Analysis on covert ops in Iran
- “What has raised the world’s suspicions is that Iran continues to produce 20 percent enriched uranium despite the fact that this exceeds its civilian needs and, as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad acknowledged in September, does not make economic sense,” writes Olli Heinonen on ForeignPolicy.com.
- “Covert action creates the time and space for pressure to build, while reducing the need for military action. Ultimately, covert action should be aimed at bringing enough pressure to bear on Iran’s leaders so that they understand they will never reach their goal of being a nuclear power,” writes Andrew Cummings in the Guardian.
- “Whatever the moral considerations, there is no doubt that curtailing Iran’s nuclear ambitions is a paramount goal for policy-makers and security services alike, and the covert campaign appears to be the most effective means of delaying the Iranians’ progress,” argues this Daily Telegraph editorial.
- Experts believe that covert actions that include a campaign of assassinations, bombings, cyber attacks and defections are the modus-operandi used mainly by Israel to weaken the Iranian regime and to halt the country’s attempts to develop nuclear capabilities. “Sabotage and assassination is the way to go, if you can do it,” Patrick Clawson, director of the Iran Security Initiative at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told The New York Times in an interview published on Thursday.
- Following a meeting with U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Japanese Finance Minister Jun Azumi said Japan would continue to reduce its imports (al-Jazeera) of Iranian oil as part of a U.S.-led plan to sanction the country over its nuclear program.
- The US has slapped sanctions on three companies including a large Chinese oil trader for selling refined oil products to Iran, just days after US Treasury secretary Tim Geithner travelled to Beijing to press for Chinese support on Iran sanctions. The measures send a strong warning to energy companies working in Iran. But they also mark a more confrontational approach to China, Iran’s biggest trading partner, after the US has spent years lobbying Beijing for closer co-operation on its attempts to isolate Tehran over its expanding nuclear programme.
- Iran will struggle to sell embargoed crude
- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejaddenounced capitalism Wednesday during a speech at the University of Havana on the third leg of a trip to highlight friendships with hisLatin American allies, most of them thorns in Washington’s side. Ahmadinejad held a private meeting later with President Raul Castro and was expected to meet with Fidel Castro. In all, he planned to spend less than 24 hours on the island before flying to Ecuador.
- In a video posted on the internet, the leader of Nigeria’s Islamist Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, defended the group’s recent killings of Christians (Reuters) in the north of the country as justifiable revenge.
- The Nigerian authorities have imposed a 24-hour curfew in Niger state after a crowd of youths went on the rampage, setting fire to buildings and cars.The trouble in the state capital, Minna, came on the third day of nationwide strikes against a government decision to end fuel subsidies.
- Syrian President Bashar al-Assad appeared in public for the first time during the ten-month-old uprising against his regime, addressing a rally of thousands in Damascus. Assad vowed to “defeat the conspiracy” (NYT) in the surprise speech.
- The Arab League has delayed sending more monitors to Syria, as its mission runs into further difficulties. The league’s move comes after 11 of its observers were injured in an attack in the port of Latakia earlier this week. One of the league’s 165 observers has already quit the mission describing it as a “farce”, and reports say another is set to walk out.
Fracing (Fracking… eventually I’ll concede that the popular media has succeeded in morphing the spelling which comes from ‘frac’ which is short for ‘fracturing’)
- After earthquakes in Lancashire and tales of poisoned water and flaming taps in the US, “fracking” for gas or oil in the English home counties was never likely to be easy. And so it proved when oil executives faced the fury of a village hall full of West Sussex residents in a clash over a controversial technology that energy companies believe could open up major reserves of energy from underground rocks. “What you are about to do will make our water beyond toxic!” Ella Reeves shouted at Mark Miller, the Pennsylvania oil man who had come to Balcombe to explain plans to search for hydrocarbons 800 metres under the Sussex weald. “It’s about money for you, but for me it is about life.”
- US natural gas prices suffered their biggest week drop in two-and-a-half years, falling 12.7 per cent, amid forecasts of continuing mild winter weather and booming US production. Higher than normal temperatures in the east and Midwest of America have depressed US natural gas prices over the past few months, when consumption is supposed to be at its strongest. “There doesn’t seem to be a floor [to the price] right now,” said Laurent Key, natural gas analyst at Société Générale in New York.
- Low natural gas prices will eat into Chesapeake Energy Corp.’s profits, analyst Phil Weiss of Argus Research said in a note to clients on Friday. “While the company has recently realized additional cash from asset monetizations and plans more, it still faces a cash shortfall relative to its ability to generate sufficient operating cash flow to fund its 2012 capital budget,”
- Last week, I received a note from him letting me know that, on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, he would be undertaking a hunger strike directed against New York State officials who are bound and determined to make the Southern Tier of the state a showcase for the effectiveness of a process called Induced Hydraulic Fracturing, or “fracking.”
- Of course the news would come on Friday the 13th. After a day of leaks and rumors, Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services made it official late this afternoon. The credit-rating agency is stripping unlucky France of its AAA credit rating, knocking it down by one notch to AA+. Also getting knocked down one notch each were Austria, Malta, Slovakia and Slovenia. S&P gave even worse news to Italy, Spain, Cyprus and Portugal, marking down their debt ratings by two notches each. That downgrade kicked Cyprus and Portugal all the way to “junk” status, where Greece already resides. Ouch.
- The U.S. trade deficit widened 10.4 percent to $47.8 billion in November from October, driven by higher prices and volumes for imported oil and a drop in major export categories other than consumer goods. Non-petroleum imports rose 0.1 percent, including a 3.7 percent jump in automotive import volumes. Imports of capital goods rose despite declines in computers, semiconductors and the volatile category of civilian aircraft. Consumer goods imports fell 1.7 percent.
- Consumer confidence in the U.S. last week reached the highest level since July as the improving job market helped allay pessimism.
- Chinese inflation edged down in December, setting the stage for a continuation of cautious policy loosening to support the slowing economy. Consumer prices rose 4.1 per cent from a year earlier, the lowest in 15 months and well below July’s peak of 6.5 per cent.
- Cornell GLI’s new report, Pipe Dreams? Jobs Gained, Jobs Lost by the Construction of Keystone XL examines the job impacts of TransCanada Corportation’s Keystone XL Pipeline, the proposed pipeline that would transport tar sands oil almost 2,000 miles from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf of Mexico in Texas. The report reviews claims made by TransCanada and the American Petroleum Institute that the project will create 20,000 construction and manufacturing and 119,000 (direct, indirect and induced) jobs. The report concludes that the job estimates put forward by TransCanada are unsubstantiated and the project will not only create fewer jobs than industry states, but that the project could actually kill more jobs than it creates.
Global Climate Change
- Dramatic and unprecedented plumes of methane – a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide – have been seen bubbling to the surface of the Arctic Ocean by scientists undertaking an extensive survey of the region.
- The offer of a fitness club membership is helping insurers includingUnitedHealth Group Inc. (UNH) and Humana Inc. (HUM) draw healthier and less costly patients to their Medicare programs, said researchers reporting in the New England Journal of Medicine. The study found 35.3 percent of new enrollees in a fitness membership benefit plan reported “excellent” or “very good” health, compared with 29.1 percent in the group without the benefit. The number of plans offering the memberships rose to 58 in 2008 from 4 in 2002, the researchers said.
- Energy efficiency is an over-rated policy tool when it comes to cutting energy use and CO2 emissions—that’s the basic message promoted by the US think tank the Breakthrough Institute (BTI), and amplified in major news outlets like theNew Yorker and the New York Times. Their logic is that every action to conserve energy through efficient use leads to an opposite reaction to consume more energy—a “rebound” mechanism, which, according to the BTI, can negate as much as 60-100% of saved energy, and in some cases can backfire to increase net energy consumption.
- In this research note we refute this policy message and show that the BTI, as well as its champions in the media, have overplayed their hand, supporting their case with anecdotes and analysis that don’t measure up against theory and data….
- Global investment in clean energy reached a new high of $260bn (£169bn) last year – despite the financial crisis and the anti-environment agenda of Republicans in the US Congress, a United Nations investors’ summit was told on Thursday. Data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, which tracks clean energy investment, showed a 5% increase compared with 2010, driven largely by a surge of money going to the solar industry.
- Giant cargo boats and US navy warships have been successfully powered on oil derived from genetically modified algae in a move which could herald a revolution in the fuel used by the world’s fleets – and a reduction in the pollution they cause. The results of substituting algal oil for low-grade, “bunker” fuel and diesel in a 98,000-tonne container ship are still being evaluated by Maersk, the world’s biggest shipping company, which last week tested 30 tonnes of oil supplied by the US navy in a vessel travelling from Europe to India. Last month, the navy tested 20,000 gallons of algal fuel on a decommissioned destroyer for a few hours. Both ran their trials on a mix of algal oil – between 7% and 100% – and conventional bunker fuel.
- Chevron, the second-largest US oil company by market capitalisation, warned that its earnings for the fourth quarter of last year would be “significantly” below the third quarter’s, as a result of a slump in refining profits of about $2bn and adverse exchange rate effects. Chevron said refining margins had dropped because of a fall in demand for petrol and overstocked supplies, which did not improve over the December holiday driving season.
- Texas and Colorado approved rules today requiring oil and natural-gas operators to report the chemical ingredients used in new hydraulically fractured wellsbeginning [this] year. The Texas Railroad Commission, which oversees the industry in the state, said any well receiving an initial drilling permit beginning Feb. 1 will be subject to the new chemical-disclosure rules, according to an e-mailed statement today.