So the Intertubes are all atwitter with the news that the Israeli target in Syria was most likely a North Korean-designed nuclear reactor.

The questions are why it is that this news is coming out so long after the event. Here’s Kevin Drum:

Here’s more on the Syrian/North Korean nuclear reactor thing. One of the big questions floating around is: Why now? The intelligence community has kept quiet about it for a full seven months since Al Kibar was bombed, so why did they finally decide to brief Congress (and the press) this week?

The leading theory is that hardline hawks, who have been up in arms over the likelihood that Bush is going to conclude a deal soon with North Korea, somehow finagled the IC into holding the briefing as a way of stirring up trouble and making the deal less likely to proceed. Since hawks hate treaties of all kinds, and especially hate the prospect of a treaty with North Korea, this is plausible.

There’s a lot more in that vein.

But none of it makes sense to me; it implies a level of internal control by midlevel players that just smells wrong to me.

But as long as we’re speculating…

…here’s one that will keep Kevin up nights worrying.

Remember all the hoo-hah about Iraqi convoys secretly headed to Syria by air or by land? The ones with the missing WMD? (Personally, if I was Saddam, I’d have been exporting bullion, but I’d obviously make a crappy dictator.

One reason I immediately deprecated those rumors was that there was no sense in Bush not playing that hand hard and wiping out his political opposition.

At heart, I still believe that to be true.

But reading Kevin’s post a spark of an idea lit up. If I was a Karl Rovian evil political genius, what would I do with that information? When would it be the most powerful, politically?

Hmmm. How about…July or August of 2008?

Imagine if you would a steady drip-drip-drip of information like this leading up to – viola! – hard information that Saddam actually had WMD all along. Imagine being at the Democratic Convention, having just nominated Obama when the news got out. Imagine Karl Rove laughing so hard he pees his pants.

34 thoughts on “Syria”

  1. The notion that the Bush folks are strategically savvy enough to even try this doesn’t smell right to me. And Rove is now working for FOX News.

    If you’re right, I’ll buy the beer.

  2. No, the real question is, why did this “leak” less than 48 hours after Israeli-Syrian peace talks moved from wild-eyed rumor to informed and serious speculation? (See the numerous reports of a Golan Heights swap for comprehensive peace settlements coming from pretty high up in the Syrian government, without even attempts at denial from the Olmert government.)

    And, given the timing, why did it “leak” from the United States?

  3. Not to mention, the timing on the Saddam/Syria/WMD analysis is just wrong. The 2004 election was by no means a sure thing. That information release, if it existed, would have been orchestrated by Rove himself for the 2004 election. If it didn’t exist them, it would have been released in 2006 for the mid-term Congressional elections or shortly thereafter to ensure the safe passage (also not assured) of the Surge and attendant financing.

    There have been far, far too many good and useful opportunities to use this information before now. If this really is what’s up, I can only conclude that the evidence is relatively fresh.

  4. Guys, I’m not serious about this…


    Been a long week over here.
    How ’bout you?

  5. “Since hawks hate treaties of all kinds,”
    Yep. That’s why we’re sitting on the free trade deal with Columbia. We want to keep them dependent on cocaine smuggling, so we have a pretext to invade and establish a beachhead to go after Chavez.

    I like how Drum throws in opposition to North Korea as a criticism.

  6. Obviously this was meant to be an October surprise, but Rove’s mind control rays messed up the dates on all the computers at the VRWC headquarters.

    On a more serious note: I think the most plausible theory I heard was that the public info was held back to save face for Syria, and prevent a need for them to forcefully respond immediately after the fact. It prevents tensions in the region from escalating (remember the timeframe of when the original strike took place), and the government only benefits from having extra time to add more data to its initial intel.

    As for the timing of the eventual data release, I don’t know; its not like the GOP needed to distract from Democratic infighting right now, I don’t think the election cycle as a motive really makes sense.

  7. If you read the briefing, there is a statement by a “Senior Administration Official” directly addressing the question “why now”. The reason why they didn’t bring it up last year was indeed to avoid “broader confrontation”. And why now? – “timing was good now to advance some policy objectives”.

    Despite all the attempts to relate this to other events in the Middle East, I would suggest that the main objective here is to undo nuclear proliferation, in this case as enabled by North Korea. It is a matter of overwhelming priority. There have been a few earlier episodes in the post-9/11 fight against new nukes. Libya gave it up after Saddam was captured, and that in turn helped to expose the proliferation network out of Pakistan. The other battle, still ongoing, is with Iran. In both cases, the public release of alleged intelligence has played a part. It is a political and diplomatic tactic.

    So – to state a fuller hypothesis: The overriding strategic objective which this briefing served is to go on squeezing the North Korean nuclear genie back into the bottle. The evolving Middle Eastern situation has only been tactically relevant, to the timing (and one must suppose that the state of the six-party talks over North Korea is also tactically relevant).

  8. What did we end up finding in Libya when they surrendered?

    The whole plan “Let’s spread our stuff out so no one place has enough incriminating bits” seems to be pretty deep-rooted. The bombed asprin-factory was in Sudan.

  9. bq. Remember all the hoo-hah about Iraqi convoys secretly headed to Syria by air or by land? The ones with the missing WMD? I do.

    I don’t know what is in “these trucks”: for sure, but….. (scroll down about 3/4 of the way)

    The word back then was the trucks headed into the Syrian desert. Maybe they are still there. Or there is speculation that there may be chemical weapons in the hands of Hezbollah in Lebanon. Saddam may not have had an active program but I will bet he sure wished he could kick it back into gear.

    The issue is that something was taken out by the Israelis back last fall. Part of the story is that the way it was taken out dictates that there had to be someone on the ground as forward fire control. Then those persons were helicoptered out. The really funny thing is that the dentist in Damascus made not one peep. Not one. In any other circumstance I believe he would have screamed to high heaven. But he did not. Why? Did he get caught with his hand in the nuclear cookie jar?

  10. They already had at least one; Al Tuweitha in Baghdad; formerly the
    Osirak site. Which had 500 kg of uranium, in it at the time of the invasion (Interestingly this was the same amount of fuel at stake in the Niger/Joe Wilsoncontroversy.
    The key difference was how the N. Koreans were able to establish a reactor in a site like Deyz ur Zair; a major jihadi recruiting outpost. just a hundred miles up river from the Al Quaim Coalition FOB.

  11. I’ll say one thing for Robohobo, he doesn’t give up.

    I don’t know what is in these trucks for sure, but….. (scroll down about 3/4 of the way)

    Given that there was a war on, maybe ordnance??

    The US Government, with all the reason in the world to find Saddam’s WMD program, couldn’t find anything, including scientists, research labs, precursor chemicals (other than common multiuse ones). But Robohobo is there, with his snapshot of the inner workings of the -secret Judeobolshevik conspiracy- Iraq WMD program.

    Which side of the political debate is mired in lunacy, again?

  12. Kevin Drum’s apparently, Andrew.

    NK has never ever kept any agreement with us. Ever. Drum thinks pointing that out is akin to being an evil “war monger.”

    It’s simple really, the disclosures were done by State to keep NK on the deal, “disclose for them” so State, Rice, and Bush can wave another useless piece of paper that will be broken as soon if not sooner than the ink is dry.

    The reality of the incident is that nuclear proliferation is not much different from other globalized production facilities. Intel puts chip fabrication facilities in Taiwan, or China, or Vietnam. North Korea, Iran, and Syria all cooperate in nuclear proliferation. The way China, North Korea, and Pakistan cooperated earlier. Shrug.

    Putting the nuclear genie back in the bottle is useless now, and has been since Pakistan and NK went nuclear. We might have “peace in our time” but it’s clear that with so many actors having nukes, and able to point fingers over at someone else, credibly, it’s inevitable that Western cities will get nuked by some proxy group.

    It’s Wretchard’s Three Conjectures all over again. A tragedy. Brought about by Leftist arrogance and naivete, that deeply tribal people are like them, that it’s always 1972, and Nixon is always meeting Leonid Brezhnev. And deeply tribal people figuring one more massacre won’t hurt, it’s worked for them so far. What are nukes but a bigger truck bomb? Then a pitiful few survivors wondering why the “cowardly West” turned on them and made a desert and called it peace.

    There’s plenty of stupidity to go around. GWB is as guilty of Leftist naivete and arrogance as say, John Kerry or Obama. Treaties with tribes have always been useless. They always get broken until tribes are crushed.

  13. Jim:

    There is a fourth class of WMD, waiting in the wings and not too far off in terms of historical time (maybe within the lifetime of America’s present leaders, for example). And it is worse still than lethal pandemic bugs or nuclear weapons.

    I refer to nanotech weapons. They are worse than nukes because they could be self-propagating. They are worse than superbugs because they would be completely impervious to anyone or anything’s immune system, and because they could be intelligently directed.

    Let any of the psychopathic chiliasts that currently infest the world have even a vanishingly small quantity of stuff like that, and the human race is run. These people are not all Moslems, by the way – some of the extreme lunatic fringe of the abortion-clinic bombers are just as mad and just as dangerous, for example.

    Why does this matter now, maybe twenty years before it could happen? Simple. The world needs the resources and brainpower, and political attention and, yes, courage, to find out what needs to be done about it and then get it done. And right now, most of the resources and attention are being spent on fighting a world-wide delaying action against an enemy that simply can’t be beaten in the way we are trying to do it. Something needs to be done about that, and soon. Something drastic.

    Otherwise we are going to find out the solution to the Fermi Paradox, the hard way.

  14. AJL-

    Down the memory hole you go. I remember the time line clearly and the truck photos were seen BEFORE we launched the offensive to depose your favorite ME dictator.

    I pose this as information for you and I get invective. Thanks.

    Or from this: #14 from narciso

    bq. They already had at least one; Al Tuweitha in Baghdad; formerly the
    Osirak site. Which had 500 kg of uranium, in it at the time of the invasion…

    OR this one “place in the desert”:

    When do you plan on changing your tune and at least admitting there may have been some slight provocation for the coalition going to war with Iraq? Oh, that’s right, can’t change your religion.

    And what is up with this:

    bq. secret Judeobolshevik conspiracy

    Project much? BTW, I am a friend of Israel.

  15. My point, Robo, is that there is as much (that is, as little) evidence for the Judeobolshevik conspiracy as for Iraqi WMD. We looked. We found no evidence of them whatsoever, notwithstanding our claim that “We know where they are.” Zero. Zip.

    Reality is a nuisance for some people, so in the teeth of this crushing lack-of-discovery, they confabulate explanations which are subject to no empirical tests whatsoever. No sign that the Jews are poisoning the wells? Why they’re so devious they smuggled the poison to Syria!

    I hope this is clear now.

  16. Fletcher:

    I refer to nanotech weapons. They are worse than nukes because they could be self-propagating.

    Come on, how are they worse than nukes? Nukes are the most horribly inelegant and wasteful weapons imaginable.

    A nanotech weapon, properly deployed, could be used to turn Osama bin Laden into an attractive dinette set, or a mini-bar.

  17. Glen:

    That depends whose hands they are in, doesn’t it?

    I’d like to spoil your day a little more. Human-brain processing power is going to be on your desktop in about 2035, by the estimates I’ve seen, and it’s only going to get greater. Admittedly, we don’t know how consciousness comes about yet; but all the guesses are some variety of emergent phenomenon. Which means that it will become possible to create a machine that is actually conscious by about 2040, maybe by some sort of evolutionary algorithm.

    Which brings me to the last point. How do you like the idea of a transapient AI in control of those nanomachines – one whose basic internal grammar is based on the Koran?

    Nanoweapons could be extraordinarily “wasteful”. In the wrong hands, they could destroy all forms of life on Earth – every blade of grass, every complex lifeform, even down to the hyperthermophiles in the deep ocean and the bugs that live in sedimentary layers a mile down. Nukes can’t do that, in numbers we are ever likely to be able to make.

    I think that it was Clarke who said “Maybe it’s not our job to worship God, but to create him”. Personally, I’d like the AI demiurges on the other side of the Singularity to be on our side, not that of the demon prince that the followers of Mohammed worship.

  18. How do you like the idea of a transapient AI in control of those nanomachines – one whose basic internal grammar is based on the Koran?

    One that killed off all the pigs, and caused women to grow a bony head-to-toe exoskeleton? I don’t think I’d like that much at all, but it’s considered very Islamophobic to object to such things, you know.

  19. “The US Government, with all the reason in the world to find Saddam’s WMD program, couldn’t find anything, including scientists, research labs, precursor chemicals (other than common multiuse ones).”

    Including scientists- I recall listening to one of the Congressional hearings, and listening to the head inspector say that the scientists were being assasinated before they could get to them.

    Now, why in the world would anyone be assasinating scientists if there was nothing to divulge.

    While not a conspiracy theorist I will say that Iraq is a very big country and Sadaam had a proclivity for building tunnels and hiding things. Remember the fighter jets found buried in the desert?

    It is overly simplistic to assume that nothing is there because we could not find it.

    Even the friendliest of Iraqi governments would have ample reason to keep secret any facilities and processes involved in developing WMD.

    They live in a dangerous world and the stuff may come in handy in the future.

  20. Davod, I found a link to one scientist assassinated post-invasion. Is that what you meant?

    Still believe in the Tooth Fairy?

  21. AJL-

    Okay, ‘nuf said on that subject.

    Let me ask you, do you take the time to check into the Iraqi bloggers? ITM and others? They have another viewpoint that may surprise you.

  22. Fletcher: You can sleep better in knowing that nanotech weapons are unlikely to exist in our lifetime. Look at the cutting edge nanotech research: What you’re most likely to find is bridges that stack themselves, and gears that spin independently on a stick. The idea that we’ll soon have machines that are more capable than viruses is lunacy: viruses have more chemical capability than anything man has ever built. End of story.

    Even “Blood Music” the classic sci-fi story that first brought the idea of nano-bots to the public started with bacteria, not machines.

  23. FWIW, as a venture investor looking at the area, I agree with Alchemist. “Gray Goo” style noxious nanotech makes a great story and feeds the techno-angst press, but we are a long way from there. Doing a general nano-scale assembler, let alone one that can use arbitrary materials found in the environment, is far beyond the state of the art.

    There are also reasons to think the technology may not head in that direction at all: It’s proving easier to hijack existing molecular scale systems, particularly DNA and proteins, than to invent everything from scratch. The results are extremely unlikely to be able to eat anything in their path – they share most of the limits of ‘standard’ biochemistry. On the other hand, they can in many cases be spliced right into existing self-replicating genomes, so you may turn up the paranoia knob on ‘super bugs’ just as you turn it down on malicious nano-tech.

  24. Two Iraqi scientists shot after aiding U.S..

    “WASHINGTON (CNN) — Two Iraqi scientists were shot, one fatally, after helping the United States search for weapons of mass destruction, according to chief U.S. weapons inspector David Kay.

    Kay, who is leading the weapons hunt, added that there has been more help from Iraqis in the past month since better protection has been provided to those cooperating with the effort.

    Kay told a group of reporters Friday that one scientist was assassinated with a bullet in the back of the head, and another sustained six bullet wounds, but is alive…”

    Killings Draw Calls to Evacuate Iraqi Scientists.

    “…Between five and 10 researchers have been killed in the past six months, according to a U.S. State Department official who runs programs aimed at redirecting the scientists’ expertise in chemical, biological and nuclear weapons (see GSN, April 30)…”

  25. Yeah, Davod, we’re looking at the same assassination. One dead. The other story is from long after the invasion, and you would think if these scientists had known anything about WMD (instead of being killed for over-friendliness to the US or whatever other reason—Iraqis have died by the tens of thousands from apolitical crime) they could have told us before they died.

    Why do you think that Kay and Duelfer were unable to find WMD?

  26. Alchemist and Tim:

    Exponential growth ALWAYS surprises people. Were you aware that the first general-use nanotech design hacking tool is already in late beta? Check out “Nanorex”

  27. Nanorex has lots of pretty pictures, but unfortunately chemistry is not as easy as “point, drag click” (if it was, it wouldn’t have taken me two years to design, analyze and prove the formation of a 30-atom molecule). They’re talking about designing hundreds of atoms, perfectly, that all have to move in fluid motion AND interact, as desired with another specific device. That’s damn near impossible by current technology. To build just one of the gears shown on their lab page would take hundreds of years of graduate student work (so, decades at least), and billions of dollars.

    And I consider this to be a sunny estimate. These gears may never work (in the real world) at all.

    If you want a clue what current technology can do, check out the webpage of “Dr. whitesides”: he is a bigshot in nanotech (a friend of mine worked for him for awhile). Especially check out “simple nanotechnology” and “functional self-assembly”. This is the forefront of nanotech, and it’s current ability is creating 3D microart.

    They’re getting much better, but making microscopic parts that can be organized, assimilated and programed is still a long way off.

    I could be wrong, it may happen “within our lifetime”. But I would give it at least 30-40 years minimum. And the first generation of nanotech will be boring (at least by conventional standards, I’m sure I’ll drooling over it).

  28. Fletcher: I’m well aware of the impact of exponential growth, since I live in the home of Moore’s Law, Silicon Valley. That type of exponential growth happens when you get a positive feedback loop among technological improvement, market acceptance, and capital investment. Silicon processing (including close to nanoscale) has obviously achieved that feedback.

    Nanomechanics of the sort purveyed by Nanorex hasn’t achieved that feedback. The giveaway is the lack of outside funding, and the presence of K. Eric Drexler, coiner of the word “nanotechnology”, but also one of the most strident proponents of the de novo approach to nanotechnology. That approach has all the problems pointed out immediately above by Alchemist. The pejorative term in my trade – venture capital – is “science project”. When we’ve got some examples of advances from that approach gaining market acceptance and drawing in substantial investment, I’ll worry that an exponential growth feedback has started. Then we can talk about timing.

    Meanwhile, let me toss in another macro-pattern for you to consider: path dependence. Sometimes it matters a lot how a technology first comes into market. The classic example is MS-DOS vs. CP/M. It didn’t really matter a lot which one got the big IBM contract – they performed the same functions – but after one did there wasn’t enough market space for the other. Having another way to skin the cat doesn’t matter if no one cares.

    It’s relevant because there are potentially other ways to achieve many effects promised by nanomech without having to bear the whole burden of de novo invention. Consider, for instance, this example of custom designing an enzyme to promote a desired reaction, and then engineering a genetic code to produce it. This approach sidesteps billions of dollars and perhaps decades of investment by borrowing the existing carbon self-replication machinery. If this approach fills up a large part of the potential nanotech market, then we may see the nanomechanical approach very late or never. That’s why I worry about superbugs more than Gray Goo.

  29. Saddam is dead and Iraq a free country. I don’t think the existence of material – because they already had the knowledge to build them – Iraqi WMD would make any difference.

    It could be, however, some defensive tactic: if you want to talk about WMD, we have plenty of data, no matter in whose corner of the desert they laid.

    But I am afraid, the key is Iran: maybe it was not wished a distraction for the mainstream public opinion on the Iran’s nuclear programm issue at that moment.

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