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Can Anyone Stop Trump From Launching Nuclear Weapons? Probably not—unless there’s a “full-scale mutiny.”

In Democracy, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Politics on August 25, 2017 at 1:19 am

By David Corn, Mother Jones, August 23, 2017

After President Donald Trump’s unhinged performance at a Phoenix rally on Tuesday night, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper made a stunning statement: “I really question his ability to be—his fitness to be in this office.” Clapper, who is generally measured and nonpartisan, then said he was worried about Trump’s control of the US nuclear arsenal. “[If] in a fit of pique he decides to do something about Kim Jong Un, there’s actually very little to stop him,” he said. “The whole [nuclear weapons] system is built to ensure rapid response if necessary. So there’s very little in the way of controls over exercising a nuclear option, which is pretty damn scary.”

No senior intelligence community veteran has ever publicly questioned the mental health of a president and suggested the sitting commander-in-chief was too imbalanced to be trusted with the nuclear codes. Clapper’s remarks were a stark reminder that Trump does hold the ultimate power. At any given moment, for any given reason—or for no reason—the president of the United States can launch nuclear weapons and destroy much, if not all, of the planet and human civilization. “People don’t believe it when you tell them that the president can do this,” says Joe Cirincione, the president of the Ploughshares Fund and a nonproliferation expert. “Whenever he wants. For whatever reason he wants. They think that is just to crazy to be true. But it is true. We have a nuclear monarchy. It is most consequential act any president can take, and it is the least democratic process in our entire government.”

But is the world truly at the mercy of Trump and his psyche? Missiles do start flying immediately after the president gives the command, but is there no outside-the-box method of stopping an off-kilter president from impetuously waging nuclear war? Could Defense Secretary James Mattis block such an order? Could White House chief of staff John Kelly tell the military not to follow it?

Last year, nuclear historian Alex Wellerstein addressed this point:

Could the secretary of defense refuse to carry out a presidential order for a nuclear attack? The legal and constitutional aspects are not clear. The official doctrine that has been released says nothing about this question, and the cryptic public responses to official inquiries, even from Congress, indicate that it is not something that can be openly talked about. “Only the president can authorize the use of nuclear weapons” is essentially the only reply officials ever give to any questions about nuclear controls. Could the president simply fire the defense secretary and move on to the deputy secretary, the secretary of the Army and so on through the chain of command? Maybe. Such an action would at least slow things down, even if the refusal to carry out the order was illegal. But the secretary may not even be formally required to participate — U.S. Air Force doctrine does not indicate he is a necessary part of the chain of command, and holds that the president can communicate directly with the military, in the form of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to order a nuclear strike.
Then there’s the question of whether commanders further down the line would implement launch orders. Wellerstein notes, “The launch officers are trained to launch weapons, not to debate the legality or advisability of the action…While nuclear launch officers are not meant to be strictly mechanical (and indeed, the United States has always resisted fully automating the process), if they stopped to question whether their authenticated orders were legitimate, they would put the credibility of US nuclear deterrence at risk.”

Recently, Bruce Blair, an expert on the command and control of nuclear weapons, also considered this question and said that he believed a presidential launch order would be accepted from top to bottom:
I believe the nuclear commanders at all levels would obey such an order, despite deep misgivings about its wisdom and legality. The military’s thorough subordination to civilian control and deeply ingrained attitude of deference to presidential direction; its well-greased and practiced protocols from top to bottom of the nuclear chain of command, geared to carry out his orders quickly (and to pressure a hesitant president to give the order)—as well as widespread ignorance among the rank and file about the dubious legality of striking first—leave little doubt in my mind that a presidential decision to strike a preventive blow, however misguided and reckless, would not be thwarted. It might be opposed strenuously by his advisers if they had a chance to weigh in, but in the end, they would acquiesce.
Cirincione points out that official protocol calls for Trump only to talk to the deputy director of operations in charge of the Military Command Center—the “war room” at the Pentagon—and the commander of the US Strategic Command. Neither can say no to an attack. As Vox notes, “The officers could try to convince the president not to launch an attack. They could resign on the spot in protest. Even if they did, though, they would most likely be replaced by officers willing to issue the command to strike.” Cirincione adds, “There is no legal requirement that the secretary of defense be included in the conference or the discussion [about launching nuclear weapons].” So Mattis might not even have the chance to weigh in. Possibly he would have no advance notice of a launch order.

There is the anecdote—often repeated—that during the last days of Richard Nixon’s presidency, when he was drinking heavily and despondent, then-Defense Secretary James Schlesinger instructed the military not to react immediately to any military orders from Nixon, especially those involving nuclear weapons. Schlesinger claimed he did this, but the historical record is not clear. And Mattis has no official ability to convey such instructions.

What about a more cinematic scenario? The president wants to send nuclear weapons flying for iffy reasons—and someone tries to physically prevent him from doing so. To initiate an attack, Trump would need access to the briefcase with the command codes. The “nuclear football,” as it’s called, is carried by a military officer who is always within the president’s presence. So what if Mattis or Kelly tells the football carrier to not provide the case to the president? Trump could order whoever tries that to be removed. And what if someone actually wrestled Trump to the ground to stop him from going through with a launch? Secret Service agents would, no doubt, intervene. Few Cabinet officials are a good match for the Secret Service.

Cirincione believes there’s not much that could stop a president from waging nuclear war beyond a “full-scale mutiny.” Before President Barack Obama left office, Cirincione called on him to remove US nuclear weapons from hair-alert status—meaning the president would not need to launch nuclear missiles at the first sign of an attack against the United States. Such a change would provide more time for deliberation within the process for launching nuclear missiles. But it would not fully address the issue of what to do when an unstable person possesses the means to go nuclear entirely on his own say-so.

Trump is an angry man obsessed with revenge and lacking knowledge about nuclear weapons. Yet now he has this end-it-all capability, and national security experts are worried, if not frightened. Anyone who enters the US military must swear an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States and to obey orders from the president and from officers. An unjustified nuclear strike certainly could threaten the existence of the United States (and, thus, the Constitution). So it’s not inconceivable that those two components of the oath could come into profound conflict. Then the survival of the world might depend upon the most unconventional form of civil disobedience.

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Germany’s Schulz says he would demand U.S. withdraw nuclear arms

In Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Politics on August 24, 2017 at 11:39 pm

BERLIN (Reuters, August 23, 2017) – The leader of Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD)
pledged to have U.S. nuclear weapons withdrawn from German territory
if, against the odds, he defeats Angela Merkel to become chancellor
next month.

Addressing a campaign rally in Trier late on Tuesday, SPD leader
Martin Schulz also said he, unlike Merkel, would resist demands by
U.S. President Donald Trump for NATO members to increase their defense
spending.

“Trump wants nuclear armament. We are against this,” Schulz said,
apparently trying to differentiate his party from Merkel’s more
hawkish Christian Democratic Union (CDU). “As chancellor, I will
commit Germany to having the nuclear weapons stationed here withdrawn
from our country,” he said.

About 20 U.S. nuclear warheads are thought to be stationed at a
military base in Buechel, in western Germany, according to unofficial
estimates. The U.S. embassy in Berlin said it does not comment on
nuclear weapons in Germany.

Taking advantage of Trump’s extreme unpopularity in Germany, Schulz
also said he would use the money Merkel had earmarked for increased
military spending for other purposes.

“What to do with our money is the central question of this election,”
he said, referring to a 30 billion-euro tax surplus. “Trump demands
that 2 percent of GDP, 30 billion euros, should go to military
spending, and Merkel agreed to that without asking German citizens.”

Germany and other NATO members had already pledged to raise their
defense spending to 2 percent of gross domestic product before Trump
was elected. While most of them have increased spending on their
militaries, only a few have reached the 2 percent goal, and Germany is
not one of them.

Most recent polls show Schulz’s party polling at around 24 percent,
some 14 percentage points behind Merkel. Most expect a booming economy
and low unemployment will carry her into a fourth term in Sept. 24
elections.

However, with Germans historically wary of using military force since
World War Two, Schulz’s message may resonate among the SPD’s core
voters.

After 12 years in office, Merkel has become increasingly confident on
the global stage. She has pushed for Germany to become more militarily
self-reliant, partly in response to Trump’s hinting that he might
abandon NATO allies if they do not spend more on defense.

Earlier this year, Merkel said the times when Germany could rely on
others to defend it were “to some extent in the past” .

Confession of a nuclear weapons expert

In Democracy, Human rights, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on August 23, 2017 at 9:52 am

Anonymous, August 13, 2017

OK, let’s get straight to the point.
The events of this past week make one thing entirely clear — a few small-minded egotistical men with serious issues have the power to launch a war that will result in the death of hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of people.
At present, the small minded egotistical men in question are Donald Trump (God fucking help us) and Kim Jung Un (!?), but this status quo is so comprehensively insane that this aspect is almost incidental. It could just as easily be Vladimir “creepy vacation pictures” Putin vs. Trump, in which case damn near everyone would be screwed, or some unhinged generals in Pakistan or India, in which case global food supplies would be at risk, in addition to the millions of casualties.
Let’s be clear — I have worked professionally in the field of nuclear arms control for more than 30 years. It has literally been my full-time job to know everything about nuclear weapons policy. I can talk to you about “the counter-force doctrine,” or “Article 6 of the nonproliferation treaty,” or nuclear “modernization,” or the technical differences between submarine launched Trident D5 missiles and B61 gravity bombs, and I can do it until you and I are blue in the face. It is, of course, self-aggrandizing to say this, but I know this issue and I know it deeply, more deeply than most people will ever want to know it.
And here’s the deal: It is all bat-shit crazy.
There is a vast vocabulary of acronyms and a complex universe of organizations with nuanced policy positions. Washington, DC is loaded with institutions known without a hint of irony as “think tanks” that bandy this stuff around with thoughtful panel discussions that would make Franz Kafka proud. I have heard every possible rationalization.
I don’t care whether you’ve got a PhD in international relations or what congressional committee you worked for — there is no possible intellectually defensible position that makes this state of affairs acceptable.
You cannot look at me with a straight face and argue that Donald Trump should decide on any given day whether the bulk of humanity lives to see the next sunrise. Don’t even try because we both know that’s pure bullshit.
If you think the problem is limited to just a few Strangeloves, I’m afraid you’re seriously wrong. I’ve also spent countless hours on Capitol Hill talking to Members of Congress and their staff and the bad news is that almost none of them really comprehend the subject. The most common interaction with a congressional office involves vague ideas and talking points that someone provided them so that they might sound informed, but the reality is that they are mostly clueless. To be fair, there are some legitimate heroes, but you could literally fit the number of people in the US Congress that are committed to addressing this problem into a Volkswagon bus.
In the end (hopefully not), it’s totally whacked. That’s the dirty little secret.
Which brings us to the real question and the hardest one — why for fuck’s sake do we allow this to continue?
Think about it. There are roughly 6 billion people in the world and roughly 9 of them have the power to end the lives of millions of their fellow human beings on any given afternoon. That means that .0000000015% of the human population controls the fate of the other 99.9999999985% of humanity. That includes you, your children, your parents, your lover, your friends, your entire community.
Could anything be more undemocratic? Or indefensible? I think not.
The people you hold close are worth everything to you. They are worth fighting for. It’s time.
Many of us reckon that this is all too confusing and that we need to “leave it to the experts,” but I can absolutely promise you — the experts are never going to solve the problem. NEVER. And waiting for “the other side” to take action first will mean waiting until it is too damn late.
It’s probably worth saying something about the money at about this point. The US alone is poised to spend more than $1 trillion dollars on a new generation of nuclear weapons over the next 15–20 years. And where do you suppose that money is coming from? Your paycheck, plain and simple. You might think it’d be nice to send that on your kids’ tuition. You might want to use the money to rebuild our country’s infrastructure. You might want it in your own damn wallet to pay for the most killer vacation ever. But tough shit. It’s going to new nuclear weapons and I’m guessing they weren’t at the top of your list. And the people from other nuclear countries? They are in the same shitty boat.
It is time for humanity to say no. It is time for the passengers to storm the cabin and fight like hell to survive. Waiting it out in our seat belts is not OK.
I mean this metaphorically of course — but not entirely. We live in a free country. We have a voice.
The situation at hand calls for a revolution. And in this case, I don’t speak metaphorically. I don’t mean a violent revolution, but a revolution in the sense that the existing order needs to be overthrown and overturned by the people that it screws, which you’ll recall, is 99.9999999985% of the people on this planet. It calls for a revolution of the heart and a revolution in our behavior which has allowed this to continue. It calls for a revolution in which the old order is fundamentally discarded and a new order replaces it.
We can do it and we are not alone. We live in a world with 2 billion Facebook users. The patterns of power are changing. Yes, the good people of Russia, or China, or North Korea, or the US might not want to challenge Vladimir, or Xi Jinping, or Kim Jung Un, or the Donald, but we can and we must. Fighting for our survival is not without risks, but it is better than helplessly watching while someone else determines our fate.
Here in the United States if only 10% of the population went on strike and demanded that Congress take much more aggressive steps to control nuclear weapons we could do it. Of course that is an enormously high bar to set but are we so powerless? Setting the bar lower, suppose the same 10% called their Representatives and Senators every day for a month. It takes about 5–10 minutes. It isn’t hard.
Too crazy? Then let’s start smaller and build momentum from there. Senator Ed Markey and Representative Ted Lieu have introduced legislation that would require Trump to obtain congressional approval before launching a nuclear attack. This is a small step in the right direction but it is a step. If you’ve spent more than 10 seconds thinking that this nuclear escalation with North Korea is nuts, than you should absolutely demand that your Senators and your Representative support this bill. Don’t roll over.
Frankly, there are thousands of way to solve this problem and we share a planet filled with smart and inventive people who can put their collective mind to ending this madness. Personally, I don’t claim to know all the answers. But I know one thing with absolute certainty — the “experts” aren’t going to solve the problem, the politicians aren’t going to solve the problem, the talking heads on TV aren’t going to solve the problem, and the 9 people who control the world’s nuclear weapons are literally the last people on earth that are going to solve the problem.
You and I have to do it. We have to seize power over our own fate.

High-Priced Fukushima ice wall nears completion, but effectiveness doubtful

In Cost, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Nuclear powere on August 20, 2017 at 7:21 am

The Mainichi, Japan’s National Daily, August 16, 2017
https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20170816/p2a/00m/0na/016000c
A subterranean ice wall surrounding the nuclear reactors at the stricken Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant to block groundwater from flowing in and out of the plant buildings has approached completion.
Initially, the ice wall was lauded as a trump card in controlling radioactively contaminated water at the plant in Fukushima Prefecture, which was crippled by meltdowns in the wake of the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. But while 34.5 billion yen from government coffers has already been invested in the wall, doubts remain about its effectiveness. Meanwhile, the issue of water contamination looms over decommissioning work.
In a news conference at the end of July, Naohiro Masuda, president and chief decommissioning officer of Fukushima Daiichi Decontamination & Decommissioning Engineering Co., stated, “We feel that the ice wall is becoming quite effective.” However, he had no articulate answer when pressed for concrete details, stating, “I can’t say how effective.”
The ice wall is created by circulating a coolant with a temperature of minus 30 degrees Celsius through 1,568 pipes that extend to a depth of 30 meters below the surface around the plant’s reactors. The soil around the pipes freezes to form a wall, which is supposed to stop groundwater from flowing into the reactor buildings where it becomes contaminated. A total of 260,000 people have worked on creating the wall.The plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) began freezing soil in March last year, and as of Aug. 15, at least 99 percent of the wall had been completed, leaving just a 7-meter section to be frozen.
Soon after the outbreak of the nuclear disaster, about 400 tons of contaminated water was being produced each day. That figure has now dropped to roughly 130 tons. This is largely due to the introduction of a subdrain system in which water is drawn from about 40 wells around the reactor buildings. As for the ice wall, TEPCO has not provided any concrete information on its effectiveness.
An official of the Secretariat of the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) commented, “The subdrain performs the primary role, and the ice wall will probably be effective enough to supplement that.” This indicates that officials have largely backtracked from their designation of the ice wall as an effective means of battling contaminated water, and suggests there is unlikely to be a dramatic decrease in the amount of decontaminated groundwater once the ice wall is fully operational.
TEPCO ordered construction of the ice wall in May 2013 as one of several plans proposed by major construction firms that was selected by the government’s Committee on Countermeasures for Contaminated Water Treatment. In autumn of that year Tokyo was bidding to host the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and the government sought to come to the fore and underscore its measures to deal with contaminated water on the global stage.
Using taxpayers’ money to cover an incident at a private company raised the possibility of a public backlash. But one official connected with the Committee on Countermeasures for Contaminated Water Treatment commented, “It was accepted that public funds could be spent if those funds were for the ice wall, which was a challenging project that had not been undertaken before.” Small-scale ice walls had been created in the past, but the scale of this one — extending 1.5 kilometers and taking years to complete — was unprecedented.
At first, the government and TEPCO explained that an ice wall could be created more quickly than a wall of clay and other barriers, and that if anything went wrong, the wall could be melted, returning the soil to its original state. However, fears emerged that if the level of groundwater around the reactor buildings drops as a result of the ice wall blocking the groundwater, then tainted water inside the reactor buildings could end up at a higher level, causing it to leak outside the building. Officials decided to freeze the soil in stages to measure the effects and effectiveness of the ice wall. As a result, full-scale operation of the wall — originally slated for fiscal 2015 — has been significantly delayed.
Furthermore, during screening by the NRA, which had approved the project, experts raised doubts about how effective the ice wall would be in blocking groundwater. The ironic reason for approving its full-scale operation, in the words of NRA acting head Toyoshi Fuketa, was that, “It has not been effective in blocking water, so we can go ahead with freezing with peace of mind” — without worrying that the level of groundwater surrounding the reactor buildings will decrease, causing the contaminated water inside to flow out.
Maintaining the ice wall will cost over a billion yen a year, and the radiation exposure of workers involved in its maintenance is high. Meanwhile, there are no immediate prospects of being able to repair the basement damage in the reactor buildings at the crippled nuclear plant.
Nagoya University professor emeritus Akira Asaoka commented, “The way things stand, we’ll have to keep maintaining an ice wall that isn’t very effective. We should consider a different type of wall.”
In the meantime, TEPCO continues to be plagued over what to do with treated water at the plant. Tainted water is treated using TEPCO’s multi-nuclide removal equipment to remove 62 types of radioactive substances, but in principle, tritium cannot be removed during this process. Tritium is produced in nature through cosmic rays, and nuclear facilities around the world release it into the sea. The NRA takes the view that there is no problem with releasing treated water into the sea, but there is strong resistance to such a move, mainly from local fishing workers who are concerned about consumer fears that could damage their businesses. TEPCO has built tanks on the grounds of the Fukushima No. 1 plant to hold treated water, and the amount they hold is approaching 800,000 metric tons.
In mid-July, TEPCO Chairman Takashi Kawamura said in an interview with several news organizations that a decision to release the treated water into the sea had “already been made.” A Kyodo News report on his comment stirred a backlash from members of the fishing industry. TEPCO responded with an explanation that the chairman was not stating a course of action, but was merely agreeing with the view of the NRA that there were no problems scientifically with releasing the treated water. However, the anger from his comment has not subsided.
Critical opinions emerged in a subsequent meeting that the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry held in the Fukushima Prefecture city of Iwaki at the end of July regarding the decontamination of reactors and the handling of contaminated water. It was pointed out that prefectural residents had united to combat consumer fears and that they wanted officials to act with care. One participant asked whether the TEPCO chairman really knew about Fukushima.
The ministry has been considering ways to handle the treated water, setting up a committee in November last year that includes experts on risk evaluation and sociology. As of Aug. 15, five meetings had been held, but officials have yet to converge on a single opinion. “It’s not that easy for us to say, ‘Please let us release it.’ It will probably take some time to reach a conclusion,” a government official commented.

Nuclear Modernization Under Obama and Trump Costly, Mismanaged, Unnecessary

In Cost, Democracy, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on August 20, 2017 at 6:49 am

By: Lydia Dennett | August 16, 2016

The United States maintains the strongest nuclear weapons arsenal in the world. We currently have over 1,700 strategic and deadly nuclear warheads deployed at bases across the globe, with thousands more in storage plus thousands more intact and awaiting dismantlement.

It cannot be overstated how truly terrifying their capacity for destruction is. Each warhead is hundreds of times more powerful than the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And that was before the United States began the largest and most expensive nuclear modernization effort the world has ever seen.

President Trump’s response to North Korea’s most recent nuclear posturing references plans to “renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal.” He’s talking about an effort to maintain and upgrade the nuclear warheads themselves, their delivery systems (like submarines and planes), and the infrastructure at nuclear weapons production facilities. It’s an effort that began under President Obama and is likely to cost taxpayers over $1 trillion over the next 30 years.

But if nuclear deterrence is the goal, a $1 trillion modernization effort isn’t necessary. “[T]he thing about a deterrent capability is it does not matter how old it is,” the Commander of US Strategic Command told the Senate Armed Services Committee this past April. “It just matters whether it works…The stuff that we have today will work.”

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has also questioned the scope of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) modernization plans, noting in 2016 that “it’s very, very, very expensive[,]” and asking if “we really need the entire triad, given the situation?”

The nuclear triad refers to the three ways the United States is able to fire nuclear weapons, and each leg will receive an update under the current plan. In fact, several different nuclear warhead types have already begun life extension programs to replace their components and add new capabilities. Those that are in process have followed a simpler, more traditional approach to modernization that involves replacing aging components but leaving the basic nuclear explosive package the same.

For example, the Navy’s W76-1 nuclear warhead, which is deployed on submarine-launched ballistic missiles, has been upgraded to include a “super-fuze” device to make these warheads significantly more accurate so that they will explode close enough to hardened targets—like Russian inter-continental ballistic missile silos—and destroy them completely. Despite the addition of this new capability, the W76 life extension program is expected to finish on time in 2020 and will only cost approximately $4 billion. That’s likely because the changes were modest and didn’t include any modifications to the nuclear explosive package. The B61 nuclear warhead, deployed on the Air Force’s B-2 bombers, is also in the midst of a life extension program. This update will cost more than the bomb’s weight in solid gold—literally—yet is still less expensive than some of the other planned modernization efforts. $1.3 billion will be spent on the bomb’s new tail kit alone, which will add guidance capabilities to the weapons and make them far more accurate. This tail kit will also give the bomb a “dial-a-yield” capability, meaning the bomb’s yield can be lowered in order to attack very specific targets without as many unintentional causalities. Again, no changes will be made to the nuclear explosive package itself.

These enhancements are just the beginning of the nuclear modernization plan, a plan that extends far beyond the warheads themselves. But there are a lot of reasons to question what projects are being advanced in the name of a “modern nuclear arsenal.” The NNSA plans to take a much more aggressive and expensive approach to modernizing some warhead classes despite the fact that doing so will not improve the nuclear deterrence strategy or make the United States any safer. This will be incredibly expensive in and of itself, and will require huge, expensive new facilities to support that work. The agency has proposed building several new facilities to manufacture hundreds of new plutonium and uranium cores for the bombs. The NNSA’s cost estimates for these facilities have skyrocketed and would not be necessary for a more scaled-down, straight forward modernization plan.

While certain components of nuclear weapons must be remanufactured and replaced, the plutonium cores have a lifetime of 150 years and can be reused, dramatically reducing the need to build a brand new plutonium pit production facility. As for the uranium portion of nuclear warheads, sources have told POGO that hundreds of warheads going through the life extension programs have not required remanufactured uranium components.

Yet, the NNSA still plans to spend billions of dollars on new facilities capable of producing these nuclear components for weapons that may not even need them. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is also concerned with the purpose of these facilities, asking the NNSA to clarify specifically what these facilities will do and why we need them, and to develop a

complete

and reliable cost estimate for each proposed project.

But there are a lot of reasons to question what projects are being advanced in the name of a “modern nuclear arsenal.”
NNSA’s nuclear modernization project overall could use some justification. For example, future warhead life extension programs will involve brand new nuclear explosive packages that have never before been tested. These new packages are part of a plan to replace four different missile-carried warheads, two delivered by submarine and two land-based, with three different warheads. They are known as interoperable warheads because they will have a common nuclear explosive package despite being part of different legs of the triad. Development of the first interoperable warhead began in 2012 but was halted in 2014, partially because the Navy didn’t particularly want a new warhead design. Despite their reservations, the NNSA plans to restart their work on the interoperable warheads in 2020.

A peek under the hood of the agency’s cost estimates for the entire modernization effort, which includes both the new warhead designs and the new facilities, shows that additional oversight is needed. Earlier this year, the GAO released a report on the modernization numbers and found NNSA’s plans do not meet realistic budget estimates. The Office of Management and Budget has approved budget estimates for the next five years of the modernization plan so that they align with the President’s 5-year overall federal budget estimates. However, the NNSA has claimed they will need at least an additional $5 billion for some projects between 2018 and 2021. If the agency cannot reconcile the differences between what they say they’ll need and the approved budget estimates, they will have to defer some of the modernization work. “Misalignment between estimates in NNSA’s budget materials and modernization plans raises affordability concerns,” the GAO concluded.

NNSA’s management of contractors, including those conducting this modernization work, has also been notoriously bad—and on the GAO’s list of projects at high risk for waste, fraud, and abuse for years—leading to huge cost increases in the past. This is particularly worrying given that 90 percent of the modernization workforce are contractors, not government employees.

The NNSA’s long history of contractor mismanagement has led to things like budget misalignments, plans to build facilities without a clear mission or complete design, and significant delays in the more ambitious aspects of the nuclear modernization plan. This could leave the NNSA without the resources to fulfill their basic mission: ensuring the US nuclear stockpile is safe and secure. “Program instability poses a significant threat to NNSA’s mission critical capabilities,” an independent advisory group concluded in their review of the nuclear modernization plan.

The NNSA has not proven themselves to be effective stewards of taxpayer dollars, yet they ask Congress to hand over billions of dollars before demonstrating what capabilities they need and before even submitting an accurate cost estimate. It’s time to take a look at how much of this nuclear modernization plan is truly necessary for maintaining an effective nuclear deterrent and how much is just expensive window dressing designed to give nuclear contractors something to do.

lydia dennett
By: Lydia Dennett, Investigator

 

Lydia Dennett is an investigator for the Project On Government Oversight. Lydia works on safety and security of nuclear weapons and power facilities, foreign lobbying and influence, and works with Department of Veterans Affairs whistleblowers.

About the Korean War

In Human rights, Justice, Peace, Politics, War on August 20, 2017 at 4:11 am

 

By Tom Mayer, Peace Trains Column, August 18, 2017

The current crisis with North Korea arises from the unresolved Korean War. Here are some facts about the Korean War unknown to most Americans.

 

1. Japan annexed Korea as a colony in 1910. Japan exploited Korea brutally. The Korean War actually began in the 1930’s as a civil war against Japanese imperialism and against the Koreans who collaborated with Japanese imperialism. Kim Il Sung, the first head of North Korea (and grandfather of the current ruler), was a principal leader of the resistance movement against Japan.

2. During World War Two, grassroots liberation movements sprang up throughout Korea. These movements aimed at redistributing land (which was owned by a tiny elite) and casting off Japanese domination. In addition, over 50 thousand Koreans joined with the Chinese Communists to fight against Japan in Manchuria. These Korean soldiers subsequently helped Mao and his peasant army win the civil war in China. This motivated China to support North Korea in the Korean War.

3. Korea has been a single country for well over a thousand years. Nevertheless the day after the Nagasaki bombing, U.S. government officials (e.g. Dean Acheson and Dean Rusk) chose the 38th parallel – which had no previous relevance in Korean history – as the dividing line between North and South Korea. The purpose was to prevent Soviet troops from occupying the whole of Korea. Neither the Koreans nor the Soviets were consulted about this crucial decision. The 38th parallel has never been a recognized international boundary.

 

4. In order to forestall social revolution in Asia, the Truman administration decided to resurrect Japanese influence within East Asia. In South Korea the U.S. established a government consisting largely of persons who collaborated with Japan during World War Two. This regime brutally repressed all movements for progressive social change. Many thousands of men, women, and children were murdered by government forces and their right wing allies.

5. On June 25, 1950 North Korea launched a full scale invasion of South Korea. Prior to the attack there had been numerous border skirmishes, some of them substantial. The purpose of the invasion was (a) preventing renewed Japanese hegemony over Korea, (b) removing violent Japanese collaborators from power in South Korea, and (c) unifying the country. Although the armies of North and South Korea were of about equal size, the North Korean army proved far superior and enjoyed considerable popular support within the south. Without U.S. military intervention, North Korean forces would have vanquished their foes and unified Korea in less than one month.

6. The United States carpet bombed North Korea for three years with very little concern for civilian casualties. Every North Korean city was destroyed. The U.S. dropped more bombs on North Korea then were used in the entire Pacific theater during World War Two. Extensive use was made of napalm, and employment of nuclear weapons was seriously considered. Neutral observers said that by 1952 North Korea resembled a moonscape.

7. North Korean forces were often ruthless towards civilians, but substantial evidence shows that America’s South Korean allies were considerably more vicious and less discriminating. They frequently slaughtered the entire families of anyone suspected of being a leftist. The U.S. high command generally ignored these atrocities and sometimes participated in them. This happened at Nogun Village in July 1950 when American soldiers machine gunned hundreds of helpless civilians under a railroad bridge.

8. The Korean War was one of the most destructive wars of the 20th century. About three million Koreans died in that war, at least half of whom were civilians. By comparison, Japan lost 2.3 million people in World War Two. The Korean War was never officially ended, and (as current events indicate) could easily be restarted.

Breaking Down the North Korea Crisis. Take a deep breath, don’t panic.

In Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on August 20, 2017 at 3:46 am

By Will Saetren, Geoff Wilson & Tytti Erasto

 

Whatever you might have heard over the last several days, the United States isn’t about to be engulfed in a ball of nuclear fire, courtesy of Kim Jong Un. It’s a little more complicated than that.

That’s not to suggest that the crisis on the Korean peninsula is a trivial matter. North Korea is a demonstrated nuclear power, with a fast emerging Intercontinental Ballistic Missile capability. With every bombastic threat issued by Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un, the two hot headed leaders are falling deeper into a vicious cycle of escalation that could turn very ugly, very fast.

There is a way out, but this means acknowledging just how bad the current situation is. Because Pyongyang relies on nuclear weapons for its security, it won’t give them up voluntarily. The only plausible way to eliminate North Korea’s nuclear arsenal is through military force, which would trigger a war that would likely kill millions.

That fact hasn’t been lost on senior White House officials. In a conversation that appears to have been mistaken for off the record, Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, told a reporter that “there’s no military solution [to North Korea’s nuclear threats], forget it … they got us.”

That leaves the United States with very few options other than to accept a deterrence relationship with North Korea. As distasteful as this sounds, it might not be all that bad, as it is key to much-needed nuclear restraint.

 

The good

Last month, North Korea conducted its first ever ICBM test. Trump promised to respond with “fire and fury,” and tweeted that America is “locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely.” Predictably, North Korea laughed off the president’s remarks as a “load of nonsense” and proceeded to detail plans to fire missiles into the waters off the coast of Guam.

The media response has been predictable. The narrative that emerged is roughly this. North Korea now has the ability to strike the continental United States with nuclear weapons, and war is imminent.

The good news is that is a gross exaggeration. Trump’s “bull in a china shop” approach to North Korea has contributed to the worst crisis we have seen on the Korean peninsula since the 2010 sinking of the patrol boat Cheonan, in which 46 South Korean sailors died. But to suggest that were are on the brink of a nuclear war is sensationalist and irresponsible. Sure, the odds of a miscalculation that could spiral into a full-blown conflict have increased significantly, but the North Korean leadership is not suicidal.

On the contrary, the goal of the Kim regime is survival, and its determination to develop a credible nuclear deterrent is a case in point. North Korea is painfully aware that using nuclear weapons against the United States, or U.S. allies, would guarantee its own destruction. In addition to seeking its own deterrent, North Korea is thus effectively deterred by the United States.

Furthermore, whether or not North Korea has the ability to strike the mainland United States with nuclear weapons is far from certain. The answer to that question depends on who you ask, and who you believe. U.S. intelligence agencies seem to believe this is the case, although they do not specify at what confidence level that assessment is made.

Others, including the South Korean vice defense minister Suh Choo-suk, however, doubt that “North Korea has yet completely gained re-entry technology in material engineering terms.” Evidence has also emerged which indicates that Hwasong-14 might not be as advanced as it appears.

Analysis published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists shows that both tests in July 2017 carried a “dummy payload,” which was much lighter than an actual nuclear warhead and allowed the missiles to reach a far greater altitude than they would have under realistic conditions. This generated exactly the impression that Kim Jong Un wanted to achieve — that North Korea can deliver nuclear warheads to the continental United States.

The bad

The bad news is that the details of North Korean ICBM tests don’t really matter. Even if North Korea does not yet have an operational ICBM, sooner or later it is going to get there. Probably within a year or two. And when it comes to nuclear non-proliferation, North Korea is a lost cause. Since withdrawing from the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2003, the country has built up to 60 nuclear weapons, according to recent estimates from the U.S. intelligence community.

Because Pyongyang sees its nuclear and missile arsenal as a guarantee for survival, no amount of pressure will reverse these developments. In that regard, North Korea is no different from the more established nuclear powers — except that it sees a much more urgent need for a nuclear deterrent due to concerns about U.S.-imposed regime change and preventive strikes.

As much as the United States hates to admit it, this points to the need to accept a deterrence relationship with North Korea. Refusing to do so thus far has only pushed North Korea to boost the credibility of its deterrent by demonstrating readiness to use nuclear weapons and by increasing its arsenal.

As far as some believe that missile defenses will change this equation, they are mistaken. On the one hand, missile defenses are not reliable. Neither the strategic Ground-based Midcourse Defense in the United States nor the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense in South Korea has been tested under realistic conditions, and hence they might not work in a combat situation. Even if they do work, THAAD cannot protect Seoul due to its location.

The ugly

The biggest threat to Seoul, home to 25 million people, and the world’s fourth largest metropolis, would not come from missiles, or nuclear warheads, but thousands of conventional artillery pieces — against which Patriot missile defenses do not provide an answer, either. North Korea also maintains a one-million man army and has one of the world’s largest chemical weapons stockpiles.

Even if the Kim regime refrained from using nuclear weapons, Pentagon officials estimate that the first ninety days of a war on the Korean peninsula could produce 300,000 to 500,000 South Korean and American military casualties, along with hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths. In military terms, that translates to unacceptable losses.

As joint chiefs chairman Marine general Joseph Dunford said, a new Korean war “would be a loss of life unlike any we have experienced in our lifetimes, and I mean anyone who’s been alive since World War II.”

The fact that there are no good military options for eliminating North Korea’s nuclear weapons program might be hard to stomach for some sectors of the country who seem to believe that the only acceptable form of American foreign policy comes in a bomb shaped package.

It’s time to stop living in denial. Last month’s ICBM tests weren’t a game changer. They represented a benchmark that we knew was coming sooner or later. The truth is that the United States has been deadlocked in a conventional deterrence relationship with North Korea for decades.

This points to the need for the United States to come to terms with a nuclear deterrence relationship with North Korea. Such a policy shift might in itself go a long way towards restraining North Korea, as the country would likely deem that its existing capabilities are sufficient to ensure survival. The next step could be to discuss ways to prevent crisis escalation, and seek realistic limits to Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile development.

The alternative is the continuation of the current deadlock, which involves the unacceptable risk of a disastrous war. So you have to ask yourself, should we be so quick to throw away the option of a negotiated settlement with the North Koreans? And if so, do you feel lucky?

Will Saetren is a research associate at the Institute for China-America Studies, where he specializes in nuclear weapons policy. Follow him on Twitter @WillSaetren. Geoffrey Wilson is a policy associate at the Ploughshares Fund, where he focuses on U.S. nuclear and military strategy. Follow him on Twitter @NuclearWilson. Dr. Tytti Erästö is the Roger Hale fellow at the Ploughshares Fund. Follow her on Twitter @TyttiErasto.

 

New Cracks in Russia-gate Foundation

In Democracy, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on August 12, 2017 at 1:03 am

The Russia-gate groupthink always rested on a fragile foundation of dubious analysis and biased guesswork, but now has been shaken by new forensic studies of the purported “hack,” as Patrick Lawrence reported at The Nation.

 

By Patrick Lawrence, The Nation, August 10, 2017

It is now a year since the Democratic National Committee’s mail system was compromised — a year since events in the spring and early summer of 2016 were identified as remote hacks and, in short order, attributed to Russians acting in behalf of Donald Trump.
A great edifice has been erected during this time. President Trump, members of his family, and numerous people around him stand accused of various corruptions and extensive collusion with Russians. Half a dozen simultaneous investigations proceed into these matters. Last week news broke that Special Counsel Robert Mueller had convened a grand jury, which issued its first subpoenas on August 3. Allegations of treason are common; prominent political figures and many media cultivate a case for impeachment.

The President’s ability to conduct foreign policy, notably but not only with regard to Russia, is now crippled. Forced into a corner and having no choice, Trump just signed legislation imposing severe new sanctions on Russia and European companies working with it on pipeline projects vital to Russia’s energy sector. Striking this close to the core of another nation’s economy is customarily considered an act of war, we must not forget.

In retaliation, Moscow has announced that the United States must cut its embassy staff by roughly two-thirds. All sides agree that relations between the United States and Russia are now as fragile as they were during some of the Cold War’s worst moments. To suggest that military conflict between two nuclear powers inches ever closer can no longer be dismissed as hyperbole.

All this was set in motion when the DNC’s mail server was first violated in the spring of 2016 and by subsequent assertions that Russians were behind that “hack” and another such operation, also described as a Russian hack, on July 5. These are the foundation stones of the edifice just outlined.

The evolution of public discourse in the year since is worthy of scholarly study: Possibilities became allegations, and these became probabilities. Then the probabilities turned into certainties, and these evolved into what are now taken to be established truths. By my reckoning, it required a few days to a few weeks to advance from each of these stages to the next. This was accomplished via the indefensibly corrupt manipulations of language repeated incessantly in our leading media.

Lost in a year that often appeared to veer into our peculiarly American kind of hysteria is the absence of any credible evidence of what happened last year and who was responsible for it. It is tiresome to note, but none has been made available. Instead, we are urged to accept the word of institutions and senior officials with long records of deception. These officials profess “high confidence” in their “assessment” as to what happened in the spring and summer of last year — this standing as their authoritative judgment.

Few have noticed since these evasive terms first appeared that an assessment is an opinion, nothing more, and to express high confidence is an upside-down way of admitting the absence of certain knowledge. This is how officials avoid putting their names on the assertions we are so strongly urged to accept — as the record shows many of them have done.

We come now to a moment of great gravity.

There has been a long effort to counter the official narrative we now call “Russiagate.” This effort has so far focused on the key events noted above, leaving numerous others still to be addressed. Until recently, researchers undertaking this work faced critical shortcomings, and these are to be explained. But they have achieved significant new momentum in the past several weeks, and what they have done now yields very consequential fruit.

Forensic investigators, intelligence analysts, system designers, program architects, and computer scientists of long experience and strongly credentialed are now producing evidence disproving the official version of key events last year. Their work is intricate and continues at a kinetic pace as we speak. But its certain results so far are two, simply stated, and freighted with implications:

There was no hack of the Democratic National Committee’s system on July 5 last year — not by the Russians, not by anyone else. Hard science now demonstrates it was a leak — a download executed locally with a memory key or a similarly portable data-storage device. In short, it was an inside job by someone with access to the DNC’s system. This casts serious doubt on the initial “hack,” as alleged, that led to the very consequential publication of a large store of documents on WikiLeaks last summer.
Forensic investigations of documents made public two weeks prior to the July 5 leak by the person or entity known as Guccifer 2.0 show that they were fraudulent: Before Guccifer posted them they were adulterated by cutting and pasting them into a blank template that had Russian as its default language. Guccifer took responsibility on June 15 for an intrusion the DNC reported on June 14 and professed to be a WikiLeaks source — claims essential to the official narrative implicating Russia in what was soon cast as an extensive hacking operation. To put the point simply, forensic science now devastates this narrative.
New Analyses

This article is based on an examination of the documents these forensic experts and intelligence analysts have produced, notably the key papers written over the past several weeks, as well as detailed interviews with many of those conducting investigations and now drawing conclusions from them. Before proceeding into this material, several points bear noting.

 

One, there are many other allegations implicating Russians in the 2016 political process. The work I will now report upon does not purport to prove or disprove any of them. Who delivered documents to WikiLeaks? Who was responsible for the “phishing” operation penetrating John Podesta’s e-mail in March 2016?

We do not know the answers to such questions. It is entirely possible, indeed, that the answers we deserve and must demand could turn out to be multiple: One thing happened in one case, another thing in another. The new work done on the mid-June and July 5 events bears upon all else in only one respect. We are now on notice: Given that we now stand face to face with very considerable cases of duplicity, it is imperative that all official accounts of these many events be subject to rigorously skeptical questioning. Do we even know that John Podesta’s e-mail was in fact “phished”? What evidence of this has been produced? Such rock-bottom questions as these must now be posed in all other cases.

Two, houses built on sand and made of cards are bound to collapse, and there can be no surprise that the one resting atop the “hack theory,” as we can call the prevailing wisdom on the DNC events, appears to be in the process of doing so.

Neither is there anything far-fetched in a reversal of the truth of this magnitude. American history is replete with similar cases. The Spanish sank the Maine in Havana harbor in February 1898. Iran’s Mossadegh was a Communist. Guatemala’s Árbenz represented a Communist threat to the United States. Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh was a Soviet puppet. The Sandinistas were Communists. The truth of the Maine, a war and a revolution in between, took a century to find the light of day, whereupon the official story disintegrated. We can do better now. It is an odd sensation to live through one of these episodes, especially one as big as Russiagate. But its place atop a long line of precedents can no longer be disputed.

Three, regardless of what one may think about the investigations and conclusions I will now outline — and, as noted, these investigations continue — there is a bottom line attaching to them. We can even call it a red line. Under no circumstance can it be acceptable that the relevant authorities — the National Security Agency, the Justice Department (via the Federal Bureau of Investigation), and the Central Intelligence Agency — leave these new findings without reply. Not credibly, in any case. Forensic investigators, prominent among them people with decades’ experience at high levels in these very institutions, have put a body of evidence on a table previously left empty. Silence now, should it ensue, cannot be written down as an admission of duplicity, but it will come very close to one.

It requires no elaboration to apply the above point to the corporate media, which have been flaccidly satisfied with official explanations of the DNC matter from the start.

Qualified experts working independently of one another began to examine the DNC case immediately after the July 2016 events. Prominent among these is a group comprising former intelligence officers, almost all of whom previously occupied senior positions. Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), founded in 2003, now has 30 members, including a few associates with backgrounds in national-security fields other than intelligence. The chief researchers active on the DNC case are four: William Binney, formerly the NSA’s technical director for world geopolitical and military analysis and designer of many agency programs now in use; Kirk Wiebe, formerly a senior analyst at the NSA’s SIGINT Automation Research Center; Edward Loomis, formerly technical director in the NSA’s Office of Signal Processing; and Ray McGovern, an intelligence analyst for nearly three decades and formerly chief of the CIA’s Soviet Foreign Policy Branch. Most of these men have decades of experience in matters concerning Russian intelligence and the related technologies. This article reflects numerous interviews with all of them conducted in person, via Skype, or by telephone.

The customary VIPS format is an open letter, typically addressed to the President. The group has written three such letters on the DNC incident, all of which were first published by Robert Parry at http://www.consortiumnews.com. Here is the latest, dated July 24; it blueprints the forensic work this article explores in detail. They have all argued that the hack theory is wrong and that a locally executed leak is the far more likely explanation.

In a letter to Barack Obama dated January 17, three days before he left office, the group explained that the NSA’s known programs are fully capable of capturing all electronic transfers of data. “We strongly suggest that you ask NSA for any evidence it may have indicating that the results of Russian hacking were given to WikiLeaks,” the letter said. “If NSA cannot produce such evidence — and quickly — this would probably mean it does not have any.”

The day after Parry published this letter, Obama gave his last press conference as President, at which he delivered one of the great gems among the official statements on the DNC e-mail question. “The conclusions of the intelligence community with respect to the Russian hacking,” the legacy-minded Obama said, “were not conclusive.” There is little to suggest the VIPS letter prompted this remark, but it is typical of the linguistic tap-dancing many officials connected to the case have indulged so as to avoid putting their names on the hack theory and all that derives from it.

Cyber-Evidence

Until recently there was a serious hindrance to the VIPS’s work, and I have just suggested it. The group lacked access to positive data. It had no lump of cyber-material to place on its lab table and analyze, because no official agency had provided any.

Donald Rumsfeld famously argued with regard to the WMD question in Iraq, “The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” In essence, Binney and others at VIPS say this logic turns upside down in the DNC case: Based on the knowledge of former officials such as Binney, the group knew that (1) if there was a hack and (2) if Russia was responsible for it, the NSA would have to have evidence of both. Binney and others surmised that the agency and associated institutions were hiding the absence of evidence behind the claim that they had to maintain secrecy to protect NSA programs.

“Everything that they say must remain classified is already well-known,” Binney said in an interview. “They’re playing the Wizard of Oz game.”

New findings indicate this is perfectly true, but until recently the VIPS experts could produce only “negative evidence,” as they put it: The absence of evidence supporting the hack theory demonstrates that it cannot be so. That is all VIPS had. They could allege and assert, but they could not conclude: They were stuck demanding evidence they did not have — if only to prove there was none.

Research into the DNC case took a fateful turn in early July, when forensic investigators who had been working independently began to share findings and form loose collaborations wherein each could build on the work of others. In this a small, new website called http://www.disobedientmedia.com proved an important catalyst. Two independent researchers selected it, Snowden-like, as the medium through which to disclose their findings.

One of these is known as Forensicator and the other as Adam Carter. On July 9, Adam Carter sent Elizabeth Vos, a co-founder of Disobedient Media, a paper by the Forensicator that split the DNC case open like a coconut.

By this time Binney and the other technical-side people at VIPS had begun working with a man named Skip Folden. Folden was an IT executive at IBM for 33 years, serving 25 years as the IT program manager in the United States. He has also consulted for Pentagon officials, the FBI, and the Justice Department. Folden is effectively the VIPS group’s liaison to Forensicator, Adam Carter, and other investigators, but neither Folden nor anyone else knows the identity of either Forensicator or Adam Carter. This bears brief explanation.

The Forensicator’s July 9 document indicates he lives in the Pacific Time Zone, which puts him on the West Coast. His notes describing his investigative procedures support this. But little else is known of him. Adam Carter, in turn, is located in England, but the name is a coy pseudonym: It derives from a character in a BBC espionage series called Spooks. It is protocol in this community, Elizabeth Vos told me in a telephone conversation this week, to respect this degree of anonymity.

Kirk Wiebe, the former SIGINT analyst at the NSA, thinks Forensicator could be “someone very good with the FBI,” but there is no certainty. Unanimously, however, all the analysts and forensics investigators interviewed for this column say Forensicator’s advanced expertise, evident in the work he has done, is unassailable. They hold a similarly high opinion of Adam Carter’s work.

Forensicator is working with the documents published by Guccifer 2.0, focusing for now on the July 5 intrusion into the DNC server. The contents of Guccifer’s files are known — they were published last September — and are not Forensicator’s concern. His work is with the metadata on those files. These data did not come to him via any clandestine means. Forensicator simply has access to them that others did not have. It is this access that prompts Kirk Wiebe and others to suggest that Forensicator may be someone with exceptional talent and training inside an agency such as the FBI.

“Forensicator unlocked and then analyzed what had been the locked files Guccifer supposedly took from the DNC server,” Skip Folden explained in an interview. “To do this he would have to have ‘access privilege,’ meaning a key.”

What has Forensicator proven since he turned his key? How? What has work done atop Forensicator’s findings proven? How?

The Transfer Rate

Forensicator’s first decisive findings, made public in the paper dated July 9, concerned the volume of the supposedly hacked material and what is called the transfer rate — the time a remote hack would require. The metadata established several facts in this regard with granular precision: On the evening of July 5, 2016, 1,976 megabytes of data were downloaded from the DNC’s server. The operation took 87 seconds. This yields a transfer rate of 22.7 megabytes per second.

These statistics are matters of record and essential to disproving the hack theory. No Internet service provider, such as a hacker would have had to use in mid-2016, was capable of downloading data at this speed. Compounding this contradiction, Guccifer claimed to have run his hack from Romania, which, for numerous reasons technically called delivery overheads, would slow down the speed of a hack even further from maximum achievable speeds.

What is the maximum achievable speed? Forensicator recently ran a test download of a comparable data volume (and using a server speed not available in 2016) 40 miles from his computer via a server 20 miles away and came up with a speed of 11.8 megabytes per second — half what the DNC operation would need were it a hack. Other investigators have built on this finding. Folden and Edward Loomis say a survey published August 3, 2016, by http://www.speedtest.net/reports is highly reliable and use it as their thumbnail index. It indicated that the highest average ISP speeds of first-half 2016 were achieved by Xfinity and Cox Communications. These speeds averaged 15.6 megabytes per second and 14.7 megabytes per second, respectively. Peak speeds at higher rates were recorded intermittently but still did not reach the required 22.7 megabytes per second.

“A speed of 22.7 megabytes is simply unobtainable, especially if we are talking about a transoceanic data transfer,” Folden said. “Based on the data we now have, what we’ve been calling a hack is impossible.” Last week Forensicator reported on a speed test he conducted more recently. It tightens the case considerably. “Transfer rates of 23 MB/s (Mega Bytes per second) are not just highly unlikely, but effectively impossible to accomplish when communicating over the Internet at any significant distance,” he wrote. “Further, local copy speeds are measured, demonstrating that 23 MB/s is a typical transfer rate when using a USB–2 flash device (thumb drive).”

Time stamps in the metadata provide further evidence of what happened on July 5. The stamps recording the download indicate that it occurred in the Eastern Daylight Time Zone at approximately 6:45 pm. This confirms that the person entering the DNC system was working somewhere on the East Coast of the United States.

In theory the operation could have been conducted from Bangor or Miami or anywhere in between — but not Russia, Romania, or anywhere else outside the EDT zone. Combined with Forensicator’s findings on the transfer rate, the time stamps constitute more evidence that the download was conducted locally, since delivery overheads — conversion of data into packets, addressing, sequencing times, error checks, and the like — degrade all data transfers conducted via the Internet, more or less according to the distance involved.

Russian ‘Fingerprints’

In addition, there is the adulteration of the documents Guccifer 2.0 posted on June 15, when he made his first appearance. This came to light when researchers penetrated what Folden calls Guccifer’s top layer of metadata and analyzed what was in the layers beneath. They found that the first five files Guccifer made public had each been run, via ordinary cut-and-paste, through a single template that effectively immersed them in what could plausibly be cast as Russian fingerprints. They were not: The Russian markings were artificially inserted prior to posting. “It’s clear,” another forensics investigator self-identified as HET, wrote in a report on this question, “that metadata was deliberately altered and documents were deliberately pasted into a Russianified [W]ord document with Russian language settings and style headings.”

To be noted in this connection: The list of the CIA’s cyber-tools WikiLeaks began to release in March and labeled Vault 7 includes one called Marble that is capable of obfuscating the origin of documents in false-flag operations and leaving markings that point to whatever the CIA wants to point to. (The tool can also “de-obfuscate” what it has obfuscated.) It is not known whether this tool was deployed in the Guccifer case, but it is there for such a use.

It is not yet clear whether documents now shown to have been leaked locally on July 5 were tainted to suggest Russian hacking in the same way the June 15 Guccifer release was. This is among several outstanding questions awaiting answers, and the forensic scientists active on the DNC case are now investigating it.

In a note Adam Carter sent to Folden and McGovern last week and copied to me, he reconfirmed the corruption of the June 15 documents, while indicating that his initial work on the July 5 documents — of which much more is to be done — had not yet turned up evidence of doctoring.

In the meantime, VIPS has assembled a chronology that imposes a persuasive logic on the complex succession of events just reviewed. It is this:

On June 12 last year, Julian Assange announced that WikiLeaks had and would publish documents pertinent to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
On June 14, CrowdStrike, a cyber-security firm hired by the DNC, announced, without providing evidence, that it had found malware on DNC servers and had evidence that Russians were responsible for planting it.
On June 15, Guccifer 2.0 first appeared, took responsibility for the “hack” reported on June 14 and claimed to be a WikiLeaks source. It then posted the adulterated documents just described.
On July 5, Guccifer again claimed he had remotely hacked DNC servers, and the operation was instantly described as another intrusion attributable to Russia. Virtually no media questioned this account.
It does not require too much thought to read into this sequence. With his June 12 announcement, Assange effectively put the DNC on notice that it had a little time, probably not much, to act preemptively against the imminent publication of damaging documents. Did the DNC quickly conjure Guccifer from thin air to create a cyber-saboteur whose fingers point to Russia? There is no evidence of this one way or the other, but emphatically it is legitimate to pose the question in the context of the VIPS chronology. WikiLeaks began publishing on July 22. By that time, the case alleging Russian interference in the 2016 elections process was taking firm root. In short order Assange would be written down as a “Russian agent.”

By any balanced reckoning, the official case purporting to assign a systematic hacking effort to Russia, the events of mid-June and July 5 last year being the foundation of this case, is shabby to the point taxpayers should ask for their money back. The Intelligence Community Assessment, the supposedly definitive report featuring the “high confidence” dodge, was greeted as farcically flimsy when issued January 6.

Ray McGovern calls it a disgrace to the intelligence profession. It is spotlessly free of evidence, front to back, pertaining to any events in which Russia is implicated.

‘Hand-Picked’ Analysts

James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, admitted in May that “hand-picked” analysts from three agencies (not the 17 previously reported) drafted the ICA.

 

There is a way to understand “hand-picked” that is less obvious than meets the eye: The report was sequestered from rigorous agency-wide reviews. This is the way these people have spoken to us for the past year.

Behind the ICA lie other indefensible realities. The FBI has never examined the DNC’s computer servers — an omission that is beyond preposterous. It has instead relied on the reports produced by Crowdstrike, a firm that drips with conflicting interests well beyond the fact that it is in the DNC’s employ. Dmitri Alperovitch, its co-founder and chief technology officer, is on the record as vigorously anti-Russian. He is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, which suffers the same prejudice. Problems such as this are many.

“We continue to stand by our report,” CrowdStrike said, upon seeing the VIPS blueprint of the investigation. CrowdStrike argues that by July 5 all malware had been removed from the DNC’s computers. But the presence or absence of malware by that time is entirely immaterial, because the event of July 5 is proven to have been a leak and not a hack. Given that malware has nothing to do with leaks, CrowdStrike’s logic appears to be circular.

In effect, the new forensic evidence considered here lands in a vacuum. We now enter a period when an official reply should be forthcoming. What the forensic people are now producing constitutes evidence, however one may view it, and it is the first scientifically derived evidence we have into any of the events in which Russia has been implicated. The investigators deserve a response, the betrayed professionals who formed VIPS as the WMD scandal unfolded in 2003 deserve it, and so do the rest of us. The cost of duplicity has rarely been so high.

I concluded each of the interviews conducted for this column by asking for a degree of confidence in the new findings. These are careful, exacting people as a matter of professional training and standards, and I got careful, exacting replies.

All those interviewed came in between 90 percent and 100 percent certain that the forensics prove out. I have already quoted Skip Folden’s answer: impossible based on the data.

“The laws of physics don’t lie,” Ray McGovern volunteered at one point.

“It’s QED, theorem demonstrated,” William Binney said in response to my question. “There’s no evidence out there to get me to change my mind.” When I asked Edward Loomis, a 90 percent man, about the 10 percent he held out, he replied, “I’ve looked at the work and it shows there was no Russian hack. But I didn’t do the work. That’s the 10 percent. I’m a scientist.”

Editor’s note: In its chronology, VIPS mistakenly gave the wrong date for CrowdStrike’s announcement of its claim to have found malware on DNC servers. It said June 15, when it should have said June 14. VIPS has acknowledged the error, and we have made the correction.

Patrick Lawrence is a longtime columnist, essayist, critic, and lecturer, whose most recent books are Somebody Else’s Century: East and West in a Post-Western World and Time No Longer: America After the American Century. His website is patricklawrence.us. [This article was originally published at The Nation at https://www.thenation.com/article/a-new-report-raises-big-questions-about-last-years-dnc-hack/ ]

MORE THAN 60 MEMBERS OF CONGRESS REJECT TRUMP STATEMENTS ON NORTH KOREA

In Democracy, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on August 12, 2017 at 12:22 am

Administration Urged to Act with Restraint and Adhere to Diplomatic Approach

Washington, D.C. – More than 60 Members of Congress, working from their home districts during recess, came together to write an urgent letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to express “profound concern” over “irresponsible and dangerous” statements made by President Trump and to urge Tillerson to do everything in his power “to ensure that President Trump and other Administration officials understand the importance of speaking and acting with the utmost caution and restraint on this delicate issue.”

The letter warns that “Congress and the American public will hold President Trump responsible if a careless or ill-advised miscalculation results in conflict that endangers our servicemembers and regional allies,” and asks the Administration to reaffirm its understanding of the longstanding Constitutional principles that pre-emptive strikes on another nation must be authorized by Congress.

The Congressmembers indicate their strong support for Tillerson’s recent statements calling for direct talks with North Korea and offering assurances that our country is not their enemy and does not seek war or regime change.

The letter notes that Tillerson’s approach accords with that urged by 64 Members of Congress in a May letter to President Trump, and is also backed by leading experts on US-North Korea policy, including former Secretary of Defense William Perry, former Secretary of State George Schultz and former Senator Richard Lugar who have stated that our country “should make clear that the United States does not have hostile intentions toward North Korea.”

Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) said, “As a veteran of the Korean War, I am ashamed that our Commander-in-Chief is conducting himself in a reckless manner that endangers our troops stationed in Korea and our regional allies. Trump must immediately cease talk of pre-emptive war—which must be authorized by Congress—and commit to the diplomatic path advocated by both American experts and the South Korean government.”

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) said, “President Trump’s belligerent rhetoric is dangerous. Instead of saber-rattling, this Administration should pursue direct talks with North Korea to de-escalate tensions.”

Rep. Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam) said, “President Trump’s statements were unhelpful, dangerous and raised tensions with North Korea higher than we have previously seen. This has led to North Korea directly threatening nearly 168,000 American citizens living in my home district of Guam. While I have great confidence in our military’s capabilities in the Pacific and appreciate that the DoD has deployed proven missile defense systems in the region, including a THAAD battery on Guam, President Trump must show steady leadership to prevent further escalating tensions. I join Representative Conyers and my Democratic colleagues in calling on the Trump Administration to work with the international community and engage in diplomatic discussions with North Korea. It is imperative that President Trump and his Administration work towards a peaceful solution to this situation and refrain from any action that could lead toward a military conflict.”

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) said, “Now is the not the time to encourage North Korea to make additional threats. Nearly 50 members of the House recognize that we need assured leadership in regards to the situation with North Korea and urge the State Department to choose diplomacy over a show of force.”

An Economist/YouGov poll conducted from April 29 to May 2, 2017, found that 60 percent of Americans support “direct negotiations between the United States and North Korea” to end North Korea’s nuclear program, while 10 percent were somewhat opposed and 8 percent strongly opposed. 63 percent of Democrats and 65 percent of Republicans support direct negotiations with North Korea.

Today’s letter was led by Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (MI-13). Signatories include: Reps. Ro Khanna (CA-17), Barbara Lee (CA-13), Madeleine Z. Bordallo (GU), Alma S. Adams (NC-12), Nanette Diaz Barragán (CA-44), Karen Bass (CA-37), Don S. Beyer Jr. (VA-08), Earl Blumenauer (OR-03), Lisa Blunt Rochester (DE-AL), Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01), Salud O. Carbajal (CA-24), Judy Chu (CA-27), David N. Cicilline (RI-01), Emanuel L. Cleaver, II (MO-05), Steve Cohen (TN-09), Danny K. Davis (IL-07), Mark DeSaulnier (CA-10), Lloyd Doggett (TX-35), Michael F. Doyle (PA-14), Keith Ellison (MN-05), Dwight Evans (PA-02), Marcia L. Fudge (OH-11), Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02), Al Green (TX-09), Raúl M. Grijalva (AZ-03), Luis V. Gutiérrez (IL-04), Colleen Hanabusa (HI-01), Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20), Jared Huffman (CA-02), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Jr. (GA-04), Daniel T. Kildee (MI-05), Al Lawson, Jr. (FL-05), Brenda L. Lawrence (MI-14), Ted W. Lieu (CA-33), Alan S. Lowenthal (CA-47), Betty McCollum(MN-04), James P. McGovern (MA-02), Gwen Moore (WI-04), Jerrold Nadler (NY-10), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC-AL), Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ-06), Donald M. Payne, Jr. (NJ-10), Chellie Pingree (ME-01), Mark Pocan (WI-02), Jamie Raskin (MD-08), Janice D. Schakowsky (IL-09), Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (VA-03), José E. Serrano (NY-15), Carol Shea-Porter (NH-01), Louise Slaughter (NY-25), Jackie Speier (CA-14), Darren Soto (FL-09), Niki Tsongas (MA-03), Nydia M. Velázquez (NY-07), Timothy J. Walz (MN-01), Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12), Peter Welch (VT-AL), and Frederica Wilson (FL-24), John A. Yarmuth (KY-03).

Full text of the letter is available here and below.

Dear Secretary Tillerson,

We write to express our profound concern over the statements made by President Trump that dramatically increased tensions with North Korea and raised the specter of nuclear war. These statements are irresponsible and dangerous, and also senselessly provide a boon to domestic North Korean propaganda which has long sought to portray the United States as a threat to their people.

Accordingly, we respectfully but firmly urge you to do everything in your power to ensure that President Trump and other Administration officials understand the importance of speaking and acting with the utmost caution and restraint on this delicate issue. Congress and the American public will hold President Trump responsible if a careless or ill-advised miscalculation results in conflict that endangers our servicemembers and regional allies. To allay these concerns, the Trump Administration should publicly declare its agreement with the constitutional requirement that any preemptive attack on North Korea must be debated and authorized by Congress.

As 64 Members of Congress wrote in May, “Military action against North Korea was considered by the Obama, Bush and Clinton Administrations, but all ultimately determined there was no military option that would not run the unacceptable risk of a counter-reaction from Pyongyang [that] could immediately threaten the lives of as many as a third of the South Korean population, put nearly 30,000 U.S. service members and over 100,000 other U.S. citizens residing in South Korea in grave danger, and also threaten other regional allies such as Japan.” Simply put, there is no military solution to this problem.

We strongly support your recent statements calling for direct talks with North Korea and offering assurances that our country is not their enemy and does not seek war or regime change. This accords with the approach that 64 Members of Congress urged in the letter to President Trump, and is also backed by leading experts on US-North Korea policy, including former Secretary of Defense William Perry, former Secretary of State George Schultz and former Senator Richard Lugar who have stated that our country “should make clear that the United States does not have hostile intentions toward North Korea.”

An approach that includes these elements has shown promise in the past. In 1994, after North Korea’s announced their intent to withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), the United States and North Korea engaged in direct diplomacy, resulting in the Agreed Framework. Under the pact, Pyongyang agreed to freeze its nuclear program, while U.S. committed to provide fuel for electricity to offset the power lost from shutting down their plutonium reactor. Despite allegations from both sides of non-compliance with the agreement, North Korea did not reopen their plutonium reactor, and in October 2000, the two countries pledged in writing that neither would have “hostile intent” towards the other. This progress was regrettably and unnecessarily halted after the Bush Administration took office, as then-Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton publicly admitted that he was “looking for [a hammer] to shatter the Agreed Framework.” We are grateful that you understand the urgent need to make a good faith effort to replicate these successes and we urge you to minimize preconditions in order to bring the North Koreans to the table and commence dialogue at the earliest possible date.

Finally, we respectfully request your assistance in receiving a response to our initial inquiry in our May letter. Kindly provide us information about the specific steps your Administration is taking to advance the prospects for direct negotiations that could lower the potential for catastrophic war and ultimately lead to the denuclearization of the peninsula. We also request any plans you may have to address important humanitarian issues of mutual concern such as the reunification of Korean and Korean-American families as well as the repatriation of the remains of US servicemen left in North Korea following the War, including whether these or other humanitarian efforts will be impeded by your newly announced travel ban.

We look forward to working with you to support crucial diplomatic initiatives and avoid catastrophic war.

US Labor peace group writes:

In Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on August 11, 2017 at 9:43 pm

“The Solidarity Peace Delegation, concluding their July 23-28 visit to South Korea, called for immediate US-South Korean action to de-escalate growing military tensions on the Korean Peninsula. The delegation was composed of Medea Benjamin of CODEPINK, Reece Chenault of US Labor Against the War, Will Griffin of Veterans for Peace, and recent Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein. It was sponsored by The Channing and Popai Liem Education Foundation and the Task Force to Stop THAAD in Korea and Militarism in Asia (STIK). US Labor Against the War created new connections with the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU,) forging what we hope will be a lasting bond between organizations.”

The Korean Peninsula is rapidly approaching the boiling point.

Yesterday, North Korean officials released a statement through the Korean Central News Agency, a state-run media outlet, in response to the U.N. Security Council’s unanimous approval of sanctions on Aug. 5 to penalize the isolated regime for its nuclear and missile programs.

“Packs of wolves are coming in attack to strangle a nation,” the North Korean statement said. “They should be mindful that the D.P.R.K.’s strategic steps accompanied by physical action will be taken mercilessly with the mobilization of all its national strength,” it added, using the initials for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

North Korea said it was “carefully examining” plans to strike the US territory after Donald Trump launched a furious tirade at Kim Jong-un, warning that North Korea would be met with “fire and fury” if the rogue state continued to threaten America.

North and South Korea have lived in a perpetual wartime mobilization for decades, with the presence in the South of 83 US bases and nearly 30,000 US troops.

The Solidarity Peace Delegation, concluding their July 23-28 visit to South Korea, called for immediate US-South Korean action to de-escalate growing military tensions on the Korean Peninsula. The delegation was composed of Medea Benjamin of CODEPINK, Reece Chenault of US Labor Against the War, Will Griffin of Veterans for Peace, and recent Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein. It was sponsored by The Channing and Popai Liem Education Foundation and the Task Force to Stop THAAD in Korea and Militarism in Asia (STIK). US Labor Against the War created new connections with the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU,) forging what we hope will be a lasting bond between organizations.

In times like these it is important for us to show that our bond is more than mere words, so we ask that you do the following:
· Join the emergency overnight vigil at the White House. It starts at 5 PMand will go until the following morning.
· Ask Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to reopen the lines of communication. If you want to do something immediately but don’t live in DC this is a good option. A petition is being circulated through CodePINK. Please take the time to fill it out and share with others. CodePINK.org/Tillerson
· Follow us as we continue to talk about our efforts in Korea on our blog. For information about labor in the Korean Peninsula and Reece’s recent trip, go to uslawinkorean.com as we will continue to post every day. It’s important that we know more about the struggle of our brothers and sisters so that we can be informed allies ready to answer the call when they need us. Moments like this one illustrate just how critical this connection can be.

US Labor Against the War remains committed to standing in solidarity with our brothers and sisters on the Korean Peninsula. Peace can’t just be hoped for, it must be worked toward. We in the labor movement are no strangers to hard work and will continue striving on. As our South Korean trade union allies taught us during our visit – No to war, yes to peace!

In Solidarity,

US Labor Against the War

http://www.michaelmunk.com