A blast of truth

Prime Minister Netanyahu has made a statement on the ongoing negotiations with Iran. The statement is a clarion call with the blast of truth. In it, Netanyahu refers to the statement by the Iran militia chief stating that Israel’s destruction is “non-negotiable.” The statement is reported here by the Times of Israel. The video of Netanyahu’s statement is below.

The Washington Free Beacon has posted this transcript:

Yesterday an Iranian general brazenly declared and I quote: ‘Israel’s destruction is non-negotiable’, but evidently giving Iran’s murderous regime a clear path to the bomb is negotiable. This is unconscionable. I agree with those who have said that Iran’s claim that its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes doesn’t square with Iran’s insistence on keeping underground nuclear facilities, advanced centrifuges and a heavy water reactor. Nor does it square with Iran’s insistence on developing ICBMs and its refusal to come clean with the IAEA on its past weaponization efforts. At the same time, Iran is accelerating its campaign of terror, subjugation and conquest throughout the region, most recently in Yemen.

The concessions offered to Iran in Lausanne would ensure a bad deal that would endanger Israel, the Middle East and the peace of the world. Now is the time for the international community to insist on a better deal. A better deal would significantly roll back Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. A better deal would link the eventual lifting of the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program to a change in Iran’s behavior. Iran must stop its aggression in the region, stop its terrorism throughout the world and stop its threats to annihilate Israel. That should be non-negotiable and that’s the deal that the world powers must insist upon. Thank you.

Madam Hillary gets her wires crossed

The AP published an important story by Jack Gillum yesterday on the State Department’s response to a Freedom of Information Act request it submitted in 2013. Paul wrote about the AP story here.

The AP’s FOIA request sought correspondence between Madam Hillary and her advisers over a four-year period that contained keywords such as “drone,” “metadata” and “prism.” Gillum explained: “The latter ['prism'] was among several code words for controversial U.S. surveillance programs revealed by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. The request also asked for certain emails about government programs to eavesdrop on terror suspects believed to be foreigners.”

The AP filed its FOIA request 18 months ago. The State Department responded this week. Given the delay, the department’s response was slightly anticlimactic; the department turned over a grand total of four email messages.

On the paucity of messages touching on the subject, Gillum reports:

Steven Aftergood, a government secrecy expert at the Federation of American Scientists, said the low number of emails provided to AP could be because the State Department uses different words to describe its operations — such as “UAV,” or unmanned aerial vehicle, instead of “drone.”

It’s also possible that Clinton and her advisers’ emails are not in the department’s archives, he said.

“If there are four, one would expect there to be quite a few more than that,” Aftergood said. “And it looks like another indication of faulty records management and retrieval at the State Department.”

I’m not sure this exhausts the possibilities. A close reading of David Kendall’s letter to Rep. Trey Gowdy suggests “the Secretary’s personal attorneys” may not have retrieved and turned over all such messages.

Two of the four messages didn’t even address the subject on which the AP had submitted its FOIA request; they reflected Madam Hillary has simply gotten her wires crossed, as might easily happen when you have a single email account for both work and personal matters. Gillum reports:

Among the four emails obtained by AP is one in which Clinton accidentally mingled personal and work matters. In reply to a message sent in September 2011 by adviser Huma Abedin to Clinton’s personal email account, which contained an AP story about a drone strike in Pakistan, Clinton mistakenly replied with questions that appear to be about decorations.

“I like the idea of these,” she wrote to Abedin. “How high are they? What would the bench be made of? And I’d prefer two shelves or attractive boxes/baskets/ conmtainers (sic) on one. What do you think?”

Abedin replied, “Did u mean to send to me?” To which Clinton wrote, “No-sorry! Also, pls let me know if you got a reply from my ipad. I’m not sure replies go thru.”

In sum, as Gillum reports at the top of his story, the four messages have virtually nothing to do with the subject of the AP’s request: “She asks for a phone call in one, a phone number in another. She seeks advice on how best to condemn information leaks, and accidentally replies to one work email with questions apparently about decorations.”

Gillum’s AP story is dated March 31. This is not an April Fool’s joke.

The capitulationist

In his weekly Wall Street Journal column yesterday (accessible via Google here), Bret Stephens compiled quotes from President Obama setting forth his previously stated demands of Iran in connection with its nuclear program. Here is how Stephens’s column opens:

For a sense of the magnitude of the capitulation represented by Barack Obama’s Iran diplomacy, it’s worth recalling what the president said when he was trying to sell his interim nuclear agreement to a Washington, D.C., audience in December 2013.

“We know they don’t need to have an underground, fortified facility like Fordo in order to have a peaceful program,” Mr. Obama said of the Iranians in an interview with Haim Saban, the Israeli-American billionaire philanthropist. “They certainly don’t need a heavy-water reactor at Arak in order to have a peaceful nuclear program. They don’t need some of the advanced centrifuges that they currently possess in order to have a limited, peaceful nuclear program.”

Hardly more than a year later, on the eve of what might be deal-day, here is where those promises stand:

Fordo: “The United States is considering letting Tehran run hundreds of centrifuges at a once-secret, fortified underground bunker in exchange for limits on centrifuge work and research and development at other sites.”—Associated Press, March 26.

Arak: “Today, the six powers negotiating with Iran . . . want the reactor at Arak, still under construction, reconfigured to produce less plutonium, the other bomb fuel.”—The New York Times, March 7.

Advanced centrifuges: “Iran is building about 3,000 advanced uranium-enrichment centrifuges, the Iranian news media reported Sunday, a development likely to add to Western concerns about Tehran’s disputed nuclear program.”—Reuters, March 3.

The column continues in this vein. I hope readers who are interested in the subject will check it out.

Stephens’s column inspired the Free Beacon’s David Rutz to compile the video below documenting Obama’s diplomatic surrender to Iran. The perfect accompaniment to Stephens’s column, it provides what Othello called “the ocular proof.”

Losin’ in Lausanne (7)

Following his messages summarizing the status of negotiations with Iran on the verge of yesterday’s purported deadline, Omri Ceren arranged a conference call with former IAEA Deputy Director General Olli Heinonen. On the technical issues Heinonen knows what he is talking about.

Having sat in on the conference call, I thought it might be of interest to readers who have been following this series and trying to understand what we have given away in the negotiations so far. Passing on the transcript of the conference call, Omri wrote:

[T]he full transcript from this morning’s 10 minute phone hit with Olli Heinonen is pasted below….[T]he quotes are quite candid, especially from a figure of Heinonen’s stature: former IAEA Deputy Director General, former chief of safeguards at the agency, literally the guy who was in charge of the sorts of things the IAEA will be doing in Iran. The audio is online on TIP’s SoundCloud page here. Some highlights….:

The proposed deal falls short of the administration’s 1 year breakout time goal: “[W]hen I look from the parameters which I know, it looks to me that if there are 6,500 centrifuges remaining, installed and in operation – it might be difficult to get it to one year or longer, the breakout time. It will be clearly below. And then we have to add all the uncertainties, the unknowns.”

The administration’s concession on Iranian disclosure, revealed in a WSJ scoop on Wednesday, will cause future monitoring to fail: “you are more or less fencing one hand behind your back and it might be difficult to find the proper places and detect them early enough… it is important to get to those locations and have them subject to the monitoring. Anything less, I don’t think this monitoring scheme will be successful in the longer term.”

Iran continues to jam up the IAEA, which prevents the prerequisite baselining needed for future verification and monitoring regimes: “IAEA has not been able yet to verify the completeness of Iran’s declaration. So we don’t know at this point of time whether all the uranium which is in Iran is really subject to IAEA verification. Same is with the enrichment program. They have produced a lot of centrifuges. Are these all the centrifuges installed and operating, which we see in Natanz? This, together with the military dimensions to understand what were the activities on high explosives, missile reentry vehicle which Iran seems to have done. All these 3 items – nuclear material inventory, all the centrifuges, and this PMD – they form a baseline for future monitoring.”

…Last week’s concessions, which seem to have bought only an announcement to keep negotiating, are only now beginning to sink in.

Here is the transcript of the conference call with Heinonen (including links I have inserted to to articles Heinonen cites):

Omri Ceren: Thank you all for joining us today on what I know is a very, very busy and very early, for some of you, news day. We have on the line with us Olli Heinonen, of course, he is known to all of you, Former Deputy Director General of the IAEA. He was the chief of the safeguards program over there. And we wanted to make sure that you had access to him or to at least hear from him in the context of one of the major debates that are ongoing around the Iran talks which is course the issue of verification, in the broadest sense, and the issue of Iran’s possible military dimensions, in the specific sense, which throughout this week has been a source of controversy, a source of major news, debates over the degree to which Iran will have to make concessions have been key to the discussions over here. There is no one, quite literally no one, in the public sphere today who has written more on this than Dr. Heinonen has….[A]t this point, I will turn things over to Dr. Heinonen to talk about where we are, where we’re going, and how it relates to where we’ve been, Olli?

Dr. Heinonen: Hi thank you. Thanks for having me and good morning to everyone from Geneva. Actually, in my meeting room here in the United Nations building, they are setting up all kinds of security arrangements. So it seems to me that some kind of deal is around the corner, but it will be a very, very long day.

And what we are going to see, I think, maybe the process: taking a stock where they are, explaining some kind of framework, what they have agreed, what will be agreed now with regard to the nuclear program of Iran and then some kind of plan how they will go this remaining 3-4 months because as you remember, nothing is agreed before everything is agreed. So whatever we hear today is a very generic, very tentative agreement, and I think they will address a number of issues.

One is the scope and content of enrichment program of Iran. Certainly everyone is interested how many centrifuges will be there, which kind of enriched uranium stocks will stay in Iran. This is an important parameter on the program, centrifuges and types of centrifuges, and then what will be the R&D program of Iran with regard of centrifuges, and then is this a possible military dimension? I don’t think they will put much details on that yet – on the table, how they will go about it. And then are generic things which I’m not sure they will be talking very much like lifting of sanctions, how they have foreseen a stepwide process.

But there needs to be some additional elements, in my view. There needs to be a robust system for the cases of non-compliance, if Iran doesn’t honor its undertakings there must be consequences. And then, let’s look at the nuclear program as a whole and project this whole thing to the future. I think that I would divide this future in three parts: One is next few years, where we know how much Iran has centrifuges, which stocks will stay, and we can fairly easy to establish the breakout times. And to this end, I refer to an article which I wrote on the website of Washington Institute [here]. You will find the numbers, in my view, about the breakout times there so let’s not spend time for that.

But the important thing will be the R&D on centrifuges, what kind of centrifuges Iran will develop further, in which numbers, which kind of access rights IAEA will have to ensure that no centrifuges which are produced there are all declared. And this goes to my medium term plan because this is the time when the nuclear landscape in Iran will change and then comes the theory of somewhere of ten years or after on how we can maintain a robust system in place so that Iran’s nuclear program is entirely for peaceful purposes. And this is a time, where in my view, the provision of the so-called Additional Protocol Plus should still continue until Iran has fully restored the confidence of the international community to its nuclear program and this goes well beyond 12 or 15 years in my view.

And then how to deal with the military dimensions. That will be sticky. But we have to look – this [inaudible] in its totality. IAEA has verified how much nuclear material Iran has declared and confirmed those numbers. But IAEA has not been able yet to verify the completeness of Iran’s declaration. So we don’t know at this point of time whether all the uranium which is in Iran is really subject to IAEA verification. Same is with the enrichment program. They have produced a lot of centrifuges. Are these all the centrifuges installed and operating, which we see in Natanz? This, together with the military dimensions to understand what were the activities on high explosives, missile reentry vehicle which Iran seems to have done. All these 3 items – nuclear material inventory, all the centrifuges, and this PMD – they form a baseline for future monitoring.

So what Iran has to do in this first stage is actually to come with a complete declaration on its past and current nuclear program. And this will be the baseline on which the IAEA starts to verify. And this would be part of the agreement which they now negotiate. So I think that this gives you a summary. I’ll just add one more thing, if you go to the Washington institute piece. You see that I’m asking that what are the real breakout times; because when I look from the parameters which I know, it looks to me that if there are 6,500 centrifuges remaining, installed and in operation – it might be difficult to get it to one year or longer, the breakout time. It will be clearly below.

And then we have to add all the uncertainties, the unknowns to this image. Are there some unknown nuclear materials, are there some unknown centrifuges, so it’s going to be very hard to maintain that one year. And I think at this point, I refer to the paper which I wrote with General Hayden about the compliance and uncertainties to Washington Post a couple, a few days ago [here].

So after this I think that I’m ready for questions and as many questions you have, I’ll try to answer them to the best of my knowledge. Thank you.

Omri Ceren: The first question that we had and this is a question that we got numerous times: As I’m sure you know, on Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal revealed that the Americans may be contemplating an arrangement where Iran would not have to submit to full disclosure of all the 11 outstanding issues that they have with the IAEA until some time in the middle of the deal. I was wondering if you could comment on what effect that would have on the verification regime and how much space there is to put off disclosure or whether disclosure has to be given at the very, very beginning.

Dr. Heinonen: I think it would be better because you know you need to have a good baseline for a solid monitoring. You need to know how far they got, which are the important institutions and capabilities so that you pick the right things for the monitoring. Because if you go the other way around you are more or less fencing one hand behind your back and it might be difficult to find the proper places and detect them early enough. But this perhaps can be to certain degree compensated by additional access rights. But I think by far the best starting point is to have a complete disclosure. We may a difference in view what this disclosure means. Because many of these experiments which Iran has done, they serve for dual purpose. They can be conventional military but they can also be nuclear military. So I don’t think we should start a debate whether this is you know a weapons program or not but it is important to get to those locations and have them subject to the monitoring. Anything less, I don’t think this monitoring scheme will be successful in the longer term. And we have a good example from North Korea in 1994: compromised in the beginning with the declarations.

The call with Heineken was organized by The Israel Project. The Israel Project’s online site The Tower has more on Heinonen’s briefing here.

Did the Virginia State Bar tell its members the truth?

I wrote here and here about the Virginia State Bar’s decision to cancel a seminar it had scheduled in Jerusalem. The cancellation occurred after a small number of anti-Israeli petitioners objected.

VSB president Kevin Martingayle tried to defend the decision in two letters to members. I reprinted the first letter, which announced the cancellation, in my first post and the second letter in my follow-up piece.

The second letter, co-written by Martingayle and VSB President-Elect Edward Weiner, states in part:

President-elect Edward L. Weiner, chair of the Midyear Legal Seminar Committee, communicated with the Israeli Embassy. An embassy official expressed a desire to facilitate the trip but acknowledged that security protocols are strict and could lead to exclusion or restriction of some VSB members.

In the face of this information, we felt it necessary and appropriate to forego this trip.

But did anyone at the Israeli embassy actually give Weiner the information he and Martingayle describe? The answer seems to be: no.

Prof. William Jacobson of Legal Insurrection emailed Weiner to ask whether, in fact, he talked with the Embassy regarding entry requirements, and to provide details. According to Jacobson, Weiner responded as follows:

Although I asked about entry requirements, I was told that was a security matter. The embassy could not speak to and couldn’t make representations about what security would require.

In a follow-up email, Weiner told Jacobson:

I would add that I understood the man couldn’t speak to how people would be handled upon attempting to enter Israel when I couldn’t tell him who the people were.

In these emails Weiner acknowledges that the embassy did not tell him that security measures could lead to exclusion or restriction of some VSB members. Rather, the person Weiner talked to said he couldn’t discuss security requirements or how they would apply to VSB members.

Weiner also told Jacobson that he was the only person from the VSB to discuss the issue with the Israeli embassy.

Weiner’s admission strikes me as devastating for two reasons. First, as I read his emails, they show that the representation he made to VSB members — that the embassy told Weiner that security procedures could lead to exclusion or restriction of some VSB members — isn’t true.

Second, the Martingayle-Weiner letter, as I read it, asserts a direct causal relationship between the alleged statement of the embassy — the one the embassy didn’t make — and the decision to cancel the seminar. To be sure, the letter mentions other information, i.e., a State Department advisory and a shortage of members who had signed up for the trip.

But under-subscription wasn’t even mentioned in the letter announcing and initially explaining the cancellation. And, as Jacobson points out:

[T]he State Department advisory sheds no light on whether any particular VSB member or group of members would in fact be barred entry. Israel receives tens of thousands of visitors each year from Muslim countries, without problem.

The State Department advisory speaks only of some unspecified number of cases in which some people have been more intensively questioned or delayed entry, just as happens at U.S. ports of entry.

Accordingly, the personal communication with the Israeli Embassy, as described in the Martingayle-Weiner letter, is key to the VSB’s defense of its actions. Yet, the personal communication apparently was not as the letter describes it.

Something is rotten here. I suspect it is this: the VSB leadership mindlessly bought into an anti-Israel narrative and, in trying to demonstrate otherwise, is tying itself up in knots.

The leaders should admit they acted rashly and unwisely, and they should apologize.

“If You Like Your Peace In Our Time…”

In Lausanne, talks with Iran continue past the supposed March 31 deadline. This is no surprise, since the deadline was wholly arbitrary. The Washington Post reports:

Negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program blew past a Tuesday deadline, U.S. officials said, with diplomats struggling to reach consensus on the difficult issues of sanctions, enrichment research and future limits. …

The decision to keep talking suggests negotiators believe an accord in some form is still possible.

Of course it is! We just need to yield on a few more points.

The extension was surprising, partly because State Department officials had been adamant that the March 31 deadline they set when an interim agreement was extended in November was firm.

It wasn’t surprising to us.

In fact, the deadline was mostly about American politics.

Naturally. Everything in this administration is about politics. National security is an afterthought, if that.

Few lawmakers reacted publicly on Tuesday to the latest developments in the talks. But Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said that the prolonging of talks into an extra day, “in the face of Iranian intransigence and duplicity, proves once again that Iran is calling the shots.” He also predicted Obama would make “further concessions” to Tehran.

That’s a pretty safe prediction. Much safer than, say, Kentucky in the Final Four.

We have had much to say about the administration’s negotiations with Iran over the last several months, and will have more to say in the days to come. For now, let’s leave it with Michael Ramirez, who reminds us that we are relying on the most duplicitous, most shameless and least reliable president in modern history. Click to enlarge:


The Germanwings Crash and Gun Control

Co-pilot Andreas Lubitz carried out a horrifying mass murder of the passengers aboard Germanwings flight 9525. It has come to light that he was diagnosed with serious mental illness, but medical professionals were prevented by German law from communicating his condition to the airline, and Lubitz hid his psychological issues:

Strict medical privacy laws mean the companies were oblivious to the potential dangers lurking in Lubitz’s mind as the first officer took the plane into a steep descent over the region that members of his local gliding club, where he developed his passion for flying, had toured in the past. Confidentiality regulations, designed to protect medical data and encourage people to consult doctors without fear of repercussion, put the onus on patients to disclose potentially hazardous diagnoses to authorities and their employers.

“The medical secrecy rules are centuries old and touch the core of the medical profession,” said René Steinhaeuser, an attorney at Wigge lawyers in Hamburg who specializes in medical law. “Without that, the relationship between physician and patient, and thus the medical system as a whole, wouldn’t work.”

Tonight’s news includes suggestions that someone at Germanwings may have had information about Lubitz’s situation, but put that to one side for purposes of this discussion.

The point I want to make is that the privacy concerns that likely contributed to the Germanwings disaster are similar to those that we see here in the United States with respect to gun control. Everyone agrees that a deeply depressed, suicidal or homicidal person shouldn’t be piloting a commercial aircraft. Likewise, everyone agrees that such a person should not be purchasing firearms. But it is not easy to say how that goal should be achieved.

In the context of aviation, mental health professionals have warned that breaching the confidentiality of the doctor-patient relationship may deter depressed individuals like Lubitz from seeking help, making the problem worse rather than better.

In the firearms context, liberals are constantly agitating for universal background checks. In fact, background checks are already universal with respect to licensed firearms dealers, but arguments are made for expanding those checks to sales between private citizens.

In general, there are two types of people we don’t want possessing firearms: criminals and the mentally disturbed. With respect to criminals, background checks work reasonably well, as far as they go. If you have a felony conviction, you won’t be able to buy a gun from a licensed dealer. Criminals know this, of course, so they do one of three things: they buy guns from friends or fellow gang members, who would simply ignore a legal requirement to run a background check; or they steal firearms; or they have a straw purchaser, typically a girlfriend, buy the gun for them. So universal background checks would do nothing to prevent criminals from acquiring guns.

When gun control advocates talk about expanding background checks, they have in mind mass shootings. The problem here is that a background check is only as good as the list against which the check is run. Expanding background checks will do nothing unless the person in question is on the list, and experience shows that the people who perpetrate mass shootings, even though they may be palpably crazy, are seldom on the federal don’t-sell list. Seung-hui Cho, the Virginia Tech murderer who I believe is the worst “mass shooter” in American history, famously passed two background checks. NPR suggests that the problem is largely in the limited scope of the current law:

Federal law is supposed to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, but many say the language in the current law is outdated and confusing.

“People adjudicated as mentally defective is one category, and the second category are people committed to mental institutions — and that’s the terminology that’s used in that law,” says Ron Honberg, director of policy and legal affairs at the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

He says the policy language is “horribly stigmatizing, and in fact so offensive that it’s hard to even discuss the substantive aspects of the law.” Honberg also says it’s not particularly helpful to officials who have to decide who should and shouldn’t be allowed to buy a gun. He says “no one really understands what it means.”

You can put people who have been adjudicated as mentally defective and those who have been committed to mental institutions on a don’t-sell list because you don’t need to violate doctor-patient confidentiality to do so. But what about those who are crazy as loons but haven’t yet been committed? Most mass shooters fall into this category, e.g., Seung-hui Cho, James Holmes and Adam Lanza.

Holmes is an interesting case. He passed a firearms background check, but the psychiatrist who treated him at the University of Colorado-Denver, Dr. Lynne Fenton, recognized that he was a danger to others and reported him to the University’s campus police. That did no good. As far as I know, her report did not satisfy the criteria for inclusion on the federal don’t-sell list, and, in any event, Holmes probably had accumulated plenty of weapons and ammunition before Dr. Fenton concluded that he was a threat to public safety. So her warning went nowhere.

This is a big topic, far beyond the scope of a single blog post. But there is an ineluctable tradeoff between security and medical privacy. If we want to be sure that pilots who fly commercial airplanes aren’t sliding off the deep end, we will have to require their doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists to report on them, perhaps speculatively, perhaps prematurely, perhaps wrongly. Likewise, if we want to prevent the mentally ill from obtaining firearms, we will need a far more robust system of getting their names into the don’t-sell database. At a minimum, this would entail requiring mental health professionals to blow the whistle on their patients, as some states have now legislated. Realistically, it would also require a system where friends and relatives could put a mentally ill person on the list, with, presumably, some sort of appeal process.

Some will argue that, given the rarity of mass shootings and pilot mass murder, the game is not worth the candle. That may well be the right answer. My point is that in both contexts, if we want more robust security, we may need very different privacy assumptions than those that have prevailed for the last several centuries.