Yukiya Amano, Director General of the IAEA, appeared on the record yesterday at the Council on Foreign Relations. He presented a very brief statement and then the bulk of his time was spent in a wide-ranging question and answer session. The lineup of questioners included Barbara Slavin leading off, David Sanger near the middle and Gareth Porter getting in just before questioning was brought to a close.
Joby Warrick took advantage of Slavin’s question to present Iran in the worst possible light:
International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Yukiya Amano said the nuclear watchdog would try again next week to visit the Parchin military base, a sprawling complex where Iran is thought to have conducted tests on high-precision explosives used to detonate a nuclear bomb.
Iran has repeatedly refused to let IAEA inspectors visit the base, on the outskirts of Tehran. Instead, in the months since the agency requested access, satellite photos have revealed what appears to be extensive cleanup work around the building where tests are alleged to have occurred.
“We are concerned that our capacity to verify would have been severely undermined,” Amano told a gathering of the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. He noted Iran’s “extensive” cleanup effort at the site, which has included demolishing buildings and stripping away topsoil.
“We cannot say for sure that we would be able find something,” Amano said.
Notice the careful way in which Warrick has excerpted parts of what Amano said and inserted his own spin into the statements. If you listen carefully to what Amano says in response to Slavin’s question around the 27 minute mark of the video, you will see that Amano never characterizes the activities by Iran as sanitizing the site (as said in Warrick’s headline) or even that it was cleanup work, as Warrick says in the body of the article. Amano does mention removal of soil, demolition of buildings and extensive use of water, but maintains that access to the site is necessary in order to have a clear understanding of both past and current activities there.
Amano sits in a a position of high tension. He must deal with the Wikileaks disclosures showing that he is much more aligned with the US than his predecessor, Mohamed ElBaradei. Perhaps helping him to navigate this delicate position, the host of the CFR event, George Perkovich of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, provided some background comments and posed questions to Amano aimed at allowing Amano to voice his overall goal of resolving issues diplomatically. Despite this claim by Amano that his goal is diplomatic solutions, he must deal with the fact that the issues his organization has been raising are cited (often in an embellished way, as Warrick does above) as grounds for an attack on Iran. Perkovich also used these comments as a way to provide an endorsement of sorts for a second term for Amano.
One of the better questions posed by Perkovich related to whether it is possible to come to agreement with Iran regarding boundaries for future activities while leaving unresolved questions about what may have taken place in the past. Continue reading
The headline that has come out of yesterday’s House Judiciary Committee hearing on leaks is that the Committee may subpoena people. As US News correctly reports, one push for subpoenas came from a John Conyers ploy trying to call Republican members’ bluff; he basically asked how they could be sure who leaked the stories in question and if they were they should just subpoena those people to testify to the committee.
It’s a testament to the thin knowledge of these stories that none of the Republicans responded, “John Brennan.” But then, even if they had, the committee would quickly get into trouble trying to subpoena Brennan as National Security Advisors (and Deputy NSAs) have traditionally been excused from Congressional subpoena for deliberation reasons, a tradition reinforced by Bush’s approach with Condi Rice.
Ah well. I’m sure we’re going to have some amusing theater of Jim Sensenbrenner trying to force Conyers to come up with some names now.
The other big push for subpoenas, though, came from Trey Gowdy. Partly because he wanted to create an excuse to call a Special Prosecutor and partly because, just because, he was most interested in subpoenaing some journalists. And in spite of the way that former Assistant Attorney General Ken Wainstein patiently explained why there are good, national security, reasons why DOJ is hesitant to subpoena journalists, Gowdy wouldn’t let up.
But what concerned me more is that no one–not a single person on the House committee that oversees DOJ–explained that DOJ doesn’t need to subpoena journalists to find out who they’ve been talking to. They’ve given themselves the authority to get journalist call records in national security cases without Attorney General approval.
That’s a detail every member of the committee should know, particularly if they’re going to hold hearings about whether DOJ can adequately investigate leaks. And while I expect Trey Gowdy to be ignorant, it seems they all are ignorant of this detail.
There was another display of ignorance I find troubling for a different reason. Dan Lungren suggested that he learned of what we’re doing with StuxNet from David Sanger’s reports. He rightly noted that–as the Chair of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Cybersecurity–he ought to learn these things from the government, not the NYT. And while his ignorance of StuxNet’s escape may be due to the timing of his ascension to the Subcommittee Chair (most members of the Gang of Four, except Dianne Feinstein, would not have gotten briefed on early stages of StuxNet, when someone should have told the government what a boneheaded plan it was), the Subcommittee still should be aware that our own recklessness has made us vulnerable in dangerous new ways.
Perhaps the most telling detail of the hearing, though, came from retired Colonel Kenneth Allard. He was brought on, I guess, to label what we did with StuxNet an act of war (without, of course, considering whether that is the problem rather than the exposure that both Republican and Democratic Administrations are engaging in illegal war without telling anyone). In his comments, he went so far as to say that “What Mr. Sanger did is equivalent of having KGB operation run against White House.”
Someone had to accuse the journalists of being enemy spies.
But Allard’s statement reveals where all this comes from: personal pique against the NYT for coverage they’ve done on him. Not only did he complain that David Sanger’s publisher didn’t give the New York Journal of Books, for which he writes reviews, an advance copy, but also that the NYT reported on the scam the Pentagon set up to give select Generals and Colonels inside information to spin favorably on TV.
Third, I have personally experienced what it feels like when the NYT deliberately distorts national security information, even to the point of plagiarism. On April 20, 2008, the NYT published an inflammatory expose: “Behind Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand” by David Barstow. The Times’ article charged that over 70 retired officers, including me, had misused our positions while serving as military analysts with the broadcast and cable TV networks. Continue reading
In this interview between David Sanger and Jake Tapper, Sanger makes a striking claim: that he doesn’t know who leaked StuxNet.
I’ll tell you a deep secret. Who leaked the fact? Whoever it was who programmed this thing and made a mistake in it in 2010 so that the bug made it out of the Natanz nuclear plant, got replicated around the world so the entire world could go see this code and figure out that there was some kind of cyberattack underway. I have no idea who that person was. It wasn’t a person, it wasn’t a person, it was a technological error.
At one level, Sanger is just making the point I made here: the age of cyberwar may erode even very disciplined Administration attempts to cloak their covert operations in secrecy. Once StuxNet got out, it didn’t take Administration (or Israeli) sources leaking to expose the program.
But I’m amused that Sanger claims he doesn’t know who leaked the information because he doesn’t know who committed the “technological error” that allowed the code to escape Natanz. I find it particularly amusing given that Dianne Feinstein recently suggested Sanger misled her about what he would publish (while not denying she might call for jailing journalists who report such secrets).
What you have are very sophisticated journalists. David Sanger is one of the best. I spoke–he came into my office, he saw me, we’ve worked together at the Aspen Strategy Institute. He assured me that what he was publishing he had worked out with various agencies and he didn’t believe that anything was revealed that wasn’t known already. Well, I read the NY Times article and my heart dropped because he wove a tapestry which has an impact that’s beyond any single one thing. And he’s very good at what he does and he spent a year figuring it all out.
Sanger claims, now that DiFi attacked him, he doesn’t know who made this “technological error.”
An error in the code, they said, had led it to spread to an engineer’s computer when it was hooked up to the centrifuges. When the engineer left Natanz and connected the computer to the Internet, the American- and Israeli-made bug failed to recognize that its environment had changed. It began replicating itself all around the world. Suddenly, the code was exposed, though its intent would not be clear, at least to ordinary computer users.
“We think there was a modification done by the Israelis,” one of the briefers told the president, “and we don’t know if we were part of that activity.”
Marcy will be along later to discuss the shiny
thong thing aspect of David Sanger’s New York Times article where he was awarded today’s transcription prize by the Obama administration and allowed to “break” the story in which the US for the first time admitted its role in cyberwarfare against Iran’s nuclear program. What I want to concentrate on here is how in putting forward the cyberwarfare story, Sanger unquestioningly accepts the administration’s framing that Iran is just a short “breakout” away from having multiple nuclear weapons.
Consider this key paragraph:
These officials gave differing assessments of how successful the sabotage program was in slowing Iran’s progress toward developing the ability to build nuclear weapons. Internal Obama administration estimates say the effort was set back by 18 months to two years, but some experts inside and outside the government are more skeptical, noting that Iran’s enrichment levels have steadily recovered, giving the country enough fuel today for five or more weapons, with additional enrichment.
All Iran needs is “additional enrichment” for “five or more weapons”. That assumption is false on many levels. First, because Iran’s enrichment activities are closely monitored by onsite IAEA inspectors, any activity aimed at above the 20% level which is their current upper bound would be detected quickly. That statement is backed up even by David Albright, who has been busy fanning the anti-Iran rhetoric on the Parchin front. Adding further doubt to a rapid breakout of enrichment is that even in this same article, Sanger notes that Iran’s centrifuge technology is old and unreliable. Albright supports that observation as well, and notes that installation of additional capability has been slowed by technical issues that don’t seem related to cyberattacks.
The second major flaw in Sanger’s transcription above is that more than just “additional enrichment” is needed. The whole cat and mouse game at Parchin is playing out because in addition to enrichment of uranium to weapons grade, Iran will need technology for initiating the nuclear chain reaction that results in the weapon being detonated. Sanger makes no mention at all of this technical barrier for which there is no evidence that Iran has made an appropriate breakthrough.
Heck, the “enough uranium for five bombs” framing requires us to count the material enriched to only 3.5%. That makes it surprising the US and Israel aren’t claiming that Iran has enough uranium for an unlimited number of bombs if you count the uranium in the ground that they haven’t mined yet.
In a remarkable column in the Guardian, Brian Whitaker points out both the uncritical way in which most of the press is merely parroting the accusations in the IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear technology and how this process feels very much like the propaganda campaign that led to the invasion of Iraq:
“One of the oldest tricks in the run-up to a war is to spread terrifying stories of things that the enemy may be about to do. Government officials plant these tales, journalists water them and the public, for the most part, swallow them.” I wrote this paragraph in December 2002, some three months before the US launched its invasion of Iraq, but it seems just as applicable today in relation to Iran.
The Iraq war of 2003 followed a long media build-up in which talk about Saddam Hussein’s imaginary weapons of mass destruction, simply by virtue of its constant repetition, led many prominent journalists to abandon their critical faculties. The Washington Post, for instance, devoted an extraordinary 1,800 words to an extremely flimsy (but scary) story suggesting Iraq had supplied nerve gas to al-Qaida. The paper later conceded that its coverage of the Iraqi WMD issue had been seriously defective, but by then it was too late to undo the damage.
Whitaker then goes on to cite a number of media stories that breathlessly cite the IAEA allegations without any meaningful evaluation of the claims therein. He cites b’s work at Moon of Alabama on the nanodiamond alternative to the claims of an explosive trigger device as an example of how one would go about critically examining the claims in the report.
He then closes with this:
Of course, these are extremely murky waters and I’m not at all sure who to believe. There is probably a lot of deception taking place on both sides. But what seems to me extraordinary is the reluctance of journalists – especially in the US mainstream – to acknowledge the uncertainties and their willingness to accept what, as far as Iran is concerned, are the most incriminating interpretations.
In addition to the examples Whitaker cites in his column (please read the entire column), I would offer the video above, where Christiane Amanpour interviews David Sanger. In this interview, as in most other media reports, there isn’t even acknowledgment that the report itself admits that there is no proof that an active nuclear weapons development program has indeed been restarted in Iran after it was halted in 2003. Instead, Amanpour and Sanger go into speculative details of how the US can intervene and prevent full development of a nuclear weapon. They do stop short of war, but certainly point out how it would not be surprising.
There is one more sadly ironic parallel between the current buildup of rhetoric over Iran and the buildup to war in Iraq. Throughout this process it should be kept in mind that the CIA’s WMD program took a very big hit when
Robert Novak Dick Cheney outed Valerie Plame on July 14, 2003 as the Bush administration madly tried to to justify the faulty intelligence it fabricated and spread prior to the March, 2003 Iraq invasion. Had Plame not been outed, the CIA’s capability in gathering WMD intelligence could have continued unabated, rather than needing a major regrouping after one of its major operatives was outed. Perhaps the current state of intelligence on what is happening in Iran would be much better had that not happened.
There are a number of posts at Moon of Alabama providing chapter and verse on the debunking of the IAEA report, so I won’t repeat those details and links here. Instead, I would just note that the credibility of the report has been brought into question by a number of independent observers, but that is a very difficult piece of information to obtain if one is exposed only to the traditional media outlets. Let’s hope that the Iraq 2003 parallel isn’t so complete that traditional media only realize the low quality of the current “intelligence” after a war has started.
Major media organizations around the world are reacting to the IAEA’s report on Iran’s nuclear technology.
Okay, anyone who reads my posts knows that the sentence above should include a link to the IAEA’s website and its posting of the original report. But I can’t include that link, because the IAEA hasn’t posted the report yet. The report is posted (pdf) at the website for David Albright’s Institute for Science and International Security, where it showed up early yesterday afternoon, and at the New York Times (pdf), in association with a story by David Sanger and William Broad. I believe that the Times copy was posted several hours after the ISIS copy.
The IAEA’s website has this information about the report, on a page with the heading “Report On Iran Nuclear Safeguards Sent to IAEA Board”:
An IAEA report on nuclear verification in Iran was circulated on 8 November 2011 to the Agency’s Board of Governors and the UN Security Council.
The Agency’s 35-member Board of Governors will consider the report at its next meeting in Vienna from 17 November 2011. The document’s circulation is currently restricted to IAEA Member States and unless the IAEA Board decides otherwise the Agency cannot authorize its release to the public.
The report, Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and Relevant Provisions of Security Council Resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran, was issued by the IAEA Director General. It covers developments since the last report on 2 September 2011, as well as issues of longer standing.
Note that David Albright figured prominently in many media stories leading up to the appearance of the report. He clearly had already read the report and was busy spreading his take on what the report means.
Given that Albright’s interpretation of the report fits so well with the Obama administration’s take, a question that comes to mind is whether the US authorized Albright to post the report. The IAEA information quoted above states that the IAEA is not authorized to release the report but that it was sent yesterday to the IAEA’s Board of Governors and to the UN Security Council. The information also states that current circulation is “restricted to IAEA Member States”. The US is a Member State of the IAEA.
Did the US authorize Albright’s release of the report? Continue reading
As I keep saying, the NYT is not an institution to quit while it’s behind. Exactly one week after David Sanger wrote a highly criticized article claiming the nationalization of auto companies would carry ominous risks that the forgotten (by Sanger) nationalization of much more expensive finance companies did not, he’s back, this time applying the lessons of the Middle East peace process to the auto negotiations.
As a sitting president and a president-elect maneuver over how to bail out Detroit – and ultimately how to convince the Big Three to radically change their ways — there may be some instructive lessons in the Middle East peace process.
The Middle East? At first blush it may seem a bit farfetched. But all complex, intractable negotiations – especially those involving ancient, entrenched interests in which sheer survival is at stake – share something in common.
Of course, Sanger’s masturbatory exercise is all premised on his assumption that he knows diddly shit about the auto industry. Which doesn’t seem to be the case. Consider Sanger’s inapt comparison of the absence of trust between the stakeholders in an auto negotiation and between the Israelis and Palestinians.
Again, there is no trust: the unions believe the companies are trying to break them, the retired think their pensions are under assault, the company executives don’t want lectures about prudence and planning for the future from a Congress that has run up trillions in deficits.
Um, no, David. If you haven’t noticed, the union and the companies have displayed a good deal of trust in recent past, as the last union contract shows. It crafted a way for manufacturers to take retiree healthcare off their books and bring wages into line with the transplants. That took a great deal of trust. If you need further proof, though, you might consider all those pictures of Ron Gettelfinger testifying with the CEOs of the Big 2.5 before Congress. Did you notice that the UAW and the Big 2.5 were on the same side of the table, in both a metaphorical and literal sense? The UAW knows well who is trying to break them. It’s not the Big 2.5, it’s the plantation caucus.
Furthermore, it’s not so much that the Big 2.5 don’t want lectures from a Congress that has run up trillions (besides, I thought it was Bush and his unfunded Iraq War that did that?). Continue reading