Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Fastest Six Shooters in the West

video 1

Hold on there partner. This cowboy has something to say...

video 2

88 hundredths of a second? No problem. Watch this!

video 3

...and "The Fastestest Gun Who Ever Lived" award goes to -- Bob Munden.

Tobacco and Terror

54,000 cartons of contraband cigarettes and cash seized in Queens, New York by New York State Department of Taxation and Finance and Nassau County Police.

Experts have long acknowledged that terrorist organizations such as Hizballah depend on a wide variety of criminal enterprises, ranging from smuggling to fraud to drug trade to diamond trade in regions across the world, including the United States.

Terrorist organizations rely heavily on their global web of illicit enterprises to financially support their recruiting, training, arming, and operational objectives.

As law enforcement agencies continue to combat terrorist and criminal fundraising schemes, these criminal groups will continue to adapt and exploit emerging vulnerabilities.

The ability of these groups to engage in low-risk, cash-based schemes such as cigarette smuggling are critical to the continuation of their operations.

Convicted smuggler Mohamad Hammoud counting illicit tobacco profits.

The more than $50,000 in profits that smuggling rings can generate from one contraband load (1,500 cartons) is enough to fund as many as 10 USS Cole bombing operations.

In just two months of illicit cigarette trade operations, a motivated terrorist cell could generate sufficient funds to carry out another September 11th style attack, in which operational costs were estimated to be $500,000.

Mohamad Hammoud as a youth in Lebanon and meeting with Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah.

Law enforcement agencies face a daunting task of keeping up with these ever-changing criminal schemes. Simply put, they need more help from State and Federal governments.

The last few years have seen a boom in cigarette smuggling around the world and here in the United States; and, thanks to its policy of forbearance, New York State is doing more to facilitate this trade than any other State in the union.

On June 3, 2008, New York State taxes on cigarettes are set to increase by another $12.50 per carton. This will only serve to increase the demand for illicitly smuggled cigarettes and inflate the profit margin of these smuggling networks.

A typical advertisement for duty-free cigarettes, New York Post, Saturday, April 12, 2008.

This must be brought to an end. It is more than just a matter of hundreds of millions in lost tax revenue -- it is a matter of national security.

Download the full report from the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security: Tobacco and Terror: How Cigarette Smuggling is Funding our Enemies Abroad (PDF 3.63 MB)

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Survival Use of Plants 1 of 3: Edibility

Vietnam...."Home is where you dig it" was the sign over the fighting bunker of Private First Class Edward, Private First Class Falls and Private First Class Morgan of the 1st Battalion, 7th Regiment, during Operation Worth., 1968.

In a survival situation you should always be on the lookout for familiar wild foods and live off the land whenever possible.

You must not count on being able to go for days without food as some sources would suggest. Even in the most static survival situation, maintaining health through a complete and nutritious diet is essential to maintaining strength and peace of mind.

Nature can provide you with food that will let you survive any ordeal, if you don't eat the wrong plant. You must therefore learn as much as possible beforehand about the flora of the region where you will be operating.

Plants can provide you with medicines in a survival situation. Plants can supply you with weapons and raw materials to construct shelters and build fires. Plants can even provide you with chemicals for poisoning fish, preserving animal hides, and for camouflaging yourself and your equipment.

South Indian lunch served on a plantain (banana) leaf. (Clockwise from top left) edible salt, cucumber kosambari (a type of salad,) curry made of greens and green gram, potato chips, gasagase payasa (a sweet dish made of poppy seeds) [1], thovve (a side-dish made from boiled lentils) [2], raita (a salad mixed with yogurt,) bisibele bath (a mixture of rice, vegetables and boiled lentils mixed with curry powder) [3], and plain boiled rice [4]. Note: Numbers in square brackets indicate the preferred order in which they are eaten.

Edibility of Plants

Plants are valuable sources of food because they are widely available, easily procured, and, in the proper combinations, can meet all your nutritional needs.

WARNING: The critical factor in using plants for food is to avoid accidental poisoning. Eat only those plants you can positively identify and you know are safe to eat.

Absolutely identify plants before using them as food. Poison hemlock has killed people who mistook it for its relatives, wild carrots and wild parsnips.

At times you may find yourself in a situation for which you could not plan. In this instance you may not have had the chance to learn the plant life of the region in which you must survive. In this case you can use the Universal Edibility Test to determine which plants you can eat and those to avoid. It is important to be able to recognize both cultivated and wild edible plants in a survival situation. Most of the information in this article is directed towards identifying wild plants because information relating to cultivated plants is more readily available.

Remember the following when collecting wild plants for food:

  • Plants growing near homes and occupied buildings or along roadsides may have been sprayed with pesticides. Wash them thoroughly. In more highly developed countries with many automobiles, avoid roadside plants, if possible, due to contamination from exhaust emissions.
  • Plants growing in contaminated water or in water containing Giardia lamblia and other parasites are contaminated themselves. Boil or disinfect them.
  • Some plants develop extremely dangerous fungal toxins. To lessen the chance of accidental poisoning, do not eat any fruit that is starting to spoil or showing signs of mildew or fungus.
  • Plants of the same species may differ in their toxic or subtoxic compounds content because of genetic or environmental factors. One example of this is the foliage of the common chokecherry. Some chokecherry plants have high concentrations of deadly cyanide compounds while others have low concentrations or none. Horses have died from eating wilted wild cherry leaves. Avoid any weed, leaves, or seeds with an almondlike scent, a characteristic of the cyanide compounds.
  • Some people are more susceptible to gastric distress (from plants) than others. If you are sensitive in this way, avoid unknown wild plants. If you are extremely sensitive to poison ivy, avoid products from this family, including any parts from sumacs, mangoes, and cashews.
  • Some edible wild plants, such as acorns and water lily rhizomes, are bitter. These bitter substances usually contain tannin compounds, making them unpalatable. Boiling them in several changes of water will usually remove these bitter properties.
  • Many valuable wild plants have high concentrations of oxalate compounds, also known as oxalic acid. Oxalates produce a sharp burning sensation in your mouth and throat and damage the kidneys. Baking, roasting, or drying usually destroys these oxalate crystals. The corm (bulb) of the jack-in-the-pulpit is known as the "Indian turnip," but you can eat it only after removing these crystals by slow baking or by drying.

WARNING: Do not eat mushrooms in a survival situation! The only way to tell if a mushroom is edible is by positive identification. There is no room for experimentation. Symptoms of the most dangerous mushrooms affecting the central nervous system may show up after several days have passed when it is too late to reverse their effects.

Plant Identification

You identify plants, other than by memorizing particular varieties through familiarity, by using such factors as leaf shape and margin, leaf arrangements, and root structure. The basic leaf margins (Figure 9-1) are toothed, lobed, and toothless or smooth.

These leaves may be lance-shaped, elliptical, egg-shaped, oblong, wedge-shaped, triangular, longpointed, or top-shaped (Figure 9-2).

The basic types of leaf arrangements (Figure 9-3) are opposite, alternate, compound, simple, and basal

The basic types of root structures (Figure 9-4) are the bulb, clove, taproot, tuber, rhizome, corm, and crown.

  • Bulbs are familiar to us as onions and, when sliced in half, will show concentric rings.
  • Cloves are those bulblike structures that remind us of garlic and will separate into small pieces when broken apart. This characteristic separates wild onions from wild garlic.
  • Taproots resemble carrots and may be single-rooted or branched, but usually only one plant stalk arises from each root.
  • Tubers are like potatoes and daylilies and you will find these structures either on strings or in clusters underneath the parent plants.
  • Rhizomes are large creeping rootstock or underground stems and many plants arise from the "eyes" of these roots.
  • Corms are similar to bulbs but are solid when cut rather than possessing rings.
  • A crown is the type of root structure found on plants such as asparagus and looks much like a mophead under the soil's surface.

Learn as much as possible about plants you intend to use for food and their unique characteristics.

Some plants have both edible and poisonous parts. Many are edible only at certain times of the year. Others may have poisonous relatives that look very similar to the ones you can eat or use for medicine.

Universal Edibility Test

There are many plants throughout the world. Tasting or swallowing even a small portion of some can cause severe discomfort, extreme internal disorders, and even death. Therefore, if you have the slightest doubt about a plant's edibility, apply the Universal Edibility Test (Figure 9-5) before eating any portion of it.

Before testing a plant for edibility, make sure there are enough plants to make the testing worth your time and effort. Each part of a plant (roots, leaves, flowers, and so on) requires more than 24 hours to test. Do not waste time testing a plant that is not relatively abundant in the area.

Remember, eating large portions of plant food on an empty stomach may cause diarrhea, nausea, or cramps. Two good examples of this are such familiar foods as green apples and wild onions. Even after testing plant food and finding it safe, eat it in moderation.

You can see from the steps and time involved in testing for edibility just how important it is to be able to identify edible plants.

To avoid potentially poisonous plants, stay away from any wild or unknown plants that have:

  • Milky or discolored sap.
  • Beans, bulbs, or seeds inside pods.
  • Bitter or soapy taste.
  • Spines, fine hairs, or thorns.
  • Dill, carrot, parsnip, or parsleylike foliage.
  • "Almond" scent in woody parts and leaves.
  • Grain heads with pink, purplish, or black spurs.
  • Three-leaved growth pattern.

Using the above criteria as eliminators when choosing plants for the Universal Edibility Test will cause you to avoid some edible plants. More important, these criteria will often help you avoid plants that are potentially toxic to eat or touch.

An entire encyclopedia of edible wild plants could be written, but space limits the number of plants presented here. Learn as much as possible about the plant life of the areas where you train regularly and where you expect to be traveling or working.

Some of the most common edible plants (identified in the coming part 2) are:

Temperate Zone Food Plants

  • Amaranth (Amaranthus retroflexus and other species)
  • Arrowroot (Sagittaria species)
  • Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis)
  • Beechnut (Fagus species)
  • Blackberries (Rubus species)
  • Blueberries (Vaccinium species)
  • Burdock (Arctium lappa)
  • Cattail (Typha species)
  • Chestnut (Castanea species)
  • Chicory (Cichorium intybus)
  • Chufa (Cyperus esculentus)
  • Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
  • Daylily (Hemerocallis fulva)
  • Nettle (Urtica species)
  • Oaks (Quercus species)
  • Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana)
  • Plantain (Plantago species)
  • Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana)
  • Prickly pear cactus (Opuntia species)
  • Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)
  • Sassafras (Sassafras albidum)
  • Sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella)
  • Strawberries (Fragaria species)
  • Thistle (Cirsium species)
  • Water lily and lotus (Nuphar, Nelumbo, and other species)
  • Wild onion and garlic (Allium species)
  • Wild rose (Rosa species)
  • Wood sorrel (Oxalis species)

Tropical Zone Food Plants

  • Bamboo (Bambusa and other species)
  • Bananas (Musa species)
  • Breadfruit (Artocarpus incisa)
  • Cashew nut (Anacardium occidental)
  • Coconut (Cocos nucifera)
  • Mango (Mangifera indica)
  • Palms (various species)
  • Papaya (Carica species)
  • Sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum)
  • Taro (Colocasia species)

Desert Zone Food Plants

  • Acacia (Acacia farnesiana)
  • Agave (Agave species)
  • Cactus (various species)
  • Date palm (Phoenix dactylifera)
  • Desert amaranth (Amaranths palmeri)


One plant you should never overlook is seaweed. It is a form of marine algae found on or near ocean shores. There are also some edible freshwater varieties. Seaweed is a valuable source of iodine, other minerals, and vitamin C. Large quantities of seaweed in an unaccustomed stomach can produce a severe laxative effect.

When gathering seaweeds for food, find living plants attached to rocks or floating free. Seaweed washed onshore any length of time may be spoiled or decayed. You can dry freshly harvested seaweeds for later use.

Its preparation for eating depends on the type of seaweed. You can dry thin and tender varieties in the sun or over a fire until crisp. Crush and add these to soups or broths. Boil thick, leathery seaweeds for a short time to soften them. Eat them as a vegetable or with other foods. You can eat some varieties raw after testing for edibility.

  • Dulse (Rhodymenia palmata)
  • Green seaweed (Ulva lactuca)
  • Irish moss (Chondrus crispus)
  • Kelp (Alaria esculenta)
  • Laver (Porphyra species)
  • Mojaban (Sargassum fulvellum)
  • Sugar wrack (Laminaria saccharina)

Although some plants or plant parts are edible raw, you must cook others to be edible or palatable. Edible means that a plant or food will provide you with necessary nutrients, while palatable means that it actually is pleasing to eat. Many wild plants are edible but barely palatable. It is a good idea to learn to identify, prepare, and eat wild foods.

Methods used to improve the taste of plant food include soaking, boiling, cooking, or leaching. Leaching is done by crushing the food (for example, acorns), placing it in a strainer, and pouring boiling water through it or immersing it in running water.

Boil leaves, stems, and buds until tender, changing the water, if necessary, to remove any bitterness.

Boil, bake, or roast tubers and roots. Drying helps to remove caustic oxalates from some roots like those in the Arum family.

Leach acorns in water, if necessary, to remove the bitterness. Some nuts, such as chestnuts, are good raw, but taste better roasted.

You can eat many grains and seeds raw until they mature. When hard or dry, you may have to boil or grind them into meal or flour.

The sap from many trees, such as maples, birches, walnuts, and sycamores, contains sugar. You may boil these saps down to a syrup for sweetening. It takes about 35 liters of maple sap to make one liter of maple syrup!

Excerpt from the US Army Survival Manual FM 21-76

Coming Soon:

Monday, April 28, 2008

Resistance is Futile. You Will Be Assimilated!

You will become one with the Borg.

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The Borg are a fictional pseudo-race of cyborgs depicted in Star Trek. The Borg appear in many elements of the Trek franchise, playing notably as an invasion threat to the human-founded Federation. The Borg have become a symbol in popular culture for any juggernaut against whom "resistance is futile."

In the first photo, President George W. Bush greets Army PFC Nicholas Clark at the Center for the Intrepid at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. Private Clark wears body sensors which provide information about heart rate and muscle performance, among other things. White House Photo of the Day, Friday, Nov. 09, 2007.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Islamic Jihadists and Free Speech

Excerpt from the following Jihad Watch video: The 57-nation organization of Muslim states (OIC) has developed a "battle plan" to defend Islam from political cartoonists and bigots. No, I am not making this up. They are not working against the violent supremacists who have allegedly hijacked their religion. Apparently no battle plan is needed against them. The OIC is instead concentrating on the real threat -- those who draw cartoons of Muhammad and who point out that the terrorists themselves defend Islamic terrorism by referring to Islamic texts and teachings.

Jihad Watch #54 - video link

Thank the First Amendment, I live in America -- where freedom of speech is often defined by religious cartoons.

Germans, it seems, have also embraced the inalienable right of free speech. From a German comedy show, watch this satirical take on flag burning -- "Would you like to burn that here or to go?"

Burning Flags - video link

In conclusion, I'd like to thank MasterCard for its iconic contribution to pop humor.

American flag $25. Gasoline & lighter $5. Catching yourself on fire because you are a terrorist asshole... PRICELESS!

Friday, April 25, 2008

.577 T-Rex Goes Boom to "O Fortuna"

.577 T-Rex Goes Boom to "O Fortuna" - video link

...and other big bore rifles up to... 2,581 feet per second... 11,100 foot pounds... 750 grains... and all with no muzzle break... OUCH!!!!

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O Fortuna (lyrics in Latin)
O Fortuna velut luna statu variabilis, semper crescis aut decrescis; vita detestabilis nunc obdurat et tunc curat ludo mentis aciem, egestatem, potestatem dissolvit ut glaciem.
Sors immanis et inanis, rota tu volubilis, status malus, vana salus semper dissolubilis, obumbrata et velata michi quoque niteris; nunc per ludum dorsum nudum fero tui sceleris.
Sors salutis et virtutis michi nunc contraria, est affectuset defectus semper in angaria. Hac in hora sine mora corde pulsum tangite; quod per sortem sternit fortem, mecum omnes plangite!

O Fortuna (lyrics in English)
O Fortune, like the moon you are constantly changing, ever waxing and waning; hateful life first oppresses and then soothes as fancy takes it; poverty and power it melts them like ice.
Fate - monstrous and empty, you whirling wheel, you are malevolent, well-being is vain and always fades to nothing, shadowed and veiled you plague me too; now through the game I bring my bare back to your villainy.
Fate is against me in health and virtue, driven on and weighted down, always enslaved. So at this hour without delay pluck the vibrating strings; since Fate strikes down the strong man, everyone weep with me!

O Fortuna is a poem from Carmina Burana, a collection of Latin poems written in early 13th century. Fortuna is the goddess of fortune in Roman Mythology. German composer Carl Orff selected 24 poems from the collection and set them to new music between 1935 and 1936. O Fortuna is the most famous movement from his Carmina Burana, and opens and closes the cycle. Orff's setting of the poem has become immensely popular and has been performed by countless ensembles. The composition appears in numerous movies and television commercials and has become a staple in popular culture.

The Politics of the Improbable

The Politics of the Improbable

By Peter Zeihan,

Fear is a powerful motivator, even getting results when the threat is exceedingly remote. It makes us cross at crosswalks even when traffic is thin, pay more over time for fire insurance than our homes are worth, and shy away from snakes even when signs clearly inform us they are not poisonous. Humans instinctively take steps to prevent negative outcomes, oftentimes regardless of how likely — or more to the point, unlikely — those unpleasant outcomes are.

As with individuals, the same is true for countries. Anyone can blithely say Cuba or Serbia would not dare ignore the will of their more powerful neighbors, or that Brazil’s or Egypt’s nuclear programs are so inconsequential as not to impact the international balance of power. But such opinions — even if they truly are near-certainties — cannot form the foundation of state power. National leaders do not have the luxury of ignoring the plethora of coulds, mights and maybes that pepper their radar screens every day. An analyst can dismiss a dark possibility as dubious, but a national leader cannot gamble with the lives of his countrymen and the existence of his state. They must evaluate even improbable threats against the potential damage to their respective national interests.

Many of the standing policies we take for granted have grown from such evaluations. While the likelihood of Israel bombing the Aswan High Dam is rather remote, Egypt cannot afford to risk the possibility, which contributed to Cairo’s burying-of-the-hatchet with Israel. Worrying about continental European countries sublimating their national differences, uniting into a federated superstate and invading the United Kingdom may seem to flirt with lunacy, but within that lingering concern lies the root of the Anglo-American alliance. Similarly, worrying about China using the archipelagos of Southeast Asia as a staging point for an invasion of Australia may seem ludicrous, but that fear dominates military planning in Canberra.

Predicting national management of improbable outcomes is among the more difficult tasks presented to Stratfor’s staff. Such empathetic analysis requires not just a deep and dispassionate understanding of a country’s strengths and weaknesses, but also a deep and extremely passionate understanding about how a country’s neighbors perceive it. Our work is not simply about what is, but about what leaders fear might come to be. And that requires not merely understanding reality, but developing an accurate evaluation of the sorts of risks national leaders are willing to take with their actions — and their inactions.

This management of improbable outcomes also dominates the question of the day: Iraq.

Currently, the Iranians and Americans are locked into increasingly public negotiations over Iraq’s future. Buried at the heart of those talks are two nightmare scenarios. Iran wants to ensure that a Sunni-controlled Iraq is never resuscitated, while the United States desires a framework to guarantee that Iran cannot invade the oil-rich Arabian Peninsula.

Neither of those nightmares is particularly likely to occur.

The Sunnis of Iraq not only are the smallest of Iraq’s three major ethno-sectarian groups, but as a community, they are just as fractured as the country’s notoriously squabbling Shia. The Sunnis thus sport splits between secular Baathist nationalists and Islamist militants, among other fractures. Yes, the Sunnis under Saddam Hussein rose to command all of Iraq, but even with strong American support the recreation of such a constellation could come neither quickly nor easily. And even were that to occur, it is not as if Iraq’s Sunnis are itching for a genocidal war with a neighboring country sporting a population more than ten times the size of Iraq’s Sunni community.

On the flip side, the Iranian military is hardly capable of marching into the Saudi oil fields. The mountainous nature of Iran means the country is packed with minority groups — in fact nearly half of all Iranians are not ethnically Persian — that could rise up and threaten the regime in Tehran. Managing this country requires an infantry-heavy military better suited toward domestic control than to a 350-mile slog through swamps and very flat, very hot, dry deserts where the Iraqi army discovered it was very easy to see one’s entire force become very destroyed.

Yet what may seem remote to one side cannot be ruled out as impossible by the other, and in that sliver of possibility lies a foe’s worst fear — and American and Iranian leaders alike do not dare ignore the risks of those nightmares arising. The last Persian-Mesopotamian war (known in modern vernacular as the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war) claimed a million casualties. Would you like to be the Iranian leader who allowed a Sunni-ruled Iraq to re-emerge? Nearly 25 million barrels per day of crude oil — nearly one-third of global output — is produced in the Persian Gulf. Would you like to be the American president who failed to prevent all that power from becoming concentrated under a single (hostile) state?

The topic of the American-Iranian negotiations is not to get past these fears — no amount of Carter-esque goodwill is going to convince Washington and Tehran to trust the other — but instead to embed these fears in the final settlement and craft a solution that is institutionally neutral. For this a template does indeed exist. In fact, the United States has done precisely this, in partnership with a country for which it held far more vitriol and anger that it does for Iran.

At the end of World War II, the Soviets wanted to ensure that Finland could never again bloody the Russian nose (casualty ratios in the Russo-Finnish War, or Winter War, of 1941 were the worst Soviet Russia ever suffered). Yet the bulk of Finland was not in Soviet hands at war’s end, and the Western powers certainly did not want to see the balance of power in the Baltic states altered. The settlement was that Finland would have a Western-style participatory democracy, but the Soviet Union would enjoy a de facto veto over all decision-making. The result was a “free” Finland with a capitalist economy and a robust defense force, but a country that did not join either NATO or the European Economic Community and remained strictly neutral in international affairs.

Replicating the Finnish example in Iraq would create a united Iraq with American security guarantees that could prevent any Iranian incursion into Arabia, but with sufficient Iranian aspects to prevent the formation of a powerful offensive military. The fears of both sides would be managed by being built into the foundation of a new Iraqi state. Should Washington seek to double-cross Tehran and begin a serious Iraqi rearmament campaign, Iran could use its influence over the Shia to tear Iraq down and revive the threat to Arabia. And should Iran play the Shiite card, the United States could side militarily with the Sunnis. No one would really “win,” but neither would anyone really lose.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

International BOYCOTT DIGG Day -- 8/8/08

A boycott is the act of voluntarily abstaining from using, buying, or dealing with someone or some other organization as an expression of protest.

~ ~ ~

I don't have to tell you to bury a post is bad -- everybody knows to bury is bad. It's a depression. Everybody's out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel's worth... banks are going bust... shop-keepers keep a gun under the counter... punks are running wild on the street and there's nobody anywhere that seems to know what to do. And there's no end to it. We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat... we sit watching our TVs while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes -- as if that's the way it's supposed to be!

We know things are bad; worse than bad. They're crazy! It's like everything, everywhere is going crazy. So, we don't go out anymore; we sit in the house and slowly the world we're living in is getting smaller and all we say is, "Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms... let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won't bury anything -- just leave us alone."

Well, I'm not gonna leave you alone... I want you to get mad! I don't want you to protest. I don't want you to riot. I don't want you to write your Congressman, because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write. I don't know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you've got to get mad... you've got to say, "I'm a human being -- Goddamn it -- MY POST HAS VALUE!"

So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up, right now, and go to the window -- open it and stick your head out and yell, "I'M AS MAD AS HELL AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!" I want you to get up -- RIGHT NOW -- get up, go to your windows, open them, and stick your head out and yell, "I'M AS MAD AS HELL AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!" Things have got to change! You've got to get mad... you've got to say, "I'M AS MAD AS HELL AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!" Then, we'll figure out what to do...

Network - Mad as Hell - video link

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In protest of Digg's policy that allow's other users to easily bury your posts, I urge you to BOYCOTT DIGG!

I declare, August 8, 2008, (the date of the 2008 Olympic Opening Ceremony), as International BOYCOTT DIGG Day.

Come on, everyone. Show Digg what you REALLY think of their bury policy (CENSORSHIP!)

Let's get 'em where it really hurts -- the old click revenue pocketbook!


Fight censorship. BOYCOTT DIGG on AUGUST 8, 2008.

Regards, Covertress

P.S. It was my intention to boycott Digg indefinitely, but more than a few good friends I met there have given me the hope that it is still possible to spread the word, even if it gets buried. Thanks guys and gals. You know who you are. ;)

P.P.S. Until Digg modifies it's over-weighted bury policy, the 8/8/08 boycott is still a go.

The Terrorist Threat to the Food Supply

Placing the Terrorist Threat to the Food Supply in Perspective

By Fred Burton and Scott Stewart,

High food prices have sparked a great deal of unrest over the past few weeks. Indeed, the skyrocketing cost of food staples like grain has caused protests involving thousands of people in places such as South Africa, Egypt and Pakistan. These protests turned deadly in Haiti and even led to the ouster of Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis.

With global food supplies already tight, many people have begun once again to think (and perhaps even worry) about threats to the U.S. agricultural system and the impact such threats could have on the U.S. — and global — food supply. In light of this, it is instructive to examine some of these threats and attempt to place them in perspective.

A Breakdown of Potential Threats

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, there have been many reports issued by various government and civilian sources warning of the possibility that terrorists could target the U.S. food supply. At the most basic level, threats to a country’s food supply can come in two general forms: attacks designed to create famine and attacks designed to directly poison people.

Attacks designed to create famine would entail the use of some agent intended to kill crops or livestock. Such agents could include pathogens, insects or chemicals. The pathogens might include such livestock diseases as Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly called mad cow disease, or hoof-and-mouth disease. Crop diseases such as Ug99 fungus or molds also pose a threat to supplies.

Attacks designed to poison people could also be further divided into two general forms: those intended to introduce toxins or pathogens prior to processing and those intended to attack finished food products. Attacks against foodstuffs during agricultural production could include placing an agent on crops in the field or while in transit to a mill or processing center. Attacks against finished foodstuffs would entail covertly placing the toxin or pathogen into the finished food product after processing.

It must be noted that an attack against people could also be conducted for the purposes of creating a mass disruption — such action would not be designed to cause mass casualties, but rather to create fear, unrest and mistrust of the government and food supply, or to promote hoarding. In fact, based on historical examples of incidents involving the contamination of food products, such an attack is far more likely to occur than a serious systematic attack on the food supply.

Attack Constraints

While attacks against the food supply may appear simple in theory, they have occurred infrequently and for good reason: When one considers the sheer size of the U.S. agricultural sector, conducting a productive assault proves difficult.

As seen by the coca and marijuana eradication efforts by the United States and its partners in Mexico, Central America and the Andes, the logistical effort needed to make any substantial dent in agricultural production is massive. Even the vast resources the United States has dedicated to drug eradication tasks in small countries –- overt plane flights spraying untold thousands of gallons of herbicides for decades — have failed to create more than a limited effect on marijuana and coca crops. Obviously, any sort of meaningful chemical attack on U.S. agriculture would have to be so massive that it is simply not logistically feasible.

This is where pathogens — agents that can, at least in theory, be introduced in limited amounts, reproduce and then rapidly spread to infect a far larger area — enter the picture. In order to be effective, however, a pathogen must be one that is easily spread and very deadly and has a long incubation period (in order to ensure it is passed along before the host dies). It is also very helpful to the propagation of a disease if it is difficult to detect and/or difficult to treat. While a pathogen that possesses all of the aforementioned traits could be devastating, finding such an agent is difficult. Few diseases have all the requisite characteristics. Some are very deadly, but act too quickly to be passed, while others are more readily passed but do not have a long incubation period or are not as virulent. Other pathogens, such as the Ug99 wheat fungus, are easy to detect and kill. There is also the problem of mutation, meaning that many pathogens tend to mutate into less virulent actors. It is also important to note that genetically engineering a super bug — one that possess all the characteristics to make it highly effective — is still much harder in real life than it is on television.

Even if such an effective pathogen is found, someone intending to use it in an attack must isolate the virulent strain, manufacture it in sufficient quantities to be effective, ship it to the place of the planned attack and then distribute it in a manner whereby it is effectively dispersed. The infrastructure required to undertake such an endeavor is both large and expensive. Even in past cases where groups possessed the vast monetary resources to fund biological weapons efforts and amassed the scientific expertise to attempt such a program — Aum Shinrikyo comes to mind — virulent pathogens have proven very difficult to produce and effectively disperse in large quantities.

Another factor making these sorts of attacks difficult to orchestrate is the very nature of farming. For thousands of years, farmers have been battling plant and animal diseases. Most of the pathogens that are mentioned in connection with attacks against agriculture include elements already existing in nature such as hoof-and-mouth disease, H5N1 bird flu or a fungus like Ug99. As a result, farmers and governmental organizations such as the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service have systems in place to monitor crops and animals for signs of pathogens. When these pathogens appear, action is taken and diseased crops are treated or eradicated. Animals are treated or culled. Even in past cases where massive eradication and culling efforts occurred — BSE in the United Kingdom, citrus canker in Florida or the many bird flu outbreaks over the past few years –- the measures have not crippled or affected the country’s agricultural sector or the larger economy.

Creating famine and poisoning the food supply are also difficult, given the sheer quantity of agricultural products grown. Applying some sort of toxin before the raw food is processed is difficult, given the volume produced. In fact, much grain is diverted to uses other than human consumption, as when corn is used to produce ethanol or feed livestock. Therefore, if a truckload of corn is poisoned, it might never funnel into the human food chain. Furthermore, even if a truck of contaminated grain were destined for the food chain, by the time it made its way through the process it would likely be too diluted to have any effect. During the production process, contaminated corn would first have to combine with other grain, sit in a silo, be moved and stored again, ground and finally made into a finished food product such as a loaf of cornbread — an unlikely source of poisoning for the end user. Processing, washing, cooking, pasteurizing and refining may all also serve to further dilute, cleanse or damage the pathogen in the targeted product. At this point, food is also inspected for naturally occurring pathogens and toxins. Such inspections could help spot an intentional contamination.

Besides, even contaminating one truckload of grain would require a large amount of toxin. Producing that much toxin would require a substantial infrastructure –- one that would require a great deal of time and money to build. Not to mention the difficulty inherent in transporting and delivering the toxin.

Past Attacks Prove Few and Far Between

Actual attacks against food are very rare. And due to the considerations enumerated above, nearly every food attack we are aware of was an attempt to directly poison people and not cause famine. Furthermore, almost all of these attacks involved processed foods or raw foods packaged for human consumption.

While people are frequently sickened by pathogens in food such as E. coli or salmonella bacteria, most incidents are not intentional. One of the few known successful attempts at using a biological agent to contaminate food in the United States occurred in 1984 in the small Oregon town of The Dalles. Followers of cult leader Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, attempting to manipulate a local election, infected salad bars in 10 restaurants with Salmonella typhimurium, causing about 751 people to become ill.

A second contamination attempt occurred in October 1996, when 12 laboratory workers at a large medical center in Texas experienced severe gastrointestinal illness after eating muffins and doughnuts left in their break room. Laboratory tests revealed that the pastries had been intentionally infected with S. dysenteriae, a pathogen that rarely occurs in the United States. An investigation later determined that the pathogen came from a stock culture kept at the lab.

While many people recall the 1989 Chilean grape scare — when two grapes imported to the United States were injected with cyanide — few recall that the perpetrator in the case made several calls to the U.S. Embassy warning of the contamination and was therefore not seriously attempting to harm people, but rather attempting an action designed to draw attention to social injustice in Chile. The warning calls allowed agricultural inspectors to find the damaged and discolored grapes before they were eaten.

In a lesser-known case that took place in 1978, a dozen children in the Netherlands and West Germany were hospitalized after eating oranges imported from Israel. The Arab Revolutionary Council, a nom de guerre used by the Abu Nidal Organization, deliberately contaminated the fruit with mercury in an attempt to damage the Israeli economy.

Potential Players and the Public Impact

Such attacks could potentially be conducted by a wide array of actors, ranging from a single mentally disturbed individual on one end of the spectrum to sovereign nations on the other end. Cults and domestic or transnational terrorist groups fall somewhere in the middle. The motivation behind these diverse actors could range from monetary extortion or attempts to commit mass murder to acts of war designed to cripple the U.S. economy or the nation’s ability to project power.

Of these actors, however, there are very few who possess the ability to conduct attacks that could have a substantial impact on the U.S. food supply. In fact, most of the actors are only capable of contaminating finished food products. While they all have this rudimentary capability, there is also the question of intent.

Documents and manuals found in Afghanistan after the 2001 U.S.-led invasion revealed an al Qaeda interest in conducting chemical and biological attacks, although this interest was not a well-developed program. From a cost-benefit standpoint, it would be much cheaper and easier to use explosives to create disruption than it would be to execute a complicated plot against the food supply. Besides, such a target would not produce the type of spectacular imagery the group enjoys.

While we do not foresee any huge attempt by the Russians or Chinese, and food supply is not a part of al Qaeda’s preferred target set, it is possible that a lone wolf or a smaller extremist organization could attempt to conduct such an attack. While any such offensive will likely have limited success, it could have far wider societal repercussions. At the present time, the public has become somewhat accustomed to food scares and recalls over things such as contaminated spinach, ground beef and green onions. Even warnings over lead and other harmful chemicals in food imported from China have caused concern. However, if even a relatively unsuccessful attack on the food supply were conducted by a terrorist group, it could create significant hysteria — especially if the media sensationalized the event. In such a case, even an ineffective terror plot could result in a tremendous amount of panic and economic loss.

Perhaps the best recent example of this type of disruptive attack is the 2001 anthrax letter attacks. Although the attacks only claimed the lives of five victims, they caused a huge, disproportionate effect on the collective American and world psyche. The public fears that arose from the anthrax attacks were augmented by extensive media discussions about the use of the agent as a weapon. The public sense of unease was further heightened by the fact that the perpetrator was never identified or apprehended. As a result, countless instances surfaced in which irrational panic caused office buildings, apartment buildings, government offices and factories to be evacuated. Previously ignored piles of drywall dust and the powdered sugar residue left by someone who ate a donut at his desk led to suspicions about terrorists, who suddenly seemed to be lurking around every corner. It did not matter, in the midst of the fear, that the place where the “anthrax” was found could have absolutely no symbolic or strategic value to the Islamist militants that most Americans pictured in their minds. The sense of threat and personal vulnerability was pervasive.

In the years since 2001, thousands of hoax anthrax letters have been sent to companies, government offices, schools and politicians in the United States and abroad. Many of these hoaxes have caused psychosomatic responses, resulting in victims being hospitalized, and further economic losses in terms of lost production time, emergency hazmat response costs and laboratory tests.

In the end, the most probable attack against the food supply is unlikely to create a significant death toll, but the panic such an attack may evoke can cause repercussions that are far greater than the death toll itself.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Syria's Nuclear Program

Damascus at night.

What are Syria's Nuclear Capabilities?

By Clayton Keir, December 10, 2007


The September 6, 2007 Israeli strike inside Syria led to widespread speculation on the nature of the target. Commentators on international affairs and experts on nuclear issues have debated the possibility that the targeted site was a nuclear reactor provided by North Korea. The conclusion of the debate is critical, because Syrian nuclear proliferation would significantly undermine the security of a U.S. ally, Israel. I will critically analyze the different sides of the debate, debunk many arguments, and provide my own assessment. Despite concern from the U.S. Intelligence Community and some policy-makers that Syria was working on a nuclear fuel cycle, it is widely believed that Damascus could not develop an indigenous fuel cycle. I will also assess the claim that Syria could not develop an indigenous nuclear fuel cycle.

In this paper I first examine Syria's indigenous nuclear capabilities. I argue that Syria is incapable of indigenously mastering the nuclear fuel cycle. Then, I analyze the suspected reactor site, and critically assess claims that it was a nuclear reactor construction site, and that it is of North Korean origin. Finally, the paper offers policy recommendations in light of my assessments.

Statue of Saladdin, a 12th-century Kurd who became Sultan of Egypt and Syria, and a major Muslim political and military leader.

Section I. Syria's Indigenous Nuclear Capabilities

Any attempt by Syria to develop an indigenous nuclear program faces numerous and significant difficulties. Although there is evidence of research, there is no proof of mastery of any elements of the fuel cycle. Current capabilities, outside of the alleged North Korean reactor, are not concerning. Most indigenous efforts are either not directed towards mastering the nuclear fuel cycle, or have failed to succeed. The preponderance of evidence indicates that Syria will depend on outside assistance for almost the entire fuel cycle.

Syria has relied on substantial outside contributions throughout its nuclear history. Significant indigenous efforts are few, and often unsuccessful. Syria’s nuclear history begins in 1969 with the signing of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Ten years later, Syria established its Atomic Energy Commission of Syria (AECS). The AECS is a “governmental agency responsible for peaceful utilizations of atomic and nuclear technologies[1].” As far as we know, until 2007, all nuclear developments have come through the AECS. Dr. Ibrahim Othman heads the AECS and leads the organization in conducting nuclear research projects. Many of the AECS's nuclear projects involve work with assistance from other countries and the IAEA.

Syria’s quest for a nuclear reactor began in the 1980’s. Throughout the decade, Syria indicated its interest in obtaining a nuclear reactor, and sought out many opportunities. However, U.S. resistance over Syrian behavior made acquisition prohibitively difficult. It was not until 1991 that construction on Syria's nuclear reactor began. It is widely believed that Syria received U.S. permission for the reactor because of its good behavior and cooperation during the Gulf War[2]. Syria used the opportunity to acquire a 30 KW research reactor from China. However, the type of reactor is the cheapest in the world[3], and was not a major concession by the U.S. After beginning construction in 1991, the reactor achieved criticality in 1997[4], meaning it had begun and self-sustained a fission reaction.

Syria's 30 KW miniature neutron source reactor is located near Damascus at the Der Al-Hadjar Nuclear Research Center. The plant can produce neutrons for nuclear analysis, isotopes for industrial applications, and radioisotopes for training purposes, but it cannot be used for weapons production. The reactor consists of only 1 kg of highly-enriched uranium (HEU), which is well short of the 25 kg of HEU necessary for a nuclear weapon. However, the plant cannot be ruled out as a source of nuclear research. The reactor could provide essential insights for Syrian scientists into the nuclear fuel cycle that they would not be able to acquire through their own research. However, the extent of Syrian learning from the research reactor can be monitored, as the reactor is under IAEA safeguards. We know that through 2002, three operators of the reactor had conducted 1,371 experiments[5].

Syria recognizes the limitations of its existing reactor, and has tried on multiple occasions to obtain a larger reactor. It wanted a 5 MW research reactor like Iran has in the Tehran Nuclear Research Center, and solicited Argentina and India for assistance[6]. However, U.S. pressure caused the negotiations to break down. In both 1998 and 2003, Russia agreed to construct a nuclear reactor for Syria, but both agreements fell through, ostensibly due to pressure from the U.S[7].

In 1997, Syria and the IAEA began a technical assistance project that would give Syria a cyclotron facility. The cyclotron is also primarily for research purposes. Like the research reactor, it has industrial purposes, specifically medicine. It allows Syria to produce short-lived radio-nuclides and short-lived radiopharmaceuticals for the first time. The cyclotron works by accelerating particles through electro-magnetic force. Such a technique could be used in Electromagnetic Isotope Separation (EMIS) enrichment. Although there is speculation that the Syrians are using research on the cyclotron to create an indigenous nuclear fuel cycle, the cyclotron is not the same technology as is used in EMIS. Moreover, EMIS is a very energy inefficient process. If possible, Syria would probably find it more practical to pursue the more efficient centrifuge enrichment method[8].

To develop a functioning nuclear program, Syria would need to acquire significant amounts of uranium ore. Syria has attempted to extract uranium ore from phosphate rock with two major projects: the 1986 Phosphate Extraction Facility outside of Homs, and the 2001 Tri-superphosphate Extraction Facility outside of Palmyra. Recovering uranium from phosphates is a proven method for obtaining uranium[9], but not one that Syria has mastered. The 1986 project was to recover uranium from the phosphoric acid that was produced at the plant in Homs. The Homs plant produced the phosphoric acid from phosphate rock located at Charkia and Knifes. The deposits contain approximately 60 to 100 parts per million of uranium. The project between the IAEA and the AECS was canceled for “financial and contractual reasons[10].” Specifically, despite the fact that the technology worked, the world market price of uranium was not sufficiently high enough to justify the program. The 2001 project may be technically feasible, but financial constraints have delayed production[11]. Even if Syria could extract uranium from phosphates, they would still need “a pilot plant, an industrial scale plant and then possibly operations such as refining, conversion, enrichment and fuel fabrication[12].”

Syria does not appear to have any of the subsequent stages of the nuclear fuel cycle either. The Strategic Studies Institute’s Wyn Bowen and Joanna Kidd assess that, “Syria does not appear to have conversion, enrichment, or fuel fabrication capabilities[13].” Prior to the possible North Korean reactor, there was no plausible evidence proving otherwise. There is some speculation that the Pakistani nuclear scientist AQ Khan may have proliferated P-1 centrifuges or centrifuge design to Syria[14]. However, evidence that Damascus ever received any materials or designs from Khan is very dubious. A 2004 declassified CIA report to Congress expressed concerns over the possibility AQ Khan offered technology to Syria[15]. However, the report depends on Pakistani press sources claiming that the IAEA is alleging that AQ Khan offered the technology. Not only does the report rely on several layers of unsubstantiated hearsay, but it doesn't even claim that Khan transferred the technology. Subsequent reporting indicates that Syria declined the assistance[16]. There is no concrete evidence supporting the claim that AQ Khan gave Syria technology or materials related to a nuclear program.

An indigenous nuclear program is probably beyond Syria's financial means. Syria’s 2006 GDP is estimated at $78 Billion[17]. In 1993, the U.S. Congressional Office of Technology Assessment estimated the cost of a nuclear weapons program in the hundreds of millions of dollars[18]. However, an indigenous clandestine program can cost from 10 to 50 times more[19]. Syria would have to dedicate a prohibitively large portion of its GDP to fund a nuclear weapons program, and most analysts concur that they do not have the economic base to do that. Syria suffers from poor infrastructure, antiquated technology, and declining oil revenues. An aging population, a command economy, and the restrictions on political freedoms which deter foreign investment also contribute to a weak Syrian economy[20].

Even if Syria wanted to dedicate its resources to a nuclear weapons program, it would still require “at least a modest technological infrastructure[21].” Syria’s scientific base is very weak, and insufficient to develop a nuclear program. Syria has very little participation in international science publications databases, even relative to neighbors in the region. Syrian papers are not frequently published in international journals. As the Swedish Defense Research Agency reports, “A survey of the major scientific databases from the 1960s to 2003 only produced approximately 280 “hits” for Syria compared to much higher numbers for Jordan (8,000), Egypt (60,000) and Israel (100,000)[22].” Perusing the AECS website[23] yields very few reports that the commission has published. Most articles on the site are not published by the AECS. Although it is possible that Syria is keeping its research private, to conceal a clandestine program, it is more likely that Syria has a very low technical base. My assessment is further supported by the fact that one of the main inhibiting factors to Syria’s economic infrastructure is antiquated technology. Joseph Cirincione from the Center for American Progress concurs with my assessment: “This is an extremely demanding technology, and I don't think Syria has the technical, engineering or financial base to really support such a reactor[24].”

Syria's two most significant nuclear developments are its research reactor and cyclotron. Neither development is near sufficient to acquire adequate levels of fissile material, and both are products of international largess. Both are also primarily for nuclear research, and would be very difficult to impossible to convert into an enrichment program. Both are also under IAEA safeguards, making it very difficult to use in a clandestine nuclear program.

Section II. The Suspected Reactor

On September 6, 2007, Israel struck targets inside of Syria. The public reaction to Israel's strike has been strangely quiet. Both Syria and Israel have generally refrained from talking about the attack. The U.S. and the rest of the international community have also said very little about it. Although not every targeted site has been identified in the open-source world, widespread reporting, and unclassified imagery have pointed to one site, which may have contained a reactor. The IAEA is still analyzing images of the site before offering their assessment. In the meantime, nuclear experts in the open-source world offer analysis on the event. The goal of this section is to analyze the merits and deficiencies of different viewpoints on the nature of the site. I then attempt to improve the debate by offering new arguments and possibilities. For different scenarios, I give estimations of probability, assessing whether it is impossible, unlikely, possible, probable, or certain.

The first major open-source assessment of the suspected facility was David Albright and Paul Brannan's report, “Suspect Reactor Construction Site in Eastern Syria: The Site of the Sept 6 Israeli Raid?” Albright and Brannan argue that the facility is of North Korean origin. They support their claim by pointing out that the sides measure approximately the same as the North Korean 5 MW Reactor at Yongbyon.

Figure 1. Side-by-side comparison of the North Korean and Syrian Reactor. Mensurations performed by ISIS .

The high bay of the North Korean reactor measures approximately the same as the center segment of the Syrian suspected site. The water pump next to the Euphrates River (see Appendix) would be used to provide cooling water for the reactor.

The lack of visible reactor construction is consistent with their explanation, as the reactor vessel is built gradually inside the building, and not brought to the site already constructed. No large crane would be necessary to bring large pieces of heavy equipment inside. The roof would hide what was going on inside the building very early in construction. Such a construction method is based off of previous Russian designs[25].

After Israel ’s strike, the quick clean-up of the area, which was complete by October 24 at the latest, increases the likelihood that it was being used for nuclear purposes [26]. Syria and North Korea would not have wanted to expose their actions to the world , and would have had strong incentives to clean up quickly . If based off of the North Korean reactor, it has the capability to produce 20-25 MW, which would make enough plutonium for one nuclear weapon a year. If it is a gas-graphite reactor, then it would need a specialized facility to chemically separate the plutonium from the irradiated fuel discharged from the reactor. However, such a facility has not been located.

Joseph Cirincione from the Center for American Progress very strongly criticizes the ISIS view. He states, “This isn't like a Road Runner cartoon where you call up Acme Reactors and they deliver a functioning reactor to your back yard. It takes years to build [27].” He furthers, “If North Korea gave them anything short of nuclear weapons it is of little consequence. Syria does not have the financial, technical or industrial base to develop a serious nuclear program anytime in the foreseeable future [28].”

There are several problems with Cirincione's critique. First, the facility has been under construction for years. There are images of it available back to 2003 [29]. The presence of trucks and heavy machinery indicate that it was still under construction. While he is correct that Syria 's technical and financial bases would be hard pressed to support a nuclear weapons program, North Korean assistance would help Syria overcome many of the difficulties. The most logistically and technically demanding element of the nuclear fuel cycle is acquiring the fissile material. If North Korea can provide the Syrians with already highly-enriched uranium, can help them with and oversee plutonium production, and give them weapons designs, Syria does not face a very daunting task. The only real difficulty left is hiding the program from the world, which they apparently failed to do.

Martha Raddatz from ABC[30] provides an alternative view, but still supports the claim that the site was a reactor construction site. She cites a U.S. government official to support her argument. The official describes images with a big cylindrical structure, with thick reinforced walls. There was a secondary support structure and a pump station, because a nuclear reactor would need water for coolant. There was a larger structure just north of the small pump station. No fissionable material was found because the facility wasn't yet operational. The official also claims that the facility had North Korean construction design, technology, and expertise. Finally, a light water reactor designed by the North Koreans could produce plutonium for nuclear weapons.

Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear expert who maintains the Blog provides a good criticism of Raddatz's view[31]. First, the reactor is box-shaped, not cylindrical. Second, the comparison to North Korea is problematic, as North Korean reactors are gas-cooled, which do not require a pump. In addition to Lewis's criticism, there is no large structure north of the pumping station, which further makes Raddatz's claim difficult to accept. Lewis does however, concur with Raddatz that it could be a light water reactor.

Lewis's light water reactor analysis also functions as a criticism of Albright and Brannan. According to Lewis, it is possible that the site contains a light water reactor provided by Iran, which no one is mentioning. Since the reactor could just as easily be of Iranian origin, the case that it is North Korean is suspect. Furthermore, the site could be almost anything. All we can see is a big concrete building and a water pump. There could be multiple industrial purposes for a water pump, and it could even be a swimming pool.

After reporting of the attack, Lewis subscribed to the argument that the facility was storing a North Korean shipment of SCUD-B and C missiles[32]. If it was an intended launch site, where the missiles might launch through the raised middle segment, they would most likely be SCUD-C variants. The site is approximately 600 kilometers from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and 500 kilometers from the Israeli border[33]. The maximum range for the SCUD-C is 600 km, whereas the maximum range of the SCUD-B is 300 km[34]. However, Lewis later changed his opinion after the source, Chris Nelson, also abandoned the view[35]. The SCUD scenario is unlikely for several reasons. First, there are no functionally-related observable differences of the facility in the imagery to prove that it is dedicated to SCUD missile storage. Second, there is no clear reason why a SCUD storage structure would need a pumping station. Third, the facility doesn't have any of the features of other SCUD bases. The image on the next page shows a typical Syrian SCUD storage base.

Figure 2. Image of five Syrian SCUD storage bunkers. The bunkers are horizontal, with drive-through entrances and exits. There are no functionally-related observable similarities between the storage bunkers and the building on the Euphrates. Analysis performed by Clayton Keir. Image Source: Google Earth

Fourth, there is no clear reason why Syria would pick the facility for SCUD missile storage. There is no major access road. It is approximately 350 kilometers from any port, and the missiles supposedly came by sea. Thus, the SCUD missile storage theory does not seem plausible.

There are several flaws in other elements of Lewis's analysis. After his posts, readers have pointed out that the North Korean reactors definitely do use water coolant, as you can see steam coming out of the cooling tower. Even though no pump is visible, the reactor site is very close to the river, a constant source of water. Lewis later concedes that water coolant could be used for a secondary cooling tower, a possibility he neglected. However, it is more than just a possibility. The steam coming out of the tower means that water is certainly used in the process, and would be used by the Syrian reactor.

Lewis's concurrence with Raddatz's light water reactor analysis is useful, because it allows us to compare the North Korean link to a competitive scenario. Syria has previously indicated a desire for a Pan-Arab nuclear program[36]. While Iran is not Arab, Syria could still see Iran as part of a general partnership, given their recent cooperative diplomacy. Moreover, Syria certainly would need help in a nuclear fuel cycle, and bringing in cooperation would be plausible. The claim that it is a light water reactor, rather than the North Korean MAGNOX variety also allows us to compare the site to an alternative nuclear site. However, the site is certainly not a light water reactor. Water-moderated reactors are huge, unmistakably large structures[37]. For example, the heavy water reactor at the Savannah River Site in Georgia measures approximately 180 meters wide (see Appendix). There is nothing in the image coming close to that size. If Syria wanted to have a clandestine nuclear program, a heavy water reactor would be a terrible strategic idea, because it is unmistakable. It is impossible for the site to be a light water reactor.

Although I tend to agree with Albright and Brannan's view, there are significant shortcomings. First, the fact that the analysis is so heavily dependent on roof analysis is problematic. Without the ability to see inside the buildings, analyzing the roof does not yield very useful conclusions[38]. Simply because two buildings have the same floor space does not mean that they are used for similar purposes. Second, their roof measurements are also problematic. The high bay of the North Korean reactor does not have the same measurement as the middle segment of Syrian building. The measurements of these two sections are the most important part of the comparison, because that is where the reactor would be located. The surrounding structure measurements could vary naturally, and wouldn't be as important. However, the reactor measurement is the measurement that really matters.

However, Albright and Brannan's North Korean link is still salvageable. First, it is possible that their measurements are incorrect. Extending the length of the middle segment is plausible. Looking at the Syrian suspected site, if we extend the measurement of the middle section to the edge of the building, the high bay and middle segment match.

Figure 3. Side-by-side comparison of the Yongbyon reactor (left) with the suspected Syrian reactor building (right). Analysis performed by Clayton Keir. Yongbyon Image Source: Google Earth, Syria Image Source: DigitalGlobe

Although on first look the center appears to be divided, the roofing 'division' on the southern side does not look as straight as the division of segments on the northern side. Thus, there may be no division at all, which would make the measurements match.

There are several shortcomings to my contention. First, it is still relying on suspect roof analysis. Second, extending the measurement is essentially a judgment call based on subjective perceptions of the roof. Either interpretation is legitimate. Third, classified imagery with higher resolution may trump my viewpoint. However, the goal of my analysis is to show that we cannot rule out the site because of the measurement of the roof, as an alternative measurement is plausible. The North Korean link is still probable due to other supporting evidence.

My second argument supporting the North Korean link is that the circumstantial evidence involving the pumping station and the quick clean-up is quite powerful. Although circumstantial evidence generally has a bad connotation, especially in courtrooms, the evidentiary requirements for analytic assessments and actions in the international arena are not as stringent as in the justice system. States almost never have perfect intelligence proving a claim one way or another. They are forced to rely on probabilistic claims. Israel still needed to act one way or another on the suspected site. Choosing to do nothing is still an action, and Israel had to weigh the consequences of doing nothing with undertaking the strike. We should not necessarily dismiss intelligence assessments because they rely on circumstantial evidence.

The presence of the pumping station provides a very strong argument for the claim that the site was a reactor. If the site was an unused military structure as the Syrians claim[39], then it would not need a pumping station. An unused military structure would not mandate quick clean-up afterwards either. Furthermore, an unused military structure would probably still have a clear perimeter, which almost all military facilities do. There is no perimeter in the image. A clandestine nuclear site may not have a clear perimeter, to help with concealment[40]. Finally, the fact that the pumping station was not present in 2003, but was present in 2007 is further proof that the site was in use. If it was for industrial purposes as Lewis has argued as a possibility, it would not need to be cleaned up so quickly afterward. It is also hard to imagine an industrial facility in such a remote location that would be so small and require a water pump. Furthermore, the Syrians have admitted that it was a military site, further disproving Lewis's claim. I assess the site prior to the Israeli attack as a probable nuclear reactor of North Korean origin.

Such an assessment fits with the actions of Israel and the U.S. as well. U.S. intelligence agencies reportedly were looking at the facility, but could not confirm what it was[41]. Without a water pump, it would indeed be difficult to discern. Once the Israelis saw the water pump go up, they would be understandably concerned. The water wouldn't be necessary till the reactor was ready to be in use. The pumping station could also be built very quickly, and thus could be delayed till near the end of the construction[42].

Another criticism of my view would argue that there is no cooling tower in the image. The lack of a cooling tower could undermine my analysis in two ways. First, the Yongbyon reactor has a cooling tower, undermining the comparison. Second, if the reactor really was close to operational, then it would need a cooling tower to operate. However, the reactor would not necessarily need a cooling tower. Although the North Koreans have chosen to have a cooling tower, perhaps for reasons of efficiency, the Syrians do not need a cooling tower. The Indian reactor Dhruva at Trombay, which is used to make weapons-grade plutonium[43], does not have a cooling tower.

Figure 4. The Indian Dhruva Nuclear Reactor. Although there are two waste stacks in the image, there are no cooling towers. Image Source: Google Earth

The Syrians could pipe steam used in cooling the reactor back into the river, and pump in cooler water from the river. The cooling tower is only necessary to cool water that is going to be reused. It is unclear what the environmental concerns of pumping hot water and steam into the Euphrates would have been. However, in the Syrian calculus the security benefit of having a nuclear weapon would almost certainly outweigh the environmental concerns and water waste.

Another criticism of my assessment may point out that the scenario is merely speculation. The critique could contend that floor space is not enough to confirm the purposes of a building[44]. Roofing similarities are a dubious comparison, as you still can't see inside the building. The U.S. had been watching the facility for years, and could not confirm whether the site was nuclear or not. Israel may have been understandably concerned, and acted with incomplete evidence. It is better to wait for more evidence before drawing a conclusion just from a box-shaped building. The criticism is very appealing, and holds a lot of merit. A careful analyst would certainly not want to claim that the site is certainly a reactor construction site. However, without any other plausible scenarios, and strong evidence that it is a reactor construction site, it merits the 'probable' label.

The assessment would be much stronger with several critical pieces of information. First, we would want to discern when the pumping station was built. Second, soil samples from the area could provide strong evidence that there was nuclear activity. There are claims that Israel has soil samples[45], but the claims have not been corroborated, and are questionably sourced[46]. Third, we would need a post-strike image, where we could see inside the building for elements of a nuclear reactor.

If the site was a reactor, it is difficult to assess how that would change Syria’s nuclear capabilities. It is unknown if anything nuclear-related was at the site, or if it survived. It is also possible that the site was not designed to support Syrian nuclear capabilities. Rather, it could have been an effort by North Korea to disperse or outsource their nuclear program. North Korea previously outsourced its missile testing to India and Pakistan[47]. Thus, Syria’s nuclear program may not have been the beneficiary of the possible reactor. If the site was a nuclear reactor meant to improve Syrian capabilities, it would have been able to produce enough plutonium in separated fuel for one bomb a year. However, the Syrians would also need a separation facility, which has not been located.

Although there are weaknesses to the claim that the suspected site was a nuclear reactor construction site of North Korean origin, I contend that it is probable. Albright and Brannan's conclusion is the most likely, as the critics’ arguments are generally flawed. However, Albright and Brannan's arguments would be stronger with the arguments that I have provided. Although I cannot offer a definitive answer, I aim to strengthen the debate by suggesting new possibilities and arguments.

Section III. Policy Recommendations

My assumption is that policy-makers will want to contain Syria's nuclear program. Given that Syria is a state-sponsor of terrorism, an enemy of Israel, and friendly with Iran, the geostrategic reasons for containing their nuclear program are compelling. I do not, however, believe that we need any major policy changes to continue to stem the growth of Syria's nuclear program. Israel's strike appears to have been a successful counter-proliferation action. However, there are several intelligence gaps as to whether the strike was a successful counter-proliferation action or not. The intelligence gaps also make it difficult to develop a strategy for confronting North Korea over the issue.

Policy Recommendation I. Fill in the intelligence gaps.

It is still unknown whether there was a reactor under construction in the building. Obtaining a post-strike image prior to the quick clean-up would be helpful in determining whether it was nuclear in nature. Such an image would also let us know whether the strike was successful in destroying the reactor. It is still unknown whether the reactor was completely destroyed or not. It is plausible that the strike missed, but Syria still wanted to clear the area to protect their nuclear material.

Determining whether Israel's soil sample claims are accurate should be an intelligence priority. It is possible that Israel wanted to further persuade the U.S. that the facility was a reactor, but that U.S. intelligence officers did not accept the Israeli interpretation. The soil sample claim could have been manufactured by the Israelis to improve the assessment[48]. However, the soil sample story could be completely accurate too. There isn’t sufficient intelligence to endorse either interpretation.

Policy Recommendation II. Engage Syria.

Although the Bush Administration has typically been reticent to negotiate with Syria, now could be the appropriate time for engagement. Syria's relative silence over the strike, rather than protesting Israel's actions, is a further indicator of guilt. Syria may now fear public embarrassment and sharp consequences, giving us a useful diplomatic tool that could be used as a carrot or as a stick. Refraining from publicizing the story could be useful in gaining trust and good will. The strike and our subsequent good will could show Syria the disadvantages of pursuing a path such as Iran's, and the benefits of non-proliferation. They may also see the disadvantages of cooperating with other proliferants, such as North Korea and Iran, and see the advantages of cooperating with the U.S. Their recent willingness to participate in the Annapolis Middle East Peace conference could be an early sign of such willingness.

To prevent future proliferation in Syria, we need to persuade Syria that their security concerns can be met without possessing nuclear weapons. Not only will successful engagement prevent future proliferation, but Syria may also provide important intelligence on other concerns. We may learn more about North Korean capabilities, Iranian capabilities, and the AQ Khan network. Now is an excellent opportunity for engagement, with the prospect of many significant benefits.


Figure 5. Schematic of the MAGNOX reactor type[49]. The Yongbyon reactor and the suspected Syrian reactor would have a similar design.

Figure 6. Albright and Brannan's Analysis of the suspected site.

Figure 7. Close-up of the Heavy Water Reactor at the Savannah River Site. Analysis performed by Clayton Keir Image Source: Google Earth

Figure 8. Close-up of the Yongbyon 5 MW Reactor Area. There is steam coming out of the cooling tower. Analysis performed by Clayton Keir. Image Source: Google Earth

Works Cited

Albright, David and Brannan, Paul “Suspect Reactor Construction Site in Eastern Syria: The Site of the September 6 Israeli Raid?” The Institute for Science and International Security October 23, 2007.

Albright, David, Brannan, Paul and Shire, Jacqueline “Syria Update: Suspect Reactor Site Dismantled.” The Institute for Science and International Security October 25, 2007.

Arms Control Association “Nuclear Weapons: Who Has What at a Glance.” October 2007

Associated Press “Syrian President Tells BBC Israeli Warplanes Struck 'Unused Military Building' Last Month.” October 1, 2007 International Herald Tribune

Atomic Energy Commission of Syria, Home Page

Barth, Kai-Henrik, Interview on various dates

Bowen, Wyn and Kidd, Joanna “The Nuclear Capabilities and Ambitions of Iran’s Neighbors.” Strategic Studies Institute October 2005

Broad, William and Mazzetti, Mark “Yet Another Photo of Site in Syria, Yet More Questions.” New York Times October 27, 2007

Brown, Tim, Interview on various dates.

CIA World Factbook “Syria” December 6, 2007

Cirincione, Joseph in Wright, Robin and Warrick, Joby “Syrians Disassembling Ruins at Site Bombed by Israel, Officials Say.” Washington Post, October 19, 2007

Cirincione, Joseph in Hounshell, Blake “North Korea-Syria nuclear ties: déjà vu all over again?” Foreign Policy September 14, 2007

Department for Business, Enterprise, and Regulatory Reform, “Magnox Reactors” Copyright, 2007.

Digital Globe Images

Google Earth Images

Hoagland, Jim “North Korean Mystery.” October 7, 2007 Washington Post

International Atomic Energy Agency “SYR/3/003 Uranium Recovery from Phosphoric Acid.”

Koch, Andrew “Selected Indian Nuclear Facilities.” July 1999 Center for Nonproliferation Studies

Lewis, Jeffrey “Ah, They Were SCUDs.” Arms Control Wonk September 20, 2007

Lewis, Jeffrey “More Syria Nonsense.” Arms Control Wonk October 22, 2007

Lewis, Jeffrey “Syria Tidbits.” Arms Control Wonk October 26, 2007

Normark, Magnus et al. “Syria and WMD: Intentions and Capabilities.” Swedish Defense Research Agency, June 2004

Nuclear Threat Initiative “Syria Profile: Nuclear Chronology” June 2007

Office of Technology Assessment “Technologies Underlying Weapons of Mass Destruction.” U.S. Congress December 1993

Pike, John Globalsecurity October 24, 2007

Pike, John, Interview on various dates.

Raddatz, Martha “The Case for Israel's Strike on Syria.” ABC News October 19, 2007

Raphaeli, Nimrod, Dr. “Middle East Economic News Report No. 36” Middle East Media Research Institute December 11, 2002

Raphaeli, Nimrod, Dr. “Syria's Fragile Economy” The Middle East Review of International Affairs, June 2007

World Information Service on Energy “Uranium Recovery from Phosphates” October 23, 2007

[1] Atomic Energy Commission of Syria, Home Page October 9, 2007

[2] Normark, Magnus et al. “Syria and WMD: Intentions and Capabilities.” Swedish Defense Research Agency, June 2004 pg. 30

[3] Ibid.

[4] Nuclear Threat Initiative “Syria Profile: Nuclear Chronology” June 2007

[5] Normark et al. pg. 55

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid. pg. 30

[8] Argument credited to Professor Kai-Henrik Barth

[9] World Information Service on Energy “Uranium Recovery from Phosphates” October 23, 2007

[10] IAEA “SYR/3/003 Uranium Recovery from Phosphoric Acid.” Click here and then select 'Syrian Arab Republic' and 'completed projects.' De-select 'active projects.'

[11] Nuclear Threat Initiative

[12] Ibid.

[13] Bowen, Wyn and Kidd, Joanna “The Nuclear Capabilities and Ambitions of Iran’s Neighbors.” Strategic Studies Institute October 2005 pg. 73

[14] Ibid.

[15] Arms Control Association “Nuclear Weapons: Who Has What at a Glance.” October 2007

[16] Bowen and Kidd, pg. 73

[17] CIA World Factbook “Syria” December 6, 2007

[18] Office of Technology Assessment “Technologies Underlying Weapons of Mass Destruction.” U.S. Congress December 1993 pg. 126

[19] Ibid.

[20] Raphaeli, Nimrod, Dr. “Middle East Economic News Report No. 36” Middle East Media Research Institute December 11, 2002

Raphaeli, Nimrod, Dr. “Syria's Fragile Economy” The Middle East Review of International Affairs, June 2007

[21] Ibid.

[22] Normark et al. pg. 27

[23] Atomic Energy Commission of Syria, Home Page

[24] Cirincione, Joseph in Wright, Robin and Warrick, Joby “Syrians Disassembling Ruins at Site Bombed by Israel, Officials Say.” Washington Post, October 19, 2007

[25] Albright, David and Brannan, Paul “Suspect Reactor Construction Site in Eastern Syria : The Site of the September 6 Israeli Raid?” The Institute for Science and International Security October 23, 2007 .

[26] Albright, David, Brannan, Paul and Shire, Jacqueline “ Syria Update: Suspect Reactor Site Dismantled” The Institute for Science and International Security October 25, 2007 .

[27] Wright and Warrick Joby “Syrians Disassembling Ruins at Site Bombed by Israel, Officials Say.”

[28] Cirincione, Joseph in Hounshell, Blake “North Korea-Syria nuclear ties: déjà vu all over again?” Foreign Policy September 14, 2007

[29] Broad, William and Mazzetti, Mark “Yet Another Photo of Site in Syria, Yet More Questions.” New York Times October 27, 2007

[30] Raddatz, Martha “The Case for Israel's Strike on Syria .” ABC News October 19, 2007

[31] Lewis, Jeffrey “More Syria Nonsense.” Arms Control Wonk October 22, 2007

[32] Lewis, Jeffrey “Ah, They Were SCUDs.” Arms Control Wonk September 20, 2007

[33] Measurement performed in Google Earth.

[34] Pike, John Globalsecurity October 24, 2007

[35] Lewis, Jeffrey “Syria Tidbits.” Arms Control Wonk October 26, 2007

[36] Normark et al. pg. 29

[37] Interview with John Pike, various dates

[38] Interview with Imagery Analyst Tim Brown

[39] Associated Press “Syrian President Tells BBC Israeli Warplanes Struck 'Unused Military Building' Last Month.” October 1, 2007 International Herald Tribune

[40] Interview with John Pike, Director of on various dates.

[41] Broad and Mazzetti

[42] Interview with John Pike

[43] Koch, Andrew “Selected Indian Nuclear Facilities.” July 1999 Center for Nonproliferation Studies

[44] Interview with Tim Brown, Imagery Analyst

[45] Hoagland, Jim “North Korean Mystery.” October 7, 2007 Washington Post

[46] Argument made by John Pike, in an interview on December 7, 2007.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Interview with John Pike, December 7, 2007

[49] Department for Business, Enterprise, and Regulatory Reform, “Magnox Reactors” Copyright, 2007.