Monthly Archives: July 2009

Iran Weaponization Intel: A Cautionary Note

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The following is a guest post from *Oliver Meier*, the international representative and correspondent of the “Arms Control Association”: and a researcher with the Hamburg Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy, also known as “IFSH”: Dr. Meier is based in Berlin.

Take it away, Oliver…

* * *

On July 20, the _Wall Street Journal Europe_ ran an op-ed by German journalist Bruno Schirra, its headline declaring that “Germany’s Spies Refuted the 2007 NIE Report”:

The article was quickly seized upon by “those who”: “have argued”: “all along”: that that the NIE — which concerned Iran’s nuclear weapons development activities — was wrong. But this conclusion may be overstated.

Specifically, Schirra claims that the German foreign intelligence agency (the “Bundesnachrichtendienst”:, or BND) had found that Iran continued to work on nuclear weapons after 2003, contradicting the “Key Judgments”: of the above-mentioned 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate.

Schirra bases his argument on a decision by Germany’s Federal Court of Justice, which decided an appeal in the case of a German-Iranian businessman accused of illegally brokering the transfer of dual-use items to Iran.

The details of the technologies in question are blacked out in the legal opinion, but one charge brought against the defendant involves the transfer of high-speed cameras, which the legal opinion describes as “essential for the development of nuclear warheads.” The Court also claims that the defendant “correctly assumed” that the cameras would be used in Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

A second charge involves counting tubes for radiation-resistant detectors, which the legal opinion describes as being specifically designed to withstand nuclear detonations. The U.S. company that produces the instruments describes these instruments as being designed for use in nuclear installations and says that they can be used “for military purposes.”

The counting tubes are covered by Annex 2 of the April 19, 2007 EU Iran Sanctions Act (“423/2007”:, which concerns nuclear technologies. The cameras were not covered in 2007 (and thus the brokering of that technology did not violate EU regulations). High-speed cameras that can take more than 225.000 frames per second were added to the EU sanctions list only in early 2008 (with the amended Iran Sanctions Act 116/2008).

_[The paragraph above has been corrected.]_

Both technologies also have benign uses. In the case of the high-speed cameras, which were supplied by a Russian company, the official end-user was a university in the Middle East. In the case of the counting tubes, which were to be delivered from the U.S. manufacturer through a German firm to an Iranian end-user via Dubai — the defendant apparently considered several possibilities to justify the export. These included uses in agriculture and medicine. In the end, he wrote to the German export control authority (“BAFA”: that the instruments could be used in nuclear facilities, but that their intended use was in the production of cement. BAFA didn’t buy this story, and indeed, it seems difficult to imagine why one would need radiation-hardened detectors in the cement industry.

A lower court in Frankfurt had dismissed the case in August 2008, partly because the prosecution could not convince the judges that Iran was pursuing the development of nuclear weapons in 2007, when the defendant tried to broker the sale of the technology.

The prosecution appealed against this ruling and was partly successful. The Federal Court of Justice ordered the case to proceed for two of three charges brought against the defendant. Schirra uses the Court’s “30-page legal opinion”: and a “press release”: by the Court to claim that the BND “has amassed evidence of a sophisticated Iranian nuclear weapons program that continued beyond 2003.”

However, the information publicly available about the Court’s ruling does not support such a broad claim.

In fact, the Court found only that, based on a May 2008 BND report, “it is sufficiently likely” that Iran was working on nuclear weapons in 2007 to reopen the case. The lower court in Frankfurt had described the same BND report as “extremely vague” (a fact conveniently ignored by Schirra). The Federal Court came to a different conclusion, saying that the BND made a “plausible case” that Iran continued working on nuclear weapons. But the judges made it explicitly clear that it was not their job to arrive at a substantive judgment about whether Iran had actually been working on nuclear weapons in 2007.

This is more than a matter of semantics. The Federal Court stated that it will be possible to arrive at any conclusion about whether Iran did indeed work on nuclear weapons only after the case against the defendant has been reopened. The Federal Court also stated that it will be necessary to hear additional witnesses and consider new evidence to reach a conclusion about whether Iran did indeed work on nuclear weapons in 2007.

Of course, the BND report itself is classified, but the Federal Court’s legal opinion cautions that the intelligence report is only “secondary evidence” that does not reveal the sources on which its findings are based. The legal opinion states that the BND report is itself partly based on information about Iranian procurement activities involving “well-known institutions” and dual-use technologies. Information about procurement, of course, does not provide direct evidence that Iran is actually developing nuclear weapons (a point not lost on the 2007 NIE).

According to the Federal Court, a second report supplied by the BND on August 28, 2008 “specifies and supplements” the first BND document by highlighting (for example) Iranian efforts to develop nuclear weapons delivery systems, and similarities between Iranian, North Korean, and Pakistani procurement patterns. But again, the Court’s description of the document does not support the claim that it contains actual evidence of Iranian nuclear weapon development efforts.

Schirra calls the Federal Court’s conclusion “unusually strong.” Actually, the opposite is true. Whether the BND actually made a convincing case that Iran continued its nuclear weapons program after 2003 appears to lie in the eye of the beholder. One court (in Frankfurt) dismissed the case, while the higher court found it sufficiently plausible to justify reopening the collection of evidence. It will be worthwhile to follow the proceedings when the case resumes: the question of Iranian nuclear weapons efforts is likely to take center stage.

In any case, the legal opinion provides fascinating reading about continued Iranian efforts to get its hands on dual-use technologies with nuclear applications. And the news is not all bad. While the defendant was able to supply Iran with two high-speed cameras that can be used for nuclear-weapons diagnostics, he failed to deliver the counting tubes for radiation resistant detectors. In the latter case, the German export control authority kept on questioning the end-user certificate until he gave up.

An Aside on the Third Site and STSS

From a “Statement of Administration Policy” on the DoD Appropriations Act, as it appeared in this evening’s _Nelson Report_:

bq. Missile Defense Agency Rescissions. The Administration opposes the rescission of 2009 funds for the European Interceptor Site because this would remove the Administration’s flexibility to arrive at a future decision on ballistic missile defense in Europe. The Administration also objects to the rescission of 2009 funds for the Space Tracking and Surveillance System, which would result in immediate cessation of work and deobligation of funds.

There is still a “Ballistic Missile Defense Review”: going on, after all.

If you’re curious about that subject, you can read the prepared testimonies and a transcript from a “June 12 SASC hearing on missile defense”:

Publishing the Unpublishable

*Update.* I’ve posted a “revised version of this post at ACW”: It’s shorter, too, so go read that instead.

* * *

Among many vague motives for blogging, I can count a pretty specific feeling of aggravation at the frequently poor quality of public discussion of national security affairs, especially in the charged realm of “Doubleyou Em Dee”: Anything that helps improve that picture, even a small bit, ought to count as the Lord’s work.

What that makes the contribution of the Washington Post’s opinion editors, you can judge for yourself. The Post is by no means the sole “offender”: But it’s past time to say something about the “July 6 op-ed”: by two former Pentagon officials, Trey Obering and Eric Edelman. To that end, I’m taking this momentary break from the blog break.

The op-ed attacked the May 2009 “U.S.-Russia Joint Threat Assessment on Iran”: sponsored by the EastWest Institute. If you haven’t read it yet, let’s just say that the EWI JTA isn’t too gentle in its treatment of the Euro-GMD proposal, something obviously close to the hearts of former MDA chief Obering and former OSD Policy boss Edelman.

Unfortunately, their critique of this serious (if imperfect) contribution came across as dismissive and misleading. This is not an unfamiliar experience for “outside experts who have examined missile defense systems”: After all, “GMD is a political program”: (You could look it up.) But one would hope that it could get a more respectful hearing in an independent newspaper. -To my knowledge, though, the news side of the Post did not cover the EWI report, so- This bristling, blistering op-ed is the only coverage that _the editorial page of_ the paper has provided.

(See the “earlier news coverage”:

That’s really a shame. The mission of the paper is presumably to inform the public, not merely to provoke. (Otherwise, it could be a cable channel.) By that standard, this op-ed really should not have appeared in its current form. At a minimum, the authors of the EWI report should have had an opportunity to avail themselves of the Post’s healthy practice of running an occasional column-length reply to seriously unbalanced opinion pieces. (One of these “Taking Exception” features appeared “just this past Friday”: And lo, two of the EWI study members — the formidable experts Richard Garwin and Ted Postol — did submit a reply at about that length. Jeff “ran it here”:, with maybe a little more color than I would have applied.

As Jeff points out, the Post instead ran a “shorter reply by Garwin”: in the July 9 letters. But it is really not sufficient to address the distortions. I won’t recite them here; see instead the fuller Garwin-Postol reply.

By no means is the EWI report beyond criticism. Uzi Rubin, who once led Israel’s equivalent to MDA and has crossed swords with Postol in the recent past, has already “called attention”: to its clearest shortcoming, the lack of any serious discussion of Iran’s solid-fueled ballistic missile program. This is — what’s that word? — reasonable. Discussions of anything related to missile defense “often aren’t reasonable”: The Post shouldn’t be perpetuating that trend.

*Update.* “ACW commenter”: Yousaf observes that Obering may have a “vested interest”: not disclosed to readers by the Post.

Uncle Sam’s Memo to Yellowcake Producers

Barak Ravid has a scoop in _Ha’aretz_, but the “lede is buried”:

[The story now appears in more sensible form “here”:]

Here’s the good stuff:

bq.. The U.S. has asked 10 uranium-rich countries to tighten their monitoring of sales of the mineral to Iran, according to a document obtained by Haaretz. The move is based on an American estimate that Iran’s uranium reserves will run out by 2010….

The document was distributed by the U.S. State Department to 10 countries that produce yellowcake, a uranium concentrate used as a raw material for enriching uranium. The United States wants the countries to increase monitoring of the sale of yellowcake to Iran.

According to the document, “As a consequence of its geology, Iran’s reported indigenous uranium reserves are insufficient to support its current nuclear reactor program for sustained period of time …. Calculations based on Iran’s rate of uranium conversion thus far suggest that Iran will run out of yellowcake in 2010.”

The document is defined as a so-called non-paper to be used in contacts with privately owned companies that produce the concentrate. It was sent to Russia, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Britain, Kazakhstan and three others countries.

UN sanctions prohibit the sale of uranium to Iran, but the United States fears that the Islamic Republic might be trying to acquire the material anyway. “Iran could soon begin, or may have already begun, to look for outside suppliers of uranium,” the document says. “Extreme vigilance in dealing with Iran and its nuclear program is necessary given the requirements of the UN Security Council and the significant threat Iran presents to international peace and security.”

The document also notes that given “Iran’s publicly stated ambition to pursue its enrichment-related activities, we believe it critically important that the world’s major uranium resource companies prevent all exports of uranium to Iran unless contained in fuel rods and for an established light-water reactor.

Beyond the responsibility to prevent nuclear proliferation that we all share and the specific requirements of the UNSC, we believe that nuclear cooperation – particularly the provision of raw nuclear materials – with Iran is a significant business and reputational risk.”

It adds that “we urge companies subject to your jurisdiction not to facilitate Iran’s nuclear ambitions by engaging in new business deals with Iran until all concerns regarding its intentions have been resolved and confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear program has been established.”

p. More on this later, maybe — I have to go back to getting other stuff done.

Where’s The Musudan?

I assume that the U.S., South Korea, and Japan all have a pretty good idea of what kind of missiles North Korea is shooting into the Sea of Japan at any given time, what with all the radars and imaging systems available to them and the information shared between the U.S. and each of its treaty allies. So we can probably trust the claims in the South Korean press about the “types of theater ballistic missiles fired on July 4”:

That raises the question in the title of this post. Why is North Korea test-firing more or less the same batch of missiles that it did three years ago? Why not flight-test the “SS-N-6 clone”: for the first time?

It’s certainly curious. David Wright and Ted Postol see the “second stage of recently flown Iranian and North Korean SLVs”: as derived from the SS-N-6. If that’s correct, why hasn’t it been flight-tested separately?

The allies just don’t have their story straight on this one:

* The “2009 edition of NASIC’s glossy missile threat report”: states that “North Korea has an IRBM in development.”

* On “March 19 of this year”:, General Walter Sharp, the commander of U.S. Forces in Korea (USFK), went further, telling the Senate Armed Services Committee that “North Korea is now fielding a new intermediate range ballistic missile capable of striking Okinawa, Guam and Alaska.”

* In February, according to _Chosun Ilbo,_ the newly released South Korean Defense White paper stated outright that the new IRBMs had been “deployed in 2007”:

(As of this writing, the website of the “South Korean Ministry of National Defense”: is down. Must be those pesky DDOS attacks.)

Perhaps it’s a matter of interpretation, and some analysts are waiting for a flight test before calling the missile deployed. If so, they must have been disappointed on July 4.

*Update.* X-posted, with cosmetic adjustments, to “ACW”:

Can GMD Stop Russian Missiles?

That was our “topic of discussion”: the other day. And the answer, according to the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, is “nope.”

I don’t mean the argument about whether European-based interceptors could fly out in time to engage Russian ICBMs. I’m talking about countermeasures.

CDI has what I was looking for earlier — the “Missile Defense Agency FY 2009 Budget Estimates”: Here’s what it says about enemies:

bq. Our program is focused on the threat from North Korea and Iran but remains flexible to address emerging threats given the wide and dangerous proliferation of ballistic missile technologies.

The key excerpt explains how the development and fielding of capabilities are planned in a “block structure,” including a block (already largely complete) with North Korea’s name on it, and a couple of blocks with Iran’s name on them:

bq.. * Blocks will be based on fielded BMDS capabilities—not, as before, on biennial time periods—that address particular threats. Each block will represent a discrete program of work.
* When MDA believes a firm commitment can be made to the Congress, the Agency will establish schedule, budget, and performance baselines for a block. Schedule delays, budget increases, and performance shortfalls will be explained as variances.
* Once baselines are defined, work cannot be moved from one block to another.

Based on the above tenets, MDA has currently defined five blocks.
* Block 1.0: Defend the United States from Limited North Korean Long-Range Threats
* Block 2.0: Defend Allies and Deployed Forces from Short- to Medium-Range Threats in One Region/Theater
* Block 3.0: Expand Defense of the United States to Include Limited Iranian Long-Range Threats
* Block 4.0: Defend Allies and Deployed Forces in Europe from Limited Iranian Long-Range Threats and Expand Protection of U.S. Homeland
* Block 5.0: Expand Defense of Allies and Deployed Forces from Short- to Intermediate-Range Threats in Two Regions/Theaters

Future blocks (Block 6.0, etc.) will be added when significant new capabilities are expected to be fielded based on a consideration of technological maturity, affordability, and need. For example, a new Block 6.0 might include enhanced defense of the United States against complex countermeasures, drawing on multiple kill capabilities from the multiple kill vehicle (MKV) program and discrimination and system tracking capabilities through upgraded hardware and software on weapon systems, sensors, and C2BMC.

p. So, back in 2008, when this document was prepared, MDA’s plans for the foreseeable future included only fielding 1) theater defenses and 2) “long-range” systems oriented specifically to North Korea and Iran. The MKV program and other future initiatives would have to bear fruit before “complex countermeasures” could be tackled.

This could mean that 1) the North Koreans and Iranians would be expected to upgrade their countermeasures with time, or it could mean that 2) MDA had its sights set on still tougher challenges in the future, like Russia or China. Or, if you are skeptical, the MKV program could have simply been 3) a backhanded concession that current technologies were already inadequate. And it could have been a bit of all three.

Regardless, the point is, until progress could be made on these new technologies, more capable defenses weren’t even scheduled.

Back in April, Secretary of Defense Gates hinted broadly that the correct answer was #2, telling Congress:

bq. * We will restructure the program to focus on the rogue state and theater missile threat.

That, of course, is also when he moved to “axe the MKV program”:

bq. * We will terminate the Multiple Kill Vehicle (MKV) program because of its significant technical challenges and the need to take a fresh look at the requirement.

One possible interpretation of the above is, We don’t think it is feasible to tackle bigger fish than Iran and North Korea, and actually are not interested in trying anyhow.

The “FY 2010 Budget Estimates”: document is available on the MDA site. It no longer features the block structure, but the section on threats names two countries: Iran and North Korea. It echoes Gates’s earlier comments about MKV, while indicating intent to pursue some new “ascent phase” defense technology — apparently something that could shoot down a missile after boosting but before deployment of countermeasures. But that’s a topic for another day.

What Missile Defense Is Supposed To Do

It’s possible to envision the world — either the physical world or the social and political world — as being like either “a clock or a cloud”: Either it’s deterministic and ultimately knowable — you know, like clockwork — or it’s chaotic, irreducibly complex, and elusive. Like a cloud.

Me, I don’t subscribe to either a “clock theory” of politics or a “cloud theory.” I subscribe to a “stopped clock” theory. But that’s only because I’ve been following missile defense issues for so very long. Few people who have an opinion in the first place ever really change their mind about missile defenses. For altogether too many devotees of the subject, the hands of their mental clocks are always pointing in a “fixed direction”:

To be clear, it’s possible to have reasoned discussions about this subject, even across the divide of instinctively held viewpoints. But not with anyone and everyone.

All of this is by way of justifying a narrow focus on one little snippet of “Charles Krauthammer’s extensively flawed column”: of late last week:

bq. [An offense-defense linkage] is important for Russia because of the huge American technological advantage in defensive weaponry. We can reliably shoot down an intercontinental ballistic missile. They cannot.

Just two points.

First, GMD — America’s existing strategic BMD system — has no known or anticipated capability against Russian missiles. According to MDA, current and planned capabilities are oriented to North Korea and Iran. According to this “fact sheet”:, for example,

bq. The Ground-based Midcourse Defense element is now deployed in Alaska and California to defend the U.S. homeland against a limited attack from countries like North Korea and Iran and is also being developed for deployment in Europe to defend against an attack from Iran.

(There are even more explicit statements to this effect in older MDA budget documents, but they don’t seem to be online anymore. I’ll see if I can’t dig one up. *Update:* “Found it”:!)

There is a longstanding dispute in expert circles — one of those disputes that never gets resolved — about whether GMD is actually capable of coping with North Korean or Iranian “countermeasures”: So far as I’m aware, there is no dispute in the United States — none — about the system’s ability to cope with Russian countermeasures. It hasn’t any.

Second, against a North Korea-type threat, Russian missile defense may be ahead of U.S. missile defense. The “A-135 defensive system around Moscow”:, so far as I know, is still nuclear-armed, which should provide it with certain advantages over the hit-to-kill systems now favored by the United States. “Richard Garwin’s presentation”:,%206-03-2009,%200715-SHARE%20YES.pdf for a missile defense conference last month happened to address this point:

bq.. [Since the 1950s,] Our Strategic Military Panel tried its hardest to help make U.S. ICBMs and SLBMs effective and to give them the ability to penetrate potential Soviet missile defenses, whether armed with nuclear warheads or conventional. On the other hand, we tried our best to devise and to evaluate systems for defending the United States against nuclear-armed Soviet missiles. So we early-on analyzed such techniques and technologies as multiple independently-targeted reentry vehicles (MIRVs), various other countermeasures and tactics, such as attacking and blinding the defense, and antisimulation.

In the 1960s, the technology was not available to have homing intercept against warheads in space, so that the only feasible BMD systems used nuclear-armed interceptors. Even for the nuclear BMD, mid-course intercept is problematical because of the availability of countermeasures, together with the ability of the offense readily to stretch out the string of warheads and decoys for many hundreds of km along the trajectory even to a specific point target. …

Countermeasures become a lot simpler against the small kinetic-energy intercept (KEI) kill vehicles that form the core of current U.S. BMD efforts. The homing kill vehicle (HKV) either collides with the warhead or it doesn’t.

p. Bottom line: Don’t go looking for deep insights into strategic systems on the op-ed page of the _Post_.

Nuclear Holocaust, Crazy State

I’ve thought three times before posting this. Four times. It’s so bleak that it’s difficult to digest. But it gives too much insight into the regnant Israeli view of nuclear deterrence to withhold comment.

The recently published “interview with Uzi Arad”: by Ari Shavit in _Ha’aretz_ includes this passage about nuclear deterrence failure:

bq.. [Arad] On the face of it, what is the point of this? Why execute the enemy after deterrence has failed? But according to Dror, it is important to ascertain that the deterrence will work, even if you yourself have been destroyed. He sees this as a contribution to the repair of the world (tikkun olam).* When we say “never again,” this entails three imperatives: never again will we be felled in mass numbers, never again will we be defenseless and never again will there be a situation in which those who harm us go unpunished.

[Shavit] Is the Holocaust relevant to our strategic thought in an era of a nuclear Middle East?

[Arad] Look at the way memory guides people like Netanyahu, who refers time and again to the 1930s. Bernard Lewis also said a few years ago that he feels like he is in the late 1930s. What did he mean? On the one hand, an imminent threat, rapidly approaching, and on the other, complacency and conciliation and a cowering coveting of peace. When I visited Yad Vashem (the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem) not long ago, I could not bear the psychological overload and left halfway through. I don’t think there is an Israeli or a Jew who can be insensitive to the Holocaust. It is a painful black hole in our consciousness.

[Shavit] When you look around today, what is your feeling? Are we alone?

[Arad] We are always alone. Sometimes we have partners and lovers and donors of money, but no one is in our shoes.

p. (*This is an unusual interpretation of “tikkun olam”:, to say the least. Usually it means something like “social justice” and suggests making the world a better place. At least in the present context, it might be understood as meaning “cosmic justice.”)

The “Dror” to whom Arad refers must be Yehezkel Dror, Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He may be better known for his “work on public policy”: “and the social sciences”:, but in 1971, he produced a small book published in English as “Crazy States: A Counterconventional Strategic Problem”:

Lacking a copy at hand, I’ll turn to the summary in Barry Wolf, “When the Weak Attack the Strong: Failures of Deterrence”: As part of his discussion of “highly motivated” attackers, Wolf provides this sketch of Dror’s idea:

bq.. A “crazy state” culture may also result in a cost-benefit calculus that is difficult for outsiders to comprehend. The term “crazy state” has been used by Yehezkel Dror to refer to such groups as “the Christian Crusaders or the Islam Holy Warriors… anarchists… contemporary terrorist groups… Nazi Germany; and–to a more limited extent–Japan before the Second World War.” Although Dror’s concept is multidimensional and cannot be easily defined, the historical examples he uses tend to be groups with an extremely strong commitment to nonrational (by contemporary Western standards) ideologies and a willingness to use force to realize their goals. It is important to remember that the term “crazy state” is used to identify states whose cost-benefit calculus may be extremely difficult for a contemporary Westerner to understand; the term is not a judgment that the state’s values are “crazy” in an absolute or universal sense.

Many states that have attacked substantially stronger counterparts certainly could have been “crazy states,” the Jewish zealots who revolted against Rome being an especially likely example. Both Iran and Libya can arguably be considered states of this type, and a “crazy state” cost-benefit calculus seems likely to have contributed to their attacks against U.S. forces. A weak “crazy state” led by a psychopathological leader may have particularly great potential to take actions that appear to defy logic; Adolf Hitler’s Germany occupied the Rhineland at a time (1936) when France’s army was substantially stronger than Germany’s. Although Hitler in that case read Allied intentions correctly, perhaps no wholly sane leader would have taken this risk because the consequences of failure would have been so terrible. As Hitler himself said, “A retreat on our part would have spelled collapse.”

p. This post has gone on long enough already, and it’s not my intention to revisit the not-so-great “rationality debate”: here. Suffice it to say that there’s not a person alive, let alone a nation-state, that conducts its affairs in keeping with the “von Neuman-Morgenstern axioms”: Vague objectives, impulsivity, and gross errors are altogether commonplace. The worst outcomes are rare, but we are condemned to live with uncertainty.

So let’s conclude with one last snippet from Arad, who insists that Israel must “must not be militant, but we must entrench our defense and security prowess and act with wisdom and restraint and caution and sangfroid.” That much, I think, is hard to argue with.