Sunday, November 29, 2015

More 1953 Coup Cables (part 2)

This is part 2 of 2 (though I expect to return to National Archives in the near future and find some more documents). Part 1

All of these documents are NOT included in the FRUS, yet are declassified. This is very interesting considering the second coup happened on the 19th and there are zero cables from this day in the collection. There may be more classified documents from this day, but the contents of the boxes at National Archives are horribly mixed up so it is very difficult to get an accurate account of what is there.

This may all change when the long-delayed revision is finally released. This was initially scheduled for Summer 2014, but was delayed due to the Iranian nuclear talks. This has been delayed once again and is now not expected until sometime in 2016.


Again format is Cable #, Month, Day, Time sent (Tehran time unless it is noted as rcvd which means DC time)

388 Aug 19 644 am
Street unrest Tehran continued through 18 August.

In morning Pan-Iranist HQ near Majlis wrecked by Tudehists. Small groups Pan-Islamists roamed city throughout day, taking revenge on all Tudehists encountered. Approximately 7:30 p.m. larger groups Pan-Iranists and Tudehists, some armed with clubs, clashed bringing total injured during day to estimated 15. Clash halted by police and army using night sticks and rifle butts. Numerous arrests made.

Pro-Shah army officers and men also active on small scale, attacking individuals who posted anti-Shah slogans.

Unrest CONTINUED as in there had been unrest on previous days. I believe the 'Pan-Islamists' is a typo of mine or possibly an autocorrect. This unrest seems to be not have been limited to one ideological conflict. Additionally the last sentence provides support to the theory that there were multiple distinct groups of coup plotters (as I have postulated in the past). After the first coup failed, scores of officers were arrested as is acknowledged by the various accounts, how could they possibly have captured so many and interrogated them yet still enough remained to conduct a second coup? This is a huge hole in the narrative from the groups who blame the US exclusively. 


390 Aug 19 609 am
Pro-Shah demonstrators in vicinity Majlis being reinforced by bazaar elements of type identified with Kashani and lesser religious leaders. Major pro-Shah crowd just reported heading toward bazaar.

More evidence of Kashani and Islamist involvement in the coup. It is unclear how 'major' the pro-Shah crowd is, and what this means exactly. Are they army officers? The 'party' type? The paid thugs?


392 Aug 19 1 pm
Embassy believes key to eventual Mosadeq control of pro-Shah elements armed only with sticks and stones at time public made restless by uncertainty situation remains in hands general staff which headed by loyal Mosadeq lieutenant.

General staff headed by a man loyal to Mossadeq. If this man is loyal, why did he not uncover the other disloyal officers? It was known that there was an attempted coup, and various press had insisted there would be a coup in the days weeks and months leading up to the events. Incompetence or what?


400 Aug 19 4 pm
PTT and press and propaganda offices occupied. Telegrams reportedly being sent provinces urging pro-Shah action similar that of Tehran.

Unclear who was sending the telegrams, and to whom. Did they mean for everyone to come to Tehran? Or to protest in the streets? And to what extent? Roosevelt had claimed to convinced a colonel in Kermanshah to come to Tehran with his troops, though given the distance (400 miles) and the relatively slow speed of transit, the logistics seem near impossible. Additionally it was claimed by Roosevelt that Hamedan was a Tudeh stronghold and was located halfway between Kermanshah and Tehran so how would the colonel and his troops traverse this?


404 Aug 19 5 pm
According various reports including Embassy and American officials, holiday atmosphere prevails in city. All vehicles have lights on as symbol Shah victory. Pedestrians applaud truckloads pro-Shah soldiers and civilians passing by.

'Holiday atmosphere' isn't exactly what one would expect for an unpopular coup. It is unclear where the 'truckloads'  of soldiers came from, were they from a local garrison or from other cities?


408 Aug 19 (rcvd 1132 am)
No attacks on foreigners any nationality reported Embassy so far, with exception burning shop identified as Russian seen by Embassy Officer. Pro-Shah demonstrators ignore or friendly toward obviously foreign passersby

One of the major complaints of Ambassador Henderson when he met with Mossadeq on the 18th, was that Americans had been attacked by Iranians. The apathy towards foreigners is interesting.


409 Aug 19 7 pm
Pro-Shah demonstrations spread throughout Tehran during day with truckloads Shah partisans touring streets to applause bystanders. Apparent overwhelming Royalist majority seems have silenced Leftists groups in evidence early in day. Non-Tudeh pro-Government papers wrecked or burned by mob. 


Attitude security forces initially ambiguous with increasing numbers individual soldiers, officers, policemen taking part pro-Shah demonstrations. Numerous truckloads soldiers at least 6 tanks touring streets sheering Shah in afternoon.


The Leftists groups were out earlier in the day but the Royalists silenced them. Earlier cables refer to Royalists without much mention of Leftists. The 'ambiguous' attitude of security forces is also of note as is the presence of tanks. Tanks move quite slowly, where did they come from? 

Thursday, November 26, 2015

More 1953 Coup Cables (part 1)

Recently I went to the National Archives to go through some of the State Department documents relating to the 1953 Iran coup. There are still quite a few classified documents (Which is illegal as they should have been declassified in 2003, but were last reviewed in the 1990s), but there were also many interesting documents not contained in the FRUS account of the coup. Additionally personal correspondences, letters, and photographs were included. I have collected some here and have annotated them (italics). This is part 1 of 2 (part 2).

With a few exceptions, format is Cable #, Month, Day, Time sent (Tehran time unless it is noted as rcvd which means DC time)

Dulles (week before July 17 1953)
“Any Iranian government, other than a Communist one, would be better for us than the present government. We have found it impossible to deal with Mossadegh” 

In the March 1953 National Security Council meeting (NSC 135) Dulles expressed a fear that removing Mossadeq would make a communist takeover probable. It is unclear what changed in these 4 months. 


109 July 16 3 pm
Newspaper editors tell Embassy that under title “State Department Preparing Coup d’etat in Iran” Soviet Embassy July 15 issued as special news release pinned to its daily bulletin a Tass Agency dispatch quoting purported NEW YORK POST story effect Mosadeq Government to fall this year in army coup and this army equipped trained by US advisers.

I have been unable to locate this article. The NY Post's online archives do not go back this far. The author of this article is a very interesting individual who spied for the Soviets in 1933, but turned very conservative and was a syndicated columnist for decades. An earlier article of his claimed that Mossadeq was controlled by Kashani and Kashani was planning to use Mossadeq to kick out the Shah.


Air Pouch Aug 15 Desp No 107
Evidence continued during the past week to pile up in support of the theory that slowly the Mosadeq Government was making headway in controlling information media. Radio is already Government-owned now newspapers are being told to get into step.

The police, acting under Article Five of the Martial Law Act— instigation of public disturbance— in a raid a week ago confiscated the equipment of ATESH, a strongly anti-Mosadeq daily. More recently agents of the Prime Minister have made threats toward unfriendly editors and given orders to the friendly.

The narrative is that Mossadeq was a liberal populist, yet he did have some autocratic tendencies, especially in times of great pressure. This shows how he was willing to act in a repressive manner when he felt threatened.


325 Aug 15 (rcvd 828 am)
With two distractions Baluchistan unreported official figures referendum vote give 2043389 for dissolution; against 1207.

Mossadeq had called an illegal referendum to dissolve the parliament just weeks before the coup. He had previously tampered with the Majles when in 1952 he stopped voting after enough MPs were selected to form a quorum. The referendum on dissolution passed in a landslide. It is unclear if there was tampering with the results as they were so one sided, but it is feasible.


339 Aug 16 (rcvd 641 am)
Radio Tehran made following announcement Noon today: “According to will of Iranian people, expressed by the referendum, dissolution of 17th Majlis declared. Elections for 18th Majlis will be announced after amendments to electoral law effected and after reallocation electoral districts. Dr. Mohammad Mosadeq” 

It is unclear what changes were to be made, or if Mossadeq was planning on tampering with the election as he had done 2 years prior.


348 Aug 16 8 pm
Flight by Shah and uncertainty Zahedi actions presumably leave Mosadeq victor in protracted and Persian-mannered campaign eliminate Shah as political force in country. Embassy considered quite possible Mosadeq may establish regency to provide needed interim before eventual proclamation Iranian republic. 

I think this is probably the most interesting short cable that is not in the FRUS collection. The regency followed by a republic sounds fantastic in hindsight, though this is probably an optimistic view. 


355 Aug 17 8 am
Government clearly in control situation this morning. Suggest you proceed immediately. Would appreciate quickest possible advice ETA as Prime Minister on several occasions has specifically requested earliest possible notification time your arrival.

Ambassador Henderson had been out of country.


367 Aug 17 (rcvd 1143 am)
14 army officers arrested in plot

One part of the narrative that has never made sense is the claim that the second coup was conducted by army officers. It is known that many officers of all different ranks from lowest lieutenant to generals were arrested. If there was only one plot, how is it that these officers did not break under interrogation and reveal the identities of the other officers? In my estimation it seems most likely that there were two (possibly completely separate from each other) factions that wished to overthrow Mossadeq and the second took advantage of the civil unrest to create a second coup. 


387 Aug 17 11 am
Reported religious societies planning petition Mosadeq for Shah’s return.

More evidence of Kashani and his followers being involved in the two coup attempts. It is important to remember that the State Department was NOT intimately involved with the coup and they would be unaware of potential collaboration between Kashani, the Shah and the CIA/MI6 etc. Also important to remember that Kashani was an inspiration if not much more than this for Khomeini and those who followed. Iranian clergy was almost exclusively quietist with Kashani as an exception. Khomeini followed in Kashani's footsteps. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

US Admiral: Iranian behavior hasn't changed in the Gulf

Yesterday the AP published an interview with Vice Admiral Kevin Donegan, the commander of the US Navy's 5th Fleet (based in Bahrain), in which the admiral stated that Iran's behavior around the Persian Gulf has remained unchanged since the nuclear deal was agreed earlier this year.

While it would seem natural to point to this as proof that Iran cannot and will not change its destructive behavior, this in fact is a limited reading of the situation, one that does not take into account the relatively short time between the deal and now, and additionally the identity of the various interests commanding the military endeavors of the Iranian Navy and IRGC-Navy.

Iran has been a rogue state for years; any change from this will undoubtedly take time and should not be expected to happen over night. For now, the conservative and reactionary institutions of the Iranian regime remain intact, and while they remain in power, they are expected to continue their disruptive practices. These parts of the Iranian ruling class are threatened by a potential opening to the West. It makes sense for them to want to strike out and try to regain the upper hand. I would not be surprised if there are more incidents (like this and this) involving the IRGCN and the maritime industry in the Persian Gulf in the coming months.

Lastly, while this seems quite obvious, it is important to remember that a state is more than its government, and the government itself may be much more diverse than ruling party or coalition. The Iranian people are not of one mind, and must not be stereotyped in this fashion. The IRGC does not speak for every Iranian, and the behavior of certain elements doesn't necessarily reflect the attitude of the people.

I expect change to happen following the next set of elections (early 2016). There is a high probability that many reformist and pragmatist candidates will be banned from running. If this happens I expect there to be a great deal of unhappiness from the Western-inclined portions of society, especially given the perceived success of the Rouhani government in opening towards the West. How this unhappiness is expressed remains to be seen.

A potential pitfall here is that this isn't an election for one position like there was in the 2009 presidential election. It could be much more difficult to organize any sort of civil disobedience without a single shared issue, and a general protest against the handling of elections may not be as appealing for the greater Iranian public. On the other hand it is much easier to fix an election for one race than to fix hundreds of races, so if enough reformist and pragmatist candidates are allowed to run, I would expect there to be a significant chance for Iran's government to change dramatically.

The Iran Deal should not be counted as a failure because of unchanged behavior by the Iranian armed forces. It must be given time, at least until the next elections. If the hardliners win these elections handily AND there is no public backlash then the argument could be made that the deal has failed to provide enough space for reformists to change Iran from within. Until then, we must wait.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

GCC to buy Iron Dome?

Two days ago Sky News reported that the GCC has plans to buy the Israeli defense system the Iron Dome in addition to other missile defense systems including David's Sling and Arrow to protect against Iran. These reports are interesting, yet misleading; Iron Dome protects against a very narrow band of threats, and Iran (not including proxies) does not provide this type of threat towards any Gulf state except perhaps Kuwait.

The story emphasizes the Iron Dome (in the headline as well as the text), while downplaying the other systems potentially for sale. This is probably due to a multitude of reasons including the name recognition; Iron Dome is widely credited with successfully intercepting hundreds of rockets from Gaza and maintaining a high success rate while doing so. There are those who doubt the efficacy, but as I've pointed out here and here (and have another piece in the works), these accusations are baseless and fraudulent. The other systems are known to be less successful, but given the higher degree of difficulty in intercepting a much faster moving threat this is logical.

The Iron Dome's maximum range was initially stated to be around 70 kilometers (just about the distance from Gaza to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem), though this is believed to be a slight underestimate and it may be as high as 100 km. Iran (with a few exceptions) is more than 70 km away from the GCC states, therefore Iron Dome would not be tasked with intercepting any potential Iranian rockets and missiles. The only locations that are within 70 km are the very tip of the UAE, and parts of Kuwait.
Light blue=70 km buffer
Purple=100 km buffer
It is clear that the Iron Dome with a few exceptions has absolutely not business defending against Iranian weapons; even if Iran attacked from the coast of Iran, almost all GCC territory is far beyond 70 or even 100 km. The only way for 'Iran' to attack from inside a defensible range would be for them to attack from the sea, or for them to have somehow infiltrated borders elsewhere. 

Weapons have been provided to the Houthis, and these weapons have been used to attack Saudi Arabia, but as the map below shows, the range factor makes the possible locations which 'Iran' could attack from quite limited. Additionally, Saudi already has the Patriot missile defense system which it has used against Houthi SCUDs. A deal to upgrade the system from PAC-2 to PAC-3 was just finalized. Iron Dome interceptors are cheaper than Patriot missiles by approximately a factor of 10, but when considering the number of batteries needed to defend the entire border area this is infeasible.

Light blue=70 km buffer
Purple=100 km buffer

The other way that Iran could attack a GCC country with extremely short-range rockets or missiles would be for them to launch these from the Persian Gulf. This is unrealistic because Iran's navy is set up to be asymmetrical and the 'asymmetrical' method of attacking with rockets would be to set up a rocket on a small speedboat; something which isn't going to happen for a number of reasons. Lastly even if 'Iran' was able to infiltrate a country and attack from within, the Iron Dome has had trouble with smaller mortars and wouldn't be able to defend against them. Larger rockets would be incredibly difficult to smuggle in to a country, though Iran could potentially arm terror groups this way. This wouldn't technically be an 'Iranian' attack. It is unclear if by 'Iran', Sky's source was also including proxies. 

Israel spent a lot of money on the development and production of this system, and they would love to recoup some of the expenditures. Potential sales to Asian countries (India, South Korea and Singapore) have fallen through or been false rumors. There remain a handful of countries that could use the system, though they are few and far between. These include Poland, Ukraine, Taiwan, Afghanistan, Iraq and the 3 countries previously mentioned. Iraq and Afghanistan would be under US supervision and both parties are hesitant to place the sensitive system in a location so vulnerable.

The United States gives a lot of aid to various countries, often with the stipulation that this money MUST be spent with US defense manufacturers. Raytheon is now producing Iron Dome missiles in this fashion. It is possible that the money spent on Iron Dome by GCC states would be from the US. A more likely scenario would be that the Iron Dome was included as some sort of package deal with the longer range and therefore more useful defense systems (David's Sling and Arrow).

I myself believe that this is not an accurate story and that this is disinformation spread for a political or economic agenda. It makes almost no sense for the GCC to buy the Iron Dome, even for the psychological purpose of making their citizens feel more safe. It is possible that this will be sold no matter, but I find it highly doubtful. 

Bilal Saab from the Atlantic Council's Scowcroft Center agrees with me, the reports of GCC attempting to buy Iron Dome are 'total BS' 

Friday, October 2, 2015

A clear long-term policy towards Iran is more important than the Iran Deal (published on The Eastern Project)

Last week I wrote for The Eastern Project about the myopia of policy makers and pundits in addressing the Iran issue. In particular the lack of a long-term strategy is concerning.

The article is available here:
https://medium.com/the-eastern-project/a-clear-long-term-policy-towards-iran-is-more-important-than-the-iran-deal-2a07382d9480

The full-text follows:

A clear long-term policy towards Iran is more important than the Iran Deal

The nuclear issue is only one component of a greater conflict between Iran and the West. The Islamic Republic of Iran’s leadership is opposed to Western ideals as well as American hegemony. Perhaps more than any other state, Iran funds and supports terror groups, intentionally threatening Western and global interests with violence. The status quo is unacceptable; the West must not let Iran (or other states) sponsor terrorism, especially terrorism that disrupts Western geopolitical interests.

While the political establishment and the media are fighting over the JCPOA’s particulars, a long term strategy for dealing with Iran is lacking, and potentially just as troublesome. Though there appear to be several distinct possibilities, there is no real discussion on this matter. The options include; forced regime change, self-democratization, or a non-interventionist hands-off ‘laissez faire’ approach.

Another, more complex approach, would be to continue working with Iran in some areas of mutual concern (ISIS), while opposing Iran in other areas (Yemen). Despite some merits, this approach is reactive and therefore is not a solid, long-term strategy. It fails to address the disruptive anti-Western nature of the Iranian regime; a threat the West cannot afford to ignore indefinitely.

Iran’s ruling apparatus is overwhelmingly comprised of conservative anti-Western males opposed to compromise with the West. Recently, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei again expressed his forceful opposition to the United States. This hostility will persist as long as the conservative factions retain power.

When any part of Iran’s leadership takes a leftward turn, hardliners block attempted reforms.
There are two prominent examples of this reactionary response.

Reformist Mohammad Khatami was president of Iran for 8 years in the late 1990s and early 2000s, winning both elections in surprising landslides. However, he was hampered by entrenched conservative institutions, and was unable to affect substantive reform.

Ayatollah Montazeri, the former deputy Supreme Leader, expressed dissatisfaction with the inflexibility of Ayatollah Khomeini’s state and its refusal to consider reform. Despite his formidable religious credentials and acceptance of Khomeini’s grand vision for an Islamic State run by theologians, Montazeri was removed from his position and confined to house arrest for most of President Khatami’s two terms.

It is reasonable to argue that current president Hassan Rouhani is hindered by a similar quagmire, though if the results of the the March 2016 elections go his way, the President has some room to maneuver.

Iran’s ruling establishment is unwilling to consider reform, so what happens next? The relationship between Iran and the West cannot continue as is; the West will not tolerate Iran’s support for terror and other disruptive practices indefinitely.

United States has meddled in Iranian affairs in the past, so any explicit statements about regime change (no matter the context) are dangerous. After the stolen presidential election of 2009, President Obama was heavily criticized for his decision to not publicly support the Green Movement. Much of this criticism was blind to the fact that any degree of support from the ‘Great Satan’ would irreparably damage the integrity of the movement, and paint it as a part of a greater foreign conspiracy. In fact, hardliners in Iran claimed that this was the case.

At the same time political sensitivities have not limited hawks from expressing anti-Iranian sentiments or interfering with the administration’s policies as evidenced by the open letter to Khamenei from Tom Cotton and other Republican senators.

Popular among libertarians and anti-imperialists, a strict non-interventionist role is unrealistic and ignores American (and Western) interests in preserving order and maintaining the status quo. Whether we like it or not, the global economy is dependent on a stabilizing force, and the United States is the state most capable of enforcing global hegemony.

Hawks commonly argue for increased sanctions and pressure until the Iranians capitulate completely. This type of external pressure does have the potential to damage a state, but over the years Iran has learned how to work around sanctions, and receives support from countries antagonistic to the West including Russia and China. While not anti-Western like Russia and China, the Non-Aligned Movement (which Iran is currently the president of) provides Iran another option for evading economic hardship.

Economic sanctions are capable of changing Iran’s behavior, but there is a limit to what they can do. It is near impossible to accurately gauge the power of sanctions, and therefore difficult to know exactly how they may be applied most effectively.

The nuclear-related sanctions were effective because a broad coalition was formed. A similarly comprehensive international effort would need to be created for economic sanctions with an end-goal of regime change. This will not happen.

Another regime change option, a full-scale military invasion would require a massive number of troops, and would unimaginably destabilize the region even further. Recent regional examples show the impracticality and unpredictability of this type of action.

Iran has long been the playground of global powers. At the same time, despite a demographically diverse population, it has managed to maintain a strong national identity. History tells us that an external threat is more likely to increase support for the Iranian state than foment unrest.
Supporting democratic institutions in Iran is also a daunting prospect. Too much, and Iranians will perceive foreign interference. Too little, and the conservative factions will even further solidify their control of the government.

There are many Iranians that are unhappy with the direction the Iranian government is driving the country (evidenced by the 1999 student protests, as well as the 2009 and 2013 presidential elections); considering this, a shift leftwards is not inconceivable. At the same time, reformist and pragmatist groups need room to operate.

The Islamic Republic has the ability to accommodate reformists and adapt to reflect the will of the people. A distinguishing characteristic of Iran’s official religion (Twelver Shi’a Islam) is Ijtihad — religious scholars reinterpreting Islam. While the ruling structure of the Islamic Republic is very conservative at the moment, one would think that this characteristic gives it the capability to change despite how entrenched the conservative structures are.

Iran’s confrontational attitude towards the West is unacceptable in the long run. Policy needs to be created and implemented. Even if the United States adopts an outwardly neutral stance, a serious discussion should be taking place about the future of the United States in the region and how Iran fits into these plans. How can Iran be dealt with and what are the implications of our actions in the short and in the long term?

The Iranian parliament (Majles) is scheduled to hold elections in March 2016. For the first time this election coincides with the election for the Assembly of Experts, a body tasked with voting on a replacement if the Supreme Leader dies or needs to be replaced. Both institutions are quite conservative, yet have at least some capability to turn in favor of the reformists and/or pragmatists. Last week, the grandson of Ayatollah Khomeini, considered a reformist, signaled his intentions to run for the Assembly of Experts.

The Iran Deal has put the hardliners in Iran under pressure. They need a comeback and to secure a conservative Majles and Assembly of Experts to prevent Rouhani from enacting reforms. The Reformists and Pragmatists are empowered by the potential success of the Iran Deal and have the initiative.

Both Iran Deal critics and proponents have an obligation to look at the big picture and determine what we want and how we are going to get there. Who will be empowered by our actions, and not only in the short-term. Is there hope for diplomacy? How does this deal factor into long-term strategy?

The forced regime change camp needs to identify exactly how they wish this regime change to occur, whether they wish to put economic pressure or whether they will resort to full-scale war to achieve their end-goal.

The diplomacy and self-democratization camp as well needs to do much more in explaining how they expect Iran to change, how these changes will be encouraged, and how this will be accepted by the Iranian public.

The non-interventionists need to reconcile American hegemony with Iran’s regional ambitions and explain how the conflict is not serious, and existential from the Iranian regime’s side.

While most agree that the United States and Iran are engaged in a serious ideological conflict, the long-term implications of this conflict are mostly ignored. It is by no means the most serious problem facing the United States and the West, but a blind focus on the microcosm that is the nuclear issue does no favors. While the Obama administration has tried to ‘pivot’ towards Asia, the reality is that the Middle East remains restive and the problems there will not simply disappear. Something has to be done so that Iran changes its disruptive, violent behavior. To do this, a clear and reasonable proactive policy to achieve these changes must be created and implemented.

Friday, August 21, 2015

The Side Deal No One Is Talking About

Just when we thought the Iran Deal debate couldn't possibly become more partisan and hyperbolic, a bit of poor journalism from the Associated Press' Vienna bureau chief has added unnecessary fuel to the fire.

Despite this outrage over a misunderstood and possibly fraudulent document (though I think it is more likely a series of translation errors and poor reporting), critics are ignoring an important fact; there is another agreement dealing with the possible military dimensions (PMDs, or 'outstanding issues' as the IAEA prefers to call them). In the IAEA's 'Road Map for Clarification of Past & Present Outstanding Issues regarding Iran's Nuclear Program' there are two agreements referenced between Iran and the IAEA.

The details of these deals are secret as is standard procedure when involving such sensitive matters. This is further complicated by the fact that Parchin is a military base. There is a separate agreement relating especially to Parchin because of this fact. If all of the sites that the IAEA wanted to investigate were civilian, there would likely be one agreement in the road map, not two.

JCPOA critics are so obsessed with Parchin because it is believed that illegal activities were undertaken at the site, but they seem so much less concerned with the other outstanding issues; issues that are also about PMDs of Iran's nuclear program. In fact, in the AP article, there is no mention of the other agreement also dealing with PMDs.

Parchin's potential nuclear connections are a problem, but aren't ALL PMDs important for Iran to explain to the IAEA? Shouldn't people be just as worried about the other agreement? It is important that all outstanding issues are resolved by Iran and the IAEA, in fact the JCPOA (and all of the sanctions relief) is contingent upon the road map being fully implemented. For all the talk about 'precedent' and establishing a baseline of inspections and behavior, why is it that the 'regular' roadmap agreement is getting so little attention? Isn't the approach of the IAEA dealing with PMDs at non-military sites also important?

It is baffling that the critics are only worried about one agreement in the road map, while the agreement, which involves around a dozen more outstanding issues, is ignored. The reporting is also shockingly bad, the existence of these agreements has been known since the JCPOA was signed over a month ago; this should have given them plenty of time to at least read this short document and note that the document regarding Parchin isn't the only thing that matters.


UPDATE 1:
I have asked a variety of sources (including ISIS Nuclear, and Ken Dilanian, one of the reporters with the byline) about why the AP failed to mention the other PMD document. All have ignored my question as of yet. They keep going on and on about folks insisting the document is a fake, while ignoring valid and important questions which undermines the reporting of the entire exclusive. I suppose I should not be surprised that folks are unwilling to consider another view and that they would ignore a point that proves they are most likely wrong.

UPDATE 2:
Still no answers from those I've asked before. What is most bizarre is that the original story (http://bigstory.ap.org/article/a9f4e40803924a8ab4c61cb65b2b2bb3/ap-exclusive-un-let-iran-inspect-alleged-nuke-work-site) seemed to have completely disappeared for a while. There is now a story on the 20th of August which refers back to the first story, but the first story is somehow gone from the original URL and a correction is on the page instead. The correction takes up a mere 132 words, and the rest of the story is gone. Additionally, many of the original flaws in the story remain. I find it most interesting that the author calls this secret agreement 'unusual' without any proof that this is in fact unusual. Has Mr. Jahn read a lot of secret agreements from the IAEA?

The AP did something sneaky by deleting the original story and replacing it with a 'correction' which states that the original story is below. This in fact is not true and there is no original story below. However, they also created a new URL with the correction AND the story which is not tagged to Jahn so it doesn't show up when searching the AP site for his articles. Either way the points about the correction are still valid and important.

—————

Following is a short breakdown of the AP exclusive and its fallout

On August 19th, the AP published an exclusive stating that Iran would be able to inspect itself at Parchin, a military site also allegedly involved in nuclear weapons testing. This new information was based upon the reporter copying a draft text agreement between the IAEA and Iran over testing at Parchin from an anonymous source.

Critics of the deal responded as predicted, while supporters were mostly quiet. Over the next few hours the AP inexplicably removed key parts of the article containing alleged specifics of the IAEA's testing procedures while adding quotes from politicians critiquing the specifics. Jeffrey Lewis caught the changes and shared a screenshot showing this.
https://twitter.com/ArmsControlWonk/status/634096807413481477

Later, some of these details were added back to the article, and a copied version of the draft agreement was published by the AP. There are a number of reasons why the information contained in the text provided by the AP is problematic; not only are there are a lack of technical details (which is what matters anyway), the terminology used seems to be wrong. A breakdown of the problems is available here: http://www.vox.com/2015/8/21/9187457/iran-iaea-agreement-text


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Mullah Omar Reportedly Dead (Again)

The Afghan government has indicated it believes Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban has been dead since 2013. This has been reported in the past, and given the man's habit of avoiding publicity and staying out of sight (even when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan), this is extremely difficult to verify. There are only a few known photographs of the man; he is extraordinarily camera-shy. The US wanted ad simply describes his height as 'tall', rather than even giving a range of possible measurements. He has been reported dead in the past, but this time the White House has said the reports are credible.

These reports indicate that Omar died in a Pakistani hospital 2 years ago. This is important because Pakistan's support of the Taliban (as well as other terror figures like Osama bin Laden) has been alleged many times. How would Mullah Omar have reached a Pakistani hospital if he was in Afghanistan as the Pakistanis have insisted? It seems most likely that Pakistani intelligence was sheltering Omar, or at least turning a blind to his presence in the country. It was reported in 2011 that Omar spent time in a Pakistani hospital for a heart attack before being released. If true, this would be more reason to believe that Pakistan had a significant role in protecting Mullah Omar, a terrorist desperately wanted by the United States.

Afghanistan has long complained about Pakistani's meddling in their affairs, this would be sure to fuel speculation in Afghanistan about Pakistan's role in this regard. The Taliban are still supported by many people in Afghanistan, but Afghans evidently view Pakistan more negatively than any other country. This is likely to negatively affect attitudes of Afghans towards Pakistan.

The other major implication of this news is the challenge to Taliban unity. They've been united under Mullah Omar for two decades; he was seen as a uniting figure, even though he was not as media-friendly as Osama bin Laden. Without this man as their known leader will the Taliban implode into factionalism or will a new leader step up? I expect the group to break apart, though the threat posed by ISIS could keep them together.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Khamenei's Eid al Fitr Speech

Ayatollah Khamenei's Eid al Fitr speech has received quite a bit of attention in the international press (herehere and here) because it is the first time Khamenei has spoken directly about the recent nuclear deal between the P5+1 and Iran. The speech was nothing out of the ordinary, as Khamenei repeated the same tropes he has repeated for decades. This was immediately jumped upon as proof that Iran, and Khamenei in particular, negotiated in bad faith, that Iran will never change et cetera et cetera. It is much more complicated than this.

Once again, the people saying this do little more than display their intense narcissism and lack of political acumen. These speeches are nearly always about domestic issues more than international ones (even when talking about international affairs), and at the same time they must be taken in context. Khamenei is a reactionary, a pragmatic one at that, but his political bent remains one way and will remain this way. This doesn't mean that Iran isn't going to change; Khamenei himself is threatened by this change and must act to mitigate this. The Eid al Fitr speech is a way for him to do this.

Rouhani, like Khatami a decade ago and Montazeri 30 years ago, is a challenge to the Ayatollah's politics. This coming year is a most important one, as the Majles and the Assembly of Experts both are slated to hold one of the most significant elections in the history of the Islamic Republic. Khamenei wishes to ensure his legacy continues once he dies, which means stifling domestic dissent, especially reformists, and electing a conservative AoE, so that if Khamenei were to die during this 8 year term, an 'acceptable' principalist candidate (or candidates) are selected to succeed him.

Iran needed the sanctions relief, and this gives room to Rouhani and his administration to improve the economy (one of the few important things the Iranian president has some degree of control over), but at the same time Khamenei wants to makes sure that the hardliners are not sidelined. I expect crackdowns, especially in the media (probably a closure or a lawsuit directed at reformist newspapers or journalists), as Khamenei tries to give a boost to the Islamic right.


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Iran Deal Thoughts

Before the terms of the deal were announced there were a few things I was worried about. These fears have been mostly alleviated though there are still a few concerns over the timing of some aspects of the deal. Most importantly it looks as though the White House's JCPOA released in April was nearly 100% accurate, despite outrage from the Iranians, who at the time insisted that the US reneged on terms. The key difference here in my opinion, is the arms embargo being lifted.

As I previously noted, the JCPOA from the White House was fairly clear in stating that ballistic missile, terror and human rights sanctions would remain. This is more or less accurate, though the ballistic missile embargo is to be removed before 8 years after the adoption date of the deal. We have no idea what the world will be like in 8 years, so this is not the worst result, considering these restrictions will remain in the near future. If we do need to re-implement sanctions, we have up to 8 years to figure it out.

Another key difference between the April framework and the agreement today is that the IAEA will have DAILY access to Natanz-the facility where enrichment will continue. The earlier document stated 'regular' access, so daily is probably the best possible permutation.

Other aspects I found to be interesting regarding the deal:

  1. 4 (and a bit of a 5th) of Obama's 9 executive orders sanctioning Iran will be removed. The 4 that remain are related to human rights issues, and Iran's support for Syria. Despite some commentators saying otherwise (https://twitter.com/BenWeinthal/status/620877350746652672), certain technologies including surveillance equipment will continue to be sanctioned. 
  2. Iran will address ALL possible military dimensions within 3 months (some parts in 1 month), while the IAEA has an additional 2 months (5 from tomorrow) to verify.
  3. 'Adoption Day' will be approximately 90 days after the 'Finalization Day' and is the starting point for other timed clauses.
  4. If there is a general dispute this is sent to an 'advisory board' made up of the 8 parties (P5+1 and EU and Iran). Each party has 1 vote. The dispute has 15/15/5 day periods at the end of which a dissatisfied party can walk. 
  5. As stated in the original JCPOA from the White House, there will be 25 years of monitoring and surveillance of uranium ore production in Iran.
  6. If Iran does not wish to give access to a site there is a 14 day period for resolution. If this is not resolved, an additional 7 days are allowed for 'committee' discussion and a further 3 days for implementation. 
  7. Iran will establish a 'Nuclear Safety Centre', but appears as though they will NOT be joining the Convention on Nuclear Safety. The previous Iranian ambassador to the UN claimed in January 2013 that they would, so this is very disappointing, but establishing the Centre is better than nothing. 
  8. Many individuals and institutions are removed from nuclear sanctions lists. However, the individual who has posted the Iran Deal text to DocumentCloud (this same one is distributed by major media sources) somehow managed to delete the section headers so the precise details of this are unclear at this point.


Overall the deal looks pretty good (most of the 'good' things that I noted before are still there), and importantly, the White House's JCPOA was (mostly) accurate. I was very worried that even further capitulations would be made, but they appear to have stood firm on nearly every issue (embargoes are a bit of an exception). I am worried about the dispute resolution time frame, and the very short time period that is given to resolve the PMDs is quite troubling. On the other hand, this short amount of time *could* force Iran to act quickly and to get this taken care of. This will work if the United States is willing to walk away if Iran fails to act in good faith. If they are not, then this is a horrible set of clauses and could cause irrepreable damage to the US and its foreign policy.

Pre-Iran Deal Text Thoughts

After days of anticipation, anonymous diplomats on both sides (Western and Iranian) have told reporters that there is a deal between the P5+1 and Iran potentially resolving the nuclear dispute.

While the text of the deal is not available yet, and they've yet to even announce the deal, what we've seen so far includes bits about IAEA access to military sites, and the arms and ballistic missile embargoes. It was also reported that all of the airplane related restrictions will be lifted, giving a much needed reprieve to Iran's dilapidated domestic air travel industry.

A big worry from the West is that the possible military dimensions (PMD) of Iran's nuclear program will remain unaddressed in the deal. To ensure that Iran doesn't cheat and create a nuclear weapon, the West wants the IAEA to have unfettered access to Iranian military sites, especially Parchin. Reuters seems to think that Iran will have the right to refuse access to the IAEA, though this refusal would mean that the P5+1 and Iran would convene and 'arbitration board' to discuss the reasons why the IAEA wants access and why Iran does not wish to give it.

Of course the West would want complete access to everything, but this is unrealistic. If Iran decides to cheat this could be a problem as the implementation, the timetable and the resolution process in a situation like this can be sensitive.

The arms and ballistic missile embargoes are a bit tricky because of how the White House's fact sheet claimed that these would continue. It was not stated that these would be phased out over time, so my primary concerns of an immediate lifting of the embargoes are alleviated for the time being. We also do not know exactly when the 5 and 8 year periods begin, and what the terms are.

A major concern for me, even though I've been fairly supportive of the entire process under Obama (including outreach, sanctions and negotiations) is the inclusion of non-nuclear issues into the agreement. Iran has many problems including human rights and terrorism, but there have been efforts to keep these, and other regional concerns such as Yemen, Syria and ISIS (not to mention the Israel/Palestine conflict) out of the nuclear negotiations.

The aircraft industry restrictions pre-date the nuclear dispute and therefore one would think that this is not a part of the negotiations. While I personally think this should obviously be removed because it appears to be a civilian matter (there may be military or other reasons for these restrictions that I am unaware of), I find it troubling that they have been included along with the arms and missile embargoes. Even if these sanctions were motivated by the nuclear dispute, it is disturbing that even though White House explicitly stated that these non-nuclear issues would remain as is, they have somehow been included. It does not give much confidence in the PR abilities of the administration.

More to come (probably in a different blog)

*'Snap-back' sanctions are not addressed because they are too complicated and impossible to gauge without the actual text

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Will the Iranian Arms Embargo Remain?

For me, one of the most interesting aspects of the Iranian nuclear negotiations is the sanctions, their meanings and classifications, and the circumstances under which they may be removed. For months, or perhaps even years, Iranian officials have unanimously and unequivocally stated that 'all' sanctions must be removed, and removed immediately. The P5+1, especially the Americans have stated that nuclear sanctions are a part of the negotiations, while 'non-nuclear' sanctions are not. Recently, Iranian rhetoric softened slightly when Ayatollah Khamenei stated that there will be a time-table for the removal of sanctions rather than immediate and complete reversal. The latest statement from the Iranian negotiating team in Vienna however, insists on removing an arms embargo placed on Iran.

They are, as far as I can tell, referring to the UN Security Council Resolution 1747, unanimously supported in 2007, punishing Iran for proliferation concerns and not fully complying with the IAEA. The sanctions clearly have a nuclear connection, but at the same time, explicitly mention ballistic missiles. The factsheet released by the White House in April in the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) emphatically states that while nuclear sanctions will be removed, "U.S. sanctions on Iran for terrorism, human rights abuses, and ballistic missiles will remain in place under the deal." The following excerpt from the JCPOA indicates that there is a plan to create a new resolution reaffirming the embargo on "conventional arms and ballistic missiles".


Given the inconsistencies here, there are a few important questions to be asked: 

  1. Will the arms embargo remain or be renewed in some way?
  2. Is Iran reneging on previously agreed terms?
  3. Did the White House put this in the JCPOA while it was still up for negotiation?
  4. Is this appeasement of hardline constituencies? Is one side trying to take advantage of the other? Does Iran not want a nuclear deal after all?
These questions are incredibly important, not only for understanding the contributions made by the different sides, but also because there are legitimate concerns over weaponry going to and coming from Iran. Hezbollah and other terror groups are armed by Iran, and easing restrictions on the Iran's armaments is bound to create further instability. Israel has not been afraid to bomb Syria, Lebanon and Sudan when they feel threatened by a possible arms transfer, usually of more advanced weaponry. The likelihood of this happening again would be much higher with this arms embargo removed. Iran may change its behavior towards its terror clients in the long-term, but a radical reduction in the scope and frequency of its covert actions is unlikely in the short term.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Hashemi Jailed, Ahmadi-Nezhad Hoping for a Comeback?

Two significant events occurred this past week concerning Iranian domestic politics.

1) Mehdi Hashemi, the son of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (former president and former head of the Assembly of Experts, and current head of the Expediency Council), was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his role in corruption and other associated crimes

2) Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nezhad (another former president) attempted to create a new political party for his followers (YEKTA) which evidently has been banned the day after formation.

Both of these events show attempts to reinforce the status quo among the Iranian governing elite. Hashemi's family has suffered intense persecution since the 2009 election when the former president gave nominal support to the Green Movement. He has since lost his position as head of the Assembly of Experts (and failed in his 2015 re-election bid), though his protégé Hassan Rouhani's surprising election to the Iranian presidency in 2013 shows that he and his ideology has at least some public support.

Ahmadi-Nezhad's comeback has been quiet, though his position in the Expediency Council (a body appointed by the Supreme Leader) shows that he is not necessarily out of the picture indefinitely.

These events show the power and conservatism of the Iranian political system and how difficult 'change' can be. The upcoming legislative elections are sure to be very interesting as reformists will feel empowered by the relatively moderate Rouhani election, and conservatives will be desperate to stamp out this reemerging threat.

Despite this, a person like Ahmadi-Nezhad could turn the situation on its head if he manages to gain enough momentum to pose a threat to the established conservative factions. Iranian domestic politics are so multi-faceted any power shifts can lead to unprecedented and indeterminate changes.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

FIFA corruption articles/links plus a few of my comments

Reviewing 'United Passions', FIFA's bizarre propaganda film
http://www.sbnation.com/soccer/2014/10/7/6934967/united-passions-review-fifa-bizarre-propaganda-film 


FIFA Report Clearing Qatar and Russia World Cup Bids Is Slammed by Chief Investigator
http://www.newsweek.com/world-cup-soccer-football-qatar-russia-eckert-michael-garcia-284292

Me (07/09/2014) This happens and FIFA does nothing: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/nicolas-sarkozy-colluded-to-get-qatar-2022-world-cup-8471758.html The minute a poorer country does something wrong, they get suspended: http://af.reuters.com/article/commoditiesNews/idAFL2N0PK1GR20140709 FIFA=corrupt and racist. No wonder they keep blocking anti-racism and anti-corruption measures

Fifa executive committee members 'awarded double pay rise' after new ethics rules ban bonuses
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2664945/Fifa-executive-committee-members-award-double-pay-rise-new-ethics-rules-ban-bonuses.html

Me (05/20/2011) the corrupt/biased FIFA ranking system has resulted in bad seeding which in turn screws CONCACAF/AFC (and Europe a bit) and benefits South America. if the US gets more than 3 points I would be absolutely shocked. http://www.si.com/soccer/planet-futbol/2013/11/21/usmnt-treacherous-world-cup-draw-brazil

Our favorite parts of FIFA's Garcia Report summary
http://www.sbnation.com/soccer/2014/11/13/7214791/our-favourite-parts-of-the-fifa-report

Garcia report appeal rejected by FIFA
http://www.goal.com/en-us/news/1786/fifa/2014/12/16/7144412/garcia-report-appeal-rejected-by-fifa?ICID=HP_TS_4



Me (11/13/2014) The International version of a dictator 'investigating' an 'election' where he 'won' 95% of the votes. 
http://www.fifa.com/mm/document/affederation/footballgovernance/02/47/41/75/statementchairmanadjcheckert_neutral.pdf

FIFA chief Blatter must quit, says anti-racism campaigner
http://edition.cnn.com/2013/04/05/sport/football/blatter-fifa-racism-football/index.html

FIFA members 'paid $1.5m for votes'
http://www.espnfc.com/story/917865/fifa-members-paid-$15m-for-world-cup-2022-votes-by-qatar

Me (06/28/2010) so now the rule is that we ignore the mistakes that were made and pretend that they dont happen? does anyone else think this sounds like something a facist state would??http://www.espnfc.com/world-cup/story/_/id/5335440/ce/us/fifa-censor-stadium-replays&cc=5901?ver=us

FIFA: Valcke denies Jack Warner's 2022 'bought' claim
http://www.bbc.com/sport/0/football/13592684

Me (12/30/2012) Like a good wine, most people mature with age. Sepp Blatter is the Carlo Rossi of people. Cheap and shitty with no hope for the future. He is also corrupt (which I would never accuse Carlo Rossi of being), so in fact Sepp Blatter is worse than Carlo Rossi. Soccer is the #2 sport in the US for teenagers behind the NFL, (http://soccerlens.com/soccer-is-americas-sport-of-now/97126/ ), and MLS this year set attendance records which both clearly contradict Mr. Blatter's ridiculous claims. Go back to doing things you do well Mr. Blatter, e.g. being corrupt and selling the World Cup to the highest (Qatar 2022), or most corrupt (Russia 2018) bidder.  


Me (05/21/2011) Pretending to be accountable so he can get reelected? Or does involvement of Bin Hammam in the alleged fiasco mean that Blatter is trying to implicate him so he gets another term?

Friday, April 24, 2015

Iran vs. America in Yemen and the Gulf

With the tensions in Yemen increasing and Iran and the US backing different sides, it was only a matter of time before the two found themselves at odds. While the US has not participated in the bombing, according to the Saudi news organization Al-Arabiya, they've participated in aerial refueling and other methods of logistical support (including rescuing 2 Saudi pilots whose plane either malfunctioned or was shot down). Several days ago it was reported that an Iranian convoy bearing weapons intended for the Houthi rebels was en route to Yemen. The United States redeployed naval assets and it appears as though the convoy (which includes armed ships) has reversed course and is headed back towards Iran.

The United States has a qualitative advantage militarily and in my estimation these events are a perfect example of this. Iran knows that their naval forces cannot possibly win a conventional battle with the United States, and even approaching the fleet is a dangerous escalation. The situation is quite different than that in Syria for a variety of reasons. While Iran has no trouble sending paramilitary fighters, arms and logistical support to Syria and Hezbollah in Syria, it is much more difficult to send so much through such a busy waterway at a time when the world's attention on focused on Yemen.

There is a not so fine line between supporting guerrilla forces and engaging a military might on its own terms. Iran has always worked asymmetrically (e.g. in Bahrain) and while they are habitual braggarts (Iran's military posturing) their actions tend to be closer to this than brinksmanship. The results here are unsurprising, and underscore the priorities of the two sides; the US wants to preserve hegemony, and while Iran lacks the power to directly confront the US, there are others ways it hopes to use to get around this in its quest for regional supremacy and international recognition.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Iran Deal Framework Thoughts

While the framework of the Iran nuclear deal is by no means "perfectly reassuring" (Iran won't abandon all nuclear enrichment and R&D, and probably won't join the Convention on Nuclear Safety), there are many very good clauses included, that hawks and doves alike should be pleased about.

Key points from the JCPOA:



  • Centrifuges reduced to 6104, with 5060 able to enrich uranium and all of them are IR-1, Iran's first generation and least capable centrifuge
  • A major reduction (97%) in Iran's LEU (low-enriched uranium). While it remains unclear how exactly this will happen, it is believed that this will be due to a mixture of dilution and shipping extra stocks out of country (probably to Russia)
  • All excess centrifuges will be put into IAEA monitored storage
  • Fordow will be converted and heavily restricted from nuclear activities for 15 years
  • Iran's later generations of centrifuges will not be used for 10 years
  • IAEA will have 'regular' access to all of Iran's nuclear facilities (including Natanz and what will be a formerly nuclear site, Fordow)
  • IAEA will have access to the supply chain and will also have access to and surveillance of uranium mines and mills for 25 years
  • Iran will sign the Additional Protocol of the NPT
  • Arak will be redesigned, and made incapable of producing weapons-grade plutonium and its core will be either destroyed or taken out of country
  • Iran will receive sanctions relief IFF it abides by the terms (IAEA will address enrichment, Fordow, Arak, PMD, and transparency)
  • IAEA has to VERIFY Iran has taken the right steps before sanctions are removed 
  • US Sanctions on Iran for human rights, terrorism, and ballistic missiles remain in place

A common refrain from hawks is that Iran has refused to address PMD (possible military dimensions), and has worked on developing its ballistic missile program. These concerns are valid. They've also worried about IAEA access to sensitive sites, and centrifuge R&D.

There are clauses in the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) which address all of these. If this is in fact accurate, the deal looks to be quite good.

There are a few drawbacks included, such as the continuation of enrichment at Natanz, though limiting the enrichment to a relatively low number of first generation centrifuges strictly limits Iran's enrichment capabilities. Jeffrey Lewis wrote here about the type of centrifuges used and how the number of total centrifuges operational is less important than how modern the centrifuges are.

Another possible downside to the JCPOA is the removal of sanctions. It remains unclear exactly under what circumstances the sanctions would be removed, how they would be removed, and if the conditions of removal are violated, how and how quickly the sanctions would be reimplemented. It seems as though only nuclear related sanctions are to be removed, which leaves quite a few sanctions left over.

One of the key components in the JCPOA is that the IAEA has to VERIFY and CONFIRM. Previously the IAEA has been unable to do this, so for this to be the case, Iran has to give MORE than it has in the past. This is a clear victory for the West. Also understated is the access to the supply chain granted under the JCPOA. If Iran were to secretly stash some nuclear materials and create a new nuclear site it would be much easier to take from an earlier stage in the process rather than from a facility that is already monitored by the IAEA.

Overall the deal looks very good for the West, though it is still not signed and completed so terms may change. If this framework is in fact accurate, Iran has conceded a lot (with the exception of Natanz which in my opinion looks like this is what the P5+1 'gave up' in exchange for other concessions). It is quite telling that the conservative editor of Iran's Kayhan newspaper Shariatmadari said Iranian nuclear negotiators: "We've given them a horse with saddle and received back its corpse."
If the most anti-American factions of the Iranian elite are upset with the deal thinking they gave up too much, then it is a good deal for the West.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Ayatollah's Spam Bots

I noticed a few hours ago a rash of spam bots on Twitter promoting Ayatollah Khamenei's letter 'To the Youth in Europe and North America' while searching for something which would seem to be completely unrelated. The bots appear to be using the reasonable hashtags #Letter4u and #LetterForAll in every tweet along with a mixture of completely irrelevant (and nonsensical) ones such as #CNN, #Canada and #StandWithIsrael, and a photo with a quote from Khamenei. In every tweet there is a shortened link which redirects to Khamenei's website and the letter.



The bots seem to be on some sort of cycle where accounts post a pattern of tweets in a particular order.


There are hundreds if not thousands of accounts, most of them with over 10000 tweets. Twitter has a limit of 1000 tweets per day, and the accounts seem to have been created with this in mind.

Many of the accounts use fake photos taken from a variety of places. Some of them show celebrities, while others journalists or other media personalities.



.@AndrewWrites thought you should be aware of this: someone using your photo and spreading pro-#Iran govt propaganda pic.twitter.com/2BXUdBZSR5
— Morgan Carlston (@MorganCarlston) March 22, 2015




As far as I can tell, the bots started around 10 days ago and have continued tweeting incessantly. The timing makes me think that this is in response to the letter from the 47 GOP senators, but as Holly Dagres noted in early February of this year, something similar happened on Instagram with spammed photos and quotes and hashtags. Perhaps it is just a coincidence, but I believe there is a connection to the letter.


UPDATE #1: Some of the hashtags used by the spam bots (in addition to #Letter4u and #Letter4all). From my count that is 67 hashtags co-opted by the spam bots (not counting the 2 'letter' ones). They appear to repeat every hour or so on a loop.






































UPDATE #2:
Quite a few of the accounts sending the spam have been suspended! I've been on a mission tweeting to people whose photos were used by the attackers, and it looks like at least quite a few of the fake accounts are suspended. Twitter searches for "Iron Dome" and "Stand With Israel", "Netanyahu", #GazaUnderAttack, #CharlieHebdo, and #JeSuisCharlie don't result in hundreds of spam tweets anymore. Unfortunately hashtags like #BBCNews, #AFP, #IslamicState, are still clogged, but kudos to Twitter and the support folks for finally doing something about this obnoxious nonsense.

UPDATE #3:
There is a new set of spam bots that has been operational for just over a week which I'd not seen yet.

They also link to some youtube videos, and a file at 4shared.com which is apparently owned by someone who is named here. The name again seems to be a fake.



They use an entirely different set of hashtags including:















I hope that Twitter does something about this parallel set of spam bots, and if this is a real name they are dealt with appropriately.

UPDATE #4:
All of the spam bot accounts that I have seen are suspended! I've tried searching for all the various hashtags and nothing shows up. Hopefully this is permanent and the spam bots don't start up again.

UPDATE #5:
The bots are back in town


UPDATE #6:
More bots
they appear to be using some strange service or hack to post these tweets. usually TweetDeck will tell me what app or site the user is using to post their tweets (so here is my tweet showing I use TweetDeck). When something like this showing "TweetDeck" or "Twitter Web Client" shows up, the text is a clickable link. These clickable links either don't lead anywhere or they redirect to sites that have invalid security certificates. 

UPDATE #7:
The bots are still going and Twitter doesn't care. Just counting these 10 accounts there are close to 900k tweets now (this screenshot was taken a few days ago and each bot posts just under 1k tweets per day)

Including this other account which I neglected to include there are over 1 million spam tweets. I find it strange that they wouldn't care about halting this.

UPDATE #8:
The bots have evidently ceased tweeting. They appear to be still active accounts and not banned or suspended, but none of the ones I am familiar with have tweeted in 15 hours. Hopefully this is the end of the plague, but they've proven malleable and capable of change so I am not too optimistic.


UPDATE #9:
Khamenei released another open letter, and coincidentally an inordinate number of bots started tweeting his nonsense. The letter was released yesterday, and the bots started tweeting immediately. The patterns of tweeting are different (it seems one account will send around 10 very quickly, and then another account will emulate this), but the fact that they are also using a service spoofer, and they seem to have started tweeting this letter almost immediately makes me think there is a connection to the regime. There are still some incompetencies including broken hashtags, but they are using mostly photos of people that appear to be moderately realistic (compare to the last set where there were photos of an Orthodox Jew tweeting Islamist rhetoric). 






Lastly the profile pictures do appear to be stolen, though as I mentioned they are much less suspicious than previous versions. 

At the same time, it appears as though several Iranian (and non-Iranians) journalists that had tweeted about the Ayatollah's letter have been suspended by Twitter per Iranian government request? At the same time Twitter ignores this same government's spam bots abusing its service? 

UPDATE #10:
Another weird development. It appears as though the spam continues, and the spamming accounts are not blocked, but their spam tweets aren't also showing up and searching for the hashtags used results in no results. To test this, I tweeted with the #Letter4U hashtag and it did show up in the search results. I also tried this with #CommonWorry and a similar thing happened




UDATE #11 (12/15/15):
Another strange development. A series of bots tweeting in Dutch about Khamenei's letter. This group has between 7000 and 63000 followers, follows 18-63 accounts, has tweeted 138-163 times (as of this update), and has 'liked' 71-79 tweets. They are all using the same service spoofing methods as previous bots. I am curious why they chose to tweet in Dutch and if there are parallel set-ups in other languages. I would suspect that the followers are bought. 




accounts used: QuyhgMelton
RebeccaOyiuhjy
NneitensteinAa
MikDean201
RarickR16
QoscarUrian
mui_rebecca
Second group:
PeterStekiel
Ania_Niedieck
Nina_Braun12
B__Muller
OY123121

Taking names and photos from different accounts to create spam accounts

UPDATE #12 (12/16/15):
I found some German spam bots tweeting about the letter: 
kluge_diana
ZManuela2
DuerrJurgen
mahler_stefanie
eric_wagner0
donnacasshrist1
flix_schulz
KrugerRobert5
tracyspeterson

They have very different metrics than the Dutch set. Namely, less followers and more tweets. 


UPDATE #13 (12/16/15):
More bots, posting graphics about Khamenei's letter, or terrorism or whatever. Using trending hashtags in all different languages.
Also the bots have figured out how to get past Twitter's filtering of the #Letter4U and #CommonWorry hashtags





UPDATE #14 (12/21/15)
The bots from Update #13 have been suspended, while the bots from Update #12 ceased tweeting 6 days ago.
However, another set of new bots with quite a few followers have emerged. These look like the most sophisticated by far, even though they clearly are bots. They tweet without links or photos at times, and do so in a way that makes it seem as though they are real users. It is clear they are not because these bots copy each other verbatim. These changes appear to have fooled whatever basic filter Twitter's staff implemented to mute them. The bots tweet in at least 2 languages, and I would suspect they use more than just these two. As the last 8 months have demonstrated Twitter has no interest in stopping regime sanctioned spam bot floods, while they BANNED Sputnik_INTL a clearly marked parody account mocking the "news" org Sputnik. Curious that their actions have supported Russia and Iran... 






UPDATE #15 (12/22/15):
There is now a group of MeK bots tweeting and retweeting each other about Iran regime abuses and various other current affairs news. They are also using the #Letter4U hashtag sometimes which the filter put in place by Twitter is incapable of catching. The bots link to an MeK site where news stories (or propaganda) are hosted. These are often taken verbatim from other sites.


UPDATE #16 (02/05/16):
The author and journalist Azadeh Moaveni wrote for Foreign Policy about attempts from Iranian intelligence to entrap her and to also get advice on how to promote the #Letter4U campaign. There clearly are major deficiencies in the execution of the outreach program. I also stumbled upon a bizarre group that set up a booth at Wayne State University near Detroit (and Dearborn, Michigan) to promote the Ayatollah's message and letters. This group seems to be affiliated with a Canadian NGO. It is unclear if any laws are being broken by promoting Iran regime propaganda, but they've not seem to gained much attention so far so I would assume its not of great concern at the moment.