What’s Past is Prologue: Hassan Rohani’s Nuclear Legacy

In June, Iran passed an important nuclear milestone. Exactly ten years earlier, Iranian scientists inserted a gas known as “hex”—uranium hexafluoride, or UF6—into a lone centrifuge at the Natanz enrichment facility. It marked the beginning of a decade of uranium enrichment that has brought Iran to the threshold of nuclear weapons. No single act has had more consequence in Iran’s brazen and often brilliant campaign for the bomb. One of the leaders of that campaign is Iran’s new president, Hassan Rohani.

Mr. Rohani is the ultimate insider, with long experience in Iran’s national security establishment. He led Iran’s Supreme National Security Council from 1989 to 2005. From 2003 to 2005, he also served as the country’s top nuclear negotiator in talks with the European Union and International Atomic Energy Agency, until outmaneuvered by then-incoming president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

And he’s sticking with his story. In an interview with the Arabic newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat the week before the Iranian presidential election, Mr. Rohani insisted that “Iran has an exclusively peaceful nuclear program.” Such a bald-faced lie would be laughable, except that Iran keeps getting away with it.

The dimensions of the illicit Iranian effort are staggering. Consider that single centrifuge at Natanz in June 2003, when Mr. Rohani was about to take over Iran’s international nuclear negotiations. It was based on designs and components provided by Pakistan’s A.Q. Khan, the nuclear arms merchant who earlier had stolen centrifuge plans from his employer, the European enrichment consortium URENCO. Iranian agents had scoured the global black market for nuclear technology and uranium. China was approached for assistance, then Russia. A clandestine facility in Tehran, operating under the name Kalaye Electric Company, began enriching small amounts of uranium, and testing and developing centrifuges. Uranium ore mining and refinement operations began. The vast Natanz complex was built in complete secrecy. A second possible path to bomb fuel, using plutonium, was opened with construction beginning on the Arak nuclear reactor. All this occurred on Mr. Rohani’s national security watch.

By August 2003, Iran had begun testing at Natanz a “cascade” of ten-interlinked centrifuges. The goal? Enrich uranium hexafluoride to the point it contained 5% of the isotope U-235. In sufficient quantities, hex enriched to 5% U-235 will fuel nuclear power reactors. In sufficient quantities, hex enriched to 20% U-235 is one fast enrichment step up to 90% U-235—bomb fuel.

Mr. Rohani was a key player in this. In a remarkable 2004 speech to Iran’s top leaders, first reported by nuclear researcher Chen Kane, Mr. Rohani championed the enrichment effort. It was not just about nuclear power, he suggested, it was about the bomb. “A country that can enrich uranium to about 3.5% will also have the ability to enrich it to about 90%,” he said.

20% U-235 is the key to the Iranian bomb. While the technical challenges in building the actual explosive device and delivery system are formidable—and the evidence is considerable that Iran is pursuing both—nothing is more difficult than creating the fuel for the bomb.

In 2003, Iran still faced enormous challenges getting to sufficient quantities of 20% U-235. The cascades would have to be bigger and more efficient. Large quantities of low-enriched hex, containing about 5% U-235, would have to be created and further enriched to 20%. The world powers were beginning to take note, calling on Tehran to suspend enrichment activities and moving to cut off international supply routes. Perhaps most consequential, Iran found the United States on its doorstep, toppling regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. Saddam Hussein was on the run. Would the mullahs be next?

Mr. Rohani took control of the negotiating process, looking to buy time for Tehran. In November 2003, Iran informed the IAEA that it would suspend all enrichment activities and sign the agency’s “Additional Protocol” allowing for enhanced inspections. Over the next two years, Iran adhered to its no-enrichment pledge.

But Tehran kept busy on other fronts, including sorting out technical problems at a key uranium conversion facility in Isfahan. “While we were talking to the Europeans in Tehran,” Mr. Rohani noted in his 2004 speech, “we were installing equipment in parts of the facility in Isfahan.”
In February 2006, with the threat of U.S. military action receding, Iran announced that it would not, in fact, abide by the Additional Protocol. The centrifuges quickly started up at Natanz. By June, Iran was running hex into its first 164-centrifuge cascade, reporting to the IAEA an enrichment rate of 5% U-235.

By August 2007, 1,968 centrifuges were operating at Natanz. By August 2008, 3,820 centrifuges were at work. 480 kilos of low-enriched uranium had been produced.

By February 2009, with 3,936 centrifuges at work and another 1,400 installed but not yet operational, Iran had produced over 1,000 kilos of low-enriched uranium. U.S. officials concluded that Iran now had enough low-enriched uranium to fuel a nuclear weapon, should it decide to enrich further.

Which is precisely what it did. In February 2010, Iran began feeding low-enriched uranium into a single 164-centrifuge cascade in Natanz for the purpose of developing 20% U-235. Iran informed the IAEA it wanted the highly enriched uranium for a research reactor in Tehran.

By then, news had emerged of another enrichment site: Fordow. Buried under a mountain on a military base near the holy city of Qum, the heavily fortified Fordow plant is thought to be impervious to air strikes. Like Natanz, Fordow had been built in complete secrecy. Like Natanz, when Fordow was exposed, Tehran simply shrugged and moved on.

By February 2012, two cascades at Fordow, containing a total of 696 centrifuges, had produced thirteen kilos of 20% U-235. At Natanz, production of the highly enriched uranium reached 73 kilos. The production of highly enriched uranium at both facilities continues to this day, with Tehran careful not to produce amounts that would cross U.S. or Israeli red lines.

Mr. Rohani’s nuclear vision had been achieved: the fuel cycle has been mastered. “If one day we are able to complete the fuel cycle and the world sees that it has no choice—that we do possess the technology—then the situation will be different,” he said in 2004. “The world did not want Pakistan to have an atomic bomb or Brazil to have the fuel cycle, but Pakistan built its bomb and Brazil has its fuel cycle, and the world started to work with them.”

Iran now has its fuel cycle. The situation is indeed different.

Day One—The First Immolation

Every life is in many days, day after day.
–James Joyce, “Ulysses”

Thupten Ngodup

Thupten Ngodup
April 27, 1998. Delhi, India

He lived in a small, neat hut near a rhododendron forest on the grounds of a monastery in Dharamsala, India. The Tibetan writer Jamyang Norbu noted that “by all accounts, Thupten Ngodup seems to have been a light-hearted person who enjoyed an occasional drink and a game of cards.”

Born in a village in Tibet in 1938, he went into exile following the 1959 Lhasa Uprising against Chinese Communist rule. In 1963, he enlisted in the Special Frontier Force, a covert-action military cadre controlled by Indian intelligence. He saw action in Bangladesh and retired in 1983, moving to Dharmsala and becoming a monastery cook. He was not a particularly religious man but is remembered by friends as “honest, upright and a good companion,” Norbu writes.

Though “not politically inclined,” Norbu notes, “he unfailingly attended all demonstrations, candle-light vigils or meetings for Tibet.” In early April, 1998, he traveled to Delhi to join a Tibetan Youth Congress hunger strike. On April 27, following a second police raid on the strikers, he slipped into a public toilet where he earlier had hidden a plastic container of gasoline. “When he came out,” Norbu writes, “he was, quite literally, an inferno.”

He died two days later, shortly after midnight. Thupten Ngodup was 60.

–Sources: International Campaign for Tibet, Self-Immolation Fact Sheet; Jamyang Norbu, Shadow Tibet blog, “Remembering Thupten Ngodup.”

Collective Punishment in Tibet: “Smash Disorder”

In November, the Chinese Communist Party’s Work Department, Huangnan Prefecture, issued an “urgent notice” of new orders for fighting the wave of self-immolations in Tibet. The notice—translated here by the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy—offers a glimpse into the mindset of Tibet’s rulers, their methods of collective punishment, and what they fear most: disorder. 

According the notification, recent self-immolations in the area are “incidents of instability [that]…cause serious damage to harmony and stability in the whole prefecture and [have] been a negative influence on the province and nation. The incidents are clearly a case of the Dalai group”—that is, followers of the Dalai Lama—“while wearing a cloak of religion, using self-immolation to encourage social grievance and incite unrest among students to create social disturbance in an attempt to split the nation.”

Translation of translation: there is a conspiracy afoot, comrades, a conspiracy against the nation. That is, treason.

The notice adds: “The masses in some areas, both monks and laypeople, are putting about random and nonsensical talk and being taken in by the incitements of the Dalai group through ignorance, believing the self-immolators to be heroes and even going to greet their family members and make voluntary donations to them.” This has created “a problematic scene and upset the normal social order.”

Translation of translation: it’s not just students anymore, it is spreading to the masses. We are worried. 

The solution? “Smash the small number of criminals who despicably manipulate people…smash disorder.”

And when we are worried, pain and suffering follow.

Party operatives are thus directed:

  • “Cancel benefits [such as minimum income support and disaster relief] received by households of self-immolators.”
  • Stop projects “running on state funds in self-immolators’ villages.”
  • Townships with three or more self-immolation incidents will not receive “state-funded projects for the next three years, [and] leading party and government officials in those townships must be replaced.”
  • “Special personnel” must “swiftly put a stop” to “instances of greeting and making contributions to family members of self-immolators”
  • For those who persist in greeting and making contributions, “public security agencies must…smash them.”
  • Monks who “greet and make donations must be given corrective training” and benefits will be “cancelled.”
  • Laypeople and households making contributions to family members of self-immolators will have benefits “cancelled.”
  • Villages and monasteries making collective donations to families of self-immolators will have all benefits “cancelled” and will not “benefit from any state-funded projects for the next three years.” Projects already under way “must be cancelled.”
  • Monks and laypeople who organize to greet family members of self-immolators “must be swiftly investigated and once solid evidence of their activities is gathered, they must face legal proceedings at an early date and be smashed quickly and heavily, according to law.”

Read the full notice here:


Iran’s Nuclear Secrets

My Fox News investigative special, “Iran’s Nuclear Secrets, is now available for free here.

Cardillo Murder Mystery: What Does Charlie Rangel Know?

Representative Charles Bernard Rangel has enjoyed a long career serving the residents of the Fifteenth District in Harlem. He was born there in 1930 to a seamstress mother and an absent father. The United States Army was his ticket out of poverty. Awarded a Purple Heart and Bronze Star for valor in the Battle of Kunu-ri in the Korean War, he worked as a federal prosecutor and a member of the State Assembly. In 1971, he defeated a Harlem giant, Adam Clayton Powell Jr., for a seat in the House of Representatives. He’s been there ever since, serving twenty-one terms. A black man who fought his way up in the white man’s world, Charlie Rangel is no pushover. Today, at 81, he’s in the fight of his political life against State Senator Adriano Espaillat, who is seeking to ride the changing demographics of the district into Congress.

All this may go some way to explaining the backstory to one of the enduring mysteries of Rangel’s career: precisely what he did and said on the morning of April 14, 1972, in Louis Farrakhan’s Mosque #7 in Harlem, as Patrolman Phillip Cardillo lay dying. The episode is back in the news with a controversy over a modest attempt to honor Cardillo by naming a small street in the precinct he served “Phillip Cardillo Way.” Last week, the website DNAinfo broke the news that the putative deciding body in the matter, Community Board 10, has declined to approve the street naming, saying it might “open old wounds” and that they wanted a letter from local imams approving the move. Never mind that the only “wounds” suffered were the ones inflicted on Cardillo and other cops on the scene. Or that the Harlem imams have already given their tacit approval to the plan. The New York Times, Daily News and Fox followed up.

When CBS reporter Tony Aiello asked Rangel if he supported naming a street for Cardillo, the congressman not only dodged the question but launched a weird denunciation of the newsman, saying “this is an opportunity to show that you’re much smarter than your question.”

“The past is never dead,” Faulkner famously said. “It’s not even past.” Today, the NYPD’s relationship with mosques and Muslims is again news. Forty years ago, Cardillo and three other patrolmen were lured into an apparent ambush in Mosque #7 by a fake “officer in distress” call. In the ensuing melee, all four officers were badly beaten and Cardillo was shot. Rangel–a newly minted congressman for the district–and mosque leader Louis Farrakhan were quickly on the scene. So was Albert Seedman, the legendary NYPD Chief of Detectives.

Outside, a riot was brewing. It was an evil season in New York, a time of Weatherman and the Black Liberation Army, urban terrorists, cop killers and bombers. At the mosque, the police had sixteen suspects in the basement, almost certainly the shooter among them. Seedman encountered Rangel and Farrakhan in the basement. For nearly forty years, Seedman kept silent about the events of that day. Last year, he spoke to writer Peter Hellman.

According to Hellman’s account, Rangel told Seedman that a senior police official “wanted to mosque to be cleared of cops at once.” Hellman reports, “The edict was seconded by Louis Farrakhan.”

Rangel then issued a veiled threat to Seedman. “That crowd upstairs, they know you’re down here,” Seedman remembers Rangel saying, “I don’t know how long it will be before they come down. If you don’t leave now, I can’t guarantee your personal safety.”

Seedman says he struck a deal with Rangel, with Farrakhan standing at their side: he would release the sixteen suspects to Rangel if the congressman promised to deliver them to the 24th Precinct for questioning later that day. Rangel agreed. The NYPD withdrew from the mosque. But Rangel and the suspects never showed up.The result? No crime scene, no witnesses, no case.

Rangel has denied this version of events, but never offered his own. He did not respond to my interview requests. The killer of Phillip Cardillo walked free. To the police rank and file, it is the greatest scandal in NYPD history—a story of murder, betrayal and cover-up.

No wonder Charlie Rangel doesn’t want to talk about it.

Maybe Adriano Espaillat does.

Read the New York Times story here.

Read the Daily News editorial here.

Read the Fox News story here.

Cardillo Cover-up: Seedman Speaks

Al Seedman is a legendary figure in New York City police lore. An elegantly attired, tough talking, cigar chomping Jew, he served in the NYPD from 1942 to 1972, investigating thousands of murders, including the cases of Joe Colombo, Joey Gallo, and Kitty Genovese. He was named Chief of Detectives in 1971. In 1972, he abruptly resigned, retreating to silence and exile from his beloved police department.

New Information on Cardillo shooting from Al Seedman

In 1974, he published with writer Peter Hellman Chief! Classic Cases from the Files of the Chief of Detectives. It’s a classic indeed, full of interesting detective work, but it is largely silent on the true reason for his resignation from a job he loved at the top of his game.

Planning a re-issue of the book as an Authors Guild Backinprint.com edition, Hellman reached out to Seedman, now 92 and living in Florida, for a new introduction. Hellman got plenty. Seedman was finally ready to talk about the true reason for his resignation: the shooting of Police Office Phillip Cardillo in Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam Mosque # 7 in Harlem on April 14, 1972, and the subsequent cover-up. Hellman’s recent New York Post story about Seedman and Cardillo is linked below.

To the police rank and file, the Cardillo killing is the greatest scandal in NYPD history—a story of murder, betrayal and cover-up.

Some of the key figures in the scandal are still with us, namely Representative Charles Rangel, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. Seedman told Hellman that cops at the mosque were “betrayed” by top NYPD brass colluding with Rangel and Farrakhan. Rangel and Farrakhan quickly arrived at the mosque after the Cardillo shooting. So did Al Seedman and the NYPD cavalry. Outside, a riot was brewing.

The police had sixteen suspects in the basement of the mosque, almost certainly the shooter among them. In the basement, Seedman encountered Rangel and Farrakhan. According to Hellman’s account, Rangel told Seedman that a senior police official “wanted the mosque to be cleared of cops at once. This edict was seconded by Louis Farrakhan.”

Rangel then issued a veiled threat to Seedman. “That crowd upstairs, they know you’re down here,” Seedman remembers Rangel saying, “I don’t know how long it will be before they come down. If you don’t leave now, I can’t guarantee your personal safety.”

Seedman called NYPD Chief Inspector Michael Codd to request back-up. Codd denied the request. “And he made it clear to me,” Seedman told Hellman, “that we should abandon the mosque to minimize the threat of a possible riot. And then he hung up.”

Seedman felt “betrayed.” But he had been given an order: abandon the mosque.

Seedman says he struck a deal with Rangel, with Farrakhan standing at their side: he would release the sixteen suspects to Rangel if the congressman promised to deliver them to the 24th Precinct for questioning later that day. Rangel agreed. The NYPD abandoned the crime scene and the suspects. Rangel and the suspects never showed up at the 24th Precinct.

Thus began a forty-year ordeal seeking justice for Police Officer Phillip Cardillo and answers to the mosque shooting. Was there a conspiracy to lure police officers into an ambush at the mosque? Cardillo and three others were first on the scene, racing to respond to what turned out to be a false “officer in distress” call. Was the FBI somehow involved in a cover-up, perhaps shielding valuable informants or controversial methods from the NYPD? It’s happened before. Think “Whitey Bulger.”

Ray Kelly? He was a young police sergeant at the time, stationed at the hospital where Phillip Cardillo died six days after the shooting. Thirty-four years later, as police commissioner, Kelly re-opened the case. Six years after that, in March of this year, Kelly’s spokesman in effect closed the case, saying the Major Case Squad had turned up “no new information.”

But sources tell me that the FBI was singularly uncooperative with the NYPD’s Cardillo probe, slow-rolling inquiries and providing only heavily redacted documents. Why would they do that? Well, consider the times. 1972 was an era of violent revolutionary action in the United States: the Weathermen, the Black Liberation Army, Vietnam, Watergate, urban bombings, cop killings. The FBI supposedly ceased its COINTELPRO operations and black bags jobs against domestic dissidents in 1971. And we know that the Nation of Islam and Malcolm X, Farrakhan’s predecessor at Mosque #7, were COINTELPRO targets.

There are other possible lines of inquiry as well. Independent investigators have turned up redacted documents indicating the FBI had five or six informants in or around the mosque in April, 1972. What would the unredacted documents tell us? Forty years later, maybe Charles Rangel and Louis Farrakhan have reconsidered their positions on the case. Have they been interviewed? Al Seedman is in ill health and no longer smokes cigars, Peter Hellman reports. Maybe someone should go down to Florida and get him on the record before he goes off to that great cigar store in the sky.

Murder cases famously are never closed, and that goes double for a cop killing. Ray Kelly’s NYPD is not at fault. But after a six-year investigation, if the NYPD has run out of leads, Kelly should do the right thing and call for a federal probe. Let’s see if the Justice Department and Congress can get to the bottom of this. They should start with the FBI’s relationship with the Nation of Islam.


Read Peter Hellman’s New York Post story on Al Seedman here.

Read my Daily News op-ed calling for a federal probe of the Cardillo killing here.

Read my New York Post team report on new evidence in the case here.

They Eat Horses, Don’t They?

It’s been a tough few months for our equine friends. In New York, by the close of Aqueduct Racetrack’s winter meet, nineteen thoroughbreds had broken down—a polite term for suffering a catastrophic racing injury—and were executed by lethal injection. Nineteen. That’s a huge number.

Albany is investigating. Good luck with that.

Over at HBO, the terrific horse racing series, “Luck,” endured a third horse death in two years and was hounded to cancellation by the animal rights crowd. Or were the producers just using PETA as an excuse to bail out in the face of bad ratings?

Now this from the AP: the Valley Meat Co. of Roswell, New Mexico, has applied to the federal government for a permit to open the nation’s only horse slaughterhouse. The horses would be “custom slaughtered” and then “processed for human consumption at the plant,” the AP reports, citing documents obtained by the Albuquerque Journal.

Roswell will be sending the equine meat not to aliens but to Europe and Asia, which to many Americans is pretty much the same thing. They eat horses in Europe and Asia, don’t they?

We’ve been down this road before, a perfect example of the law of unintended consequences. In 2006, responding to an uproar over slaughterhouse killings of the iconic American animal, Congress banned the use of Department of Agriculture funds to inspect the dwindling number of horse meat plants in the U.S. No inspection, no meat. The plants closed.

The result? The state of the American horse worsened: more neglect, abandonment, and illegal trucking of the big critters to chop shops in Canada and Mexico.

Congress reversed the measure in November. Now what?

Read the AP story here.

Tibet Burning

The International Campaign for Tibet today released a video of the January self-immolation of Tibetan Losang Jamyang in the city of Aba. A former monk turned to activism, he was 22. At least thirty Tibetans have set themselves ablaze in the last year.

Tunisian fruit vendor Mohamed Bouazizi was 26 when he set himself on fire in protest of his country’s attacks on his dignity and liberty, attacks at once vast and maddeningly granular–controls over speech and worship, controls over association, controls over where and how to sell fruit. Bouazizi ignited the Tunisian Revolution and the Arab Spring. Losang Jamyang ignited only himself.

China is not Tunisia, not Egypt, not Yemen, not Syria. China is not even the former Soviet Union. But it is a country of fruit vendors too.

See the video here


Remembering Cardillo, Calling for a Federal Probe

Hundreds of motorcycle-riding cops converged on the 28th Precinct in Harlem yesterday to honor the NYPD’s Phillip Cardillo, gunned down forty years ago. Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch gave an emotional speech. “Bring those to justice who did this,” he declared. There is “still work to do.”

Meanwhile, the Daily News published my new revelations in the case:

“Was a Cop Killer an FBI Informant?”

Forty years ago this weekend, Police Office Phillip Cardillo was gunned down in Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam Mosque No. 7 in Harlem. No one was ever convicted in the case. To the police rank and file, it is the greatest scandal in NYPD history — a story of murder, betrayal and coverup.

On April 14, 1972, Cardillo and three other patrolmen were lured into an apparent ambush in Mosque No. 7 by a fake “officer in distress” call. In the ensuing melee, all four officers were badly beaten and Cardillo was shot. Top NYPD brass quickly ordered a full retreat from the mosque.

The result: no crime scene, no physical evidence, no witnesses.

Cardillo died six days later. Neither the mayor nor the police commissioner attended the funeral. Beat cops regarded it as the ultimate betrayal.

In 1976, a member of Mosque No. 7, Lewis 17X Dupree, went to trial for Cardillo’s murder. He was acquitted. Prosecutors were hampered by the lack of physical evidence and witnesses.

But was that the whole story? According to three investigators who have never given up on the case, as well as documents I obtained, there is some evidence suggesting that Dupree was working for the FBI.

Was the alleged murderer of a New York City police officer an FBI informant?

Did the FBI withhold information from prosecutors to protect their informant?

Read more in the Daily News.

Remember Cardillo

“Remember Cardillo.” It’s a bitter watchword for two generations of the thin blue line in New York City. Forty years ago this Saturday, Police Officer Phillip Cardillo was shot in an apparent ambush at Louis Farrakhan’s Mosque #7 in Harlem; he died six days later. No one was ever convicted in the case. Roadblocks were thrown up at every turn in the investigation. Why? Was it politics? Race? Or did the FBI tank the Cardillo probe to shield high-level confidential informants? In the New York Post today, Phil Messing, Don Kaplan and I report new evidence in the case:

The prime suspect in the 1972 murder of an NYPD cop at a Harlem mosque was under FBI surveillance for at least seven years before the slaying, The Post has learned.

Louis X17 Dupree, who was charged twice in the killing Officer Philip Cardillo, 31, had been in the cross-hairs of at least six federal informants before the mosque shooting, according to bureau files obtained by The Post…

Read more in the New York Post…