Monday, November 16, 2009

Nuclear Agency Warns of More Iranian Plants


WASHINGTON -- The United Nations atomic watchdog said Iran could be constructing a number of covert nuclear installations in addition to a secret uranium-enrichment facility the Obama administration disclosed in late September.

The International Atomic Energy Agency also said in a quarterly report released Monday that Iranian officials have told the U.N. that Tehran plans to begin operating the previously unknown nuclear-fuel facility outside the holy city of Qom by 2011.

The IAEA report is the last to be released under departing Director General Mohamed ElBaradei. U.S. officials have long criticized the Egyptian for deflecting Washington's criticism of Iran in official reports. Diplomats said Monday that the latest report was notable for its sharp tone.

U.S. and European officials believe the Qom site is designed to process Iran's low-enriched uranium into weapons-grade material. The IAEA said in its new report that Tehran has produced 1.76 tons of low-enriched uranium, enough to produce one or two atomic devices if enriched further.

In the report, the IAEA urged Iran to provide more information on the Qom plant, as well as greater access to Iranian scientists and documents. Without that access, the agency added, the international community can't be certain Tehran isn't developing a much larger clandestine nuclear infrastructure for military applications.

"The agency has indicated [to Iran] that its declaration of the new facility reduces the level of confidence in the absence of other facilities," the IAEA report said. "[It] gives rise to questions about whether there were any other nuclear facilities not declared."

Iran told U.N. investigators who visited the Qom facility last month that it began construction in 2007. But the IAEA said in its report that technical analysis and satellite imagery suggested Tehran actually started working on the plant in 2002.

The IAEA's disclosure Monday places added pressure on the Obama administration's efforts to use diplomacy to constrain Iran's nuclear ambitions. President Barack Obama has given Iran until year-end to show a commitment to negotiations or face expansive new economic sanctions.

Last month, the U.S. and other global powers presented Iran an offer to better manage Tehran's stockpile of nuclear fuel. The deal calls for Iran to ship roughly 70% of its low-enriched uranium to Russia and France for reprocessing into fuel rods for Tehran's medical-research reactor. The White House believes the transfer of the nuclear fuel to international custody would prevent Iran from producing nuclear weapons in the near term, while buying time for diplomacy.

In recent weeks, however, Iran has started to step back from its initial commitment to the nuclear-fuel deal. Tehran has said it won't agree to shipping out its low-enriched uranium in one batch. U.S. officials said that without a single-batch transfer of Iran's fuel, the deal loses its merits, and they stressed that Washington won't renegotiate its offer.

Open Questions

The IAEA says Iran's responses to key questions reduce confidence in its declarations.

Does Iran have undeclared nuclear sites?
Iran says it will announce new sites at least six months before operations begin.
When did Iran begin building an enrichment plant in Qom?
In 2007, Iran says, because of 'threats of military attack.'
"Now is the time for Iran to signal that it wants to be a responsible member of the international community," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said Monday. "We will continue to press meet its international nuclear obligations."

Iran has said its nuclear program is focused wholly on peaceful ends. On Sunday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Western pressure only makes Iran more determined to advance its nuclear capabilities.

"Cooperation with Iran in the nuclear field is in the interests of Westerners. Their opposition will make Iran more powerful and advanced," he said in a statement posted late Sunday on the presidential Web site.

Mr. Obama is using his first trip to Asia as president to try to gain Russian and Chinese support for new financial sanctions against Iran in case diplomacy fails. Both Moscow and Beijing have voiced reluctance to back new coercive measures against Tehran. Both nations have deep energy and security ties to Iran.

On Monday, however, Moscow suggested that it might be more supportive of U.S. policy.

Russia's energy minister told state media that a Russian-designed nuclear reactor being constructed in Iran wouldn't be operational this year. Russian officials cited technical issues, but U.S. officials say they believe the announcement may be an effort to pressure Iran because Russia built the reactor and has committed to supply fuel.

The IAEA's Mr. ElBaradei leaves his post at the end of the month and will be succeeded by Japan's Yukiya Amano, who has suggested he will play a less political role than his predecessor and focus more on technical aspects of preventing nuclear proliferation. Some U.S. officials say the IAEA could take a harder line on Iran and Syria in coming years under Mr. Amano's stewardship.

The IAEA on Monday also said Syria continues to defy U.N. requests for greater cooperation into a probe of Damascus's alleged nuclear activities. The U.S. charges Syria with secretly building a nuclear reactor with the support of North Korea. The Israeli air force destroyed the site in late 2007.

The IAEA has specifically been seeking President Bashar Assad's help in tracing uranium particles that U.N. investigators found last year at the bombed site. Syria denies it was secretly building the reactor. But IAEA officials said the uranium isn't from Syria's declared stock, nor is it likely to have come from Israeli munitions, as Damascus claims.

The IAEA also is seeking clarity from Syria on traces of fissile material that agency investigators found during an inspection of Damascus's research reactor. "Essentially, no progress has been made since the last report to clarify any of the outstanding issues," said the IAEA's report.

The U.S. and some Western governments have discussed in recent months the merits of pushing the IAEA to conduct a "special inspection" of Damascus's alleged nuclear infrastructure. If such an inspection was approved by the IAEA's board, Syria would either have to comply or potentially face U.N. sanctions.

Syria is Iran's closest strategic ally and the two nations cooperate closely in arming and funding militant groups fighting Israel, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories. Some Western diplomats said there have been concerns that Tehran was aiding Damascus's nuclear pursuits, though the IAEA hasn't disclosed any evidence of this.

CVN 78 Construction Underway!

Keel Laid for Newest U.S. Navy Aircraft Carrier
Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding and the U.S. Navy marked the keel-laying of the newest aircraft carrier Nov. 14 in ceremonies at Newport News, Va.

The ship is named after Gerald R. Ford, the 38th U.S. president. Ford's daughter, Susan Ford Bales, is the ship's sponsor and authenticated the keel when her initials were welded onto a metal plate.

The carrier, numbered CVN 78, represents the first new U.S. carrier design since the 1960s. The ship will have a smaller crew than previous flattops and incorporate new technologies, including an Electro-Magnetic Aircraft Launching System, advanced arresting gear and dual-band radar.

The new ship should join the fleet in 2015.

FBI Alerts India On Nuclear Terrorism Threat

NEW DELHI - Indian authorities have put security on high alert near nuclear plants and related facilities, following tips from the FBI.

New Delhi is closely following the interrogation of U.S. citizen David Headley by the FBI and has sent senior intelligence agency officials to the United States to gather more information.

Sources in the Indian Defence ministry said the FBI is providing information from the Headley interrogation on a selective basis. The high alert was sounded after it was leaned that Headley had visited states housing India's nuclear facilities.

Headley, 49, was arrested in October at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport as he prepared to board a flight to Philadelphia, intending to travel to Pakistan. The FBI also arrested Tahawwur Hussain Rana, 48, a Canadian citizen of Pakistani origin, for alleged involvement in terror activities.

There are six major nuclear energy plants operational in India: Narora in state of Uttar Pradesh, Kaiga in the state of Karnataka, Tarapur in Maharashtra state, Kalpakkam in the state of Tamil Nadu, Kakrapar in Gujarat state and Kota in the state of Rajasthan. In addition, there are research and development centers, such as Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in Trombay.

FBI data on Fort Hood suspect scrutinized

FBI data on Fort Hood suspect scrutinized: "WASHINGTON — The FBIs effort after 9/11 to improve terrorism investigations will face sharp scrutiny this week as Congress begins probing whether authorities missed or ignored warning signs about the Army major charged with murdering 13 people at Fort Hood in Texas.Inquiries will focus on FBI-led terrorism task forces that were expanded after 9/11 to unite federal and local authorities in 100 cities.

The Joint Terrorism Task Force is 'our nations front line on terrorism,' the FBI says on its Web site.Yet lawmakers are questioning the task force that investigated Maj. Nidal Hasan in December and did not tell the Pentagon that he had exchanged 10 to 20 e-mails with a radical Muslim cleric.'A lot of the dots were not connected,' Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said Sunday on CBSs Face the Nation.

Leahys committee will question Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday. The Senate homeland security committee opens its probe Thursday.The FBI has defended its actions, and former security officials say the case illustrates constraints on exchanging investigative results.'There are limits on sharing information on U.S. persons,' said former Department of Homeland Security intelligence chief Charles Allen. 'There are issues of privacy, civil rights and civil liberties, and those are taken very seriously.'The terrorism task force did not share information about Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, because it found his e-mails were 'consistent with research' being done by Hasan, who 'was not involved in terrorist activities or planning,' the FBI said last week.

Task forces cannot give records to other agencies unless an agency requests them and the task force approves, the FBI said in its statement. No one asked for information about Hasan, the FBI said.Former White House homeland security adviser Frances Townsend said in an interview that investigators need to probe both the task force and how the military dealt with information about Hasan. 'Even if the FBI handled it correctly, the second level of inquiry is, What did the Defense Department do with it?' Townsend said.Michigan Rep. Peter Hoekstra, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, said Sunday on Face the Nation, 'We had a lot of information on Hasan, but Im not sure that we put all these things in place so that we would have been in a position to perhaps stop what happened.

'Melissa Ngo, publisher of the Privacy Lives newsletter, said she worries lawmakers will take aim at privacy laws cited by the FBI in explaining restrictions on its ability to share information on Hasan.'The focus should not be on privacy laws,' Ngo said. 'The investigator decided that there is no potential threat, which prevented evidence-sharing. The focus should be on the investigation.'Related stories* 13 premeditated murder charges for Hasan* President Obama’s remarks at Hood memorial* Hospital: Hood shooting suspect awake, talking* Chaplain asks for prayers for accused shooter* Casey cautions on backlash against Muslims* Suspect off ventilator, breathing on own* Obama praises those who stopped shooter* Cleric: ‘Something wrong’ with Hasan* Work deeply affect Hood suspect, uncle says* George, Laura Bush visit wounded Hood soldiers* Hood community gathers to mourn victims* Suspect in Hood shootings remains in coma* Soldiers say carnage could have been worse* Shooting suspect said goodbyes before attack* Suspect was to deploy to Afghanistan* Online support follows Hood shootings* Tragedy assistance group was at Hood during shootings* Muslim group condemns Hood shootings* Shooting suspect was set to deploy* Hasan among May 2009 officer promotions"

(Via Air Force Times - News.)

Liftoff of Space Shuttle Atlantis!

Mon, 16 Nov 2009 01:28:46 PM CST

Space shuttle Atlantis and its crew of six astronauts are headed for space, ready to begin their 11-day mission to the International Space Station. The climb to orbit takes about 8 1/2 minutes.

Following a smooth countdown, with no technical issues and weather that steadily improved throughout the afternoon, the shuttle lifted off on time from Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 2:28 p.m. EST.

NASA TV will air a post-launch news conference at no earlier than 3:30 p.m. EST, and on the Web at


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