Thursday, December 06, 2007

The understated implication of the NIE

As few have picked up on this, I sent an email to a few folks and decided to post it here. There are National policy and governmental security issues that the recent NIE on Iran has brought up and I find them troubling based on my works over the past couple of years.

From here on I repeat the letter:

The thing I have been trying to get across on the NIE is the point that zero people want to pay attention to:

We continue to assess with low confidence that Iran probably has imported at least some weapons-usable fissile material, but still judge with moderate-to-high confidence it has not obtained enough for a nuclear weapon.
This is not something I would ever expect to see on an unclassified report on Iran. The ability to import nuclear material through clandestine networks can only be assessed with 'low confidence'. Add that to the generally well known non-placement of CIA agents (or DIA for that fact) into transnational criminal organizations, and you get the following conclusion based on how sophisticated the Red Mafia is (and my recent article on same is lengthy and tough to get through as it is an extremely difficult subject):

1) Unknown amounts of nuclear material have gone unaccounted for since the fall of the USSR. This is not only 'yellowcake' but also refined material that was part of the nuclear disarmament agreement (START). The US, by not helping the cash strapped Russians to continue that program robustly had started to suffer security lapses. Unlike many alarmists I do not believe that any nuclear devices were taken from the inventory, but a high probability of warhead material (not just fissionables, but hardened electronics) has worked its way into criminal underground networks is something that cannot be discounted. Reports by various police and INTEL agencies across the globe point to something like this.

2) The Chorny brothers and other Red Mafia groups in the 'Heavy Metals' gang have been running factories under the Russian regime with little to no oversight of their activities. Heavy metals like lead and cadmium are essential components of nuclear reactors and warheads, along with other materials and, yes, electronics. Without proper safeguards we have seen in other areas of the Russian economy that goods (not just consumer goods, but weapons, vehicles and such) have been in the organized crime pipeline since the mid-1990's. Of note is that some of the old Nomenklatura apparatchiks moved into co-support of enterprises with organized crime, thus bringing contact lists with them for expertise.

3) The most sophisticated Red Mafia operator is part of the larger syndicate operating with the Chorny brothers, he is the 'Red Don' Semion Mogilevitch. He has an advanced degree in economics and I have not fully scoped out his criminal enterprises, but they stretched into Canada, US, parts of S. America, throughout Europe and all the way to China and the Golden Triangle. He also has an operation in Marbella Spain and that is the home of the Syrian narcotics/arms/money laundering 'Prince of Marbella' Monzer al-Kassar. Of him I have done scads of research (a few articles here, here, here) and his contacts reach deep into Syria, Iran, Argentina, the narcotics syndicates in S. America, Hezbollah and in the weeks leading up to 9/11 he and Mogilevich were scheduled to meet up with Osama bin Laden's bagman who died in a plane crash heading to Marbella. Additionally al-Kassar is on the 'Most Wanted' list of Iraq... not by the US, but by the Iraqi government.

4) Iran has been using Syria for major weapons purchases, not only for itself but for its Foreign Legion called Hezbollah. Additionally Iran has a base of support in the Balkans which is a major hub for E. European organized crime and trans-ship point with Africa and South America. That also fits in with the Hezbollah organization set up in S. America by al-Kassar and Imad Mugniyah, thus allowing Iran to have the ability to stage indirect purchases in the West through trusted intermediaries. Syria, itself, has NoKo contacts as seen not only via its purchases of NoDong missile technology used to help advance their own SCUD program, but through the supernote trade showing up in the drug trade areas of the Bekaa and outwards from there. The al-Kassar family is in charge of that trade and has been for three generations.

5) The narcotics trade, itself, brings in money laundering and, beyond the penetration of the Bank of NY system in the 1990's, there are simpler systems for doing such work, which tend to be ethnic community oriented. The most sophisticated are those that operate so much in the 'white world' that they cannot be easily tracked or traced, like the Black Market Peso Exchange system, but other Middle Eastern systems (such as the hawala system). Do note that the Red Mafia by working on 'both sides of the street' via partial industrial ownership in Russia is a perfect set-up for money laundering in and of itself... before skilled individuals start running so many companies that no one can find them all even knowing they are there. That individual is back out on the streets: Simon Reuben who was part of the Chorny business... he famously ran 300 companies spanning from Cypress, Bahamas, Grand Caymans, Abu Dhabi and Switzerland with 200 people and even set up three companies to take care of his rent, all in his head not written down or in a computer.

6) In the USSR/Russia one remaining problem that remains unsolved is that of the compromising of the KGB (now FSB) by a death cult. That was something I was a bit startled to run across looking at how al Qaeda borrowed operational ideas from another terror organization. That cult was Aum Shinrikyo, famous for the sarin gas attack in Tokyo and also having devised the proper method for dispersing anthrax, save they got an animal specific strain not a human specific one. As part of their expansion in the late 1980's, they went into the USSR and started buying plans and equipments from the Soviets. The KGB sent agents to watch them, but some of those agents apparently shifted allegiance and when the cult went down after the sarin attacks, these agents slipped out of view by the KGB. During the turmoil of the USSR ending no one bothered to keep track of them so there is no way to know exactly who, how many or what they are doing. It is not a heartwarming thought to have individuals looking to 'purify humanity' by ending it roaming around in Russia with large numbers of contacts in Russian industry which is, now, compromised by organized crime. While actually a low probability that such individuals are still around in Russia and doing something, it cannot be discounted, and these individuals would also have sufficient contacts in Japan to work out deals... like getting Mitutoyo nuclear separators into the black market. Someone had to do that and it isn't normal Yakuza work (from what I've read about them) that would leave Chinese Triads or the Red Mafia, or anyone with sufficiently good connections and motivations to set things up. Someone had to set up the connections to the AQ Khan network with Mitutoyo and we still, to this day, have no handle on that. Just like someone had to make the commercial/Triad connections to buy the CV Varyag for China.

It is for those things that admitting we have 'low confidence' in understanding of how Iran can import goods via such networks that is troubling. Frankly, you could drive nuclear devices through that with the right connections and the right connections *are* available and *in* the network.

That is our blind-spot because we want so much 'free trade' and commerce that we want no oversight on it. And so we devote little in the way of resources to penetrate those networks... that will come back to bite us.

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