[ These items will all be in the news soon as investigators sift deeper into the WikiLeaks files. Trowbridge H. Ford says, ” . . . it’s way past time for the American so-called counter terrorists to seriously investigate what was going on back in 2010-1″.]
How the Pentagon Broke the Deadlock over the START Treaty & Iran’s Nuclear Ambitions at John Wheeler’s Expense
The Obama administration, since its outset, has been in a quandry about how to deal with the world, especially Iran, Russia, China, and North Korea. Should it continue to use the carrot-and-stick approach, as the Bush administration did with a vengeance, or is something more positive required? Thanks to the continuing division within its political leadership of hawks and doves, it has tried sabre-rattling of a covert nature on occasion, and then the helping hand – what Naomi Klein has called disaster capitalism on occasion – in the hope of getting its way, and it has had some success in doing so, but at a continuing human cost, and at a loss of much prestige, though not nearly as much as Bush achieved with his man-made earthquakes in Iran, Pakistan and China, and the massive tsunamis in the Indian Ocean just over six years ago. America has a long tradition of solving serious problems with an excessive use for force.
Ever since the destruction of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, Iran has been difficult about explaining its nuclear program, much less opening it up fully to United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections, fearing that it too might go the route of the Sunni state. The United States government had gone wild for years in declaring that Iraq was a rogue state, set on developing weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and delivery systems which made it a most serious threat to the region and beyond. While Iran’s mullahs wanted to return their country to the Golden Age of Islam, Saddam wanted to mount a nuclear-armed jihad in the Arab world against the Western intruders – what resulted in the most destructive showdown between the two in the Iraq-Iranian War of the 1980s, with Washington prodding and provocating each side along the way. Saddam’s ambitions were perhaps only prevented from becoming a reality by the Israeli aerial bombardment of Iraq’s plutonium-producer reactor at Osirak on June 7, 1981, and then a decade later the aerial destruction of the uranium enrichment facility at the Tuwaitha research center, the conversion plant at Jazirah, the uranium concentrators at Qaim, and the electromagnetic isotope separators (EMIS) at Tarmiya and Shaqat during the opening weeks of NATO’s Operation Desert Storm.(1)
In the wake of Saddam’s defeat, IAEA inspectors – allowed into the country under the terms of the February 1991 armistice – determined not only that Iraq had been involved in constructing a bomb through the enrichment of uranium in all the nondescript buildings it had constructed on the ground which Saddam still had, and was attempting to hide in which EMIS equipment was buried, previously unknown surface laboratories existed, and boxes of files relating to the nuclear program were stored. “At the direction the IAEA, the Iraqí Army demolished, with explosives eight major nuclear facilities that had escaped destruction by the U.S. Air Force.” (2) The defection of Hussein Kamel, the leader of its nuclear program, in the summer of 1995 just continued the bleeding of the program as he provided everything he had brought with him about it. “They disclosed the full extent of Saddam’s nuclear. chemical, and biological efforts as well as his ballistic missile ambitions.” (3) Continued air reconnaissance by the Americans, and UN sanctions against materiel which had a dual purpose did the rest.
Still, given all the money that Saddam was receiving through its oil production, and his political ambitions, America’s hawks believed that he was still seeking a WMD capability. Dick Cheney justified ramping up a war to oust him by claiming that Iraq had already obtained a nuclear capability – relying upon what his son-in-law defector Kamel had allegedly told American intelligence, though it turned out to be just what he had not said.(4) Then it was suspected that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic had smuggled the highly enriched uranium which the Soviets had provided out of the Vinca test laboratory to Iraq during NATO’s 1999 bombing campaign of Kosovo when IAEA inspectors were not allowed to check its presence over alleged fear for their safety. Then George Tenet’s CIA learned that Iraq was seeking strong aluminum tubes of Chinese manufacture which its analysts thought were intended for the separation of enriched uranium somewhere in Iraq.(5) President Bush announced the Iraqis were in the process of obtaining the dangerous centrifuges to the United Nations General Assembly on October 12, 2002.
Washington’s scare tactics – which were now being debated for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – were apparently shot down, once IAEA inspectors were allowed back into Iraq in December 2002, finding no evidence of any Iraqi uranium enrichment program, and that the tubes were consistent with its well-documented rocket program. IAEA’s Director Mohammed Elbaradei reported to the UN Security Council on January 27, 2003 when the Anglo-American pressure to ramp up a war was reaching fever pitch that “specifications of the aluminum tubes recently sought by Iraq appear to be consistent with reverse engineering of rockets.” (6)
Still, Washington persisted in beating the drums for war by making wild statements about Iraq’s other WMD programs. At the time, the UN’s Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission had 700 inspectors in Iraq, looking for evidence of chemical and biological weapons programs, and its head, Hans Blix, warned against the Iraqi dictator playing “cat and mouse” with them, stating that the destruction of the 1991 war could have been avoided if he had only worked honestly with it. It all went for naught, though, when American Secretary of State Colin Powell solemnly declared to the UN Security Council on February 5, 2003 that not only was Saddam’s tubing for rotors in centrifuges used in enriching uranium but also his biological program was involved in the massive production of anthrax, holding up the famous vial which contained enough spores to wipe out a city like New York.
Little wonder that when the war to oust Saddam’s regime went ahead without a Security Council resolution authorizing it – what was primarily prevented by the leaking of Anglo-American spying upon what non permanent members were thinking and discussing about it – Iran was most relieved to know that it was no longer threatened by Iraq, and was probably no longer a prime target of Washington, especially since the CIA had already provided assistance for it to develop its own nuclear capability to go along with the uranium-enrichment technology, especially a centrifuge cascade, that Pakistan’s A. Q. Khan’s Research Laboratory had been supplying from 1987. Ever since the late 1990’s, CIA agent Jeffrey Sterling had been supplying it with designs of how to make, and the specifications of an atomic bomb, though the plans were doctored so that any finished product would not work. The Russians chipped in with the construction of two nuclear reactors for the generation of electrcity at Bushehr. “It is focused on the development of a nuclear weapons capability” Reed and Stillman concluded in early 2009, “if not the assembly of a weapon itself, within the near future.” (7)
Washington had continued to apply stick to Tehran during the period between the Iraq wars by causing earthquakes in the Manjil-Rudbar region just northwest of Tehran in June 1990, and in the south at Bam while the fallout from Saddam’s ouster was being assessed in December 2003 for fear that Iran might take advantage of the fiasco.(8) Washington’s use of the National Reconnaissance Office’s Misty radar satellite in doing so was pretty much an accident that Danny Stillman, the Intelligence Director at Los Alamos National Laboratory, came up with after its possible use in stopping an ICBM launch by the Soviets during any showdown with the West – what had been anticipated by one with Moscow after the assassination of Sweden’s statsminister Olof Palme on February 28, 1986, but had been spoiled by the rushed attempt by Space Shuttle Challenger in January which prevented it from being put safely into space. By the time that one was put there in 1988, there seemed to be no use for it as the Cold War was just collapsing on its own. It was just on the off-chance that it might cause earthquakes the Soviets had caused in North China during the transition of power during Mao’s death in 1976, and the one at Tabas, along the Afghan border, two years later which helped speed the ouster of the Shah. Little wonder when they and others turned out to be so successful that the current Secretary of Defense spoke so glowing of the physicist who had put his years of nuclear design, diagnostics,and testing to such good use.(9)
Iran’s growing problems and uncertainties resulted in its adopting more devious, increasingly covert means to satisfy them, especially its nuclear ambitions – what Washington always believed was just a ruse to hide its desire to obtain nuclear weapons. As a result, Tehran – while a long-time signatory of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty – was constantly playing “cat and mouse” with IAEA inspectors, unlike Iraq had been, denying them access to suspected sites, thought to be unknown, or breaking IAEA seals on equipment thought to be engaged in the nuclear weapons program when it saw fit, claiming its right to do so under the treaty for the production of nuclear generated electricity. “When developing nuclear weapons,” Reed and Stillman explained, “keep a low profile. Spread the facilities out and bury them; otherwise, someone will come blow them up.” (10) The West is particularly concerned over how big and developed its underground uranium enrichment plant at Natanz is, its development of heavy water production, and reactor plants, and also what …”appear to be planning a deep underground facility appropriate for a nuclear test.” (11)
Washington has been particularly concerned about what is going on at Natanz where the Iranians plan to have 50,000 of Khan’s cascade, centrifuge machines, working at 100,000 rpms, 24/7 to produce the amount of enriched uranium its needs. “This centrifuge hall apears to be built underneath layers of burster slabs; strata of concrete interleaved with soil to defeat penetrating warhead attacks.” (12) Consequently, to render them useless, the West would have to lay waste the surrounding countryside with H-bombs, an unacceptable option. To get round the problem, Washington, and its allies, especially Israel, have sought to learn where other key facilities are located, particular crucial, underground ones, and what new foreign assistance Iran needs to promote the process. To add to the list of probable risks, Reed and Stillman cliamed that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, similar to Hitler’s SS and Stalin’s KGB in promoting its global ambitions, has taken over its nuclear weapons program.
To add to the uncertainty of what was afoot in Tehran, a laptop, containing apparently important information about Iran’s WMD ambitions, was stolen in 2004 by an Iranian just afer Tehran had been forced to acknowledge its uranium enrichment program, and provided to Western intelligence agencies. It contained drawings of what seemed to be somekind of underground test facility, about 400 meters deep, though it had no mention of it being connected to anything nuclear, and there was no date on them. “The authorship is unknown,” Dafna Linzer explained in “Strong Leads and Dead Ends in Nuclear Case against Iran” in the Washington Post on February 8, 2006, “and there is no evidence of an associated program to acquire, assemble and construct the components of such a site.” (13) The laptop also revealed that Iran might be having Kineya Madon build a small-scale facility to produce uranium gas, and there were plans to convert ballistic missiles so that they could be fitted to nuclear warheads.
Needless to say, the find in the laptop only created more confusion within Western intelligence agencies, with Meir Dagan’s Mossad being sure that it was absolutely true, others, especially the CIA, being less so, and Russia’s SVR rather dubious about it all. Of course, it could be an Iranian version of “The Man Who Never Was” – where MI6 planted fake documents on a corpse, making it look like an important courier, and had a British submarine jettison his body off the Spanish coast in the hope that German intelligence would ultimately be taken in by the ruse. It is quite clear that the Germans were fooled enough by Operation Mincemeat that the next Allied invasions would be in Greece and Sardinia, not Sicily, that it helped result in a significant success, though the unwillingness of defending Italian soldiers anywhere to seriously fight has been underestimated in the process.
To establish that the materials in the laptop were genuine, the DCI, Air Force General Michael Hayden, asked the Pentagon to determine their validity since the Agency had no real humint [human intelligence] capability in Iran, and while the Mossad did, it would serve no good purpose to ask it to find out as it had already made up its mind about them. For the Pentagon to do the job, it would require the use of the Air Force Secretariat, the National Security Agency, CIA, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, and the Department of Justice to entice a reliable informant out of Iran so that the information he brought with him could answer crucial questions about its nuclear and military ambitions in such an official way that it would not leak back to Tehran, and all those domestically dubious about Iran’s aggressive nuclear intentions would be silenced. The Secretariat included all the Air Force brass at the top so that it could not only see that everything that it was capable of and incapable of doing was done in the process, code named Operation Shakespeare.
To lead Shakespeare, Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne selected his special assistant, John P. Wheeler III, a most distinguished graduate of not only West Point, but also an MBA from Harvard to help run the Pentagon, and a law degree from Yale after he retired from the Army after having served on the military staff in Saigon where the losses of men had pushed him to the edge of a nervous breakdown. After he retired from the Army, he held high management positions in the private sector, and was most influential in getting Congress to build the Vietnam War Memorial despite all the negative feelings over having fought the losing war before returning to the Pentagon in 2005. “His mission was to carry out tasks and monitor programs in support of goals as directed, and support the Air Force Secretariat with data gathering, team organization, liaison, analysis and/or options for action” (14) – just what the operation called for.
Shakespeare was an operational success, too successful for Wheeler’s own good, though it failed to discover any evidence from Iran that it sought, Tehran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. The operation started in Yardley, Pennsylvania in April 2004, and was ultimately based in Wilmington. Delaware, so that the Justice Department’s Attorney there David Hall could be close to where Wheeler lived in New Castle. ICE agents finally established a plan to entrap Iranian arms smuggler Amir Hussein Aldabili in Tbilisi, Georgia on October 1, 2007 when he came there with his father in the hope of gaining weapons contracts in Europe, especially Germany, through a compromised agent there, using the code name “Darius”. Once there, the ICE agents soon captured him and his more important laptop, though fearing all along that the operation had been compromised by Iran’s Savak.
NSA supplied a Forensic Toolkit to analyze the laptop’s file properties after it came to the States. It can examine files on the hard drive to determine if there has been unauthorized activity, scan for hidden files and erased ones, and list access times to them. ICE agents even called Washington to determine if there was evidence of Aldabili seeking nuclear technology so that they could induce him to incriminate himself while undergoing interrogation in Tbilisi. The Pentagon sent a squad to Philadelphia to look for signs of nuclear weapons maintenance in the laptop files. When nothing of this nature was found, and Aldabili refused to incriminate himself in any way, Hayden’s CIA agreed in January for him to be rendered back to the States in one of its G-4 planes, arriving at New Castle’s tiny airport, after one a.m., Sunday morning, January 27, 2008.(15)
Given the failure of Operation Shakespeare to find the proverbial smoking gun when it came to Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program, it was hardly surprising that Washington soon settled for punishing China for its apparent uranium help in making Tehran an unpredictable nuclear power. China’s indictment is all laid out by Reed and Stillman, making out that Iran is simply Beijing’s well-paid mercenary which may well set off some dirty bomb in a place like New York City to promote Beijing’s alleged ambitions: “Radical Muslim terror is not a problem for China; to some in Beijing, it may be seen as the route to China’s hegemonic future,” (16) Beijing, it seems, is only assuming a low profile now against the United States militarily, waiting to pick up the pieces after Washington is falling apart because of nuclear surprises, economic difficulties, and political isolation.
The punishment was the Sichuan earthquake in May 2008, and a devastating cyclone in Burma for good measure to remind its junta of the risks in following either Iran or North Korea. The Air Force Secretariat well camouflaged the man-made earthquake where Deng Xiaoping built its new nuclear complex, largely underground during the 1980s, by acting as if its last remaining Misty radar satellite had to be brought down by the US Navy to prevent widespread nuclear contamination upon reentry into the earth’s atmosphere – what was compounded by its debris apparently causing a piece of the runway to break loose, and a B-2 bomber to crash upon takeoff from Guam shortly thereafter (17) – prosecuting plasma expert J. Reece Roth for allegedly helping China defend against such a surprise, and it was itself under a cloud for more routine operational mistakes during the process.(18) Wheeler, of course, was widely involved in helping Wynne with it, and retired with him in June 2008 when the debris from the massive disasters had essentially settled. The earthquake was most suitable punishment, as Reed and Stillman explained, since its Communist Party Congress the previous October had “… re-installed Hu Jintao as party leader with a writ running to 2012…”(19) Hu, it seems, is the covert driver of the runaway nuclear express train.
While President-elect Barack Obama – like his predecessors G.H.W. Bush, William Clinton, and G.W. Bush – was slow to resort to such devastating means to fight the new cold war, he kept or put in place officials to do it if necessary, especially retaining G.W.’s SoD Robert Gates, Secretary of the Air Force Michael B. Donley, NSA Director Keith Alexander, and even Wheeler himself for continuity as the unlikely special assistant to the Acting Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Installations, Logistics and Energy, and making Leon Panetta, Clinton’s former Chief of Staff, the DCI, and Eric Holder, former Clinton Assistant Attorney General, his top law officer. Actually, the new Director of National Intelligence, Admiral Dennis Blair, proved again so openly hostile to China – as he had as Commander of the Pacific Fleet that former SoD Donald Rumsfeld had no further use of him – and fought so bitterly with Panetta over control of such operations that he was sacked for fear that he would alert Beijing and its allies of what might be afoot.
The Obama administration was in no hurry to do anything drastic about Iran’s alleged development of nuclear weapons, believing that the sanctions that Operation Shakespeare was developing would do the job while it had much more important matters to deal with, especially with Russia in the Caucasus, and China in North Korea. Iran didn’t even know about what really happened to Aldabili until his trial, and sentencing in prison for five years was finally disclosed in January 2010. Until then, Tehran suspected that he might have defected, but the CIA release of his filmed entrapment ended all that. Still, Wheeler saw to the release of information from his laptop which showed just how much even the federal government had assisted its getting round the sanctions. In March, The New York Times published an analysis which showed that Washington had supplied American companies with $107 billion to do business with Iran in one way or another – prompting Washington to tighten the sanctions by the UN even further in June, and adopting more of its own, along with Australia, Canada, and the EU, in July.
About it all, Steven E. Miller, director of Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, said scathingly: “Restricting of a few dozen additional companies, would seem like a thin reed on which to base a policy. I think that by default we end up with sanctions because we don’t know what else to do.” (20)
The considerable reduction of the Democratic majority in the Senate in the November elections – what placed passage of a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) in serious jeopardy – changed all that. The losses assured that the new Congress would never have enough votes to secure passage, and without Russia on board in reducing nuclear weapons and proliferation, the nuclear express, to use Reed and Stillman’s metaphor, was bound to go hopelessly out of control. “The presidents of the United States and Russia,” Reed and Stillman concluded, “must return this problem to the top of their agendas. It must become the business of the Russian people to enforce these controls. They must not allow their bureaucrats or bandits to interfere or obstruct. The stakes are too. high.” (21)
To make sure that Washington did not succumb to similar corrupt interests, the CIA assassinated Iranian nuclear scientists Majid Shahriani and Dr. Fereydoon Abbasi, the alleged head of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, in late November, the former dying in the bomb attacks. Then the Pentagon, undoubtedly with Wheeler’s cyberwar help, and the Israelis damaged Iran’s nuclear enrichment centrifuges with the Stuxnet worm, allegedly ruining or damaging one/fifth of them by making them spin way more than the required 100,000 rps, while their observers were hidden from what was going on. The number of centrifuges concerned could be anywhere between 10,000 and 50,000. Even if these operations had been fully successful, they would have set back any real Iranian pursuit of nuclear weapons only a few months, hardly anything to make the Senate Republican leadership, especially Mitch McConnell, Jon Kyl, and John McCain, change their opposition to the START treaty.
To make them do so, the National Reconnaissance Office caused a 5.3 earthquake near Hossiannabad, Iran on December 20, 2010 with its latest laser satellite, and where Iranian engineers had been constructing the 400-meter-long, underground shaft where it intended to test its first nuclear device, causing it to completely collapse, setting back its program for about another five years. The satellite’s power had been hidden as best it could by Reed and Stillman claiming that satellites, with their photographic and signal intelligence, had no role to play in discovering Iran’s war machine (22), when, in fact, they were just what the doctor ordered by their ability, especially at night when the earthquake occurred, of discovering where engineers were opening up the earth’s surface for some covert purpose, and then covering it up as best they could – what resulted in the satellite shooting back beams until the whole shaft crumbled.
The destruction of the test shaft had the desired effect upon still undecided Republican Senators, inducing them to throw their support behind the White House’s demand for the passage of START the very next day.
The only serious risk in doing so was the exposure of Wheeler’s role in the whole process: from the entrapment of Aldabili, through the imposition of growing sanctions against Tehran, to the build up of sabotage to obtain success, culminating in the earthquake. Wheeler’s role was made fairly clear by just reading John Shiffman’s eight-part series in The Philadelphia Inquirer which appeared in September. Aldabili’s being rendered from Georgia to the tiny airport at New Castle where Wheeler lived early one Sunday morning in January 2008 could hardly leave any doubt about his role, as Shiffman recounted: “As the G-4 taxied, the agents looked and saw not just the expected security team in bullet proof vests, but also the brass in suits, even the U. S. Attorney.” For good measure, Shiffman added that Shakespeare’s director was now involved in even bigger stings with Albabili’s files with its operational leader in Philadelphia: “The friend, as always, answered with enthusiasm.The case sounded righteous. He promised to get there straightaway.” (23)
Once the earthquake occurred, Savak agents, it seems, got on Wheeler’s trail, and once they caught up with him in Wilmington after Christmas, they drugged him, and then stole his Blackberry, brief case, and mobile phone to check if they had the right man. Wheeler, of course, was desperately looking for what had been stolen when he regained some kind of composure in the hope of preventing its disclosure to America’s enemies, especially Iran, explaining why he was increasingly disoriented and disheveled in the process while refusing to seek any police help. Once the agents determined that Wheeler was their man, they captured him again, probably at his own residence in New Castle where they tortured him until he had revealed everything he knew about, particularly, it seems, information that he had hidden under the kitchen floor. Then the agents apparently slit his throat, and dropped his body into a dumpster which would soon take it to Wilmington’s landfill where it would disappear forever.
It was only by chance that the dumpster driver spotted his body when he emptied its contents.
1. Thomas C. Reed and Danny B. Stillman, The Nuclear Express: A Political History of the Bomb and its Proliferation, pp. 280-1.
5. Reed and Stillman, op. cit., p. 282.
6. Quoted from ibid., p. 283.
7. Ibid., p. 294.
8. For more of this, see this link: http://cryptome.sabotage.org/0001/usa-disasters.htm
9. On the back of dustjack to Reed’s and Stillman’s book, Gates is quoted: “(Stillman’s) ability to adapt the latest advances in science to solve unmanageable problems and to analyze foreign technologies made him an invaluable asset to the Intelligence Community.”
10. Ibid., p. 292.
11. Ibid., p. 293.
12. Ibid.,´p. 294.
15. For more on Operation Shakespeare, see John Shiffman’s eight-part series in The Philadelphia Inquirer last fall at this link:
16. Op. cit., p. 329.
18. For more, see these links.
19. Op. cit., p. 319.
21. Op,.cit., 323.
22. Ibid., p. 327
23. Op. cit.