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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Iran's nuclear threat... a lie?

I try to minimize the number of people I follow on Twitter because the volume of tweets becomes excessive. In general, I follow people whom I have used as sources in the past and who have many more followers than people they are following. One of the people I follow is a young blogger named Saeed from Iran who writes a blog called Revolutionary Road. I've been following Saeed since the first days of the post-election violence in Iran in June.

This morning, he disappoints.

Saeed runs without comment an article by John Pilger, a British 'investigative journalist,' who claims that Iran's nuclear threat is a lie. In the article, Pilger also attacks Israel, in case you have any doubts as to why the article was written:
On 16 September, Newsweek disclosed that the major US intelligence agencies had reported to the White House that Iran's "nuclear status" had not changed since the National Intelligence Estimate of November 2007, which stated with "high confidence" that Iran had halted in 2003 the programme it was alleged to have developed. The International Atomic Energy Agency has backed this, time and again.

The current propaganda derives from Obama's announcement that the US is scrapping missiles stationed on Russia's border. This serves to cover the fact that the number of US missile sites is actually expanding in Europe and the "redundant" missiles are being redeployed on ships. The game is to mollify Russia into joining, or not obstructing, the US campaign against Iran. "President Bush was right," said Obama, "that Iran's ballistic missile programme poses a significant threat [to Europe and the US]." That Iran would contemplate a suicidal attack on the US is preposterous. The threat, as ever, is one-way, with the world's superpower virtually ensconced on Iran's borders.

Iran's crime is its independence. Having thrown out America's favourite tyrant, Shah Reza Pahlavi, Iran remains the only resource-rich Muslim state beyond US control. As only Israel has a "right to exist" in the Middle East, the US goal is to cripple the Islamic Republic. This will allow Israel to divide and dominate the Middle East on Washington's behalf, undeterred by a confident neighbour. If any country in the world has been handed urgent cause to develop a nuclear "deterrence", it is Iran.

As one of the original signatories of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran has been a consistent advocate of a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East. In contrast, Israel has never agreed to an IAEA inspection, and its nuclear weapons plant at Dimona remains an open secret. Armed with as many as 200 active nuclear warheads, Israel "deplores" UN resolutions calling on it to sign the NPT, just as it deplored the recent UN report charging it with crimes against humanity in Gaza, just as it maintains a world record for violations of international law. It gets away with this because great power grants it immunity.
Here's the comment I wrote on Saeed's site (in case it is removed):

I hope you don't believe this crap. All the evidence is to the contrary. Have they even reported in Iran that there is a secret facility in Qom that was just disclosed last month?

As to Israel, assuming it has nuclear weapons, if you can't see the difference between a democracy holding nuclear weapons and an apocalyptic dictatorship holding them, you haven't learned the lessons of what you and your countrymen have been through in the last four months. Assuming that Israel has nuclear weapons, it has likely had them for more than 40 years and has never used them, including twice (1967 and especially 1973) when its very existence was threatened. Compare that to Ahmadinejad's threats to wipe Israel off the map at the first opportunity. After what you've gone through in the last four months, do you really believe he'd wouldn't do it?

Sorry my friend, but I'm very surprised and disappointed to see something like this on your site.

I could say a lot more (and have said it in the past) but I'll say it on my site.
How unreliable is Pilger's report? This is the Newsweek article to which he is referring.
The officials, who asked for anonymity when discussing sensitive information, said that U.S. intelligence agencies have informed policymakers at the White House and other agencies that the status of Iranian work on development and production of a nuclear bomb has not changed since the formal National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran's "Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities" in November 2007. Public portions of that report stated that U.S. intelligence agencies had "high confidence" that, as of early 2003, Iranian military units were pursuing development of a nuclear bomb, but that in the fall of that year Iran "halted its nuclear weapons program." The document said that while U.S. agencies believed the Iranian government "at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons," U.S. intelligence as of mid-2007 still had "moderate confidence" that it had not restarted weapons-development efforts.

One of the two officials said that the Obama administration has now worked out a system in which intelligence agencies provide top policymakers, including the president, with regular updates on intelligence judgments like the conclusions in the 2007 Iran NIE. According to the two officials, the latest update to policymakers has been that as of now—two years after the period covered by the 2007 NIE—U.S. intelligence agencies still believe Iran has not resumed nuclear-weapons development work. "That's the conclusion, but it's one that—like every other—is constantly checked and reassessed, both to take account of new information and to test old assumptions," one of the officials told NEWSWEEK. It is not clear whether U.S. agencies' confidence in this judgment has grown at all since the 2007 statement.
Without considering Israel's objections to the National Intelligence Assessment, there are other grounds for doubting it. First there is the assessment of the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany's foreign intelligence agency. As the Wall Street Journal reported in July,
In a 30-page legal opinion on March 26 and a May 27 press release in a case about possible illegal trading with Iran, a special national security panel of the Federal Supreme Court in Karlsruhe cites from a May 2008 BND report, saying the agency "showed comprehensively" that "development work on nuclear weapons can be observed in Iran even after 2003."

According to the judges, the BND supplemented its findings on August 28, 2008, showing "the development of a new missile launcher and the similarities between Iran's acquisition efforts and those of countries with already known nuclear weapons programs, such as Pakistan and North Korea."

It's important to point out that this was no ordinary agency report, the kind that often consists just of open source material, hearsay and speculation. Rather, the BND submitted an "office testimony," which consists of factual statements about the Iranian program that can be proved in a court of law. This is why, in their March 26 opinion, the judges wrote that "a preliminary assessment of the available evidence suggests that at the time of the crime [April to November 2007] nuclear weapons were being developed in Iran." In their May press release, the judges come out even more clear, stating unequivocally that "Iran in 2007 worked on the development of nuclear weapons."
The information received from the Germans - who generally have much better sources on the ground in Iran than the United States has - led the Journal to conclude that the 2007 United States National Intelligence Assessment on Iran was politicized and did not constitute an objective assessment of the facts.
The court's decision and the BND's reports raise the question of how, or why, U.S. intelligence officials could have come to the conclusion that Iran suspended its program in 2003. German intelligence officials wonder themselves. BND sources have told me that they have shared their findings and documentation with their U.S. colleagues ahead of the 2007 NIE report -- as is customary between these two allies. It appears the Americans have simply ignored this evidence despite repeated warnings from the BND. This suggests not so much a failure of U.S. intelligence but its sabotage.

The politicized 2007 NIE report undermined the Bush Administration's efforts to rally international support for tough action against Iran. The world's best hope is that the Obama Administration is not being fed the same false sense of security.
The Journal article about the BND assessment appeared in July. Less than ten days after the Newsweek report cited by Pilger appeared, Iran admitted to the IAEA that it maintains a nuclear facility in Qom that had not been disclosed to that point. That facility happens to be a perfect size for the development of nuclear weapons. Since that disclosure, more people in the United States have reached the conclusion that the NIE was politicized and did not represent the true state of affairs. The CIA has now admitted that it knew about Qom (pictured) as far back as 2006, but has yet to provide a satisfactory explanation for why Qom apparently did not figure into the 2007 assessment.

Would Mark Hosenball have written the same article for Newsweek ten days later after Qom was disclosed? In this article, published on October 2, Hosenball is much more cautious.
Three European counterproliferation officials, who asked for anonymity when discussing sensitive information, confirmed to NEWSWEEK that British intelligence agencies believe that Iran is actively pushing ahead with a nuclear-bomb program. One of the officials said that U.K. intelligence outfits—led by MI-6—are "skeptical" of suggestions, most notably by U.S. intelligence agencies, that Iran stopped work on a military program to design and build a nuclear weapon in 2003.


U.S. officials acknowledged this week that there do seem to be differences between Washington and some of its closest allies—including Germany and Israel—when it comes to assessing Iran's progress on weapons development. However, one U.S. intelligence official insisted: "The public reports of differences are, to some degree, exaggerated. Our judgments on the Iranian nuclear program—like all the judgments we reach—are subject to reassessment in light of new information, which comes in constantly. But you have to weigh and test each piece, running tough traps on everything from sourcing to assumptions."

Several U.S. and European officials said they were confident that the allied agencies—including CIA, MI-6, Germany's BND and Israel's Mossad—were working from the same raw information. In other words, neither the United States nor any of the allies have secret, unilateral sources of intelligence which would lead them to different conclusions about Iran's bomb efforts, the officials maintain.

Two of the European officials suggested that the American assessment is very cautious because U.S. intelligence analysts still feel burned by their mistakes in the run-up to the Iraq War, when faulty intelligence was used by Bush administration officials to justify military action.


American agencies agree with European counterparts that the Qom facility is highly suspicious. This is not only because the Iranians built it underground and concealed it from the world for years. Western intelligence agencies also note that the facility is designed to accommodate enough centrifuges to enrich uranium to bomb-grade, but too few centrifuges for the large-scale enrichment needed to generate electrical power. Still, some U.S. counterproliferation officials point out that the Qom facility is still being built, and that centrifuges have not yet been installed there—leaving open the possibility that the Iranians could be telling the truth when they insist that the facility is being built for peaceful purposes.


The Germans seem to share the British view that Iran's nuclear weapons work never ceased. The views of Germany's BND, or Federal Intelligence Service, were cited during an attempt by German authorities to prosecute a German-Iranian businessman for shipping potentially-nuclear-related equipment to Iran, including high-speed cameras and radiation detectors built to withstand high temperatures. German judges quoted a BND assessment that "development work on nuclear weapons can be observed in Iran even after 2003." However, a European official says that some German experts believe that Iran may not actually be building a bomb, but only assembling the necessary equipment and technology. This would enable the Iranians to be in a position to assemble a bomb quickly without actually becoming a nuclear-armed state.
Sorry Saeed, but John Pilger is clearly someone with an axe to grind against the State of Israel. I won't stake my families' lives on agreeing with his assessments and I don't suggest that you stake your life or your families' lives on them either.

Would you?


At 3:53 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Agreed. Iran is serious about wiping Israel off the map. Any one who reviews Hitler's speeches about the Jews knew something very bad was going to happen. It is the same with the Ahmedinejad. The critical difference today is the Jewish people have the sovereign means to defend themselves and they will not have to wait passively to be destroyed again. History will not repeat itself.

At 6:45 PM, Blogger Andre (Canada) said...

The thing I wonder is this. When Iran explodes a nuclear bomb either for testing or, God forbid, over some populated area, will the people saying that Iran has stopped its program just say "Oops, we didn't know?"
Will the left be issuing slogans like "the NEA lied, Jews died?"...no way! Somehow, they will blame it on Israel (and Bush of course...with a dash of Sarah Palin and Glen Beck for good measure).
This is why basing policy on the appeasers is a bad idea. Israel should exercise more than an ounce of prevention and take care of Iran's nuclear and conventional facilities sooner rather than later. It is better to be alive and wrong than dead and right.


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