Deep Russian spy ring in U.S., Canada broken up by FBI

Wow. At least ten Russian secret agents operating under long-term deep cover have been arrested by the FBI. According to the English newspaper The Guardian:

In an indictment that might have been taken from the plot of a cold war thriller, the FBI alleges that the Russian intelligence service, the SVR [never heard of that one before! – JH], sent spies to live in the US under false names with the intent of becoming so Americanised they could build relationships with sources and gather information without raising suspicion. Some of the agents lived as married couples and had children who have grown up as Americans unaware that their parents are Russian.

And as the children were born here in the States, they are American citizens. Too bad about their parents…

The Montreal Gazette says that some of the spies posed as Canadians. Don’t know if they had children and bought houses, too.

So there you have it. A real Russian spy ring seeking secrets on American nuclear projects, elections, and finance. Wow! Tom Clancy, eat yer heart out!

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Nuke the Gulf of Mexico oil leak? Inadvisable, but it could work

It’s funny sometimes how ideas come flitting across the ether. Yesterday, unprompted by anything, I thought, “They could use an underwater nuclear explosion to close the leaking oil pipe.” Later that day on NPR, I heard some mention of how the Soviets used nukes to stop oil leaks not once, but at least four times. Now an article on the web site True/Slant has a story on it. Linking to the Russian daily newspaper Komsomoloskaya Pravda, True/Slant tells us that almost a half-dozen oil and gas spills have been magically solved through nuking them. Though one attempt apparently didn’t work. (I’d hate to have been the one who had to survey the site to find that out.)

Nuke the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico? Yeah! What could possibly go wrong?

Well, that’s what they said when they set up the Global Explorer without the safety mechanism. Of course, if you listen to this guy, spending half a million dollars on that would have been a waste of money. And really, why invest in the future when you could save money now?

Update 3 June 2010: As you can tell if you read closely, I don’t think this is at all a good idea. In fact, today’s New York Times has an article discussing the popularization of this idea by bloggers such as myself. The Times rightfully refers to us as kibbitzers, that wonderful Yiddish word meaning folks who “look on and offer unwanted, usually meddlesome advice to others.” (Danke, thefreedictionary.com; that’s basically what I inferred it to mean.)

Ambassador Richard Burt discusses nuclear disarmanent on The Daily Show

Ambassador Richard Burt made a very impressive appearance on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart. Ambassador Burt was a chief negotiator of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in the President George H.W. Bush administration. (It seems strange to me now that the Reagan-Bush administrations were creators of major arms control treaties, with Reagan’s saber rattling, nationalism, and Cold War rhetoric, and Bush’s Gulf War—that being something that got us to the state we’re in today.)

We’ve known for quite a while that President Obama has made reference to President Reagan. According to Ambassador Burt, Reagan sought nuclear reduction and elimination, finally being able to achieve it with Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev. Bush followed up with the first START treaty, and President Obama has signed the second one. Ambassador Burt points out that it’s a good starting place for further arms reductions. While this treaty alone will not eliminate Russian or American nuclear weapons, nor even a whole class of those weapons, it has restarted a process that was sidelined during the misguided George W. Bush years.

The group Global Zero is working to further the aim of eliminating nuclear weapons from the world. That’s a goal worth pursuing.

Ukraine agrees to rid itself of weapons-grade nuclear material

Mark another point on President Obama’s scorecard. In the past month, he has gotten health insurance reform passed after 70 years of failure by anyone to do so; signed a new nuclear weapons treaty with Russia; and laid out a new policy for the use of nuclear weapons by the U.S.

The latest achievement came today shortly after the start of President Obama’s nuclear summit. The White House announced this morning that Ukraine “would by 2012 get rid of enough highly enriched uranium to build ‘several weapons’.” [BBC]

President Obama has long made it clear that nuclear disarmament and containment of nuclear materials is a centerpiece of his American defense policy. This would serve several important goals, one of which is working to ensure that fissile materials don’t fall into the hands of terrorists. Ukraine’s action will remove “enough [uranium] to build several nuclear weapons” from the world stage.

According to the disarmament group NTI, Ukraine currently possesses no nuclear weapons, having transferred those back to Russia in 1996. But during the Cold War, the Soviet state had “176 Soviet SS-19 and SS-24 ICBMS with a total of 1,240 warheads (!!!) and 44 strategic bombers, as well as an unspecified number of tactical nuclear warheads placed on its territory.” After the Cold War, the bombers were converted to other uses or disassembled, and the nukes returned to Russia, and the missile silos that once could have rained fire upon us were destroyed.

Even with the reduction in deployed nukes, there was still a large amount of highly enriched uranium in different facilities about Ukraine. This morning’s announcement directly addresses that problem. It’s great news, and another achievement by our president. After a year of seeming inaction, Barack Obama has proven himself to be a leader who can positively change both our country and our world.

Presidents Obama, Medvedev sign new nuclear weapons reduction treaty

Bravo, Mr. President. Anything that helps reduce the number of nuclear weapons in the world is a good thing. Steps to reduce the number of loose nukes or nuclear material is just as important.

Coverage via TPM:

While I once pondered the attempt by the previous resident of the White House to start a new Cold War that was much like the old Cold War, President Obama has taken effective steps to renew America’s relationship with Russia.

Bravo, Mr. President. Bravo.

President Obama announces new nuclear weapons treaty with Russia

It gives me a great pleasure to say that President Obama has announced what hopefully will be the first of many new nuclear weapons treaties with Russia. Indeed, he has referred to it as “a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty [START],” a direct continuance of the recently expired START treaty.

According to the President’s statement, “the new START Treaty makes progress in several areas. It cuts – by about a third – the nuclear weapons that the United States and Russia will deploy. It significantly reduces missiles and launchers. It puts in place a strong and effective verification regime. And it maintains the flexibility that we need to protect and advance our national security, and to guarantee our unwavering commitment to the security of our Allies.”

It specifically does not address the missile defense systems that are still being deployed. I know Russia has a lot of anxiety about that. And personally, I don’t think they work for anything except wasting a lot of money. Do people that were not deficit hawks until two months ago have anything to say about that?

Bravo to President Obama for having the foresight and persistence to get this through. Note that it was announced just days after the health insurance reform act was signed into law. That says a lot about his presence of mind and ability to really get stuff done. Bravo, Mr. President.

Nuclear arms treaty would be Obama’s second great accompishment

I remember the year 1987 as being one of particularly heady days for me. While I had no idea that my life was going to head south for a while, literally and figuratively, I had started to become well aware of the international tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union. About five years earlier while on a Boy Scout trip to an air base somewhere in Michigan, I asked a man in uniform, “Any commies up there?” He laughed and said, “No, no commies up there.” I didn’t have any idea what that really meant, other than commies were bad.

Twenty years later, as a slightly learned historian of the Cold War, I have perhaps a more nuanced perspective on Soviet Union and communism. Don’t read that to mean that I’m a fan of communism. I’m certainly not. I know a bit of what Leninist-Stalinist communism did to Russia and Eastern Europe, and it’s interesting to watch how it continues to evolve in China. How it affected American attitudes and ideas about the world is another subject altogether.

That said, I do recall the joy I felt in 1987 when President Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. I had been having nightmares about nuclear war, partially due to my study of nuclear weapons using information available in my grade school library. Hearing that Reagan and Gorbachev were going to meet peacefully was very reassuring. After the signing, both were seen as heroes in the United States—especially Gorbachev, who attained a celebrity status. (Remember the ad he was in for Pizza Hut? The dialog between the people in the restaurant about “being on the edge of economic ruin” because of Gorbie is frighteningly true.)

. According to Atomic Archive, the INF treaty “resulted in the elimination of 846 U.S. INF missile systems and 1,846 Soviet INF missile systems [a total of 2,692 missiles]… The INF treaty is the first nuclear arms control agreement to actually reduce nuclear arms, rather than establish ceilings.”

In 2010, talk of nuclear weapons is a distant thought for many. That said, we still have thousands of nukes ready for use. So it has been very encouraging to hear word that President Obama and Russian President Dmitri A. Medvedev, have been drawing closer and closer to signing a new treaty. The New York Times reports that roadblocks towards having a treaty have been overcome, and a new treaty should be ready by April. It apparently would be signed at a summit in Prague.

Creating a binding nuclear weapons treaty and being able to negotiate its terms with Russia is no small task. When a new treaty is signed, President Obama will have achieved a second and very significant accomplishment.