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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. Read more

Albright Rushes to CNN With New Satellite Imagery Claims on Parchin After Debunking

Yesterday, in a post titled Rumored Satellite Imagery of Parchin “Clean-Up” Fails to Materialize, Claim Debunked, I pointed out both Gareth Porter’s debunking of the “Parchin is being cleaned up” claim and added further evidence against the claims that Parchin was being cleaned of evidence from work to develop a neutron trigger device.

It appears that David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security was unable to remain silent in the face of my statement that satellite imagery to back up the claims that Parchin is being cleaned has not been produced for inspection. My post went up before 10 am yesterday, and at 6:05 pm, CNN’s Security Clearance blog put up a post with “new” claims from Albright about satellite imagery from Parchin. Albright’s news is that he claims to have identified the building where work on a high-explosives-based trigger for a nuclear weapon is alleged to be taking place.

Albright is now trying to move the story back to trigger device research being high-explosives based, while the AP’s George Jahn’s claims that Porter was debunking relate to a possible neutron trigger. As I pointed out in yesterday’s post, the concept of “cleaning” away evidence from work with a radioactive trigger device is nonsense, as traces of the radioactivity would still be left behind. The Iranians were also quick to point this out, as cited in the post.

CNN’s “scoop” from Albright:

In an exclusive interview with Security Clearance, David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, said commercial satellite imagery shows a building on the sprawling Parchin military complex just south of Tehran that may be the location of a high-explosive test chamber.

 Albright, who is a former U.N. weapons inspector, and his colleague Paul Brannan said in an analysis provided to Security Clearance that the building is notable because it “is located on a relatively small and isolated compound within the Parchin military site and has its own perimeter security wall or fencing.  A berm can be seen between this building and a neighboring building.”

The CNN blog post then goes on to note that although Albright and ISIS have been scouring all the satellite images they can find, they can’t confirm the claims of cleaning activity at Parchin.

Over at Moon of Alabama, b has noted that the IAEA visited Parchin twice in 2005, but CNN cuts that down to one visit: “The IAEA has had only one, limited tour of Parchin. That was in 2005.”

Also, more importantly, CNN is back to ignoring the fact that the high explosives work at Parchin is truly dual use technology. It was also pointed out by b that creation of nanodiamonds is actually the specialty of the expert the Iranians have employed in their high explosives work. CNN allows an unnamed US official to ignore the nanodiamond application and lie outright that the high explosives work can only be weapons-related:

The senior U.S. official also said the evidence is clear from this site that Iran had pursued a weapons program. “There is no other reason to conduct explosion compression in the context of Iran other than nuclear testing. There is only one thing they could be trying to simulate and that is a nuclear explosion,” the official said.

It’s so nice that CNN will allow a “senior U.S. official who would not speak for attribution because of the sensitivity of the information” to promote lies that have already been disproven.

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 : Read more

While Obama Urges Caution, Netanyahu, McConnell, IAEA Fan Anti-Iran Rhetoric, Iran Takes Positive Diplomatic Steps

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UdECxrhmFbc[/youtube]

President Obama and his administration have spent the last week trying to point out the extreme downside to an attack by Israel on Iran’s nuclear sites. Unfortunately, Obama’s words of caution are getting little play while Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made appearances before the war-hungry mob at AIPAC to make the case for an attack now. In the meantime, Iran took positive diplomatic steps that are likely to be overlooked, reversing a death-sentence conviction on an accused US spy and committing to an IAEA visit to the disputed Parchin site.

As seen in the video above, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano made public statements associated with his appearance before the Board of Governors.  From his prepared remarks:

As my report on Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and Relevant Provisions of Security Council Resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran makes clear, the Agency continues to have serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear programme.

In January and February, a senior Agency team held two rounds of talks in Tehran with Iranian officials aimed at resolving all outstanding issues in connection with Iran’s nuclear programme. Despite intensive discussions, there was no agreement on a structured approach to resolving these issues. Iran did not grant access to the Parchin site during the visits, as requested by the Agency. Iran provided an initial declaration on the issues listed in the Annex to my November 2011 report, although it did not address the Agency’s concerns in a substantive manner. During the visits, the Agency also submitted questions on Parchin and the possible role of a foreign expert.

Iran’s Ambassador to the UN agency Ali Asghar Soltanieh dismissed Amano’s report as “only a summary of his earlier report“. Today, Soltanieh announced that Iran remains prepared to define the conditions under which IAEA will be allowed access to Parchin: Read more

Iran Loads Domestically Produced Fuel Plates into Tehran Reactor

In a move that is sure to disappoint war hawks who have been convinced that Iran’s enrichment of uranium to 20% has been to produce material for further enrichment to the 90%+ needed for nuclear weapons, Iran today very publicly had President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad load the first domestically produced nuclear fuel plates (which use 20% enriched uranium) into the Tehran reactor which is used to produce medically useful radioisotopes.  From Mehr News:

The Tehran reactor was loaded with domestically produced nuclear fuel plates during a ceremony held on Wednesday to unveil Iran’s latest nuclear achievements.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, Supreme National Security Council Secretary Saeed Jalili, Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Director Fereydoun Abbasi, presidential aide Mojtaba Hashemi-Samareh, the Chinese and Russian ambassadors to Iran, and a number of other foreign diplomats attended the event.

During the ceremony, a number of domestically produced radioisotopes, which are used for the treatment cancer, were also unveiled.

The same article also noted that Iran has increased its capacity for low-grade enrichment to 3.5%:

On Wednesday, the first cascade of a new generation of centrifuges was also installed at the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility and was brought on line.

With the installation of the new centrifuges, the capacity of the facility for the production of 3.5 percent enriched uranium was increased by 50 percent.

Further frustrating those who want to say Iran is moving rapidly toward construction of a nuclear weapon, Iran also took the next formal steps toward re-establishment of the Group 5 + 1 negotiations on nuclear technology:

Iran’s chief negotiator and Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) Secretary Saeed Jalili sent a reply to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton’s letter about talks between Tehran and the six world powers, and welcomed resumption of negotiations between the two sides.

According to the secretariat of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, in the letter which was delivered to Ashton’s office on Wednesday, Jalili welcomed the readiness of the Group 5+1 (the five permanent UN Security Council members – Russia, China, Britain, France and the US plus Germany) to resume talks with Iran.

The Iranian chief negotiator underlined in his letter that returning to the negotiation table would be the best means to broaden cooperation between the two sides.

Despite the fear-mongering over Iran developing a nuclear weapon, Iran provided its alternate explanation yet again for why it had to produce its own 20% enriched uranium for the Tehran reactor:

After Iran announced to the IAEA that it had run out of nuclear fuel for its research reactor in Tehran, the Agency proposed a deal according to which Iran would send 3.5%-enriched uranium and receive 20-percent-enriched uranium from potential suppliers in return, all through the UN nuclear watchdog agency.

The proposal was first introduced on October 1, 2010, when Iranian representatives and diplomats from the Group 5+1 held high-level talks in Geneva.

But France and the United States, as potential suppliers, stalled the talks soon after the start. They offered a deal which would keep Tehran waiting for months before it could obtain the fuel, a luxury of time that Iran could afford as it was about to run out of 20-percent-enriched uranium.

Stay tuned for further developments to see how Iran’s use of a large portion of its 20% enriched uranium in the Tehran reactor will still result in their being described as on the fast track to a weapon by those who want a war there.

Iran Repeats Claim Research Reactor Fuel Plates Object of Enrichment as IAEA Visit Could Be Extended

It has generally been viewed as a positive development that Iran has agreed to new visits from the IAEA to help ease the tension surrounding its nuclear program. Especially encouraging is a report in the New York Times this morning that Iran has asked the IAEA to extend the current visit that is underway:

Iran’s foreign minister was reported on Monday to have offered to extend a three-day visit to his country by United Nations inspectors in what seemed a further attempt to lower the strident tone of a crisis with the West over Tehran’s nuclear program following the imposition of new economic sanctions.

But the Times moved quickly to caveats on this potential good news. The next paragraph:

But it was not clear whether the offer was part of what European officials have termed efforts by Tehran to buy time while continuing uranium enrichment. Iran says the nuclear program is for peaceful purposes while Western leaders say Tehran is seeking to build nuclear weapons.

One key development the Times misses in this coverage is an announcement relating to the use of the uranium enriched to 20%, which has been at the heart of the current disagreements. Fars News reports today that Iran is putting the finishing touches on nuclear fuel plates for a research reactor that produces medical isotopes. Iran has claimed all along that the 20% enriched uranium was needed to produce new fuel plates for this reactor. Fabrication and installation of these plates would preclude the uranium in those plates being further enriched to weapons grade. From Fars News:

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi stressed the country’s ability to convert enriched uranium into fuel plates to supply fuel for the Tehran research reactor, saying the first consignment of 20-percent enriched fuel for the reactor will be ready in the coming months. Read more

Explosion Reported Near Iranian Uranium Processing Facility

Iranian nuclear facilities (Wkimedia Commons map)

According to Haaertz, the Iranian Fars News Agency is reporting (although I don’t see a story yet at their website or at Mehr News) an explosion in Isfahan, where an Iranian uranium processing facility is located:

A explosion rocked the western Iranian city of Isfahan on Monday, the semi-official Fars news agency reported, adding that the blast was heard in several parts of the city.

/snip/

It should be noted that Iran operates a uranium conversion plant near Isfahan, one with an important function in the chain of Iran’s nuclear program.

It first went into operation in 2004, taking uranium from mines and producing uranium fluoride gas, which then feeds the centrifuges that enrich the uranium.

The underground centrifuge facility at nearby Natanz was previously attacked by the Stuxnet virus and is seen as perhaps the most important Iranian enrichment facility.

When today’s explosion and the recent death of Hassan Moqaddam, the head of Iran’s missile program, in an explosion of dubious origin while hawks nattered on about the IAEA Iran report, are coupled with the Stuxnet attack, it appears that the Iranian nuclear program is being attacked simultaneously at all points along the path that could lead to a weapon on a missile.

Was today’s explosion an escalation of that battle?

IAEA Iran Report Fallout Continues: France Leads Militancy, MEK Rumors, Iran Reconsiders Cooperation

Reaction to the leaked IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear technology continues.  In a remarkable article in the New York Times that reads more like an Op-Ed (h/t MadDog), we see the writer urging the US to join the more militant posturing coming from . . .France. [It appears that the world has now completely inverted from the days of Freedom Fries in 2003.]  In addition, the New York Times has joined in repeating the whispers that some sort of Mossad-MEK operation was involved in the blast in Iran that killed the head of their missile development program. Also, Iran is discussing changing the extent to which it cooperates with the IAEA. International intrigue surrounding Iran also is enhanced with conflicting reports on the cause of death of Ahmed Rezaei in Dubai. Rezaei is the son of  Mohsen Rezaei, who previously served as head of the Revolutionary Guards, ran for President of Iran and now heads the Expediency Council.  Dubai has termed the death a suicide but most Iranian sources are labeling it suspicious.

The Op-Ed piece in the New York Times masquerading as a news article is penned by John Vinocur who is based in Paris for the Times’ sister publication the International Herald Tribune.  Vinocur opens with a slap at US leadership:

If the Obama administration wants to lead from behind in imposing sanctions to halt Iran’s nuclear weapon drive, it shouldn’t look for France to play the convenient associate.

That’s not the way the French would describe their role in the world. Rather, the fact is that France, in many respects, led the United States into battle in Libya and provided much of the willpower leading to a victory over the Qaddafi regime that is shared by the Americans, British and others.

Vinocur then misrepresents the findings of the IAEA report, stating flatly that “the Iranians now have enough fuel on hand to produce four nuclear weapons”, leaving out the key piece of information that this fuel has not yet been enriched to weapons grade and that there is no evidence or even any suggestion that Iran is engaging in enrichment to weapons grade. Read more

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.” Read more

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.