Where Are the Dirt Photos? We Must Have Dirt Photos!

As I have noted many times, there is a prescribed, choreographed sequence for getting reports of “cleanup” activities at Iran’s Parchin site into the US news media. First, “diplomats” release information (arising from intelligence agencies or the IAEA) to George Hahn of AP or Fredrik Dahl of Reuters, and then David Albright emerges within just a few hours with an “analysis”, usually including satellite imagery. The choreography and imagery reached a comedic highpoint when Iran covered a number of buildings at the Parchin site with pink tarps last summer. Once Albright provides his viewpoint, various US media chime in to tell us how devious the Iranians are being with this military site that might house work that could somehow, one day, sort of help Iran produce a nuclear weapon.

Now, however, the cycle appears to have been broken. Late Wednesday, Fredrik Dahl published an article where he reported that a “closed-door” IAEA briefing had disclosed that satellite images of Parchin dated November 7 found new piles of dirt. Whether due to the Thanksgiving holiday or a lack of enthusiasm after the embarrassment of the pink tarp photos, Albright has not yet followed up by publishing these all-important photos of the piles of dirt.

Here is Dahl’s report:

Iran has been hauling dirt to a military site U.N. nuclear inspectors want to visit, Western diplomats said on Wednesday, saying the findings were based on satellite images and they reinforced suspicions of a clean-up.

They said the pictures, presented during a closed-door briefing for member states of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), suggested Iran was continuing to try to hide incriminating traces of any illicit nuclear-related activity.

The allegations come a few days after the IAEA said in a report on Iran that “extensive activities” undertaken at the Parchin site since early this year would seriously undermine its inquiry, if and when inspectors were allowed access.

Albright clearly was already aware of the new piles of dirt. From his comments (pdf) put up along with publication of the November 16 IAEA report (pdf) (clearly marked “Restricted Distribution”):

The third and final points about removal of external pipework from the containment vessel building and about a depositing of new earth where earth was removed are new observations and ones that were not previously reported by ISIS. (See previous ISIS imagery analysis on the apparent sanitization activities at Parchin here.) Iran undertook sanitization activities, including the removal of earth and deposit of new earth, at Lavisan Shian in 2004. These activities are suspected to be related to Iran hiding evidence of efforts of the Physics Research Center, a military entity linked to parallel military nuclear activities that was sited there until the late 1990s.

On the date that the IAEA provided for restricted distribution its latest report on Iran, Albright was already aware that new imagery showed the additional fill dirt being brought to the Parchin site, and yet more than ten days later, and nearly a week after being prompted by Dahl, Albright still has not given us the dirt photos. If he doesn’t come around soon, Albright will be in danger of being left out of the noise amplification loop and in the future new photos will bypass him and go directly to Barbara Starr.

Update: Ha ha ha ha. I guess George Jahn was feeling left out. He just published a diagram proving that the Iranians can calculate the yield of an atomic weapon. Quick! Prepare the fainting couch! Even Albright wasn’t too impressed with this one, as quoted by Jahn:

David Albright, whose Institute for Science and International Security is used by the U.S. government as a go-to source on Iran’s nuclear program, said the diagram looks genuine but seems to be designed more “to understand the process” than as part of a blueprint for an actual weapon in the making.

I’m sure Barbara Starr will be along shortly to tell us how frightened we should be by this diagram.

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”.

Albright Attempts to Deflect Neutron Activation Issue at Parchin

On May 15, I pointed out that the claims associated with the cartoon published by George Jahn of AP purporting to depict a high explosives chamber used by Iran at Parchin (this is a new link for the cartoon, the AP link in the May 15 post no longer works for me) and in a report by David Albright claiming that Iran has taken actions aimed at cleansing the Parchin site were rendered baseless by the likelihood that if the accused work on a neutron initiator for a nuclear weapon had indeed been carried out at Parchin, then the chamber would be rendered radioactive throughout the thickness of its steel by the process of neutron activation. Yesterday, Albright published even more photos of the Parchin site that he claims document further cleansing activity and in the discussion section of his report he finally addressed the issue of neutron activation. In order to make the issue of neutron activation go away, Albright is now proposing that  the uranium deuteride presumed to be present in the explosion would produce too low a flux of neutrons to produce appreciable neutron activation of the chamber’s steel, even though Jahn is claiming that the Iranians placed a neutron detector outside the chamber, presumably to measure the neutron flux that passed through its steel walls.

Here is the relevant portion of a 2009 report by Albright describing the neutron initiator:

If the data in this document are correct and the descriptions of the work are accurate, then this report appears to be describing a plan to further develop and test a critical component of a nuclear weapon, specifically a neutron initiator made out of uranium deuteride (UD3), which when finished (and subsequently manufactured) would most likely be placed at the center of a fission bomb made from weapon-grade uranium. This type of initiator works by the high explosives compressing the nuclear core and the initiator, producing a spurt of neutrons as a result of fusion in D-D reactions. The neutrons flood the core of weapon-grade uranium and initiate the chain reaction.

Albright goes on to describe the issue of producing neutrons and measuring their production:

The measurement of the neutrons emitted by this UD3 source would be the hardest measurement Iran would need to make in developing a nuclear weapon. This assumes that Iran believes it cannot do a full-scale nuclear test, although it would be expected to do a “cold test” of the full device as a way to gain confidence the nuclear weapon would perform as expected. . . The timing of the explosion and resulting shock waves would need to be perfect in order to get enough fusion to create a spurt of neutrons in a reliable manner at exactly the right instant. The experiment itself is very difficult to do. There are relatively few neutrons emitted in a brief period of time and there is a lot of noise from the electronics that interferes with the neutron measurements.

It should be noted here that although Albright is discussing a “cold test”, that means the test is carried out without the weapons grade uranium which the initiator sets off in the nuclear explosion. The uranium deuteride is still present as the primary part of the initiator and is producing the neutrons which are to be measured. Although Albright does claim that few neutrons are produced in the explosion in the latter part of the description, he refers to a “spurt” of neutrons that “flood” the weapons grade uranium in the earlier portion. The fact remains that in such an experiment, significant quantities of uranium are present and there would be neutrons released into the steel of the chamber the entire time the uranium is present, not just during the brief explosion.

As further support for the uranium deuteride initiator being the primary focus of the narrative promoted by Albright and Jahn, it should be kept in mind that Jahn mentions that the chamber is “equipped with” “a neutron detection system outside the explosion chamber to measure neutron emissions”. Jahn goes on to quote another expert who posits the use of uranium in the experiments with explosives: Continue reading

Iran’s Cat and Mouse Game at Parchin Continues; Albright Takes Bait Yet Again

After a disappointing ending to yesterday’s final session of the P5+1 talks in Moscow, we now must deal with even more of the cat and mouse game Iran is playing at Parchin. I have posted on this issue a number of times, so I won’t go back into the complete details of what is going on, but the primary issue here is that the West has accused Iran of carrying out work at the Parchin military site that is aimed toward developing a trigger for a nuclear bomb. Specifically, Iran is accused of using a high explosives chamber to research the use of uranium in high explosions to generate the neutrons needed to trigger a nuclear bomb. “Western diplomats”, aided by gullible reporters and especially by David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security are now claiming that Iran is trying to scrub the site of evidence from this work.

The problem is that it is impossible to scrub evidence of this sort of work. As I showed in this post, if Iran actually carried out the work for which they are accused, the steel chamber where the explosions occurred and all of the structural steel in the surrounding building would be radioactive due to neutron activation. This would not be surface contamination of the steel but would be distributed throughout the entire thickness of the steel. Therefore, if Iran carried out the accused work, the only way to hide the evidence would be to destroy the steel tank and the building in which it is housed.

In a game of cat and mouse, Iran destroyed buildings nearby the building in which the steel tank is said to be housed and did extensive earthmoving work in outlying areas away from the building. Albright dutifully took that bait and said this work was evidence of cleansing activity and did not mention that the chamber and its surrounding building were still standing and should still carry all of the radioactive earmarks of the accused activity.

Today, Albright has taken the next round of bait offered up by Iran. More earthmoving activity is seen in new photos and there are even new puddles to go along with the first puddles Albright found.

Here is Albright’s description of the new activity: Continue reading

Parchin Game of Cat and Mouse Escalates: Razed Buildings, Earthmoving Probably Don’t Affect Controversial Chamber

For a brief period yesterday afternoon, initial news reports had me thinking that perhaps proof had finally emerged that Iran has indeed carried out work on a nuclear weapon and was taking actions in an attempt to hide the after-effects of that work. As new details emerged, however, it became more clear that an elaborate game of cat and mouse is being played out between Iran and those who accuse them of weapon development, but overall there still seems to be no conclusive proof that weapon development at the controversial Parchin site has been carried out.

That is a pattern that has played out several times now. “Diplomats” provide anonymous information to a reporter in Vienna on new accusations about nuclear weapon development work in Iran. The first version of the story put out by the reporter contains only a vague accusation but is delivered with a sensationalized headline suggesting that new and important evidence supports the conclusion that Iran is carrying out work at Parchin aimed at developing a neutron trigger device for a nuclear weapon . Subsequent expansion of the article reveals that the “evidence” is much weaker than initially portrayed and that technical details tend to contradict the accusations for the large part.

Until yesterday, that pattern had played itself out three times since March, each with George Jahn of AP playing the role of the reporter in Vienna. First, there was the claim in March that Iran was trying to clean the Parchin site to remove evidence of work on a trigger device. It took several weeks after the initial claim, but finally a satellite image purporting to show evidence of “washing” the building at Parchin was produced in early May when David Albright displayed satellite images showing puddles in the parking lot outside the suspect building. Of course, Albright’s claim of “washing” away the radioactivity is ludicrous, as traces would remain, especially if the wash water is simply allowed to pool in the parking lot of the building. Albright and Jahn did not give up, however, and Jahn subsequently came up with a cartoon depicting the chamber (it’s even the same color as the real chamber!). The huge hole in those accusations, though, is that if the accused neutron trigger work with uranium were indeed being carried out at Parchin, then the process of neutron activation would have resulted in both the structural steel of the chamber itself and most likely the structural steel of the building housing the chamber being radioactive throughout the thicknesses of the steel. This would mean that Albright’s claims that Iran could “cleanse” the chamber and the building by grinding and washing surfaces were impossible. Instead, in order to clean the site:

The only way that Iran would be able to hide evidence of work on a neutron trigger device at Parchin would be to dismantle and remove the entire chamber. It most likely would be necessary to raze the entire building as well, since the structural steel in the building surrounding the chamber also likely would have been made radioactive by the neutrons.

Jahn’s third sensational headline followed by less sensational details related to the finding of traces of uranium enriched to 27% rather than 20% at the enrichment site at Qom instead of at Parchin, but this still fits the overall pattern.

Another aspect of attempts to clean evidence of work with radioactivity is removal of the upper layers of soil.

Yesterday, Fredrik Dahl of Reuters took over George Jahn’s role as the reporter in Vienna to release a sensational headline only for the real story to fall short of the accusations (apologies to Jahn for my initial–now deleted–tweets on this revelation, which I attributed to him when I reacted first to the headline and only later noticed the story was from Dahl and not Jahn). I have counted at least five versions of Dahl’s story as it was updated through the day yesterday and this morning. Here is complete article as it appeared in its initial form: Continue reading

Separating Truth from Fiction at Parchin: Neutron Activation Can’t Be Scrubbed Away

Neutrons passing through steel would occasionally collide with a cobalt-59 nucleus, producing easily detectable cobalt-60 if trigger experiments were carried out in the steel chamber at Parchin. (From a Wikimedia Commons illustration of the 1911 Rutherford experiment where alpha particles were sent through a thin gold foil.)

Both Marcy, here,  and b, over at Moon of Alabama, have roundly criticized the cartoon released on Sunday by AP’s George Jahn purporting to depict a chamber at Iran’s Parchin site where various groups accuse Iran of carrying out work aimed at an explosive trigger device for a nuclear weapon. David Albright, working through his Institute for Science and International Security, has been near the forefront in most of these accusations, with one of his accusations coming out in December of 2009 (pdf). As described in his 2009 piece, Albright accuses Iran of attempting to replicate A.Q. Khan’s uranium deuteride (UD3) initiator for a bomb, which “works by the high explosives compressing the nuclear core and the initiator, producing a spurt of neutrons as a result of fusion in D-D reactions. The neutrons flood the core of weapon-grade uranium and initiate the chain reaction.”

Prior to the release of the cartoon, Albright had claimed on May 8 that he had detected activity aimed at “cleansing” the Parchin site.  I debunked that claim the next day, by pointing out that all traces of radioactivity cannot be washed away and that Albright’s claims would mean that the waste water carrying the radioactivity was allowed to drain freely onto the grounds surrounding the building, where the radioactivity could be found without much effort. Albright repeats those claims in Jahn’s article accompanying the cartoon, and he brings in another expert to support his claims that residue from testing a trigger device could be scrubbed:

A cleanup “could involve grinding down the surfaces inside the building, collecting the dust and then washing the area thoroughly,” said David Albright, whose Institute for Science and International Security in Washington looks for signs of nuclear proliferation. “This could be followed with new building materials and paint.

“It could also involve removing any dirt around the building thought to contain contaminants,” Albright said in a statement emailed to selected recipients. “These types of activities could be effective in defeating environmental sampling.”

Fitzpatrick, the other nuclear nonproliferation expert, also said a cleanup could be effective.

“In the past, the IAEA has been able to catch out Iran by going to a building that Iran tried to clean and they still found traces of uranium,” he said. “And Iran learned from that and they learned that ‘boy you have to scrub everything really clean; get down into the drains and grind away any possible residue.”

Earlier in the article, Fitzpatrick (who is  Mark Fitzpatrick, director of the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Program of the International Institute for Strategic Studies) mentions that Iran is specifically accused of using uranium in the explosives research. Also, the article claims that the equipment associated with the chamber includes “a neutron detection system outside the explosion chamber to measure neutron emissions”.

Albright and Fitzpatrick completely overlook a very important basic aspect of the nuclear physics involved here. If they really are going to claim that uranium is being used and that bursts of neutrons capable of initiating a nuclear reaction are the goal of the experiments, then the neutrons originating from the uranium and from the neutron bursts would result in neutron activation of the steel container itself. Continue reading

Albright Discovers Puddles in Parchin

Google Maps image of Parchin, showing the dry landscape at over 5000 feet elevation. Note the extensive erosion patterns.

In March, Gareth Porter and I debunked claims that “diplomats” had fed to AP’s George Jahn. The diplomats asserted to Jahn that they had seen satellite photos depicting activity interpreted as attempts to clean the site at Parchin where they believe Iran has carried out work aimed at developing an explosive trigger device for a nuclear weapon.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the depiction of these activities as being aimed at cleaning the site is that, as I pointed out in the post linked above, it is virtually impossible to remove all traces of radioactive materials from a site where they have been used. The Iranians were very quick to point this out as well. No amount of cleaning will remove all of the residual radioactivity from the building or surrounding soil. I also pointed out in my post that no satellite photos purporting to show this cleaning activity had yet been made public.

Yesterday, David Albright and his Institute for Science and International Security dutifully stepped up to deliver what was intended as photographic proof. From Albright’s description:

 The new activity seen in the satellite image occurred outside a building suspected to contain an explosive chamber used to carry out nuclear weapons related experiments (see figure 1).  The April 9, 2012 satellite image shows items lined up outside the building.  It is not clear what these items are.  The image also shows what appears to be a stream of water that emanates from or near the building.  Based on new information that the IAEA received, the Agency asked Iran to visit this building at the Parchin site, but Iran has not allowed a visit.  IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano noted recently that the IAEA has “information that some activity is ongoing” at the Parchin site 1.  When asked if he was concerned that these activities could be associated with cleansing the site, Amano replied, “That possibility is not excluded…We cannot say for sure because we are not there.”  The items visible outside the building could be associated with the removal of equipment from the building or with cleansing it.  The stream of water that appears to emanate from the building raises concerns that Iran may have been washing inside the building, or perhaps washing the items outside the building.

The idea that Iran would want to wash the building or its contents, presumably in order to remove radioactive contamination from trigger-building experiments, and then just allow the wash water to run onto the ground surrounding the building is laughable on its face. As I noted in my March post, the Iranians pointed out that radioactive contamination can’t be eliminated from a site where such work has been carried out. Of course they would know that merely rinsing some of the radioactive material into the ground surrounding the building would do nothing to hide it from the sensitive detection equipment IAEA would bring to an inspection.

There are two potential explanations for the water seen in the photo labeled April 9, 2012. Continue reading

Rumored Satellite Imagery of Parchin “Clean-Up” Fails to Materialize, Claim Debunked

Back on March 7, AP’s Vienna correspondent George Jahn wrote that two diplomats, described as “nuclear experts accredited to the International Atomic Energy Agency” informed him that they had seen satellite imagery showing evidence of Iran trying to clean the disputed Parchin site of presumed radioactive contamination arising from work to develop a neutron trigger for a nuclear weapon. Writing yesterday for IPS News, Gareth Porter debunked Jahn’s claims. Porter’s conclusions are buttressed by the fact that David Albright’s ISIS, which Porter notes has published satellite imagery of the Parchin site since 2004 in its efforts to prove Iran is working on a nuclear weapon, has not published any imagery relating to the “clean-up” claims.

Jahn’s March 7 piece opens bluntly:

Satellite images of an Iranian military facility appear to show trucks and earth-moving vehicles at the site, indicating an attempted cleanup of radioactive traces possibly left by tests of a nuclear-weapon trigger, diplomats told the Associated Press on Wednesday.

But a bit later, Jahn does admit not all the “diplomats” he spoke to agreed on what the photos revealed:

Two of the diplomats said the crews at the Parchin military site may be trying to erase evidence of tests of a small experimental neutron device used to set off a nuclear explosion. A third diplomat could not confirm that but said any attempt to trigger a so-called neutron initiator could only be in the context of trying to develop nuclear arms.

One major problem with taking the tack of accusing Iran of trying to develop a neutron trigger is that until now, the loudest accusations relating to the Parchin site have centered around development of a high-explosives based trigger.  See, for example, this post where I discuss claims from Benjamin Netanyahu, David Albright and Joby Warrick that high explosives work was aimed at a trigger rather than production of nanodiamonds.

But another huge problem with the claim of Iran trying to clean the site is the impossibility of clean-up itself. Jahn even inadvertently gives us a clue:

Iran has previously attempted to clean up sites considered suspicious by world powers worried about Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

Iran razed the Lavizan Shian complex in northern Iran before allowing IAEA inspectors to visit the suspected repository of military procured equipment that could be used in a nuclear weapons program. Tehran said the site had been demolished to make way for a park, but inspectors who subsequently came to the site five years ago found traces of uranium enriched to or near the level used in making the core of nuclear warheads.

A spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry clearly explained that such evidence cannot be completely removed : Continue reading

Bibi, Albright (and Warrick) on Iran Nuke Report: “But Wait, There’s More!”

Because there hasn’t been an immediate, multinational hue and cry to bomb Iran over the leaked IAEA report, both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and David Albright, the designated point person for fomenting fears over Iran’s nuclear program in the United States, have been reduced to using their best Billy Mays voice to boom out “But wait, there’s more!”  Netanyahu’s blathering has been dutifully written down and published by Reuters while Albright has found a willing mouthpiece in the Washington Post’s Joby Warrick

Netanyahu told his cabinet yesterday that Iran is closer to getting the bomb than the IAEA report suggests.  Here is how Reuters reported his remarks:

Iran is closer to getting an (atomic) bomb than is thought,” Netanyahu said in remarks to cabinet ministers, quoted by an official from his office.

“Only things that could be proven were written (in the U.N. report), but in reality there are many other things that we see,” Netanyahu said, according to the official.

The Israeli leader did not specify what additional information he had about Iran’s nuclear program during his cabinet’s discussion on the report by the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released last week.

Yup, Netanyahu is telling us he knows more about Iran’s nuclear technology than the rest of the world knows, but he won’t give us details and he can’t prove it.  And, of course, it is important to believe everything Netanyahu says.

Meanwhile, in Washington, Joby Warrick saw fit this morning to devote an entire article to building the case that Vyacheslav Danilenko was transferring crucial nuclear technology to Iran rather than helping Iran to develop nanodiamond technology.  The accusations against Danilenko come almost exclusively from David Albright and a “report” on Danilenko prepared by Albright’s Insitute for Science and International Security.  Warrick does include one brief quotation from a former CIA Iran analyst on how analysts characterize the flow of information into potentially covert programs and a statement from Josh Pollack of Arms Control Wonk.  I will return to the Pollack quote below.

Now that Danilenko’s work on controlled high explosives detonations creating nanodiamonds has been put forward as a potentially peaceful use of the technology he was helping to develop in Iran, those who promote the view that Iran is working hard now to develop a nuclear weapon find it necessary to provide a stronger connection between Danilenko’s work and development of a bomb trigger device.  At the same time, Danilenko has responded to press inquiries with a direct “I am not a father of Iran’s nuclear program” and “I am not a nuclear physicist.” Continue reading

Iraq Redux? Media Parroting Dubious IAEA Iran Claims

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.

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emptywheel LOL Kristol has no fucking clue what the deadlines are.
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