Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
November 05, 2011

The Hasaka Spinning Factory - Failure Of "Signature" Intelligence

There recently was this rumor of an Uranium centrifuge installation in a Syrian spinning factory. It was based solely on the outlay of some industrial buildings visible in satellite pictures. A "signature" case where something that is a look-a-like is taken for the real stuff leading to rumors, possibly bad policy decisions and, in the end, the killing of people.

The "signature" intelligence and WMD rumor was floated in an "AP Exclusive" report based on an unnamed "senior diplomat with knowledge of IAEA investigations and a former U.N. investigator."

Jeffery Lewis, the Arms Control Wonk, was on the case and I commented on it (see comment 9). I did not buy it and suggested further investigation into a distinct direction.

That comment motivated a journalist to make some phone calls and he busted the case:

After reading an ACW post about Al-Hasakah (AP On Hasaka, November 1, 2011), I browsed through the comments section. One of the readers, “b”, challenged my journalistic ambitions. “B” reiterated that the site is supposed to have had East German spinning machines replaced by newer ones in the early 2000s and added “The Germans should be able to verify that.” Well, I am German, and I decided to do just that, hoping to narrow down the dates when the facility had been built and since when it had been used as a spinning factory. And as it turned out, they were not only spinning cotton there.

They were also spinning polyester.

The "signature" intelligence was wrong. The "former UN inspector" (David Albright?) and the "diplomat with knowledge of IAEA investigations" were wrong. The IAEA and the other agencies did not do the basic legwork, or even made the few phone calls the journalist made in just a few hours, to find that the textile factory was exactly that, a textile factory and had always been one. But they spread rumors of  WMD production in Syria.

The U.S. is killing people in Pakistan and elsewhere by drones based on "signature" intelligence. "They behave like terrorists so they must be terrorists, kill them!"

Such intelligence will always create many, many false positives for every real hit. One big building and three small ones plus a shaded parking lot on a satellite picture do not make a WMD factory. Some family gathering or public meeting in FATA do not make a terrorist training facility. Just asking simple questions about such "intelligence" can lead to better information than what all those agencies peddle as their products.

Right now the AP is peddling allegedly "new" IAEA intelligence about Iran's civil nuclear program. (Hint: nothing new there, just the four year old false Laptop of Death stuff.) These rumors are again based on "diplomats" and "signature" intelligence like satellite pictures. Such "intelligence" is likely wrong.

Hopefully the busted case of the Hasaka spinning factory will help more people to understand that such "intelligence" is most often inherently faulty and can not be the base for serious decisions.

Posted by b on November 5, 2011 at 6:52 UTC | Permalink


Thanks for your work.

Posted by: Anonymous | Nov 5 2011 8:50 utc | 1

Nice one, b.

You were lucky to have queried a journalist, and not a stenographer masquerading as a journalist.

Posted by: Hoarsewhisperer | Nov 5 2011 11:05 utc | 2

b, the link at the 4th paragraph ("busted") is messed up

nice work .. . AP journalists, senior diplomats, IAEA investigators, U.N. investigators (and god knows how many others) apparently hadn't thought of it

we are probably witnessing the triumph of Artificial Intelligence, where some pattern-matching software gets to decide who will be bombed next, and nobody cares to check

can machines become more intelligent than humans? yes, if the humans become more stupid than the machines

Posted by: claudio | Nov 5 2011 11:52 utc | 3

@claudio - link corrected, thanks.

where some pattern-matching software gets to decide who will be bombed next

It is likely that this is already happening.

Posted by: b | Nov 5 2011 13:54 utc | 4

Interesting story alright. A very good job to Arms Control Wonk, Paul Anton Kruger, and B. Also something for everyone to remember going into next week when the IAEA's latest report on Iran is released. It suggests that the IAEA is, at best, very sloppy in its work and not willing to follow up on open source information, at worst, it suggests that the IAEA has become alot more politicized. Even China, 3 days ago, called on the IAEA to maintain an "impartial attitude".

Posted by: Colm O' Toole | Nov 5 2011 14:36 utc | 5

The U.S. is killing people in Pakistan and elsewhere by drones based on "signature" intelligence. "They behave like terrorists so they must be terrorists, kill them!"

Imagine a simple changing of the parameters. What if it read like this... killing drones based on "signature" intelligence. "They behave like fat, lazy, entitled, privileged, arrogant, materialistic, self-absorbed spoiled children so they must be blah, blah, blah, blah, kill them!"

What a mess there would be to clean up. Corpulent corpses would be everywhere you look. Factories in second and third world countries would shut down because there would no longer be any demand for worthless, wasteful shit to feed to feed the bloated bastards.

Posted by: Morocco Bama | Nov 5 2011 14:43 utc | 6

I guess by "signature intelligence" the implication is superficial intelligence. That's the process that results in the bombing of wedding parties and the robot assassinations in Afghanistan or Pakistan. The charge or accusation against Syria is probably being fielded in the press, so there will be a pretext for bombing Syria on record, to provide an excuse to attack that country as well, once an attack against Iran is launched.

I guess it can be reasonably assumed that Israel will start the big war, and the US will reinforce the aggression.

Posted by: Copeland | Nov 5 2011 17:20 utc | 7

The problem I have with the "signature intelligence" angle is that it somehow makes the sociopaths at the top, the 1%, seem less culpable, just as blaming the bursting of the debt bubble on the models did. See, we didn't mean to do it, it wasn't our intent, it was the model, or the technology, that was in error. There's always a scapegoat for these scum, and I'm sick and tired of the scapegoats ploy.

Posted by: Morocco Bama | Nov 5 2011 17:29 utc | 8

@ 5. worst, it suggests that the IAEA has become a lot more politicized.

That could well be the understatement of the (New American) Century.
Who recognises the Authority of the IAEA to inspect their Nukes?
The USA? Nope.
The UK? Nope.
France? Nope.
"Israel"? Nope (but mainly because they haven't got any).
Pakistan? Nope.
China? Nope.
Russia? Nope.

That's all the world needs to know about the IAEA and whose interests it serves.

Posted by: Hoarsewhisperer | Nov 6 2011 5:27 utc | 9

AQ rubbishes allegations

ISLAMABAD - The architect of Pakistan’s nuclear programme Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan has rubbished the allegations of backing Syria for building up its nuclear programme, terming the accusations Israel’s conspiracy for a justification to launch a crackdown on Syria.

“Ridiculous, absurd and baseless. These are the same ages old and far-fetched concocted stories that have been proved unfounded and untrue so many a times,” said Dr AQ Khan when asked to comment on reports regarding his alleged involvement in Syria’s reportedly abandoned nuclear programme.

“Syria is the last line of defence against Israel. After what they (Israel and the US) have done with Iraq, Lebanon and Libya, the only country that deters them is Syria,” said the nuclear scientist during a chat with this newspaper on Friday.

Posted by: b | Nov 6 2011 6:27 utc | 10

The comments to this entry are closed.