Thursday, 31 December 2015

Wylfa's secret role in nuclear warhead production‏

Letter sent to theWestern Mail:

Your report (December 30) on the closure of Wales’ last nuclear power plant, at Wylfa on Anglesey,  marks an important moment in Welsh industrial history. (“Wylfa nuclear power station marks its final day after more than 40 years in service” (


Wylfa Site Director, Stuart Law, is reported in Heledd Pritchard’s article as saying the closure marks a “safe and dignified end to the generation of electricity at Wylfa” and that the main focus for the coming months is to prepare staff and the site for defuelling the Magnox reactors, originally ordered by the now defunct nationalised power generator, the Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB) in the late 1960s.

But the account of the 44 years’ operating life of the reactor omits one very important aspect: the production of plutonium for use in nuclear warheads, both in Britain and the US.

This was first revealed in an exclusive front page Western Mail story by your then political editor, Sarah Neville, on 8 October 1984. It was followed in more detail by former Labour MP for Blaenau Gwent, Llew Smith - for whom I used to do research - on in a feature article in the Western Mail on 3 March 1986, followed up by a letter in the paper from Mr Smith  (“Safety problems at Wylfa Nuclear plant, “11 December 1995).

Mr Smith cited an interview I conducted on 19 January 1983 with the late Lord Hinton, the first chairman of the CEGB, (barely five months before his death, at which point he was still advising the electricity industry) in which he said to me “Wylfa is a long and sad story. It ought not have been built at all, but when I suggested this to the Permanent Secretary [at what is now the Department  of Energy and Climate Change]  he said you have got to build it in order to meet the government programme.”

The programme to which Lord Hinton referred was not electricity generation but plutonium production, as became clear in the Sizewell B nuclear plant public inquiry  which had just begun when I interviewed Lord Hinton, and ran for 333 days.

During that inquiry, Professor Keith Barnham , who with myself  gave expert evidence for the CND Sizewell Working Group, produced technical evidence demonstrating  around 630 kilogrammes (+ or – 80 kgs) of plutonium produced in UK magnox reactors had been exported to the US for military use ( a nuclear warhead c typically uses 5-10 kilos). This research was published in detail in the prestigious international science weekly  journal, Nature, on 19 September 1985.

A decade later, in October 1995, former Labour peer, the late Lord Hugh Jenkins of Putney, a life-long CND supporter, asked the Government in a written Parliamentary question (headed, Wylfa Power Station: Plutonium Creation109WA ) ‘how much plutonium Wylfa nuclear power station has created since it began operation in 1971, where it has gone and where it is now, and what relationship there is at the plant between plutonium production and the generation of electricity.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie,  answering for the Conservative Government said: “Since 1986/87, estimates of the plutonium contained in the reactor discharges at Wylfa power station have been published as part of the annual plutonium figures. I cannot answer for previous Administrations. Amounts arising from Wylfa continue to contribute to the United Kingdom's civil holdings under international safeguards…Irradiated fuel from Britain's various civil Magnox reactors is reprocessed together and therefore the plutonium arising, whether in store or exported, is not linked to the specific power station in which it was created.”  [House of Lords 23 October 1995, column 109WA 109WA]

The give-away is the minister’s admission that nuclear fuel from all Magnox reactors was “processed together” (at Sellafield)   and hence the recovered plutonium  loses  it identity.

The export of UK plutonium to the US took place under a controversial 1958  bilateral  UK-US deal, called the Mutual Defense Agreement on Atomic energy matters ( as amended in 1959) The word defence is spelled with an ‘s’ even in the British edition, giving away the origin of its drafters in the US!)

When this draft agreement was discussed in the US Congress on 4 February 1958 (it was never debate in the British Parliament at all before coming into force) Lewis Stauss,  chairman of the US Atomic Energy Commission, let slip the following nuclear nugget of information on the aim of the deal with the UK “This is primarily to supply plutonium to us for our unrestricted use, which is to say , at present, our  military use.”

This UK-US MDA was most recently renewed in October 2014,( ) and despite being challenged by the then Labour back bench MP Jeremy Corbyn, in a Parliamentary debate on 6 November 2014 ( , remains in force.

So when Wylfa’s final discharge of spent nuclear fuel is finally reprocessed at Sellafield, the plutonium could still end up in US nuclear warheads

We should not be complacent about this .

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Ministers duck heads under water in face of flooding threats

Last June, the Government’s primary advisor on energy and climate issues, the Committee on Climate Change, published a report, Reducing emissions and preparing for climate change: 2015 Progress Report to Parliament (
n its response in November, Progress on meeting carbon budgets and preparing for climate change , the Government  insisted :“With respect to development in areas at risk of flooding, planning policy directs new development away from highest risk areas. This does not rule out all new development in areas at high risk of flooding, which include parts of central London and cities such as Hull, if there are no suitable and reasonably available sites in areas with a lower probability of flooding and the development is made safe, appropriately flood resilient and resistant, without increasing flood risk elsewhere, and any residual risk can be safely managed. :
And added:
“We believe that a strategy to address future residual risk would not be appropriate at this time. Significant activity in this area is already underway or planned.”
In some other specific responses, the government reply, signed jointly by Environment Secretary Liz Truss and Energy Secretary Amber Rudd,  was less than co-operative withits own statutory climate change adviosor, as highlighted below:
Recommendation 18: Assess capability of the national emergency planning system and identify further needs

Recommendation:The Cabinet Office should, before the ASC’s next report in 2017, undertake a quantitative assessment of the capability of the national emergency planning system to manage extreme weather events; and in light of the findings, publish a summary outlining where further capability may be needed. Owner: Cabinet Office Timescale: Early 2017
4.18 Releasing information about current response capability would divulge areas of vulnerability which could be exploited to cause harm to the UK: capabilities required
to respond to extreme weather are also needed to respond to other risks, including malicious attacks. It is for this reason that we do not intend to publish the findings.
Recommendation 20: Collect and publish data and review capacity for local flood recovery
Recommendation Local authorities should routinely collect and publish data on flood recovery, including the length of time occupants have to wait until they are able to return to their homes after a flood event. DCLG should review the capacity of local authorities to support people physically and mentally in the aftermath of a flood, and publish its findings before the ASC’s next report in 2017.Owner: DCLG Timescale: Early 2017

4.21 We agree that local authorities should collect data on aspects of flood recovery, but not necessarily that they should publish it routinely. The publishing of such data is a matter for local decision on a case by case basis and there maybe sensitivities and data protection implications.
The reponse added
“The effects of flooding on health are extensive and significant, ranging from mortality and injuries resulting from trauma to infectious diseases and mental health impacts. While some of these outcomes are relatively easy to track, quantification of the human impact of floods remains challenging. For this reason, Public Health England has established a cohort study following the winter 2013/14 flooding in England to investigate how communities were affected and the effects on people’s health and daily living. The results from the study will help us plan for the impact on people of future severe weather events, so we can help communities recover more quickly.
All of which demonstrates to me a worrying lack of commitment by ministers to addressing the consequences of flooding in the UK.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Short term cuts in flood defences are severely short-sighted


Environment secretary Liz Truss, was widely reported on Sunday as saying that the Government had increased funding in flood defence since 2010, and, in light of the ”unprecedented” rain fall in December, was now reviewing the adequacy of investment in flood protection.

However, her ministerial colleague, Lord Gardiner of Kimble, revealed figures in a written answer just before Christmas that contradict Ms Truss’s assertions on ever increasing flood protection funding, providing  the following figures to Lord Kennedy of Southwark in a written answer released on 22 December ( Question HL4341)

Capital investment on flood defence (excluding the exceptional funding provided as a result of the 2013/14 floods, which are added in brackets)


£353.3m (£125)

The cuts ordered by Chancellor George Osborne as part of his economic  austerity strategy were surely short-sighted and  misguidedly short-term

Saturday, 26 December 2015


Letter sent to the Independent:
In your political editor's report at the top of page2 ("Our fusion capability is the best there is, and it's largely supported by EU money," 24 Dec), Prof Steve Cowley , who runs the UK nuclear fusion research programme, asserts that it would not be possible  outside the EU.(
At the bottom of the same page, your science editor reports that several of the big science projects to which the UK is signed up, such as the international nuclear fusion project (ITER), based in France, would not be affected by UK withdrawal from the EU (Brexit) as they are not run by the EU.(
Both reports are true, but create con-fusion! The real question is should tens of billions of pounds /euros continue to be spent on the fusion holy grail, when less complex but more accessible forms of energy conversion and power  generation- using the great golden globe fusion reactor in the sky-  are readily available.
The JET fusion experiment ( in Oxfordshire for over 35 years, has so far  "successfully" generated 16 MW of power from fusion, but only for less than a second to date!

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

It was indeed a MAD world

Letter sent to New York Times:

Your extraordinary report “1950s U.S. Nuclear Target List Offers Chilling Insight,” NY
Times, Dec. 23, ( coming as it does at the start of the season of peace and goodwill to all men and women, concentrates the mind on how insane was the policy of mutually assured destruction (M.A.D.) throughout the so-called Cold War between the super atomic-armed powers

The key document reported was the MAD target list is titled “Atomic Weapons Requirements Study for 1959, developed in in 1956, the year of my birth in Wales in Great Britain.

Eleven years ago, the British equivalent of the National Archives and Records Administration, hosted a blood curdling exhibition opened at its London base, titled ‘Secret State.’.

My own home city of Swansea was listed as one of the 20 major cities in a Top Secret report ‘Probable Nuclear targets in the United Kingdom: Assumptions for Planning’- prepared by the Joint Intelligence Committee. (Annex A, File TNA: DEFE 4/224, dated November 2nd,1967).


One document – the ‘Strath Report’- prepared in 1955, so secret it was not publicly released until last 2003,  was the best estimate of the atomic war experts of what would have happened if Britain was attacked by the Soviet Union with just 10 Hydrogen (H-) bombs


It concluded 12  million people would be incinerated in the first few seconds with another 4 million seriously injured, even before the radiation clouds had made their poisonous way across the country.


However, there were some instances of black humor.


Scientists working on an atomic land mine - meant for deployment underground in Germany’s northern plains - realized that it could fail in winter if vital components become too cold, so they explored ways of keeping the inner workings warm.


One proposal put forward consisted of filling the casing of the mine with live chickens, which would give off sufficient heat - prior to suffocating or starving to death - to keep the delicate explosive mechanism from freezing.

Fracking's radon and endocrine disrupter risks‏

Letter sent to the Times:

Your correspondent, Ray Cope, as a former director of the Gas Consumers’ Council, (“Fracking benefits,” Letter,Dec23) should show some more independent concern over the health implications for consumers of fracked  shale gas.
This is what Public Health England’s final report Review of the potential Public Health Impacts of Exposures to Chemical and Radioactive Pollutants as a Result of Shale Gas Extraction Process - published in October 2014 -  stated: "If the natural gas delivery point were to be close to the extraction point with a short transit time, radon present in the natural gas would have little time to decay...there is therefore the potential for radon  gas to  be present in natural gas extracted from UK shale."  (
More recently, an article in the Washington Post on April 10 this year (“Rise of deadly radon gas in Pennsylvania buildings linked to fracking industry,” reported a detailed study in the journal, Environmental Health Perspective, that revealed a “disturbing correlation” between unusually high levels of radon gas in mostly residences and fracking that has become the industry standard over the past decade.
The researchers found that, in the same areas of the state of Pennsylvania as the fracking operations, there was generally higher readings of radon - with about 42% of the readings higher than what is considered safe by federal standards.
Moreover, the researchers discovered that radon levels spiked overall in 2004, at about the same time fracking activity began to pick up.
Two years ago this month, academic researchers at the University of Missouri, released the results of research they had conducted into the known chemicals used in fracking. Their research paper, Estrogen and Androgen Receptor Activities of Hydraulic Fracturing Chemicals and Surface and Ground Water in a Drilling-Dense Region, published in the journal Endocrinology.( Volume 155 Issue 3 - March 2014, found higher levels of hormone-disrupting ('gender-bender) activity in water located near fracking wells than in areas without drilling.
These academic research results are not “anti-fracking propaganda,  as Mr Cope  characterizes criticisms, but part of the “mature debate” for which he calls.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Politics for grown-ups

Letter sent to London Evening Standard, 15 December 2015:
Labour MP Siobhan McDonagh's complaint ( Comment, December 15) about the way she feels some of her Parliamentary colleagues  have been treated by  fellow Labour party members  and supporters for backing  the Government determination to bomb ISIS/Da'esh encliaves in Syria needs to be put in a wider political  context.
She gives the impression those, who like her, backed the bombing, are the only recipients of strong opprobrium from what she unflatteringly  calls "hard left trolls".
The day before her column, her backbench Labour MP colleague, Jess Phillips, told the Guardian newspaper she would :knife her party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who won the leadership election with nearly 60% of the vote, "in the front not the back"
For this outrageous political insult to her party leader, Ms Phillips was described by another Corbyn critic,  Labour backbench MP John Mann, as "a breath of fresh air" and "an ideal Labour leader."
The same Mr Mann told n me in an e-mail last month he considered Mr Corbyn's innovative economic and industrial investment programme as akin to the plans  of Hitler and Mugabe.
Yet another Labour backbench Corbyn critic, Simon Danczuk, attacked Mr Corbyn's supporters as  "lunatics" in an article he wrote in last weekend's Mail on Sunday.
Politics is a grown-up business:  If Ms McDonagh does not like the current discourse, she might have a word with Ms Philips, Mr Mann  and Mr Danczuk, to start behaving like grown ups instead of spoiled children throwing their toys out of their prams.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Fracked off: new report discredited

The final report of the Task Force on Shale Gas (TFSG) published today  asserts: ”Everyone has a right to make their own personal decision on the issue of shale gas on the basis of trusted and factual information. The guiding principle of the Task Force remains to provide that information (  

The fracking task force concludes, inter alia, that: shale gas “can be produced safely and usefully in the UK provided that the Government insists on industry-leading standards”  

I provided factual information the  task force, having previously corresponded on the same issues with task force chairman, Lord Smith, at the end of his  period chair of the Environment Agency (responsible for regulating fracking) in summer 2014

I specifically raised with Lord Smith  the concerns over radon risks from fracking, as extensively aired in the US ( but barely at all in the UK, and the health hazards posed by endocrine disrupter chemicals - so called ‘gender-bender’ chemical additives-  used in fracking fluids.

In his letter of response dated 8 July, Lord Smith, confirmed the Environment Agency was “aware of the use of endocrine disrupters in some parts of the USA” stressing “the way we will regulate shale gas fracking in England will reduce the risk from endocrine disrupters by appropriate management of chemicals and the treatment and disposal of flow  back fluid.” Note he did not say eliminate, but only “reduce the risk” of these hazardous chemicals.

Two years ago this month, academic researchers at the University of Missouri, released the results of research they had conducted into the known chemicals used in fracking. Their research paper, Estrogen and Androgen Receptor Activities of Hydraulic Fracturing Chemicals and Surface and Ground Water in a Drilling-Dense Region, published in the journal Endocrinology.( Volume 155 Issue 3 - March 2014, found higher levels of hormone-disrupting ('gender-bender) activity in water located near fracking wells than in areas without drilling.

On radon gas risks, Lord Smith  merely passed the buck to Public Health England and the Health and Safety Executive, two other regulatory quangos, and HPE’s interim report on the Review of the potential Public Health Impacts of Exposures to Chemical and Radioactive Pollutants as a Result of Shale Gas Extraction Process,

This is what the PHE final report - published in October 2014 - actually states:“If the natural gas delivery point were to be close to the extraction point with a short transit time, radon present in the natural gas would have little time to decay….there is therefore, the potential for radon gas to be present in natural gas extracted from UK shale.” (

In the task force  second interim report, published in July this year, it looked at the impacts of shale gas associated with the local environment, including  potential impacts on air and water and on public health impacts.

No mention is made of the critical evidence I submitted, not even to refute it. 

I was promised evidence submitted to the task force would be published on its web site. That has not happened either. 

I have no faith whatever in the credibility of this task force, which was fully funded by the fracking industry. Touché! 

Friday, 11 December 2015

Freedom of Information? Nuclear cover up already lasted 12 months‏

Letter sent to Daily Mail, 10 December 2015
Well done on the Daily Mail for its campaign to protect our fragile Freedom of Information Act (Mail 10 Dec.), including your robust  Comment setting out why we need to strengthen FOI -  not dilute or neuter it.
Almost exactly a year ago (3 Dec, 2014)  I asked the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC )in an FOI request if it would send me the “ full documentation provided to the European Commission is support of the UK application for State Aid agreement on the Hinkley Point C nuclear project,  including :
a report by KPMG on potential distortions to competition; a report by Oxera on market failures, proportionality and potential distortions of competition; a study by Pöyry on potential distortions to the internal market and alternatives to new nuclear; report by Redpoint on the evolution of the UK electricity sector; & details of the Cost Discovery and Verification process, compiled by KPMG and LeighFisher.”
DECC refused, but admitted there were actually 126 documents, not just the five I listed, and also threw out my appeal. DECC told me: "Having balanced the public interest arguments, we consider the public interest in releasing the full notification is outweighed by the need to ensure that the Commission is able to carry-out its investigatory functions effectively which involves the submission of candid and frank views by the Government and requires a safe space for the Commission to consider matters out of the public eye. This would not be possible if information contained in State aid notifications were subject to disclosure
I passed my request on to the Information Commissioner.
After several months of exchanging  e-mail communications, in which I explained in great detail the public interest in disclosure, in mid-August, the Commissioner – who is supposed to protect  citizens’ right to know – unbelievably  rejected my appeal in a fifty page justification for secrecy.(
Distilling the verbiage, the Information Inspector came down on the side of the French-owned  energy supplier EDF (Electricité de France) Energy’s commercial interests to  keep documents secret over the public interest of taxpayers to know how billions of pounds of their taxes are going to be handed over to this foreign company, who will no doubt repatriate our taxes to Paris.
I have appealed to the next level of adjudication, the so-called First-tier Tribunal (Information Rights) . Will it take yet another 12 months to draw a blank?  Is the FOI system really fit-for-purpose when a public authority (ie DECC) can filibuster for six months, and our Information Commissioner can come down on the side of secrecy not Joe Public?

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Trumping outright stupidity and fascism by US Presidential candidate

Statue of Liberty Poem

Also known as the Statue of Liberty poem, New Colossus and its famous last lines have become part of American history. Here is the sonnet in its entirety:

New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"



New York Times, 8 December 2015

Donald J. Trump called on Monday for the United States to bar all Muslims from entering the country until the nation’s leaders can “figure out what is going on” after the terrorist attacks in San Bernardino, Calif., an extraordinary escalation of rhetoric aimed at voters’ fears about members of the Islamic faith.

A prohibition of Muslims – an unprecedented proposal by a leading American presidential candidate, and an idea more typically associated with hate groups – reflects a progression of mistrust that is rooted in ideology as much as politics.

Mr. Trump, who in September declared “I love the Muslims,” turned sharply against them after the Paris terrorist attacks, calling for a database to track Muslims in America and repeating discredited rumors that thousands of Muslims celebrated in New Jersey on 9/11. His poll numbers rose largely as a result, until a setback in Iowa on Monday morning. Hours later Mr. Trump called for the ban, fitting his pattern of making stunning comments when his lead in the Republican presidential field appears in jeopardy.

Saying that “hatred” among many Muslims for Americans is “beyond comprehension,” Mr. Trump said in a statement that the United States needed to confront “where this hatred comes from and why.”

“Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life,” Mr. Trump said.

Asked what prompted his statement, Mr. Trump said, “death,” according to a spokeswoman.

Repudiation of Mr. Trump’s remarks was swift and severe among religious groups and politicians from both parties. Mr. Trump is “unhinged,” said one Republican rival, former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, while another, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, called the ban “offensive and outlandish.” Hillary Clinton said the idea was “reprehensible, prejudiced and divisive.” Organizations representing Jews, Christians and those of other faiths quickly joined Muslims in denouncing Mr. Trump’s proposal.

“Rooting our nation’s immigration policy in religious bigotry and discrimination will not make America great again,” said Rabbi Jack Moline, executive director of Interfaith Alliance, putting a twist on Mr. Trump’s campaign slogan.

Mr. Trump made his remarks a day after President Obama delivered a national address from the Oval Office urging Americans not to turn against Muslims in the wake of the terrorist attacks.

Experts on immigration law and policy expressed shock at the proposal Monday afternoon.

“This is just so antithetical to the history of the United States,” said Nancy Morawetz, a professor of clinical law at New York University School of Law, who specializes in immigration. “It’s unbelievable to have a religious test for admission into the country.”

She added: “I cannot recall any historical precedent for denying immigration based on religion.”

Putting the policy into practice would require an unlikely act of Congress, said Stephen Yale-Loehr, a professor of law at Cornell and a prominent authority on immigration.

Should Congress enact such a law, he predicted, the Supreme Court would invalidate it as an overly restrictive immigration policy under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

“It would certainly be challenged as unconstitutional,” he said. “And I predict the Supreme Court would strike it down.”

Mr. Trump has a track record of making surprising and even extreme comments whenever he is overtaken in opinion polls by other Republican candidates – as happened on Monday just hours before he issued his statement about Muslims. A new Monmouth University survey of likely Iowa Republican caucus-goers found that Mr. Trump had slipped from his recent top spot in the state, which holds the first presidential nomination contest on Feb. 1. According to the poll, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas earned 24 percent of support, while Mr. Trump had 19 percent and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida had 17 percent. But another Iowa poll released on Monday, by CNN/OCR, showed Mr. Trump with a comfortable lead but Mr. Cruz gaining ground on him.

Mr. Trump, who boasts about his strong poll numbers at the beginning of virtually every campaign speech, launched an unusually stinging attack against Ben Carson, another Republican candidate, when Mr. Carson took a lead in Iowa polls this fall; Mr. Trump, citing Mr. Carson’s memoir about his sometimes-violent youth, called him “pathological” and compared his state of mind to a child molester’s.

Several Republican strategists and politicians said they believe that Mr. Trump’s maneuver against Muslims was partly a challenge to Mr. Cruz and other Republicans to stake out positions on terrorism that were as audacious as his own. But they also said that the ban reflected anxiety and anger among many voters that the federal government was not acting aggressively enough to protect them at home.

“I think Trump’s idea may be too strong, but I think something jarring is very helpful in leading to a national debate in how big this problem is, and how dangerous it is,” said Newt Gingrich, a former Republican speaker of the House who ran for president in 2012. “Nine percent of Pakistanis agree with ISIS, according to one poll. That’s a huge number. We need to put all the burden of proof on people coming from those countries to show that they are not a danger to us.”

Tens of thousands of Muslims enter and stay in the United States each year as tourists or through the immigration system, experts say, with an estimated 100,000 Muslims becoming United States permanent residents in 2012, according to the Pew Research Center. The United States issued 680,000 green cards to migrants from Muslim-majority countries in the five-year period from fiscal year 2009 through fiscal year 2013, according to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest, which cited data from the Department of Homeland Security.

At a rally at the U.S.S. Yorktown in South Carolina on Monday night, Mr. Trump drew sustained cheers from the audience as he outlined his idea for the ban.

“We have no choice,” Mr. Trump said. “Our country cannot be the victim of tremendous attacks by people who believe only in jihad.”

While several Republican presidential candidates have called for increased intelligence gathering and more aggressive investigations of suspected terrorists, as well as a halt to Muslim refugees entering the United States from Syria, Mr. Trump’s pointed suspicions about Muslims have been in a category by themselves.

At his campaign rallies, he has drawn strong applause from thousands of voters for his calls on the government to monitor mosques, and he has refused to rule out his earlier proposal to enter names of Muslims in America into a database. He has also made a series of ominous comments about President Obama’s leadership in fighting terrorism, suggesting that there was “something going on” with Mr. Obama that Americans were not aware of.

In his statement, Mr. Trump quoted a poll by the Center for Security Policy, whose president and founder, Frank Gaffney, has claimed that President Obama is aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood, an extremist political movement born in Egypt, and that agents of the Muslim Brotherhood have infiltrated the U.S. government, the Republican Party and conservative political organizations.

Barring non-citizen Muslims from the United States has drawn support from organizations like the Society of Americans for National Existence and the Daily Stormer, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has described as hate groups.

The proposal drew immediate condemnation from Muslim-Americans. Eboo Patel, the president of Interfaith Youth Core, based in Chicago, said, “I’m standing in a building right now where I am looking up at the Sears Tower, which was designed by Fazlur Rahman Khan,” a structural engineer originally from Bangladesh who was behind what is now known as the Willis Tower.

“What if we had barred Russians from America because of the Cold War? Who would have invented Google?” Mr. Patel asked, referring to Google’s co-founder, Sergey Brin.

While many critics of Mr. Trump reassured themselves that neither he nor his idea would ultimately go anywhere, they were aghast that a mainstream presidential candidate would ever utter it.

“It would be particularly bizarre,” said Ms. Morawetz, “to have an immigration test based on religion given that the country was founded by people who were fleeing religious persecution.”


Monday, 7 December 2015

MPs need to careful in choosing their words‏

Letter sent to The Times, 4 December 2015
I listened carefully to the Parliamentary debate on Wednesday that ended with a majority of MPs voting to escalate military action against Daesh in Syria. Both your correspondent Tom Tugendhat MP (Conservative) (Letters, 4 Dec.) and Hilary Benn MP (Labour) made powerful, but, in my opinion, wrongheaded speeches in that debate.
Mr Tugendhat’s compounded his belligerent speech as an ex-soldier, with his assertion in his letter in support of his call to arms: ”I know I am right!”

This kind of unqualified certainty is both worrying and dangerous in our elected representatives in Parliament, and indeed in  a soldier, albeit with an OBE for his military service.

Mr Benn, meanwhile, said in the Parliamentary debate

Of course we should take action—there is no contradiction between the two—to cut off Daesh’s support in the form of money, fighters and weapons, of course we should give humanitarian aid, of course we should offer shelter to more refugees, including in this country, and yes, we should commit to play our full part in helping to rebuild Syria when the war is over.”
However, he made no suggestions as to how the financial or logistical support for ISIS should be stopped, despite being in charge of Labour’s diplomatic policy.

I would feel more comfortable if, however compellingly soaring his rhetoric, Mr Benn were to use some of the skills expected of a political purveyor of foreign affairs, which is diplomacy.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

The lies the Tories told to secure Parliamentary support for bombing


“I think extending our activities into Syria is likely to reduce civilian casualties rather than increase them.” David Cameron responding to Jeremy Corbyn on the House of Commons, Hansard, 26 November 2015: Column 1496

Sunday 6 December 2015: in a Sunday Times interview, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, interviewed in the British military base at RAF Akrotiri, in Cypurs, states there is risk of civilian casualties from the RAF bombing campaign, adding “war is a messy business.”

So too politics.

Friday, 4 December 2015

How US diplomats plotted rise of ISIS from inside Damascus embassy

2006 December 13, 16:03 (Wednesday)
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1. (S) Summary. The SARG [Syrian Government] ends 2006 in a much stronger position domestically and internationally than it did 2005. While there may be additional bilateral or multilateral pressure that can impact Syria, the regime is based on a small clique that is largely immune to such pressure. However, Bashar Asad's growing self-confidence )- and reliance on this small clique -- could lead him to make mistakes and ill-judged policy decisions through trademark emotional reactions to challenges, providing us with new opportunities. For example, Bashar,s reaction to the prospect of Hariri tribunal and to publicity for Khaddam and the National Salvation Front borders on the irrational. Additionally, Bashar,s reported preoccupation with his image and how he is perceived internationally is a potential liability in his decision making process. We believe Bashar,s weaknesses are in how he chooses to react to looming issues, both perceived and real, such as a the conflict between economic reform steps (however limited) and entrenched, corrupt forces, the Kurdish question, and the potential threat to the regime from the increasing presence of transiting Islamist extremists. This cable summarizes our assessment of these vulnerabilities and suggests that there may be actions, statements, and signals that the USG can send that will improve the likelihood of such opportunities arising. These proposals will need to be fleshed out and converted into real actions and we need to be ready to move quickly to take advantage of such opportunities. Many of our suggestions underline using Public Diplomacy and more indirect means to send messages that influence the inner circle. End Summary. 2. (S) As the end of 2006 approaches, Bashar appears in some ways stronger than he has in two years. The country is economically stable (at least for the short term), internal opposition the regime faces is weak and intimidated, and regional issues seem to be going Syria,s way, from Damascus, perspective. Nonetheless, there are some long-standing vulnerabilities and looming issues that may provide opportunities to up the pressure on Bashar and his inner circle. Regime decision-making is limited to Bashar and an inner circle that often produces poorly thought-out tactical decisions and sometimes emotional approaches, such as Bashar,s universally derided August 15 speech. Some of these vulnerabilities, such as the regime,s near-irrational views on Lebanon, can be exploited to put pressure on the regime. Actions that cause Bashar to lose balance and increase his insecurity are in our interest because his inexperience and his regime,s extremely small decision-making circle make him prone to diplomatic stumbles that can weaken him domestically and regionally. While the consequences of his mistakes are hard to predict and the benefits may vary, if we are prepared to move quickly to take advantage of the opportunities that may open up, we may directly impact regime behavior where it matters--Bashar and his inner circle. 3. (S) The following provides our summary of potential vulnerabilities and possible means to exploit them: -- Vulnerability: -- THE HARIRI INVESTIGATION AND THE TRIBUNAL: The Hariri investigation ) and the prospect of a Lebanon Tribunal -- has provoked powerful SARG reactions, primarily because of the embarrassment the investigation causes. Rationally, the regime should calculate that it can deal with any summons of Syrian officials by refusing to turn any suspects over, or, in extreme cases by engineering "suicides.8 But it seems the real issue for Bashar is that Syria,s dignity and its international reputation are put in question. Fiercely-held sentiments that Syria should continue to exercise dominant control in Lebanon play into these sensitivities. We should seek to exploit this raw nerve, without waiting for formation of the tribunal. -- Possible action: -- PUBLICITY: Publicly highlighting the consequences of the ongoing investigation a la Mehlis causes Bashar personal DAMASCUS 00005399 002 OF 004 angst and may lead him to act irrationally. The regime has deep-seated fears about the international scrutiny that a tribunal -- or Brammertz accusations even against lower-echelon figures -- would prompt. The Mehlis accusations of October 2005 caused the most serious strains in Bashar's inner circle. While the family got back together, these splits may lie just below the surface. -- Vulnerability: -- THE ALLIANCE WITH TEHRAN: Bashar is walking a fine line in his increasingly strong relations with Iran, seeking necessary support while not completely alienating Syria,s moderate Sunni Arab neighbors by being perceived as aiding Persian and fundamentalist Shia interests. Bashar's decision to not attend the Talabani ) Ahmadinejad summit in Tehran following FM Moallem,s trip to Iraq can be seen as a manifestation of Bashar's sensitivity to the Arab optic on his Iranian alliance. -- Possible action: -- PLAY ON SUNNI FEARS OF IRANIAN INFLUENCE: There are fears in Syria that the Iranians are active in both Shia proselytizing and conversion of, mostly poor, Sunnis. Though often exaggerated, such fears reflect an element of the Sunni community in Syria that is increasingly upset by and focused on the spread of Iranian influence in their country through activities ranging from mosque construction to business. Both the local Egyptian and Saudi missions here, (as well as prominent Syrian Sunni religious leaders), are giving increasing attention to the matter and we should coordinate more closely with their governments on ways to better publicize and focus regional attention on the issue. -- Vulnerability: -- THE INNER CIRCLE: At the end of the day, the regime is dominated by the Asad family and to a lesser degree by Bashar Asad,s maternal family, the Makhlufs, with many family members believe to be increasingly corrupt. The family, and hangers on, as well as the larger Alawite sect, are not immune to feuds and anti-regime conspiracies, as was evident last year when intimates of various regime pillars (including the Makhloufs) approached us about post-Bashar possibilities. Corruption is a great divider and Bashar's inner circle is subject to the usual feuds and squabbles related to graft and corruption. For example, it is generally known that Maher Asad is particularly corrupt and incorrigible. He has no scruples in his feuds with family members or others. There is also tremendous fear in the Alawite community about retribution if the Sunni majority ever regains power. -- Possible Action: -- ADDITIONAL DESIGNATIONS: Targeted sanctions against regime members and their intimates are generally welcomed by most elements of Syrian society. But the way designations are applied must exploit fissures and render the inner circle weaker rather than drive its members closer together. The designation of Shawkat caused him some personal irritation and was the subject of considerable discussion in the business community here. While the public reaction to corruption tends to be muted, continued reminders of corruption in the inner circle have resonance. We should look for ways to remind the public of our previous designations. -- Vulnerability: -- THE KHADDAM FACTOR: Khaddam knows where the regime skeletons are hidden, which provokes enormous irritation from Bashar, vastly disproportionate to any support Khaddam has within Syria. Bashar Asad personally, and his regime in general, follow every news item involving Khaddam with tremendous emotional interest. The regime reacts with self-defeating anger whenever another Arab country hosts Khaddam or allows him to make a public statement through any of its media outlets. -- Possible Action: DAMASCUS 00005399 003 OF 004 -- We should continue to encourage the Saudis and others to allow Khaddam access to their media outlets, providing him with venues for airing the SARG,s dirty laundry. We should anticipate an overreaction by the regime that will add to its isolation and alienation from its Arab neighbors. Vulnerability: -- DIVISIONS IN THE MILITARY-SECURITY SERVICES: Bashar constantly guards against challenges from those with ties inside the military and security services. He is also nervous about any loyalties senior officers (or former senior officers) feel toward disaffected former regime elements like Rif,at Asad and Khaddam. The inner circle focuses continuously on who gets what piece of the corruption action. Some moves by Bashar in narrowing the circle of those who benefit from high-level graft has increased those with ties to the security services who have axes to grind. -- Possible Action: -- ENCOURAGE RUMORS AND SIGNALS OF EXTERNAL PLOTTING: The regime is intensely sensitive to rumors about coup-plotting and restlessness in the security services and military. Regional allies like Egypt and Saudi Arabia should be encouraged to meet with figures like Khaddam and Rif,at Asad as a way of sending such signals, with appropriate leaking of the meetings afterwards. This again touches on this insular regime,s paranoia and increases the possibility of a self-defeating over-reaction. Vulnerability: -- REFORM FORCES VERSUS BAATHISTS-OTHER CORRUPT ELITES: Bashar keeps unveiling a steady stream of initiatives on economic reform and it is certainly possible he believes this issue is his legacy to Syria. While limited and ineffectual, these steps have brought back Syrian expats to invest and have created at least the illusion of increasing openness. Finding ways to publicly call into question Bashar,s reform efforts )- pointing, for example to the use of reform to disguise cronyism -- would embarrass Bashar and undercut these efforts to shore up his legitimacy. Revealing Asad family/inner circle corruption would have a similar effect. -- Possible Action: -- HIGHLIGHTING FAILURES OF REFORM: Highlighting failures of reform, especially in the run-up to the 2007 Presidential elections, is a move that Bashar would find highly embarrassing and de-legitimizing. Comparing and contrasting puny Syrian reform efforts with the rest of the Middle East would also embarrass and irritate Bashar. -- Vulnerability: -- THE ECONOMY: Perpetually under-performing, the Syrian economy creates jobs for less than 50 percent of the country,s university graduates. Oil accounts for 70 percent of exports and 30 percent of government revenue, but production is in steady decline. By 2010 Syria is expected to become a net importer of oil. Few experts believe the SARG is capable of managing successfully the expected economic dislocations. -- DISCOURAGE FDI, ESPECIALLY FROM THE GULF: Syria has enjoyed a considerable up-tick in foreign direct investment (FDI) in the last two years that appears to be picking up steam. The most important new FDI is undoubtedly from the Gulf. -- Vulnerability: -- THE KURDS: The most organized and daring political opposition and civil society groups are among the ethnic minority Kurds, concentrated in Syria,s northeast, as well as in communities in Damascus and Aleppo. This group has been willing to protest violently in its home territory when others would dare not. There are few threats that loom larger in Bashar,s mind than unrest with the Kurds. In what DAMASCUS 00005399 004 OF 004 is a rare occurrence, our DATT was convoked by Syrian Military Intelligence in May of 2006 to protest what the Syrians believed were US efforts to provide military training and equipment to the Kurds in Syria. -- Possible Action: -- HIGHLIGHT KURDISH COMPLAINTS: Highlighting Kurdish complaints in public statements, including publicizing human rights abuses will exacerbate regime,s concerns about the Kurdish population. Focus on economic hardship in Kurdish areas and the SARG,s long-standing refusal to offer citizenship to some 200,000 stateless Kurds. This issue would need to be handled carefully, since giving the wrong kind of prominence to Kurdish issues in Syria could be a liability for our efforts at uniting the opposition, given Syrian (mostly Arab) civil society,s skepticism of Kurdish objectives. -- Vulnerability: -- Extremist elements increasingly use Syria as a base, while the SARG has taken some actions against groups stating links to Al-Qaeda. With the killing of the al-Qaida leader on the border with Lebanon in early December and the increasing terrorist attacks inside Syria culminating in the September 12 attack against the US embassy, the SARG,s policies in Iraq and support for terrorists elsewhere as well can be seen to be coming home to roost. -- Possible Actions: -- Publicize presence of transiting (or externally focused) extremist groups in Syria, not limited to mention of Hamas and PIJ. Publicize Syrian efforts against extremist groups in a way that suggests weakness, signs of instability, and uncontrolled blowback. The SARG,s argument (usually used after terror attacks in Syria) that it too is a victim of terrorism should be used against it to give greater prominence to increasing signs of instability within Syria. 4. (S) CONCLUSION: This analysis leaves out the anti-regime Syrian Islamists because it is difficult to get an accurate picture of the threat within Syria that such groups pose. They are certainly a long-term threat. While it alludes to the vulnerabilities that Syria faces because of its alliance with Iran, it does not elaborate fully on this topic. The bottom line is that Bashar is entering the new year in a stronger position than he has been in several years, but those strengths also carry with them -- or sometimes mask ) vulnerabilities. If we are ready to capitalize, they will offer us opportunities to disrupt his decision-making, keep him off-balance, and make him pay a premium for his mistakes. ROEBUCK