Persians Punk Photo Pretenders: Parchin Pretty in Pink

Detail from the photo carried in CNN’s story showing the pink tarp over the building said to contain the blast chamber.

In order to make the case for a military attack on Iran, those who advocate war need to show that Iran is engaged in developing a nuclear weapon. There will be a new IAEA report this week, and we already know that this report will try to whip up excitement around what is already known: Iran’s installation of additional centrifuges for enrichment of uranium to 20% has continued, and Iran now has increased its capacity for such enrichment. What press accounts of the enrichment situation will gloss over is the fact that IAEA inspectors are present at all of Iran’s enrichment sites and that all material is accounted for. That means that in order to accuse Iran of taking 20% enriched uranium and subjecting it to further enrichment to the 90%+ that is needed for weapons, one would have to postulate a secret site, unknown to IAEA inspectors, where Iran could take raw uranium ore all the way to weapons grade.

With the rogue enrichment route to a military attack unlikely to gain footing, war advocates also accuse Iran of other activities aimed at developing a nuclear weapon. A favorite target for those accusations is the military site at Parchin, where one particular building has been separated out and accused of holding a high explosives blast chamber where Iran is accused of carrying out research aimed at developing a neutron trigger device for a nuclear bomb. Despite a very thorough debunking of this theory by b at Moon of Alabama, where it was shown that the chamber was much more likely to be used in production of nanodiamonds than neutron triggers, the accusations continued. In May, George Jahn of AP provided ridiculous “proof” of work on a trigger device by publishing a cartoon (drawn from a real photograph!) and description of the chamber. These new allegations from Jahn even included a claim that there was a neutron detector on the outside of the chamber so that neutron flux from the explosions inside the chamber could be monitored. I showed that this allegation meant that if such work had been carried out, the steel chamber itself would have been made radioactive through the process of neutron activation. This radioactivity would be present throughout the thickness of the steel and therefore could not be removed by a surface cleaning.

Despite the fact that the steel chamber (and possibly even the structural steel of the surrounding building) would be radioactive in a way that could not be cleaned, we have for months been deluged with accusations that Iran is “cleaning” the Parchin site. After this process had gone on for some time, I began to describe it as a game of cat and mouse in which it appears that Iran is having quite a bit of fun at the expense of those who are making allegations about the Parchin site. The primary target of Iran’s pranks in Parchin is David Albright, of the Insitute for Science and International Security. Despite no known expertise in intelligence gathering by photo analysis (and that comment on lack of expertise comes from someone who previously was a CIA photo analyst) we have had multiple accounts from Albright of Iran “cleaning” the Parchin site to remove evidence of their work on a trigger device.

I have responded to most of Albright’s reports, but chose not to respond to his report of August 1, where he declared that Iran had finished its cleanup work at Parchin. That report appears to have been operational for only a brief period, however, as a report issued on August 24 shows images from August 15. In this new report, additional activity at Parchin has taken place and the suspect building is now draped with a tarp that is bright pink.

In keeping with the usual pattern for these accusations, CNN has breathlessly repeated Albright’s analysis. It hardly seems necessary to point out that the point I have been making all along still stands. The most important element of any inspection at Parchin will be the high explosive chamber itself. Iran cannot “scrub” it of neutron activation. That means that if sufficient neutron trigger work was carried out in the chamber to make it radioactive, Iran will need to remove and destroy the chamber. Whether there is a pink tarp over the building or not is irrelevant to the issue of whether the chamber still exists.

The only way Iran can top the comedic spectacle of the pink tarp is to paint the ground outside the building to mimic Albright’s yellow comment balloons and font with a note along the lines of “Please do not look at this building”.

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.
10 replies
  1. eCAHNomics says:

    Morsi’s going to visit Iran’s nuke facilities during his visit for NAM summit. Don’t know whether he plans to visit Parchin or just the spinning centrifuges.

  2. What Constitution says:

    There may be a “former Susan G. Komen exec” joke in there somewhere, but I won’t be the one to try to find it….

  3. Jim White says:

    And on another front, @PakistanPolicy just tweeted a link to this report out of Afghanistan suggesting the ISI provided evidence to the US that allowed the drone strike that killed Badruddin Haqqani. Recall that in my last few posts, I mentioned that events were beginning to suggest a new, higher level of ISI cooperation with the US:

    According to an Afghan government official, US army in coordination with the Pakistan’s Inter Service Intelligence carried out attack on the sanctuary of senior Haqqani Network leader, Badrudin Haqqani.

    The official speaking on the condition of anonymity said ISI chief provided information regarding Badruddin Haqqani to Gen. Johan Allen during his recent visit to Pakistan.

    The source further added ISI chief during his visit to United States also disclosed information regarding the safe haven of Badruddin Haqqani to US officials.

    Badruddin Haqqani was a senior member of the Haqqani Network and third son of Jalaluddin Haqqani who was responsible in coordinating operations.

    In the meantime family of Badruddin Haqqani also confirmed the death of him and said he was killed following an airstrike last Wednesday in North Wazisristan.

    Link: http://www.khaama.com/badruddin-haqqani-killed-in-coordination-with-pakistans-isi-144/

  4. OrionATL says:

    @Jim White: @Jim White

    mullah dadulla and haqqani #3 within one week!

    that’s got to leave a mark.

    i wonder what the u.s, had to give to get this info?

    it seems obvious now that the isi’s rolodex is the key to ending an organized afghan resistance. no wonder the whitehouse kept hammering away with drones.

    the future seems clear:

    haqqani network = guzman network = drug-funded terrorism as far as the eye can see.

  5. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Would Iran’s possession of a nuclear weapon be deemed an existential threat by the Serious if the US were not intent on making war throughout the Middle East?

  6. JohnLopresti says:

    One of the interesting directions in writing about the Parchin controversies appeared in two interviews of Hasan Rowhani during the time around when the testing at Parchin was supposed to have occurred, about ten years back. The Rowhani materials also are reflected in other writers’ work, namely, that there is some subntance to assertions that elements of the IRI nation’s government are prepared to negotiate monitoring and safeguards with respect to enrichment efforts.

    The specific concern with the conjectured work at Parchin was that it would have been a last requisite element in bomb making, that all the other components had been tested. The final remaining phase for making a bomb would be aggregating all the proven components. One commentary I saw described the length of time for carrying out the assembly process as approximately several months.

    However, I could imagine the tarp as a convenient beginning for reconstructing a building. Earlier reports described outdoor tractor clearing, leaving the building intact at that time.

    There is a writeup in Foreign Policy currently which mentions a similar effort at cleaning a physics lab site at a place called Lavizan some years ago. After the earthmoving and building removal, the place was turned into an urban minipark.

    One of the difficult aspects in understanding the controversy is a lack of mention by iaea of the device ostensibly tested, as far as I can determine from media web sites. Evidently, the entire topic is so problematic for diplomatic reasons that publishing any examination of the issue is mostly vague and limited by the usual constraints related to national security. An already rather obsolete article, for example, I read recently, concerning guided missles in that part of the world, was published at Congressional Research Service in 2009,

    http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/nuke/RS22758.pdf

    the linked article is 6 pages in length. The article appears to be a composite of media reports, experts’ speechmaking, swatches of interviews, serious study of tomes on missles and the like.

    The comments concerning a Code Pink action are humorously germane, however. Consider the following two paragraph article by a missle expert concerning media material about missles in the referenced region:

    http://allthingsnuclear.org/iran-exaggerates-missile-accuracy/

    Both of the foregoing links and other allied articles all mention the possibility of image alterations, or video clip electronic editing. Evidently misdirection is an enduring part of the involved problems of trust. And iaea has not had access to the test building yet.

    It’s easy to hear the hawk hyperbole as oversimplifications, but the diplomatic side remains equally opaque.

    The chamber at Parchin is on an expansive military base.

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