An excellent article by Nima Shirazi that touches on the propaganda drive to sabotage talks with Iran and accelerate the possibility of aggression by any means necessary: lies, half-truths, Islamophobia, etc.
Oren Dorell has proven that he is a mendacious, untrustworthy reporter who not only cannot be trusted but is a pro-Israel/Zionist propagandist.
by Nima Shirazi (Muftah)
Nothing doth more hurt in a state than
That cunning men pass for wise.
– Francis Bacon
Whenever tensions over Iran’s nuclear energy program appear to dissipate and rational, fact-based reporting begins to replace agenda-driven rhetoric in the press, the folks over at the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), a Washington D.C. think tank that specializes in producing highly speculative assessments of the nuclear capabilities of countries loathed by the U.S. government, release a new study full of hypotheticals, allegations, and innuendo intended to restore alarmism to front pages and TelePrompTers.
Critical to the success of ISIS’s efforts and the endless self-promotion of its president, David Albright, are the dutiful stenographers in the media who eagerly promote to large audiences their claims as unchallenged fact, without even a shred of skepticism or hint of journalistic integrity.
On October 24, USA Today published a story that not only reached new lows of shameless alarmism over Iran’s nuclear program, but also contained myriad factual errors about the program itself and Iran’s relationship with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the organization which monitors the nuclear programs of nations around the world. Oren Dorell, the reporter who filed the story, along with his editors, bear significant responsibility for the spreading of disinformation, especially after a number of their mistakes were pointed out to them.
The Institute for Speculation and Iran Scaremongering
Under a hysterical headline – “Iran may be a month from a bomb” – Dorell posted what is effectively a press release for a new ISIS report. In his article, Dorell not only presents ISIS head David Albright, a former IAEA inspector, as an unimpeachable expert source and uncritically regurgitates his claims about the potential timeline for Iran achieving nuclear breakout capacity, but also deliberately omits vitally important information which might undermine the ultimate goal of fear-mongering about Iran.
Dorell writes that “Iran could produce enough weapons-grade uranium to build a nuclear bomb in as little as a month,” and quotes from the ISIS report: “Shortening breakout times have implications for any negotiation with Iran. An essential finding is that they are currently too short and shortening further.”
What Dorell leaves out is the fact that Iran has never and is not currently enriching any of its uranium stockpile to levels required for use in a nuclear weapon. Iranian officials, including its most senior leadership, have consistently and explicitly condemned ”the production, stockpiling, and use of nuclear weapons” for decades and routinely disavow any intention to ever do so.
Beyond this, despite the constantly repeated canard that “time is running out” to prevent Iran from acquiring the requisite matériel needed to build a single atomic bomb (with which Iran, presumably, would magically be able to conduct a nuclear test, existentially obliterate Israel, establish uncontested hegemony over the Middle East, threaten the United States, and deter any military attacks from foreign armies), all American and international intelligence assessments consistently affirm that Iran has no nuclear weapons program and that the Iranian leadership has not made any decision to actively pursue a nuclear bomb.
U.S. Director of National Intelligence has repeatedly noted that, even were this decision to be made sometime in the future, “Iran could not divert safeguarded material and produce a weapon-worth of WGU [weapons-grade uranium] before this activity is discovered.”
As such, the speculative timeline crafted by ISIS for an Iranian breakout is just that: speculative. It is a hypothetical exercise conducted with the explicit use of unverified variables, making it no more credible or realistic than an academic thought experiment based upon manufactured circumstances.
In fact, the ISIS study makes this clear, explaining that “the estimates in this report do not include the additional time that Iran would need to convert WGU into weapons components and manufacture a nuclear weapon. This extra time could be substantial, particularly if Iran wanted to build a reliable warhead for a ballistic missile. However, these preparations would most likely be conducted at secret sites and would be difficult to detect.”
Indeed, the ISIS report is so reliant on fantasy for its alarming conclusions that it outlines a scenario in which Iran is operating “a covert centrifuge plant of advanced centrifuges.” With such a factor considered, it is surprising Albright and his staff didn’t simply decide that Iran could have enough WGU by tea time tomorrow, or yesterday’s break of dawn. Or three months ago. Or five days from now. Why rely on evidence for your analysis when inventing clandestine facilities that don’t exist is taken just as seriously?
The USA Today headline blaring a warning that Iran may only be a mere four weeks away from “a bomb” is thus wholly untrue, even by the absurd standards of both the ISIS report and the text of Dorell’s own article.
A History of Nonsense
David Albright has the dubious distinction of being a favorite of neoconservative crusaders both in government and the media and frequent guest at Capitol Hill hearings whenever Congress members need to ramp up hawkish sentiment and advocate for levying more illegal sanctions on Iran. His analysis also played an important role – and the imprimatur of disinterested expertise – in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq.
Citing a study of satellite imagery of an Iraqi facility in September 2002, Albright claimed that “the international community cannot exclude the possibility that Iraq is secretly producing a stockpile of uranium in violation of its commitments under Security Council resolutions” and that this “uranium could be used in a clandestine nuclear weapons effort.” Still, at the time, Albright acknowledged that “Iraq is not believed to have nuclear weapons now.”
In October of that year, Albright wondered out loud on CNN, “In terms of the chemical and biological weapons, Iraq has those now. How many, how could they deliver them? I mean, these are the big questions.”
ISIS’s David Albright
After the invasion, on April 20, 2003, Albright told the Los Angeles Times, “If there are no weapons of mass destruction, I’ll be mad as hell. I certainly accepted the administration claims on chemical and biological weapons. I figured they were telling the truth. If there is no [unconventional weapons program], I will feel taken, because they asserted these things with such assurance.”
Since then, Albright has set his sights on Iran.
In an August 2005 paper published by National Defense University, Albright wrote, “The next several months may well decide whether Iran will develop a capability to make nuclear weapons,” yet concluded that “Iran does not appear to have nuclear weapons and seems unlikely to be able to make them for at least several years.”
On January 12, 2006, he co-authored a report that issued this “worst case” scenario: “Given another year to make enough HEU for a nuclear weapon and a few more months to convert the uranium into weapon components, Iran could have its first nuclear weapon in 2009. By this time, Iran is assessed to have had sufficient time to prepare the other components of a nuclear weapon, although the weapon may not be deliverable by a ballistic missile.”
On April 7, 2007, ABC News cited Albright as claiming that, due to Iran’s advancing uranium enrichment program, “you’re looking at them having, potentially having enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon in 2009,” adding, “I think we have all been caught off guard.”
The following February, ISIS released a report, which asserted that Iran had tested a new, and more efficient, centrifuge design to enrich uranium. If 1,200 new centrifuges were operational, the report suggested, Iran could produce enough weapons-grade uranium for a bomb in one year.
On September 22, 2008, Associated Press reporter George Jahn – a well-known cipher for alarmist reports about Iran – quoted Albright as claiming that Iran “can be expected to reach [nuclear weapons capability] in six months to two years” and that “[a]dditional work – making a crude bomb to contain the uranium – would take no more than a ‘several months.’”
On December 2, 2008, an ISIS report co-written by David Albright concluded that “Iran is moving steadily toward [nuclear] capability and is expected to reach that milestone during 2009 under a wide variety of scenarios.”
By the time January 2011 rolled around, Albright was still saying that “his own analysis still indicated Iran’s nuclear research could reach a breakout point for bomb building in a year or two,” and was incredulous at estimates that a hypothetical Iranian breakout capability wouldn’t be realistic until 2015 at the earliest. Soon thereafter, he maintained, “There are several scenarios under which Iran could still manage to build a nuclear weapon before 2015, he said; it merely appears less likely now,” and claimed, “Iran could make enough for a bomb in little more than six months using 1,000 advanced centrifuges if it decided to divert its stock of U.N. safeguarded low enriched uranium in a dash for a weapon.”
In July 2011, Albright stated that were Iran to “reach a so-called ‘break out’ capability,” it would be able to “make enough weapon-grade uranium for a nuclear weapon in a few months.” A couple of months later, in September 2011, he was quoted saying, “We believe if Iran broke out now they could have a bomb in six months,” adding, “They’ve done this right in front of our faces.”
Not only have Albright’s hypothetical assessments continued in the years since, they have taken a decisively aggressive turn. In 2012, Albright repeatedly assessed that “Iran is already capable of making weapon-grade uranium and a crude nuclear explosive device,” and suggested Iran could have a nuclear weapon by 2015.
The concept that Iran may not have any intention to actually acquire a nuclear bomb is never even entertained by Albright. “Without past negotiated outcomes, international pressure, sanctions, and intelligence operations, Iran would likely have nuclear weapons by now,” he insists.
In January 2013, Albright collaborated with numerous pro-interventionist hawks on a report that claimed, “Based on the current trajectory of Iran’s nuclear program, we estimate that Iran could reach critical capability in mid-2014,” and called for the implementation of a total international embargo against Iran. He and his co-authors also wrote, “The president should explicitly declare that he will use military force to destroy Iran’s nuclear program if Iran takes additional decisive steps toward producing a bomb.”
Considering Iran hasn’t actually taken any such steps, let alone “decisive” ones, it is clear Albright has dropped the pretense of technical objectivity and fully embraced his role as a willing partner with those advocating military action against Iran. His role in promoting myriad fabrications and absurdities as evidence of Iranian intentions to build a nuclear bomb – from a computer rendering of a supposed detonation chamber to a mathematically-incorrect hand-drawn graph to a purchase order for ring magnets to the presence of bulldozers and a bright pink tarpaulin at a military complex – reveals a distinct disregard for critical thinking and factual analysis and a demonstrated obsession with demonizing Iran.
In March 2013, he and his co-authors, many of whom are ideologically disposed to support Israel’s Likud party line, channeled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, writing in the Wall Street Journal that Iran “will by mid-2014 be able to dash to fissile material in one to two weeks,” possibly even sooner. This past July, Albright published yet another analysis of Iran’s nuclear program that suggested Iran would achieve a “critical capability” to produce enough WGU for a nuclear bomb by mid-2014.
That Albright is still considered to be an expert worth listening to is evidence of just how shamefully irresponsible, distorted, and opportunistic the mainstream reporting on Iran really is. Then again, that Dorell would present Albright’s analysis as noteworthy and newsworthy is no surprise considering Dorell himself has a history of promoting dubious claims made by agenda-driven commentators, from the right-wing, Israel-focused media watchdog MEMRI to anti-Muslim hate group leader Robert Spencer.
Dorell has also dismissed any scrutiny or criticism of Israel’s own nuclear arsenal of hundreds of atomic warheads. His justification for Israel’s refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or endorse a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone in the Middle East? “Israel is [the] only M[iddle] E[astern] country whose neighbors tried to destroy [it] mult[iple] times,” he declared in a tweet.
In addition to using David Albright’s alarmist analysis as the crux of his latest scoop, USA Today‘s Oren Dorell also published a number of erroneous statements about Iran’s nuclear program which reveal either a deliberate obfuscation of facts or surprising level of ignorance on the subject for a “foreign affairs and breaking news reporter” of a major mainstream news source.
Even ignoring Dorell’s reliance on a distinctly Albrightian view of Iran and the implication throughout that Iran has undeniably nefarious ambitions, the article he wrote is replete with factual errors. After wrote that “Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has said his country has no interest in nuclear weapons but that producing nuclear fuel is Iran’s right,” Dorell noted:
A few things are wrong with this. First is the implication – a near-constant device used in mainstream reporting on Iran – that Iran’s right to enrich uranium is something merely asserted by Iranian leaders and, therefore, subject to dismissal as politicized, disingenuous, or irrelevant. Yet this right is a matter of international law, not Iranian imagination, as affirmed in Article 4 of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which acknowledges “the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination.”
As Fred Kaplan recently wrote in Slate, “So, when the Iranians insist on their ‘right’ to enrich uranium for peaceful nuclear energy, they aren’t asserting some self-contrived privilege; they are quoting the NPT.”
But that’s not all. Dorell’s claims that “Iran has refused to let inspectors into its nuclear facilities” is – to be perfectly clear – a flat-out lie.
As I have often pointed out in my own writing, Iran has never refused IAEA inspectors admission to any of its safeguarded nuclear sites. All sites and facilities are under video surveillance, readily accessible to IAEA inspectors, open to routine inspection, and subject to material seals application by the agency.
In addition to the two regular inspections all of Iran’s enrichment facilities are subject to each and every month, “two unannounced inspections are conducted every month at Fordow and at the pilot enrichment plant at Natanz, where up to 20% enrichment also takes place. Any attempt to further enrich uranium to weapons grade at these facilities would be detected,” according to the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), which has its own history of promoting alarmist perspectives on Iran’s nuclear infrastructure and intentions.
Nuclear expert Mark Hibbs has explained,”There are IAEA safeguards personnel in Iran 24/7/365,” pointing out that inspectors enter and examine enrichment sites “frequently and routinely,” where they carry out “two kinds of inspections: ‘announced inspections’ and ‘short-notice announced inspections.’” The “announced inspections” are conducted with “24-hour notification” given to Iran, while “Iran’s subsidiary arrangements in fact permit the IAEA to conduct a short-notice inspection upon two hours’ notice.”
Iran’s is the most heavily-scrutinized nuclear program on the planet and has been for years. Former Iranian nuclear negotiator Seyed Hossein Mousavian, now a lecturer at Princeton University, has noted, “Since 2003, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has implemented the most robust inspections in its history with more than 100 unannounced and over 4000 man-day inspections in Iran.” And in 2012 alone, IAEA investigators spent 1,356 calendar days in Iran, conducting 215 on-site inspections of the country’s 16 declared nuclear facilities, and spending more than 12% of the agency’s entire $127.8 million budget on intrusively monitoring the Iranian program, which fields only a single functional nuclear reactor that doesn’t even operate at full capacity.
IAEA inspectors have also had consistently open access to the gas conversion facility at Esfahan and the lightwater reactor at Bushehr, despite these facilities not being explicitly covered by Iran’s Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA.
The agency has continued to verify – four times a year for the past decade – that Iran has never diverted any nuclear material for military purposes and has also affirmed “it has all the means it needs to make sure that does not happen with Iran’s enriched uranium, including cameras, physical inspections and seals on certain materials and components.”
When his baseless claim was countered on Twitter (by me), Dorell responded first by insisting on the accuracy of his statement:
Upon following the links provided by Dorell in his Tweet to support his claim, however, it becomes clear that Dorell – again, someone who gets paid money to professionally report on these matters for an international media outlet – doesn’t know the difference between a safeguarded nuclear site and a non-nuclear military installation that falls outside the legal purview of the IAEA.
Dorell, in his allegation that Iran has blocked inspectors access to “its nuclear facilities,” is actually referring to a single non-nuclear site, the sprawling military complex at Parchin, and omits critical context from his report, probably because he is unaware of this information.
There is currently a technical dispute over obtaining IAEA access to the Iranian site, which – again – is not a nuclear facility and not legally subject to IAEA safeguards and inspections, despite Dorell’s claim that access to such a site is “required under international agreements” signed by Iran.
In fact, Iran has voluntarily granted IAEA inspectors access to Parchin; it did so twice in 2005. After IAEA inspectors returned from two rounds of visits to Parchin, they revealed they “did not observe any unusual activities in the buildings visited, and the results of the analysis of environmental samples did not indicate the presence of nuclear material at those locations.”
Despite his Twitter protestations, Dorell nevertheless changed the wording in his already published USA Today report – though he did so without adding any official clarification or correction to his original post. The paragraph in question now reads:
Replacing “its” with “some suspected” hardly makes Dorell’s claim any more accurate. He is still stating that multiple (he writes “some,” as in, more than one) Iranian “nuclear” sites are “suspected” of something; this is wrong, only access to the non-nuclear Parchin is being requested by the IAEA. Furthermore, Iran is not blocking inspectors, as the IAEA has no legal right to enter that site to begin with and Iran is certainly not “required” to grant access under any current agreement.
And, to repeat, the peaceful, purely civilian nature of every single safeguarded nuclear facility is consistently reaffirmed every three months by the IAEA. Any demands made by the IAEA that go beyond the safeguards agreement signed between the agency and Iran explicitly exceed the IAEA’s sole and exclusive legal mandate to verify “source or special fissile material… is not diverted to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.”
While Dorell might not be thrilled with this state of affairs, that does not change the fact that his statement is inaccurate and irresponsible, designed as it is to deliberately portray Iran as intransigent and secretive, duplicitous and sinister.
Iran’s Understandable Skepticism
Furthermore, Iran has very compelling reasons to be wary of opening its non-safeguarded, military sites to international inspection and for insisting strict conditions are agreed upon in advance of any IAEA visit to Parchin. Iran is well aware it is arguably the world’s most spied upon nation; in March 2013 alone, the United States surveillance dragnet gathered more than 14 billion pieces of intelligence from Iranian computer networks. American spy drones routinely invade Iranian airspace and covert operations have been conducted on the ground in Iran for years.
There is also historical precedent for Iranian skepticism of international intentions. Back in 1999, journalist Barton Gellman reported in the Washington Post that “United States intelligence services infiltrated agents and espionage equipment for three years into United Nations arms control teams in Iraq to eavesdrop on the Iraqi military without the knowledge of the U.N. agency that it used to disguise its work, according to U.S. government employees and documents describing the classified operation.”
Facts, Fury, Fabrications and Forgeries
Regarding the current accusations centered around an alleged detonation chamber located at the site (a charge made in documents provided to the IAEA by Israel), nuclear expert and former IAEA inspector Robert Kelley has explained, “The IAEA is stretching its mandate to the limit in asking for access to a military site based on tenuous evidence.” Earlier this year, he told Bloomberg News, “The IAEA’s authority is supposed to derive from its ability to independently analyze information. At Parchin, they appear to be merely echoing the intelligence and analysis of a few member states.”
For Dorell, facts are irrelevant. He writes:
This is literally untrue. Not only has the IAEA (which is an autonomous organization and not, as Dorell writes, synonymous with the UN) never “found” any “evidence of a weapons program,” but Iran has never been found to have breached its NPT obligations as such a violation could only occur if Iran began “to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons.”
The IAEA itself has repeated affirmed that there is “no evidence” that Iran’s “nuclear material and activities” are in any way “related to a nuclear weapons programme.” In 2004, after Iran voluntarily implemented the intrusive Additional Protocol to its safeguards agreement, the IAEA concluded that “all the declared nuclear material in Iran has been accounted for, and therefore such material is not diverted to prohibited activities.”
When allegations such as Dorell’s have surfaced in the past, the IAEA itself has spoken out. “With respect to a recent media report,” stated a press release in 2009, “the IAEA reiterates that it has no concrete proof that there is or has been a nuclear weapon programme in Iran.”
Hans Blix, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who has headed both the IAEA and the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, noted this past March, “Iran has not violated NPT and there is no evidence right now that suggests that Iran is producing nuclear weapons.”
When asked (again, by me) about this clear inaccuracy in his reporting, Dorell pointed to the IAEA’s November 2011 report on Iran’s nuclear program as support for his claim. The report, often and erroneously exploited by anti-Iran hawks as detailing proof of a clandestine weapon program, does nothing of the sort.
After the report itself was leaked to the press and public (by David Albright, no less), it became clear that the hysterical reactions in obvious circles was little more than overblown hype. “There is something a little phoney about all the sound and fury,” wrote The Guardian‘s Julian Borger. “There is nothing in the report that was not previously known by the major powers.”
“The West and Israel supplied most of the original tip-offs for the annex on weapons development,” he added. The information detailed in the IAEA report is primarily based on suspected forgeries and fabrications passed along to the agency by the United States in 2005 and by Israel in 2009. The documents have never been made fully available to either the IAEA or Iran for verification or refutation.
In early 2007, an unnamed senior official at the IAEA revealed to the Los Angeles Times, “Since 2002, pretty much all the intelligence that’s come to us [from the United States about the Iranian nuclear program] has proved to be wrong” and has never led to significant discoveries inside Iran.
“They gave us a paper with a list of sites. [The inspectors] did some follow-up, they went to some military sites, but there was no sign of [banned nuclear] activities,” the official told The Guardian. Additionally, the LA Times noted that “U.S. officials privately acknowledge that much of their evidence on Iran’s nuclear plans and programs remains ambiguous, fragmented and difficult to prove.”
When asked about the claims made by material in 2009, IAEA Director General Mohammad ElBaradei said, “The IAEA is not making any judgment at all whether Iran even had weaponisation studies before because there is a major question of authenticity of the documents.”
After leaving the agency, ElBaradei lamented in his 2011 memoir the “willingness, on the part of Israel and the West, to treat allegations as fact,” and admitted that the IAEA “did not have the tools or expertise, however, to verify the authenticity of documents.” He added that, with regard to Israeli claims, the IAEA’s “technical experts, however, raised numerous questions about the document’s authenticity” and noted that “[t]he accuracy of these [Israeli] accusations has never been verified; however, it is significant that the conclusions of the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate were not changed, indicating that they, at least, did not buy the ‘evidence’ put forward by Israel.”
In a 2011 interview, ElBaradei told The New Yorker, “During my time at the agency we haven’t seen a shred of evidence that Iran has been weaponizing, in terms of building nuclear-weapons facilities and using enriched materials,” before adding, “I don’t believe Iran is a clear and present danger. All I see is the hype about the threat posed by Iran.
Scott Peterson of the Christian Science Monitor explained that “much of the information” about alleged Iranian research, which was included in the November 2011 IAEA report by ElBaradei’s malleable successor Yuikiya Amano, “is years old, inconclusive – and perhaps not entirely real,” and quoted Shannon Kile, head of the Nuclear Weapons Project at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), as saying that “there is no evidence they have a dedicated program under way” to develop a nuclear bomb.
“There is nothing to tell that those documents are real,” said SIPRI’s Robert Kelley, a former IAEA inspector who has personally reviewed the material in question. He called the allegations laid out in the IAEA report “unprofessional,” the result of “amateur analysis.”
Greg Thielmann and Benjamin Loehrke acknowledged in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists that “has been no smoking gun when it comes to Iran’s nuclear weapons intentions,” with Thielmann, who is a former State Department and Senate Intelligence Committee analyst, noting further that “there is nothing [in the report] that indicates that Iran is really building a bomb.” He added, “Those who want to drum up support for a bombing attack on Iran sort of aggressively misrepresented the report.”
Former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has also maintained that “there isn’t any concrete evidence, any smoking gun” that Iran has a nuclear weapons program or intends to develop an atomic bomb.
When asked specifically about the November 2011 IAEA report (the same one referenced specifically by Dorell as vindication for his false claim), a spokesman for the Obama White House stated, “The IAEA does not assert that Iran has resumed a full scale nuclear weapons program.”