In­side the Ring

The Washington Times Weekly - - National Security - Bill Gertz

Com­ing U.S.-Rus­sia freeze

The Rus­sian mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion in Ge­or­gia is beginning to neg­a­tively im­pact U.S. ties to Moscow, in­clud­ing a pend­ing U.S.-Rus­sia nu­clear co­op­er­a­tion agree­ment and pos­si­bly space co­op­er­a­tion.

Five se­na­tors wrote to Pres­i­dent Bush two weeks ago urg­ing him to “im­me­di­ately with­draw” the so­called 123 nu­clear agree­ment from Congress be­cause of “Rus­sian ag­gres­sion” against Ge­or­gia.

“This is sim­ply not the time for our gov­ern­ment to be pro­mot­ing ex­panded co­op­er­a­tion with Rus­sia in this sen­si­tive area,” the se­na­tors said in the Aug. 21 let­ter. Among those sign­ing were Repub­li­can Sens. Jon Kyl of Ari­zona, Norm Cole­man of Min­nesota, John En­sign of Ne­vada and Lind­sey Gra­ham of South Carolina, and in­de­pen­dent Joe Lieber­man of Con­necti­cut.

“In­stead, we be­lieve that the United States must send a strong sig­nal to Rus­sian lead­er­ship that its in­creas­ingly bel­liger­ent for­eign pol­icy will not be re­warded.”

Two U.S. of­fi­cials — one in Congress, the other in the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion — said pol­i­cy­mak­ers in the State Depart­ment want to go ahead with the nu­clear deal, which would in­volve the trans­fer of re­ac­tor tech­nol­ogy.

The se­na­tors also said Rus­sian sales of SA-20 mis­siles to Iran are an­other rea­son to can­cel the nu­clear ac­cord be­cause sales of the air-de­fen­sive equip­ment are go­ing for­ward de­spite U.S. protests.

An­other com­ing chill in re­la­tions as a re­sult of the Ge­or­gia cri­sis in­volves joint space co­op­er­a­tion, which is in jeop­ardy af­ter re­ports that Rus­sia il­le­gally used the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion (ISS) for mil­i­tary re­con­nais­sance dur­ing the early days of the war.

NASA’s Web site posted a sta­tus re­port on the ISS that dis­closed that a Rus­sian cos­mo­naut used dig­i­tal cam- eras to pho­to­graph “the af­ter­ef­fects of bor­der con­flict op­er­a­tion in the Cau­ca­sus.” Avi­a­tion Week first re­ported the is­sue.

Rus­sia’s space agency stated that the pic­tures were not for mil­i­tary use but to sup­port “hu­man­i­tar­ian” op­er­a­tions.

How­ever, U.S. of­fi­cials said the mil­i­tary photography by the Rus­sian vi­o­lated a 1998 U.S.-Rus­sia agree­ment that lim­its ac­tiv­i­ties on the sta­tion to civil­ian use. “There is clearly a need to ex­er­cise bet­ter su­per­vi­sion of their on­board ac­tiv­ity,” one of­fi­cial said.

NASA is plan­ning to use Rus­sian boost­ers to send U.S. as­tro­nauts to the space sta­tion af­ter the shut­tle is shut down in 2010, but some in Congress are say­ing that the shut­tle pro­gram should be con­tin­ued be­cause of the Rus­sian action in Ge­or­gia.

Rep. Tom Feeney, Florida Repub­li­can and rank­ing mem­ber of the House sub­com­mit­tee that over­sees NASA, said he is con­cerned about the re­ported Rus­sian photography from the ISS. “By def­i­ni­tion, the space sta­tion is to be used for peace­ful pur­poses,” Mr. Feeney said in an in­ter­view. “It is a con­cern when any of our in­ter­na­tional space part­ners use the sta­tion [. . . ] for what could be used for strat­egy or tac­tics.”

An­other worry, Mr. Feeney said, is over­re­liance on Rus­sia for ac­cess to the space sta­tion. “We do not want the Rus­sians to have a mo­nop­oly on ac­cess to the space sta­tion,” he said. “That’s a much big­ger prob­lem than cos­mo­nauts tak­ing pic­tures.”

NASA spokesman John Yem­brick said NASA ac­cepts Rus­sia’s ex­pla­na­tion that the photography was re­lated to wa­ter prob­lems in South Os­se­tia and not for mil­i­tary re­con­nais­sance. “NASA has no con­cerns about it,” he said.

Ira­nian guards

A Euro­pean-based Ira­nian ex­ile group re­ports that there are ma­jor di­vi­sions within the Ira­nian Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guards Corps (IRGC), the Is­lamic shock troops that the U.S. gov­ern­ment has linked to in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ism.

The group, the Peo­ple’s Mu­jahideen of Iran, stated in a re­port that its sources in­side Iran think there is ma­jor dis­cord within the para­mil­i­tary force that is be­lieved to have a ma­jor role within the regime of Mah­moud Ah­madine­jad.

The Au­gust re­port stated that both the lead­er­ship and the struc­ture of the IRGC are un­der­go­ing wide­spread trans­for­ma­tion.

“As a re­sult of th­ese changes, the IRGC will not be solely a cen­tral­ized force,” the re­port said. “It will be trans­formed to 31 pro­vin­cial forces, and each com­man­der will be given wide­spread power and au­thor­ity. The para­mil­i­tary Basij forces in each prov­ince will also be organized un­der the au­thor­ity of the same re­gional IRGC com­man­der.”

Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, prob­lems of de­ser­tions, re­tire­ments and buy­outs in the IRGC over the past year prompted lead­er­ship changes and re­forms.

The re­port said a new strat­egy for the group was adopted in 2005 that called for the IRGC to pre­pare to carry out ter­ror­ist at­tacks, in­clud­ing the use of sui­cide strikes, step­ping up de­vel­op­ment of mis­sile forces, and de­vel­op­ment of nu­clear weapons as part of prepa­ra­tions for any re­sponse to for­eign at­tacks on Iran.

The re­port quoted IRGC com­man­derMaj.Gen.Mo­ham­madAliJa­fari, speak­ing to a new IRGC strat­egy cen­ter as say­ing, “If the en­emy makes the small­est moves against our coun­try and peo­ple, we will en­dan­ger its in­ter­ests all over the world.”

Other re­ported changes in­cluded the IRGC navy tak­ing com­mand of the Per­sian Gulf re­gion from the Ira­nian navy, and the up­grad­ing of mis­sile units.

The re­port was pro­duced by the Na­tional Coun­cil of Re­sis­tance of Iran, which the State Depart­ment re­gards as a front for the Peo­ple’s Mu­jahideen of Iran and has des­ig­nated as a ter­ror­ist group. The group in the past pro­vided some of the first de­tails of Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram, ahead of U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies, but it also has made a num­ber of un­ver­i­fied claims.

A U.S. of­fi­cial said of the re­port that “there have been some per­son­nel changes in the IRGC, but they don’t ap­pear to be that dra­matic.”

Mo­ham­mad Mo­had­dessin, chair­man of the For­eign Af­fairs Com­mit­tee of the Na­tional Coun­cil, said in a state­ment that the IRGC changes ap­pear to be an ef­fort by the Tehran gov­ern­ment to re­ori­ent the paramil­i­taries to­ward do­mes­tic se­cu­rity.

“The sit­u­a­tion is volatile, and de­spite brute sup­pres­sion, the Ira­nian cities have been the scene of more than 5,300 anti-gov­ern­ment demon­stra­tions and protest acts in 2007,” he said.

“On the other hand, the Qods Force, the ex­trater­ri­to­rial arm of the IRGC, has been strength­ened and has been ex­pand­ing its ex­port of ter­ror­ism and fun­da­men­tal­ism in other coun­tries in the re­gion, in par­tic­u­lar Iraq, with freer reign.”

Com­ing purge?

Con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans say they ex­pect a purge of po­lit­i­cal ap­pointees in the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion if Sen. Barack Obama wins the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in Novem­ber.

The ev­i­dence: Rep. Henry Wax­man, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat and chair­man of the House Com­mit­tee on Over­sight and Gov­ern­ment Re­form, in March re­quested a Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­abil­ity Of­fice probe of all non­ca­r­eer gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials who con­verted to ca­reer po­si­tions, mean­ing they tech­ni­cally can re­main in the next ad­min­is­tra­tion, while most po­lit­i­cals re­sign.

Mr. Wax­man and two other House Democrats stated in re­quest­ing the re­view that GAO had done sim­i­lar re­views in past ad­min­is­tra­tions and stated, “As we ap­proach the end of the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion, we be­lieve this is an ap­pro­pri­ate time to con­duct an­other such re­view.”

A Repub­li­can aide said the GAO study is a sign that Democrats may be more ef­fi­cient at im­pos­ing po­lit­i­cal con­trols in the ex­ec­u­tive branch than Repub­li­cans. While the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion some­times vet­ted ap­pli­cants for ca­reer po­si­tions ac­cord­ing to their pol­i­tics, it also kept on nu­mer­ous Demo­cratic holdovers, oc­ca­sion­ally with em­bar­rass­ing re­sults. For ex­am­ple, Richard Clarke, a Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion coun­tert­er­ror­ism of­fi­cial, stayed on in the Bush White House and then be­came a harsh critic of the pres­i­dent, charg­ing in a book that Mr. Bush was to blame for not tak­ing ag­gres­sive action against al Qaeda be­fore Sept. 11.

Bill Gertz cov­ers na­tional se­cur ity af­fairs. He can be reached at 202/636-3274, or at In­sid­e­theR­ing@wash­ing­ton­

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