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The Upside of Evidence-Free Nuke Accusations Against Iran? We Can Declare Victory!

One would think that, within a month of the US finally withdrawing its troops (leaving behind a vast mercenary force) from the nearly nine year nightmare in Iraq that was launched on the basis of evidence-free accusations, and only days after President Obama signed into permanency his ability to detain citizens forever without providing a shred of evidence, the Washington Post would refrain from giving Joby Warrick a chance to yammer again from the basis of unsupportable allegations that Iran is actively pursuing nuclear weapons. But this is the Post we’re talking about, and the same bill that gave Obama indefinite detention powers also tightened the screws on Iran, so it was necessary to bring Warrick out to put forth the latest transcribed version of US spin.

Warrick’s piece, at the time of this writing, is occupying the most prominent position on the home page of the Post’s website, where it has the teaser headline “Iran fears worst as West steps up pressure”. Clicking through to the article gives the headline “As currency crisis and feud with West deepen, Iranians brace for war”. The overall spin that the US is projecting through this transcription is that both the Iranian government and Iranian citizens are feeling the almighty power of the US sanctions and that they are in a state of depressed resignation to the inevitability of war, while the US government is seeing that its brilliant moves are paying off and we just might not need to proceed to the point of an overt attack. I guess that is the upside of moving forward with public sanctions (and covert actions that already constitute a full-on war) based on manufactured evidence: it is also possible to manufacture evidence that allows us to declare victory and (hopefully) move on.

There is, of course, a flip side to that same argument. As commenter Dan succinctly put it in my post from yesterday where we were discussing the risk of all-out war stemming from the US sanctions:

All this risk to punish a country for something no one has proven it has done.

With that as background, here is how the Post article opens:

TEHRAN — At a time when U.S. officials are increasingly confident that economic and political pressure alone may succeed in curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the mood here has turned bleak and belligerent as Iranians prepare grimly for a period of prolonged hardship and, they fear, war.

A bit further along, we get the US gloating on its “successful” approach:

The sense of impending confrontation is not shared in Washington and other Western capitals, where government officials and analysts expressed cautious satisfaction that their policies are working. Read more

Iranian Navy Plans Wargames for Saturday: Will the Filipino Monkey Show Up?

In January of 2008, at a time very similar to now (just under a year out from Presidential elections and with anti-Iran propaganda at a fever pitch in the US media), the Bush administration embarrassed itself mightily in its response to an encounter in the Persian Gulf. As US warships were being approached by five small Iranian craft, a voice came over the airwaves stating “I am coming to you”. A bit later it added “You will explode after a few minutes”. The US quickly claimed this was a threat from the Iranian vessels, but after cooler heads prevailed (and after Iran supplied additional video and audio from the encounter), it was realized that the voice did not match those of the Iranians in the encounter and that the behavior matched that of the legendary radio prankster, the Filipino Monkey.

We learn today from Fars News that Iran plans very large naval wargame exercises on Saturday, in both the Sea of Oman and the Indian Ocean:

Iranian Navy Commander Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari said at a press conference on Thursday that the naval maneuvers dubbed Velayat 90 will start on Saturday and will cover an area stretching from the east of the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Aden.

According to Sayyari, this is the first time that Iran’s Navy carries out naval drills in such a vast area.

He added the exercises will manifest Iran’s military prowess and defense capabilities in the international waters, convey a message of peace and friendship to regional countries, and test the newest military equipment among other objectives of the drills.

It would have been nice if we had seen all of the objectives in the drills rather than a partial list, but it is quite interesting to see the list of weapons systems and equipment that will be involved:

Rear Admiral Sayyari said that the newest missile systems and torpedoes will be employed in the maneuvers, adding that the most recent tactics used in subsurface battles will also be demonstrated in the maneuvers.

He also said that Iranian destroyers, missile-launching vessels, logistic vessels, drones and coastal missiles will also be tested.

With all those torpedoes, missiles and drones running around, what could possibly go wrong? Given the level of posturing by both the US and Iran lately over nuclear technology, assassination plots, spies and drones, these naval wargames seem particularly ripe for generating the type of “misunderstanding” that can quickly escalate to outright hostilities. Throw in the wildcard of spurious, but well-timed, radio provocation, and the Filipino Monkey could move from comedy to tragedy in the blink of an eye.

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.

Did the US Authorize Albright and Sanger to Publish the IAEA Iran Report?

Partial screengrab from ISIS website showing link for IAEA Iran report.

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? Read more

The Declining Credibility of the IAEA

Yesterday, I pointed out that the IAEA is preparing to release a report on potential development of nuclear weapons in Iran almost exactly two years after the departure of Mohamed ElBaradei as its leader.  As discussed in that post, one of the key pieces of evidence that is anticipated to be discussed in the report is a large steel container in which explosions are carried out.  The claim will be that this chamber is being used to test the use of conventional explosives as a trigger device for a nuclear weapon.

Even before the official report comes out, there are now serious questions about the credibility of the claims on the steel tank.  In a post yesterday at Moon of Alabama, b informs us that there is a likely very different use of the conventional explosive technology and the steel chamber where the explosions are carried out.  A key to unraveling this mystery was an examination of the area of expertise for the Russian scientist cited as the source of the explosive technology in the Washington Post’s “scoop” of the expected content of the IAEA report.  From the Moon of Alabama post:

Dr. Vyacheslav Danilenko is a well known Ukrainian (“former Soviet”) scientist. But his specialties are not “weapon” or “nuclear” science, indeed there seems to be nothing to support that claim, but the production of nanodiamonds via detonations (ppt). According to the history of detonation nanodiamonds he describes in chapter 10 of Ultrananocrystalline Diamond – Synthesis, Properties, and Applications (pdf) he has worked in that field since 1962, invented new methods used in the process and is related with Alit, an Ukrainian company that produces nanodiamonds.

/snip/

Some years ago Iran launched a big Nano Technology Initiative which includes Iranian research on detonation nanodiamonds (pdf). Iran is officially planing to produce them on industrial scale. It holds regular international conferences and invites experts on nanotechnology from all over the world. It is quite likely that famous international scientists in that field, like Dr. Danilenko, have been invited, gave talks in Iran and cooperate with its scientists.

Producing nanodiamonds via detonations uses large confined containers with water cooling, for which Danilenko seems to have a patent. The Ukrainian company he works with, Alit, shows such a detonation chamber on its webpage as does the picture above from the French-German nano-research company ISL. The detonation nanodiamond explanation thereby also fits with another allegation from the IAEA report:

So it turns out that the most likely use of the “bus-sized steel container” is the production of nanodiamonds.  As b points out in an update, that explanation now has reached the Guardian (though without citing Moon of Alabama, I would note): Read more

Two Years After ElBaradei’s Departure, IAEA Joins Anti-Iran Drumbeat

Mohamed ElBaradei (Wikimedia Commons photo)

As I noted on Thursday, the “sport” of predicting when Israel will attack Iran has now moved from the progressive blogosphere to many conventional news outlets.  This week will see a major escalation in the anti-Iran rhetoric after the release of a much-anticipated report on Iran from the International Atomic Energy Agency.  Many news outlets already are saying this report will be damning for Iran.  Today, the Washington Post devotes front-page prominence to its “scoop” of details expected to be contained in the report. The title for the article, which seems meant to be read with breathless fear, is “IAEA says foreign expertise has brought Iran to threshold of nuclear capability”.

Here is the how the Post article opens:

Intelligence provided to U.N. nuclear officials shows that Iran’s government has mastered the critical steps needed to build a nuclear weapon, receiving assistance from foreign scientists to overcome key technical hurdles, according to Western diplomats and nuclear experts briefed on the findings.

So, outsiders have provided assistance to Iran so that they have “mastered key steps needed to build a nuclear weapon”.  But, if we dig a bit deeper in the article, we have a little more detail on just what these “key steps” are.  The Post seems to be relying almost exclusively on information provided by David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security, a non-partisan organization concentrating on nonproliferation:

Albright said IAEA officials, based on the totality of the evidence given to them, have concluded that Iran “has sufficient information to design and produce a workable implosion nuclear device” using highly enriched uranium as its fissile core. In the presentation, he described intelligence that points to a formalized and rigorous process for gaining all the necessary skills for weapons-building, using native talent as well as a generous helping of foreign expertise.

It would appear that the latest basis for war will be the conclusion that Iran has developed technology for a nuclear trigger. Read more