Monthly Archives: January 2007

More Hot ISOG Action

Laura Rozen has a “good summary”: of what ISOG and the OSD crew are up to RE: Iran. Some new details too, if memory serves:

Sources close to the administration’s Iran policy say the primary vehicle for U.S. government planning on Iran is the Iran-Syria Policy and Operations Group, an inter-agency body created in early 2006 that includes representatives and Iran specialists from the Office of the Vice President, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the State Department, the Treasury Department, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the National Security Council, and other agencies.

The overall group has four or five subgroups, including a recently combined one that focuses on “public diplomacy and promoting democracy” in Iran. That subgroup doled out some of the $85 million that Congress approved to support pro-democracy efforts in Iran. A second subgroup is devoted exclusively to Syria. A third focuses on counter-terrorism issues, and a fourth has a military agenda. Formally overseen by a steering committee headed by National Security Council Middle East adviser Elliott Abrams and James Jeffrey, the State Department’s principal deputy assistant secretary for Near Eastern affairs, the so-called ISOG is managed day to day by David Denehy, a senior adviser at State’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs and a former official with the International Republican Institute. Denehy has recently told some associates that he plans to move sometime early this year to the Office of the Vice President, where he would continue to coordinate the Iran-Syria group.

In addition to the ISOG, the Pentagon last spring set up a six-person Iranian directorate in the Office of the Secretary of Defense that includes three former members of the Office of Special Plans, a controversial unit established by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that produced discredited intelligence analysis linking Saddam Hussein to Al Qaeda.

U.S. officials say that multiple inter-agency meetings on Iran are going on every day under the auspices of the Iran-Syria Policy and Operations Group, and that the pace of activity has quickened. “There are so many meetings; we’re doing stuff, writing papers; actions are being taken,” said one person involved with the group. “It’s very intense.”

Previous post “here.”:

[Via “War and Piece”: ]

Weekly Standard Wankathon

Michael Goldfarb wrote “this post”: about the _Telegraph’s_ “North Korea/Iran nonsense.”: He said nice things about Jeffrey and me, but I think he’s being kind of dishonest. Or he may just fail to understand what we wrote.

The main problem is that he implies that Jeffrey and I were skeptical about the story (true) but have since deemed it more plausible (false). He also claims (falsely) that additional evidence has made the claim more plausible. [Here’s Jeffrey’s “original post”: on the subject.]

Lest there be any ambiguity, allow me to clarify: I still think that the _Telegraph_ piece is bullshit.

Anyway, Goldfarb wrote:

The report was met with some skepticism–the estimable Dr. Jeffrey Lewis went so far as to call Coughlin a “super-hack.” Paul Kerr, another well-respected expert, also mocked the report, pointing out that the Iranian program is designed around the use of highly enriched uranium (HEU) as weapons fuel, while the North Koreans used plutonium for the core of their weapon.

Now we have a report from Bill Gertz alleging intense cooperation on ICBM missile development between the two remaining members of the axis of evil. Also, Paul Kerr has changed his tune after consulting with a number of physicists who explained that the Iranians could still learn a great deal from the North Korean test, despite the use of HEU instead of plutonium. Lewis, too, seems less certain that such collaboration is unlikely.

First, the “Gertz piece”: he refers to is about missile, not nuclear, cooperation.

Second, I’m not sure where Goldfarb gets the idea that either Jeffrey or I have changed our minds regarding the _Telegraph_ article. For one thing, Jeffrey only wrote one post on the subject. The post that Goldfarb identifies as Jeffrey’s second is actually a “cross-post”: that I put up at ACW.

Furthermore, he cites “this post”: as evidence that I have “changed my tune.” But that post only indicates that Iran could perhaps benefit more from North Korean test data than I had previously suspected. That doesn’t mean that North Korea is actually providing such data.

Third, this sentence is just inaccurate:

bq. In Kerr’s opinion, the only way to significantly shorten that estimate [the IC’s 5-10 year estimate] was if the North Koreans sold weapons-grade fuel, presumably plutonium, to the Iranians.

I never wrote that, though it is true that supplying fissile material to Iran would shorten that timeline, as could several other forms of assistance. I would also note that the Coughlin piece says nothing about a Pu-transfer to Iran.

Last, Goldfarb failed to mention my other arguments for disregarding Coughlin’s article. You can “read them”: for yourself.


Goldfarb “responded.”: I’m glad he made clear where our opinions end and his begin.

Personally, I find this sentence to be troubling, for obvious reasons:

bq. We must assume the worst about these two regimes, and any evidence that confirms those assumptions ought to be treated as serious, rather than dismissed out of hand.

Whatever. Absence of evidence is absence of evidence. “Some guy wrote it in the paper” is not evidence.

Hot ISOG Action

In all of the discussions about picking more fights with Iran, people should take another look at this “article”: published in the _Boston Globe_ a little while back.


For nearly a year, a select group of US officials has been quietly coordinating actions to counter the looming threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, including increasing the military capabilities of Arab allies such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain.

The group, known as the Iran Syria Policy and Operations Group, or ISOG, is also coordinating a host of other actions, which include covert assistance to Iranian dissidents and building international outrage toward Iran by publicizing its alleged role in a 1994 terrorist attack in Argentina, according to interviews with half a dozen White House, Pentagon, and State Department officials who are involved in the group’s work.

Pentagon officials involved with the group intend to ask Congress as early as February to increase funding for transfers of military hardware to allies in the Persian Gulf and to accelerate plans for joint military activities. The request, which is still being formulated, is expected to include but not be limited to more advanced-missile defense systems and early-warning radar to detect and prevent Iranian missile strikes.

For some reason, some people speculate that the ISOG might be involved in efforts to cause regime change in Iran:

The United States has repeatedly said its policy is not to overthrow the Iranian regime, but one former US official who attended a meeting during ISOG’s initial phase eight months ago said in an interview that he got the impression that regime change was a key goal of many of the meetings’ participants.

He said that some of the intelligence reports ordered by members of the group were so highly classified that they were accessible to less than a dozen people in the US government, suggesting that some of the group’s activities were far from routine.

But interviews with half a dozen current White House, Pentagon, and State Department officials indicated that ISOG’s aims are more modest. Several said that as much as they would like to see the regimes in Tehran and Damascus go, ongoing military activities in Iraq and Afghanistan have limited their range of options. The main goal now, they said, is Cold War style “containment” of Iran in the hopes that Iranians one day will opt to change their own government.

Part of the article’s description of ISOG’s composition and M.O. reminded me of “this post”: I wrote a few months ago, in which I referenced “this piece”: from Josh Marshall.

Josh wrote:

As you may know, Vice President Cheney’s daughter Elizabeth is the deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs. She also has the title of “Coordinator for Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiatives.” Basically that means she’s in charge of democratizing the Middle East.

She has a budget of, I believe $75 million, for bringing about ‘regime change’ in Iran.

I also noticed this recent aside in The Nelson Report in which Chris Nelson wrote that his sources “say [Undersecretary of State Nick] Burns has been fighting an apparently losing battle with Undersecretary for non-proliferation Bob Joseph on a variety of issues, and that Vice President Cheney’s office seems to be sponsoring the hiring of exceptionally large numbers of political appointees, not career FSO’s, to staff the to-be-created Iran democracy projects to be run out of State.”

Here’s the _Globe_ on the same subject:

ISOG was modeled after the Iraq Policy and Operations Group, set up in 2004 to shepherd information and coordinate US action in Iraq. ISOG has raised eyebrows within the State Department for hiring BearingPoint — the same Washington-based private contracting firm used by the Iraq group — to handle its administrative work, rather than State Department employees.

Some lower level State Department officials saw the decision to outsource responsibility for scheduling meetings, record keeping, and distributing reports as an effort to circumvent the normal diplomatic machinery and provide extra secrecy for the group.

The article also identifies those administration officials who comprise ISOG:

bq. ISOG is led by a steering committee with two leading hawks on Middle East policy as chairmen: James F. Jeffrey, prinicipal deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, who once headed Iraq policy, and Elliott Abrams, deputy national security adviser for “Global Democracy Strategy.” Michael Doran, a Middle East specialist at the White House, steps in when Abrams is away. Elizabeth Cheney, the vice president’s daughter, who was the former deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, served as cochairwoman before she took a maternity leave earlier this year.

I’ve heard a little bit about this stuff, but anyone who knows anything is more than free to pass on their wisdom.

FWIW, here’s what Mr. Jeffrey said a “couple of months ago:”:

bq. The U.S. is not seeking regime change, what we’re seeking is a change in behavior across the board and the path to seeking this change is multilateral action primarily in the U.N. with the — what we call the P-5+1, one being Germany, but also through international efforts such as that at the U.N. that produced 1701 for Lebanon and multilateral actions –interactions with the countries of the region on the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians and in several other fields. We have a variety of bilateral sanctions that we’re trying to gain more international support for to deter Iran for — and pursuing the path of nuclear weapons. And we also have a variety of steps that we’re taking with our friends and allies in the region to strengthen their defense against a growing Iranian military threat.

Things to Giggle About

I don’t usually link to stuff like “this”:, but Sadly, No! made me laugh out loud by providing tips for Michelle Malkin et al RE: their Iraq “reporting.”

For those of you with lives, Malkin and other like-minded -idiots- geniuses have been carrying on for quite some time about the MSM’s alleged penchant for ignoring good news in Iraq.

Anyway, this tip is hilarious:

TIP: When you’re building up to your big ‘gotcha’ moment — i.e., the revelation that, like you’d said, either three or two or at least one of the four mosques that Jamil Hussein and the liberal MSM claimed were “burned” were, in fact, undamaged (or in your recent, less precise phrasing, “not destroyed”) — it’s better if you don’t go visit one and then attempt a revelatory camera pan on a firebombed mosque with a giant hole blown in it

So to begin with, there’s that. Plus, Michelle, your most recent, even narrower term apropos the mosques in question, “still standing,” seems to set the bar pretty low. People might suspect a bit of a shell-game when they see Hussein’s original statement — that four (4) mosques (four mosques) were burned (were burned) — countered by an upspiraling succession of flapdoodle claims that, au contraire!, all, or several, or at least one of the mosques were not in fact ‘toppled,’ ‘destroyed,’ ‘obliterated,’ ‘crushed by a 900-foot-tall Frankenstein,’ ‘atomized,’ ‘blown clear into orbit,’ ‘crumbled into a chasm straight down to the earth’s core,’ and/or ‘eaten by interdimensional space wombat-squid,’ as the so-called “Iraqi police captain,” the nonexistent Jamil Hussein, so outrageously claimed via the so-called “Associated Press” — who are therefore and for that reason in league with terrorists.

Making your Monday more tolerable…

[via “Atrios.”: ]

What Can You Learn From A Weapon Test?

I did an “interview with RFA”: a few days ago about the alleged nuclear cooperation between Iran and North Korea (which I blogged about “here”:

During that interview, I said:

bq. I don’t know if Iran has nuclear weapons program or not. But if it does that program is using highly enriched uranium for the explosive material. North Korea’s program is based on plutonium. So it’s unclear how much Iran could use whatever information they got from N.Korea.

Because I was unclear on that issue, I asked a couple of physicists. It seems that data from the test of a Pu implosion device actually could be pretty helpful to a weapons program using HEU.

One physicist told me that:

bq. With the caveat that I have never seen classified bomb design info, I would think that the only big difference between the two implosion devices is that the core of the HEU device would be somewhat bigger than the core of the Pu device because about 25 kg of HEU would be needed in comparison to 8 kg of Pu. So, the weapons scientists would have to scale up the HEU device. This would require calculating how to rearrange the conventional explosives that squeeze the HEU core.

Those calculations are apparently not terribly difficult for a competent physicist.

Another said:

bq. The results of the Pu test would validate (or invalidate) the computer models and techniques used to design, manufacture, and test the device. In particular, I would think that a successful Pu test would give a country substantial experience that would apply directly to key components of an HEU device, such as the HE assembly and related electronics and the initiator.

Glad I qualified what I said to that reporter.


Based on a conversation I had with a colleague, I should clarify that I am talking about the extent to which data from testing a Pu-based implosion device could help a state trying to build a similar HEU-based device. Obviously, Iran could simply choose to build a gun-type device out of HEU.

That colleague also pointed out that the design data of an implosion device would be just as important as the test data.

Wankery, Department of

There was a “story”: a few days ago in the _Daily Telegraph_ alleging that

North Korea is helping Iran to prepare an underground nuclear test similar to the one Pyongyang carried out last year.

Under the terms of a new understanding between the two countries, the North Koreans have agreed to share all the data and information they received from their successful test last October with Teheran’s nuclear scientists.

Thing is, the piece doesn’t seem to have a whole lot in the way of, you know, evidence:

A senior European defence official told The Daily Telegraph that North Korea had invited a team of Iranian nuclear scientists to study the results of last October’s underground test to assist Teheran’s preparations to conduct its own — possibly by the end of this year.

There were unconfirmed reports at the time of the Korean firing that an Iranian team was present. Iranian military advisers regularly visit North Korea to participate in missile tests.

Now the long-standing military co-operation between the countries has been extended to nuclear issues.

As a result, senior western military officials are deeply concerned that the North Koreans’ technical superiority will allow the Iranians to accelerate development of their own nuclear weapon.

“The Iranians are working closely with the North Koreans to study the results of last year’s North Korean nuclear bomb test,” said the European defence official.

“We have identified increased activity at all of Iran’s nuclear facilities since the turn of the year,” he said.

“All the indications are that the Iranians are working hard to prepare for their own underground nuclear test.”

Uh-huh. I talked about the story in “this RFA interview.”:

[By the way, the North Koreans subsequently “reacted:”:

bq. Their assertion is nothing but a sheer lie and fabrication intended to tarnish the image of the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] by charging it with nuclear proliferation,” a spokesman for North Korea’s Foreign Ministry, quoted by the state-run KCNA news agency, said Saturday.]

Anyway, the article has a few other problems.

First, I don’t know anyone who thinks Iran can conduct a nuclear test within a year. The article does say that

bq. Intelligence estimates vary about how long it could take Teheran to produce a nuclear warhead. But defence officials monitoring the growing co-operation between North Korea and Iran believe the Iranians could be in a position to test fire a low-grade device — less than half a kiloton — within 12 months.

But there’s no reason why the cooperation between North Korea and Iran discussed in the article would impact the US IC’s “5-10 year estimate.”: My understanding is that that estimate applies to Iran’s ability to produce HEU…North Korea’s program uses plutonium.

Second, I wrote “this piece”: about Iranian/North Korean missile cooperation for the last issue of _ACT_. When I was doing the research/reporting for it, I didn’t come across much about nuclear cooperation between the two countries.

SecState Rice “apparently agrees:”:

QUESTION: North Korea and Iran question. A report in the Daily Telegraph newspaper citing a senior European defense official who is nameless as saying that he believes that North Korea is providing assistance to Iran to conduct underground nuclear tests. Do you have any reason to believe that there’s anything to that?

RICE: I’ve only seen the report too, and I don’t even — I don’t know what it’s based on. I don’t see that it’s based on anything that I’ve seen.

Additionally, the _NYT_ in October “reported”: that

Last year the White House ordered a study of whether North Korea might share some nuclear fuel with Iran, but the report was inconclusive.

Some administration officials say they doubt that the North Koreans would take the risk. Others, including Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, argue that the North’s record indicates that it proliferates any weapon in its arsenal. For example, it has long supplied missiles to Iran, and there have been suspicions, but no evidence, of nuclear cooperation between the countries as well.

Wanking in public is dangerous. Just saying.


“Jeffrey’s take”: is funnier. A little.

Iran and IAEA Cooperation

You may recall that, after the Majlis “recently required”: the government to “revise” its cooperation with the IAEA, Iran’s SNSC set up a committee to deal with the matter.

That committee has now taken its first step. ISNA reported yesterday that

bq. The Iran-International Atomic Energy Agency revision committee in its first step prevented the entry of 38 inspectors in to Iran.

Yesterday, ISNA didn’t say which inspectors were barred or why. But according to “this AFP story,”: ISNA reported that “the barred inspectors are French, British, German and Canadian nationals.”

A couple of good wire stories from yesterday can be found “here”: and “here.”: The two ISNA reports I could find on the web are “here”: and “here.”:

The IAEA emailed its reaction yesterday:

Media Advisory
Vienna, 22 January 2007 — Statement by IAEA Spokesperson, Melissa Fleming on Iran:

“Details of inspector designation is a confidential matter between the IAEA and the country concerned. In this case, we are discussing with Iran its request for withdrawing the designation of certain safeguards inspectors.

It should be noted however, that there are a sufficient number of inspectors designated for Iran and the IAEA is able to perform its inspection activities in accordance with Iran’s Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement.”

Ultimately, I’m not sure how significant this is, although Iran obviously should be increasing, not decreasing, its cooperation with the IAEA.

One thing I have not seen mentioned is ISNA’s reporting on what appears to be the composition of the committee:

bq. The MP referred to the first meeting of the special committee following up the construction of nuclear power plants which was held yesterday and said: This meeting resulted in the MPs making such a decision. This meeting was held with the participation of heads of the Majlis Energy, Education and Research, Industries and Mines, National Security and Foreign Policy and the Planning and Budget committees as well as the officials involved in the construction of nuclear power plants, in order to follow up this Majlis ratification.

Moreover, the Majlis is forming a committee of its own:

The Borujerd MP said: We have also decided that the MPs, who have nuclear expertise, should set up a special technical committee to supervise and follow up the construction of nuclear power plants. According to Borujerdi, during the [Majlis] session, the MPs decided that Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization should study international tenders and announce their result as soon as possible. This way, apart from using domestic technical expertise, we will enjoy international know-how as well.

Sounds like a party…

Greatest. Song. Title. Ever.

Speaking of “music”:, according to a “KCNA article”: titled “Great Vitality of Music-based Politics:”

bq. The music-based politics of the Workers’ Party of Korea has brought about a great turn in the development of the Korean revolution and its validity and indestructible vitality is being displayed to the fuller as the days go by. Kim Jong Il, who set forth a unique idea that a genuine music should meet the demand of the times and contribute to the mission of the times in the early period of his revolutionary activities, has wisely led the work of creating famous art pieces representing the times at each stage of the revolutionary development.

Of all those songs, this one is too good to be true:”All Servicepersons and People Will Become Human Bullets and Bombs.”

Lest you think that music doesn’t matter, the article adds:

Startling miracles and labor feats are being made in many units from the beginning of the year. These are unthinkable apart from brisk mass cultural and artistic activities.

The working people of Korea are registering signal successes in all working sites of the socialist construction such as the agricultural and power, coal-mining, metal industry and rail transport sectors, singing louder the songs of struggle and advance.

The music-based politics is certain to bring earlier the building of a great, prosperous powerful nation.