Our Credible and Nonpartisan Defense Industry

Meet Peter Huessy. He’s the president of “Geo-Strategic Analysis, Inc”, described as a “defense and national security consulting” firm, and a member of the board at the National Center for Critical Incident Analysis. When he’s not busy saving the world from the dangers of nuclear-weapons proliferation (his self-professed specialty), he pens some pretty vitriolic editorials from a decidedly (cough!) conservative viewpoint. He’s also, apparently, a noted guest lecturer in some demand.

It should come as no surprise, then, that he likes to mix business – nonproliferation wonkery and defense consulting – with pleasure, or at least politics. Heck, inside the beltway, that’s pretty much de rigeur, right? Would you be surprised to learn, knowing a little bit about Mr. Huessy, that he recently made a presentation on “World Trade, Smuggling Nukes, and Homeland Security”, subtitled “The Challenge of Thinking Anew”? Probably not. Would you be surprised to learn that he apparently ended this presentation by showing a pair of anti-(Bill) Clinton cartoons, and a faked New York Times front page critical of the “liberal” media? Yeah, me neither, and I’m sure he got a laugh out of the crowd with it.

But would it surprise you that this presentation – available for download on a military server (4.6MB PDF), political cartoons and all, and presented at a the Defense Technology Information Center’s Precision Strike Association 2007 Winter Rountable (itself attended by no less august a person that Senator Elizabeth Dole) – contains, to be charitable to a fault, highly questionable fearmongering about – wait for it! – nuclear terrorism?

On page eight of the presentation, Mr. Huessy states “In 1996, Dzokhar Dudayev, the leader of the Chechen Mafia, offered to sell his collection of nuclear weapons to the United States in exchange for U.S. recognition of Chechnya’s independence. The Clinton Administration declined and so the weapons were sold to al-Qaeda.”

Damn Billary; couldn’t the man do anything right? Dear gods, the philanderer let al-Qaeda buy nukes!

It’s a great story, and reinforces two talking points the audience probably loved – the incredible danger of Al-Qaeda’s “terror network”, and the weakness and incompetence of the uber-scapegoat Clinton administration. The problem is, there’s no actual evidence that the Chechens ever had nuclear weapons, nor that they sold even one, let alone a “collection”, to al-Qaeda – or anyone else.

For the details, such as they are, see Nuclear Smuggling: Patterns and Responses (101KB PDF) by Rensselaer Lee, a researcher for the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, and author of, among other things, “Smuggling Armageddon: The Nuclear Black Market in the Former Soviet Union and Europe”. On page six of this paper, he writes: “Finally, several media sources credit al Qaeda with attempting to buy, or even successfully obtaining, tactical or portable nuclear arms through contacts in Kazakhstan and Chechnya. For instance, a lurid story in the Paris-based al Watan al Arabi in November 1998 asserted that bin Laden concluded a deal with the ‘Chechen Mafia’ to buy 20 tactical nuclear warheads for $30 million and two tons of Afghan opium. It seems unlikely that the Chechens had any such weapons to sell; nevertheless, the possibility that al Qaeda might rely on the services of ideologically sympathetic criminal organizations to promote its WMD objectives should not be ruled out.”

Never mind the abject ridiculousness of buying a tactical nuclear warhead for anywhere near 1.5 million dollars; it appears that that’s the extent of documentation and “evidence” regarding bin Laden acquiring nuclear weapons from Chechen freedom-fighters – unsubstantiated foreign media reports. There’s relatively good evidence that Chechens got their hands on at least a little radioactive material, but a couple kilograms of radioactive Cesium are a far cry from “20 tactical nuclear warheads”, as Huessy asserts. Indeed, as of 2003, while there were still reports of Chechnya wanting a nuclear weapon – and not reports from entirely unbiased parties, at that – and even later comments (377KB PDF) from similar Russian sources, there isn’t anything approaching even circumstantial evidence that they ever succeeded in doing so, during the Clinton years or after.

Peter Huessy should know this, supposedly being a non-proliferation consultant and all. While there’s no doubt his sort of consulting work relies in no small part on skillfully-applied FUD, and in Washington, it’s all too often who you know, and not what you know that counts, flat-out making shit up – even if it’s shit your audience wants to hear – has no place in national defense and security consulting, especially not when dealing with as serious a subject as nuclear weapons.

If Huessy worked for DTIC, there would probably be repercussions for his fabricating intelligence, however politically delectable it was or how much “truthiness” it has. As an outside consultant and speaker, though, he’s largely unhindered in his ability to present highly-biased political untruth as reality, and that’s where the problem lies. Apparently, national security and defense consulting is no different than any other area of government, and skill, knowledge, and ability are less important than having the “right” political views. I feel safe, knowing the best-qualified people possible are relentlessly pursuing the truth while helping to shape our national security policies… how ’bout you?

Published in: 'D' for 'Dumb', General, Security | on May 12th, 2007| 3 Comments »

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  1. On 5/14/2007 at 8:40 am Peter Huessy Said:

    Sir:(aka Nemo): Shoud you like to attend my nuclear terrorism briefing, I would be happy to notify you of the next time it is given. Last week I briefed the Reserve Officer’s Association of America. Re: your comments: I am well aware of the opinions on the claim re: whether Russia or Russian agents sold tactical nukes. Tenet in his new book believes there is some evidence especially in that Putin could not vounch for the safety of nukes in the Russian arsenal pre-Putin but post end of the cold war. The slide in question is not meant to be the definitive word om the subject but to inform the audience of what the open literature and news stories are saying; I explain this in the brief and have in my own opinion discounted whether such weapons have been sold to Al Qaeda although Pakistani officials say the Khan network also met with AQ agents. The brief is equally devoted to what we can do to deal with this issue from deterrence to Nunn-Lugar to arms control and the PSI. I tell my audience there is not any one answer. I am often accused of being “optimistic” in that I do not believe the world is coming to an end but there are serious problems with which we must deal. As my brief explains, this is a tough challenge but we can be up to meeting it. As for the cartoons, the NYTimes “spoof” was a satire on the media; the cartoon on President Clinton was dealing with CLinton’s attack on Chris Wallace and some in the press over his lack of action against OBL–a point made by Scheuer and Tenet and Clarke–they all say Clinton would “never pull the trigger”. Simon and Benjamin, Clarke and others use the phrase “it is just to hard to do” quoting Clinton re: going after OBL and the Taliban. These are people that have both praised and criticized Clinton and are not fans of George Bush. You could send any questions to me and I would be happy to explain the point a slide was making; the slides are for discussion and are not necessarily what I believe to be “true” or the last word. Given the lecture has been given at the Joint Military Intelligence College a number of times, to classes made up of our top intel people, I would hope you would take another look. All the best, Peter Huessy, [xxx-xxx-xxxx – ed]

  2. On 5/17/2007 at 11:31 pm Nemo Said:

    Mr. Huessy – your comment(s) got flagged as spam by the blog engine, and it was not until I saw your second, most recent, comment in the “spam” queue that I was aware you had responded. As a courtesy, I’ve removed your phone number, but otherwise left your comments intact.

    I haven’t read Tenet’s book to which you refer, but I believe I am familiar with the gist of Putin’s concerns regarding the safety of nuclear warheads and fissile materials in the FSU. There was – and is – certainly room for concern on the subject, but I, like you, am occasionally accused of optimism in this area, and I believe that the best proof of the lack of viable nuclear warheads in the hands of non-state actors is, so to speak, in the pudding – i.e. that there has never been a credible claim to possess them on the part of any such group. Admittedly, the probable price of one, let alone “an arsenal”, put such a matter beyond the reach of the people who would probably most like them – the Tamil Tigers, for instance – and none of the few non-state actors with the resources to buy one – mainly non-terrorist criminal organizations – have ever, to my knowledge, even claimed to have possession of one; I cannot imagine that Mara Salvatrucha, for instance, would keep such a fact a secret, were it true. For that matter, were there loose warheads in the southern caucasus, I find it hard to believe that not one would have found it’s way to Dagestan, where it’s use as a deterrant might have provided political leverage they otherwise lacked.

    I am unfortunately not in the beltway area, so I’ll likely never have the pleasure of attending one of your briefings in person. That said, like any other corporate wage slave, I’ve attended enough briefings for a half-dozen lifetimes, and given a handful or three. Given the widely accepted theory that people retain more of what they see than what they hear – that, basically, is why people use visual aids at presentations – it seems extraordinarily counter-intuitive to present in print a declarative statement you know is not, and don’t intend to represent is, true, then qualify that statement and back away from it verbally during a presentation. Indeed, I’d say the standard practice would be to present a qualified statement – something like “In 1996, Dzokhar Dudayev, the leader of the Chechen Mafia, attempted to sell his claimed collection of nuclear weapons to the United States in exchange for U.S. recognition of Chechnya’s independence. The Clinton Administration declined; foreign media later reported that the weapons were sold to al-Qaeda.” – and then explain to the audience both why the U.S. refused the negotiations, and how dubious the reports of the sales to al Qaeda are. That would, one would argue, even be the responsible thing to do.

    I fully admire your desire for optimism regarding the future of nonproliferation, and have little doubt the “top intel people” would probably call out any truly blatant horseshit you tried to peddle, enormous “truthiness” or no. But in a presentation tagged “the challenge of thinking anew”, it seems unintentional irony – or intentional hubris – to be taking cheap shots at the previous Administration – especially in relation to a subject (UBL) that has virtually nothing to do with nukes – A.Q. Khan never having had much more to offer than expert knowledge, at least during the period of the alleged meetings with al Qaeda.

    We do, desperately, need to “think anew” both about detecting and intercepting the smuggling of both nuclear warheads and fissile material, and about defending the country against the (arguably) remote risks they pose – risks we’re by-and-large admittedly ill-prepared for. Stopping every fifteen minutes to blame Clinton might earn you a few laughs, and might score you a few political points, but it’s not going to get anyone any closer to solving the counterproliferation puzzle.

  3. On 11/21/2008 at 1:35 pm peter huessy Said:

    Sir: I just now came across your comments. If you go back to the briefing, you will note there are about 6 slides that discuss the issue of small nukes or suitcase/briefcase nukes that may have migrated form the former Soviet Union. In any presentation, the story surrounding each slide is from 1-10 minutes and thus cannot be also included in the slides. The Clinton administration failed in many aspects re: nuclear terrorism and the nuclear challenge and this has been attested to my those who worked for the adminsitration and who are not supporters of the current administration or Republicans in general, all points I note in my earlier rsponse to you. If you note the slide with the comment by a former Polish intel officer, many solid folks believe such weapons were sold on the black market. As for Khan, we know he ran a group that not only sold expertise but some 13,000 centrifuges were sold to Libya wich we intercepted. Amb Bob Joseph, formerly with the WH and Department of State, has a book on this coming out in mid-December. As for the cartoons, Ramirez is my favorite, I confess. He lampoons politicians of both parties. If you read Kaplan’s book on the Clinton era written and published prior to 9/11, Clinton was tragically very much sleeping through history. See especially a new book on this by Andy McCarthy of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy. Again,on the suitcase nukes, Tenet’s book is illustrative: Putin could not vouch for such weapons prior to his taking the top spot. This week, a number of former Russian military officers were asked by a member of the Nuclear Commission whether they could (1)account for all small and tactical nukes the Russians had built and (2)whether such weapons were not now being built. They said they could not answer in the affirmative on either question. On the NY Times satire, that was put together by my students as a gift to me. It was well done. All the best, Peetr Huessy, November 21, 2008