- In Alerts 2010
- Post 14 January 2010
- Last Updated on 28 March 2013
- Hits: 15048
On December 14, The Times announced that it had obtained documents about Iran's nuclear programme that revealed "a four-year plan to test a neutron initiator. This is the component of a nuclear weapon that triggers the explosion". (Leading article, 'Explosive Deceit; The exposure of Iran's programme to test an essential component of a nuclear weapon confirms a pattern of duplicity by a bellicose regime,' The Times, December 14, 2009)
The Times had no doubts about the authenticity or significance of the document:
"The discovery is an indictment both of Iran's duplicity and of the West's complacency... regardless of divisions within the regime, Iran has sought a nuclear capability. Its efforts have been accelerated in the past decade. The prospect of an Iranian bomb is alarming." (Ibid)
These expression of certainty about the obvious credibility of the document suggested we were here reading, not journalism, but propaganda, as did the use of the future simple tense in the following passage: "a nuclear-armed Iran +will+ feel little constraint in supporting its terrorist proxies, Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, with money and materiel". (our emphasis)
In asserting that Iran had "edged closer to acquiring a terrifying military capability," The Times cited Winston Churchill:
"Anticipating the end of America's brief postwar nuclear monopoly, Churchill also declared: 'We ought not to go jogging along improvident, incompetent, waiting for something to turn up, by which I mean waiting for something bad for us to turn up.' Sixty years later, that is precisely what Western diplomacy is doing." (Ibid)
In similar vein, a Times article by Catherine Philp on the same day featured two comments from Mark Fitzpatrick at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London:
"The most shattering conclusion is that, if this was an effort that began in 2007, it could be a casus belli. If Iran is working on weapons, it means there is no diplomatic solution." (Philp, 'Secret document exposes Iran's nuclear trigger,' The Times, December 14, 2009)
Fitzpatrick's second, equally shameful comment was offered in concluding the piece:
"Is this the smoking gun? That's the question people should be asking. It looks like the smoking gun. This is smoking uranium." (Ibid)
Fitzpatrick, we learn from the IISS website, "came to IISS in 2005 after a distinguished 26-year career in the US Department of State". (http://www.iiss.org/about-us/staffexpertise/list-experts-by-name/mark-fitzpatrick/)
The references to Churchill, a "casus belli" and a "smoking gun" instantly recall US-UK claims regarding the "serious and current", and non-existent, "threat" posed by Iraq in 2002-2003. In September 2002, George Bush's National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, said:
"The problem here is that there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly he [Saddam Hussein] can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."
This was breathtakingly deceitful propaganda, but it was bolstered by claims that Iraq had sought to secretly smuggle uranium from African countries, notably Niger. In September 2002, The Times reported:
"Saddam Hussein's agents have been secretly shopping for uranium in the 13 African countries that possess it as a natural resource." (Michael Evans, Michael Dynes, Catherine Philp, Richard Beeston and Alice Lagnado, 'Uranium heads secret shopping list,' The Times, September 25, 2002)
In March 2003, Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), dismissed the claims as fake:
"Based on thorough analysis, the IAEA has concluded ... that these documents, which formed the basis for the reports of recent uranium transactions between Iraq and Niger, are in fact not authentic. We have, therefore, concluded that these specific allegations are unfounded." (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/politics/baradei-says-us-reports-were-false-599880.html)
Last month, an Inter Press Service (IPS) article by Gareth Porter recalled the role played by Philip Giraldi, a CIA counterterrorism official from 1976 to 1992, in exposing the Niger fraud:
"In 2005, Giraldi identified Michael Ledeen, the extreme right-wing former consultant to the National Security Council and the Pentagon, as an author of the fabricated letter purporting to show Iraqi interest in purchasing uranium from Niger. That letter was used by the George W. Bush administration to bolster its false case that Saddam Hussein had an active nuclear weapons programme.
"Giraldi also identified officials in the 'Office of Special Plans' who worked under Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith as having forged a letter purportedly written by Hussein's intelligence director, Tahir Jalail Habbush al-Tikriti, to Hussein himself referring to an Iraqi intelligence operation to arrange for an unidentified shipment from Niger." (Porter, 'U.S. Intelligence Found Iran Nuke Document Was Forged,' IPS, December 28, 2009; (http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=49833)
Giraldi, then, has an impressive track record in exposing forgeries. Porter described Giraldi's response to The Times' recent claims:
"U.S. intelligence has concluded that the document published recently by the Times of London, which purportedly describes an Iranian plan to do experiments on what the newspaper described as a 'neutron initiator' for an atomic weapon, is a fabrication, according to a former Central Intelligence Agency official.
"Philip Giraldi... told IPS that intelligence sources say that the United States had nothing to do with forging the document, and that Israel is the primary suspect. The sources do not rule out a British role in the fabrication, however." (Ibid)
Giraldi's intelligence sources were sceptical of the source of the report, The Times. Giraldi commented:
"The Rupert Murdoch chain has been used extensively to publish false intelligence from the Israelis and occasionally from the British government." (Ibid)
Porter explained how the document itself has "a number of red flags suggesting possible or likely fraud". For example, there is no confidentiality marking - highly unusual for a document on such a sensitive subject. The document also lacks any information identifying either the issuing office or the intended recipients. The inclusion of such information would make it far easier to expose a forgery.
The document's vagueness about the institutions involved in the planned tests for a neutron initiator appears to conflict with the detailed nature of the plans, which call for hiring eight individuals for different tasks for a specific numbers of hours.
An Original Document?
In a January 5 article, Porter reported that Times commentator Oliver Kamm had revealed (January 3) that the two-page Persian language document published by The Times was +not+ a photocopy of the original document but an expurgated and retyped version. And yet, Porter wrote, the Times had published what it "explicitly represented as a photocopy of a complete Persian language document". On December 14, The Times provided a link to "Iran's nuclear trigger: document in full." (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/middle _east/article6955351.ece)
Kamm had written that the original document had "contained a lot of classified information" and was not published "because of the danger that it would alert Iranian authorities to the source of the leak". (http://timesonline.typepad.com/oliver_kamm/2009/12/irans-nuclear-deceit-the-apologists-respond.html#comments)
The reason for such editing could not have been to remove "classified information", because, if the document were genuine, the Iranian government would of course already possess the information.
Porter also noted that Kamm's revelation further damaged the credibility of the document which, having been both edited and retyped "could obviously have been doctored by adding material on a neutron initiator". (Porter, 'Iran: New Revelations Tear Holes in Nuclear Trigger Story,' IPS, January 5, 2010; http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=49889)
The Times reported that the neutron initiator document "was drawn up within the Centre for Preparedness at the Institute of Applied Physics", which it identified as "one of the organisation's 12 departments". (Catherine Philp, 'Memo pinpoints mastermind of secret nuclear weapon research,' The Times, December 14, 2009)
But the reference to a 'Centre for Preparedness at the Institute of Applied Physics' is an obvious misreading of a chart given to The Times by the intelligence agency but not published by The Times. The chart, (available at the website of the Institute for Science and International Security), shows two separate organisations relating to neutronics - a "Center for Preparedness" and an "Institute of Applied Physics" - under what the intelligence agency translated as the "Field for Expansion of Advance Technologies' Deployment."
The Times also made great play of the document's mention of uranium deuteride, or UD3. According to the Times:
"Critically, while other neutron sources have possible civilian uses, UD3 has only one application - to be the metaphorical match that lights a nuclear bomb." (Catherine Philp, 'Compound whose sole purpose is to spark an explosion,' The Times, December 14, 2009)
Writing in the Guardian, Norman Dombey, professor emeritus of theoretical physics at Sussex University, commented:
"That is a surprising statement. In fact the document's only mention of UD3 states that it would prefer not to use it but to replace uranium with titanium. That gives a clue about what the Iranians are doing.
"Titanium deuteride is used to store deuterium gas so that the gas can be generated when it is heated. It seems to me, therefore, that the function of UD3 is to generate deuterium gas so that it can be used in a plasma focus neutron generator. The neutron generator could then produce isotopes for use by other laboratories, hence the reference to market samples. UD3 is not known to be used as a neutron initiator in nuclear weapons: it was not used as an initiator in American, British or Soviet weapons when those weapons were developed." (Dombey, 'This is no smoking gun, nor Iranian bomb,' The Guardian, December 22, 2009; http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/dec/22/no-iran-nuclear-bomb-trigger)
"The Nuclear Expert Who Never Was"
In turning to "independent experts" for their opinion on the document, The Times chose "physicist" David Albright, founder of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) in Washington:
"'Although Iran might claim that this work is for civil purposes, there is no civil application,' said David Albright, a physicist and president of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, which has analysed hundreds of pages of documents related to the Iranian programme. 'This is a very strong indicator of weapons work.'" (Catherine Philp, 'Secret document exposes Iran's nuclear trigger,' The Times, December 14, 2009)
Albright was cited in a second article on the same day:
"'But the document you obtained, which appears to take the work back towards explicit work on nuclear weapons, is very hard to reconcile with the US National Intelligence Estimate that weaponisation work has not restarted,' said David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security." (Catherine Philp, 'Memo pinpoints mastermind of secret nuclear weapon research,' The Times, December 14, 2009)
In 2008, former chief UN weapons inspector, Scott Ritter, wrote about David Albright in an article entitled, 'The nuclear expert who never was.' Ritter commented:
"I have no objection to an academically based think tank capable of producing sound analysis about the myriad nuclear-based threats the world faces today. But David Albright has a track record of making half-baked analyses derived from questionable sources seem mainstream. He breathes false legitimacy into these factually challenged stories by cloaking himself in a résumé which is disingenuous in the extreme.
"Eventually, one must begin to question the motives of Albright and ISIS. No self-respecting think tank would allow itself to be used in such an egregious manner. The fact that ISIS is a creation of Albright himself, and as such operates as a mirror image of its founder and president, only underscores the concerns raised when an individual lacking in any demonstrable foundation of expertise has installed himself into the mainstream media in a manner that corrupts the public discourse and debate by propagating factually incorrect, illogical and misleading information." (Ritter, 'The Nuclear Expert Who Never Was,' Truthdig, June 26, 2008; http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/20080626 _ the_nuclear_expert_who_never_was/)
The Times described Albright as a "physicist". But Ritter commented in his article:
"I can't say for certain when Albright became 'Doctor' Albright. A self-described 'physicist,' he allows the term to linger, as he does the title 'former U.N. inspector,' in order to create the impression that he possesses a certain gravitas. David Albright holds a master of science degree in physics from Indiana University and a master of science in mathematics from Wright State University. I imagine that this résumé permits him to assign himself the title +physicist+, but not in the Robert Oppenheimer/Edward Teller sense of the word.
"Whatever physics work Albright may or may not have done in his life, one thing is certain: He has never worked as a nuclear physicist on any program dedicated to the design and/or manufacture of nuclear weapons. He has never designed nuclear weapons and never conducted mathematical calculations in support of testing nuclear weapons, nor has he ever worked in a facility or with an organization dedicated to either.
"At best, Albright is an observer of things nuclear. But to associate his sub-par physics pedigree with genuine nuclear weapons-related work is, like his self-promotion as a 'former U.N. weapons inspector,' disingenuous in the extreme." (Ibid)
"It is high time the mainstream media began dealing with David Albright for what he is (a third-rate reporter and analyst), and what he isn't (a former U.N. weapons inspector, doctor, nuclear physicist or nuclear expert). It is time for David Albright, the accidental inspector, to exit stage right. Issues pertaining to nuclear weapons and their potential proliferation are simply too serious to be handled by amateurs and dilettantes."
On January 6, Oliver Kamm also cited Albright in a curious blog on the Times website entitled 'Iran's Nuclear Initiator.' The title should have read 'Iran's Alleged Nuclear Initiator.' Kamm began his blog thus:
"David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security has posted a useful Q&A on the Iranian document that reveals, as The Times has reported, the regime's nuclear deceit." (http://timesonline.typepad.com/oliver_kamm/ 2010/01/irans-nuclear-initiator.html)
Comments from Albright were sandwiched between this affirmation of the obvious authenticity of the document and a second, equally confident claim taken from a Times leader:
"A US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) in December 2007 concluded that Iran was 'less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005'. Documents obtained by The Times reveal that this assessment was worthless." (Ibid)
And yet, unmentioned by Kamm, Albright's website - including the Q&A that was the subject of the blog and to which it linked - does +not+ support the claim that the document clearly exposes Iranian "nuclear deceit". After all, the first answer to the first question in the ISIS Q&A begins: "If the document is genuine..." (http://isis-online.org/isis-reports/detail/ questions-and-answers-regarding-iranian-document/)
Kamm offered a mangled quote from Albright, inserting two parenthetical remarks:
"In discussions with officials from several governments prior to the publication of the Times article, ISIS found that these officials unanimously believed that the source [of the Iranian leak] was unlikely to take such a risk [i.e. present something that was not authentic]."
This suggested that ISIS agreed with The Times that the document was unlikely to have been forged. But on the ISIS website, these comments are sandwiched between three cautious sentences:
"If the document is forged or otherwise tampered with, the source risks a severe blow to its credibility in both the short and medium term. Likewise, if the documents had been forged and subsequently obtained by the Times' source, the source's credibility would still be considerably damaged. In discussions with officials from several governments prior to the publication of the Times article, ISIS found that these officials unanimously believed that the source was unlikely to take such a risk. But because of the seriousness of the implications of the document, thorough vetting of the document should continue." (http://isis-online.org/isis-reports/detail/questions-and-answers-regarding-iranian-document/)
There was no "but" in Kamm's rendering of ISIS's position.
ISIS expressed further caution in the preceding paragraph:
"ISIS understood at the time it received the English translation of the Farsi document that the Times' source removed headings from the original Farsi-language document and retyped the text in order to protect intelligence-sensitive information. The source made it clear that it had taken these steps to protect its sources and methods and made no attempt to conceal such steps from the Times. The Times' subsequent publication of both the Farsi document and its translation was not opposed by the source. ISIS understood that the source provided the document to relevant governments and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in a different form. Nevertheless, the lack of an original document obviously complicates public assessments of the authenticity of the document. It also calls for the IAEA and governments to share their analysis of this document and how it fits into the other information they possess about Iran's nuclear efforts." (Ibid)
The lack of an original document certainly "complicates" assessments of authenticity. On December 14, ISIS had linked to The Times website, commenting:
"The original document in Farsi and the English translation can be found here." (http://www.isisnucleariran.org/assets/pdf/Neutron _Initiator_14Dec2009.pdf)
Postscript - A Very, Very, Very Long Way From A Bomb
On January 10, the former director-general of Israel's Atomic Energy Commission, Brigadier-General Uzi Eilam - a general who once commanded Israel's nuclear weapons force - claimed that Iran is a "very, very, very long way from building a nuclear capability". (Uzi Mahnaimi, 'Israeli general denies Iran nuclear threat,' Sunday Times, January 10, 2010; http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world /middle_east/article6982447.ece)
Eilam, who is thought to be informed by former colleagues on developments in Iran, argued that it will probably take Iran seven years to build a bomb. He described Israel's official view as hysterical, commenting:
"The intelligence community are spreading frightening voices."
He added that he believed the "defence establishment is sending out false alarms in order to grab a bigger budget," while politicians have used Iran to distract attention from domestic problems.
Fortunately for the world, Rupert Murdoch, who owns both The Times and The Sunday Times, knows better. Last March, Murdoch declared:
"In Iran, we see a regime that backs Hezbollah and Hamas now on course to acquire a nuclear weapon."
Andrew Neil, former editor of the Sunday Times, has commented:
"If you want to know what Rupert Murdoch really thinks read the editorials in the Sun and the New York Post because he is editor-in-chief of these papers. He doesn't regard himself as editor-in-chief of the Times and the Sunday Times but he does regard himself as someone who should have more influence on these papers than anyone else."
The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. If you do write to journalists, we strongly urge you to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.
Write to The Times letters page:
Visit, and comment on, Oliver Kamm's blog:
Please copy your emails to us: