National Security

What 371 metric tons of uranium hexafluoride could mean to Iranians

Why it might matter that Shirley Tilghman is leaving Princeton, Pete Mansoor’s vexing book vetting problem, and more.

Welcome to Thursday's edition of FP's Situation Report, where replacement refs are never an option. Follow me @glubold or hit me anytime at

Lost in the debate on Iran is the human cost of a strike against the country's nuclear sites, according to a new report published by an Iranian-American with a background in industrial nuclear waste and chemicals. Khosrow Semnani argues in "The Ayatollah's Nuclear Gamble," that striking Iran's nuclear facilities, where the IAEA has verified an inventory of 371 metric tons of uranium hexafluoride, could have devastating effects on tens of thousands, and possibly hundreds of thousands of Iranians, who would be exposed to highly toxic chemical plumes and even radioactive fallout.

Such plumes, created by strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities, could "destroy their lungs, blind them, severely burn their skin and damage other tissues and vital organs," Semnani says in his report. Unlike traditional explosions, the risks to civilians would extend "well beyond those killed from exposure to the thermal and blast injuries at the nuclear sites," Semnani writes. 

This could have obvious policy implications, making a possible military strike significantly less palatable. "This material is very, very toxic in both the short-term and the long-term," Semnani tells Situation Report. "Someone has to talk about this." Semnani estimates that a minimum of 5,000 people and as many as 80,000 people could be killed or die over time as a result of strikes on these facilities holding the material, and he hopes policymakers take into account the "human dimension" when considering military action.

"The analogy for this is, you can either build a fence in front of the cliff, or hospitals at the bottom of the cliff."

Semnani is not well known in Washington. But we're told by an independent expert on Iran that Semnani, a scientist, went to "considerable lengths" to make his model as realistic as the available data allows. He funded his own research but the report was published by the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics and Semnani's Omid for Iran.

On Iran, former National Security Advisor under Bush 43 Steve Hadley says now is the time to pause and consider the options for stopping Iran's nuclear program. Why? One-word answer: Iraq. "Many people have argued that before making this fateful decision [prior to the invasion of Iraq in 2003], U.S. policymakers should have stepped back and conducted one last searching examination of possible alternative courses of action. If that is the case, then it is now time -- and perhaps almost past time -- to make such an effort with respect to Iran," he writes in "Eight Ways to Deal with Iran," on FP.

Petraeus is running for president. Of Princeton. Or so The Daily Princetonian reports, saying that the CIA director is more than joking when he says he's interested in heading the university, including a seemingly offhand remark he made at an off-the-record event at which Petraeus spoke at the university's Ivy Club but which was nevertheless used by the paper, quoting guests at the event. That speculation is now all the more interesting since the announcement that Princeton President Shirley Tilghman is retiring. And Petraeus friend Mike O'Hanlon of Brookings is quoted in the story saying he doesn't think Petraeus is kidding about wanting the job, either. 

Meanwhile, the SEAL book could be just the beginning. As the Pentagon continues to review its legal options over "No Easy Day," and whether the classified material it says the book contains warrants action against the author, it will have to consider the likelihood that after more than 10 years of war and the killing of bin Laden, there will be many authors who follow Matt Bissonnette. Could the Pentagon set a nasty in precedent going after the former SEAL? And does it have the capacity to vet all manuscripts in a timely fashion?

Turns out, DoD's Office of Security Review vets nearly 6,000 pieces of public information each year, Situation Report is told. Most of those are speeches, papers, articles, and congressional testimony. Only a small percentage of them are books or manuscripts, according to Mark Langerman, chief of the Pentagon's Office of Security Review, who answered questions by e-mail -- complete with numbered citations of the appropriate Defense Department directive -- through the Pentagon's public affairs office.

According to that directive, the Pentagon has about a month to conduct a security review of book manuscripts. "More time may be needed if the material is complex or requires review by agencies outside of the Department of Defense," according to Langerman.

But security vetting doesn't always happen in conformance with regulation, as Pete Mansoor learned the hard way. It took Mansoor, one of the big brains behind David Petraeus when he was commander in Iraq, almost four months to get his book, "Baghdad at Sunrise," through the vetting process. After waiting and waiting, Mansoor discovered the low-level staffer in the security vetting department who had been assigned his book had left her job without passing the manuscript on to anyone else. It was ultimately reviewed quickly and given back to him. But Mansoor is concerned about his next book, coming out next year, which is focused on larger issues of warfare and the history of the surge in Iraq. "Surge: My Journey with General David Petraeus and the Remaking of the Iraq War," will include conversations with the Iraqi government and decisions Petraeus made while in uniform that will raise the level of security and policy concerns.

"There might be a little more focus put on the manuscript," Mansoor tells Situation Report. "I'm pretty concerned about the timeliness of the review process and how much they may want to take out."

Mansoor, now a professor of military history at the Ohio State University, says he feels for the former Navy SEAL who wrote "No Easy Day" without going through the Pentagon vetting process: you run the risk that it will slow publication of the book -- and that it will be unnecessarily scrubbed.

"I can see why people wouldn't want to go through the process and take the chance that their words would not see print," he said. And Mansoor is concerned that the Pentagon will want to scrub portions of his book as a way to prevent publication of a sensitive policy issue.

"I understand why the system is the way it is, I just hope it's fair," he said.

For his part, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little says DoD will make every effort to vet manuscripts in a timely fashion. In an e-mail to Situation Report, he added that, in the case of "No Easy Day," the Pentagon never had the chance to review the book -- "a step that was clearly required under the terms of his agreements with the United States government."

Are you safer than you were four years ago? Americans might not care. While Obama does consistently better than Mitt Romney, by six to 10 percentage points, when Americans are asked who would be better at "protecting the country" and "who would be a good commander in chief" and who would be better at "handling foreign policy," a whopping four percent of Americans polled believe that foreign affairs -- which includes wars, terrorism, immigration and other things -- is the most important issue facing the United States. It is, Micah Zenko writes on FP, the lowest percentage since Obama entered office. 

Seeing Red Lines

  • Reuters: Netanyahu to set out clear red lines in today's speech at UN.
  • Haaretz: Netanyahu says Israelis behind him on Iran, angered by Ahmadinejad's speech scheduled on Yom Kippur.
  • AP: Israeli foreign ministry, disputing Netanyahu's claims, say sanctions hitting Iran hard.

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National Security

Army, SOCOM Create New Landpower Group

A report card on the surge, Poll: Americans support nuking terrorists, Obama’s Pentagon peeps defend his record, and more.

Welcome to Wednesday's edition of FP's Situation Report, where free speech is always a good thing. Follow me @glubold or hit me anytime at

The Army and Special Operations Command are starting a new strategic land-power cell. The brand-new initiative, known only to a small group of planners thus far, is the brainchild of Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno and will take shape over the next few months. The group, which will also include the Marines, is designed to fuse the military's land cultures, from the conventional land power of "Big Army" to the people-oriented skills of Special Forces to technology and cyber efforts. Ultimately, the planning cell could include general officers from each of the major land components, Situation Report is told.

By creating a group focused on integrating those pieces, military strategists believe they can make more effective use of land power -- especially at a time when ground forces, after more than 10 years of war, are perceived to have fallen out of fashion in the hallways of the Pentagon. Ultimately, the effort could have implications for military doctrine, for the integration of conventional and specialized forces, and even for acquisition, according to an individual familiar with the nascent group.

The group's formation is bound to be controversial for the perception it will create at a time of a major budget crunch and the move to Asia - in effect, that the land forces are looking to lobby for more resources and influence But the individual familiar with the group pushes back on the notion that this is anything more than the ground forces taking a strategic approach to working better together.

"The Strategic Landpower initiative is intended to harness the lessons learned over the past decade of population-centric warfare, retain what worked, and then determine what that means for land forces going forward," the person told Situation Report. "Understanding the relationship between people, technology and the environment will improve our efforts to shape the environment in positive ways that prevent war, just as it should allow us to make lasting process in future conflicts if we have to fight."

If it sounds like ground guys will be camping out and singing Kumbaya, remember that for the last decade, particularly in the early years of Iraq and Afghanistan, the ground components' individual elements have worked largely in ad hoc fashion, without understanding each other's culture or even knowing when the other was operating on the battlefield. This has led to frequent clashes. For example, Special Operations Forces have shown up to operate within a conventional unit's "battle space" without informing them first, and conventional units have tracked targets unaware that another ground unit was gathering intelligence from the same target and saw it as a smaller piece in a much bigger battlefield puzzle.

"It was like, ‘Hi, nice to meet you,'" the individual familiar with the group said.

That person was quick to insist that the cell is not an Army effort to counter Air Sea Battle -- the Air Force- and Navy-focused plan created under the auspices of 91-year old Pentagon futurist Andy Marshall in response to a rising China. Army and Marine officers charge that Air Sea Battle is costly and expensive and have poked holes in some of its assumptions. Although Air Sea Battle relies heavily on air and naval power, the Army has a role in it and doesn't begrudge the plan, we're told.

Odierno is expected to announce the formation of the group formally by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, did the surge work? There were four components that needed to work if the surge in Afghanistan, now over, was to work, writes Rajiv Chandrasekaran on FP: Karzai had to be a willing partner, the Pakistani government had to crack down on insurgent sanctuaries, the Afghan security forces had to step up, and the U.S. had to commit to Afghanistan's future, in the form of troops and money, for years ahead. Rajiv looks at each of those pillars. He doesn't draw his own conclusion, but points to Kael Weston, who appears in Rajiv's recent book and argues that Obama should have pledged to a ground force, whatever it was, for a decade; that it was more the length of commitment than its size. Afghanistan, Weston often told Rajiv, is more of a marathon than a sprint. Rajiv: "The surge was a sprint. And America got winded too quickly."

Ahmadinejad's position on a number of things, in advance of his U.N. speech this morning. The Iran Primer primes the pump.

Direct from the Crazy Poll Results Department: Americans accept torture creep. A new poll via YouGov shows that a quarter of all Americans are willing to use nukes to kill terrorists. Amy Zegart on FP: "[T]he poll numbers suggest that Americans have become more hawkish on counterterrorism policy since Barack Obama became president." Here's another surprising result:

In October 2007, a Rasmussen poll showed that 27 percent of Americans surveyed thought the U.S. should torture prisoners captured in the fight against terrorism, while 53 percent said it should not. But in this new YouGov poll, 41 percent said they would accept torture, while only 34 percent said the U.S. should not. And support for assassinating terrorists has grown from 65 percent in a 2005 poll to 69 percent today. More results and analysis here:

Former Pentagon officials turn Obama attack dogs. Three former officials from Obama's Pentagon, including Michele Flournoy, Colin Kahl and Doug Wilson, are all working for the Obama campaign now and, as E-Ring's Kevin Baron terms it, "each walked their own line between policy and partisanship" at a Washington breakfast yesterday. The normally reserved Flournoy poked holes in Mitt Romney's national security rhetoric, even highlighting some of his "bloopers" on Syria and his "distasteful" response to the unrest in the Middle East.


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