- The Washington Times - Friday, February 15, 2008

U.S. funding Iran

An Energy Department program in Russia designed to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons is helping fund Iran’s nuclear program, two members of Congress said.

Rep. John D. Dingell and Rep. Bart Stupak, both Michigan Democrats, wrote to Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman last week to express concerns about the U.S. funding of the Iranian nuclear program through a nonproliferation program with Russia.

The two lawmakers noted that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently identified the threat from Iran as a major U.S. challenge. “Given these dire warnings, it is troubling that DOE would subsidize or otherwise support Russian institutes providing technology and services to the Iranian nuclear program,” they stated in the Feb. 6 letter.

Mr. Dingell is chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, and Mr. Stupak is chairman of its oversight subcommittee. They are investigating Energy’s nonproliferation program. The letter asked Mr. Bodman to explain “why U.S. taxpayers should continue to subsidize Russian nuclear institutes that are working on Iran’s nuclear program.”

The Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration is funding more than 100 projects at Russian and other former Soviet institutes.

The congressmen said the documents from the Energy Department’s Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention reveal that two Russian institutes “are involved in Iran’s nuclear program” and that one received $2.65 million in U.S. funds.

“DOE’s funding of Russian institutes working on the Bushehr reactor in Iran is questionable policy, because this activity enables the transfer of dual-use technologies, training and the potential for latent proliferation emerging from a civilian nuclear program,” they stated.

Coughlin v. Islam

Defense officials say Stephen Coughlin, the Joint Chiefs of Staff counterterrorism analyst who was pressured out of his contractor job after a run-in with an aide to Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, will be moving to a new position within the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

A Joint Staff spokesman declined to comment on Mr. Coughlin’s employment after March 1, despite a report by Rep. Sue Myrick, North Carolina Republican, that Mr. Coughlin will stay on at another job.

One official said he will move on to a position within the Special Operations Command office at the Pentagon, where he will continue to work on issues related to countering the ideology of Islamist extremism.

Some officials fear that by making the move from the Joint Staff, Mr. Coughlin will be muzzled further because so much of SOCOM’s work is classified, but other officials think the SOCOM job will give him more of a chance to promote his thesis on the close linkage between Islamic law and terrorism.

As for the official spin that Mr. Coughlin was not fired but simply finishing his contract, one official said, “He did not intend to cancel his contract. He was making great headway within the JCS and was excited about it, even though he had to start over every time personnel rotated out.”

Mr. Coughlin also was encouraged that the Joint Staff was giving its approval to his briefings and lectures to military and defense groups and colleges.

The official said the Joint Staff section leader who fired Mr. Coughlin indicated that he did not support the decision and that “England’s office was involved” in the firing.

“There is no way … that they wanted to get rid of him and likely succumbed to pressure from above,” the official said.

Capt. John Kirby, Joint Staff spokesman, said Mr. Coughlin wants to keep his future employment private.

Meanwhile, Pentagon spokesmen said that contrary to Internet reports, Hesham Islam, the aide to Mr. England who opposed Mr. Coughlin, is not leaving his job.

The Pentagon is looking into claims that Mr. Islam referred to Mr. Coughlin as a “Christian zealot with a pen” after the meeting that officials said led to Mr. Coughlin’s dismissal from the Joint Staff.

The Pentagon removed an article from its Web site after questions were raised about claims made by Mr. Islam about his past.

Terror diary

A senior military officer in Baghdad said the recent capture of an al Qaeda diary in Iraq revealing that the group is losing supports other information reaching senior commanders.

“In many respects this validates what we have been thinking in that we have been relentlessly pursing them, going after their leaders, their networks, their capabilities and this shows that we are having positive effects,” the officer said.

The decentralized nature of the terrorist groups requires a determined effort to gradually break down the organization, “and each one we take down continues to have the cumulative effects we are looking for in taking down al Qaeda, one cell at a time,” the officer said.

The al Qaeda diary was written by a terrorist named Abu Tariq who is a sector leader of the group near Baghdad. He noted that at one point his group had 600 fighters but that many quit and now “the number of fighters dropped down to 20 or less,” forcing the group to relocate.

Navy weakness

Adm. Gary Roughead, chief of naval operations, this week further perplexed conservative defense and military officials by dismissing the Russian bombers that recently buzzed the aircraft carrier Nimitz as not threatening.

“I did not consider it to be provocative,” Adm. Roughead said.

Asked whether the admiral thought the gesture was a mistake or a friendly act, Rear Adm. Frank Thorp said only that Adm. Roughead did not think it was provocative and that the admiral also stated in his meeting with reporters that it is not prudent to fly over an aircraft carrier.

U.S. jets were scrambled to intercept the two Tu-95 bombers that flew over the USS Nimitz south of Japan.

Officials said privately that it was the fourth time the Navy chief had reacted weakly to threatening or provocative encounters.

The first was when he was head of the Pacific fleet and a Chinese submarine sailed undetected to within five miles of the USS Kitty Hawk. Adm. Roughead was on a visit to China at the time and told reporters that when asked whether the Chinese navy is a threat, “I’ve been on record as saying ‘no.’ ”

Then the admiral defended the decision of commanders in the Persian Gulf not to shoot at several Iranian boats that made threatening movements toward three U.S. warships.

Adm. Roughead also expressed only “surprise” in November at China’s refusal to permit the Kitty Hawk to enter Hong Kong harbor, where relatives of its crew were waiting to meet for Thanksgiving, when harsh criticism of China was called for.

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

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