Counter-Terrorism Lessons from Israel

As images of bloody bodies flow in from Brussels and Pakistan, we once again search for an appropriate response to the horror of a successful terrorist attack. Some people call for revenge. Others declare liberties are a luxury that we can no longer afford. Many seem stunned into inaction. What are we to do?

At AMREL, we watch these events with keen interest. Of course, like all citizens, we are concerned about terrorism, but we also wonder what our role will be in future counter-terrorism efforts. We have been supplying warfighters and security personnel with rugged mobile computing solutions for over 30 years. What will we be called on to supply next?  Will we be asked for our mobile biometric devices? Our Defense solutions?  Our Public Safety equipment? Something completely new?

I watch these events with a sickening sense of familiarity. I lived in Israel at a time of intense terrorist activity.  No country in world has been more subjected to terrorism than Israel. None take their security more seriously than Israel does.

While living there, I had an opportunity to see firsthand a country fighting terror every day. I also had numerous conversations about terrorism with Israeli intelligence, government, and military professionals (this isn’t unusual; Israel is a small country where everyone knows everyone else).

The following represents some of the lessons that I learned about terrorism while living in Israel.

Even under continuous terrorist threat, it is possible to have a free society. Of everything I experienced in Israel, this was the thing that impressed me the most. Despite a wide range of security measures, and a state of constant hyper-vigilance, Israel enjoys a robust, free-wheeling democracy. Israel may have an impressive multi-layered security regime, but Israelis did not seem intimidated by it in the slightest. Certainly, it did not restrain them from loudly expressing their opinions about the government in general and politicians in particular.

Of course, I write this as someone who is not an Arab. Arab citizens bitterly complain of discrimination. Jews counterclaim that Arabs living in Israel are freer there than they are in any other country in the Middle East.

I am not qualified to discuss the experiences of Israeli Arabs. If you wish to learn about their life in Israel, I strongly recommend the outrageously funny television show, Arab Labor. Written by an Israeli Arab, it humorously explores the bizarre experiences of living as suspected minority in a society dominated by terrorist fear. You can watch it online in a number of places, including here.

Most of impositions to liberty seem relatively trivial. In Israel, I had to carry an internal passport at all times. Can you imagine the howls from both the Left and the Right if the federal government tried to impose a system of national identification here? It’s not that Israelis are less jealous of their liberties than Americans (if anything, they distrust their government more), it’s just that they’re more accepting of the necessity of security measures. Carrying an internal passport all the time is really no different than how I teat my drivers license in the US.

Profiling works, just not in the way that you think it does. I have heard self-appointed “security experts” envy the Israeli freedom in profiling Arab minorities.

Of course, Israeli officials target Arabs for extra security measures. And young European women as well. Several years ago there was a highly publicized incident in which a terrorist tricked a young Irish woman into carrying a bomb aboard an airplane. Ever since then, Israeli security at airports carefully screens single young women. I knew one foreign visitor who had an Israeli acquaintance accompany her to airports and pretend to be her boyfriend, specifically so she could avoid the extra level of scrutiny.

Do not assume profiling will not apply to you, because…

Everybody is profiled. It’s very simple. If security only subjected Arabs to extra inspections, then terrorists would use people who didn’t look like Arabs. If security places restrictions on young men, then terrorists use women. If both young men and women are subjected to extra scrutiny, then terrorists would use old folks.

Several times a year, a high level representative of a church or government complains to a local Israeli newspaper about the “outrageous” security measures he endured at an Israeli airport. I always laugh at these tirades, because the measures he describes are the exact same ones that I and everyone else must undergo.

The next time you see a grandmother in a wheelchair being searched at an airport, don’t bemoan it as political correctness gone amuck. It’s simple common sense. Security personnel have learned what the classic cartoon Pogo once so wisely observed, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

Bigotry is a poor counter-terrorist strategy. Very few genuine counter-terrorists experts in the United States embrace the view that all Arabs or all Moslems are our enemy. They are fully aware that Arabs and Moslems are the primary victims of radicalized Islamic terror, and serve as our allies (if uneasy ones) in the war against terror.

In Israel, “They all want to kill us” is an extremely popular view. However, this hasn’t stopped Israeli military and intelligence from cooperating with Palestinian authorities on counter-terrorists actions. It’s not unusual to read a complaint from the Israeli Prime Minister’s office about the Palestinian leadership inciting violence, while in the same newspaper the head of an Army unit is quoted as praising his Palestinian counterpart for a successfully destroying a terrorist cell.

Painting all Moslems or Arabs with the same terrorist brush turns assets into liabilities and converts allies into enemies. We have to be smarter than that.

Kabuki theater works. Waiting in line to enter a mall while some under-paid guard searches backpacks and women’s purses, someone will inevitably comment that these inconvenient security measures are stupid and pointless. No determined terrorist would be deterred by these farcically ineffective procedures.

Except that they are. I’ve read interviews with would-be suicide bombers and other terrorists about their thought processes as they prepare to attack. A major factor in their consideration is the same silly security measures that are widely mocked. What seems stupid to us, is intimidating to a terrorist.

Terrorism is the new normal. While writing this article, I talked to a people who had traveled through the Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, and South Korea. Each of these countries has experienced problems with terrorism and has instituted counter-measures.

Along with cell phones, television, and the internet, magnetic wands and metal detectors are the technologies that will define our time.

Terrorists adapt. Every few years Israel experiences waves of terror. A while back, suicide bombers were a problem. At the time, the problem seemed insurmountable. None of Israel’s traditional security methods seemed effective.

So, Israel developed new security methods. Among other things, they built a highly controversial security wall to keep out terrorists. Israelis increased surveillance on possible terrorists and with more help from the Palestinian security services than they like to admit, this particular wave of attacks has been thwarted. Deaths and incidents died down.

And then they started again. It hasn’t gotten much publicity in this country, but Israel is undergoing what is sometimes referred to as the “Lone Wolf” Intifada. Individuals, seemingly unconnected to any organization, are randomly stabbing people. In the last 6 months, 34 Israelis have been killed and 404 have been wounded.

Just like with earlier wave of terrorism, no one seems to know what to do. No one is sure what will be effective countermeasures. Despite the anxieties being expressed now in the Israeli media, I have no doubt that Israel’s highly motivated security establishment will eventually devise effective defense actions.

Unfortunately, their enemies will then figure out a new way of attacking them. In a war of terror, the side that is the most innovative and flexible will always have the advantage.

War on Inventors

On September 14, Ahmed Mohamed was arrested for having a fake bomb. He never claimed he had a bomb, fake or otherwise. Under stressful interrogation by police, he repeatedly claimed, as he had all along, that the clock was, in fact, a clock. Though the police agreed that the homemade device was indeed a clock, they arrested Ahmed anyway.

Ahmed was handcuffed and suspended from school. His story has a happy ending in that charges were dropped, and many powerful people reached out to him.  By invitation, he’ll be touring FaceBook, Google, and the White House.

While many people have focused on the bigotry angle of Ahmed’s story (would he have been arrested if had not been a Moslem?), there is another aspect that is also troubling. To put it bluntly, many of the people involved in his arrest acted stupidly.  It should have been quite evident very early on that no crime had been committed, and that this 14-year old was no threat at all. Yet, both the school and law enforcement have stubbornly insisted that their actions were appropriate.

[layerslider id=”31″]

Nobody expects police, the judiciary, and teachers to be experts about explosives and dangerous devices. However, it seems obvious that when confronted by a technology of which you are suspicious, one should consult a professional to make an informed assessment. It is also obvious that when one makes a blatant mistake, one should admit it and move on.

Shockingly, Ahmed’s story is not unique. A quick internet searched revealed a surprisingly high number of incidents in which innocent people’s lives were disrupted under similar circumstances.

  • Sixteen-year old Kiera Wilmot did what kids have done since time immemorial: created a volcano experiment at a science fair. After an uneventful, successful demonstration, she was promptly arrested, suspended from school, and charged with 2 felonies, which were later dropped. She is now a sophomore at Florida Polytechnic University.
  • Steve Kurtz, a professor of art, sometimes uses biological materials in his installations. FBI raided his home and charged him with bioterrorism. Despite Commissioner of Public Health for New York State ruling that nothing in his home posed a threat, federal authorities still brought charges. After a grand jury refused to indict him on bioterrorism, he was charged with other felonies. A genetics professor who assisted him with his art projects was also indicted. Four years after the initial charges, a judge ruled that no crime had been committed.
  • Lewis Casey, an 18-year-old university student, built a chemistry lab in his home for his studies. Police arrested him for running a meth lab.  After it became abundantly clear to even the most clueless observer, that Casey’s lab had nothing to do with meth, he was charged with terrorism and bomb making. More than a year after his arrest he worked out a plea deal, paid a fine, will not have a criminal record, and will be able to return to his studies at university.
  • Xi Xiaoxing, the chairman of Temple University’s physics department was arrested for passing secrets to the Chinese. The evidence was a diagram he had sent overseas. The federal authorities claimed it was for a sensitive piece of technology called a pocket heater. Months after he was led away in handcuffs, suspended from his job, stripped of his title of chairman, and had his long-term research disrupted, expert testimony convinced the feds that the suspicious diagram was nothing like the pocket heater. Charges were dropped.

I have other examples. A hydrologist for the National Weather Service was cleared of all spying charges, but still risks losing her job. Even rapper/actor Ice-T was arrested for having a fake bomb, a clock that he had bought at the mall.

Although the spying episodes may seem different than the fake bomb incidents, they share a similar pattern:

  • Authorities see a technology that arouses fear.
  • Without really understanding what they see, they arrest the suspect.
  • They fail to consult experts about what the technology really is.
  • Even when the suspect is cleared of the original charges, authorities will refuse to admit they made a mistake and even sometimes bring further unrelated charges.

If you are alarmed by this, you are not alone. More and more people are becoming concerned about the “Freedom to Tinker.”  Hackers, makers, and other technophiles are frightened that their creativity will be stifled by an authoritarian, permission-based culture. This is not a simple matter in that it impacts copyright law, counterterrorism, patents, and a host of other issues.

The outreach by technological giants to the Texas teenager was motivated by more than simple outrage against an injustice. Some important innovators in the hi-tech world are frightened that the playfulness – the joy – of experimentation by young folks is under attack. This could be significant detriment to technological development. As someone once remarked to me, “The construction of every bridge began with a child playing with blocks.”

I was raised on stories about the great inventors like the Wright brothers, Thomas Edison, and Alexander Graham Bell. I grew up thinking that inventiveness was a core American virtue. I fear that when our current generation listens to the inspiring story of bicycle repairmen from Ohio inventing the first heavier-than-air flying machine, they will inevitably ask, “When were the Wright brothers arrested for building Weapons of Mass Destruction?”

 [layerslider id=”31″]

Illegal immigration debate, a family story

The topic of illegal immigration usually inspires technical talk at AMREL. Is the handheld biometric XP7-ID a preferred solution for border patrol agents, or do they favor the wider display of the Flexpedient® AT-80B tablet? Which components of the compact 19”/2® Network Servers are appropriate for a mobile communication solution that would service the remote areas of the American Southwest? Can the positive experiences that the military had with our Operator Control Unit (OCU) solutions for unmanned systems be repeated with the recently ramped up border security forces?

However, one afternoon we shelved talks of networks and laptops for a more personal approach. In a typical “water cooler” conversation, we discussed our attitudes toward this hot topic. What I noticed was that even though everyone had been born in this country, our opinions had been shaped by our families’ experiences with immigration. Americans like to think of themselves as independent of history, and that our views are purely rational, but it seems to me in this instance, what you believe reflects who you are and where you come from.

I asked my fellow co-workers to write down how their family histories affected their views on immigration. You may be surprised at who expressed what views.

 [layerslider id=”31″]

William Finn
AMREL Senior Editor & Copywriter

Most of my family tree dates back in this country to the late 1800s. They fled pogroms, 25-year draft sentences, and whatever delightful things Eastern Europeans had reserved for the Jews.

We were legal immigrants, but more significantly America was the first country where we were legal residents. Despite having lived in some European communities for over a thousand years, we never had the privileges and rights afforded our Christian neighbors. United States was the first country to ever recognize us with actual citizenship. As a result, I don’t think anyone was more pro-American that my grandparents and great grandparents.

Our current generations are deeply involved with the law (family dinners often include probation officers, and a judge). We take the rule of law very seriously, but that doesn’t mean we take a hard line on immigration.

Despite generations of American privilege, the ghosts of rampaging Cossacks, bone crushing poverty, and tyrannical bureaucrats still haunt us. Our family history is full of ancestors who had no documented status in the towns where they were born. We understand better than most what a desperate person will do to protect their loved ones. We look at illegal immigrants and see ourselves.

Illegal immigration is unquestionably a problem for some. Economists tell us that for the country as a whole, the financial pluses and minuses of illegal immigration average out. The problem is that no one lives in the “country as a whole.” Whenever a politician talks about illegal immigration, I never hear them offering solutions for the people and communities negatively affected by illegal immigration. Sometimes, I think they care more about hurting illegals than they do about helping our country.

Frankly, I just don’t see illegal immigration as that big of a deal. Maybe if I was a construction worker who lost his job to an illegal immigrant I might feel differently. Maybe if I hadn’t grown up in the Arizona, where I spent afternoons with my father watching bullfights on a local TV station, and my family argued over guacamole recipes, I might view Latino culture as foreign rather than intrinsically American.

I do see other problems in this country:

  • In 2007, the world economy lost 8 trillion dollars due to irresponsible deregulation and shenanigans by the financial sector. Like millions of others, I lost my job and my house. No one responsible went to jail. I don’t think any of the main players even lost their job. The country still hasn’t fully recovered.
  • The infrastructure of this country is decaying and needs a massive build up, but Congress has done diddlysquat about this problem.
  • Our doctors may be great, but our healthcare system is the most expensive in the world. It is a drag on the economy, with every business paying an invisible tax to this terribly inefficient system.

I could go on, but what do all these problems have in common? They have nothing to do with illegal immigration.  Remind me again, why are we talking about this?

 [layerslider id=”31″]

Richard Barrios
Web Marketing Specialist

I am proud of my heritage and the roots of my family.  As my Dad would say, “I am an American not a Mexican.”

Immigration is a very personal issue for me.  My mother’s side of the family came here from South America on visas and worked their way to citizenship.  My father was born in the United States from immigrant parents that came to the US in the 1930’s.  My wife and her family are also naturalized citizens, but from the Philippines.

I am Hispanic and grew up in a Hispanic home and in a Hispanic neighborhood. I know that many will call me a self hating Hispanic and racist. However, illegal immigration and the activism to legitimize it is a slap in the face to my family.  Plain and simple.  Both my family and my wife’s do not understand the fight to legalize those who broke the law and want preferential treatment.

My wife’s cousin, who lives in the Philippines, has applied to come to the United States and has to wait 10 years.  He is a registered nurse and runs his own business.  Meanwhile, illegal immigrants sit in the United States and wait for the next amnesty law to take effect.  The illegal works here, establishes himself with references, and has children.  The children are citizens and now this illegal alien has additional arguments to stay in the country (Dream Act).

Federal Government is asked to protect the border and won’t do it.  Instead they spend millions on amnesty programs and trying to convince Americans that Mexico and Mexicans are not the problem.  I have heard many people say that it is impossible to deport or send 11 Million illegal aliens out of the United States. Then how did 11 Million people come to the United States if it’s impossible to move that many people in the first place?  How about they leave the same way they came and all others on a case by case basis.

Something that many haven’t taken into account are the resources that are available.  From money, to housing, to jobs, legal immigration, roads and natural resources. The child of an illegal is eligible for welfare and thus qualifies the family for all the other benefits.  Another way to qualify is using false papers.   Stealing Social Security numbers and paper work of legal immigrants is very common.  How do you think 11 Million illegal aliens live and work in this country? Without closing the border and creating a legal way in, the money that needs to be allocated to support less fortunate can never be assessed correctly from year to year. This unchecked immigration issue also hinders people that want to come here legitimately.  My wife’s cousin for example.

Natural resources, like water, also becomes an issue.  In order to support a population one needs to have control over how many people come into the environment.  Governor Brown of California said recently, said “If they did so, the state would not only support its current population of 39 million, but probably could accept at least 10 million more residents.” If illegal immigration is left unchecked we will quickly exceed the numbers we can support.  At current rates California should reach 50 million residents by 2050, then what?

Growing up, I found an overwhelming majority of Mexican Americans, even US born, consider themselves Mexicans first and Americans second.  Stark contrast to the vast majority of Asians, Europeans and Africans who immigrate to this country and are proud to be called Americans.

Today, the distinction of rights afforded to an American citizen and an illegal alien is nearly gone.  What is left?  There are over 200 sanctuary cities across the country who have explicitly committed themselves to ignore federal law and will not cooperate with ICE.  Public policy has given illegal aliens more rights than an American citizen under the law.  If I break a state or federal law is there a sanctuary city for me?  If I break the law (non violent) and get sent to jail for a number of years, is the state not separating me from my family and taking away the bread winner?

Tens of thousands of American service men have bled and died for the rights and freedoms we have in the United States, not for Mexicans to have rights to the United States.

 

Albaro Ibarra
Senior Marketing Manager

Both of my parents came to the USA from Mexico legally. My mother went through the process at a young age and secured her Green Card. Her older brother that came here first then helped the other siblings. My father received his Green Card with help from his boss when he was working in the fields of Coachella picking vegetables.

When both were in their 40’s, they finally became US citizens.   Both initially had thoughts of returning back to Mexico, but when they had kids they realized that a better life could be had here. The USA is their home. Their roots are now here. They would not return to Mexico, but they call themselves Mexicans.

My brother and I are First Generation Americans. My primary language is English, but I can read and talk in Spanish (not as fluent in writing). My mind thinks in English first and when I am around Spanish dominant speakers my mind thinks in Spanish until I come across a subject or word or phrase that I don’t know. I tell you this, so you can understand how a First Generation American thinks, compared to someone that grew up in Mexico or a 2+ generation American.

The latest census says that the amount of Latinos in the USA that were born outside of the USA is smaller than those born here. This is a recent change; before the ratios were reversed.

This generation will be bilingual or English dominant. They consider themselves Americans but have Latino cultural ties. The concern I have is that those cultural ties are weakened with each generation. It is a conscious effort on the behalf of my wife and I to have our kids speak Spanish and understand their grandparents’ rich culture.  They want to learn, but they can’t relate. When I took them to Mexico on a visit, they were seen as America, not Latinos. The more generations that go by I fear those connections to the Latin cultural will be weakened to the point where one of my great grandchildren would not know they are Latino until they do a school project to check their family tree.

I believe a balance is the best thing. If you are born here, you are American but you should not be punished because of your cultural ties. What makes America so great is its diversity. It is that diversity that makes us stronger and more exciting as a people. We are that great melting pot that has food and spices from all over….what a delicious dish. Who want to eat the same thing every day?

I do believe in enforcing immigration laws, but not building a huge wall. I believe we should have a form of identification for everyone who lives in the USA, because I believe it would help identify potential threats to our country, and help improve the situation about undocumented people receiving medical aid or other State or Federal Services. I am not a cruel beast and don’t believe that if you are here illegally you should not receive basic human rights. What I am against is the people that want to take advantage of the system and the lack of tracking or documentation costs us millions.

My parents believe the same way, even though I do have family members that are very well off, but work the system to get FREE State of Federal aid. I don’t think that is a Latino thing, more a moral thing.

 [layerslider id=”31″]

Conclusion
There you have it. Three different people with three different family histories on immigration, and three different attitudes toward illegal immigration. Even though we disagree, we respect each other’s opinions. I think a large part of that is that we understand how our past and our family histories have shaped our experiences. Hopefully, others will have the same tolerance in this contentious debate.

The opinion expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not reflect the positions of AMREL, its partners, or its other employees.

Do you have an opinion? Send it to editor@amrel.comBe advised we may use the content of your email in a future blog post.

 

The highly selective “truths” of the Iran deal [OPINION]

Did you know the Bible commands us to commit adultery? Sure you do, it’s right there in the seventh commandment, which begins “Thou shalt…” and ends with “…commit adultery.” What could be clearer?

Of course, what I did was edited out significant words, and misleadingly quoted out of context.  Something like this is happening with the Iran deal. People with no background in arms control or nuclear technology are making a lot of questionable assertions based on highly selective interpretations of the proposed agreement.

Below are four highly publicized falsehoods. I also threw in some speculation at the end.

 [layerslider id=”31″]

Side deals allow Iran to self-inspect

First off, this accusation refers to one facility, the Parchin site, which, admittedly, is an important one. Virtually the entire Iranian nuclear infrastructure – from the mines to the processing plants – will be subject to onsite 24/7 inspections by 130 to 150 independent workers of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This kind of unfettered access is unprecedented. No nation, in peacetime, has ever allowed this before.

This accusation is based on an AP story which has been changed several times and is viewed skeptically by nuclear experts. As noted in previous the blog post, the Iranian deal represents a gold mine of intelligence information. To mitigate this, the Iranians have insisted on certain limitations, including the right to do some of their own sampling.

However, the sampling is supervised by IAEA inspectors, and is subjected to rigorous verification and authentification procedures. For a detailed discussion of the verification methods, see the always wonderful War on the Rocks.  In this article, Cheryl Rofer, 35 year veteran of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, points out how the AP story suspiciously leaves out critical aspects of the inspection regime. She details the rather rigorous verification procedure for the samples, which include videotaping and GPS information.

In the video below, another expert, Dr. Jeffry Lewis, finds this criticism so preposterous he can barely stop from laughing. He makes it clear that independent inspectors will be onsite, examining the controversial Parchin facility.

The United States is giving Iran hundreds of billions of dollars in previously frozen assets

Most of the frozen assets are held by non-American entities, so we are not “giving” them anything. Media Matters cites Center On Arms Control and Non-Proliferation (CACNP), who in turn draws on a CIA report:

“Critics of the Iran deal like to exaggerate the amount of blocked funds Iran will receive, claiming that Iran will receive up to $300 billion in sanctions relief. According to US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, that figure is more like $50 billion. Iran owes at least $20 billion to China in addition to tens of billions in non-performing (unpaid) loans and has around $500 billion worth of pressing domestic investment requirements and government obligations.”

Iran will unquestionably benefit economically from this deal, but to what degree and how much money will be channeled to terrorist proxies is very much in dispute.

 [layerslider id=”31″]

The restrictions lasts only 10 to 15 years

According to the Arms Control Association (ACA) (emphasis added)

“The agreement will set up a multilayered system to monitor and inspect every aspect of Iran’s nuclear supply chain and fuel cycle, including continuous monitoring at some sites for 20–25 years. Other elements, including access to a wider number of nuclear sites—notably centrifuge manufacturing sites — and inspections on short notice under the terms of Iran’s additional protocol, will be permanent. Inspectors will have timely access to any site, anywhere, including military sites, if there is evidence of suspicious nuclear activities.”

Click chart below to enlarge

iran chart

All the economic sanctions will be lifted immediately on Iran

You could be forgiven for believing this, since the Iranian proponents of the deal are telling this to their own people in order to drive up support. The reality is lot more complicated:

  1. Before any sanctions can be lifted, Iran has to prove that it “…has taken steps to limit its uranium-enrichment program, convert the Arak heavy water reactor, provide required transparency, and give the IAEA the information needed to resolve questions about past activities with possible military dimensions.” (ACA). Some are guessing that this could take 6 months. Others are saying that it could take a lot longer.
  2. The sanctions against trade for technology that would enable nuclear-capable missiles will last at least 8 years.
  3. American economic sanctions based on human-rights violations will last indefinitely, or until Iran becomes a Jeffersonian democracy, whichever comes first.

Of course, sanctions could be “snapped backed” with evidence of violations. The effectiveness of this provision has been criticized as unrealistic. The one thing that is unquestionable is that it is historically unprecedented that China and Russia gave up their prized veto for this provision.

 

Iran has a nuclear weapons program

I cannot definitely state that Iran has no nuclear weapon program. In fact, I would not bet money on this assertion.

However, this contention has surprisingly strong backing. For one thing, both the IAEA and the CIA concluded that Iran had abandoned its weapon program years ago (12 years ago is one estimate). Luminaries, such as David H. Petraeus, Leon E. Panetta and Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, have agreed with this assessment (New York Times).  Bizarrely, the IAEA and the CIA shave stuck with this conclusion, even after admitting that Iran had been conducting suspicious enrichment activities.

This leads to a speculative theory, which again, seems odd, but has surprising merit: the entire Iranian nuclear weapons program is a scam. What is known is that Iran has been trying for decades to get relief from economic sanctions.  After an unceremonious rejection from President Clinton (he wouldn’t even talk with them), Iran decided they needed something to trade in exchange for the lifting of the sanctions. Hence, the Iranian nuclear program was born.  Not because they wanted a bomb (their theocratic leaders have publicly ruled nuclear weapons to be contrary to their religion), but because they wanted economic relief.

Of course, there is a contravening theory that the US and its allies have scammed Iran. After all, the sanction regime, which is one of the most severe in history, was never expected to last under any circumstance. Essentially, we are getting them to throttle their nuclear program in exchange for something (sanctions relief) that they would have gotten anyway.

Whatever the truth is, we can all hope that the proposed agreement will do what it is supposed to do, i.e. prevent the development of an Iranian nuclear bomb. Let’s just pray that we are all around in 25 years to see if it actually worked.

This post is the opinion solely of the author and does not reflect the positions of AMREL or its other employees.

Do you have an opinion? Send it to editor@amrel.com. Be advised we may use the content of your email in a future blog post.

 

 

 

The Iran Nuclear Deal is a Disaster. I support it. [OPINION]

“The first three things I asked my briefers about when I woke every morning were Iran, Iran and Iran,”

-Marine Gen. James Mattis (Washington Times)

The recent nuclear arms control agreement between Iran and the P5+1 (UN Security Council members plus Germany) is one of the most important diplomatic agreements of this generation. It has spurred heated controversy, and has been shrouded in endless accusations and misinformation. While this is an opinion piece, I have striven to develop and present positions that are informed and balanced.

 

What does the deal say?

Currently, Iran is estimated to have enough enriched uranium to make approximately 10 to 12 nuclear bombs in a few months’ time. With this deal, under the watchful eyes of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA):

  • 98% of the enriched uranium stock will be destroyed.
  • 14,000 of Iranian 20,000 centrifuges will be taken out of commission.
  • Iran will be forbidden from enriching uranium beyond 3.67% enrichment, a far cry from the 90% necessary for weaponization.
  • The core of the controversial Arak plutonium facility will be exported or destroyed.

In return, some economic sanctions will be lifted on Iran, and some frozen assets will be released.

[layerslider id=”31″]

Isn’t there a danger of the Iranians cheating?

 “Inspectors will be monitoring the only two mines where Iran can get uranium ore, the fuel for a bomb, and the mills where it’s processed. They will keep tabs on every single centrifuge in the country, as well as the centrifuge factories, the machines that could be used to make a centrifuge, even on imports of technology that could be used to build a machine that could be used to build a centrifuge.”

Vox

“I spent many hours of my youth watching, in some cases covering as a newspaper reporter, Senate hearings about nuclear arms treaties that the Carter, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton administrations had negotiated with the Russians. These were contentious hearings, but I don’t remember anything as plainly vicious—and utterly divorced from substance—as the Republicans’ behavior at Thursday’s briefing.”

 Fred Kaplan on Congressional hearings for the Iranian agreement, Slate

By far and away, the biggest lie of this controversy is the accusation that the inspection regime enforcing this deal is toothless. I am using the word “lie” intentionally, because it is simply not possible to reach this conclusion with any kind of dispassionate analysis.

In regards to the inspection regime imposed by the agreement, I did something that very few people have done; I read what experts had to say. While the track record of the inspectors at the IAEA is not perfect, it’s still a pretty good one. For example, when the whole world was screaming about Iraqi nuclear weapons, they repeatedly and correctly maintained that there was no evidence of their existence.

You can read arms control expert opinions here and here.

While the reaction of the IAEA staff has not been unanimous, it has been overwhelming one-sided.  They are astounded.  Over and over, I read quotes of their disbelief that the P5+1could get a deal this good. The idea that somehow we can get a better deal is completely unsupportable.

The consensus of the vast majority of experts I read is that this deal is the most stringent, detailed, and most comprehensive arms control agreement ever reached in peacetime. The imposed inspection regime on Iran is a foot on the throat of their entire nuclear program.


foot on throatFoot = Inspection regime

Throat = Iranian Nuclear program

 

What about the “two-week delay” in inspections?

When I researched this issue, my favorite quote came from Foreign Policy, who in an attempt at journalistic impartiality was able to find a few experts who had reservations about the deal. When asked about the famous “two-week wait,” Finnish nuclear weapons expert Heinonen stated, “From an investigative point of view that is a little bit not good.”

This wait period doesn’t apply to the entire known Iranian nuclear infrastructure. As mentioned above, the fact that international inspectors have real-time access to virtually every level of the nuclear industry is unprecedented. The wait period only applies to suspect facilities not officially part of the nuclear infrastructure.

Detecting nuclear weapons and the industrial infrastructure that produce them has been a top priority of the major powers for over 60 years. As a result, the technology for doing so is robust and fairly reliable.

The President was right to mock Netanyahu’s analogy of police warning a meth lab of an impending search. For one thing, most meth labs do not have high powered satellites watching their every move. Secondly, nuclear technology is heavy, clumsy, toxic and radioactive. Nuclear plants, typically, take years if not decades to decommission. In the entire history of nuclear weapons, none have ever been developed in mobile facilities.

nuclear plant

Not mobile

Most arms control experts that I have read dismissed the significance of the waiting period.  It is almost impossible to “scrub” a site of any importance in two weeks.

One of the great things about this agreement is the bonanza of intelligence it will provide about overall Iranian capabilities. In an attempt to stem the flood of data that will be flowing from Iran, their military refused unrestricted access to their entire country. In the history of arms control, no nation, who had not suffered a military defeat, has ever agreed to “anytime, anywhere” inspections.

Could the Iranians cheat without being discovered? With typical bureaucratic caution, a few experts say that it is theoretically possible, but it is highly unlikely. Considering the resources involved, the infinitesimal results such a covert effort would yield, and the overwhelming likelihood that they would be caught, cheating would be a very high risk, very low benefit endeavor.

[layerslider id=”31″]

War is the only reality

 “Certainly, it can be delayed a month, six months, 18 months. What do you do with the delay is the question. The military can buy our diplomats some time, but it cannot solve this problem straight up.”

-Marine Gen. James Mattis (Washington Times)

Mattis description of 18 months being the maximum amount of delay that can be inflicted by military actions appears to be a consensus opinion among experts (see previous blog article about military options). All likely military scenarios are dangerous, unproductive, and will yield temporary benefits at best.

Continuing or strengthening sanctions will be impossible. It took the President 6 years to get sanctions this tough. The sanctions were only achieved by the President promising that they would lead to a nuclear arms agreement. If the US walks away from this deal, sanctions will unquestionably collapse.

Considering the agreement will delay the development of nuclear weapons far longer than any likely military actions (including nuclear attacks), why is there so much opposition to this deal? Some people oppose this deal for purely partisan reasons. Besides this, there are two major causes for opposition: one legitimate, one not.

Let’s play a game. Remember when the President said that Syrian use of chemical weapons was a “red line?” Let’s suppose in an alternate reality, he ordered a military strike on chemical weapon facilities. He goes on television and announces that he has confidently destroyed between 80 to 100% of the Syrian chemical capabilities. He is hailed as a hero who stood strong.

In reality, the President did destroy 80 to 100% of the Syrian chemical capabilities. However, he did it through diplomatic means. Since he didn’t kill anyone doing it, people accuse him of backtracking and spinelessness.

In the political arena, peace deals and arms control agreements are consistently judged by standards far stricter than military operations. Peace deals must be 100% foolproof with no possibility of anything going wrong. No one goes to wars with this type of assurance. Many assume war to be less risky, and more realistic than diplomacy. Anyone who questions the effectiveness of military solutions is considered a wimp.

mattis

General Mattis

Not a wimp

Recently, I discussed the Iranian nuclear agreement with an informed, intelligent acquaintance. Even after describing the stringent inspection regime, he dismissed the deal. “I don’t trust the Iranians,” he said. “It’s too much of a gamble. We should nuke them.”

I was flabbergasted. This man blithely assumed that the option of using nuclear arms was less dangerous, more certain, and more realistic than a diplomatic agreement.

I don’t understand why so many people think war is always a more reliable solution. I’ve notice true warriors tend to be far more hesitant about committing bellicose actions and will often seek less violent alternatives. It is no coincidence that the one person in the Bush administration who expressed reservations about the Iraqi invasion was combat veteran Colin Powell.

While the “war solves everything” argument is clearly not a valid criticism of this deal, some of the opposition is motivated, by what I consider legitimate reasoning.

[layerslider id=”31″]

Israel opposes the deal.  It would be absurd for them to do otherwise.

Most countries in the Middle East, not just Israel, are suspicious of this agreement. Beyond question, this accord will empower Iran politically, militarily, and economically. This deal will give Iran enormous resources to fund Hamas, Hizballah, and Shi’ite militias in Iraq and Yemen.

While the agreement will likely succeed in its primary objective – delaying the development of a nuclear bomb – it will do so at a price that the people of Syria, Saudi Arabia, Gulf States, and Israel will have to pay. For them, this is no “peace” deal; it is a disaster.

Is the deal worth the cost? I think so, but as someone who lives in America, I do not have to pay the price. I support the deal, but I sympathize with the opposition of the Middle Eastern countries to it.

The President has addressed this criticism, but not I think convincingly.  Netanyahu has repeatedly attacked the agreement on the basis of its supposed ineffectiveness, or the delusional stance that the Iranians will agree to an even more demanding accord. I think this is a mistake, because it not only undermines his credibility, it also distracts from the legitimate argument that this agreement empowers a terrorist state.

 

War is not certain

While the nuclear agreement could increase tensions in the Middle East, due to the greater resources available to Iran’s terrorist proxies, it also may not.  For one thing, Iranian aggressiveness has provoked its adversaries into forming an informal alliance.

Here are the official members of the Saudi-led military forces that are fighting Iranian-backed insurgents in Yemen: Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, UAE, Morocco, Senegal, Sudan, Somalia, and the United States. By some accounts, Turkey is also supporting Saudi Arabia.

This is not an insignificant group of nations, and the nuclear deal could strengthen their ties. The power of this coalition (which in the future may unofficially include Israel) could be an effective counter to Iranian belligerence.

The true wild card in this situation is not whether Iran will cheat or take advantage of their new found economic power. The real question is “How will the deal transform Iran itself?” While the President expressed hope that the Iranians would learn to play nice with their neighbors, he has also expressed strong doubts that they would do so.

Iranian hard liners have been as ferocious in their criticisms of the agreement as their American counterparts have been. It’s easy to see why. Their country will now be crawling with analysts from international agencies collecting valuable intelligence. Their nuclear program, a symbol of national sovereignty, will be dramatically throttled back.

Even more significant is that the rationale behind their tyrannical government – protection from foreign imperialists – will be severely undermined. It is not an accident that the Russian communist party lost its grip on the Soviet Union after glasnost.

Can we count on the Iranians undermining their autocratic regime? No, but nor can we dismiss the possibility.

After the deal was announced, Iranians took to the streets, celebrating the easing of the economic sanctions. One image I saw on television is evidence that change is already occurring. A group of young people chanted “Death to no one!” and were waving their smartphones in the air. What was on their smartphones? Pictures of the American flag.

[layerslider id=”31″]

This post is the opinion solely of the author and does not reflect the positions of AMREL or its other employees.

Do you have an opinion? Send it to editor@amrel.com. Be advised we may use the content of your email in a future blog post.

Lincoln, War, and Good Friday

On April 15, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.

The news hit the country liked a punch in the stomach. The pro-Union forces were still celebrating the end of the war. For weeks, Northerners gathered in the streets to drink, parade, and sing songs glorifying their victory.

What a victory it was! Not only had the Union had been preserved, but an entire race had been liberated. Americans could now proclaim themselves the “land of the free” without hypocrisy.

Furthermore, democracy itself had been vindicated. The principle of self-rule was still controversial and regarded as impractical by many. The persistence of the American republic was a stunning rebuke to those who mocked the government of the people. A Union defeat would have set back the cause of liberty for the entire world.

Union victory was also, it can be argued, the beginning of the American era. The Union army had been the largest in the world. The Confederate army had been the second largest.

[layerslider id=”31″]

The American armies were the most technologically advanced of their time. Telegraphs, iron-clad, railroads, and even hot-air balloons were used extensively in the Civil War.

The old, aristocratic, empires might sneer at the provincial Americans, but they could no longer dismiss them as insignificant.  We were clearly a force to be reckoned with, and we knew it.

All these feelings – moral righteousness, martial pride, soaring patriotism, and triumphalism – were quashed with an assassin’s bullet. Everyone was shocked that the horrors of war were not over.

Lincoln was killed on Good Friday. Christians went to Easter services the following Sunday and meditated on themes of martyrdom and sacrifice. Jews observed Passover that Friday night and hailed Lincoln as the new Moses who had freed an entire people.

This month marks the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln assassination. As we observe the spring religious holidays, it would be wise to remember what our ancestors and so many of our veterans have painfully learned.  We do not decide what war’s ultimate price will be or when we will stop paying it. The sacrifices of war do not end with the last battle.

 Remember our veterans

Contribute to Wounded Warriors

wounded warrior

The Lies of Net Neutrality: An Opinion Piece

Even by contemporary political standards, the debate about Net Neutrality has been clouded by an extraordinary amount of dishonesty. While legitimate arguments can be made in both sides, some common assertions are simply untrue. Furthermore, the people who are saying these deceitful things are often high-level bureaucrats or CEOs of internet companies who presumably should know better.

What is Net Neutrality?

The “default setting” of the internet is “neutral.” In theory, an end-user’s ability to download a PDF of his child’s school cafeteria menu is similar to that of downloading an ebook from Amazon. The end-user’s access is the same, in theory, no matter what the size of the website.

Internet Service Providers (ISP) sell internet access (bandwidth) to end-users, as well as to website owners. ISPs don’t like Net Neutrality and want to charge large content producers (such as Netflix) premium rates for higher-speed access to the their customers. This would create a “Fast Lane” model, in which the end user would experience slower downloads from smaller, less prosperous websites.

[layerslider id=”31″]

It is no surprise that ISPs hate Net Neutrality, while content producers are in favor of it.

net neutrality table

As you might imagine, when billionaires fight, lawyers get rich. After attempts to enforce Net Neutrality were overturned by court cases, the FCC adopted several historic regulations governing ISP behavior, including:

  • No blocking of legal content
  • No throttling of Internet traffic on the basis of content
  • No paid prioritization of content

The FCC clarified that these rules prevent ISPs from “unreasonably interfering with or unreasonably disadvantaging” the ability of end-users and content providers to connect with each other. Furthermore the rationalization of “reasonable network management” must “primarily be used for and tailored to achieving a legitimate network management–and not commercial–purpose.” In other words, ISPs can’t use corporate doublespeak to justify arbitrary bills on end-users, or throttling access to websites.

Although previous court rulings had overturned Net Neutrality policies, these new FCC regulations essentially maintain the status quo. Historically, the internet has grown and thrived in “neutral” conditions.

In the wake of the FCC rulings, the media has been deluged with a torrent of fraudulent information. Take the quiz below and see if you can spot which quotes or talking points are false.

1. “We are for net neutrality, but some services should be prioritized over others.” Deutsche Telekom CEO Timotheus Hoettges, New York Times

I thought I start off with an easy one. Hint: the above statement is like saying “I am for equal pay for equal work, but no woman should be paid as much as a man.”

2. “The Internet is not broken. There is no problem for the government to solve….The evidence of these continuing threats? There is none; it’s all anecdote, hypothesis, and hysteria.” Commissioner Ajit Pai, FCC Commissioner, fcc.gov

“Net Neutrality is unnecessary. It’s designed to solve problems that haven’t happened.” Talking Point.

 Let’s look at some “nonexistent” problems that have been reported by CNN:

  • Verizon blocked Google Wallet and PayPal phone applications. Presumably, it won’t block its own tap-to-pay product, Softcard.
  •  AT&T, Sprint,T-Mobile, and Verizon blocked or charged extra for tethering apps that make your mobile device a hotspot. Using Net neutrality reasoning, the FCC blocked these blocks.
  •  AT&T blocked FaceTime on Apple devices and Google Hangouts on Android devices.
  • Comcast throttled BitTorrent, legal as well as illegal content.

As FCC Commissioner Clyburn said, “This is more than a theoretical exercise. Providers here in the United States have, in fact, blocked applications on mobile devices, which not only hampers free expression, it also restricts…innovation by allowing companies, not the consumer to pick winners and losers.”

Bizarrely, anti-Net Neutrality FCC Commissioner Pai cites some of the above examples as “proof” that problems didn’t happened. He dismisses them as examples that are “picayune and stale.” I suspect that if he personally had been charged $20 a month for tethering a device, he would discover that one man’s “picayune” is another man’s “crime against humanity.”

 3. “The Obama Administration needs to get beyond its 1930s rotary-telephone mindset and embrace the future,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, NPR.

“The FCC’s pro-Net Neutrality decision is based on 1934 law that was designed for outmoded technology.” Talking point pushed by ISPs.

In the first place, laws written for one technology are constantly being applied to newer ones. For example, the President couldn’t kick Rush Limbaugh off the air on the basis that “Freedom of the press” doesn’t apply to radio and television. Personally, I would love for Mitch McConnell to declare before the National Rifle Association that the Second Amendment was written for muskets and front-loading rifles, so it couldn’t possibly apply to modern weapons. Heck, I would pay money to see that speech.

[layerslider id=”31″]

However, the main problem with this talking point is that it is has a false premise.  The FCC Net Neutrally rulings weren’t just based on the 1934 law, but also the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and a 2010 court ruling, both of which specifically permit the recent FCC actions.

So, the people pushing this particular talking point are either lying or just plain stupid.  Hint: they’re not stupid.

 4) “Net neutrality has not been necessary to date. I don’t see any reason why it’s suddenly become important, when the Internet has functioned quite well for the past 15 years without it…Government attempts to regulate technology have been extraordinarily counterproductive in the past.” Peter Thiel, PayPal founder and Facebook  Wikipedia

“The Internet is not broken, and it got here without government regulation and probably in part because of lack of government regulation.” Max Levchin, PayPal co-founder. Wikipedia

“The Internet has thrived in the absence of net neutrality rules, thank you very much.”  Robert M. McDowell, a former FCC commissioner turned telecom lawyer in Washington, D.C. Wikipedia

The government created the Internet (Thank you DARPA). The Internet has always been regulated. If not for the early government oversight, we would have a byzantine patchwork of private internets that would be unable to communicate with each other. Furthermore, the FCC Net Neutrality rulings are not an attempt to impose new conditions, but are measures design to preserve the environment under which the Internet has prospered.

I’m not sure if the above quotes count as actual lies. People have very emotional beliefs about government regulations that cause them to say all sorts of strange things. Sort of like those folks who are fearful that the “Government is trying to take over Social Security!”

 5.“Net neutrality does not eliminate the Fast Lane. Lack of competition among the ISPs is the real problem.” Talking point.

Although this statement has been made to criticize the recent FCC rulings, it is actually true.

Fast Lanes currently exist. High end content and hosting providers add “nodes” to the “Backbone” of the Internet, i.e. they build hardware solutions to deliver their large volume of content. These types of Fast Lanes benefit everybody, because they increase the overall carrying capacity of the Internet. Net Neutrality bans the type of Fast Lane solutions in which the flow of content is artificially restricted.

Lack of competitions among ISPs is a real problem. For a more complete explanation of Fast Lanes and ISPs, see the excellent article by Robert McMillan in Wired.

6. “Net Neutrality advocates do not understand the Internet.” Talking point.

Among the people who testified in front of the FCC in favor of the Net Neutrality was Sir Tim Berners-Lee. Are we to assume that the man who designed the World Wide Web doesn’t understand the Internet? Another high profile supporter of Net Neutrality is Google.  They also do not understand the Internet?

What is especially annoying about this talking point (aside from the fact that it usually delivered in an arrogant, condescending manner) is that the more you know about the Internet, the more likely you are to be in favor of Net Neutrality.

The web designers, software engineers, IT guys, and all rest of the intellectual workers who support the Internet are a politically diverse bunch. However, they are united in their support of Net Neutrality.  It’s easy to see why.  Many have dreams of sitting in their garage or a dorm room, and building the next Facebook or Google. Without Net Neutrality, those dreams are ash.

7. “The recent FCC rulings open the door to taxing the Internet.” Talking Point.

This talking point is true. The FCC swears it won’t use this ruling to implement taxes, but more than a few people are suspicious of this promise.

This is a legitimate criticism of the ruling (unless you are in favor of taxing the Internet, but that’s another issue). Unlike most of the criticisms presented in this article, it actually informs the listener, rather than confuse them.

This is why I have deliberately chosen to use the inflammatory description of the other anti-Net Neutrality arguments as “lies.” These talking points are designed to deceive.

As has been pointed out by observers, ISPs often use very different arguments when addressing stockholders than the FCC. While they loudly complain of the economic hardship posed by these regulations, their stockholder letters are full of cheery optimism.

Even though I am in favor of Net Neutrality, I do think there are legitimate arguments to be made against it. Unfortunately, its opponents have chosen the route of propaganda, rather than education.

 8) Finally one last example:

“US Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) this week filed legislation she calls the ‘Internet Freedom Act’ to overturn the Federal Communications Commission’s new network neutrality rules.” Arstechnica.

Is the “Internet Freedom Act” an accurate name? What do you think?

 This post is the opinion solely of the author and does not reflect the positions of AMREL or its other employees. Comments can be mailed to editor@amrel.com (comments may be used in future postings).

[layerslider id=”31″]