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May 26, 2010

Britain reveals total size of nuclear arsenal as key nuclear conference winds up

Amid cautious optimism that the 189-nation Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in New York will agree on a final declaration by Friday's close of business, Britain sought today to give the process a nudge forward.

The new coalition government of Prime Minister David Cameron disclosed that Britain has a total of 225 nuclear warheads, the first full public accounting of the size of the British arsenal. Foreign Secretary William Hague also told the House of Commons that the government would conduct a review of Britain's policy on the use of nuclear weapons, a policy that some analysts regard as ambiguous.

Cameron's announcement follows the Obama administration's revelation on May 3 - the opening day of the NPT conference - of the total size of the U.S. nuclear stockpile: 5,113 warheads, with several thousand others awaiting destruction.

Like the U.S. disclosure, the British revelation was aimed at meeting a long-standing demand by non-nuclear weapons NPT signatories for the five recognized nuclear-weapons powers - the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France - to be more transparent with regard to the size of their arsenals.

"We believe that the time is now right to be more open about the weapons we hold," Hague said. "We judge that this will assist in building a climate of trust between nuclear and non-nuclear weapons states and contribute, therefore, to future efforts to reduce the numbers of nuclear weapons worldwide."

It remained to be seen how much progress can be made toward that goal before the end of the NPT conference, which is held every five years to consider how to strengthen the global system to curb the spread of nuclear weapons. The 2005 session failed to produce a final declaration.

Observers report intense debate over a draft final declaration produced late Monday by the conference president, Libran Cabactulan of the Philippines. But some experts believe that compromises can be struck to produce the required consensus on a final document.

The unresolved key issues, they say, included an push by the so-called non-aligned bloc of nations led by Egypt for negotiations on the establishment of a Middle East Weapons of Mass Destruction-Free Zone, a thinly veiled effort to force Israel to give up its nuclear arsenal.

The nuclear weapons powers also succeeded in eliminating from the draft a call for the convening of a global conference in 2014 on beginning the process of global nuclear disarmament. It was uncertain if the substitute language would survive. That language would require the nuclear weapons powers to confer amongst themselves and present to the 2015 NPT conference a report on how the goal of global disarmament might be reached.


May 24, 2010

Feinstein says DNI may need more power

Ret. Admiral Dennis Blair is the third director of national intelligence to quit in five years, and that has Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, worried that the office created in the aftermath of 9/11 to oversee the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies doesn't carry enough power.

"I have long been concerned that the director of national intelligence had more responsibility than authority, and DNI Blair's resignation raises the issue to the fore," the California Democrat said in a statement today. "After five years and three DNIs, it is clear that the law calls for a leader but the authority provided in law is essentially that of a coordinator."

Feinstein said President Barack Obama, who sought Blair's resignation last week following several counter-terrorism intelligence breakdowns, including the failed Christmas Day bombing of an airliner over Detroit, should "decide what he wants the DNI to be, and then work with the intelligence committees to see that the necessary authority is, in fact, in law."

Feinstein also seemed to suggest that the DNI's office has been more concerned with military intelligence than with intelligence required by civilian agencies because of the Pentagon's dominant share of the intelligence budget.

She said it "will be important" that whoever Obama nominates to succeed Blair "is not beholden to the Pentagon's interests and can, as needed, provide balance to civilian and military interests in carrying out the nation's intelligence missions.

May 15, 2010

Let's make a deal!

We posted here earlier this month about France's release of Majid Kakavand, the Iranian engineer arrested at U.S. request and accused by the United States of illegally procuring dual-use items for Iran's military complex.

We ended the post with this note:

Postscript: There's been widespread suspicion of a deal between France and Iran that involves Kakavand's freedom in return for that of Clotilde Reiss, a young Frechwoman detained in Iran after last June's disputed elections. We should soon see if the suspicion is merited....

Soon, indeed. According to an AFP report today, Reiss' Iranian lawyer has told reporters that she will soon be allowed to leave the country. Reiss wasn't acquitted of charges of participating in the post-election protests, and had to pay an exorbitant fine, reportedly $285,000.

Of course, there was no quid pro quo here. Of course the Iranian foreign minister's phone call a few weeks back to Kakavand assuring him he'd be free soon was merely a pep talk. And the French court's sudden about-face on the evidence against Kakavand was merely based on an examination of the facts.

Of course.

May 11, 2010

First Kuwaiti booted from another contract

Someday, we may hear the end of the sad tale of First Kuwaiti General Trading and Contracting and the U.S. government (i.e, your tax dollars, dear reader), but today's not that day.

Two months ago, McClatchy reported how yet another State Department project involving First Kuwaiti, this one for a U.S. consulate compound in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, was in trouble. (We say yet another, because FK had already had a mess of problems with the mammoth U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, and was terminated from an embassy project in Libreville, Gabon).

Well, word came down Monday that Aurora LLC, First Kuwaiti's American "partner" and the putative prime contractor on the two firms' embassy construction work, has been "terminated for default" from the $122 million Jeddah project.

Noting that the consulate is supposed to be completed by July, but only 54 percent of the work is done, Jonathan Blyth, a spokesman for the State Department's Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations, said, "Aurora LLC has failed to fulfill its contractual responsibilities in spite of the Government’s best efforts to aid in managing and progressing the work."

"OBO has secured the site and will now work with Bureau of Administration’s Office of Acquisitions Management as they move forward with the re-procurement of this contract for the construction of the (new consulate) in Jeddah," Blyth said. "The Department took this action with Aurora as a last resort and in the best interest of the taxpayer and our personnel who need safer and more secure facilities as quickly as possible."

Fair 'nuf. Now comes the really interesting part.

Aurora and the U.S. government have always maintained that Aurora is an independent U.S. company and not, as some U.S. government investigators believed, a shell firm that allowed First Kuwaiti to get a slice of the lucrative U.S. embassy construction contract pie. (Foreign firms are generally barred from being prime contractors on such work, and only U.S. firms can build the secure, classified portion of diplomatic installations).

Perhaps, but First Kuwaiti doesn't seem to agree.

Internal emails obtained by Nukes & Spooks document an escalating conflict between the two companies (even as they were about to be thrown off the contract). They pit James Frank, Aurora's on-site health and safety chief--who appears to be heroically trying to do his job--against First Kuwaiti's leadership.

Wadih al Absi, First Kuwaiti's founder, wrote to Aurora on Sunday, May 9:

Please be advised that FKTC starting today will not accept to pay Mr. Frank salary anymore, you are kindly requested to remove his name from the supporting services list with immediate effect, further we will not accept any communication directly from him in any position ...  further FKTC request immediate instructions from Aurora to its site management team to abide by the binding contracts specifically clause 15 and to stop escalating the frustration and tension with the un contractual threats that they can stop the work and withdraw or hold badges etc

Clause 15? That must be the part of the subcontract that says First Kuwaiti is secretly, but really, running the show. (A document that says basically that, although apparently not the same one al Absi is referring to, does in fact exist. We've seen it).

Frank's riposte to First Kuwaiti, sent a few days earlier to an FK official named Samir Ida, is one for the ages:

Mr Ida,
I truly understand the frustration that you and Wadih are experiencing.  It is clear to us here that as "partners", you expected to "purchase" Americans who would cover their eyes and allow shoddy workmanship to prevail in an unsafe work environment.  This did not happen.  Perhaps, the next time you might consider placing non-veterans in these positions if puppets are desired.

...

Now for the 'delusions of grandeur' that FKTC has developed and continues to display.  Anyone with a computer can research the history of your "firm".  Clearly FKTC gained its wealth from 'banging' a government contract to clean up the oil-contaminated sands of Kuwait, after brave Americans ousted Saddam Hussein and assisted the Kuwaitis (those BORN in Kuwait) to regain their land.  FKTC securing that contract is what we call "dumb luck", as no one else wanted to do it...  From that point on, it is obvious that FKTC was operating 'out of their league' when they again secured the Baghdad Embassy. ...   There are volumes written regarding the shoddy workmanship performed there and it is available online.  There are also US Taxpayers who feel that they were bilked out of 132 million dollars, perhaps you are aware of that?

On this project they have been arrogant and exhibit pseudosuperior attitudes (see a pattern here?) insisting on "doing it their way" which has simply cost us a contract.  ...

As for the the rest of your nonsensical contract-oriented ramblings...good luck with that.
 

Enjoy your day,

James T. Frank
Quality, Health, Safety & Environmental Manager
Aurora-LLC
Project #07-140

May 10, 2010

New report: Iranian ICBM more than a decade away

Iran is unlikely to develop a missile capable of reaching the East Coast of the United States for more than a decade, according to a report issued today by the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

The IISS projection contrasts with a Pentagon report issued in April that said that with "sufficient foreign assistance," Iran could build and test a missile capable of reaching the U.S. East Coast by 2015.

The IISS study found that Iran has been "making robust strides in developing ballistic missiles" with "the aim of giving Iran the capability to deliver nuclear warheads well beyond its borders," a charge that Tehran vigorously denies.

But before it moves on to building intercontinental ballistic missiles - those with ranges well beyond 3,417 miles - Iran will first want to perfect its intermediate-range rockets, or those capable of traveling 2,187 miles to 3,437 miles, the IISS report said.

"Logic and the history of Iran's evolutionary missile and space-launcher development efforts suggest that Tehran would develop and field an intermediate-range missile before embarking on a program to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the American East Coast, 9,000 km away," it said. "It is thus reasonable to conclude that a notional Iranian ICBM . . . is more than a decade away from development."

May 05, 2010

Kakavand goes free

Kakavand

AP Photo

McClatchy reported last month about the growing shadow war between Washington and Tehran over Tehran's attempts to procure U.S. technology for its nuclear, missile and other military programs.

A key part of the story is more aggressive U.S. interdiction measures, which include sting operations; luring suspected weapons traffickers to friendly third countries for arrest and extradition; and request for allies to arrest suspects who cross their borders.

A major player in our story was Majid Kakavand, whom the United States alleges was the orchestrator of a wide-ranging procurement network aimed at illegally exporting U.S. military-related technology to Iran. Kakavand was arrested at U.S. request when he stepped off a plane in Paris last year.

But the Associated Press reports this morning that a French court turned down the U.S. government's request to extradite Kakavand, leaving him free to return to Tehran. The court apparently disputed the U.S. argument that the technology Kakavand allegedly trafficked in had military applications.

Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said in a statement that the U.S. government "provided to French authorities detailed analyses of Kakavand's conduct, of the applicable U.S. laws and provisions of the treaty that we felt supported his extradition to the United States." Boyd also noted that the European Union, of which France is a member, had designated one recipient of the items Kakavand was alleged to have procured, Iran Electronics Industries, as linked to its Iran's nuclear activities.

"Although we're disappointed by the French court ruling, we will continue to seek justice in this matter," Boyd said. "Efforts to apprehend Kakavand are ongoing and should he come into U.S. custody, he will stand trial for his alleged crimes."

"I am going to catch the first flight to Tehran," Kakavand was quoted as saying Wednesday.

Postscript: There's been widespread suspicion of a deal between France and Iran that involves Kakavand's freedom in return for that of Clotilde Reiss, a young Frechwoman detained in Iran after last June's disputed elections. We should soon see if the suspicion is merited....

May 03, 2010

A smaller U.S. Navy?

Even as China is striving to build its first aircraft carrier and U.S. officials believe Iran wants to challenge U.S. naval power, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates asked Monday whether the U.S. Navy needs to be any larger.

In a speech before the Navy League Sea Air Space Expo in National Harbor, Maryland, Gates charged that “Iran is combining ballistic and cruise missiles, anti-ship missiles, mines, and swarming speedboats in order to challenge our naval power in that region.”

He did not elaborate on Iran’s ambitions. Instead, he said he is not sure the U.S. Navy should grow any larger.

“I do not foresee any significant top-line increases in the shipbuilding budget beyond current assumptions. At the end of the day, we have to ask whether the nation can really afford a Navy that relies on $3 to 6 billion destroyers, $7 billion submarines, and $11 billion carriers,” Gates said.

U.S. officials believe China will have its first aircraft carrier by 2015. But Gates noted that with 11 aircraft carriers, the U.S. military has a large fleet that many nations combined.

And he said the military must face today’s fiscal pressures.

“Though I have addressed a number of topics today, I should add that I don’t pretend to have all the answers. But, mark my words, the Navy and Marine Corps must be willing to reexamine and question basic assumptions in light of evolving technologies, new threats, and budget realities. We simply cannot afford to perpetuate a status quo that heaps more and more expensive technologies onto fewer and fewer platforms — thereby risking a situation where some of our greatest capital expenditures go toward weapons and ships that could potentially become wasting assets,” he said.

ABOUT THIS BLOG

"Nukes & Spooks" is written by McClatchy correspondents Jonathan S. Landay (national security and intelligence), Warren P. Strobel (foreign affairs and the State Department), and Nancy Youssef (Pentagon).

jon, nancy & warren

Landay, Youssef and Strobel.

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