression,” she said. “There’s no ‘app’ for that.”

She added, later in the speech: “We support multiple tools, so if repressive governments figure out how to target one, others are available. And we invest in the cutting edge because we know that repressive governments are constantly innovating their methods of repression.”

Thus, in the 2009 protest movement in Iran, demonstrators used Web sites to organize marches and distribute galvanizing cellphone videos of violence by paramilitary forces; but then, said Mrs. Clinton, “the Revolutionary Guard stalked members of the green movement by tracking their cellphones.”

Similarly, social networks have been used by both protesters and governments in the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and other Arab countries, she said.

The State Department plans to finance programs like circumvention services, which enable users to evade Internet firewalls, and training for human rights workers on how to secure their e-mail from surveillance or wipe incriminating data from cellphones if they are detained by the police. The department has also inaugurated Twitter feeds in Arabic and Persian, and soon will add others in Chinese, Russian and Hindi.

Though the new policy was on the drawing board for months, it has new urgency in light of the turmoil in the Arab world, because it will be part of a larger debate over how the United States weighs its alliances with entrenched leaders against support for the young people inspired by the events in Tunisia and Egypt.

Administration officials say the emphasis on a broad array of projects — hotly disputed by some technology experts and human rights activists — reflects their view that technology can be a force that leads to democratic change, but cannot by itself bring down repressive regimes.

“People have a view that technology will make us free,” said Michael H. Posner, the assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor. “No, people will make us free.”

Critics say the administration has held back $30 million in Congressional financing that could have gone to circumvention technology, a proven method that allows Internet users to evade government firewalls by routing their traffic through proxy servers in other countries.

Some of these services have received modest financing from the government, but their backers say they need much more to install networks capable of handling millions of users in China, Iran and other countries.

A report by the Republican minority of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which was to be released Tuesday, said the State Department’s performance was so inadequate that the job of financing Internet freedom initiatives — at least those related to China — should be moved to another agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees Voice of America and Radio Free Europe.

There are other tensions in the State Department’s agenda: It champions the free flow of information, except when it is in secret departmental cables made public by WikiLeaks; it wants to help Chinese citizens circumvent their government’s Internet firewall, but is leery of one of the most popular services for doing so, which is sponsored by Falun Gong, a religious group outlawed by Beijing as an evil cult.

Mrs. Clinton tried to reconcile one of those tensions. She described the WikiLeaks disclosures as “an act of theft” of sensitive government documents whose publication made it far harder, she said, for the United States to protect its security or promote human rights and democracy around the world. “WikiLeaks does not challenge our commitment to Internet freedom,” she said.

The State Department has received 68 proposals for nearly six times the $30 million in available funds. Among the kinds of things that excite officials are “circuit riders,” experts who tour Internet cafes in Myanmar teaching people how to set up secure e-mail accounts, and new ways of dealing with denial-of-service attacks.

The progress does not satisfy critics.

“The department’s failure to follow Congressional intent created the false impression among Iranian demonstrators that the regime had the power to disrupt access to Facebook and Twitter,” said Michael J. Horowitz, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, who lobbies on behalf of the Global Internet Freedom Consortium, a circumvention service with ties to Falun Gong.

Mr. Horowitz has organized demonstrations of the service for legislators, journalists and others. On Jan. 27, the day before the Egyptian government cut off access to the Internet, he said there were more than 7.8 million page views by Egyptians on UltraSurf, one of two consumer services under the umbrella of the consortium. That was a huge increase from only 76,000 on Jan. 22.

The trouble, Mr. Horowitz said, is that UltraSurf and its sister service, Freegate, do not have enough capacity to handle sudden sharp increases in use during political crises. That causes the speed to slow to a crawl, which discourages users.

And in Egypt, by shutting down the Internet completely, the authorities were able to make such systems moot.

Mrs. Clinton acknowledged the difficulties ahead at a time when, she said, the number of global Internet users could swell by 5 billion within 20 years.

“We are playing for the long game,” she said.

Interview Hillary Rodham Clinton February 14, 2011 Aljazeera

February 14, 2011

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, first of all, thank you for talking to Al Jazeera at the State Department. As you know, the Egyptian army, the supreme council of the armed forces in Egypt, have announced certain steps following the success of the revolution, as many Egyptians call it. And yet there is still some skepticism among many Egyptians that these measures are not enough. Where do you stand on that?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think that where we stand is with the Egyptian people. We want to be a good partner and friend as they make this transition. Three weeks ago, no one would have guessed that so much could have happened that would have been so responsive to the needs and aspirations that we heard coming from Tahrir Square. And now, like so many kinds of movements for change, the hard work of actually putting into place the steps that are necessary must be pursued, and it needs to be pursued as expeditiously as possible with as broad and inclusive a group of Egyptians involved. But we’re just at the beginning of the transition.

QUESTION: What would you say is the most positive step that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has announced so far?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think that first of all, the role that the army played during the last weeks as a guarantor of the Egyptian state, as a institution that was well-respected by the Egyptian people, was absolutely essential. Contrast what happened in Egypt with what is going on today in Iran where, once again, the Iranian Government is lashing out, using violence against people who are expressing the same desires as we heard from Egypt.

So I have a lot of sympathy for what has already occurred in Egypt, but I have a sense of realism about what it’s going to take to move forward. So far, what the supreme council has announced is in keeping with what they announced they would be doing, and in response to the desires of the Egyptian people and their demands. But I think everyone has to recognize that this transition where you have to rewrite a constitution, you have to pass new laws, you have to help form political parties – there’s a long to-do list, and everybody needs to be sort of focused on the task at hand. And that’s going to take an enormous amount of energy from everybody involved.

QUESTION: But you would have – one would have thought that because of the last three weeks of protests in Egypt, because of the discontent over about two decades about the issue of the state of emergency, that the first thing the army would do is to respond to the demands of young people and a lot of other Egyptians that it be lifted immediately. They haven’t done that yet. How do you – what would you counsel them to do?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, it’s not for me to counsel them. This is an Egyptian process that must be directed and defined by the Egyptian people. One of the demands, which we have supported for a long time, is to lift the emergency decree. There has been an announcement that that will be done, and we hope that it will be.

QUESTION: How soon would you want to see that happen, though?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I’m not going to substitute my judgment sitting here in the very beautiful comfort of the State Department for what is going on in Egypt right now. I think it’s important that the United States and others who wish to see a positive outcome of this struggle by the Egyptian people to achieve their own democracy be supportive, but don’t pretend that we know more than what the people in Egypt know. And we want to see changes. We’ve been for that for many years, both publicly and privately. But now, thankfully, the future really is in the hands of Egyptians themselves.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, I’m sure you’re aware of this. A lot of people in the Arab world, particularly in Egypt, listening to you now, especially those people who thought that the U.S. had sat on the fence before Mubarak fell, whether you agree with that description or not – they all say the U.S. Government is doing it again – when they’re asked to make a clear choice, a clear decision whether they support the army or the demonstrators, the U.S. Government is sitting on the fence again.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I have to obviously object to that characterization. We were consistent and clear. We were against violence. We communicated that many times over and over again to every level in the Egyptian Government, and in particular to the army. We were in favor of the universal human rights of the Egyptian people, and we have long been in support of that and pushed the government to take reforms that would realize that. And we were in favor of political change. But I think it is inappropriate for us to do more than say what we have always said. We have said repeatedly the emergency law needs to be lifted. But now, this is a process that is being worked on by Egyptians.

The Mubarak era is over. There is a new effort that is just beginning, and I think it is an – it’s important that the United States be seen as supporting the transition to democracy, and that is where we stand. We are strongly in favor of it. We want to see it as soon as it can come. But we are also conscious that at many points in history, this incredible movement for change can be hijacked by external or internal forces that do not follow through on the promises made, do not realize the aspirations of the Egyptian people. So our goal is to keep our eye on the outcome. Let us get to democracy that will, once and for all, meet the needs of the Egyptian people and give Egypt a chance to serve as a model for the entire region that needs desperately to see that.

QUESTION: Now, what would you say to assuage the concerns of many Egyptians who say that this was supposed to be a revolution to actually get rid of military rule which has ruled Egypt for 30 years, and now they see that it is the army – at least for the foreseeable future – that is managing the affairs of the country and we have concerns about that? What would you say to them that they do not necessarily have to be concerned?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, that they need to keep up their political involvement and the real strength of their movement to get the changes necessary. I mean, those changes have been promised now. They need to be delivered on. And there needs to be broad-based inclusive representation going forward. So, different groups within Egyptian society have to step forward to take responsibility toward working in a unified way to achieve the goals that have all been set.

It is not going to work merely to stand on the outside and say, “We don’t like this and we don’t like that.” We now have the chance for broad-based participation. People need to step forward and make their views known and be part of getting this process moving so that all these timelines and these milestones about ending the emergency law, reforming the constitution, getting the laws for political parties, preparing for the elections – there’s a big effort. As big an effort as went into bringing us to this point will be replicated in achieving the outcomes that we seek.

QUESTION: And yet to many of these people, there are just – quoted to you – the fact that Egypt continues to be run by the army for the foreseeable future, the fact that even the civilian side of the government in Egypt was actually inherited from the Mubarak regime – many of them are described as his cronies. How concerned are you about that being either the reality or the perception?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, again, it is the opportunity to work through what exists now. What is the alternative? There was very – there are very good ideas being floated around about what could be the next step. But it is not for the United States, it is not for any other government, it is not for the media, it is not for those outside to dictate to the Egyptian people how they intend to proceed. There are some excellent conversations going on. We know that there is an effort to try to coalesce around certain ways forward that the opposition can all support. That’s what should happen.

But let’s take a little perspective here. It’s been less than three weeks, or just barely three weeks, and revolutions in and of themselves don’t produce the outcome that is sought. It is: Okay, now that you’ve achieved the goal of changing the government, what happens next? That is where Egypt is, and that is what the Egyptian people have to lead us through.

QUESTION: My time is up. I was wondering if there is time for one more question --

SECRETARY CLINTON: (Laughter.) Sure.

QUESTION: -- just broad-based, if I may. Thank you very much, Madam Secretary.

The United States has invested in the Egyptian army, it has invested in cooperation with the Egyptian army for 30 years. Given what the situation is in Egypt and given that the role it is playing – the role the army is playing in Egyptian politics today, would you say that the U.S. investment in the Egyptian army has been a success story?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, history will have to judge that, but I think that the relationships that developed over all those years between the leadership of the United States military and leadership of the Egyptian military made it possible for there to be continuing communications. It was a message that was delivered from many different sources – do not use violence against your own people – that was very readily received. It’s not like the United States had to tell the Egyptian military. They wanted to defend the Egyptian people, and I think they performed in an extraordinary way.

Contrast it to Iran, where the government has turned against the people. They’re more than happy to talk about look at what’s going on in Egypt, but when their opposition, when their young people try to express themselves, they come down with brutality. They have a record of such abuse and excess. Contrast that with the Egyptian military. I would bet on the process that the Egyptian military has announced going forward as being a pathway to a different future, whereas I look with such dismay at what Iran continues to do and just feel – my heart goes out to the Iranian people.

QUESTION: And yet the Egyptian army is accused of having – or it’s the Egyptian security forces are accused of having killed more Egyptians than the Iranian army Iranians.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, I don’t think there’s any basis for that. I think that – as some of the leading protesters in Egypt themselves said, any loss of life is deeply regrettable, and certainly under those circumstances. But given what has been accomplished and the great opportunity for the Egyptian people now, it is something that Egyptians themselves say, “We now have it in our hands.” The Iranian people cannot say that.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, thank you so much.


Interview Hillary Rodham Clinton February 14, 2011

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, first, thanks for your time. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has said today that an earthquake is on the way in the Arab world (inaudible). Do you share or do you agree with this description?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think change is happening and it’s something that the United States and this Administration and I personally have advocated for, because we believe that it is in the best interest of not just the region and individual countries, but most importantly, the people, particularly the young people, that they have a chance to enjoy economic, political, democratic reform.

QUESTION: Will you – as the United States – will you adjust your policy or strategy towards the Middle East after this change?

SECRETARY CLINTON: We have consistently said the same thing, but it is obviously a challenge to communicate clearly in a time of great, momentous occurrences like this. We’ve said we are against violence by whoever; we are for the universal human rights of all people, and in particular over the last three weeks the Egyptian people; and we are for political change. In the speech that I gave in Doha toward the end of last year, I said that the foundations of the regimes were sinking into the sand. And I said it because it’s frustrating for us to watch good friends and watch talented people not be able to make the most out of their circumstances. And so I’m only hoping that we will see change from within, because that’s the only way it can occur.

QUESTION: When you ask the leaders to make reform and change their society, they didn’t change. They didn’t have enough time to change. But do you think they still have time to (inaudible) reform, to make that reform?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I do. I think that in many different countries, a opening of the economic space and ending of corruption, a consultation with a broad base of civil society, moves toward political reform and eventual democracy, are all within the reach of every one of the governments in the region.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, yesterday and during the weekend you talked to international leaders about Egypt. Were you satisfied with the steps that the Egyptian military has taken, and how do you view that going forward (inaudible)?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, this is up to the Egyptian people, but certainly, the – our hope is that everything which has been promised – the end of the emergency law, the movement for constitutional reform, political parties being allowed, all of the pieces that constitute a real transition to democracy – will be implemented. And we’re going to continue to stand for that.

QUESTION: There are some opposition leaders in Egypt, they raised worries about the future role of the military. Do you share these worries?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think it’s important that the opposition and civil society come together around a set of demands as to what needs to be done, with a timetable, because clearly, the military has evidenced its desire to move in the right direction. But there needs to be continuing efforts by the opposition to help guide where Egypt is going. So I am hoping that we see out of the very diverse opposition that was present over the last three weeks some unifying that would come, not behind personalities, but behind specific demands that have to be met in order for the transition to succeed.

QUESTION: How do you respond to those in the Middle East that have said that the U.S. has abandoned its allies in the region?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we haven’t. In fact, we think part of being a good friend and partner is telling your friend and partner what you see happening. And for many years, both publicly and privately, Democrats and Republican presidents and administrations have delivered the same message to the Egyptian Government: There must be reform; there must be change.

We were not successful, and neither was the Egyptian opposition or civil society. And the pressure just built up, and then we saw the results over the last three weeks. So with our friends, we have a very consistent message: There has to be change. It is still very possible, in fact desirable, for that change to proceed in an orderly way, a peaceful way, but it has to produce results, particularly for young people.

QUESTION: After Tunisia and Egypt, demonstrations are taking place today in Algeria, Yemen, and Bahrain. What is your message to the protestors in these countries?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Remain peaceful, nonviolent. That is what worked so well in Egypt, and that’s what will work because it gives you a standing that is absolutely unimpeachable that you are going out and protesting but not using violent means. Continue to stand up for universal rights but recognize that change requires a process, and be willing to be part of that process.

QUESTION: President Ahmadinejad today has said that there will be a new Middle East after what happened in Egypt and there is no place – well, there is no place for the U.S. and Israel. What is your reaction to that?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I find it very ironic that Iran is trying to give lessons in democracy to anybody. Talk about a revolution that was hijacked; Iran is Exhibit A. What Iran is doing to its people, even as we speak, where there are protestors trying to have their voices heard in Iran who are being brutally suppressed by the Iranian security forces, I don’t think anyone in the Middle East – or frankly, anyone in the world – would look to Iran as an example for them. That is not where anybody wants to end up, where you are basically in a military dictatorship with a kind of theocratic overlay which doesn't respond to the universal human rights of the Iranian people. So I don’t think there’s much to be learned or really in any way followed coming out of Iran when it comes to democracy.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) would happen to the (inaudible) peace process now? Is it on the shelf (inaudible)? What are you planning to do?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, the United States continues to believe that moving toward a two-state solution is in the best interests of the Israelis and the Palestinians, the best interest of the region. And we are continuing to push that with both of our friends, the Palestinians and the Israelis. And we think that having a two-state solution would be a great tribute to what people are standing for, where you’ve got self-determination by the Palestinian people, a state of their own, and Israel is able to live securely in the neighborhood and contributing to the transformation of the region.

QUESTION: I have two more questions on Lebanon and Syria. On Syria, Syrian authorities (inaudible) five-year plan on Facebook, and President Bashar Al-Assad has said that he will push through political reforms (inaudible). How do you view this?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I would like to see positive actions taken. A commitment in word only won’t produce the changes that people are looking for. So I hope that what he has said will be followed up on.

QUESTION: And on Lebanon in the sixth anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, you have called on the next government to honor its obligations to the international tribunal. Mr. Mikati has so far refused to commit to (inaudible). How are you going to (inaudible)?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, the United States believes strongly in the work of the tribunal, because we do not believe that there should be impunity for murder. And we do not believe that it is in Lebanon’s interest to avoid accountability for those who murdered not only Prime Minister Hariri but 22 other innocent people. So we’re going to continue to support the work of the tribunal. We think it’s important, and we believe that Lebanon itself would benefit from having this matter resolved. We also are very hopeful that the government that is finally formed will recognize the need for the tribunal’s work to continue.

QUESTION: After Egypt and Tunisia, who will be next (inaudible)?

SECRETARY CLINTON: That’s up to the people of the region. And what we hope is that there will be an ongoing commitment to reform – economic reform and political reform. I talked about it in my speech in Doha, and it was a warning to a lot of our friends in the region. And now, many of them are looking for ways that they can make progress, and we would like to see that happen.

QUESTION: Thank you so much.


QUESTION: I appreciate your time.


Mubarak defiance puts U.S. on the defensive

By Scott Wilson

Washington Post
Thursday, February 10, 2011; 9:08 PM

The Obama administration struggled Thursday to keep pace with events in Egypt and retool its strategy there after a defiant President Hosni Mubarak lashed out at what he described as foreign intervention.
Rather than delivering the resignation that had been widely expected, Mubarak used a televised address to present himself as a mediator in Egypt's national drama. He also cast the Obama administration as an unwanted interloper in a political reform process that he insisted he would see through as head of state.
Foreign intervention in Egypt is "shameful," Mubarak said, adding that he would never accept it, "whatever the source might be or whatever the context it came in."
The remark was a tacit rebuke of the Obama administration, and in delivering it in a region where the United States has little popular support, Mubarak managed, at least temporarily, to place U.S. officials on the defensive as they seeks to midwife an "orderly transition" to free elections later this year.
In a statement issued after Mubarak's speech, President Obama said "the Egyptian people have been told that there was a transition of authority, but it is not yet clear that this transition is immediate, meaningful or sufficient."
"Too many Egyptians remain unconvinced that the government is serious about a genuine transition to democracy, and it is the responsibility of the government to speak clearly to the Egyptian people and the world," he said. "The Egyptian government must put forward a credible, concrete and unequivocal path toward genuine democracy, and they have not yet seized that opportunity."
Since the Cairo protests began last month, administration officials have urged Mubarak and the powerful military that enforces his rule to begin a process of political reform that would guarantee fair elections this fall.
They have done so without calling for Mubarak's resignation, a move that would unsettle a host of other autocratic U.S. allies, from Amman to Riyadh, and inspire opposition movements often at odds with U.S. interests in the Arab world.
But Obama's message has come off as mixed, and the administration's attempts to distance itself from the Egyptian government may have come at a price.
While administration officials described an open line of communication between the two governments when the protests began, there are signs that the line now appears to have closed down considerably.
In recent days, senior Pentagon officials have largely been out of contact with their Egyptian counterparts.
On Thursday afternoon, a senior defense official said Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates last spoke with the Egyptian minister of defense, Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi, six days ago. Five days have passed since Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, last spoke to his Egyptian counterpart, a senior military official said.
Late last week, the Pentagon quietly put out a call asking U.S. military officers who might have attended an American war college with an Egyptian officer to call or e-mail their counterpart. The U.S. officers weren't told to deliver any specific message.
"Really the calls were all about maintaining connections," said the senior military official.
The lack of communication comes at a particularly volatile moment, as Egypt's military leadership weighs whether to assert itself on the streets in support of Mubarak or push him aside.
Richard N. Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said "suspicion is higher than ever" after another day of street demonstrations accompanied by the false hope that Mubarak might resign.
Haass said it is more important than at any point in the crisis that the reform process begin urgently and include civilians in key positions, not just the uniformed military.
"This can't be seen as solely a military operation," he said. "There can't be just promises of reform down the road. There need to be some near-term examples of changes."
A former administration official involved in White House discussions on Egypt confirmed that Mubarak's decision came as a surprise.
Before the speech, most officials expected a resignation, although there had been no clear signal from Cairo of what exactly Mubarak would say in his speech, said the official who insisted on anonymity in discussing internal policy debates.
"The message out of Egypt refusing foreign diktats is pretty clear - and totally aimed at the United States," said Jon B. Alterman, a senior fellow and director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "That gets Mubarak credit at home."
"One of the things that I think is often forgotten is that all of the Egyptians believe they are acting as patriots," Alterman continued. "And it's hard for the United States to appear more patriotic than even the most hated Egyptian."
Joel Rubin, a former Egypt desk officer for the State Department, said Mubarak's speech put the administration in a box, essentially daring the United States to push him out. He said the White House has little choice now but to explore new ways to sway the Mubarak's behavior - perhaps including explicit calls for his departure.
"Now is not the time to let up, just because Hosni Mubarak said so," said Rubin, deputy director of the National Security Network, a Washington think tank.
Stephen P. Cohen, a Middle East expert who has met with Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman multiple times and communicated with him in recent weeks, said the vice president and other top Mubarak aides appeared to have been outmaneuvered.
"The wise men around Mubarak have been outplayed by him," said Cohen, president of the Institute for Middle East Peace and Development. "He gradually took the cards out of their hands."