Cuban missile crisis myth constrains today's diplomatic standoffs

Kennedys and Khrushchevs
This post has been corrected.

Fifty years after the superpowers were poised to annihilate each other over nuclear missiles sent to Cuba, the myth prevails that President Kennedy forced Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to back down by threatening to unleash nuclear war.

It took three decades after October 1962, when the world hovered on the brink of a cataclysm, before  documents were declassified that disclosed the back-channel diplomacy and compromise that led to peaceful resolution of the Cuban missile crisis. But even today, hard-liners cling to the narrative that taking a tough, inflexible stance with adversaries is the path to diplomatic triumph.

GlobalFocusThat misguided interpretation hampers diplomacy today, say veterans of the perilous Cold War standoff and the historians who study it. The notion that threatening military action can force an opponent's surrender has created dangerously unrealistic expectations, they say, in high-stakes conflicts like the U.S.-led challenge of Iran's purported quest to build nuclear weapons.

Kennedy didn't stare down Khrushchev with vows to bomb Cuban missile sites, although that was the tactic pushed by his military advisors, recently revealed history of the crisis shows. The president sent his brother, then-Atty. Gen. Robert F. Kennedy, to secretly negotiate with Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin. In the strictest of confidence, RFK offered withdrawal of U.S. missiles from Turkey and a promise not to invade vulnerable Cuba in exchange for the Kremlin pulling out the nuclear arms it had deployed to Fidel Castro's island.

"The secrecy that accompanied the resolution of the most dangerous crisis in foreign policy history has distorted the whole process of conflict resolution and diplomacy," said Peter Kornbluh, Cuba analyst for the National Security Archive at George Washington University. "The takeaway from the crisis was that might makes right and that you can force your opponents to back down with a strong, forceful stance."

Documents released sporadically over the last 20 years show that the crisis was resolved through compromise, not coercion, said Kornbluh, who has spent decades pushing for declassification of U.S.-Cuba history documents related to the crisis. Some 2,700 pages from RFK's private papers were released by the National Archives and Kennedy Library just last week.

R. Nicholas Burns, a 27-year veteran of the U.S. Foreign Service now teaching diplomacy at Harvard's Kennedy School, sees applications for the Iran dispute from the real story of the missile crisis resolution.

The fundamental breakthrough in the confrontation occurred "because Kennedy finally decided, against the wishes of most of his advisors, that rather than risk nuclear war he was going to make a compromise with Khrushchev," Burns said. He pointed to the confidential offer to remove U.S. Jupiter missiles from Europe, a turning point still "not well understood -- people think Khrushchev backed down."

In the real world, Burns said, "it is exceedingly rare that we get everything we want in an international discussion. To get something of value, you have to give up something."

Burns sees the outlines of a negotiated agreement with Iran that would prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon, a plan he believes would be acceptable to Democrats and Republicans once the presidential election is over and the campaign rhetoric that rejects compromise dies down. In exchange for Iran's submitting its nuclear facilities to regular international inspections, Burns said, U.S. and other Western leaders could recognize Iran's right to enrich uranium to the levels needed in civilian arenas, such as energy production and medicine.

Lessons learned in the U.S.-led wars against insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan also argue for exhausting every diplomatic option before engaging in armed conflict, Burns said.

"Sometimes it's necessary to use military force -- I'm not a pacifist," said the retired diplomat, who was an undersecretary of State for political affairs under President George W. Bush. "But more often than not, you have to put your faith in diplomacy. We have the time and space to negotiate with Iran."

Differentiating between national interests and those of allies is an even more important lesson gleaned from the missile crisis, said Robert Pastor, an American University professor of international relations and former National Security Council official in the Carter administration.

"Fidel Castro actually urged Khrushchev to attack the United States because he felt American imperialism would try to destroy both Cuba and the socialist world," said Pastor, who credits Khrushchev with wisely rejecting Castro's adventurism in favor of peace. Pastor sees a similar danger of Israel provoking war with Iran, confronting Washington with the need to decide between trying to restrain Israel or fighting a new Middle East war.

Sergei N. Khrushchev, the late premier's son who is now a U.S. citizen and international affairs analyst at Brown University, has been campaigning for a correction of the Cuban missile history at anniversary events this week.

"Khrushchev didn’t like Kennedy any more than President Obama likes [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad," he said in an interview. "But he realized you have to speak to them anyway if you want to resolve problems. We say we will never negotiate with our enemies, only with our friends. But that's not negotiating, that's having a party."

For the record, 8:35 a.m. Oct. 17: This post originally said the RFK papers made public this week were posted on the nongovernmental National Security Archive website. They were released by the National Archives and Kennedy Library.


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Photo: Caroline Kennedy, daughter of late President John F. Kennedy, shows her mother's original copy of the 1963 Nuclear Test Ban Treaty to Sergei Khrushchev, son of late Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, next to a photograph of their fathers at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston at a commemoration Sunday of the 50th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis. Credit: Michael Dwyer / Associated Press


U.S., allies girding for worst-case scenario with Syria's WMD

Chemical weapons response training site in Jordan
During a week that witnessed deadly artillery exchanges between Syria and Turkey and a tense showdown over a plane purportedly ferrying munitions from Russia, the arrival of 150 U.S. troops in Jordan was likely to be viewed as token support for an ally coping with a refugee influx from Syria's civil war.

GlobalFocusThe deployment, though, may be a response to mounting concerns at the Pentagon and among European and Middle East allies that Syria's stockpile of chemical weapons could fall into the hands of hostile forces if the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad is eventually toppled.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta disclosed little about the special-forces mission to Jordan when he confirmed it at a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels on Wednesday. But he noted that the United States has been working closely with Jordan to keep track of Syria's weapons of mass destruction as the 19-month-old rebellion grinds on.

Unlike a decade ago, when bad intelligence on Iraq's alleged chemical and biological weapons spurred a clamor for U.S. military intervention, defense strategists appear to be approaching the suspected stockpiles of mustard and nerve gases in Syria with more collaboration and caution.

The resistance to preemptive action isn't just a consequence of lessons learned in Iraq. Syria is believed to have one of the world's largest chemical weapons arsenals, with commercial satellite surveillance and intelligence reports suggesting as many as 50 production and storage sites as well as missiles that could carry the deadly agents beyond its borders. Jane's Intelligence Review reported in 2009 that Damascus had embarked on a major upgrade of its chemical weapons facilities, transforming its Safir site near Aleppo, now the scene of intense fighting, into a credible deterrent to any threat from nuclear-armed Israel.

The scope of the Syrian chemical weapons program and the international community's failure to craft a cohesive plan to stop the fighting confront Western military strategists with the need to plan for a worst-case scenario rather than act to prevent it, analysts say. That means preparing allies in the region to launch a massive rapid-deployment operation after the Assad regime collapsed but before Al Qaeda-aligned fighters or rogue elements of the Syrian rebels could get their hands on the WMD.

Military exercises in JordanThe U.S. special forces sent to Amman are probably training Jordanian troops in containment techniques and checking their equipment and chemical-biological hazard protection and practices, said Steven Bucci, a former Army Green Beret officer and senior Pentagon official who is now a research fellow in defense and domestic  security at the Heritage Foundation.

"They will probably be running them through training procedures for dealing with this stuff to secure it and get it under control or to respond to it if it gets used" in a calamitous last battle, said Bucci. "This is about the best use of our military we could have now, and hopefully we're also helping out the Turks."

Bucci testified to Congress in July that even a limited operation to secure Syria's chemical weapons would require more than 75,000 troops -- and many more if launched amid the civil war now raging.

It is "not a viable option" to commit masses of U.S. ground troops to such an operation, Bucci told the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade. Any effective force, he said, would have to involve troops from allied Muslim countries also at risk of attack with Syria's chemical weapons.

That's why, he said in an interview Thursday, it is essential for the United States to coordinate with Syria's neighbors now to prepare a post-Assad operation that can prevent terrorist groups or smugglers from making off with the WMD.

Raymond Zilinskas, director of the chemical and biological weapons program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, points out that assessments of Syria's chemical weapons program are largely unverified. But he, too, says the United States and its allies should be girding for the worst.

"From what I understand, these depots are pretty well guarded by the Syrian regime's forces, and they would probably be the last to give up their guarding duties," Zilinskas said. "But if there is a total collapse, there would of course be a threat of jihadists getting these weapons."

Talk of airstrikes to remove the threat is nonsensical, Zilinskas said. Syria has formidable antiaircraft defenses built with Russian assistance, and the international community lacks crucial information on the precise locations, quantities and containment of the gases to be able to bomb them without risking spreading the deadly substances.

"Sarin is pretty volatile. If all these other problems could be resolved, the sarin would probably be destroyed or would be so volatile that it would disappear quickly," Zilinskas said. "But that's not necessarily the case with mustard gas. It's much less deadly but much more persistent. And if the Syrians turn out to have VX, which is a persistent nerve gas, that could cause real problems. That is the worst-case scenario they have to prepare for."


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Photo, top: A military training facility in Russeifeh, Jordan, where U.S. forces and a handful of British allies began training Jordanian commandos this week to respond in case of an attack with chemical weapons from neighboring Syria. Credit: Mohammad Hannon / Associated Press

Insert: A scene from U.S.-Jordanian military exercises in the Qatrana desert in June. Credit: Jamal Nasrallah /AFP/Getty Images

Speculation continues about drone intercepted in Israel


JERUSALEM -- The day after an unidentified drone penetrated Israeli airspace and was shot down by the Israeli air force Saturday, speculation continued about the origin of the small craft or its assignment.

According to statements from the Israeli military, the drone was spotted before entering Israeli airspace and remained under surveillance of both ground and air forces until being downed in the northern Negev, a relatively remote area chosen to avoid damage to civilian areas.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the military's response and stressed Israel would continue to protect its "land, sea and air borders" on behalf of its citizens.

The drone entered Israeli airspace Saturday along the country's southern Mediterranean coast. Despite emerging from the direction of the Gaza Strip, the army does not believe it was launched from the Hamas-ruled coastal enclave. Theories abound as to the make and mission of the drone -- described by Israeli media as sophisticated. 

"The immediate suspect is Hezbollah," according to one theory published in Haaretz. The Lebanese-based, Iran-backed Shiite Muslim militia is believed to have used drones against Israel before, although coming from the south presents a twist. Another commentator on the website raised the possibility it was headed toward Dimona, site of Israel's nuclear reactor, to photograph the area, and that this was a message from Iran, testing Israel's capabilities.

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Europe tackles torture allegations that were swept aside in U.S.

European courts trying torture cases
When CIA agents nabbed an Egyptian cleric on the streets of Milan, Italy,  and whisked him off for interrogation in a country that turned a blind eye to torture, they violated international law and were justly sentenced to prison, Italy's highest court has ruled in a landmark case against the U.S. counter-terrorism tactic known as "extraordinary rendition."

GlobalFocusThe final judgment by Italy's Court of Cassation on Wednesday upheld the convictions of 23 American operatives for their roles in the 2003 abduction of Hassan Osama Nasr, also known as Abu Omar. Their five- and seven-year prison terms meted out by a lower court three years ago were not only upheld but extended by two years, although it appeared unlikely that  any of the convicted U.S. operatives would be surrendered to serve their time.

Human rights advocates concede that  the legal judgment against rendition is mostly symbolic. Unless Italy seeks extradition -- something Washington has been fighting fiercely, leaked diplomatic cables suggest -- the only punishment the Americans are likely to face is the threat of arrest if they travel to Europe or nations elsewhere that might elect to fulfill commitments under the U.N. Convention Against Torture.

Despite the limited reach of the Italian court's decision, rights advocates have applauded the ruling as evidence that European courts are willing to bring to justice those who violate the law in the so-called war on terror, even though the U.S. government has declined to do so.

Milan prosecutor Armando Spataro, who brought the case against the Americans and a few Italian intelligence agents complicit in Nasr's abduction, declared that the high court ruling is a definitive judgment that rendition is "incompatible with democracy." He said a government decision on whether to seek extradition wouldn't be expected until the high court issues its full written opinion, which could take two to three more months.

The CIA did not respond to a call and email from The Times asking for comment on the Italian court ruling and whether the agency is advising the convicted Americans against foreign travel.

The United States has an extradition treaty with Italy, and any request for Washington to deliver the Americans to serve their prison terms would be difficult for the U.S. government to ignore, said former Air Force Col. Morris Davis, a former chief prosecutor at the Guantanamo Bay war-crimes tribunal who was forced to retire after criticizing U.S. handling of terrorism suspects.

"If the Italians were to submit an extradition request, there would be no legal basis for us not to comply," Davis said. "I’m sure there’ll be a lot of behind-the-scenes diplomatic wrangling on the Italian government not to submit the request."

The Italian case isn't the only one threatening to spotlight legal breaches by American agents since Sept. 11, Davis said. He pointed out that most of the legal actions abroad in defiance of the Obama administration's decision to "look forward, not back" on counter-terrorism excesses are coming from allied countries, "not Iran or Cuba or Venezuela."

Abu Omar insertA Spanish judge in 2009 ordered an investigation of torture allegations at Guantanamo Bay. Polish authorities are demanding full disclosure of the former government's complicity in CIA detention and interrogation of rendition subjects at a remote secret prison there. The British government has paid compensation to citizens and legal residents released after abusive CIA interrogations, including plaintiffs whose cases were thrown out of U.S. courts when the George W.  Bush and Obama administrations claimed that to try them would expose "state secrets." In Canada, the government has apologized to and compensated Maher Arar, a citizen nabbed by U.S. agents while traveling home from Tunisia in 2002 and sent to Syria for "enhanced interrogation."

Nasr, an Egyptian-born imam, was suspected of recruiting men from his Milan mosque to fight U.S. and other foreign troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, the impetus for his Feb. 17, 2003, abduction and delivery to a secret interrogation site in his homeland. He said he was beaten, bound and blindfolded for months in a cold cell and subjected to electrical shocks to his genitals while being questioned.

A lower Italian court found the 23 Americans guilty in 2009 and sentenced former Milan CIA station chief Robert Seldon Lady to seven years in prison and the others to five years' detention. The high court stiffened those sentences by two years and sent back to the lower court several cases against Italian agents involved in the Nasr rendition that had been dismissed on immunity claims.

While the Italian judiciary, like that of the United States, has no power to enforce its rulings if the government fails to request extradition, the rendition judgment serves a powerful symbolic purpose in branding those who would violate laws against torture as criminals, said Jamil Dakwar, director of the human rights program of the American Civil Liberties Union. He pointed out an array of other legal challenges to rendition and warrantless detention brought by former terrorism suspects that are making their way through foreign and multinational courts.

The Italian ruling this week, Dakwar said, "sent a strong message that if the United States fails to hold accountable its own officials for human rights violations that European countries will do so."


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Photo: A police officer stands guard at the Milan trial of 23 Americans involved in the 2003 abduction of an Egyptian cleric. European and international courts are prosecuting cases of alleged torture of terrorism suspects despite the U.S. government's policy against exposing its counter-terrorism practices to the judgment of the courts. Credit: Giuseppe Cacace / AFP/Getty Images

Insert: Egyptian-born cleric  Hassan Osama Nasr, known as Abu Omar, says he was kidnapped in Milan and tortured in an Egyptian prison. Credit: Amr Nabil / Associated Press

No imminent threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, experts say

Mitt Romney in Jerusalem
Israeli and U.S. politicians lately have been bandying about the prospect of an airstrike on Iranian nuclear facilities, stirring fear that another destabilizing clash could be provoked in a region already rife with civil war in Syria and other religious and political tensions.

GlobalFocusBut nonproliferation experts and Middle East analysts are skeptical of Israeli claims that the Tehran regime is so close to building a nuclear weapon that time is running out for a peaceful resolution of the decades-long standoff.

"This is a window that has been closing for 15 years now, and it's always imminently about to close," said Jamal Abdi, policy director for the National Iranian American Council. He sees the sudden flurry of diplomacy between Jerusalem and Washington as an outgrowth of the U.S. presidential campaign and Israeli interest in ensuring that the United States continues to hold a hard line against Iran.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta was in Jerusalem on Wednesday to urge Israeli leaders to let negotiations and sanctions do their work before unleashing any military strike at facilities where Iran is suspected of enriching uranium or storing the processed fuel for potential upgrading to weapons' quality.

His visit followed one Sunday by Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential candidate who put the political spotlight on tension between the nation and Iran by promising to "respect" any decision Israel's leadership takes to protect itself.

The high-profile visits gave a platform to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to proclaim Israeli impatience with diplomacy and sanctions, which he claimed had "not set back the Iranian program by one iota."

Netanyahu complained that "however forceful our statements, they have not convinced Iran that we are serious about stopping them." He put Panetta on notice that Israel is prepared to act alone in attacking Iran if it perceives itself to be at risk.

Alon Ben-Meir, a professor of international relations at New York University's Center for Global Affairs, said Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak used the American visits to send a message to Tehran that Israel won't hesitate to take unilateral action.

Ben-Meir cautions U.S. and other officials against seeing the Israeli threats as mere posturing, pointing out the profound national security concerns that shape Israeli defense policy and the country's unshakable faith that Washington will come to its rescue if a strike against Iran triggers retaliation by Tehran or its well-armed allies in the Lebanon-based Hezbollah militia.

"I don’t think Israel is bluffing entirely. There is an element of exaggerating its readiness to act and likelihood of winning. But many advisors to Prime Minister Netanyahu are saying that if he waits six or eight months, they may end up unable to do anything significant in terms of damage" to nuclear facilities that Iran has been moving underground to protect them from airstrikes,  Ben-Meir said.

The veteran analyst of Israeli politics said talks between U.S. and Israeli security officials are focused on a possible "insurance policy" for Israel: The United States would provide bombs capable of penetrating and destroying underground facilities. In close consultation with Washington, the bombs could be used against buried Iranian nuclear sites at a later date, allowing Israel to refrain from any military action now that could embroil the U.S. in another war on the eve of the presidential election.

Threats of military action against Iran are spurred by Israel's frustration with the paltry progress being made at recently resumed negotiations between Iran and six major powers. The talks are aimed at ensuring that Iranian programs are limited to peaceful purposes like energy production and medical research, said Gaukhar Mukhatzhanova, a nonproliferation scholar at the Monterey Institute of International Studies.

"I don’t see any particular breakthroughs in the Iranian program. It's been on a pretty steady course," she said, adding that, as far as preemptive air strikes were concerned, "there is technically no urgency to do this."

Three rounds of high-level talks between Tehran and diplomats from the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany have failed to produce concessions from either side, and trade sanctions that were tightened last month have succeeded mostly in depriving average Iranians of food and fuel, rather than pushing the regime to open more of its nuclear activities to international inspection.

Still, those pressures are mounting on Iran and raising the cost -- both financially and politically -- of the regime's nuclear pursuits, said Alireza Nader, senior policy analyst on Iran for Rand Corp. He pointed to reports of Iranian demonstrations against rising food prices and shortages, along with demands, even from Iranian elites, that the government give priority to social needs over nuclear investments.

"According to the U.S. intelligence community, the Iranian leadership hasn't even made the decision to weaponize their program,"  Nader said. "They've been creating the technical know-how and the infrastructure, but they haven't made that decision, and there is much more time than the Israelis portray there to be. I don't think an Iranian nuclear weapons capability is inevitable or imminent."


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Photo: Mitt Romney's visit to Jerusalem on Sunday set off a cascade of Israeli threats to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities in the near future to prevent Tehran from acquiring an atomic-weapons capability. Middle East experts say there is little evidence of an imminent threat from Iran and that the Israeli and U.S. statements are mostly politically driven saber-rattling. Credit: Uriel Sinai / Getty Images

General warns of dramatic increase in cyber-attacks on U.S. firms

Cyber forum
ASPEN, Colo.  -- Computer  intrusions by hackers, criminals and nations against U.S. infrastructure increased seventeenfold from 2009 to 2011, the nation’s chief cyber defender says, and it’s only a matter of time before such an attack causes physical damage.

Gen. Keith Alexander, who heads  the National Security Agency and the U.S. Cyber Command, revealed the statistics in a rare public interview Thursday at the Aspen Security Forum, a gathering of national security officials. He called for passage of legislation being debated by the Senate that would set up a voluntary system for companies to shore up their computer defenses.

The NSA eavesdrops on communications around the world, and it also monitors cyber-attacks. U.S. Cyber Command is responsible for offensive cyber operations.

Alexander did not say how many attacks happen each year against critical infrastructure, such as electrical, water, chemical and nuclear plants. Such intrusions are typically designed  to probe defenses and lay the groundwork for a destructive attack.  Many plants and factories are run by networked industrial control systems, so an attacker who seizes control of such a system could wreak havoc.

Echoing remarks he has made before, Alexander said the U.S. lacks sufficient defenses against cyber-attacks. On a scale of 1 to 10, he said, American preparedness for a large-scale cyber-attack is “around a 3.”

He said he was particularly worried about attacks that could shut down parts of the electrical grid or compromise public water systems.

“Destructive cyber-attacks against critical infrastructure are coming,” Alexander said.

Alexander said the military had yet to work out rules of engagement for responding to cyber-attacks, and he pointed out that neither of his agencies have the authority to defend against a cyber-attack on a private company, even if that company owns crucial infrastructure.  The pending bill would fix that, he said.

Some business groups oppose the bill as intrusive, and some civil liberties groups say it compromises privacy.

Alexander pointedly refused to comment on Stuxnet, a cyber-attack on Iran’s nuclear enrichment facilities that has been reported to have been the work of the U.S. and Israeli intelligence.  He also pushed back against the notion that the uptick in attacks on the U.S. is related to Stuxnet, which was first discovered in June 2010.

Alexander repeated his view that computer-based espionage against the industrialized world amounted to “the biggest transfer of wealth in history” because “adversaries have gone into our companies and taken intellectual property.”

He cited one estimate by the security firm McAfee that the losses from such spying add up to a trillion dollars. But, he said, "we don’t know. And which is more alarming:  that it’s really large, or we don’t even know how large it is? … What other countries are doing are stealing the next generation of [our] capabilities.”

Alexander didn’t name the countries, but China and Russia have  been cited by government officials as the biggest culprits, a charge they deny.


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Photo: NBC correspondent Pete Williams, left, interviews Gen. Keith Alexander  on  on cyber-security. Credit: Aspen Daily News 

U.S. intelligence official acknowledges missed Arab Spring signs

WASHINGTON -- U.S. intelligence agencies missed evidence of the unrest across the Middle East and North Africa that exploded into popular uprisings last year during the so-called Arab Spring and are now trying to improve early warning systems, a senior U.S. intelligence official said.

David Shedd, deputy director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon’s chief intelligence arm, said analysts failed to note signs “that would have indicated to us, shown us, that there was a growing dissatisfaction ... in the general population

“We missed that.”

It was a rare public acknowledgment of the U.S. intelligence failure regarding the turmoil that has redrawn the Middle East’s political landscape, toppling autocratic rulers in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya and now engulfing Syria. Shedd’s comments were posted Thursday by the American Forces Press Service, a Pentagon information wire.

U.S. intelligence agencies were reporting on popular dissatisfaction with Arab regimes, Shedd said, but analysts failed to characterize the conditions as “bubbling over or creating ... a level of dissatisfaction that would fill Tahrir Square” in Cairo.

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Indian intelligence agency files case against suspected militant

NEW DELHI — India’s National Investigation Agency on Thursday filed a case against Syed Zabiuddin Ansari, making it the latest group keen to interrogate, prosecute or otherwise get its hands on the alleged handler of the 2008 Mumbai attack, who was arrested Monday.

The agency, formed after the assault on India’s financial capital that killed 166 people, joins a growing list of police agencies, special courts and anti-terrorism squads seeking Ansari’s insider knowledge on significant terrorist attacks in India since 2005, when he reportedly made contact with extremist groups.

In addition to Mumbai, India has suffered through a series of terrorist strikes in the last seven years, including a 2005 assault on a Bangalore college that killed one person; a May 2006 interception of arms and explosives discovered in Aurangabad; a July 2006 attack on Mumbai’s trains that killed 180; a 2008 attack on a police camp in Rampur that killed eight; and a bombing at Pune's German Bakery in 2010 that killed 17.

If even some of the allegations against Ansari prove true, he represents a rare and much-sought commodity for New Delhi: an Indian national who allegedly worked for years with Lashkar-e-Taiba extremists in Pakistan, conceiving and planning operations against his homeland. In particular, authorities hope he will shed light on any role that Pakistan’s security agencies have played in attacks on India.

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Israeli report criticizes Netanyahu's handling of flotilla raid

JERUSALEM -- More than two years after an Israeli raid on an aid flotilla headed for the Gaza Strip turned deadly, a report released Wednesday criticizes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as making poor decisions and misunderstanding the magnitude of the unfolding confrontation.

In a special 153-page report, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss used harsh words to describe a long list of flaws in the government's preparation for the approaching flotilla, which carried activists determined to run Israel's blockade of Gaza.

Lindenstrauss accused the Netanyahu administration of failing to coordinate the actions of relevant agencies, ignoring military warnings about potential violence, keeping the National Security Council out of the loop and dropping the ball on media response and public diplomacy.

The interception of the Mavi Marmara, the largest ship in the mainly Turkish aid flotilla, turned violent when the shipboard activists fought back against Israeli commandos. The clash resulted in the deaths of nine passengers and fierce international condemnation of Israel, forcing it to ease its blockade of the Hamas-controlled coastal strip. The attack also worsened relations with Turkey, already soured following an Israeli military assault on Gaza, sending them into a tailspin from which they have not recovered.

Although Lindenstrauss found fault with others, including Defense Minister Ehud Barak and the army, his report holds Netanyahu responsible for the overall outcome.

"The prime minister's decision-making was made without proper coordination, documentation or preparation," despite the fact that all were aware that the Turkish flotilla was larger and more politically sensitive than those that preceded it, he wrote.

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Israeli president's Medal of Freedom may revive Pollard spy case

REPORTING FROM JERUSALEM — President Obama's decision to award Israeli President Shimon Peres the Presidential Medal of Freedom is being viewed here as the latest opportunity to ask Washington for the release of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard from prison in the U.S.

Pollard was a civilian intelligence analyst with the U.S. Navy found guilty in the 1980s of passing classified information to Israel and sentenced to life in prison. For several years, Israel did not acknowledge that Pollard had spied, but in 1995, he was granted Israeli citizenship during Benjamin Netanyahu's first stint as prime minister.

Peres, receiving the medal this week, is expected to renew the request for Pollard's release. Israel has asked several times before, most recently in a personal letter from Peres. The White House rejected the request.

Netanyahu — whose request two years ago was also rejected — had almost secured Pollard's release from President Clinton in 1998. But Clinton reportedly changed his mind after CIA director George Tenet threatened to resign.

Last year, Vice President Joe Biden told a group of American rabbis that Pollard would be released "over his dead body."

Some in Israel have questioned why objections to Pollard's release remain so fierce after nearly three decades, particularly because he spied for a friendly government. In a radio interview Monday, former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S.Itamar Rabinowitz said that Israeli pressure has always met with a "tremendous counter-pressure" coming from senior legal and intelligence circles in America, who say that Pollard caused extensive intelligence damage. 

The Americans also hold a "suspicion that Pollard was not alone, and there were others and that despite its promise, Israel did not reveal all its cards to the U.S. on this and similar issues," Rabinowitz said.

According to Rabinowitz, who served as ambassador to the U.S. in the 1990s, Israeli officials were made to understand this remained a suspicion, although it was never formally alleged.

Rabinowitz said releasing Pollard would take strength on the part of an American president to overcome the pressure of the two lobbies.

In April, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon publicly claimed that high-level CIA officials believe Pollard had an accomplice. But Ayalon, himself a former ambassador to the U.S., called the suspicions "baseless" and said there was "not a shred of evidence" to support them.


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Photo: Photo of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard in 1998.  Credit:  Karl DeBlaker / Associated Press


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