Jahn’s AP Report Was Wrong. Was He Manipulated or Did He Intend to Mislead?

On August 19, AP’s George Jahn set off a firestorm of controversy when he published an article on how Iran’s Parchin site would be inspected as part of the P5+1 agreement reached earlier on Iran’s nuclear technology. Iran deal opponents jumped onto the story instantaneously and quickly claimed that Iran would be doing its own inspections of the Iran site.

In the intervening time, much has happened on the issue of the story and Jahn’s reporting of it. Jahn claimed to base the story on a draft of an agreement between the IAEA and Iran on how the inspections would take place and AP even eventually published what it said was a hand transcription of the document shown to Jahn. The link I used in my original post now goes to a short “correction” of Jahn’s story.

On August 20, I wrote a post with the title “Washington Shocked! Shocked That AP’s George Jahn Is a Tool for Iran Deal Opponents“. Based on several years of reading and commenting on Jahn’s reporting on Iran’s nuclear technology and the diplomacy surrounding it, I pointed out how the article fit Jahn’s usual pattern of being told something by “diplomats”, with that something always seeming to put Iran in the worst possible light. In other words, his stories usually consist of him being used as a tool to put out information that makes Iran look bad.

Today, we have a story from Louis Charbonneau and John Irish of Reuters that informs us (via diplomats, presumably not the ones Jahn listened to) that IAEA inspectors will in fact be present when Iran takes samples from the Parchin site, so Iran will in no way be inspecting itself:

United Nations inspectors will be present with Iranian technicians as they take samples from a key military site, two Western diplomats said, undercutting an objection by U.S. Republicans to the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

Irish and Charbonneau waste little time in pointing out that Jahn was wrong:

An August report by the Associated Press, in its original version, said the agreement on Parchin suggested that IAEA inspectors would be barred from the site and would have to rely on information and environmental samples provided by Iranian technicians. The AP later published what it said was the text of an early draft of the agreement that remains unconfirmed.

The report was seized on by Republicans in the U.S. Congress as proof that President Barack Obama’s administration gave in to Iran on the sensitive issue of inspections to check on Tehran’s suspected ambition to build a nuclear bomb.

Iran says its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful.

IAEA chief Yukiya Amano rejected the report as “a misrepresentation”, though he declined to provide details of what some Republicans described as a “secret side deal” between Iran and the IAEA on Parchin. Amano said on Aug. 20 that the arrangements with Iran were technically sound.

If we want to go as far as we can to see how Jahn could have been acting in good faith, it is worthwhile to concentrate on the fact that he said from the start that the document he was shown was an early draft of the agreement between the IAEA and Iran. Then, when we get to this in the Reuters report, we can see that perhaps the IAEA inspectors being present was a later addition (or a filling in of detail as Cheryl Rofer seems to suggest) to the agreement:

But the Western diplomats told Reuters that while Iranians would be allowed to take the samples themselves, the agency’s inspectors would be physically present and would have full access to their activity.

“There was a compromise so the Iranians could save face and the IAEA could ensure it carried out its inspections according to their strict requirements,” said one of the diplomats.

If Jahn was shown a document that differed so substantially from the final arrangement, it is at least possible that he was completely manipulated by whoever showed him the document. He can save a considerable amount of face by publicly identifying who brought the document to him. His promise of confidentiality should not apply to information that turned out to be false. If he stands by his reporting, however, then we must seriously consider that he intentionally put Iran in the worst possible light and assumed he would never be called out on it.

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.
27 replies
  1. bevin says:

    “He can save a considerable amount of face by publicly identifying who brought the document to him.”

    Don’t hold your breath.

  2. orionATL says:

    1. collect data.

    – for a specified time period, say three years, list all iran nuke stories with jahn’s byline.

    – seperate the stories into a) positive (or negative) toward the idea of a nuclear agreement b) p or n
    toward western negotiators c) p or n toward some specific derail or another being negotiated
    d) references iran nuclear threat, especially obscure technical details, as immient, serious, threat to
    peace, e) where published f) sources by affiliation or inclination, sources named, and sources
    anonymous

    2. analyze data

    3. publish results. leaning one way, leaning another way, neutral.

  3. bloopie2 says:

    “His promise of confidentiality should not apply to information that turned out to be false.” You say “should” — is that the norm for journalists who use confidential informants, or is it your personal opinion? I’m not arguing, just asking, because it seems to me to be key to your ending argument. Anyhow, is there a third way, to wit, admitting he was misled without naming the source? Everyone makes mistakes, after all.
    .
    Have a good weekend. I’m going to see my Brownies on Sunday; pray!

  4. Tom in AZ says:

    How about if they flat out lie to you? Misinformed is such a neutral, get out of jail free term, used by oh, bankers and the like when they settle with no admission of guilt.
    Was it I. F. Stone who wouldn’t go into the ‘off the record’ meetings, then get the info from the people coming out afterward?

  5. Don Bacon says:

    .
    But Iran won’t allow any Americans to be part the IAEA inspection team, correct? Host countries have the right to disallow specific foreigners in their country. I suspect that Jahn wanted US people in there.
    .
    And these are not “United Nations inspectors” [Reuters] — the IAEA is not a UN agency. In fact it is an atoms-for-peace agency which has no agencies and no personnel capable of properly inspecting military sites. So we shouldn’t expect any professional results.
    .
    Samples? What can that prove? (I don’t know.) Can they differentiate military atoms from peaceful ones?

    • Jim White says:

      .
      While I have my issues with Amano, there is indeed significant technical prowess at IAEA. Read Cheryl Rofer’s article at the link. And your argument can be thrown right back at you. Civilian atoms and military atoms are no different, so an analysis of radioactive materials is an analysis of radioactive materials.

    • Denis says:

      Don: “Samples? What can that prove? (I don’t know.) Can they differentiate military atoms from peaceful ones?”
      .
      Yeah, I guess they can, to some extent. The ratios of various isotopes detected in samples can be used to deduce the source of the isotopes and distinguish military from civilian sources. But there is a lot of BS out there about what might be found at Parchin. For example, I am highly skeptical of anything David Albright at so-called ISIS puts out.
      .
      But if you check the arms control blogs like Jeffrey Lewis’ or Dan Joyner’s, there have been very helpful technical discussions by nuke experts about what investigators could and couldn’t find at Parchin. Robt. Kelley, former director of IAEA, has been particularly outspoken and enlightening on this issue.

      • Don Bacon says:

        Thanks Denis. I’ll get back to Dan Joyner’s blog, which I left b/c he was taking strong positions (like on Syria sarin gas and Ukraine MH70) w/o any proof, which I thought was ridiculous for a lawyer. Guilty as charged! Syria and Russia must be punished! –No trial needed, no evidence need be presented…
        .
        Okay, I’ve vented. Now I’ll look at Arms Control Law.

  6. Muddy Mo says:

    By SMEDLEY, Don Bacon is right about IAEA. Huh, journos being journos about that bit? Or journos being especially, ummm…. Clueless? Lazy? Duplicitous?

  7. Denis says:

    I think you’re being too soft on him, Jim. If this were Jahn’s first offense, an assumption of dumb gullibility might fly, but this is just another example of his duplicitous modus operandi, IMO. I don’t trust a thing he writes, and that spills over to AP. The editors are the ultimate con artists. Jahn’s been caught out enough times in the past that he is no longer entitled to the benefit of the doubt, and I think you’ve made that point previously.
    .
    I’m getting to the same point w/ Seymour Hersh. For all of the brilliant stuff Hersh has written, a lot of what he has predicted/alleged turned out to be crap. His latest outrageous allegations about the OBL take-down did not ignite the public outcry and Congressional investigations like My Lai did, probably b/c the latest allegations could not be verified. The problem with spooky sources is that unverifiable babble is indistinguishable from falsehood. However, I can’t recall anything Hersh has done as being as insipidly stupid as Jahn’s cartoons and faux-equations.
    .
    Contrary to what others have said above, I don’t think there is a “rule” that if confidential information turns out to be inaccurate, one is permitted to out the source. Do you ruin your source’s career and expose them to prosecution by Obama’s Stassi/DoJ b/c they got their facts wrong? If they intentionally deceived you, then sure, you turn on them, which is why Obama has turned on Bibi, who has been the source of reams of false “data” re: Saddam, Assad, Iran, Libya, Hezbollah, . . . name it.

    • orionATL says:

      “… I’m getting to the same point w/ Seymour Hersh. For all of the brilliant stuff Hersh has written, a lot of what he has predicted/alleged turned out to be crap…”

      you get my vote for one of the dumbest drive-by assessments of a first-rate journalist ever made.

      and demonstrate again that you’re a troll in drab cloth.

      “…The problem with spooky sources is that unverifiable babble is indistinguishable from falsehood…”

      oh, “unverifiable babble”, eh.

      well, so you’re the kind to be satisfied if the president, the secretary of defense, the head of the joint chiefs of staff, and the dcia all tell walter pincus and michael gordon the very same real, honest, true story of the bin-ladin caper and you read that tale the next morning over coffee .

  8. wayoutwest says:

    Our propaganda organs used to face some repercussions when they printed pure BS but those heady days are long gone. It is legal now for our Masters to use propaganda and lies in the Homeland and except for online sites such as EW few reporters expect or care for better journalism.

    The Iran Nuke agreement was a done deal from the day they sat down to ‘negotiate’ and maybe before, powerful economic interests especially European and transnational oil decided this was the time to reopen Iran for business, the powerful Iranian business interests and the Supreme Leader agreed.

    From that point onward the ‘tough bargaining’ and the march through congress was pure Western Kabuki drama with shouting, cheering, overtime, trash talking and the final rush to the End Zone and victory. The victors will gloat and the losers will grumble but the games must go on or the rubes might lose interest and start sharpening their pitchforks and start their own games.

    • Don Bacon says:

      Yes, the sanctions on Iran were also on its trading partners and their time was up, so it was time for a deal. What the large corporations want, they will get.
      .
      And that’s irregardless of the fact that, in the US, majorities of the people and of the Congress are against the deal! –So much for “democracy.”

      • wayoutwest says:

        We live in an era, for over a hundred years. where public opinion is a malleable substance molded when necessary by our machines of Manufactured Consent, ‘Remember The Maine, to Hell with Spain’.

      • orionATL says:

        the results of almost all public opinion polls on attitudes, beliefs, and opinions are somewhat to very suspect. this has precisely to do with the wording of question and its context in the questionnaire.

        i say almost all because it is possible to get an opinion from a respondent that is reasonably accurate for the near time IF you ask a series of questions about an item of interest that allows the respondent to think of related issues and of consequences. under these circumstances, many citizens are quite thoughtful. however such questions, a series of such questions, requires lots of time, lots of money, and willing co-operation.

        the prevailing view among poll users seems to be that quick and close enough are good enough.

  9. Don Bacon says:

    I looked at Yousaf Butt’s articles, one at Joyner’s blog, and it seems to be the unspoken assumption that any positive sampling at Parchin (a military site) would be taken as evidence of past nuclear weapon activity.
    .
    Is that a correct assumption?
    .
    from Yousaf (a continuing great source I had forgot about):
    “One hopes that the IAEA is indeed targeting the correct building(s) now so that a positive or negative swipe result from inside the building(s) will settle the case quickly and definitively. Incidentally, a negative result would not mean that Iran managed to sanitize the site because the most important sampling would be done indoors where it is almost impossible to get rid of evidence of nuclear materials use.”
    .
    In any case it’s all history and doesn’t mean much either way except to us news junkies.

    • wayoutwest says:

      I wonder if the demands for inspections of Parchin have anything to do with Nukes or if it is about submission to Western intrusion and oversight.

      Another possibility is that it is an attempt to gather intelligence on Iran’s missile capabilities.

      • Don Bacon says:

        Actually the whole “Iran nuclear crisis” was concocted as one attempt (of many) toward the US goal of Iran regime change, and yes intrusion into Iran affairs is a welcome part of that, and any ‘regularization’ of US/Iran relations is no part of it. The US antagonism toward Iran will continue, but I get the feeling that Europe wants no more to be a part of it, as with the financial attacks on Russia. The US financial attacks on Iran and Russia have hurt Europe, and that’s enough. No more.
        .
        I look for the concocted Iran nuclear issue to be continued in Washington, which would further undermine US ‘world leadership’ and that’s not a bad thing. The adults in the world will move on w/o the destructive ‘new kid.’
        .
        Meanwhile it looks like the Europeans are working effectively on Ukraine, with these issues being connected as I see it, Ukraine and Iran, and Syria also. Big US losses coming up. Afghanistan also.

        • wayoutwest says:

          I agree that the spin and rhetoric of the Iran Nuke crisis, as being immediate, was overblown BS. Iran had no active program to build the Bomb but they had decades of research and development and are certainly capable of building many Bombs if they desire. The limiting factor is fuel and the ability to make it which the agreement is actually about.

          Iran needs Western finance and trade much more than the Bomb so they will submit to this game but they haven’t given up their capability to build Nuke weapons only high level enrichment for the next ten years.

          • Don Bacon says:

            I’m not aware of any evidence that Iran is capable of building a bomb.
            .
            There is insufficient appreciation of the nuclear weaponization process. Many observers incorrectly jump quickly from highly enriched uranium gas (HEU) to a nuclear weapon. The situation is further confused by labeling the achievement of HEU as “breakout”, incorrectly implying that a nuclear weapon somehow pops out of gas centrifuges.
            .
            A nuclear weapon cannot be made of gas. The gas must be converted to metal, a difficult and very dangerous process because of the high potential for a critical accident (like a nuclear reactor without shielding) that would kill anyone in the room or nearby.
            .
            Then an implosion warhead would have to be constructed. Warheads are complicated little machines. The entire detonation process happens within a tiny fraction of a second so the hard part is constructing a warhead with reliable separation capabilities throughout the various stages. Testing is mandatory to make sure the thing works.

  10. wayoutwest says:

    I don’t think I’ve read anyone state that a Bomb is made with ‘gas’ or that anything in this process ‘pops out’ of anything else. Your use of technical terms such as ‘pops out’ and your assumption that the mechanics or the physics of building a Bomb are beyond the Iranian’s technical abilities makes me wonder about your technical knowledge and it certainly is a claim that Iran is a scientifically backward country. If Pakistan and NK can build Nuke weapons and apparently miniaturized missile sized weapons the Iranians can too.

    The end product of the industrial enrichment process is solid enriched uranium and Iran already has produced 25% EU, repeat the process a few more times and you have weapons grade ‘solid’ highly enriched Uranium ready to fuel your Gadget.

    • orionATL says:

      your comment @24, focusing on words used, is literal – and dense-minded because of that. that comment, obfuscating and belittling, is clearly intended to obscure the very accurate and sensible observations about iran’s non-existant nuclear weaponry in #23.

      you have given your reputation for thoughtful commentary an unnecessary blow to the head.

      • wayoutwest says:

        ‘Sensible observations’ made about nonexistent ‘many observers’ claiming that a Nuke weapon ‘pops out’ of gas centrifuges is a confused and poorly constructed Straw Man diversion.

        No one has contested the fact that Iran had a Nuke weapon program that ended in 2004 and it actually began under the Shah. They have decided not to produce Nuke weapons but certainly retain the skills, technical and scientific knowledge to produce the mechanical and electronic components of a Modern Bomb.

        The recent agreement with the West does not require them to forget these skills or knowledge only to limit their ability to produce the final component needed for weapons, HEU. The decision to not produce Nukes was a political and economic move not a lack of capability to produce all of the components needed for Nuke weapons including HEU.

        I think the Iranians may have been foolish not to produce a few Nukes because under this agreement the Saudis are moving forward with their Nuke weapons program that will mirror the capabilities of Iran, allowed under this agreement.

        An interesting historical fact is that Iran was the first country to receive a Nuke reactor from Eisenhower’s Atoms For Peace program in the ’50s. The need for nuclear engineers and scientists grew from this gift also the desire to master the nuclear fuel cycle which is necessary for power and weapons production.

  11. orionATL says:

    ‘Sensible observations’ made about nonexistent ‘many observers’ claiming that a Nuke weapon ‘pops out’ of gas centrifuges is a confused and poorly constructed Straw Man diversion.”

    a grotesquely misleading cover comment as dense-minded as your original. no one believes nuclear weapons literally popping out of centrifuges.

    iran’s nuclear capacity at present and in the near future is nil.

    to restart an iranian nuclear weapons program would require resources and activities that would be easily detectable.

    the iranians themselves halted their prior incomplete nuclear weapons program.

    “No one has contested the fact that Iran had a Nuke weapon program that ended in 2004 and it actually began under the Shah. ”

    so what? an irrelevant diversion from your prior dense-minded criticism.

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