Daily archives: March 5, 2007

Becoming a Blogger

In a sense, this is my first blog entry. That may seem strange for a blog with almost a thousand entries and on the receiving end of over 600 weblinks. But this is the first entry I have actually tried to enter and post myself, like a real blogger. It will therefore possibly appear upside down, or screw up the formatting of the entire blog. But at least I am trying.

Previously I wrote entries, or selected articles, and emailed them to the team to post. Andrew and Richard also came to select and post stuff themselves. None of this would have been possible without day to day support from Tim and Wibbler. We will continue to function as something of a collective. But there will be much more day to day blogging from me.

That may also bring something of a change in tone, as I will be blogging not only when I have something heavyweight to say. Expect to see a lot about the frustrations of travelling the country on ailing public transport, and about the running of Dundee University. I hope again to do more on Uzbekistan than we had recently, and keep up the commentary on the increasingly mad “War on Terror”. And I hope that we will increase the level of comment and interaction from you.

Anyway, if this posts, I shall feel like a real blogger at last!

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How Far is Iran from the Bomb? Who the Hell Knows?

From Counterpunch

By RAY McGOVERN – Former CIA analyst

That was one of the key questions asked of newly confirmed Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell at a Senate Armed Forces Committee hearing on Tuesday. Why had McConnell avoided this front-burner issue in his prepared remarks? Because an honest answer would have been: “Beats the hell out of us. Despite the billions that American taxpayers have sunk into improving U.S. intelligence, we can only guess.”

But the question is certainly a fair, and urgent one. A mere three weeks into the job, McConnell can perhaps be forgiven for merely reciting the hazy forecast of his predecessor, John Negroponte, and using the obscurantist jargon that has been introduced into key national intelligence estimates (NIEs) in recent years. McConnell had these two sentences committed to memory:

“We assess that Iran seeks to develop a nuclear weapon. The information is incomplete, but we assess that Iran could develop a nuclear weapon early-to-mid-next decade.”

At that point McConnell received gratuitous reinforcement from Lt. Gen. Michael Maples, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency. With something of a flourish, Maples bragged that it was “with high confidence” that DIA “assesses that Iran remains determined to develop nuclear weapons.”

After the judgments in the Oct. 1, 2002 NIE assessing weapons-of-mass-destruction in Iraq’judgments stated with “high confidence”‘turned out to be wrong, National Intelligence Council officials decided to fine-tune the word “assess” to cover their asses. The council took the unusual step of including a short glossary in its recent NIE on Iraq:

“When we use words such as “we assess,” we are trying to convey an analytical assessment or judgment. These assessments, which are based on incomplete or at times fragmentary information are not a fact, proof, or knowledge. Some analytical judgments are based directly on collected information; others rest on previous judgments, which serve as building blocks. In either type of judgment, we do not have “evidence” that shows something to be a fact.”

So caveat emptor. Beware the verisimilitude conveyed by “we assess.” It can have a lemming effect, as evidenced Tuesday by the automatic head bobbing that greeted Sen. Lindsay Graham’s (R, SC) clever courtroom-style summary argument at the hearing, “We all agree, then, that the Iranians are trying to get nuclear weapons.”

Quick, someone, please give Sen. Graham the National Intelligence Council’s new glossary.

Shoddy Record on Iran

Iran is a difficult intelligence target. Understood. Even so, U.S. intelligence performance “assessing” Iran’s progress toward a nuclear capability does not inspire confidence. The only quasi-virtue readily observable in the string of intelligence estimates is the kind of foolish consistency that Emerson called “the hobgoblin of little minds.” In 1995 U.S. intelligence started consistently “assessing” that Iran was “within five years” of reaching a nuclear weapons capability. But, year after year that got a little old and tired…and even embarrassing. So in 2005, when the most recent NIE was issued (and then leaked to the Washington Post), the timeline was extended and given still more margin for error. Basically, it was moved ten years out to 2015 but, in a fit of nervous caution, the estimators created the expression “early-to-mid-next decade.”

Small wonder that the commission picked by President George W. Bush to investigate the intelligence community’s performance on weapons of mass destruction complained that U.S. intelligence knows “disturbingly little” about Iran. Shortly after the most recent estimate was completed in June 2005, Robert G. Joseph, the neo-conservative who succeeded John Bolton as undersecretary of state for arms control, was asked whether Iran had a nuclear effort under way. He replied:

“I don’t know quite how to answer that because we don’t have perfect information or perfect understanding. But the Iranian record, plus what the Iranian leaders have said…lead us to conclude that we have to be highly skeptical.”

Is help on the way? A fresh national intelligence estimate on Iran has been in preparation for several months’far too leisurely a pace in present circumstances. Will it have any appreciable effect in informing policy? Don’t count on it.


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U.S. troops delete images of civillian killings

From Seattlepi

By Amir Shah

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan journalists covering the aftermath of a suicide bomb attack and shooting in eastern Afghanistan Sunday said U.S. troops deleted their photos and video and warned them not to publish or air any images of U.S. troops or a car where three Afghans were shot to death.

Afghan witnesses and gunshot victims said U.S. forces fired on civilians in cars and on foot along at least a six-mile stretch of road in Nangarhar province following a suicide attack against the military convoy. The U.S. military said militants also fired on American forces during the attack. The U.S. military and Afghan officials said eight Afghans died and 34 were wounded in the violence. One U.S. soldier was also injured.

A freelance photographer working for The Associated Press and a cameraman working for AP Television News said a U.S. soldier deleted their photos and video showing a four-wheel drive vehicle in which three people were shot to death about 100 yards from the suicide bombing. The AP plans to lodge a protest with the American military.

The photographer, Rahmat Gul, said witnesses at the scene told him the three had been shot to death by U.S. forces fleeing the attack. The two AP freelancers arrived at the site about a half hour after the suicide bombing, Gul said.

“When I went near the four-wheel drive, I saw the Americans taking pictures of the same car, so I started taking pictures,” Gul said. “Two soldiers with a translator came and said, ‘Why are you taking pictures? You don’t have permission.'”

It wasn’t clear why the accredited journalists would need permission to take photos of a civilian car on a public highway. Gul said the U.S. soldiers took his camera, deleted his photos and returned it to him. The journalists came across another American soldier, showed their identification cards, and he agreed that they could take pictures.

A Western military official who asked not to be identified said the troops were Marine Special Operations Forces, the Marine Corps component created in February 2006 of the U.S. Special Operations Command. “The same soldier who took my camera came again and deleted my photos,” Gul said. “The soldier was very angry … I told him, ‘They gave us permission,’ but he didn’t listen.”

Gul’s new photos were also deleted, and the American soldier, speaking through a translator, warned him that he did not want to see any AP photos published anywhere. The soldier also raised his fist in anger as if he were going to hit him, but he did not strike, Gul said.

Lt. Col. David Accetta, a U.S. military spokesman, said he did not have any confirmed reports that coalition soldiers “have been involved in confiscating cameras or deleting images.”

Khanwali Kamran, a reporter for the Afghan channel Ariana Television, was in a small group of journalists working alongside Gul. Kamran said the American soldiers also deleted his footage.

“They warned me that if it is aired … then, ‘You will face problems,'” Kamran said. Taqiullah Taqi, a reporter for Afghanistan’s largest television station, Tolo TV, said American soldiers were using abusive language.

“According to the translator, they said, ‘Delete them, or we will delete you,'” Taqi said.

A freelance cameraman for AP Television News said that about 100 yards from the bomb site, a U.S. officer told him that he could not go any closer to the scene but that he could shoot footage. The cameraman asked not to be named for his own safety.

“Then I started filming the suicide attack site, where there was a body and U.S. soldiers, and farther away, there was a four-wheel drive vehicle in which three people were shot to death,” he said.

As he was filming, a U.S. soldier and translator “ordered us not to move.” The cameraman said they were very angry and deleted any footage that included U.S. soldiers, as well as part of an interview from a demonstration. Hundreds of Afghans had gathered to protest the violence.

Reporters Without Borders condemned the actions of the U.S. forces, saying they dealt with the press poorly.

“Why did the soldiers do it if they don’t have anything to hide? The situation is very tense in Afghanistan, and the media should be able to report about it freely and safely,” said Jean-Francois Julliard, a spokesman for the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders.

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