October 17th, 2011
10:29 PM ET

Sanctions and Stuxnet hurting Iran's nuclear ambitions

By Adam Levine and Pam Benson

Iran's Natanz facility

Iran's efforts to develop its nuclear program have been stymied by a slew of challenges from international sanctions and set back by the 2010 Stuxnet cyber attack, two new reports from a Washington nuclear think tank conclude.

The report by former weapons inspector David Albright's Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS)  says Iran has been forced to use inferior parts and weaker metals, according to officials the group has spoken to at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) because sanctions have limited access to needed materials.

"Ten years after the start of construction at the Natanz enrichment site, the probability that Iran will build tens of thousands of centrifuges seems remote based on their faulty performance," one of the reports notes. "Even with advanced centrifuges, Iran may be blocked by sanctions from building advanced centrifuges in large enough numbers."

The Natanz enrichment site was crippled when a computer virus attacked a portion of the centrifuges. But the ISIS report notes enrichment numbers have rebounded to a higher level than before Stuxnet, after a brief dip. But the IAEA noted in recent reports that not all the centrifuges are necessarily enriching. Albright's report says that the Stuxnet worm may have decreased the lifespan of aging centrifuges, even if they were not broken right away, by forcing them to spin at altered speeds. FULL POST

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Filed under: Iran • Nuclear • Sanctions • Stuxnet • Think tank
October 17th, 2011
06:54 PM ET

39,000 troops out by the end of year?

From CNN Pentagon Correspondent Chris Lawrence

Secretary Panetta on Monday insisted negotiations are still on going between the United States and Iraq over whether the U.S. will keep troops in Iraq past December 31st.

"At the present time, I'm not discouraged because we're still in negotiations with the Iraqis,” said Panetta.

And while the Pentagon spokesman said time is running short, Panetta says there is no specific day when it will be too late to negotiate.

"There is no drop-dead date,” said Panetta

A senior military official tells CNN the US and Iraq could not agree on giving American troops immunity past the end of this year.

October 17th, 2011
06:27 PM ET

With a name like Yucca, it's gonna be a hard sell

By CNN Senior Producer Mike M. Ahlers

How's this for a real estate buzz kill?

AVAILABLE: MOUNTAIN PROPERTY. Convenient to nowhere. Accessible via deteriorating roads. Features one mountain containing a five-mile U-shaped tunnel, going nowhere. Use the railroad tracks in the tunnel at your own risk. On-site buildings do not meet OSHA standards. Must be willing to deal with three government landlords. Property encumbered by lawsuits galore.

That, in essence, is a description of Yucca Mountain, Nevada.

Filed under: Congress • Nuclear
Even spies not immune to budget cuts
CIA seal on floor at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia Photo By: CIA
October 17th, 2011
06:26 PM ET

Even spies not immune to budget cuts

By CNN Sr. National Security Producer Pam Benson

The dramatic increases in the U.S. intelligence budget are coming to a screeching halt with billions of dollars in cuts expected over the next decade, according to the nation's chief intelligence officer.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the GeoInt conference in San Antonio, Texas, on Monday that the cuts will be double-digit billions over the next 10 years for the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the other groups that make up the 16-member intelligence community.

The total amount spent for non-military and battlefield intelligence was approximately $80 billion for the fiscal year that ended last month, more than double what it was prior to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack.

Clapper told CNN the cuts mandated by the Office of Management and Budget represents a lot of money, but the community has "pretty much figured out a way to do" it. He warned, however, that it will mean accepting some risk.

"I'm trying to use this as well as an opportunity to make some improvements. It's bad, but it's not all doom and gloom, but to be clear, we will be accepting some risk. We will not have quite the capability that we have today, which is very substantial," he said.


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Filed under: 9/11 • CIA • Clapper • Intelligence • ODNI • Terrorism
Know your surface-to-air missiles
October 17th, 2011
04:43 PM ET

The U.S. field guide to Libya's missing weapons

The U.S. has started distributing this "MANPADS Recognition Guide" to countries bordering Libya as part of the expanded effort to help track down and secure surface-to-air missles and related equipment that have been looted from Libyan weapons bunkers.  The document is being provided so border guards can more easily identify the different parts and prevent weapons smuggling.

The pamphlet has been distributed in various languages including English, Arabic and French.  Security Clearance was provided an English-language version of the pamphlet by the State Department.

Filed under: Algeria • Diplomacy • Egypt • Gadhafi • Libya • Morocco • NTC
October 17th, 2011
10:28 AM ET

Inside a government computer attack excercise

By CNN's Mike M. Ahlers

Forget, for the moment, about computer whiz kids who download copyrighted music for free.

Forget, too, about sophisticated hackers who can steal identities.

Focus instead on the next wave of potential computer miscreants - criminals who can penetrate corporate computer systems to turn valves, start pumps or surge power at factories or electrical plants. They might even be able to hit chemical facilities.

Those folks are on the minds of the researchers at the Idaho National Laboratory, where the federal government regularly trains industry leaders on how to protect critical infrastructure from cyberattacks.

In the not-so-distant past, instructors here say, security officials relied on the "3 Gs" - guns, gates and guards - to protect infrastructure from intrusions. But increasingly mechanical systems inside those gates are being linked to computers and controlled via networks and cyberspace.

That has left industrial control systems vulnerable to attack.

To demonstrate the vulnerability, the Department of Homeland Security and Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho Falls recently showed reporters a cyberattack on a mock-up of a chemical facility.

In the exercise, a small group of "Red Team" attackers staged an assault on the chemical plant. A larger group of "Blue Team" defenders sought to protect that mock-up building, which was constructed of barrel-size containers of water connected by pipes and pumps such as those found in chemical plants. FULL POST

Iran: we will look at assassination plot evidence
October 17th, 2011
10:15 AM ET

Iran: we will look at assassination plot evidence

Iran is willing to look at evidence that an Iranian man plotted to kill Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States, the country's foreign minister said Monday, even as he denied the allegations had "the necessary basis in fact."

"We are prepared to consider any issue, even if it is falsely created, with patience. We have asked the Unites States to provide us with the relevant information regarding this scenario," Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi told the Islamic Republic News Agency.

Iran is also demanding consular access to the accused plotter Mansoor Arbabsiar, Reuters reported Monday

The U.S. State Department said last last week there had been direct contact with Iran about the alleged plot, but a senior Iranian official denied it.

Two State Department officials said U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice met with Mohammad Khazaee, Iran's permanent representative to the United Nations.

But the Iranian mission in New York denied it.

"There were no kinds of negotiations between the two countries, and there was not such a contact," said Alireza Miryousefi, press secretary for the Iranian Mission to the United Nations.

Foreign Minister Salehi said Monday the American allegations of a plot were aimed at creating discord between states in the region.

And he claimed that Iran had never been involved in terrorist operations, the Islamic Republic News Agency said.

Salehi's apparent willingness to look at evidence of the plot comes in stark contrast to the response of the country's supreme leader on Saturday.


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Filed under: Diplomacy • Iran • Mansoor Arbabsiar
Source on U.S.-Iraq talks: "discussions on numbers are over"
October 17th, 2011
07:23 AM ET

Source on U.S.-Iraq talks: "discussions on numbers are over"

From Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr

The United States and Iraq have been unable to come to agreement on key issue regarding legal immunity for U.S. troops who would remain in Iraq after the end of the year, effectively ending discussion of maintaining a significant American force presence after the end of 2011, a senior U.S. military official with direct knowledge of the discussions told CNN on Monday.

About 40,000 U.S. troops left in Iraq remained in Iraq as of last week. The United States will continue with its plan to draw down troops with almost no troops remaining by year's end, as was agreed upon with the government of Iraq.

A brigade that originally was scheduled to be among the very last to leave Iraq is being pulled out of the country months ahead of its planned departure, CNN reported on Saturday. Family members were told that the early departure was because there was no deal between the Iraqis and Americans.

A U.S. military official in Iraq, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed to CNN Saturday the early withdrawal of this brigade, citing a number of possible reasons, including the lack of a deal on the legal immunity issue and the fact that the State Department is "standing up" its operations faster than expected.

The two governments have been negotiating maintaining a small presence, perhaps several thousand, in order to advise, assist and train Iraqi troops after the end of 2011.

Those talks have not progressed, the source said. The Iraqi government's insistence that any troops that stay after the current Status of Forces Agreement ends in 2011 not be given legal immunity has been an issue for the Obama administration, which insisted that immunity is necessary.

"Iraqis could not come to meet important terms for the U.S," according to the senior U.S. official. "I think the discussions on numbers are over." FULL POST