When the Bush administration was preparing the
public in 2001-2003 for the invasion of Iraq by selling it lies and exaggerations,
it was supported by articles discredited former New York Times reporter
Judith Miller published on the front page of the Times. Beginning in
1998, Miller spread propaganda for Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress,
claiming that Iraq had active programs for producing weapons of mass destruction.
sources were almost exclusively Chalabi and the neocons.
A particularly glaring example of the lies Miller was propagating can be found
in an article she and Michael
Gordon published in September 2002 claiming that Saddam Hussein was trying
to purchase aluminum tubes for use in Iraq's uranium enrichment program. The
"evidence" was quickly challenged
and turned out later to have been supplied by the neocons. Dick Cheney used
the article as evidence of a "smoking gun." It was not that Judith Miller was
gullible and could be fooled easily. She was sympathetic to the neocons' cause.
Now, lies, exaggerations, and speculations are also rampant about Iran's nuclear
program. The last round of propaganda began after the International Atomic
Energy Agency (IAEA) released its report on Iran on Feb. 19, which reaffirmed
that (1) Iran has not diverted its nuclear materials to non-peaceful uses;
(2) there is no evidence of a secret nuclear weapon program or facility; (3)
all of Iran's nuclear facilities are monitored by the IAEA, and its nuclear
materials are safeguarded; and (4) Iran
has not significantly increased the number of its centrifuges that are producing
low-enriched uranium (LEU).
But the usual anti-Iran crowd cared only about the IAEA reporting that, as
of Jan. 31, Iran had produced 1010 kg of LEU with an enrichment level of 3.49
percent. Suddenly, there were deafening screams about how Iran could enrich
its LEU to the 90-percent level suitable for a single nuclear bomb.
Even if Iran could miraculously build a nuclear bomb, it would have to explode
it in a test, hence finishing off its entire stockpile. Moreover, there is
no evidence that Iran has such a capability. Regardless, the War Party made
Iran's one ton of LEU the analogue of Iraq's aluminum tubes.
That the War Party and the Israel Lobby started the latest round of propaganda
is not a surprise. What is a surprise is the emergence of a whole new source
of speculation and skewed interpretations of what the IAEA actually reports.
This source is none other than David Albright and his Institute
for Science and International Security (ISIS). Although Albright is considered
an expert on nuclear issues, he and the ISIS have been increasingly distancing
themselves from an impartial posture and becoming a tool in the hands of the
The ISIS monitors, among other nations, the nuclear programs of India, Pakistan,
and Iran. Unlike Iran, the first two have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation
Treaty (NPT) and they have developed nuclear arsenals. Pakistan, with political
instability and Islamic fundamentalists in its military and intelligence services,
is one of the most dangerous nuclear nations on Earth, yet the main focus of
the ISIS is on Iran. The ISIS does not analyze the nuclear program of Brazil,
whose navy controls its uranium enrichment program and has restricted IAEA
access to uranium enrichment facilities, in violation of its NPT and Safeguards
Agreement obligations. Just imagine what would happen if the IAEA declared
that Iran's military controlled its uranium enrichment program.
Nor does the ISIS analyze Israel's program. This is a nation that has at least
200 nuclear warheads; has three nuclear submarines, one of which is usually
in Iran's vicinity; kidnapped its own citizen, Mordechai Vanunu, in Italy and
jailed him for 18 years because he revealed Israel's nuclear weapon program;
and has been threatening for a long time to attack Iran. On its Web site, the
ISIS claims that it "works to create world safe from the dangers posed by the
spread of nuclear weapons to irresponsible governments" (emphasis mine).
Yet, despite its 41 years of occupying Palestinian lands in violation of United
Nations Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, despite the unimaginable
destruction it has caused there and in Lebanon, Israel is a "responsible" government,
while Iran, a nation that has not attacked any country for at least 270 years
but has been the victim of numerous invasions and foreign-sponsored coups,
The ISIS lists a small staff. It
uses satellite imagery provided by DigitalGlobe, a private vendor based in
Colorado. On its Web site, the ISIS states that "the vast bulk of our funding
comes from public and private foundations." I could not find the names of its
benefactors. In an e-mail to the ISIS office, I asked about the sources of
their funding, but I received no response.
One must also consider the ISIS' information sources. When Mohamed ElBaradei,
the IAEA's director general, submits his reports to the IAEA's Board of Governors,
their distribution is usually restricted. Yet, the ISIS posts the reports on
its site immediately after they are submitted. Often, even before the submission
of the reports, the ISIS seems to know their contents, and at numerous times
it has posted them at the same time that they are submitted.
That brings us to David Albright himself. I am not going to repeat Scott
Ritter's criticisms of him. (See also the response
by Frank von Hippel of Princeton University defending Albright.) Leading an
extensive research program in physics and engineering for the past 25 years
has given me a degree of objectivity. Thus, I believe that Albright has made
many valuable contributions to the debates on nuclear arms, nuclear materials,
and so forth.
However, Albright relies too heavily on speculation and, quite often, baseless
guessing. Moreover, he has been silent on important issues that any experienced
expert should be able to comment on while publishing analyses that seem to
serve one and only one purpose: adding dangerous fuel to the hysteria over
Iran's nuclear program. Given that the War Party and Israel are looking for
any excuse to provoke and justify military attacks on Iran, anything other
than scientific analysis, backed by legitimate documents and credible sources,
is extremely dangerous.
An analyst of Iran's nuclear program and the president of a supposedly scientific
institution cannot consort with AIPAC, the leading pro-Israel lobby in the
United States and the prime force behind practically all the anti-Iran rhetoric,
and, at the same time, present himself as an objective and impartial analyst.
But on March 5, 2006, Albright spoke to AIPAC, making a presentation entitled,
"Nuclear Countdown: What Can Be Done to Stop Iran?"
When talking about Iran's nuclear program, Albright usually tells half the
story. For example, when he is asked how much yellowcake (the uranium oxide
that is converted to uranium hexafluoride for enrichment) Iran has, he typically
responds that it is enough to make dozens of bombs, but he does not say that
going from yellowcake to a bomb is a long, tortuous process, fraught with technological
difficulties and requiring advanced technologies, many of which Iran does not
currently have (at least there is no evidence that it does). When he is asked
about Iran's stockpile of enriched uranium, he responds that it is enough to
make one nuclear bomb, but he does not usually say that what Iran has is LEU,
not the highly enriched uranium (HEU) needed for a bomb, and that so long as
Iran's enrichment facilities and stockpile are safeguarded by the IAEA, there
is no way that Iran can obtain the HEU, even if it wanted to (there is no evidence
that it does) and had the facility for producing it (it does not). In effect,
Albright uses facts to insinuate predetermined and unrelated conclusions.
In a recent interview,
Albright was asked about Iran's progress in its nuclear program, to which he
"Iran continues to move forward on developing its nuclear capabilities,
and it is close to having what we would call a 'nuclear breakout capability.'
That's a problem because once Iran reaches that state then it could make a
decision to get nuclear weapons pretty rapidly. In as quickly as a few months,
Iran would be able to have enough weapons-grade uranium for nuclear weapons.
And if a breakout occurred, they would not likely do so at the well-known Natanz
enrichment plant. Rather, the Iranians would most likely take low-enriched
uranium that's produced at that plant and then divert it at a secret facility
that we wouldn't know anything about. And at this secret facility, the Iranians
would produce this weapons-grade uranium. … They don't need that much more
low-enriched uranium before they reach the first level of breakout capability,
namely enough low-enriched uranium to make one nuclear weapon."
To the untrained eyes of a layman, the above paragraph seems very "innocent"
and, at the same time, very "authoritative." It is neither.
- Albright's statement about breakout capability is misleading. A nation
has that capability when it has enough LEU for conversion to HEU and has
conversion facilities. But, as I discussed above, the process of converting
LEU to HEU is long and tortuous. Even if Iran has everything in place, and
everything works without any glitches or outside intervention, the breakout
time – the time to convert the LEU stockpile to HEU – is six to nine months,
ample time for the international community to negotiate with Iran.
- Albright says with seeming certainty that the process of converting LEU
to HEU will take place in a secret facility. That is, he seems to be sure
that such a facility already exists. But the IAEA has certified time
and again that there is no evidence of the existence of a parallel enrichment
program in Iran. Albright does not mention that Iran's stockpile of LEU is
safeguarded by the IAEA. So the only way for Iran to produce HEU from LEU
is to leave the NPT and expel the IAEA inspectors from Iran, then take the
LEU to its alleged secret facility so quickly that all the satellites hovering
over Iran, watching its every move, miss such a monumental event!
- All Albright talks about is one nuclear bomb. Assuming that Iran
could fool the entire world and , with tremendous luck, produce one
nuclear bomb (and there is no evidence that Iran has the capability to do
so), it would have to explode it for testing. That would be the end
of Iran's stockpile of enriched uranium.
The ISIS recently posted an analysis in which it claimed that Iran was running
out of yellowcake. When Albright was asked in the aforementioned interview
about this issue, he responded, "Iran has never really had the uranium
resources to support an indigenous nuclear electricity program. So they are
dependent on importing the fuel. If you consider the Bushehr reactor, that's
what they did. They bought the reactor from Russia, and they also bought the
fuel for at least 10 years" (emphasis mine). Assuming that
the first part of Albright's response is correct (which it is not), the second
(emphasized) part is totally misleading. Iran bought the fuel for the Bushehr
reactor for 10 years because when it signed the agreement with Russia, it had
no enrichment plant and it would take 10 years (at the current pace) to set
up an industrial-scale enrichment plant with 50,000 centrifuges.
Albright continued, "From our point of view, the best thing they
can do is work out a solution with the international community so they can
proceed with the nuclear electricity program and import the low-enriched uranium
fuel that they need for those reactors" (emphasis mine). In addition to
suggesting that Iran should give up its rights under Article IV of the NPT,
Albright makes one wonder whom he's talking about when he says "our point
of view." If he is talking about himself and the ISIS, that is all right.
But if he considers himself part of the U.S. government, then he should stop
all pretense of leading a scientific, impartial institution.
Albright and the ISIS continually publish analyses in which they insinuate
preordained conclusions based on totally unrelated facts. An example is a recent
[.pdf] by Albright, Paul Brannan, and Andrea Scheel in which they described
a network of companies that allegedly purchases items that cannot be exported
to Iran. There is not a single item in the analysis that has anything to do
with Iran's nuclear program. Even the authors do not make such a claim. In
[.pdf] Albright et al. claimed Iran was "illicitly" procuring vacuum
pumps for its uranium enrichment program. No shred of evidence, no matter how
flimsy or indirect, was presented for the claim. Even a cursory check of Wikipedia
indicates that there are at least 16 very different uses for such pumps (Wikipedia
does not list centrifuges as one of them), yet Albright and company declared
that the purchase must have been for Iran's nuclear program. Any reasonable
expert would object to such analyses as utterly unscientific and based on sheer
One of the most contentious issues between Iran and the IAEA is a laptop
that was supposedly stolen in Iran and given to the U.S. and which allegedly
contains incriminating evidence of Iran's nuclear weapons program. The IAEA
has repeatedly called on the U.S. to allow it to give Iran copies of the laptop's
documents. The U.S. has refused. The laptop has never been analyzed for its
digital chain of custody to reveal the dates at which the documents were stored
in it. These are two crucial issues that go to the heart of the subject. This
brings us to last piece of the puzzle, namely, Albright's source at the IAEA.
Albright's contact at the IAEA, with whom he is "extremely tight"
(in the words of several sources), is Olli Heinonen, the IAEA's deputy director
for safeguards, who is in charge of the current inspections in Iran. Heinonen,
whose Finnish nationality may lead people to believe that he is impartial,
is leading a crusade against Iran. He constantly acts outside the IAEA's protocol
by leaking sensitive information to the press and spreading unproven allegations
about Iran's nuclear program. A February 2008 report by ElBaradei to the Board
of Governors of the IAEA declared that Iran's six minor breaches of its Safeguards
Agreement had been addressed to the IAEA's satisfaction and that the IAEA had
a better understanding of the history of Iran's nuclear program. Heinonen immediately
made a presentation to the Board of Governors that was entirely based
on the laptop, four years after the IAEA had obtained it, calling
its contents "alarming." He expects the Iranian government to explain
a document it has never seen. The solution is straightforward: present copies
of the documents to Iran and analyze the laptop's digital chain of custody.
But Albright has been silent about this issue. Albright most likely knows
that at least some of the documents were fabricated and inserted in the laptop
and an analysis of the laptop's digital chain of custody would easily reveal
that. Albright certainly knows that, given the assassinations of Iranian scientists
by hostile countries, Iranian experts would not carelessly reveal the names
of important personnel in a memo the laptop supposedly contains. But Albright
has kept silent, because if he says anything about the issue that Heinonen
does not like, he may lose his source. Heinonen is "tight" with Albright
because he realizes that leaking information to a former weapons inspector
and his "scientific institution" to present it to the public gives
it a veneer of legitimacy.
There might be yet another factor in play. Many times in the past, Albright
claimed that Iran could not reach certain milestones because it lacked the
scientific capabilities. Time and again he was proven wrong. In fact, Western
experts just have a hard time accepting that Iran, a nation that has been under
the most severe sanctions by the U.S. for over two decades, has succeeded in
setting up a complete indigenous cycle for producing nuclear fuel. As I told
William Broad and David Sanger of the New York Times in an article
that was published March 5, 2006, "[W]e've made mistakes in underestimating
the strength of science in Iran and the ingenuity they show in working with
whatever crude design they get their hands on."
Is David Albright not developing uncanny similarities to Judith Miller? It
would be a pity if he is, because he can contribute much to the debate on Iran's
nuclear program, provided that he does not sacrifice objectivity for the sake
of having a source at the IAEA – and a discredited one at that.