An Iraq-WMD Replay on Iran?

Exclusive: The U.S. press corps and “independent” American weapons experts got almost everything wrong about Iraq’s purported WMD before the U.S. invasion in 2003. Now, much the same cast is returning to interpret dubious intelligence about Iran’s nuclear program, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The American public is about to be inundated with another flood of “expert analysis” about a dangerous Middle Eastern country presumably hiding a secret nuclear weapons program that may require a military strike, although this time it is Iran, not Iraq.

In the near future, you will be seeing more satellite photos of non-descript buildings that experts will say are housing elements of a nuclear bomb factory. There will be more diagrams of supposed nuclear devices. Some of the same talking heads will reappear to interpret this new “evidence.”

You might even recognize some of those familiar faces from the more innocent days of 2002-2003 when they explained, with unnerving confidence, how Iraq’s Saddam Hussein surely had chemical and biological weapons and likely a nuclear weapons program, too.

For instance, back then, former United Nations weapons inspector David Albright was all over the news channels, reinforcing the alarmist claims about Iraq’s WMD that were coming from President George W. Bush and his neocon-dominated administration.

David Albright

Today, Albright’s Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) is issuing a flurry of alarmist reports about Iran’s nuclear bomb progress, often accompanied by the same kind of satellite photos and diagrams that helped persuade many Americans that Iraq must possess unconventional weapons that turned out to be fictitious.

For instance, in the run-up to war in Iraq, 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 (Unit-340), located in northwest Iraq near the Syrian border. 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. … Unless inspectors go to the site and investigate all activities, 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. The uranium could be used in a clandestine nuclear weapons effort.”

Albright’s nuclear warning about Iraq coincided with the start of the Bush administration’s propaganda campaign to rally Congress and the American people to war with talk about “the smoking gun in the form of a mushroom cloud.”

Though Albright eventually grew skeptical about the alleged resurrection of an Iraqi nuclear program, he remained a firm believer in the Bush administration’s claims about Iraq’s supposed chemical and biological weapons programs as justification for the March 2003 invasion.

Gullibility Exposed

In summer 2003, after the promised WMD caches proved non-existent, the journalism watchdog group FAIR published a study by Seth Ackerman looking at the American press corps’ gullibility and citing the role of weapons experts like Albright.

Entitlted “The Great WMD Hunt,” the article said, “In part, journalists absorbed their aura of certainty from a battery of ‘independent’ weapons experts who repeated the mantra of Iraq concealment over and over. Journalists used these experts as outside sources who could independently evaluate the administration’s claims. Yet often these ‘experts’ were simply repeating what they heard from U.S. officials, forming an endless loop of self-reinforcing scare mongering.

“Take the ubiquitous David Albright, a former U.N. inspector in Iraq. Over the years, Albright had been cited in hundreds of news articles and made scores of television appearances as an authority on Iraqi weapons. A sample prewar quote from Albright (CNN, 10/5/02): ‘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.’”

FAIR added: “But when the postwar weapons hunt started turning up empty, Albright made a rather candid admission (L.A. Times, 4/20/03): ‘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.’”

Albright’s official biography at ISIS, which he founded and still heads, also boasts about his media influence: “The media frequently cite Albright, and he has appeared often on television and radio. A National Journal profile in 2004 called him a ‘go-to guy for media people seeking independent analysis on Iraq’s WMD programs.’”

The list of media outlets that relied on Albright is indeed impressive, as the bio reports:

The New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, Time, Washington Times, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, London Sunday Times, Guardian, Die Zeit, Ashi Shimbun, Der Spiegel, Stern, and Times of India and by Reuters, Associated Press, AFP and Bloomberg wire services. Albright has also appeared many times on CNN, FOX, MSNBC, ABC World News Tonight, NBC Nightly News, CBS Evening News, Newshour with Jim Lehrer, 60 Minutes, Dateline, Nightline and multiple National Public Radio shows.”

Forgetting Iraq Fiasco

Yet, when the Washington Post cited Albright on Monday, as the key source of a front-page article about Iran’s supposed progress toward reaching “nuclear capability,” all the history of Albright’s role in the Iraq fiasco disappeared. The article by Joby Warrick stated:

“Beginning early in the last decade and apparently resuming — though at a more measured pace — after a pause in 2003, Iranian scientists worked concurrently across multiple disciplines to obtain key skills needed to make and test a nuclear weapon that could fit inside the country’s long-range missiles, said David Albright, a former U.N. weapons inspector who has reviewed the intelligence files.

“‘The program never really stopped,’ said Albright, president of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security. The institute performs widely respected independent analyses of nuclear programs in countries around the world, often drawing from IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] data.

“‘After 2003, money [in Iran] was made available for research in areas that sure look like nuclear weapons work but were hidden within civilian institutions,’ Albright said.”

The Post reported that key elements of this foreboding analysis come from a soon-to-be-released IAEA report, but the Post relied on Albright for emphasis and interpretation. The article said:

“Some of the highlights were described in a presentation by Albright at a private conference of intelligence professionals last week. PowerPoint slides from the presentation were obtained by The Washington Post, and details of Albright’s summary were confirmed by two European diplomats privy to the IAEA’s internal reports. …

“Albright said IAEA officials, based on the totality of the evidence given to them, have concluded that Iran ‘has sufficient information to design and produce a workable implosion nuclear device’ using highly enriched uranium as its fissile core. … ‘The [intelligence] points to a comprehensive project structure and hierarchy with clear responsibilities, timelines and deliverables,’ Albright said, according to the notes from the presentation.”

The Post cited Albright as describing a key breakthrough for Iran when it obtained the design for an R265 generator, “a hemispherical aluminum shell with an intricate array of high explosives that detonate with split-second precision. These charges compress a small sphere of enriched uranium or plutonium to trigger a nuclear chain reaction.”

The Post reported that the IAEA had received intelligence claiming that a former Soviet nuclear scientist, Vyacheslav Danilenko, explained to Iranian scientists how to develop and test an explosion needed to detonate a nuclear warhead. However, one source told the Post that Danilenko’s work was limited to civilian engineering projects.

The Post doesn’t spell out where the new IAEA intelligence originated, but the New York Times reported that “some of that information came from the United States, Israel and Europe.” Israeli leaders have been trying to rally public support for a bombing campaign against Iran’s nuclear facilities, while Iran remains deeply unpopular with U.S. and European officials.

A Different IAEA

Today’s IAEA also is not the same organization that bucked the Bush administration’s intelligence regarding Iraq’s supposed nuclear weapons program.

As former CIA analyst Ray McGovern wrote on Feb. 21, 2010, the new IAEA chief, Japanese diplomat Yukiya Amano, had “huge shoes to fill when he took over from the widely respected Mohamed ElBaradei, [who] had the courage to call a spade a spade and, when necessary, a forgery a forgery — like the documents alleging that Iraq had sought yellowcake uranium in Niger.”

Citing the contrast between ElBaradei’s expertise and reputation and that of the less known Amano, McGovern added, “lacking gravitas, one bends more easily. It is a fair assumption that Amano will prove more malleable than his predecessor — and surely more naïve.”

Now, it appears that Amano’s IAEA has accepted intelligence information from Israel and other enemies of Iran in preparing a report that is sure to add fuel to the fire for a possible military confrontation with Iran. Republican presidential hopefuls are already lining up to beat the war drums and accuse President Barack Obama of softness on Iran.

CIA analysts are sure to come under new pressure to back away from an important National Intelligence Estimate from 2007 which concluded that the Iranians had halted work on a nuclear weapons program in 2003. President Bush said the NIE tied his hands when he was considering a military attack on Iran before he left office.

Official Washington’s animus toward Iran also continues to be reflected in the intense interest over Iran’s nuclear program, which Iranian officials insist is only for peaceful purposes, compared to the usual silence over Israel’s actual nuclear-weapons arsenal.

Not only do the Washington Post and New York Times routinely leave out the existence of the Israeli arsenal of possibly hundreds of atomic bombs when writing stories about Iran conceivably building its first, but experts like Albright also largely ignore the former while obsessing on the latter.

Albright’s ISIS has published 36 reports about Iran in the past 12 months alone, compared to only three items on Israel over the past decade, according to the ISIS Web site.

It is that sort of even-handedness that Americans can expect in the next days and weeks as the U.S. news media again consults with its favored “experts” as both groups reprise their pre-Iraq War role on WMD, this time on Iran.

[For more on related topics, see Robert Parry’s Lost History, Secrecy & Privilege and Neck Deep, now available in a three-book set for the discount price of only $29. For details, click here.]

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there.

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22 comments on “An Iraq-WMD Replay on Iran?

  1. Pingback: Same “experts” who confirmed Iraq’s imaginary weapons are about to do the same thing for Iran (and may God help us all) :: News From Underground

  2. Mary B. Sanchez on said:

    This is such an important thought that it needs to, somehow, reach a larger audience. People don’t need to agree or disagree with the arguments, but they do need to hear the arguments and the reasoning.

  3. Hillary on said:

    There are thousands of sayanim around the world and thousands more waiting on the active list.

    Neocons using Bible Prophecies , fake quotes that Iran is intent on attacking Israel ,and fake news to encourage the (Jews for Jesus) Christians to extend the “War on Islam” to benefit no other country except Israel.

    Iran is now surrounded by military outposts that operate for Zionism.

    Iranians live every day & night with the Israeli/US threat of annihilation.

    The IAEA report will be used to impose sanction in order to soften the population for attack. It is a replay of what occurred in Iraq with AIPAC in the lead yet will continue to see the usual suspects promoting more killing.

  4. rosemerry on said:

    Why do people accept the advice of “experts” such as this one, another Albright (I had never heard of him, but do not use the “news sources” he contributes to.) When the decisions are made (eg to invade Iraq) and then the facts are made to fit, as Tony Blair admitted about the Iraq plans, no amount of truth is allowed to enter the discussion.

  5. Gregory L Kruse on said:

    It’s just a lucky thing that China doesn’t yet have nuclear weapons, because as an ally of Iran, they could cause the US and Israel to pause and consider. Unfortunately, the Persians are not as stupid as Herman Cain, and have been given time to consider their moves if and when they are invaded. Since it took ten years to prostrate Iraq, and will take even longer to passify Afghanistan, we should expect twenty years of war with Iran. This is exactly what the neocons want.

    • Steve Abbott on said:

      Gregory, China has of course had nuclear weapons since around 1965, and is estimated to have approximately two hundred warheads. What prevents them from using them is the principle of mutual assured destruction.

  6. Billy Wood on said:

    This is an honest recount of recent history. Anyone who refused to learn the lessons of the past, especially the coordinated and premeditated efforts by US, Israel, UK and some UN organization, to distort facts about WMD in Iraq, is likely to fall into another long meaningless war that only benefits the necon or zioncon supporters. the 1% sucking the blood of the world in peace or at war.

  7. G. W. Campbell on said:

    INRE GKRUSE statement,”It’s just a lucky thing that China doesn’t yet have nuclear weapons….”

    FYI: China has had nuclear capabilities since 1964.

  8. chmoore on said:

    Recently, much news reporting on this amounted to reading what someone said about what someone else said about what the IAEA is alleged to have said.

    So then yesterday, the actual report shows up at
    http://isis-online.org/uploads/isis-reports/documents/IAEA_Iran_8Nov2011.pdf

    Most of the most-confirmed evidence refers to pre-end-of-2003, and the report’s summary says, “The information also indicates that prior to the end of 2003, these activities took place under a structured programme, and that some activities may still be ongoing.”, which to me sounds rather ambiguous about post-2003.

    It seems we already knew about pre-end-of-2003, because of the 2007 U.S. Intelligence NIE, so it sounds like for that time period – no new news – what’s the purpose of reporting it? And what’s the purpose of leaking it before it’s released?

    I remember once reading a quote of Vladimir Putin (sorry can’t remember source) that said something like, ‘when information is leaked, it can be said that it is done especially’.

    The post-2003 report info doesn’t sound particularly ground-breaking either, and the best the report can do is, “…the Agency is unable to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore [unable] to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.” In other words, they can’t prove a negative. Bummer!

    So, we think we know what used to happen, we’re not really sure what is currently happening, so, why not just bomb the hell out of ‘em?

    Swell

  9. Pingback: Iran’s Soviet Bomb-Maker Who Wasn’t | Consortiumnews

  10. Steve Abbott on said:

    So now it appears that a great deal of additional information is becoming available, not adding to the evidence presented by IAEA, but with respect to the incredible inadequacy of their evidence. In summary: 1. many of their points refer to activities and events prior to 2003. 2. many of the dual use materials and equipment are exactly that. They have civilian uses. 3. The Soviet nuclear scientist they refer to is not and never has been a nuclear scientist. He is a specialist in “detonation nano diamonds”, and has lectured on his contributions leading that field in Europe and the US. (His contract in Iran also predated 2003.) 4. His specialty in detonation nano diamonds also also accounts for some of those dual use equipment and materials. 5. His specialty also requires shaped charges and precise detonation timing as refered to in the report. 6. His specialty also might explain the steel container referred to in the report.

    Really good coverage of these points here:
    http://www.enduringamerica.com/home/2011/11/9/iran-special-analysis-part-1-the-nuclear-report-may-is-not-d.html:
    ..and here.
    http://www.enduringamerica.com/home/2011/11/8/iran-feature-did-unnamed-officials-use-the-media-to-turn-nan.html

  11. GeorgeA on said:

    Please…you cannot be serious in your quoted description: “the widely respected Mohamed ElBaradei, [who] had the courage to call a spade a spade”.
    ElBaradei was an unremitting apologist for the Iranians, turning his back on every bit of evidence that they were actively pursuing nuclear weapons. Please get your head out of the sand. Iran is a fantatical regime bent on destruction of not only Israel, but of Western interests in the middle east and beyond. When will we learn from history that fanatics with the intentions and the resources to reek mass destruction will do so if they are not stopped.

    • guyrene on said:

      Our own intelligence agency, the CIA, has said that Iran had no ongoing nuclear weapons system. There is only one country with a nuclear weapons weapons program in the Mideast and that is not Iran. I think you are the one who should get his head out of the sand.

      The same evil crowd who gave us the disinformation about nukes in Iraq are now doing the same propaganda about Iran. George, I assume that you were a big supporter of the war on the people of Iraq. Wars are the worst of all terrorism and those who support unjust wars are terrorists.

  12. T. Webb on said:

    I cannot fathom how supposedly intelligent people can be so blind and naive — oh I guess it must be ideological bias!!
    George A is absolutely correct. El Baradei was a disaster, and there is now considerable thought that, as a known Islamist, he was actively colluding in a cover up of Iran’s nuclear developments and capability. Having someone like him in charge of monitoring Iran’s nuclear threat was like having the fox guard the hen-house. In this existential was against radical Islam, especially the mad mullahs of Iran (who are the largest supporters of terrorism worldwide, from Hezbollah, to Hamas and beyond) it was sheer madness to have a Muslim as head of the IAEA. Now wasted years have passed to the point where the dangers are real and imminent. And yet, here we have idiotic Westerners who are so ideologically blinded that they refuse to face the realities of the Iranian threat, and dream up all sort of conspiracy theories to appease and let Iran off the hook. Grow up guys!

    Read the following article:

    ElBaradei an Iranian agent
    http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4146150,00.html

    • guyrene on said:

      Sure, Iran is a big nuclear threat–just as Iraq was. It’s a shame that warmongers have such short memories. War on Iran will double what we pay for oil and possibly lead to the killings of millions of innocent victims in a brand new World War made possible by a misinformed Western world.

  13. Hillary on said:

    The vast neocon network has vast amounts of money & professional propagandidts.

    The MSM quotes other MSM with variations of untruths to persuade the dumbed down public just as the Murdoch Media empire did for the NECESSARY destruction of Iraq .

    The Israeli Government recruita & has at its disposal an army of paid posters to fill “chat forums” to promote this war on Islam.

    One of the better known of the thousands of sayanim in the service of the USA David Frum coined the “Evil Empire” phrase for G.B.Bush & neocon efforts have built on that to murder & cripple over 5,000,000 men women & children in Islamic countries.

    The New Yorker reported that Haim Saban, the Israeli-American, multi billionaire media mogul described his pro-Israeli formula, outlining “three ways to be influential in American politics…make donations to political parties, establish think tanks, and control media outlets.”

    Mr.& Mrs Joe the plumber & some here are totally unaware because the American Media has become a neocon propaganda voice for “war”.

    • GeorgeA on said:

      Oh dear, Hilary, sadly you can only see the world as either your extreme leftist “rational” narrative or a vast “neocon/Israeli” conspiracy. I can assure you that I am neither a part of this mythical neocon network nor am I an Israeli government paid poster.

      I happen to be, with millions of others,somebody who tries to evaluate the evidence staring at us in the face, namely that there are some pretty nasty regimes around, who openly profess a desire to obliterate other nations, and are clearly developing the means to do so. Remember a guy called Hitler who said and almost succeeded ind doing the same thing?

      Well, the Iranian regime is one of the most frightening in this category, and one must be pretty much blinded by some sort of extreme leftist/Islamist ideology to be able to argue that this is not the case.

      Try opening your eyes and ears rather than resorting to tired and predictable rhetoric about neocon and Israeli conspiracies.

      • Hillary on said:

        I can assure you that I am neither a part of this mythical neocon network nor am I an Israeli government paid poster.

        GeorgeA on November 13, 2011 at 1:21 am
        _______________________________________________________

        GeorgeA needs to google PNAC & AIPC and educate himself.

        Possibly GeorgeA believes that if his MSM provider never talks about it , it does not happen and so is not considered important.

        GeorgeA obviously doesn’t realise that Hamas was democratically elected to represent Palestinians.

        Hesbolah likewise elected to represent Lebanese to defend Lebanon from continued invasions and cliuster bombs from that country to the south that can’t be named.

        GeorgeA “the less enlightened, unsuspecting” doesn’t see that its that country to the south that is the most dangerous.

        BTW Dr. Alan Sabrosky director of Studies at the Army War
        College and says that the US Military knows who did 9/11.

        http://socioecohistory.wordpress.com/2011/09/28/dr-alan-sabrosky-the-us-military-knows-israel-did-911-it-was-a-mossad-operation/

  14. Pingback: Déjà Vu Over Iran A-Bomb Charges | Consortiumnews

  15. Pingback: Iran’s “Russian nuclear weapon scientist” | Rehmat's World

  16. gunfodder on said:

    Think people. Were Iran to lob a nuke at Tel Aviv they would be radioactive glass within hours. How stupid do you think they are? This is not about nuclear weapons. This is about money, oil, and trade war. Same old, same old. The bullies want it all. The 1% starts the wars and makes the money. We get to die murdering people we’ve never met. They get the winnings and we get the bill. Unfortunately the 99% has the memory span of a fruit fly.

  17. Pingback: David Albright Questioned on Credentials, Iran Weapons Claims, Record on Israeli Nuclear Weapons — Threatens Stakeout | The Washington Stakeout