January 11th, 2012
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration denied any role in Wednesday’s killing of an Iranian nuclear scientist, the latest in a series of events that have exacerbated tensions with Iran.
The assassination of Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan was the latest in a year that has already seen new U.S. economic sanctions, threats to bar American ships from the Persian Gulf, an Iranian death sentence to a jailed U.S. citizen and an escalation in Tehran’s uranium enrichment program.
Iranian reports said two assailants on a motorcycle attached a magnetic bomb to Roshan’s car of, killing him and his driver. Roshan was a chemistry expert and director of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran, and the slaying suggested a widening covert effort to set back the Islamic republic’s atomic program.
But US officials said they had nothing to do with it.
“I want to categorically deny any United States involvement in any kind of act of violence inside Iran,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told reporters. “We believe there has to be an understanding between Iran, its neighbors and the international community that finds a way forward for it to end its provocative behavior, end its search for nuclear weapons and rejoin the international community and be a productive member of it.”
Earlier, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland wouldn’t answer a question about whether Washington was involved in the killing — or if the administration viewed Roshan as an innocent victim. “I’m not going to speak to who may or may not have done this,” she told reporters.
The attack also came one day after Israeli military chief Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz was quoted as telling a parliamentary committee that 2012 would be critical for Iran — in part because of “things that happen to it unnaturally.”
And other Israeli officials, hinted at covert campaigns against Iran without directly admitting involvement.
“Many bad things have been happening to Iran in the recent period,” said Mickey Segal, a former director of the Israeli military’s Iranian intelligence department. “Iran is in a situation where pressure on it is mounting, and the latest assassination joins the pressure that the Iranian regime is facing.”
Iranian authorities blamed Israel.
One former official said the magnetic-bomb attack does bear the hallmarks of an Israeli hit. Current and former U.S. officials say Washington prefers proxies like Israel to carry out operations inside Iran, and that up until two years ago, the U.S. and Israel coordinated actions against Iran closely. But the officials say the White House halted such cooperation after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took power.
The officials, past and present, spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive strategic negotiations.
In the event that a military intervention might be needed to halt Iran’s progress toward nuclear weapons capability, they said counterterrorist officials had considered allowing Israel to use the U.S.-Afghan Shindand Airbase, in western Afghanistan, to launch an air strike against Iranian weapons facilities
The attack in Tehran bore a strong resemblance to earlier killings of scientists working on the Iranian nuclear program — which Iran has blamed on Israel’s Mossad, the CIA and Britain’s spy agency. They point to at least three slayings since early 2010 and the release of a malicious computer virus known at Stuxnet in 2010 that temporarily disrupted controls of some centrifuges — a key component in nuclear fuel production. But all three countries have denied the Iranian accusations.
The U.S. and its allies are pressuring Iran to halt uranium enrichment, fearful that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons. Iran insists the program is for peaceful purposes only and geared toward generating electricity and producing medical radioisotopes to treat cancer patients.
Natanz is Iran’s main enrichment site, but officials claimed earlier this week that they are expanding some operations to an underground site south of Tehran with more advanced equipment.
Clinton condemned Iran in a statement Tuesday for enriching uranium at the underground Fordo bunker to a level that can be upgraded more quickly for use in a nuclear weapon than the main stockpile. She said Tehran was demonstrating a “blatant disregard for its responsibilities” and that “’’there is no plausible justification” for its decision to increase enrichment to 20 percent — higher than the 3.5 percent being made at Iran’s main plant.
Speaking beside Qatar’s visiting prime minister, Clinton expanded her criticism of Iran on Wednesday and expressed concern about a series of “provocative and dangerous” threats by Iranian officials to close off the Strait of Hormuz, which connects the world to the oil-rich waters of the Persian Gulf.
“This is an international waterway,” she told reporters in Washington. “The United States and others are committed to keeping it open. It’s part of the lifeline that keeps oil and gas moving around the world.”
She said the U.S. and its partners were making it clear to Tehran that such threats were unacceptable.
Washington and Tehran also are at odds over an Iranian court’s death sentence Monday for Amir Hekmati, a 28-year-old former U.S. military translator who was born in Arizona and raised in Michigan. Iran says he is a CIA spy; the Obama administration flatly rejects the accusations.
It is the first time Iran has handed down a death sentence to a U.S. citizen since the Islamic Revolution 33 years ago. Hekmati’s family says he was in Iran visiting his grandmothers.
Prime Minister Sheik Hamad Bin Jassem Bin Jabr Al Thani of Qatar, a country with deep economic ties to Iran and which exports its natural gas to the rest of the world through the Strait of Hormuz, urged more negotiations among Tehran, Washington and the rest of the international community.
“We need to find a way to live together, a peaceful way,” he said. “For us, it’s very important that we don’t trigger any military tension in the region.”
AP Intelligence Writer Kimberly Dozier contributed to this report
January 11th, 2012
Spokane Conservative Examiner
By Joe Newby
Imagine for a moment, that you write articles for any one of a number of political blogs, posting them on various social media websites. How would you feel knowing that the federal government has permission to monitor your activities and collect personal information about you?
Does the phrase "Big Brother" come to mind?
The Blaze reported Monday that the Department of Homeland Security now has permission under the National Operations Center (NOC)’s Media Monitoring Initiative to collect and retain personal information on "journalists, news anchors, reporters or anyone who uses 'traditional and/or social media in real time to keep their audience situationally aware and informed.'”
Citing a report at Russia Today, Tiffany Gabbay wrote:
According to DHS, the definition of personal identifiable information can consist of any intellect “that permits the identity of an individual to be directly or indirectly inferred, including any information which is linked or linkable to that individual.”
According to the Department of Homeland Security, the original purpose of the initiative was expanded in June 2010 to monitor "publicly available online forums, blogs, public websites, and message boards to collect information used in providing situational awareness and establishing a common operating picture."
The DHS Privacy Office (PRIV) and OPS/NOC decided to further broaden the program's capability to collect additional information, including limited instances of personally identifiable information (PII). As such, a Publicly Available Social Media Monitoring and Situational Awareness Initiative Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) Update and new DHS/OPS-004 - Publicly Available Social Media Monitoring and Situational Awareness Initiative System of Records Notice (SORN) were issued on January 6, 2011 and February 1, 2011 respectively and are the basis for this Privacy Compliance Review (PCR).
PRIV found OPS/NOC to be in compliance with the privacy parameters set forth in the January 6, 2011 PIA update and February 1, 2011 SORN.
A PDF file at DHS says that under certain circumstances, it is allowed to collect personally identifiable information (PII) on:
1) U.S. and foreign individuals in extremis situations involving potential life or death circumstances; 2) senior U.S. and foreign government officials who make public statements or provide public updates; 3) U.S. and foreign government spokespersons who make public statements or provide public updates; 4) U.S. and foreign private sector officials and spokespersons who make public statements or provide public updates; 5) names of anchors, newscasters, or on-scene reporters who are known or identified as reporters in their post or article or who use traditional and/or social media in real time to keep their audience situationally aware and informed; 6) current and former public officials who are victims of incidents or activities related to Homeland Security; and 7) terrorists, drug cartel leaders, or other persons known to have been involved in major crimes of Homeland Security interest.
According to the Department of Homeland Security’s own definition of personal identifiable information, or PII, such data could consist of any intellect “that permits the identity of an individual to be directly or indirectly inferred, including any information which is linked or linkable to that individual.” Previously established guidelines within the administration say that data could only be collected under authorization set forth by written code, but the new provisions in the NOC’s write-up means that any reporter, whether someone along the lines of Walter Cronkite or a budding blogger, can be victimized by the agency.
Also included in the roster of those subjected to the spying are government officials, domestic or not, who make public statements, private sector employees that do the same and “persons known to have been involved in major crimes of Homeland Security interest,” which to itself opens up the possibilities even wider.
Although the agency says it will only collect data that is publicly available, the question remains: Why is the federal government spending time and taxpayer money monitoring people who write or report online?
No doubt, were this to happen under George W. Bush, the media would be howling with indignation - and rightly so. So far, however, very little has been said.
RT.com adds that the data collected "is being shared with both private sector businesses and international third parties," but does not specify who those parties are.
According to DHS, twelve email reports between December 2010 and August 2011 contained unnecessary personal information and redaction notices were sent to the recipients.
The report adds that the agency is required to maintain a log of social media monitoring activity.
But not to worry - just because the government is monitoring online activites of writers, bloggers and journalists, the federal government says it is doing all it can to keep that information private.
January 11th, 2012
“For the First Time in My Adult Lifetime, I’m Really Proud of My Country”~Michelle Obama, 2/18/08
(AP) WASHINGTON — First lady Michelle Obama is challenging assertions she's forcefully imposed her will on White House aides, saying she's tired of people portraying her as "some kind of angry black woman."
Mrs. Obama tells CBS News she hasn't read New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor's new book that characterizes her as a behind-the-scenes force in the Executive Mansion, whose strong views often draw her into conflict with President Barack Obama's top advisers.
"I never read these books," she told CBS's Gayle King in an interview broadcast Wednesday. "So I've just gotten in the habit of not reading other people's impressions of people."
In the book, Mrs. Obama is said to have occasionally bristled at some of the demands and constraints of life in the White House.
In the interview, Mrs. Obama said, "I love this job. It has been a privilege from day one."
"Now there are challenges," she added. "If there's any anxiety that I feel, it's because I want to make sure that my girls (Malia and Sasha) come out of this on the other end whole."
The Kantor book portrays a White House where tensions developed between Mrs. Obama and former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and former press secretary and presidential adviser Robert Gibbs. The book, titled "The Obamas," describes Mrs. Obama as having gone through an evolution from struggle to fulfillment in her role at the White House, while labeling her an "unrecognized force" in pursuing the president's goals. Neither the president nor his wife agreed to be interviewed for the book.
"I do care deeply about my husband," Mrs. Obama said in the CBS appearance. "I am one of his biggest allies. I am one of his biggest confidants." But she sought to put aside "this notion that I sit in meetings."
"I guess it's just more interesting to imagine this conflicted situation here," she said. "That's been an image people have tried to paint of me since the day Barack announced, that I'm some kind of angry black woman."
"There will always be people who don't like me," Mrs. Obama added, and said she could live with that.
Mrs. Obama said that she's "just trying to be me, and I just hope that over time, that people get to know me."
Asked specifically about an assertion of dissension between herself and Emanuel, now the mayor of Chicago, the first lady said she has "never had a cross word" with him. The same, she said, applies to Gibbs, whom she described as "a good friend, and remains so."
"I'm sure we could go day to day and find things people wished they didn't say to each other," Mrs., Obama said. "And that's why I don't read these books. ... It's a game, in so many ways, that doesn't fit. Who can write about what I feel? What third person can tell me what I feel?"
Mrs. Obama said that when questions or conflicts arise involving her and the White House staff, her East Wing staff resolves the issue with her husband's staff in the West Wing.
"If there's communication that needs to happen, it's between staffs," she said. "I don't have conversations with my husband's staff."
Top Stories at CBS
January 11th, 2012
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Two assailants on a motorcycle attached a magnetic bomb to the car of an Iranian university professor working at a key nuclear facility, killing him and another person Wednesday, state TV reported. The slayings suggest a widening covert effort to set back Iran's atomic program.
The attack in Tehran bore a strong resemblance to earlier killings of scientists working on the Iranian nuclear program. It is certain to amplify authorities' claims of clandestine operations by Western powers and their allies to halt Iran's nuclear advances.
The blast killed Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, a chemistry expert and a director of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran, state TV reported. State news agency IRNA said Roshan had "organizational links" to Iran's nuclear agency, which suggests a direct role in key aspects of the program.
Natanz is Iran's main enrichment site, but officials claimed earlier this week that they are expanding some operations to an underground site south of Tehran with more advanced equipment.
The U.S. and its allies are pressuring Iran to halt uranium enrichment, a key element of the nuclear program that the West suspects is aimed at producing atomic weapons. Uranium enriched to low levels can be used as nuclear fuel but at higher levels, it can be used as material for a nuclear warhead.
Iran denies it is trying to make nuclear weapons, saying its program is for peaceful purposes only and is geared toward generating electricity and producing medical radioisotopes to treat cancer patients.
Tehran has accused Israel's Mossad, the CIA and Britain's spy agency of engaging in an underground "terrorism" campaign against nuclear-related targets, including at least three slayings since early 2010 and the release of a malicious computer virus known at Stuxnet in 2010 that temporarily disrupted controls of some centrifuges — a key component in nuclear fuel production. All three countries have denied the Iranian accusations.
Israeli officials, however, have hinted about covert campaigns against Iran without directly admitting involvement.
On Tuesday, Israeli military chief Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz was quoted as telling a parliamentary panel that 2012 would be a "critical year" for Iran — in part because of "things that happen to it unnaturally."
"Many bad things have been happening to Iran in the recent period," added Mickey Segal, a former director of the Israeli military's Iranian intelligence department. "Iran is in a situation where pressure on it is mounting, and the latest assassination joins the pressure that the Iranian regime is facing."
Defiant Iranian authorities pointed the finger at archfoe Israel.
First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi said Israeli agents were behind the attack, but cannot "prevent progress" in what Iran claims are peaceful nuclear efforts.
Safar Ali Baratloo, a senior security official, was quoted by Fars as also saying the attack was the work of Israelis.
"The magnetic bomb is of the same types already used to assassinate our scientists," he said.
Roshan, 32, was inside the Iranian-assembled Peugeot 405 car together with two others when the bomb exploded near Gol Nabi Street in north Tehran, Fars reported. It said the person accompanying Roshan died later of injuries at a hospital.
IRNA said an 85-year old passer-by was injured in the blast.
Fars described the explosion as a "terrorist attack" targeting Roshan, a graduate of the prestigious Sharif University of Technology in Tehran.
Roshan was a chemistry expert who was involved in building polymeric layers for gas separation, which is the use of various membranes to isolate gases. He was also deputy director of commercial affairs for the Natanz uranium enrichment plant in central Iran. According to conservative news website mashreghnews.ir, Roshan was in charge of purchasing and supplying equipment for the facility.
Natanz is the centerpiece of Iran's efforts to make its own nuclear fuel. But Iran said earlier this week it was expanding some operations to a bunker-like site south of Tehran protected under 300 feet (90 meters) of rock. The existence of the Fordo facility has been known for more than two years, but some Western officials fear the opening of the labs could be another step toward developing nuclear arms.
The conservative news website, alef.ir, posted several papers Roshan contributed. It said his specialty, polymeric layers, have uses in uranium enrichment by having uranium gas pass through filtering membranes.
Since December, Iran has held or announced a series of war games that included threats to close the Gulf's vital Strait of Hormuz — the passageway for about one-sixth of the world's oil — in retaliation for stronger U.S.-led sanctions.
"Assassinations, military threats and political pressures ... The enemy insists on the tactic of creating fear to stop Iran's peaceful nuclear activities," Fars quoted lawmaker Javad Jahangirzadeh as saying in reaction to the blast.
A similar bomb explosion exactly two years ago — Jan. 12, 2010 — killed Tehran University professor Masoud Ali Mohammadi, a senior physics professor. He was killed when a bomb-rigged motorcycle exploded near his car as he was about to leave for work.
The semiofficial Mehr news agency said that Roshan had planned to attend a memorial ceremony later Wednesday for the slain professor.
In November 2010, a pair of back-to-back bomb attacks in different parts of the capital killed another nuclear scientist and wounded one more.
The slain scientist, Majid Shahriari, was a member of the nuclear engineering faculty at Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran and cooperated with the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran. The wounded scientist, Fereidoun Abbasi, was almost immediately appointed head of Iran's atomic agency.
Shahriari's expertise — neutron transport — lies at the heart of nuclear chain reactions in reactors and bombs. And Abbasi, now Iran's nuclear chief, has been described as a laser expert and one of the few top Iranian specialists in nuclear isotope separation.
And in July 2011, motorcycle-riding gunmen killed Darioush Rezaeinejad, an electronics student. Other reports identified him as a scientist involved in suspected Iranian attempts to make nuclear weapons.
Rezaeinejad allegedly participated in developing high-voltage switches, a key component in setting off the explosions needed to trigger a nuclear warhead.
The United States and some allies say Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons technology. Iran denies the allegations, saying that its program is intended for energy and medical research.
The latest blast is certain to bring fresh charges by Iran that the U.S. and allies are waging a clandestine campaign of bloodshed and sabotage in attempts to set back Iran's nuclear efforts.
"Instead of actually fighting a conventional war, Western powers and their allies appear to be relying on covert war tactics to try to delay and degrade Iran's nuclear advancement," said Theodore Karasik, a security expert at the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis.
He said the use of magnetic bombs bears the hallmarks of covert operations.
"It's a very common way to eliminate someone," he added. "It's clean, easy and efficient."
Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-born analyst based in Israel, said Iran's leadership is being pushed toward a decision on whether to "retaliate or compromise" as sanctions squeeze the economy and undercut the value of the Iranian rial.
"From the international consensus that we can see against Iran, even if (Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei) does retaliate, it's not very likely that the pressure — sanctions and isolation — would ease," he said. "He's in a tight spot."
Associated Press writer Brian Murphy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Amy Teibel in Jerusalem contributed to this report.
January 11th, 2012
The carrier Carl Vinson has arrived in 5th Fleet, putting naval forces closer to Iran as tensions between that country and the United States continue to escalate.
Vinson, as well as embarked Carrier Air Wing 17, cruiser Bunker Hill and destroyer Halsey, entered 5th Fleet on Jan. 9, where it is expected to support Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Navy and Defense Department officials said last week that threats and military exercises from Iran would not deter U.S. forces from continuing to work in the region and that operations were running as usual with no special response to Iran’s provocations.
The carrier John C. Stennis also is in 5th Fleet supporting OEF. The Navy didn’t disclose the Vinson’s exact location, but carriers supporting the war in Afghanistan typically do not operate from the Persian Gulf.
On Jan. 3, Iranian Army chief Ataollah Salehi warned Stennis not to operate in the Gulf.
“I advise, recommend and warn them over their return of this carrier to the Persian Gulf because we are not in the habit of warning more than once,” Salehi said as his country practiced shutting down the Strait of Hormuz, a chokepoint for shipping about 20 percent of the world’s oil supply. Vinson had left the Gulf and entered the Sea of Oman.
Vinson’s arrival comes as tensions with Iran continue. Days earlier, Iran sentenced former Marine Amir Marzaei Hekmati to death, charging him with working for the CIA and spying on the country. The State Department and White House both condemned the verdict, demanded his prompt release and accused Iran of creating false charges against Hekmati. Various media reports said that Hekmati, who was born in Arizona, was in Iran visiting family.
Meanwhile, the United States continues to provide maritime assistance to distressed Iranian sailors. On Jan. 5, sailors from the destroyer Kidd, a part of the Stennis Carrier Strike Group, boarded an Iranian boat that had been captured by Somali pirates. The 13 Iranians fishermen onboard were rescued, provided with treated treatment, given supplies and sent on their way home.
On Tuesday, the Coast Guard cutter Monomoy rescued six Iranians whose boat had engine problems and was taking on water.