Hyping Iran Nukes, Again

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David Albright, former weapons inspector and founder of the Institute for Science and International Security.

By Robert Parry

The neocon-flagship Washington Post and its investigative reporter Joby Warrick are at it again, hyping an account about Iran’s nuclear program pushed by discredited nuclear expert David Albright, who famously gave cover for George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq a decade ago.

The latest Albright/Warrick alarm, which leads Thursday’s Washington Post, cites Iran’s alleged effort to place an Internet order for 100,000 ring-shaped magnets that would work in some of the country’s older centrifuges.

“Iran recently sought to acquire tens of thousands of highly specialized magnets used in centrifuge machines, according to experts and diplomats, a sign that the country may be planning a major expansion of its nuclear program that could shorten the path to an atomic weapons capability,” Warrick wrote in his lede paragraph.

You have to read to the end of the long story to hear a less strident voice, saying that Iran had previously informed inspectors for the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency that it planned to build more of its old and clunkier centrifuges, which use this sort of magnet, and that the enrichment was for civilian energy, not a nuclear bomb.

“Olli Heinonen, who led IAEA nuclear inspections inside Iran before his retirement in 2010, said the type of magnet sought by Iran was highly specific to the IR-1 centrifuge and could not, for example, be used in the advanced IR-2M centrifuges that Iran has recently tested,” according to the final paragraphs of Warrick’s article.

“‘The numbers in the order make sense, because Iran originally told us it wanted to build more than 50,000 of the IR-1s,’ Heinonen said. ‘The failure rate on these machines is 10 percent a year, so you need a surplus.’”

At the bottom of Warrick’s story, you’d also learn that “Iran has avoided what many experts consider Israel’s new ‘red line’: a stockpile of medium-enriched uranium greater than 530 pounds, roughly the amount needed to build a weapon if further purified. At the current pace, Iran could reach that theoretical threshold by the middle of next year, said a Western diplomat privy to internal IAEA reports on Iran’s nuclear progress.”

So there’s nothing urgent or particularly provocative about this alleged purchase, though the structure and placement of the Post story suggest that you’re not really supposed to read to the end to find that out. You should simply leap to the intended conclusion that Iran is on the verge of building an atomic bomb and that it’s time for President Barack Obama to join Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in another Middle East war.

The Misleading Analyst

The Post’s pressure on the Obama administration to fall in line with Netanyahu’s belligerence toward Iran has been building for years, often with Warrick channeling anti-Iranian propaganda from Albright, who heads a private research group called the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS).

A decade ago, Albright and the ISIS were key figures in stoking the hysteria for invading Iraq around the false allegations of its WMD program. In recent years, Albright and his institute have adopted a similar role regarding Iran and its purported pursuit of a nuclear weapon, even though U.S. intelligence agencies say Iran terminated that weapons project in 2003.

Nevertheless, Albright has transformed his organization into a sparkplug for a new confrontation with Iran. Though Albright insists that he is an objective professional, ISIS has published hundreds of articles about Iran, which has not produced a single nuclear bomb, while barely mentioning Israel’s rogue nuclear arsenal.

An examination of the ISIS Web site reveals only a few technical articles relating to Israel’s nukes while ISIS has expanded its coverage of Iran’s nuclear program so much that it’s been moved onto a separate Web site. The articles not only hype developments in Iran but also attack U.S. media critics who question the fear-mongering about Iran.

More than a year ago when a non-mainstream journalist confronted Albright about the disparity between ISIS’s concentration on Iran and de minimis coverage of Israel, he angrily responded that he was working on a report about Israel’s nuclear program. However, there is still no substantive assessment of Israel’s large nuclear arsenal on the ISIS Web site, which goes back to 1993.

Despite this evidence of bias, the Post and other mainstream U.S. news outlets typically present Albright as a neutral analyst. They also ignore his checkered past, for instance, his prominent role in promoting President Bush’s pre-invasion case that Iraq possessed stockpiles of WMD.

At the end of summer 2002, as Bush was beginning his advertising roll-out for the Iraq invasion and dispatching his top aides to the Sunday talk shows to warn about “smoking guns” and “mushroom clouds,” Albright co-authored a Sept. 10, 2002, article – entitled “Is the Activity at Al Qaim Related to Nuclear Efforts?” – which declared:

“High-resolution commercial satellite imagery shows an apparently operational facility at the site of Iraq’s al Qaim phosphate plant and uranium extraction facility … This site was where Iraq extracted uranium for its nuclear weapons program in the 1980s. … This image raises questions about whether Iraq has rebuilt a uranium extraction facility at the site, possibly even underground. … The uranium could be used in a clandestine nuclear weapons effort.”

Albright’s alarming allegations fit neatly with Bush’s propaganda barrage, although as the months wore on – with Bush’s warnings about aluminum tubes and yellowcake from Africa growing more outlandish – Albright did display more skepticism about the existence of a revived Iraqi nuclear program.

Still, he remained a “go-to” expert on other Iraqi purported WMD, such as chemical and biological weapons. In a typical quote on Oct. 5, 2002, Albright told CNN: “In terms of the chemical and biological weapons, Iraq has those now.”

Taken In

After Bush launched the Iraq invasion in March 2003 and Iraq’s secret WMD caches didn’t materialize, Albright admitted that he had been conned, explaining to 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.” [See FAIR’s “The Great WMD Hunt,”]

Given the horrendous costs in blood and treasure resulting from the Iraq fiasco, an objective journalist might feel compelled to mention Albright’s track record of bias and errors. But the Post’s Warrick doesn’t. If you read mid-way into Warrick’s article on Thursday, you’ll find the esteemed Albright and his ISIS at the core of the story, receiving credit for obtaining copies of the magnet purchase order.

“With two magnets needed per machine,” Warrick writes, “the order technically could supply Iran with enough material for 50,000 new gas centrifuges, although some of the magnets would probably have been reserved for repairs and spare parts, said David Albright, ISIS president and a former IAEA inspector. ‘It implies that they want to build a lot more centrifuges,’ he said.”

Warrick does include the boiler plate that Iran “insists” that it is not building a nuclear bomb – with almost the wink-wink of who would believe that – but the reporter doesn’t mention that U.S. intelligence agencies agree that Iran has not resumed work on a nuclear weapon or that Israel maintains a sophisticated and undeclared nuclear arsenal of its own.

Though Warrick cites the concerns of Prime Minister Netanyahu about Iran’s nuclear program, the reporter doesn’t observe that Israel is arguably the world’s most notorious rogue nuclear state. It has built up its undeclared nuclear arsenal after refusing to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and keeping IAEA inspectors away from its nuclear facilities.

By contrast, Iran signed the NPT, has renounced nuclear weapons, and has allowed IAEA inspectors to monitor its nuclear energy program. Granted, Iran’s cooperation has been less than stellar but its record is far superior to Israel’s.

Yet, Albright and his ISIS – like Warrick and the Post – have largely turned a blind eye to Israel’s nukes and focused instead on Iran’s theoretical bomb-making.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).

(Originally posted at Consortium News)

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