Iranian Horn Loses Nuclear Material

A device containing Iridium-192 has been reported stolen from Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant, could be used to construct a dirty bomb.
Gary Willig | Yesterday, 5:20 PM
Nuclear power plant (illustration), Thinkstock
A device containing the nuclear material Iridium-192 has gone missing from Iran’s Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant and may have been stolen, according to a report by the Saudi newspaper Asharq Al-Aawsaat.
It is feared that the material could be used to construct a dirty bomb, a conventional weapon equipped with nuclear material which is used to spread nuclear material and deadly radiation around the area where it explodes.
Asharq Al-Aawsaat reported that a vehicle carrying the device was stolen as it was being transported from the Bushehr facility. The vehicle was later found, but the device was gone.
The identity of the thief is unknown, as is the purpose for which the device was stolen or whether the thief is aware of what he stole.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA defines) Iridium-192, a highly unstable isotope which emits both electrons and gamma-rays, as a category-2 radioactive substance. It is used primarily to locate structural flaws in metals. Substances with a category-2 classification can permanently injure or even kill a human being exposed to the material within hours or days.
The theft was reported to the IAEA earlier this month. The IAEA then warned neighboring Gulf States of the danger the isotope poses.

Can The Apprentice Handle The Middle East?

Trump’s Big Test in the Middle East
The president-elect will encounter a region convulsed by change.
NOV 25, 2016 GLOBAL
After decades of global stability, anxiety and unpredictability are now ubiquitous. A vacuum of American leadership is eroding long-standing alliances and emboldening challengers to the international order. Nowhere is this trend more evident than in the Middle East. The region’s conflagrations, its array of power-brokers, old alliances, and new coalitions, will test Donald Trump, and demand that his administration clearly define America’s priorities and interests there. Europe and Asia will be watching.
Trump has criticized the Iraq War, and forswore repeating such costly interventions—hinting that he will continue the Obama administration’s pivot away from the region—but his posture toward the Islamic State and Iran could put the United States on the same path that led to that conflict. Trump promises closer collaboration with traditional Arab allies, who want the United States to help end the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Yet that conflicts with the priorities of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has thrown his support behind the Assad regime, but with whom Trump would like to make common cause. Nor can the United States defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria—Trump’s top priority—while also confronting Russia and Iran, which backs some of the most powerful militias fighting the Islamic State. It cannot, in other words, choose both its Arab allies and Russia in Syria, nor both fight ISIS in Iraq while picking a fight with Iran.
While defeating ISIS in its strongholds of Mosul and Raqqa is a key step, it is only a first step. For Trump, preventing the rise of a successor to ISIS will require a diplomatic effort aimed at reaching political settlements in both Iraq and Syria. That means taking stock of the region’s changing needs.
Since Republicans last held the White House, the long-standing regional order that Washington relied on for decades has disappeared. In its place: a contagion of conflict fueled by popular protest against sclerotic authoritarian regimes, and sectarian and tribal fighting over scraps of broken states. All this, as Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey jockey for influence to protect their interests where they must, and further them where they can.
Obama largely sidestepped dealing with any of this, focusing instead on defeating ISIS. What would happen after ISIS was his successor’s concern. Trump cannot afford such insouciance. The Middle East overshadowed Obama’s pivot to Asia, and it could do the same to the president-elect’s foreign and domestic priorities. The task for Trump is to arrive at a new regional order, one that would repair the frayed map of the Middle East and shore up its governments.
For decades, the United States relied on dictatorships to ensure regional stability. That bedrock is no more. The so-called Arab Spring popular uprisings buffeted state institutions, first provoking social strife, and in the worst instances, civil war. Sects and tribes—filial identities long hidden behind the edifice of dictatorship—saw threat and opportunity in the ensuing chaos, igniting paroxysms of violence that led to more disorder.

Mosul And The Antichrist’s Rise To Power (Revelation 13)

Iraqi Special Forces with the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) entered Mosul two years after the city was turned into a Daesh stronghold in Iraq overrun by its brutal militants. The anti-Daesh troops are gaining ground on multiple fronts and advancing toward the center of the Daesh-held city of Mosul from the West. They are clearing buildings in eastern Mosul to wipe out Daesh from occupied neighborhoods in the city. According to the U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter Daesh Brett McGurk, the Mosul operation, which began on November 16, is ahead of schedule and the success of the operations is obvious in terms of military gains. Since the operation was launched, experts have raged over the future of Mosul with a specific emphasis on the number of fighters on the ground in visual and written media. However, the future of Mosul is based on more than the numerical superiority of 300,000 Iraqi armed forces vis-a-vis the estimated number of 3,500 to 5,000 Daesh militants. Moreover, should the operation to expel Daesh militants from Mosul be complete, still the future of the city is premised on more than the impending military success hoped for. Although there will be overwhelming attention paid to the current military gains on the battlefield, Iraq obviously needs an urgent reconstruction of its state mechanism.
Mosul, as the second biggest city in Iraq, symbolizes a failed state structure rooted from a political, financial and judicial legitimacy crisis following the defeat of the Saddam Hussein regime. The detonator of the crisis is primarily based on the adverse interests of various political actors holding multiple sectarian and ethnic identities. The abundance of political actors causes people to succumb to strategic rift and political intrigue in Iraqi politics. To put it more explicitly, each actor is struggling to foment political clout to mar the interests of the other actors. While each actor is bearing down on the positions of others, civilians are calling on them to reach a permanent solution for better governance. A rather exclusionist agenda will hinder any attempt to spawn a reconstructive state where the rule of law is paramount.
The crisis in Iraq has made great strides currently when the most prominent Shiite cleric figure Muqtada Al-Sadr and his young followers occupied Green Zone motivated by a direct critique of corruption and institutionalization of sectarian political system a couple of months ago. The protestors indicated entrenched sectarian meltdown in Iraqi politics resulting in widespread discontent especially among those out of power. Iraqi people are not pleased with newly emerging circumstances which ignites new intra ethnic and intra sectarian fissures because competition between domestic actors is plunging the country into deeper instability. In addition, fueled sectarian conflicts are sweeping government’s incapability of providing essential services such as water, electricity and security under a carpet in a consistent manner. These are the vital issues for the agenda of ordinary Iraqi people; so the chaos could not be explained by just fragmented sectarian politics. Not only has intra sectarian and ethnic rift mounted instability but also lack of legitimacy has sparked off aggravation of state crisis in Iraq. Establishment of rule of law is a prerequisite for government legitimacy; nevertheless, the Abadi government is incapable of instilling confidence. This is largely due to the lack of basic services which should be provided by the state apparatus. Apart from simmering discontent among the Iraqi people over the failure of Iraq’s governing institutions, the federal court of Iraq has found decisions held in key sessions of the Council of Representatives (CoR) unconstitutional several times (such as abolishment of ceremonial posts of the country’s vice president and deputy prime minister and selection of five technocratic ministers). Nullification of the sessions is damaging the credibility, reliability and legitimacy of the Abadi government. Furthermore, the Iraqi Council of Representatives withdrew confidence in the minister of defense and minister of interior on the eve of the uphill Mosul operation to wipe out Daesh militants. In short, Iraq currently has neither a minister of defense nor a minister of interior. Dismissing ministers once again reduced the legitimacy of the government while Abadi aimed to snuffing out opposite voices to appeal for public support and consolidate his power.
Finally, another issue to be underscored: If we are talking about state crisis in Iraq, it should be an extensive corruption embedded in Iraq’s political culture. Recently, a case of corruption was reported at the Karbala Real Estate Registration Directorate which is about the illegal extortion of real estate properties owned specifically by the Christian community. Virtually, sociological roots of corruption phenomenon in Iraq intrinsically hinges on informal networks, namely tribal and religious communities. Therefore, crippling the chain of corruption thrived in Iraq could not be handled by the current Abadi government due to the massive lack of governmental legitimacy and rule of law.
Based on the brief glimpse into political impasse in Iraq, a military victory in Mosul is not sufficient to build up Iraq state apparatus. Currently, all ethnic and sectarian groups have coalesced under a single roof to drive out Daesh from Iraq. Nevertheless, nobody knows how regional dynamics will change after a much-awaited Mosul victory. Having been lining up against a common enemy will definitely precipitate to pave the way for a military success on the battlefield but still there are some questions that should be answered about political stabilization of Mosul. Keeping remarks solely on Sunni-Shiite dimension is not enough to explain the root causes of political instability because Mosul is more than a Muslim society. Iraq has many Shiite, Sunni, Kurdish, Yazidi, Shabak and Turkmen communities, all having different priorities s in a competing political agenda. What is striking is that intra group struggles are also widespread, namely, the Shiites are protesting against Shiite leaders and Kurds are protesting against Kurdish leaders or some tribes are protesting Daesh – some of them are propping up Daesh militants on the ground. Apart from the complicated group dynamics, Iraq faces a major political crisis rooted from lack of governmental legitimacy that suspends quelling tensions. Due to the high level of corruption, lack of rule of law and growing budget crisis, the Iraqi government is having difficulty running Iraq’s economic activities which exacerbates socio-political unrest ahead of provincial and parliamentary elections. Briefly stated, the presence of intertwined relations between political and economic actors holding the ground, Mosul is symbolizing more than an oncoming military success against Daesh, but also a representative sample to interpret the course of evolving local and regional dynamics in the Middle East. Steps to be taken to ensure stabilization of Mosul will have long-term repercussions for the future of the Kurdish region, Baghdad, the Sunni areas and region in a broader sense.
* Middle East studies research master’s degree at METU

Did The Russians Hack The Election?

Photo Credit: Image by Shutterstock, Copyright (c) Julius Kielaitis
By Steven Rosenfeld / AlterNet
November 26, 2016
The recount entered a new phase Saturday, when both the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Donald Trump transition team issued dueling statements about the need to verify votes in the three states that gave Trump an Electoral College majority. But beyond their appearances, with Clinton’s campaign saying it would participate in the effort, was a remarkable development: the prospect that the recount will try to investigate the biggest unanswered question hanging over the election beside who won: did Russia take steps to hack the vote?
Trump called the recount a “ridiculous” effort by the Greens that was fleecing donors of the nearly $6 million raised by midday Saturday. But the statement by the Clinton campaign’s top lawyer, Marc Elias, noted in its opening paragraphs that the election, the Democratic Party, and their campaign was repeatedly targeted by the Russians.
“This election cycle was unique in the degree of foreign interference witnessed throughout the campaign: the U.S. government concluded that Russian state actors were behind the hacks of the Democratic National Committee and the personal email accounts of Hillary for America campaign officials, and just yesterday, the Washington Post reported that the Russian government was behind much of the ‘fake news’ propaganda that circulated online in the closing weeks of the election,” Elias wrote on, then elaborating about their private investigative efforts to assess the impact of Russian interference in the campaign.
Going even further, the first recount petition filed by the Greens, in Wisconsin, primarily focused on Russian hacking, not on the more easily understood line of inquiry of different voting technologies reporting different margins of victory for Trump despite their locations. The Green’s petition opens by stating they believe “an irregularity” has occurred affecting the entire state. It goes on to say that in August, “foreign operators breached voter registration databases in at least two states and stole hundreds of thousands of voter records” at the same time the email systems of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign were hacked and put online. It lists warnings by federal homeland security officials to states to take steps to protect these databases, and then lays out its theories. First, Wisconsin’s voting systems are aging and known to be susceptible to hackers, “including they can be breached without detection and even after certain security measures are put in place.” And that may account for “a significant increase in the number of absentee voters compared to the last general election. This significant increase could be attributed to a breach of the state’s electronic voter database.”
That summation and line of inquiry has been reported by AlterNet before. However, the Green’s petition went further to explain what they are going to be looking for as the recount ensues. The first piece of supporting evidence is an affidavit by J. Alex Halderman, a University of Michigan professor of computer science and engineering, and director of the Center for Computer Security and Society based in Ann Arbor. He was part of the team set up by California’s ex-Secretary of State, Debra Bowen, that reviewed the vulnerability of its electronic voting systems and led to the state banning the same machines used in Wisconsin.
Russia tried to breach voter registration databases in 20 states last summer, Halderman said, citing the Department of Homeland Security as his source. “Russia has sophisticated cyber-offensive capabilities, and it has shown a willingness to use them to hack elections elsewhere. For instance, according to published reports, during the 2014 presidential election in Ukraine, attackers linked to Russia sabotaged Ukraine’s vote-counting infrastructure, and Ukranian officials succeeded only at the last minute in defusing the vote-stealing malware that could have caused the wrong winner to be announced,” he wrote, referencing and submitting a June 2014 Christian Science Monitor article that described the hacks and averted tampering.
Not mentioned in the Green’s filing was Paul Manafort, who came aboard Trump’s campaign last spring and shepherded it through the Republican National Convention until he was forced to resign because of a multi-million-dollar cash payment from consulting in Ukraine, and he was working for the pro-Russian side of the June 2014 Ukranian election, the Washington Post reported last August. “Even with [pro-Russian Viktor] Yanukovych out of the country, the [New York] Times reports Manafort kept working in Ukraine with the president’s former chief of staff to help keep the pro-Russian party in the political game. It worked. The party ended up being a significant influence in parliament.”
Halderman’s affidavit continued, saying the same vote tampering that occurred in Ukraine could have occurred in some of 2016’s presidential swing states:
“If a foreign government were to attempt to hack American voting machines to influence the outcome of a presidential election, one might expect the hackers to proceed as follows. First, the attackers might probe election offices well in advance to find ways to break into the computers. Next, closer to the election, when it was clear from polling data which state would have close electoral margin, the attackers might spread malware into voting machines into some of the states, manipulating the machines to shift a few percent of the vote to favor the desired candidate. This malware would likely be designed to remain inactive during pre-election tests, perform its function during the election, and then erase itself after the polls closed. One would expect a skilled attacker’s work to leave no visible signs, other than a surprising electoral outcome in which results in several close states differed from pre-election polling.”
America’s voting machinery is especially vulnerable to that scenario, Halderman said, noting that he personally has installed malware in electronic voting machines to achieve that exact result. Whether voting machines are connected to the internet “is irrelevant,” he said, which is directly applicable to Wisconsin, whose safeguards include keeping its voting machines offline, state election officials have previously told AlterNet. All it takes is one memory card to be inserted into the system at any point, he said, for such malware to be spread.
“This explanation is plausible, in light of other known cyber attacks intended to affect the outcome of the election; the profound vulnerability of American voting machines to cyberattack; and the fact that a skilled attacker would leave no outwardly visible evidence of an attack other than an unexpected result,” Halderman reiterated. “The only way to determine whether a cyber attack affected the outcome of the 2016 presidential election is to examine the available physical evidence—that is, to count the paper ballots and paper audit trail records, and review the voting equipment… Using the electronic equipment to conduct the recount, even after first evaluating the machine through a test deck, is insufficient. Attackers intending to commit a successful cyber attack could, and likely would, create a method to undermine any pre-tests… Voting equipment that might yield forensic evidence of an attack includes the voting machines, removable media, and election management system computers. Paper ballot, paper audit trails, and voting equipment will only be examined in this manner if there is a recount.”
This scenario of examining the entire voting system is not what the state of Wisconsin is envisioning when conducting the recount, according to a statement by the state election administrator, Michael Hass, on Friday, saying that the Green Party has filed for its recount.
“In a recount, all ballots (including those that were originally hand-counted) are examined to determine voter intent before being retabulated. In addition, the county boards of canvassers will examine other documents, including poll lists, written absentee applications, rejected absentee ballots, and provisional ballots before counting the votes.”
Haas said the Wisconsin Election Commission’s role in the recount is “to provide legal guidance to the counties during the recount, and to certify the results.” This is a new state board composed of partisan appointees by Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who disbanded the state’s former Government Accountability Board, which was comprised of retired state judges and was among the most highly respected election oversight panel in the country.
In other words, these preliminary and contradictory statements from the Clinton campaign, Green Party and Wisconsin election administrator show why the upcoming presidential recount is going to be controversial and headed into court at many steps along the way. It also shows that the Greens are taking the lead in advancing the one storyline the Clinton campaign did not get the media to heed—the extent to which Russia may have tampered with America’s voting machinery and tilted the result to a candidate who embraced Vladimir Putin.
“Because we had not uncovered any actionable evidence of hacking or outside attempts to alter the voting technology, we had not planned to exercise this option ourselves, but now that a recount has been initiated in Wisconsin, we intend to participate in order to ensure the process proceeds in a manner that is fair to all sides,” Clinton counsel Marc Elias said on Saturday. “The campaign is grateful to all those who have expended time and effort to investigate various claims of abnormalities and irregularities. While that effort has not, in our view, resulted in evidence of manipulation of results, now that a recount is underway, we believe we have an obligation to the more than 64 million Americans who cast ballots for Hillary Clinton to participate in ongoing proceedings to ensure that an accurate vote count will be reported.”