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The war with Iran has begun...again

Bush Authorizes New Covert Action Against Iran

Brian Ross and Richard Esposito Report:

ABC News, May 22, 2007. The CIA has received secret presidential approval to mount a covert "black" operation to destabilize the Iranian government, current and former officials in the intelligence community tell the Blotter on ABCNews.com.

The sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the subject, say President Bush has signed a "nonlethal presidential finding" that puts into motion a CIA plan that reportedly includes a coordinated campaign of propaganda, disinformation and manipulation of Iran's currency and international financial transactions.

"I can't confirm or deny whether such a program exists or whether the president signed it, but it would be consistent with an overall American approach trying to find ways to put pressure on the regime," said Bruce Riedel, a recently retired CIA senior official who dealt with Iran and other countries in the region.

A National Security Council spokesperson, Gordon Johndroe, said, "The White House does not comment on intelligence matters." A CIA spokesperson said, "As a matter of course, we do not comment on allegations of covert activity."

The sources say the CIA developed the covert plan over the last year and received approval from White House officials and other officials in the intelligence community.

Officials say the covert plan is designed to pressure Iran to stop its nuclear enrichment program and end aid to insurgents in Iraq.

"There are some channels where the United States government may want to do things without its hand showing, and legally, therefore, the administration would, if it's doing that, need an intelligence finding and would need to tell the Congress," said ABC News consultant Richard Clarke, a former White House counterterrorism official.

Current and former intelligence officials say the approval of the covert action means the Bush administration, for the time being, has decided not to pursue a military option against Iran.

"Vice President Cheney helped to lead the side favoring a military strike," said former CIA official Riedel, "but I think they have come to the conclusion that a military strike has more downsides than upsides."

The covert action plan comes as U.S. officials have confirmed Iran had dramatically increased its ability to produce nuclear weapons material, at a pace that experts said would give them the ability to build a nuclear bomb in two years.

Riedel says economic pressure on Iran may be the most effective tool available to the CIA, particularly in going after secret accounts used to fund the nuclear program.

"The kind of dealings that the Iranian Revolution Guards are going to do, in terms of purchasing nuclear and missile components, are likely to be extremely secret, and you're going to have to work very, very hard to find them, and that's exactly the kind of thing the CIA's nonproliferation center and others would be expert at trying to look into," Riedel said.

Under the law, the CIA needs an official presidential finding to carry out such covert actions. The CIA is permitted to mount covert "collection" operations without a presidential finding.

"Presidential findings" are kept secret but reported to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and other key congressional leaders.

The "nonlethal" aspect of the presidential finding means CIA officers may not use deadly force in carrying out the secret operations against Iran.

Still, some fear that even a nonlethal covert CIA program carries great risks.

"I think everybody in the region knows that there is a proxy war already afoot with the United States supporting anti-Iranian elements in the region as well as opposition groups within Iran," said Vali Nasr, adjunct senior fellow for Mideast studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

"And this covert action is now being escalated by the new U.S. directive, and that can very quickly lead to Iranian retaliation and a cycle of escalation can follow," Nasr said.

Other "lethal" findings have authorized CIA covert actions against al Qaeda, terrorism and nuclear proliferation.

Also briefed on the CIA proposal, according to intelligence sources, were National Security Advisor Steve Hadley and Deputy National Security Advisor Elliott Abrams.

"The entire plan has been blessed by Abrams, in particular," said one intelligence source familiar with the plan. "And Hadley had to put his chop on it."

Abrams' last involvement with attempting to destabilize a foreign government led to criminal charges.

He pleaded guilty in October 1991 to two misdemeanor counts of withholding information from Congress about the Reagan administration's ill-fated efforts to destabilize the Nicaraguan Sandinista government in Central America, known as the Iran-Contra affair. Abrams was later pardoned by President George H. W. Bush in December 1992.

In June 2001, Abrams was named by then National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice to head the National Security Council's office for democracy, human rights and international operations. On Feb. 2, 2005, National Security Advisor Hadley appointed Abrams deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security advisor for global democracy strategy, one of the nation's most senior national security positions.

As earlier reported on the Blotter on ABCNews.com, the United States has supported and encouraged an Iranian militant group, Jundullah, that has conducted deadly raids inside Iran from bases on the rugged Iran-Pakistan-Afghanistan "tri-border region."

U.S. officials deny any "direct funding" of Jundullah groups but say the leader of Jundullah was in regular contact with U.S. officials.

American intelligence sources say Jundullah has received money and weapons through the Afghanistan and Pakistan military and Pakistan's intelligence service. Pakistan has officially denied any connection.

A report broadcast on Iranian TV last Sunday said Iranian authorities had captured 10 men crossing the border with $500,000 in cash along with "maps of sensitive areas" and "modern spy equipment."

A senior Pakistani official told ABCNews.com the 10 men were members of Jundullah.

The leader of the Jundullah group, according to the Pakistani official, has been recruiting and training "hundreds of men" for "unspecified missions" across the border in Iran.

US Aiding Al Qaeda Affiliated Group In Iran?(Related)

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Missile-defence test comes at pivotal time

Russia Herald

Thursday 24th May, 2007

(IANS)

The Pentagon plans to conduct a test of its missile-defence system in the next few days that could be crucial for US President George W. Bush's effort to get Congressional support for deploying the shield to Eastern Europe.

The test comes as the Democratic-controlled Congress debates whether to fund a Pentagon request for preparing locations in the Czech Republic and Poland to house a radar site and 10 interceptor missiles to protect against Iran's growing missile capabilities.

A recent, provisional House vote removed $160 million from missile-defence funding. A successful test could help Bush persuade Congress to restore the money, but a failure could harden the drive by the centre-Left opposition Democrats to slow the process.

The Pentagon scuttled its original schedule for the test to be conducted Thursday morning, because of poor weather near Alaska, where the target missile would be launched.

Officials have tentative plans to conduct the test Friday, but a storm might delay that too, pushing the test into the weekend, said Richard Lehner, a spokesman for the Pentagon's Missile Defence Agency (MDA).

If weather conditions are good, a target missile will be launched from Kodiak Island off the Alaskan mainland. About 20 minutes later, an interceptor missile will be fired from Vandenberg Air Force Base near Los Angeles.

Land- and sea-based radars will track the 'enemy' missile and help guide the interceptor to what the Pentagon hopes will be a successful hit in space.

The Democrats want to invest money in missile-defence technologies that have proven to have more immediate value to counter short- and medium-range missiles as opposed to the long-range system planned for Europe that would shoot down enemy missiles in space.

Sceptical that the technology is ready to tackle the challenge, Democrats have pointed out that the long-range system has had only one successful test in the last five years. Democratic critics don't want to fund the initiative until Poland and the Czech Republic have formally agreed to host the anti-missile bases.

Chris Taylor, an MDA spokesman, said the Pentagon does not schedule tests to coincide with congressional funding debates or the ongoing negotiations with Poland and the Czech Republic. The test was planned months ago, he said.

'We're confident the test will do what it is intended to do,' Taylor said.

Bush's plans to deploy a system to Eastern Europe by 2013 have sparked a diplomatic crisis with the Russian government, which believes that the system is directed against its nuclear arsenal.

Missile defence has been a top priority for Bush since he took office in 2001. He has hiked spending and removed bureaucratic constraints to speed up development, but critics contend the system still faces major technical challenges and that the testing does not take place under realistic conditions.

A target missile shot down last year did not carry counter-measures like balloons or chaff to confuse the radar, adding to allegations the Pentagon scripts tests to help ensure success.

.................

By Bob H, Missile-defence test comes at pivotal time It is VERY “IRONIC” that the U.S. Defence System has to “wait” for “GOOD weather” to test it’s “Missle Defense” weapons.

I am quite sure any enemy of the U.S. will also only attack it (US) on days of PERFECT weather.

Quite possibly the “attacking country” will even call President Bush 24 hours in advance of their “attack”, warning him of such goings-on.

Bush tells China to increase value of its currency

China National News

Friday 25th May, 2007

(Barry Wood )

President Bush Thursday told Chinese Vice-Premier Wu Yi the United States will be closely watching to see if China allows its currency to rise against the dollar.

President Bush made clear that he greatly values the deepening U.S.-China trade relationship. But he emphasized the need to remedy an imbalance that is deeply in China's favor. He also stressed the need for China to loosen its strict control of the currency and allow it to rise against the dollar.

'I emphasized to Madame Wu Yi as well as to the delegation that we will be watching very carefully as to whether or not they will appreciate their currency,' said President Bush. 'And that is all in the context of making it clear to China that we value their relationship, but that a $233 - billion trade deficit must be addressed.'

Wu Yi and U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson presided over two days of a strategic economic dialogue that brought together more than 12 cabinet secretaries (ministers) from the two countries. Aside from an expanded commercial air agreement there were few tangible results from the meeting. The dialogue will be resumed in Beijing in December.

During their stay, the Chinese delegates met with members of Congress, many of whom are frustrated by the growing trade imbalance. America has become very reliant on imports of consumer goods from China and politicians hear complaints that cheap imports are taking away American jobs.

Citing unfair trade practices, several measures soon to be considered in Congress would impose penalties on Chinese products. While opposed by the Bush administration the measures are gaining support and experts say they could become law within the next six months. China has the largest overall trade surplus in history while the United States has the largest deficit.

Latest Chinese missile to target US carriers: report

Published: Wednesday May 16, 2007

Link

China plans to equip its upcoming missiles with infrared technology to give them the ability to hit US warships in Asia, a Japanese newspaper said Wednesday.

The upgrade is part of preparations for a potential conflict over Taiwan, which China considers part of its territory and which has a security pact with the United States, the Sankei Shimbun said.

Citing unnamed military sources in Japan and Taiwan, the conservative newspaper said that China was developing an infrared detection system for its medium-range Dongfeng-21 missiles so they can pinpoint warships.

The upgraded Dongfeng would discourage the United States or Japan from sending in their warships equipped with the Aegis technology designed to shoot down incoming missiles, the newspaper said.

The Dongfeng-21 has a range of some 2,150 kilometers (1,350 miles). The Sankei estimated that around 100 are deployed.

Western analysts have also speculated that China is also developing a next-generation long-range Dongfeng-41 capable of hitting the US mainland.

Beijing has repeatedly threatened to invade Taiwan, where nationalists fled in 1949 after losing the civil war to Mao Zedong's communists, if the island declares formal independence.

The United States and Japan in a first-of-a-kind statement in February 2005 declared that a peaceful resolution of Taiwan Strait issues was a common strategic objective of the Pacific allies.

Analysis: U.S. Warning On Chinese Buildup

By Pamela Hess

May 25, 2007

A new Pentagon report claims China is building an expanded military with a force projection far beyond its home area.

"Analysis of China's weapons acquisition ... suggest(s) China is looking beyond Taiwan as it builds its force," states the Defense Department's annual report to Congress on "Military Power of the People's Republic of China." The report came as U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates prepared to attend the Shangri-La conference, an international Asian security meeting.

The report said new conventional missile units already deployed at various locations in China could be used against targets other than Taiwan.

Beijing's investment in airborne early warning systems and in-air refueling jets permitted extended operations over the South China Sea. Its investment in five different classes of submarine and a stated desire to build an aircraft carrier "reflect Beijing's desire to protect and advance its maritime interests," the study said.

Over the long term, improvements in China's command, control and reconnaissance capabilities, including space-based and over-the-horizon sensors, could enable Beijing to identify, track and target military activities far into the western Pacific Ocean, the report said.

A Pentagon official told reporters Friday that China was developing a hard-to-target, road-mobile long range intercontinental ballistic missile known as the DF-31, which it assesses as "available" although not yet integrated into China's missile force. It is also "developing methods to counter ballistic missile defenses," according to the report.

Exactly what China's strategic interests beyond Taiwan were remained unclear, according to the report. As in previous years, the Pentagon report complained of China's lack of transparency as to its intentions, as well as in its published national security budget.

"We would like to have greater insight into their intentions, why they are developing this force," the U.S. defense official said.

China's aggregate national defense budget is officially about $45 billion. But the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency and other U.S. government and research institutes put the number much higher, when added to China's "defense-related" expenditures, including in space, missiles and shipbuilding. The DIA expects China's 2007 defense spending to total between $85 billion and $125 billion.

One of China's possible areas of interest is securing the sea lanes that connect the country to its imported fuel and coal.

"At present, China can neither protect its foreign energy supplies nor the routes on which they travel, including the Straits of Malacca through which some 80 percent of China's (crude) oil imports transit," the report said. "China's concern over vulnerability and other resource supply is increasing ... (and) may end up shaping how they view force planning for the future," a defense official said.

In 2006 China signed a large number of new energy contracts -- its largest annual increase -- with Saudi Arabia and several African countries, according to the report. China held an African summit in November in Beijing that was attended by 40 heads of state and delegates from 48 of the 53 African nations, according to the report.

Beijing has sold military technology to nations in order to secure access to energy reserves, and has strengthened relations with "countries that defy international norms on issues ranging from human rights, support for international terrorism and proliferation," the report said.

The report noted China seemed to be shifting from just buying modern military equipment to training its forces properly to use them -- moving from a military whose strength lies in numbers to one with real capabilities. The report also raised the possibility that China was developing a military organized for "preemptive" strikes, including surprise attacks. It notes that Peoples Liberation Army writers describe "preemption as necessary and logical when confronting a more powerful enemy.

"According to PLA theorists, an effective defense includes destroying enemy capabilities on enemy territory before they can be employed," the report stated. (c) UPI

Leprosy...in the U.S.

Link

05/22/07

Leprosy, the contagious skin disease evoking thoughts of biblical and medieval times, is now making its mark in the United States, and many believe the influx of illegal aliens is a main factor.

"Americans should be told that diseases long eradicated in this country – tuberculosis, leprosy, polio, for example – and other extremely contagious diseases have been linked directly to illegals," Rep. J.D. Hayworth, R-Ariz., told the Business Journal of Phoenix. "For example, in 40 years, only 900 persons were afflicted by leprosy in the U.S.; in the past three years, more than 7,000 cases have been presented."

"This emerging crisis exposes the upside-down thinking of federal immigration policy," he continued. "While legal immigrants must undergo health screening prior to entering the U.S., illegal immigrants far more likely to be carrying contagious diseases are crawling under that safeguard and going undetected until they infect extraordinary numbers of American residents."

The number of cases of leprosy, now known as Hansen's disease, among immigrants to the U.S. has more than doubled since 2000, according to a news report from Columbia University.

While the overall figure is small compared to other countries, some researchers fear the trend could lead to the disease spreading to the U.S.-born population.

"It's creeping into the U.S.," Dr. William Levis, head of the New York Hansen's Disease Clinic, told Columbia News Service. "This is a real phenomenon. It's a public health threat. New York is endemic now, and nobody's noticed."

Levis thinks America could be on the verge of an epidemic.

"We just don't know when these epidemics are going to occur," he said. "But we're on the cusp of it here, because we're starting to see endemic cases that we didn't see 25 years ago."

According to Steve Pfeifer, head of statistics and epidemiology at the National Hansen's Disease Program, only about two dozen new cases are found each year in U.S.-born patients, with that number remaining stable for decades.

But Pfeifer suggests many aliens are coming to the U.S. specifically to get treated for their skin condition, due to the short time between many immigrants' entry to the U.S. and their diagnosis with leprosy.

"They're coming to be treated because they get treatment free and probably get better treatment here," he told Columbia. "Somebody down there diagnoses them and says, 'Hey, you've got leprosy, and your best course of action is probably high-tailing to the U.S.'"

The fear is that since the disease remains contagious until treatment is commenced, a surge of diagnosed-but-untreated patients could mean a spread of leprosy into the population of those born in America.

Pfeifer said he had not issued an official report on the dangerous trend, fearing that anti-immigration groups would become vocal against centers providing free health care for illegals.

"A lot of our cases are imported," said Dr. Terry Williams, who treats leprosy victims in Houston. "We see patients from everywhere – Africa, the Philippines, China, South America."

Williams confirms that some of his patients came to the U.S. specifically for treatment, telling Columbia, "Certainly we do see some of that. We've had even a couple of patients from Cuba who were put on a boat by Castro just to get them out of the country – they made their way here through Mexico and Central America basically just to get treated. ... We treat them; our job isn't to be immigration police."

But not all experts have such a gloomy outlook.

Dr. Denis Daumerie, head of the World Health Organization's leprosy-elimination program, thinks claims of immigrants causing a spike in U.S. leprosy are overstated.

"There is no risk of an epidemic of leprosy," he told Columbia. "There's absolutely no risk that the few immigrants who are affected by the disease, if they are diagnosed and treated, will spread the disease in the U.S."

Myths and Facts about Oil Refineries in the United States

The Bush administration and some members of Congress blame environmental rules for causing strains on refining capacity, prompting shortages and driving up prices. But in reality, it is uncompetitive actions by a handful of companies with large control over our nation’s gas markets that is directly causing these high prices.

Myth 1: Oil refineries are not being built in the U.S. because environmental regulations, particularly the Clean Air Act, are so bureaucratic and burdensome that refiners cannot get permits.

Fact: Environmental regulations are not preventing new refineries from being built in the U.S. From 1975 to 2000, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) received only one permit request for a new refinery. And in March, EPA approved Arizona Clean Fuels’ application for an air permit for a proposed refinery in Arizona. In addition, oil companies are regularly applying for – and receiving – permits to modify and expand their existing refineries.

Myth 2: The U.S. oil refinery market is competitive.

Fact: Actually, industry consolidation is limiting competition in oil refining sector. The largest five oil refiners in the United States (ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, BP, Valero and Royal Dutch Shell) now control over half (56.3%) of domestic oil refinery capacity; the top ten refiners control 83%. Only ten years ago, these top five oil companies only controlled about one-third (34.5%) of domestic refinery capacity; the top ten controlled 55.6%. This dramatic increase in the control of just the top five companies makes it easier for oil companies to manipulate gasoline supplies by intentionally withholding supplies in order to drive up prices. Indeed, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) concluded in March 2001 that oil companies had intentionally withheld supplies of gasoline from the market as a tactic to drive up prices—all as a “profit-maximizing strategy.” A May 2004 U.S. Governmental Accountability Office (GAO) report also found that mergers in the oil industry directly led to higher prices—and this report did not even include the large mergers after the year 2000, such as ChevronTexaco and ConocoPhillips. Yet, just one week after Hurricane Katrina, the FTC approved yet another merger of refinery giants—Valero Energy and Premcor—giving Valero 13% of the national market share. These actions, while costing consumers billions of dollars in overcharges, have not been challenged by the U.S. government.

Myth 3: The United States has maxed out its oil refining capability.

Fact: Oil companies have exploited their strong market position to intentionally restrict refining capacity by driving smaller, independent refiners out of business. A congressional investigation uncovered internal memos written by the major oil companies operating in the U.S. discussing their successful strategies to maximize profits by forcing independent refineries out of business, resulting in tighter refinery capacity. From 1995-2002, 97% of the more than 920,000 barrels of oil per day of capacity that have been shut down were owned and operated by smaller, independent refiners. Were this capacity to be in operation today, refiners could use it to better meet today’s reformulated gasoline blend needs.

Profit margins for oil refiners have been at record highs. In 1999, for every gallon of gasoline refined from crude oil, U.S. oil refiners made a profit of 22.8 cents. By 2004, the profits jumped 80% to 40.8 cents per gallon of gasoline refined. Between 2001 and mid-2005, the combined profits for the biggest five refiners was $228 billion.

Gutting environmental laws for oil refinery siting will not solve the high gas prices.

So what should be done?

Improve regulations over the over-concentrated oil industry

The most effective way to protect consumers is to restore competitive markets. Congress should limit the financial incentives oil companies have to keep gasoline supplies artificially tight by mandating minimum storage of gasoline, reevaluating recent mergers, investigating anticompetitive practices, and re-regulating oil trading.

Adopt tougher fuel economy standards

In 2004, the EPA found that the average fuel economy of 2004 vehicles is 20.8 miles per gallon (mpg), compared to 22.1 mpg in 1987—a six percent decline. This decline is attributable to the fact that fuel economy standards have not been meaningfully increased since the 1980s, while sales of fuel inefficient SUVs and pickups have exploded: in 1987, 28% of new vehicles sold were light trucks, compared to 48% in 2004. Billions of gallons of oil could be saved if significant fuel economy increases were mandated. Improving fuel economy standards for passenger vehicles from 27.5 to 40 mpg, and for light trucks (including SUVs and vans) from 20.7 to 27.5 mpg by 2015 would reduce our gasoline consumption by one-third. Dramatic reductions in consumption will not only reduce strain on America’s refinery output, but also on Americans’ pocketbooks.

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