On January 7, I noted that the Washington Post’s Joby Warrick had allowed the neocon think tank Foundation for the Defense of Democracies to frame his discussion of the newest round of sanctions set to take effect against Iran. It now is clear that the article from Warrick was meant to prepare the ground for the unveiling, one week later, of David Albright’s new working group developed precisely for the purpose of furthering the neocon position on Iran sanctions. By taking on additional policy members in this working group, Albright is now branching out from his usual area of commentary on technical issues (where Moon of Alabama has dubbed his Institute for Science and International Security the “Institute for Scary Iran Stories“) all the way into policy and now promotes the full neocon position that Iran is dangerously close to having a nuclear weapon and therefore sanctions must be ratcheted up further.
Note how the press release from the working group opens:
Warning that time is running out as Iran accelerates its nuclear program, the non-partisan Project on U.S. Middle East Nonproliferation Strategy called on President Obama to use current U.S. sanctions laws to implement a “de facto international embargo on all investments in, and trade with, Iran (other than provision of humanitarian goods)” before Iran achieves “critical capability” – the point at which it could produce enough weapon-grade uranium (or separated plutonium) for one or more bombs so rapidly that neither the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) nor Western intelligence agencies could be able to detect the move before it was too late to respond.
Let’s unpack the lies just in that opening sentence.
First, the group chooses to label itself as “non-partisan”. Nothing could be further from the truth. Of the five co-chairs of the group, two have direct ties to the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, which SourceWatch documents to be a primary force for the furtherance of neocon views, describing it as both a think tank and a lobbying organization. Mark Dubowitz, the Executive Director of the foundation, is one of the working group co-chairs and was the one chosen by Warrick to voice the neocon position earlier in January. Another co-chair is Orde Kittre, described in the press release as a Professor of Law at Arizona State University. The press release fails to note that Kittre also is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Co-chair Leonard Spector is listed as Deputy Director of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. I see that he has been a featured speaker by the “non-partisan” AIPAC. The final co-chair besides Albright is Michael Yaffe of the National Defense University, whose own biography (pdf) notes: “In the immediate aftermath of the attack on September 11, 2001, he served as a coordinator on the counter-terrorism task force in support of “Operation Enduring Freedom.”” With a lineup composed of Albright and four people hand-selected for backgrounds likely to promote neocon positions, this working group is nothing close to non-partisan.
Next, the flat statement that Iran now “accelerates its nuclear program” is so misleading as to border on falsehood as well. Iran is expanding its enrichment capability, but there also are indications that portions of the 20% enriched uranium Iran is producing are being converted into chemical forms that are harder to submit to further enrichment to weapons grade. Further, the US stated in its 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that Iran ceased all nuclear weapons work in 2003. That NIE has been a target for neocons ever since, but there has been no definitive evidence provided that Iran has re-started weapons work or that it intends to enrich uranium beyond 20% to the 90%+ level required for weapons. All of the fear-mongering over Iran being able to have a weapon soon relies on a major step forward in enrichment for which there is zero evidence that Iran has either the capability or desire.
The biggest falsehood in the opening of the press release, though, is that the existing and expanded Iran sanctions don’t extend to humanitarian goods. As I pointed out in the January 7 post, there already are reports of critical medical shortages as a result of the sanctions, so claiming that ratcheting up the sanctions even further can be done along with the “provision of humanitarian goods” is pure bunk. I had noted back in October the economic devastation of Iranian citizens by the sanctions and also linked to a report in January on the possible impact of the sanctions on recent acute air pollution in Tehran. The Iran sanctions are a humanitarian disaster of huge proportions and any claim that only Iran’s government is affected is an outright lie.
The timing of Albright’s release of the working group’s findings also is not a coincidence. Today, the IAEA and Iran are meeting, with a primary focus on finalizing the framework that would allow IAEA access to the Parchin site which Albright has been claiming Iran has cleansed of decade-old work to develop an explosive trigger device. Also, Iran and the P5+1 group are very close to re-starting their negotiations, so the neocons are afraid that peace just might break out despite their best efforts to promote a war in Iran.
PressTV yesterday carried a threat from an Iranian lawmaker (and Reuters also reports the threat) that should the current round of P5+1 talks on Iran’s nuclear technology break down, Iran would begin enriching uranium to 60% in order to produce fuel for a nuclear-powered submarine. The state of Iran’s submarine technology suggests that this is mostly an idle threat, but there is a very easy route for the P5+1 group to diffuse the threat before it becomes a “red line” issue. France, a member of the P5+1 group, has a new generation of nuclear reactors for submarines that relies on a fuel known as “caramel”, which is only enriched to 7.5% uranium. Providing one of these reactors to Iran would allow them to power a submarine with nuclear fuel without having to enrich to weapons grade or near weapons grade.
The US Office of Naval Intelligence tells us (pdf) that Iran is the only nation near the Persian Gulf possessing submarines. However, the submarine fleet is meager and mostly composed of very small vessels. From the Nuclear Threat Initiative:
Iran’s submarine force currently consists of three Russian Kilo-class diesel-electric submarines (Tareq 901, Noor 902, Yunes 903), one 350-400-ton Nahang and an expanding force of roughly a dozen 120-ton Ghadir-class midget submarines.
The three Kilo-class diesel-electric submarines, called Tareq-class in Iran, were commissioned from 1992 to 1996. Iran allegedly paid USD600 million for each boat and they are all based at Bandar Abbas in the Straits of Hormuz (Tehran is reportedly contemplating the relocation of its submarines from the shallow waters of Bandar Abbas to naval facilities in deeper waters at Chah Bahar in the Gulf of Oman).  Two of the Kilo-class submarines are operational at any one time and they are occasionally deployed in the eastern mouth of the Straits, the Gulf of Oman or the Arabian Sea. Their utility in the Persian Gulf is, however, somewhat limited as Kilo-class boats require a depth of at least 164 feet and can therefore only access about one third of the Gulf. Unique water conditions (water salinity and strong currents) in the Gulf further limit the boats’ operational use unless the submarines are deployed to deeper waters in the Gulf of Oman or the Arabian Sea.
Only the kilo-class submarines, which Iran does not manufacture, are large enough to be powered by a nuclear reactor. And NTI tells us that a retrofit of one of the Russian kilo-class vessels would be the likely home of a nuclear reactor, but Iran does not have the technology for the reactor itself: Continue reading
As Marcy points out this morning, Iran is now emphasizing the many ways that the US is waging war on Iran. What I find interesting in both the physical attacks, whether they hit equipment or people, and the propaganda attacks waged in the media is that the flow of information is of overwhelming importance. I’ll hit three examples of the importance of information flow in the posturing for war with Iran.
Information Flow Between IAEA and Intelligence Agencies
Iran is now disclosing remarkable details on the August attack that disrupted electricity to the Fordo uranium enrichment plant near Qom. Especially intriguing is a fake rock discovered later that appeared to house electronics for monitoring communications at the site. But more important to me is that Iran is using the Fordo event to renew its claims that the IAEA is too closely affiliated with both US and Israeli intelligence. Consider this report today from Fars News in Iran, titled “Iran Angry at IAEA’s Use of External Sources of Information for Reports“. The article begins by lamenting that IAEA relies on information from US and Israeli intelligence:
Head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) Fereidoun Abbasi lamented that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) uses external and unreliable sources of information for reporting Iran’s peaceful nuclear program.
“Unfortunately, the IAEA is influenced by intelligence sources outside the Agency, and its information leaks and the CIA and Mossad benefit from the leaked information,” Abbasi said in a meeting with members of the Iranian parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission in Tehran on Tuesday.
The article goes on to note that IAEA inspectors appeared to know instantaneously when the power was disrupted at the Fordo plant and links this to accusations of infiltration of IAEA:
In relevant remarks earlier this month, Abbasi also warned the IAEA about infiltration of saboteurs and terrorists.
“On Friday August 17, 2012, power lines running from the city of Qom to Fordow facility were cut using explosives. It should be reminded that power outage is a way of damaging centrifuge machines. In the early hours of the following day, (IAEA) inspectors demanded a snap inspection of the facility,” he said, addressing an IAEA meeting in Vienna.
“Isn’t there any connection between the visit and the blast? Who else could have quick access to the facility other than IAEA inspectors to register and report dysfunctions?” he asked.
The fake rock would still have been operating on August 17, so Iran has told us that US and/or Israeli intelligence would have known immediately of the loss of power. And yet, somehow this information also made its way to IAEA within only a few hours. Such a sequence of events certainly paints a picture of the intelligence community having very good lines of communication with the IAEA and the information flow appears to go in both directions.
Control of Information on Uranium Enrichment
Just as was the case for explaining that the disputed explosion chamber at Parchin likely is used for nanodiamond research rather than nuclear trigger research, a report from b at Moon of Alabama should have completely defused the yammering over the August report on Iran from the IAEA. We learn from b that although Iran produced a large amount of 20% enriched uranium during the reporting period, much of Iran’s stockpile of 20% enriched uranium was converted to fuel plates for the Tehran Research Reactor that produces medical isotopes. Importantly, once converted to fuel plates, the uranium is no longer in a chemical form that can be put back into centrifuges for further enrichment to weapons grade. As a result, b is the only person who could bring us this important news just after the report was released: Continue reading