CIA Purchase of Iraqi CW: Background and Context

By Greg Mercer

Recently, a CIA program to buy and destroy chemical weapons in Iraq has come to light.   The New York Times reports that from 2005 to 2006, Operation Avarice saw the purchase and destruction of 400 chemical weapon rockets originally developed by the Hussein regime in the 1980s.  Reports vary on the contents of the rockets, which may have contained either degraded chemical components or still-active sarin.  The Times article states that, in cooperation with the Army 203rd Military Intelligence Battalion, the CIA station in Baghdad made the purchase from a single Iraqi seller and destroyed the weapons.

These events notably fall outside of the findings of the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), the 2003 Department of Defense-led fact finding mission.  The ISG released a final report in 2004 detailing Iraqi WMD-related activities from 1991 to 2003. However, ongoing conflict in Iraq has led to further encounters with remnants of Hussein’s WMD programs.

An October 2014 article detailed claims made by veterans that military personnel had been exposed to sulfur mustard during the destruction of seized Iraqi chemical weapons near Taji.  The Times’ CJ Chivers places the number of service members exposed to chemical weapons at no fewer than 17, and asserts that they received inadequate healthcare.  His investigation led to the Pentagon acknowledging that hundreds of service members had been exposed to chemical weapons and had received insufficient treatment.

A May 2004 Fox News article reported that a 155mm artillery shell used as part of a roadside bomb in Iraq was found to have contained sarin, and two service members were treated for mild symptoms of exposure.  While the shell contained three liters of sarin, it was a binary system, where separate chemical compounds are mixed to form the weapon agent.  Due to its use as an improvised explosive and failure to combine, the agent was not potent enough to be lethal.  The article notes that a different shell containing mustard gas was found in a similar setup.  However, this shell also did not detonate, and the chemical agent was found by the ISG to be inactive due to improper storage.

In July 2004 the Washington Post reported that warheads found in Iraq by Polish forces, originally believed to be chemical weapons dating back to the Iran-Iraq war (which saw the use of chemical weapons by both sides), did not, in fact, contain chemical agents.  The warheads were reportedly purchased, not confiscated, rockets, though this point was disputed by an unnamed senior intelligence official, who said that the U.S. had been told that the rockets were found alongside other conventional weapons.  Chemical weapons or not, the episode demonstrates the severity with which international forces in Iraq treated claims of insurgents and terrorists possessing or seeking unsecured Hussein-era weapons.

It’s important to note that these brushes with chemical weapons involved agents dating to before 1991.

Chemical weapons were not the only illicit goods seized in Iraq.  In 2005, the Associated Press reported that 550 metric tons of yellowcake uranium had been sold to Canadian uranium producer Cameco Corp. for use as nuclear fuel.  The U.S. conducted a top-secret airlift operation of 37 flights to move the uranium from Baghdad to Montreal.  The uranium was a remnant of Hussein’s nascent nuclear weapons program.  Yellowcake uranium is an intermediate product of uranium processing, not weapons-grade material.  It can either be smelted into fuel rods for use in nuclear reactors for power production, or enriched into U-235 via gas centrifuge.  Low-enriched uranium (up to 20% U-235) is also used in nuclear reactors, but highly-enriched uranium (90%) is used in nuclear weapons.

 

Image Credit: The New York Times

The Islamic State as Insurgency: The Growing Strength of Salafi Jihadists

By Erik Goepner

Terrorists occupy the low-end of the power spectrum. They are weaker than guerrillas, who are weaker than insurgents, who are weaker than conventional armies, who are weaker than nuclear-equipped armies. That is a point made, more or less, by the Council of Foreign Relation’s Max Boot. Successful revolutionary, Mao Tse Tung,[1] made a similar point when he noted guerrillas are but a step towards total war and regular armies. Has the Islamic State, then, progressed the Salafi jihadist movement from the weak power position of terrorism to the mid-range power of insurgency?

RAND researcher, Seth Jones, defines a Salafi jihadist group as one that emphasizes the need to return to “pure” Islam during the time of the Salaf (“pious ancestors”) and believes that violent jihad is a duty of each member of the ummah, much like daily prayers, fasting during Ramadan, etc. Dr. Jones notes that between 2010 and 2013, the number of Salafi jihadist groups rose by 58%. Interestingly, the growth roughly coincided with the timing of U.S. surge operations in Afghanistan. At the end of that period, IS began seizing and holding terrain in Iraq and Syria, with some estimating they now control approximately 81,000 square miles, or the land mass equivalent of Great Britain. Professor Bruce Hoffman, author of the seminal work Inside Terrorism, suggests that while both insurgents and terrorists may use the same tactics, even for the same purposes, insurgents differ from terrorists in that they often operate as military units, seize and hold terrain, and include informational and psychological warfare in an effort to win over the population’s support.

If so, and if the Islamic State is winning over segments of the Iraqi and Syrian populations rather than just terrorizing them, then the problem set facing the U.S. would be substantially different. Terrorists can, in large measure, be defeated by police or military action, which the world’s premier military can accomplish unlike any other. If, however, IS now finds firm footing as an insurgency, broader issues must be tackled. Issues that can only be successfully resolved by the indigenous government—which we are not—or dictatorial occupiers—which we will not be.

Image Credit: NBC News


[1] See The Red Book of Guerrilla Warfare by Mao Zedong.

Pandora Report 2.1.15

No themed coverage this week, sadly. However, we’ve got stories covering the Federal fight against antibiotic resistance, ISIS airstrikes, and super mosquitoes in Florida. All this in addition to stories you may have missed.

Have a fun Super Bowl Sunday (go team!) and a safe and healthy week!

Obama Asking Congress to Nearly Double Funding to Fight Antibiotic Resistance to $1.2 Billion

One of The White House’s goals for 2015 was to combat growing antibiotic resistance through research into new antibiotics and efforts to prevent the over prescription of these vital drugs. President Obama is requesting that Congress add additional funding to this fight, bringing the total to $1.2 billion. The funding will be a start, but there are many other things that can happen in order to fight this extremely important problem.

U.S. News & World Report—“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says more than 23,000 Americans die every year from infections that can withstand some of the best antibiotics. The World Health Organization said last year that bacteria resistant to antibiotics have spread to every part of the world and might lead to a future where minor infections could kill.”

Air Strike Kills IS ‘Chemical Weapons Expert’

News came Saturday morning that U.S. airstrikes in Iraq last week killed a mid-level Islamic State militant who specialized in chemical weapons. Killed on January 24, Abu Malik had worked at Saddam Hussein’s Muthana chemical weapons production facility before joining Al-Qaeda in Iraq in 2005.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty—“Officials say his death could “temporarily degrade” the group’s ability to produce and use chemical weapons. Coalition air strikes have pounded the Mosul area over the past week [and] The U.S.-led coalition has carried out more than 2,000 air raids against IS militants in Syria and Iraq since August 8.”

Millions of Genetically Modified Mosquitoes Could Fight Disease in Florida

On January 11, we had a small note about the possibility of genetically modified mosquitos controlling diseases like chikungunya and dengue, but this week coverage on this issue absolutely exploded! British biotech firm Oxitec plans to release millions of genetically modified mosquitos in Florida to control the existing population and help control the spread of these diseases. The A. Aegypti species of mosquito is extremely prevalent in Florida and recently has become resistant to most chemical pesticides. Residents, of course, are up in arms over the potential release of this “mutant mosquito”.

The Weather Channel—“Technology similar to this is already in use in Florida and other states, Entomology Today points out. Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) employs a similar technique, sterilizing insects so that when they mate, no offspring are produced. “Florida spends roughly $6 million a year using SIT to prevent Mediterranean fruit fly infestations, while California spends about $17 million a year,” Entomology Today wrote.”

Stories You May Have Missed

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Global War on Terror Redux

By Erik Goepner

Are we destroying the Islamic State or fighting a global war on terror?

In the past six months, the U.S. launched air strikes to neutralize the al Qaeda offshoot, Khorasan group, and the imminent threat they posed. Authorities in Ohio arrested a man—apparently self-radicalized—who was planning to target the U.S. Capitol. The Charlie Hebdo attackers reportedly received funding and guidance from Yemeni-based, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The kosher market killer apparently had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. Soon after, French, Belgian, and German authorities arrested more than a dozen suspected terrorists, some of whom had recently returned from Syria and allegedly may have ties to the Islamic State.

While the Islamic State dominates the headlines and Obama Administration officials repeat the defeat and destroy Daesh (nee ISIL) mantra, the President’s narrowly-named Special Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL speaks of a decidedly broader end goal. General Allen recently acknowledged “Daesh” as the immediate threat, but noted, “more broadly we’re interested in the underlying factors that create these problems.” He went on to talk of the collective action needed to eliminate the social, ethnic, religious and economic problems that have combined in the Middle East. He noted that if we are successful, there will be a government in Syria that “reflects the will of the Syrian people,” which will have “the happy second and third order effect of assisting in the creation of stability more broadly in the region.”

In words reminiscent of President Bush, “Our war on terror begins with Al Qaeda, but it does not end there,” Secretary Kerry recently shared similar thoughts. In a speech at the Saban Forum, the Secretary observed that “even once Daesh is defeated and Syria is stabilized, our work is far from over.”

These are amazingly aspirational goals. Daesh defeated. Syria stabilized. A government in Syria reflecting the will of the people. And it would seem, a stabilized Iraq and Afghanistan, too.

Again, the similarities are evident. Also speaking at the Saban Forum, though years prior, President Bush outlined similar aspirations, “Our vision for the future: a Middle East where our friends are strengthened and the extremists are discredited, where economies are open and prosperity is widespread, and where all people enjoy the life of liberty…”

Times have changed, but the mission hasn’t. However passionately or half-heartedly we approach it, America continues to wage a global war on terror and seek the remaking of the Middle East.

Image Credit: Huffington Post

Defeating and Destroying the Islamic State: What the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq Can Tell Us

By Erik Goepner 

Afghanistan Iraq Iraq & Syria
U.S. Goal Defeat & destroy al Qaida Eliminate Iraqi WMD, “central front on war on terror Defeat & destroy Islamic State
Date U.S. initiated operations October 2001 March 2003 August 2014
Name of operation Enduring Freedom Iraqi Freedom Inherent Resolve
# countries in coalition 50 34 62
# global terror attacks the year U.S. initiated operations 1,878 1,253 11,9521
# global terror attacks 5 years after U.S. initiated operations 2,728 4,780 TBD
# global terror attacks 10 years after U.S. initiated operations 5,007 11,952 TBD
White House assessment at      +3 months Our war on terror is well begun, but it is only begun mission accomplished

Iraq is free

We are making steady, measurable progress
White House assessment at      +5 years We have significantly degraded the al–Qaida network” “The success of democracy in Afghanistan is inspiring We have seen significant security gains…Less visible are the political and economic changes taking place…This progress isn’t glamorous, but it is important TBD
White House assessment at    +10 years We are meeting our goals…the light of a secure peace can be seen in the distance We’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq TBD
Cost: U.S. deaths 2,353 4,486 TBD
Cost: $ $686 billion2 $815 billion3 $5.6 billion4

Notes:

  1. Numbers are for 2013, 2014 not yet available.
  2. Does not account for future costs, such as FY15 funding or medical care for veterans.
  3. Does not account for future costs, such as medical care for veterans.
  4. Represents budget request for FY15.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Fighting the Islamic State: U.S. Objectives

By Erik Goepner

Our objective is clear:  We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL,” said President Obama during his national address on 10 September 2014. Since then, the destruction of the Islamic State has been echoed as an American objective by senior leaders across the executive branch.

Such an absolute and mammoth objective towards IS, while for years the U.S. has sought reconciliation and reintegration with much of the Taliban in Afghanistan? Destroy IS, and inadvertently relieve much of the pressure against Assad, a despot who has presided over a state in which 200,000 have been killed? Is the threat from IS so severe that they must rise to the top of America’s targeting list?

A compelling argument for such an all-encompassing national priority might have been expected during the President’s national address in September. Not so. Instead, he noted the threat IS poses to the people of Iraq and Syria, and the broader Middle East—including American citizens, personnel and facilities located there. Quite likely, that is why part of the American Embassy staff in Iraq was evacuated in June 2014, as also occurred in Yemen, South Sudan, and Libya last year. And the threat to Americans in America? “If left unchecked, these terrorists could pose a growing threat beyond that region, including to the United States,” offered the President.

Two months later, the White House repeated a similar threat assessment. Their fact sheet said IS “could pose a growing threat to the United States and others beyond the region.” The fact sheet also noted that IS posed an immediate threat to Iraq, Syria and U.S. allies throughout the region, as did numerous other groups per a State Department travel warning.

So, America will send 3,100 military members and spend $5.6 billion this year in an effort to destroy a group that could pose a threat beyond the Middle East?

That Iran and Syria will likely benefit if we succeed in destroying IS makes the U.S. choice of objectives all the more confusing. Both countries are on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism—since 1979 for Syria and 1984 for Iran. One of the most lethal killers of American service members in Iraq was the explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) provided by Iran.

At the UN, two years ago, the President said “the United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.” It is difficult to see how the elimination of what appears to be the most capable Sunni fighting force in the Middle East will not strengthen Iran’s hand and further embolden them. The presence of American and Iranian military advisers in Iraq, and our common purpose there, appears to make achievement of Iran’s goals more likely and less costly.

As for Syria, President Obama had previously spoken of a red line regarding their use of chemical weapons and that Assad must step down, yet America now strikes Assad’s most lethal foe.

 

Image Credit: defense.gov

The Right Choice?

By Erik Goepner

It has been eight years since the demise of Saddam Hussein. During his brutal reign, the dictator used chemical weapons against his own people, invaded an American ally, and went to war with one of our enemies. Across his 24-year rule, hundreds of thousands died. The intervening years since the 2003 invasion have resulted in more than 200,000 killed and the Islamic State now controls wide swaths of both Iraq and Iran. As a result, both American and Iranian forces are in Iraq fighting IS.

In the 1980s, Saddam was an ally of sorts, as the discomforting photo of him shaking hands with then-Special Envoy Donald Rumsfeld suggests. Only a few years earlier, Iran had overthrown the U.S.-backed Shah, taken U.S. citizens hostage and embarked on what seemed to be a radical path. In response, America supported Saddam’s war efforts against Iran.

But, then, power seemingly having corrupted absolutely, he invaded Kuwait. Regardless of what the Ambassador did or did not say, Saddam poorly estimated the global response and a decisive military victory against the battle hardened, fifth largest army of the world soon followed. Horrible repression of revolts, sanctions and no-fly zones ensued.

Then came 9/11. If it weren’t un-American, I’d tell you we were a bit scared. Assuredly, we wanted revenge and America was ready to prevent future attacks by all necessary means. Meanwhile, Saddam was posturing for his neighbors, dropping hints about having weapons of mass destruction, while violating U.N. resolutions.

And so, in early 2003, Desert Storm II kicked off. In less than three weeks Baghdad fell. In short order, the Iraqi Army and security forces were disbanded and the government was largely crippled through de-Baathification. Regrettable remarks such as “freedom is untidy” from the Secretary of Defense and others accompanied the beginnings of the civil war they refused to acknowledge.

Almost 12 years have passed. Two hundred thousand people have been killed, the United States has spent trillions, and a barbaric terrorist group—IS—dominates much of the Iraq. America finds itself working uncomfortably close with an avowed enemy (Iran), while local militias, to include those the U.S. fought against during the war, offer the best chance for success.

Are there times when tolerating an evil yields less tragedy than a noble, yet ill-informed, pursuit?

 

Image Credit: Daily Paul

Fighting Terrorists & Unintended Consequences

By Erik Goepner

A retired Army general recently suggested that if U.S. military advisers can’t successfully train up nine Iraqi brigades within the next year, then either more U.S. forces must be deployed to Iraq or Americans will have to accept the Islamic State’s caliphate. The implicit assumption –that American effort is critical to stopping the Islamic State (or al Qaeda, or whatever similarly inspired group may follow) – is common. Yet, attempts to quantify the return on America’s investment of “effort” are rare. Typically, the debate seems influenced by either those who view any loss of life as unacceptable or those who say no 9/11 type of event has occurred since, so whatever the cost, keep it up. On the one side: We should never have invaded Iraq, on the other: If we had not left when we did, things there would be better.

A Rudimentary Assessment

One way to look at America’s effort is to tally the amount of money spent fighting terrorism and the number of military members who have been deployed to the fight. That effort could be compared to the number of terrorist events which have occurred. Recognizing efforts typically take time to have an impact, the money and manpower effort for this basic assessment lagged a year, so the impact of the 2001 effort was compared to the number of terrorist attacks in 2002. In 2001, the U.S. deployed approximately 17,500 military members to fight the global war on terror and the Department of Defense spent approximately $16.6 billion[1] to support those efforts. In the intervening 12 years, the number of service members deployed to fight the war on terror peaked above 200,000[2] before settling at nearly 67,000 in 2012. During the same time, spending peaked at $184.8 billion in 2008/9 before decreasing to $125.6 billion in 2012.[3]

Across those 11 years, America’s efforts to fight terror increased dramatically. Funding rose more than 600% and military personnel support rose by nearly 300%.[4] During that time, however, the number of terrorist attacks jumped 345%. Call it unintended consequences. Call it complex and nuanced. Either way, significant research is needed, as America’s efforts, albeit noble, do not appear to be delivering the desired results. Pouring forth money is one thing, but putting America’s sons and daughters in harm’s way is quite another. We need to ensure the efforts achieve the goal.

 

Image Credit: NBC News


[1] See “The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11” by Amy Belasco (Congressional Research Service), March 29, 2011

[2] See chart on p. 25 in “Troop Levels in the Afghan and Iraq Wars, FY2001-FY2012: Cost and Other Potential Issues” by Amy Belasco (Congressional Research Service), July 2, 2009

[3] See p. 4, “U.S. Costs of Wars Through 2014” by Neta Crawford, 25 June 2014

[4] See Crawford and Belasco’s reports listed above.

Terrorism in 2013

By Erik Goepner

An estimated 61% more people perished from terrorist attacks in 2013[1] than did in 2012. As the Global Terrorism Index Report authors note, those 18,000 deaths far surpassed the 3,361 deaths from terrorist attacks in 2000. Drawing on data from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism’s Global Terrorism Database, the report and the data it contains have much to offer.

Interested in how terrorist group ideology has morphed over the past decade and a half? Check out the following graphic and observe how the religious-based groups have come to dominate terrorist activity.

Terrorism 2013(Source: Global Terrorism Index 2014, p. 31)

Who conducted the attacks? Two-thirds of the fatalities were caused by four groups: the Islamic State, Boko Haram, the Taliban, and al-Qaeda and its affiliates. As the report noted, “extreme interpretations of Wahhabi Islam” were the key commonality among the groups.

Unsurprisingly, more than 50% of the fatalities occurred in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria accounted for another 30% of the fatalities.  In total, those five countries bore the brunt for 82% of terrorist-caused fatalities last year.

Looking at the details of the attacks, half of them resulted in no fatalities. Approximately 40% killed between one and five people, while 10% took the lives of six or more human beings. The most lethal form of attack was suicide bomber. While suicide attacks had the highest failure rate (56%), they caused an average of 11 fatalities per attack as compared to two fatalities for all other forms of terrorist attack.

Last year, suicide attacks only accounted for five percent of all terrorist attacks. Of concern, though, the Islamic State conducted 58 of the suicide attacks. By comparison, the two most prolific suicide attack groups over the past decade—al-Qaeda in Iraq and Tehrik-I-Taliban in Pakistan—have averaged 13 and 14 suicide attacks per year, respectively.

As a final note—perhaps for balance, perhaps to recognize the role of fear in terrorism—how might we understand the tragic loss of 18,000 lives to terrorism last year as compared to the 430,000[2] who were killed in homicides?

 

Image Credit: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and Terrorism Prevention


[1] The authors of the report note that the manner of data collection for the Global Terrorism Database became more automated in 2011. As a result, some events that may have been missed in prior years would now be collected, possibly inflating numbers for 2011 and following years. In response, they modeled three approaches. For example, their conservative model indicated the number of terrorist events rose by 475% since 2000, as compared to a 689% increase for the upper bounded model.

[2] See the Global Study on Homicide 2013 available at http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/publications-by-date.html

Pandora Report 11.16.14

Its getting pretty cold outside, right? So what better way to spend your Sunday than catching up on all the best stories of the week! This week we’ve got Wikipedia as a predictive took for the spread of disease, a catchy new name for Chikungunya, MERS CoV in Saudi Arabia, some stories you may have missed, and, of course, an Ebola update.

How Wikipedia Reading Habits Can Successfully Predict the Spread of Disease

In my absolute favorite story of the week, researchers have identified a link between the spread of disease and the corresponding page hits of those diseases on Wikipedia. No, the Internet isn’t giving people E-bola, but page views seem to have a predictive effect on infectious disease spread. During the three-year study, looking at readers’ habits, the researchers could predict the spread of flu in the U.S., Poland, Thailand, and Japan, and dengue in Brazil and Thailand at least 28 days before those countries’ health ministries.

The Washington Post—“Official government data—usually released with a one- or two-week lag time—lagged four weeks behind Wikipedia reading habits, according to Del Valle; people, she said, are probably reading about the illnesses they have before heading to the doctor.”

The ‘Vacation Virus’

As Chikungunya makes it way through the Americas, awareness of the disease becomes more important—including the creation of a catchy nickname! The vector, transmissibility, and symptoms are similar to Dengue and with Chikungunya being relatively new to the western hemisphere, a story like this one may be helpful in putting a human face on a growing problem.

The Atlantic—“It might be parochial to call Chikungunya a “vacation virus”; however, as Americans prepare to hit the Caribbean beaches in the coming winter months, awareness campaigns are ramping up. Last week, the travel section of the New York Times ran a feature on Chikungunya highlighting how tourism agencies and organizations are both downplaying the scope of the outbreak and advising simple measures to deal with the virus. (Avoid mosquitos.)”

MERS Cases on the Rise in Saudi Arabia

Since September 5, there have been 38 new cases of MERS-CoV in Saudi Arabia, bringing the total number of cases in Saudi Arabia to 798. The WHO said that due to the non-specific symptoms of MERS, it is critical that health care facilities consistently apply standard precautions with all patients regardless of their initial diagnosis. Furthermore, until more is understood about MERS, immunocompromised individuals should practice general hygiene measures, like hand washing, and avoid close contact with sick animals. Nearly one third of the new cases were reported by patients who had recently had close contact with camels.

Outbreak News Today—“The continued increase in cases prompted Anees Sindi, deputy commander of the Command and Control Center (CCC) to say, “MERS-CoV is active and we need to be on full alert.” In addition, the Saudi Arabia Ministry of Health launched a new public information campaign in Taif in response to the recent spike in new cases of MERS-CoV in the region. Medical professionals will be made available at public locations with the aim of educating citizens on the need to avoid unprotected contact with camels because of the risk of infection with MERS-CoV, underlining the crucial role of the community in preventing the spread of the disease in the Kingdom.”

This Week in Ebola

Ebola is on the rise again in Sierra Leone bringing the number of deaths to 5,147 and cases to 14,068. It appears that the virus is finding new pockets to inhabit including villages outside the Liberian capital and in Bamako, the capital of Mali (eclipsing earlier success in that country at containment.) Despite these new infections outside of Monrovia, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has ended the state of emergency in that country. Unsurprisingly, the epidemic has imposed a financial burden on the affected countries including losses in agricultural trade and the service industries. Elsewhere in Africa, Ugandan health officials have declared the country free of an Ebola-like Marburg virus. Stateside, a new report from the CDC outlines steps taken in Dallas to prevent further virus spread and a third Ebola patient headed to the bio containment unit at the Nebraska Medical Center for treatment. Finally, 80 U.S. Military personnel helping to fight Ebola in Liberia returned home this week, and though none are displaying symptoms, they will be monitored for 21 days at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia.

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: Wikipedia