Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Breaking News: Iranian nuclear scientist missing.

TEHRAN, Iran — The disappearance of an Iranian nuclear scientist on a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia in June is raising questions about whether he defected and gave the West information on Iran’s nuclear program.

Iran’s foreign minister on Wednesday accused the United States of involvement in the disappearance of Shahram Amiri, who reportedly worked at a university linked to the elite Revolutionary Guard military corps.

In a sign of the sensitivities surrounding Amiri, Iranian officials have not even publicly identified Amiri as a nuclear scientist, referring to him only as an Iranian citizen. Amiri’s wife has said he was researching medical uses of nuclear technology at a university and was not involved in the broader nuclear program.

Iran’s foreign minister took the unusual step of complaining to the head of the United Nations last week about the disappearance, at the same time raising the case of a former defense minister who vanished in Turkey in 2007, also believed by many to have defected.

Amiri vanished several months before the September revelation of a uranium enrichment facility near the city of Qom, which the United States and its allies accuse Iran of building secretly. The timing has led experts to question whether Amiri may have given the West information on it or other parts of Iran’s nuclear program.

The discovery of that facility was a coup for Western intelligence. Iran denied trying to hide the site, insisting it was not yet required to declare it to the U.N. nuclear watchdog. Still, it was put on the defensive as it entered landmark nuclear negotiations with the U.S. and other world powers last week, talks that have somewhat eased rising tensions between the two sides.

U.S. officials have said multiple streams of intelligence — particularly spy satellites — were used to reveal the Qom site and its function, but they have not specified whether the sources included Iranians on the ground.

The United States and its allies accuse Iran of secretly seeking to develop nuclear weapons, a claim Iran denies, saying its program is intended only to produce electricity.

Little is known about Amiri, and his fate remains a mystery after more than four months.

Iran has asked Saudi Arabia for information on his whereabouts but has received no reply, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hasan Qashqavi said earlier this week. Amiri’s relatives have demonstrated several times outside the Saudi Embassy in Tehran demanding information.

The Iranians “may be concerned that the Americans were involved in luring him away,” said Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-born analyst based for the Middle East think tank, meepas. He raised the possibility Amiri was willingly offering information to the West, despite Iranian claims he was arrested in Saudi Arabia.

“There’s the possibility he was taken away in a limousine rather than being shoved in the back of a car, meaning that he could have been a walk-in,” said Javedanfar, who is based in Israel.

Amiri worked as a researcher at Tehran’s Malek Ashtar University, according to Iran’s state-run English language channel Press TV. The university has been cited by the U.N. in the past as a nuclear research site and is widely thought to be run by the Revolutionary Guard.

One Iranian news Web site claimed Amiri had worked at the Qom facility and had defected in Saudi Arabia. The Web site, Jahannews, which is connected to Iranian conservatives, gave no source for the report.

Amiri traveled to Saudi Arabia on May 31 for Omra, an Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, his wife told the unofficial news agency ISNA. The last she heard from him was on June 3, when he called her from the holy city of Medina.

She said he told her that during his arrival in Saudi Arabia, he had been questioned extensively by police at the airport — “more than any other passenger,” according to ISNA, which did not give the wife’s name.

Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki raised the level of interest Wednesday, saying that Amiri had been arrested and accused the United States of a role.

“We’ve obtained documents about U.S. involvement over Shahram Amiri’s disappearance,” Mottaki said, according to the semiofficial Fars news agency.

“We hold Saudi Arabia responsible for Shahram Amiri’s situation and consider the U.S. to be involved in his arrest,” Mottaki said, quoted by the official IRNA news agency. “We regard Saudi government as responsible for Amiri’s condition and according to some documents available for us, we consider that the US is responsible for his detention.”

ISNA, an Iranian student news agency, said Mottaki addressed reports that Amiri was on the staff of Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, saying “these are speculations discussed by western media and we pursue his case as an Iranian national.”

There was no immediate comment from Saudi officials. In Washington, State Department spokesman Ian C. Kelly said he had no information about the matter. “The case is not familiar to us,” Kelly said.


LCROSS Lunar Impact coverage

A live NASA TV Broadcast is planned for the LCROSS impacts starting at 6:15 a.m. EDT/3:15 a.m. PDT, Oct. 9, on NASA TV and

The 1.5 hour broadcast includes:
Live footage from spacecraft camera
Real-time telemetry based animation
Views of LCROSS Mission and Science Operations
Broadcast commentary with expert guests
Prepared video segments
Views of the public impact viewing event at NASA Ames
Possible live footage from the University of Hawaii, 88-inch telescope on Mauna Kea.
The live LCROSS Post-Impact News Conference will be 10 a.m. EDT/7 a.m. PDT on NASA TV and

Roadrunners from secret city meeting in Sin City

A piece of history will be made in a Las Vegas museum this week, as a platoon of Cold War veterans edge out of the shadows and into Sin City's neon lights. For the first time, members of Roadrunners Internationale - the veterans' association for the 1129th Special Activities Squadron, which includes men who worked on the U-2, A-12 and F-117a projects at Groom Lake - will meet and answer questions from the public during two panel discussions being held at the Atomic Testing Museum this Wednesday and Thursday (October 7/8). Yet as test pilots rub shoulders with low-observables theoreticians, and military security personnel reminisce with former CIA operatives, the occasion will be as remarkable for those choosing not to attend as those it attracts.

The Roadrunners gets by on membership dues and donations, and the costs of its bi-annual reunions are borne entirely by members. None of the corporate entities that employed Roadrunners during their time at Groom Lake will have anything to do with the association - something that their President, Thornton "T.D." Barnes, says rankles deeply with members.

"It's been a very major disappointment to us, and an embarrassment to the people who worked for the corporations," says Barnes of the continued lack of presence from the companies that employed the pilots, technicians and other workers during their clandestine operations in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. "Our members feel let down."

While there are a number of corporations that operated at Groom Lake and employed Roadrunners members, the one that looms largest in both the popular consciousness and the minds of Roadrunners themselves is Lockheed Martin, which built the U-2, the A-12 and the F-117a.

"Lockheed plain told us, 'You guys are history, and we're looking to the future'," says Barnes. "We had an event in Mobile, Alabama, to honour Jack Weeks" - a CIA pilot whose A-12 overflights of North Korea in January and February 1968 established the location of the USS Pueblo, and who was killed flying the Kelly Johnson-designed aircraft in June of the same year - "and they refused to participate."

A long campaign by the Roadrunners to have their work honoured in permanent form bore fruit in 2007 when one of the eight surviving A-12 airframes was mounted on a pylon at CIA headquarters. Roadrunners members were invited to the dedication ceremony, which took place during the Agency's 60th anniversary; but even here, the veterans were unable to get help from the aircraft's manufacturers.

"I felt uncomfortable preparing a list of who to invite from among the Lockheed people and the other corporations because I might miss someone," says Barnes, a former radar specialist who arrived at Groom Lake just as the A-12 program - codenamed Oxcart - was winding down. "So we contacted Lockheed and the different companies and asked them to send us lists of who they felt should be there. Not a single one of them provided a list, so none of the Lockheed test pilots, who certainly should have been there, was invited.


Insurgents Breach US Base

A battle Saturday in which eight U.S. troops were killed was so fierce that, at one point, U.S. forces had to fall back as attackers breached the perimeter of their base, a U.S. military official with knowledge of the latest intelligence reports on the incident said.

The new revelations about the battle that engulfed Forward Operating Base Keating in Kamdesh District are a further indication of how pinned down and outmanned the troops were at the remote outpost. The base, in an eastern Afghanistan valley, was surrounded by ridge lines where the insurgents were able to fire down at U.S. and Afghan troops.

The facility had been scheduled to be closed within days, CNN has learned. The closing is part of a wider effort by the top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, to cede remote outposts and consolidate troops in more populated areas to better protect Afghan civilians.

The United States now believes that about 200 insurgents -- mostly local fighters, with some Taliban organizers and leaders -- had been planning the attack for days, hiding mortars, rockets and heavy machine guns in the mountains. Sources said the Taliban may have been watching the troops make preparations to depart and launched their attack at a time of vulnerability.

The Taliban were able to use their higher positions to fire into the base, pinning down the troops. As the attack progressed, the troops were forced back when enemy fighters managed to breach the outer perimeter of the outpost, the source said.

That led to especially intense fighting that continued until the U.S. troops could again secure the area, several sources said.

The battle erupted about 5 a.m. Saturday and lasted 12 hours, with the most intense fighting going on for about seven hours.



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