The Mullahs Will Test In 18 Months

February 28, 2006

There’s spirited debate on this issue, some of it informed. Estimates range from a few months to 10 years. My estimate is 18 months, but here are some snips for you to form your own opinion.

Charles Krauthammer in WaPo (my emphasis):

Makes you want to weep. …Britain, France and Germany admitted that their two years of talks to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program had collapsed. The Iranians had broken the seals on their nuclear facilities and were resuming activity in defiance of their pledges to the “E.U. Three.” This negotiating exercise, designed as an alternative to the U.S. approach of imposing sanctions on Iran for its violations of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, had proved entirely futile. If anything, the two-year hiatus gave Iran time to harden its nuclear facilities against bombardment, acquire new antiaircraft capacities and clandestinely advance its program.

Ah, success. Instead of being years away from the point of no return for an Iranian bomb, as we were before we allowed Europe to divert anti-proliferation efforts into transparently useless talks, Iran is probably just months away.

Now Arms Control Wonk (my ellipsis):

When some moron like Charles Krauthammer claims Iran is now just “months” away from a bomb, you can pretty much ignore him: He has no idea what he is talking about.

Overall, Iran is probably a little less than a decade away from developing a nuclear weapon.

So, the real question, however, is how quickly Iran could assemble and operate 1,500 centrifuges in a crash program to make enough HEU for one bomb (say 15-20 kg).

Albright and Hinderstein have created a notional timeline for such a program:

  1. Assemble 1,300-1,600 centrifuges. Assuming Iran starts assembling centrifuges at a rate of 70-100/month, Iran will have enough centrifuges in 6-9 months.
  2. Combine centrifuges into cascades, install control equipment, building feed and withdrawal systems, and test the Fuel Enrichment Plant. 1 year.
  3. Enrich enough HEU (Highly Enriched Uranium) for a nuclear weapon. 1 year
  4. Weaponize the HEU. A “few” months.

Total time to the bomb—about three years.

Some of the comments on this piece are well informed, and there’s this splendid put down:

Comment 1 (Brit, I suspect):

My questions, as an obviously naive European, are as follows:

1) why is GWB trying to build up a case for war in Iran? What is the benefit to himself given that at the end of this term he can’t seek re-election? Or is there a cunning plan (cf. Baldrick in Blackadder) to place the next Bush in the dynasty at the White House?

2) Although I am not advocating appeasement, would it not be a good idea to tread carefully given that Iran’s internal politics is obviously in turmoil? Doesn’t lending credence and weight to the Iranian “agents provocateurs” actually give a longer lifeline to the wrong faction? Would it not be a rather radical step to endorse an entirely civilian programme under NPT protocols and verification?

Comment 2:

I’ll agree that you’re an obviously naive European.

1. Where is GWB building up a case for war?? And even if he was, why must it necessarily be self-serving?

Maybe he’s just actually concerned about an apocalyptic regime who wants to wipe Israel off the face of the earth acquiring nukes. It doesn’t appear that the EU is too keen on it either. BTW why on earth would you think that another war would help him get re-elected anyway? Quite the opposite.

2. You are essentially advocating appeasement. Time is of the essence here. Ahmadinejad can pussy-foot around just enough to give him time to finish off the Tehran Project.

Sort of like allowing Hitler to re-arm after WWI.


Arms Control Wonk comes across as a bureaucrat who doesn’t understand crash programs. Assuming the Mullahs are running one (they’d be idiots not to), I’d expect them to test a weapon in 18 months.

For an insight into how these programs work, see the history of the Stealth and Blackbird projects here.


The Ports Deal (2)

February 28, 2006

This just gets worse. The company aiming to take over management of US ports is owned by the Government of Dubai, and boycotts Israel (that’s against US law). This mess looks like a set-up of the administration by State, which should never have authorized the deal.

Here’s the JPost:

The parent company of a Dubai-based firm at the center of a political storm in the US over the purchase of American ports participates in the Arab boycott against Israel, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

The firm, Dubai Ports World, is seeking control over six major US ports, including those in New York, Miami, Philadelphia and Baltimore. It is entirely owned by the Government of Dubai via a holding company called the Ports, Customs and Free Zone Corporation, which consists of the Dubai Port Authority, the Dubai Customs Department and the Jebel Ali Free Zone Area.

“Yes, of course the boycott is still in place and is still enforced,”…a staff member of the Dubai Customs Department’s Office for the Boycott of Israel, told the Post in a telephone interview.

Under US law, the Arab boycott of Israel is illegal:

On at least three separate occasions last year, the Post has learned, companies
were fined by the US government’s Office of Anti-boycott Compliance, an arm of
the Commerce Department, on charges connected to boycott-related requests they had received from the Government of Dubai.

US law bars firms from complying with such requests or cooperating with attempts by Arab governments to boycott Israel.

I once (pre-9/11) experienced an audit by a team from the The Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States (CFIUS), in connection with a sale of a US company to a company owned by a foreign (but democratic) state. The audit was thorough and competent and covered both target and buying companies.

It’s inconceivable that the CFIUS team would have failed to spot that the intended buyer was owned by the government of one of the least free nations in the world, and that its parent was in breach of US law.

It looks like a setup.

A Prediction On ID Cards

February 27, 2006

A poll confirms that Brits are cynical about ID cards, confirming the Wisdom Of Crowds. Once the Brit government figures this out too, expect ID cards to degrade to a basic photo ID.

The poll:

People doubt whether cards will materially assist in the war on terror and clearly think that a national scheme will be shot full of holes. Yet a small majority, 52 per cent, persist in saying that the cards should be brought in.That small majority will disappear when Brits realize how the system will actually work.

From 2008, people applying for or renewing passports will be get ID cards as well, so let’s start with the Brit passport system. Currently, passports are issued by mail – you send in a form, appending original birth and marriage certificates, and photos notarized by a member of one of 43 professions, ranging from accountants through journalists to opticians.

If this system is continued for ID cards, they’ll have little value, but a more robust system will be a logistical nightmare and unaffordable. That’s because ID cards need a biometric identifier on them – there’s a good summary of options for biometrics here and in the referenced report.

To continue using the passport system and postal applications, the ID card biometric will have to be a photo, with identification through face recognition software. That’s because – provided they’re authenticated – photos can be sent through the mail so citizens won’t all have to travel to have their biometrics taken (as they must for retinal scans, fingerprints etc). Photos are acceptable to most people, it’s easy to image people – for example when they visit their doctor or claim a state benefit, and of course everybody has a face. But there are huge negatives – faces change over time, recognition performance is poor (depends on lighting, camera quality, expression), and faces can be fairly easily modified.

And the ID application system itself would be as easy to compromise as the current passport system – all you need is a dodgy journalist or optician (for example) to authenticate a photo of somebody other than the applicant – bin Laden for example – and he gets a Brit ID card as well as a passport.

The only way around this is to use better biometrics – iris recognition is good – and combine that with a face-to-face interview that positively verifies the applicant. But for this to work, the applicant has to travel to a secure facility where their biometrics can be taken, and their identity confirmed by an interview. Here’s what that might cost.

Assume that the ID card has to be renewed every 5 years (to cater for biometric change with age), that all 60 million Brits have to have one, and that each application involves 8 hours travel, waiting and interviewing by the applicant (based on US Green Card experience), plus 30 minutes by the interviewer plus 90 minutes support (data input, validation), giving a total of 10 person-hours. Double that to 20 hours to allow for inefficiency (this is a government department!). At 12 million applications every year, that’s 240 million person-hours, which at £15/hour is £3.6 billion. Double that to get gross costs – travel, overheads, securing staff against kidnap, etc, and we have an annual cost of over £7 billion. Finally add depreciated capital and setup costs of £3 billion/year (£17 billion deprecated over 5 years), and the running cost is £10 billion/year.

Blair or his successor can’t live with this cost – it’s a third of the entire of the Brit defense budget. Not to mention the enormous political backlash from forcing 20% of the nation, kids included, to travel to the national ID center very year.

So, I’d expect the ID card to end up much like the current passport, as are ID cards in the rest of Europe. It won’t stop visitors daft enough to come to the UK to use the NHS, since most of them are either EU (entitled) or legal or illegal immigrants (protected). It won’t stop professional criminals, who’ll be able to fake cards with their own pictures for a very modest sum. And it won’t stop terrorists, who’ll pose as tourists. It won’t cut down on illegal immigration, since the primary problem is that the Brit legal system won’t deport illegals.

But it will cut down on entitlement fraud by petty criminals, at least only until an entrepreneurial crook decides to exploit this mass market…

Russia Helps The Mullahs Build Nukes

February 27, 2006

Russia is actively helping the Mullahs build nuclear weapons, and if the US doesn’t stop them, they risk inflicting nuclear war on the middle east and Europe. And themselves.

Here’s the deal Putin has offered the Mullahs:

Iran and Russia agreed in principle Sunday to establish a joint uranium enrichment venture, a breakthrough in talks on a U.S.-backed Kremlin proposal aimed at easing concerns that Tehran wants to build nuclear weapons.

But further negotiations on the details lay ahead, and it was not known whether Iran will entirely give up enrichment at home, a top demand of the West.

Actually, all this does is reduce the number of centrifuges the Mullahs need to build enough weapons to wipe Israel off the map.

Here’s why:

  • Uranium ore contains about 0.7% of the U235 isotope needed for fast reactors and bombs.
  • Light water reactors need that enriched to 3% – 5%.
  • Experimental reactors need enrichment to 12% – 19%.
  • Bombs need enrichment to 85% – you can use less, but the weapon gets much heavier and harder to initiate.

Since the Mullahs have emphasized that they’re researching nuclear power, the Russians will probably offer them 20% enriched Uranium.

So instead of having to enrich from 0.7% to 85% (a factor of 120), the Mullahs need only enrich from 20% to 85% (a factor of 4.25). If they need a centrifuge array of 50,000 to enrich uranium ore to bomb grade, they’ll need just 2,000 centrifuges starting from 20%.

Building and hiding 2,000 centrifuges is way easier than hiding 50,000, and since the Mullahs successfully hid their entire nuke program for 20 years until dissidents blew their cover, they’re experts.

This twisting and turning by the Mullahs and their Chinese and Russian allies suggests that, whatever happens at the UN, the Mullahs will get their nukes.

Russia presumably calculates that it’s at no risk from the Mullahs – it has ample nukes to deter them. So that leaves a nuke armed Iran sitting astride the West’s oil supply, which will push up prices to Russia’s benefit.

But that assumes that the Mullahs are rational, which they are probably not. In which case they’ll use their weapons to advance the cause of Islam – that includes avenging the Chechens that Putin has so vigorously ethnically cleansed…

The Port Deal

February 26, 2006

Congress should veto the proposed takeover of the management of a number of US ports by a corporation from the United Arab Emirates – not because the UAE is Arab, but because it’s as unfree as China. Unfree counties are fear states run by small cliques, and the US would be foolish to place its security in such hands.

A United Arab Emirates-based company said Sunday it has agreed to seek a broader U.S. review of the security risks from its deal to take over major operations at six American ports.

In addition to the request for a 45-day examination, DP World is promising to create a U.S. subsidiary that would operate independently of executives in Dubai until May.

The moves are an effort to avert a damaging showdown between President Bush and Congress over the fate of DP World’s $6.8 billion takeover.

The ports are currently managed by a Brit company, and some in the administration have suggested that there’s no difference between the Brits and the UAE. You be the judge.

Nation Freedom Rating Corruption Ranking
US Free 17th
UK Free 11th
UAE Not Free 30th

The Insecurity Of High-Value Databases

February 26, 2006

The big Brit bank raid shows how the Blair’s national identity database will be compromised by terrorists, so making the country less safe.

Brit debate has focused on the cards themselves and their civil liberties implications, missing the much scarier central identity database.

The database is needed because ID cards will be as forgeable as any other card – you’ll just encapsulate your own biometric data with your false identity data onto a forged card. The only way to stop that is to check cards against a central database of all legal ID cards.

Most terrorists will dodge the entire system by posing as illegal immigrants (Brit PC rules protect them), or tourists. But if they do want Brit identities, the database will be a cornucopia.

The best way of attacking high value targets is by compromising insiders – this was pioneered by the IRA and has been extended by the Brit criminal fraternity (or maybe the IRA again):

(A) security manager…was hijacked on his way home from work at the Securitas depot in Tonbridge, Kent. His wife…and eight-year-old son…were (also) abducted after bogus police officers called at the family’s home…and told them he had been badly injured in a a car crash.

All three were taken to the depot where the gang used threats against them to force staff inside to open up. They stole an estimated £50m, some £24m of it belonging to the Bank of England.

Security industry sources have revealed that (the security manager) had no key or code to allow himself into the building.

The robbers, wearing balaclava masks and carrying handguns, threatened to kill his son unless a security guard in a bullet-proof, bomb-proof pod inside the depot — who could see what was happening via an intercom CCTV system — allowed them through a security door.

The same technique will work against every user with access to the national identity database. Users with write access will be particularly at risk, and will need 24*7 protection:

In future senior employees…are likely to be given panic buttons in their cars or high-technology “voice bars” that they can pull open to start an immediate dialog with their control rooms if their cars are stopped or tailed.

The industry has brought in psychologists to study the reactions of victims in robberies and has found that if another human life is in danger, staff will normally act automatically to help. In future it wants computerized systems with disembodied Big Brother-like voices issuing commands to staff seeking access to high-security buildings.

The above examples can be fairly easily penetrated, and hopefully the industry will come up with better defenses – but none will be 100% effective.

So Blair’s central database will give a terrorists access to the full identity of every Brit – poetically, including Blair himself.

Another triumph of socialism.

Playing Chicken

February 25, 2006

Using chickens as tennis balls is presumably an ancient Indian custom, but, at 1 chicken per game, it’s going to take decades to finish them off.

Indian officials struggle to kill domestic chickens in H5N1 clean-up

Animal health officials must still find and kill domestic chickens in 70 villages before they complete the slaughter of all birds around India’s first outbreak of H5N1.

Nice service though.