Déjà Vu Over Iran A-Bomb Charges

Exclusive: The mainstream U.S. news media is again ratcheting up tensions with Iran over its alleged nuclear weapons program by hailing a new report on the topic. But the press is once more falling down on its duty to examine the allegations carefully, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The New York Times is trotting out some of its favorite words like “meticulous” to praise the new report by United Nations weapons inspectors citing Iran’s supposed work on a nuclear bomb, and the Washington Post says the findings “ought to end serious debate” about Tehran’s nefarious intentions.

So, rather than undertake a careful examination of the report’s claims, America’s preeminent newspapers are once more putting on display their deep-seated biases regarding the Middle East. Any claim against a Muslim adversary must be true.

In the words of New York Yankees great Yogi Berra, “it’s déjà vu all over again.”

It seems every time an allegation is made against a “designated enemy” in the Middle East, the Post and Times editors cast aside professional skepticism, a pattern that has included Iraq’s WMD (oops!); a U.N.-sponsored report on Syria’s guilt in the Hariri assassination (“meticulous,” the Times said, though the report later fell apart); and the flat-fact claim of Libya’s role in the Lockerbie bombing (highly dubious in terms of evidence, but useful in justifying Muammar Gaddafi’s ouster and murder). [For more on these cases, click here.]

The Times editorial on Thursday was headlined, “The Truth About Iran” with the subhead: “A new report from weapons inspectors leaves little doubt about Tehran’s ambitions.” The editorial fully embraced the methodology of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s report, declaring:

“The report is chillingly comprehensive. What gives the report particular credibility is its meticulous sourcing. The agency’s director, Yukiya Amano, built a case on more than a thousand pages of documents, the assistance of more than 10 agency member states and interviews with ‘a number of individuals who were involved in relevant activities in Iran.’”

Yukiya Amano, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency

The Washington Post’s neocon editors, in an editorial entitled “Running out of time,” were similarly enthusiastic about the report, writing: “The IAEA’s evidence, which includes 1,000 pages of documents, interviews with renegade scientists who helped Iran and material from 10 governments, ought to end serious debate about whether Tehran’s program is for peaceful purposes.”

It might be noted that on Feb. 6, 2003, the day after Secretary of State Colin Powell gave his infamous speech to the United Nations detailing Iraq’s WMD arsenal, the Post editors deemed Powell’s case “irrefutable” and added: “it is hard to imagine how anyone could doubt that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction.” [For details on Powell’s speech and its media reception, click here.]

Yet, instead of having learned any lessons and applying a skeptical eye to the IAEA report, the editors at the Post and the Times returned to their usual role as boosters for anything that puts adversaries of the United States and Israel in a negative light, regardless of  how thin the evidence.

‘May Still Be Ongoing’

If an objective observer did examine the IAEA report and particularly its annex entitled “Possible Military Dimensions of Iran’s Nuclear Programme” he or she would encounter a curious document that offers very little verifiable proof for its murky conclusion that Iran’s weapon project “may still be ongoing.”

Indeed, based on what’s been released to the public, it’s impossible to evaluate any of the allegations because the supporting details are not provided. There is only an assurance from the IAEA that all “information has been carefully and critically examined” and was determined “to be, overall, credible.”

But the credibility question persists, especially because the report doesn’t spell out where the new accusations are coming from although it’s been widely reported that many of the charges emanated from Iran’s intense enemy, Israel.

While Israel clearly has an ax to grind with Iran as Israeli leaders call Iran’s alleged nuclear ambitions an “existential threat” to Israel the IAEA report says it considered “Member States,” which provided most of the evidence about Iran, to be “independent sources.”

Plus, to the degree any of the report’s details have become known, such as the identity of the supposed ex-Soviet nuclear bomb expert tutoring Iranian scientists on a detonation system, the facts haven’t withstood scrutiny.

As reporter Gareth Porter explained, the ex-Soviet scientist, who is not named in the report but has been identified in news reports as Vyacheslav Danilenko, “is not a nuclear weapons scientist but one of the top specialists in the world in the production of nanodiamonds by explosives.

“In fact, Danilenko, a Ukrainian, has worked solely on nanodiamonds from the beginning of his research career and is considered one of the pioneers in the development of nanodiamond technology, as published scientific papers confirm.” (Nanodiamonds have widespread commercial applications in manufacturing and medicine.)

The Danilenko angle was the most dramatic new allegation in the IAEA report because it stirred memories of the spy thriller, “Sum of All Fears,” in which disaffected ex-Soviet nuclear physicists help fashion a nuclear bomb for a terrorist attack. If that key part of the IAEA report can be debunked by a Google search, it doesn’t speak well for the rest of it.

Perhaps even more troubling, the IAEA was aware of Danilenko’s expertise in nanodiamonds, but chose to put a sinister spin on his work in Iran from 1996 to 2002 anyway. The report states:

“The Agency has strong indications that the development by Iran of the high explosives initiation system, and its development of the high speed diagnostic configuration used to monitor related experiments, were assisted by the work of a foreign expert who was not only knowledgeable in these technologies, but who, a Member State has informed the Agency, worked for much of his career with this technology in the nuclear weapon programme of the country of his origin.

“The Agency has reviewed publications by this foreign expert and has met with him. The Agency has been able to verify through three separate routes, including the expert himself, that this person was in Iran from about 1996 to about 2002, ostensibly to assist Iran in the development of a facility and techniques for making ultra-dispersed diamonds (‘UDDs’ or ‘nanodiamonds’), where he also lectured on explosion physics and its applications.”

Since the production of nanodiamonds involves explosions, it would be expected that Danilenko would lecture “on explosion physics and its applications,” but the IAEA report puts that fact in a particularly negative light. It also appears almost certain that the “Member State” pushing the Danilenko angle was Israel.

Pre-2003 Focus

Another surprising part of the IAEA report’s annex is that much of it like the Danilenko section focuses on the time frame before late 2003, when the U.S. intelligence community concluded that Iran stopped work on a nuclear bomb.

The IAEA report acknowledges as much, saying: “the Agency has been able to construct what it believes to be a good understanding of activities undertaken by Iran prior to the end of 2003. The Agency’s ability to construct an equally good understanding of activities in Iran after the end of 2003 is reduced, due to the more limited information available to the Agency.”

But the IAEA still leans toward accepting nearly every piece of disputed evidence against Iran. Regarding alleged Iranian scientific studies gleaned from a purloined laptop, Iran has denounced that material as a fabrication, but the IAEA chooses to accept the material, which was provided by “a Member State,” as genuine. The report states:

“The quantity of the documentation, and the scope and contents of the work covered in the documentation, are sufficiently comprehensive and complex that, in the Agency’s view, it is not likely to have been the result of forgery or fabrication.”

However, a professional intelligence agency would be expected to produce a convincing fabrication that would withstand at least superficial analysis, especially if the forgery was generated by a “Member State” with its own nuclear weapons expertise.

Clearly, today’s IAEA is not the same organization that stood up to falsehoods used in 2002-2003 by the United States and Great Britain to justify invading Iraq.

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 naive.”

Now, it appears that Amano’s IAEA has accepted intelligence information from Israel and other enemies of Iran in preparing a report that is adding fuel to the fire for a possible military confrontation with Iran.

Spinning the Details

Major U.S. news outlets, like the Times and the Post, also have shorn off some of the nuances that remained in the IAEA’s report, which distinguished its more authoritative analysis regarding Iran’s pre-2003 nuclear experiments from a sketchier understanding of the post-2003 period when U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that the work had stopped.

The newspapers tended to merge the two periods, relying on interpretations from “experts” like former weapons inspector David Albright, who was the principal source for a front-page Washington Post news article on Monday about the IAEA’s impending report and who was famously wrong about Iraq’s WMD in 2002-2003.

“The [Iranian nuclear bomb] program never really stopped,” Albright, president of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security, said, according to the Post. “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.”

The IAEA was more circumspect in its conclusions, although it is a truism that academic research on a wide variety of topics can, theoretically at least, be applied to building a nuclear bomb. Which is apparently one of the reasons why assassins have targeted Iranian physicists for murder in recent years.

In its Thursday editorial, the Post raised no objection to that strategy of killing Iranian scientists except to indicate that it didn’t go far enough. The Post’s neocon editors wrote:

“The Obama administration and other Western governments must recognize that the sanctions [on Iran] that have so far been put in place, and covert operations aimed at sabotaging Iranian centrifuges and killing scientists, have not succeeded in changing the regime’s intentions or stopping its work.”

The Post’s editors seem to accept the fact (and the rationalization) for assassinating Iran’s scientists, but the practice, if done against scientists in Western countries or in Israel, would surely be denounced as terrorism.

Similarly, it almost goes without saying that the Post and the Times saw no reason to mention that Israel possesses a sophisticated nuclear arsenal and unlike Iran has refused to subject itself to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or the scrutiny of the IAEA.

No one in the U.S. mainstream news media seems to find it the least bit hypocritical that Israel would be supplying evidence to the IAEA about the alleged secret nuclear ambitions of Iran when Israel itself is a rogue nuclear state.

[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.

25 comments for “Déjà Vu Over Iran A-Bomb Charges

  1. Kenny Fowler
    November 13, 2011 at 18:06

    Yes, it’s becoming obvious that Israel is hell bent on attacking Iran but they aren’t ready to go rogue yet. They are hoping the decade long climate of war mongering in the U.S. will cover for them. I think it’s too late, the party’s over. There still are the media cheerleaders ready to bang the war drums on que but the general enthusiasm for starting a new war is gone. People can remember what happened the last time they believed the hype.

  2. ArabistinBeirut
    November 12, 2011 at 08:23

    “Why is Israel determined to attacking Iran”? Those in the Israeli establishment who are so determined like to say that Iran poses an “existential threat” to the country. (They like to say that about any problem they happen to be facing.) In fact it is, but not in the sense that such discussions would have us believe, that is, that Iran or any other “existential threat” of the moment threatens to attack the state and thereby destroy it. Rather, it is this:

    “In 2006 Ephraim Sneh, at the time the deputy defense minister to Barak, revealed that Israel was not primarily concerned that Iran might fire a nuclear missile.

    The danger of an Iranian bomb, he warned, was that “most Israelis would prefer not to live here; most Jews would prefer not to come here with families, and Israelis who can live abroad will.” He added: “I am afraid Ahmadinejad will be able to kill the Zionist dream without pushing a button. That’s why we must prevent this regime from obtaining nuclear capability at all costs.””


    Indeed, such a threat is already materializing. Of the Israeli population of, say, somewhere around five million full citizens, one million have chosen to live abroad. Reliable figures are unobtainable, as they are regarded as a state secret, but estimates are that emigration exceeds immigration. This means that between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, Israeli Jews are already in the minority, meaning also that non-Jews holding Israeli citizenship are approaching 25% of the population of Israeli citizens living within Israel and the West Bank. That really does constitute an existential threat to Israel as a self-styled Jewish state.

    • Aaron
      November 12, 2011 at 17:13

      That means Israel has become an Apartheid state given all the settlements and infrastructures in the West Bank, which are de facto annexed to Israel, and given the realities of ordinary Palestinians forbidden to move freely and to live normal lives with that huge wall of separation, checkpoints, roadblocks, agricultural land uprooted, and homes demolished, and let’s not forget the others living in Gaza locked up like in a prison since 2005.

      So we have the situation in Gaza and the West Bank, and the fact that Israel calling itself a democracy while claiming to be an exclusive Jewish state in which non-Jews are second class citizens, and Jewish immigrants who have no direct genealogic and historic ties to that land will have more rights and privileges because of their religious identity – That’s not democracy

      • flat5
        November 14, 2011 at 11:22

        Apartheid in the Arab Middle East
        How can the U.N. turn a blind eye to hateful, state-sponsored discrimination against people because of their race, ethnicity, religion and gender?

        While apartheid—the legally-sanctioned practice of segregation, denial of civil rights and persecution because of race, ethnicity, religion or gender—has been eliminated in South Africa, where the term originated, it continues to be practiced in many parts of the world, particularly in the Arab Middle East and Iran. Why does the United Nations Human Rights Council continue to attack free, democratic Israel, yet refuse to condemn these true crimes against humanity?

        What are the facts?

        Apartheid has been practiced in Middle East nations for decades, yet it has managed to escape the scrutiny and condemnation of most of the world, including the United Nations Human Rights Council. It’s time to denounce these discriminatory laws and customs and declare them illegal. Can moral people ignore such blatant, heinous examples of apartheid in the Middle East?

        Racial Apartheid against Black Africans. One of the world’s most deadly examples of racism is in Sudan, where native black Sudanese have been enslaved, persecuted and slaughtered by Muslim Arabs. According to the Christian Science Monitor, the “Darfur pogrom is part of a historic continuum in which successive Arab governments have sought to entirely destroy black Africans in this biracial nation … The raison d’etre of the atrocities committed by government-supported Arab militias is the racist, fundamentalist, and undemocratic Sudanese state.” Since 1983, more than two million black Sudanese have been killed, displaced or exiled.

        Ethnic Apartheid against the Kurds. Few ethnic minorities in the Middle East have suffered as much repression as the Kurds. In Syria in 1962, hundreds of thousands of Kurds had their citizenship taken away or were denied citizenship. In 2008, the Syrian government issued Decree 49, which expelled Kurds from the country’s so-called “Arab Belt” and dispossessed them of rights to own land. The Kurdish Union Party called this an “ethnic cleansing decree … aimed at ending national Kurdish existence.” In Iran, following the Islamic revolution, the Shiite majority denied the Kurds a role in defining the new constitution, and in 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini declared a holy war against Kurdish political organizations: Entire Kurdish villages and towns were destroyed, and thousands of Kurds executed without due process.

        Ethnic Apartheid against Palestinian Arabs. For some 40 years Palestinians have been denied citizenship in Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Palestinians have been expelled from many Middle Eastern countries, including Kuwait, Jordan, Libya and Iraq. In Lebanon, Palestinians must live in designated areas, cannot own homes and are barred from 70 occupations.

        By contrast, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are self-governing. They have their own government—the Palestinian Authority—hold elections (albeit irregularly) and run all aspects of civil society.

        Religious Apartheid against Christians and Jews. Persecution, discrimination and attacks against religious minorities, especially Christians and Jews, are rampant in the Middle East. Pressure by radical Islamists has become so great that in the last 20 years some two million Christians have been driven out of their Middle East homelands. Christians in the Palestinian territories have dropped from 15 percent of the population in 1950 to just two percent today. In Egypt, two Coptic Christian churches were burned down over the past year, and according to a recent NPR report, Egyptian police commonly stand by and watch as Copts are physically attacked by Islamist vigilantes. In Saudi Arabia, Christians and Jews may not be citizens at all. Some 700,000 Jews have been forced out of Arab nations, effectively extinguishing the Jewish population in the region, except in Israel, the world’s only Jewish state. In the disputed Palestinian territories, Jews are the victims of hate-motivated murders and, according to Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, Jews will be banned from any future Palestinian state.

        Gender Apartheid against Women. A 2002 United Nations report states that “women in Arab League countries suffer from unequal citizenship and legal entitlements often evident … in voting rights and legal codes [and] from inequality of opportunity, evident in employment status, wages and gender-based occupational segregation.” In Saudi Arabia, women must walk on separate sidewalks, must be covered from head to toe, and are not allowed to drive or vote in municipal elections. Women in many Middle Eastern countries are commonly forced into marriages, the law usually requires absolute obedience to husbands, and millions of girls must undergo genital mutilation.

        Only Israel, among all Middle Eastern nations, guarantees equal civil rights for all its citizens, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, gender or sexual preference. Israel is the only country in the Middle East in which the Christian population is growing. Some 1.4 million Israeli Arabs enjoy more rights than citizens in any Arab country. Isn’t it time for the U.N. Human Rights Council to stop persecuting Israel and condemn apartheid where it really lives—in Arab nations—and demand immediate reform and sanctions against all countries that commit such crimes against humanity?

        • Aaron
          November 17, 2011 at 18:15

          It’s interesting that the above text has been copied from an advertizing on a website that supports the Israeli occupation and oppression of Palestinians, not to mention distorting and misrepresenting facts and history in the Mid East, particularly pointing the finger at Arab states that do not have diplomatic and political ties with Israel.

          The reality of Palestinians living in the West Bank is akin to Apartheid imposed by Israel for the reasons that I have stated in my first comment. One only has to read numerous reports by well known and credible worldwide human rights organizations, including Israel’s B’Tselem that documents day to day cases of Israeli discrimination and oppression of Palestinians living in occupied territories and not “disputed” territories as would the authors of the advertizing would like us to believe.

          It’s easy to criticize Arab dictatorships that deny the rights of religious minorities and women, even the most backwards of them all that receives billions worth in weapons by the United States because of strategic interests at stake, but it’s interesting how religious percussions are have increased ten fold in Arab and Muslim states like Iraq and Afghanistan that have been invaded and occupied by Western nations, and yet not word from the authors of this advertizing.

          The authors of the advertizing are very quick to condemn the violence against Christian Copts in Egypt nowadays because of the possibility that Israel may find relations with Egypt difficult in the near future, but I am surprised that the text hasn’t criticized Turkey with a long record of discrimination against the Kurds given the current sour relations between Ankara and Tel Aviv. The advertizing ignores that oppression against Kurds in Iran has existed during the time when the Shah backed by the West was the ruler of that countr, not to mention the same situation in Syria way before Baathists came into power as well.

          The idea that surrounding Arab states refuse to give citizenship to Palestinian refugees is based on the hopes that Palestinian Arabs will one day return to the land from where they were expelled by force in the 1948 war, which goes to show that Arabs in the Mid East are not monolithic, and that the Israeli narrative that they other states have the “obligation” to integrate the Palestinian refugees and their descendents into their own population is indicative of blatant racism by Israel’s advocates . It’s like saying “we don’t care, they’re all Arabs and we don’t want them to return because the Jewish character of Israel will simply disappear if they do”

          That means that it is not a democracy if Israel says to be the free and democratic and open and tolerant society it claims to be, when the entire world already knows that its current leadership is led by extremist warmongering fundamentalist zealots who openly advocate for the expulsion of non-Jewish Israeli Arab citizens. The current Minister of Foreign Affairs can vouch form that.

          Of course, it is time that to demand reforms of the UN Human Rights Council by not just singling out Israel all the time for human rights violation, just like it is time to demand an end to US veto at the UN Security Council every time Israel wages wars of aggression against its neighbours, and continues to impose an inhumane blockade against the Palestinians in Gaza.

  3. Claus-Erik Hamle
    November 12, 2011 at 07:37

    My surgeon in Tuluá, Colombia, told me his theory: Some 3 billion years ago all-out ABC war had happened between Moon-Mars. The few survivors from both places settled here. So, we are really 3-in-one, Lunatics (artists,intellectuals,etc.), Martians (warmongers,money people,etc) and the original farmers. And things have been found, a 400 million-year-old gold chain, a 600 million-year-old metal vase, etc. indicating that we have blown it all up before, maybe several times. There is no proof that we are apes, rather some few humans survived in some mountains ( a million years ago ?) and now we are about to blow it all up again. It seems it happens like Spring and Autumn. It´s just too stupid as this civilization could grow some 4 billion years more before the Sun eats all the planets and go to the black hole grave. However, war with Iran has ONE and only ONE good element: How can the Pentagon then justify the missiles in Bulgaria, Romania and Poland ?

    • RobertELegal
      November 13, 2011 at 04:15

      Get your paws off of me, you damned dirty ape!

  4. BONES
    November 12, 2011 at 05:48

    Because today Iran tomorrow the world just like hitler said

  5. Chris Condon
    November 12, 2011 at 04:34

    If Parry is right and Iran is not working to develop nuclear weapons at all, then why is Israel determined to attack Iran? How is Iran a threat to Israel? The Iranian leadership may give impassioned speeches, but that does not make Iran a real threat. Why is it that Israel has it out for Iran?

    • Hassan Shaida
      November 16, 2011 at 04:49

      If you still have to ask this question, you have been asleep the past sixty years.

  6. Hillary
    November 11, 2011 at 08:13

    Israel has a 20 % Arab population who don’t have a “say”.

    Jews comprising only 0.2% of the human race and 2.5 % of the US population and yet they are successfully holding the world to ransom.

    Why is it made Antisemitic to disagree with Israel’s warlike agenda ?

    Déjà Vu of course of a bad US policy of being the 100 % Israeli suporter.

    Jews comprising only 0.2% of the human race and 2.5 % of the US population are shamelessly holding the world to ransom over Iran.

    • November 12, 2011 at 18:08

      The sad fact is that the major American newspapers (and electronic media) are Jewish owned or Jewish controlled. Any doubters need do only a minimum of research to verify this statement or discredit it. And, yes, I have done the research and proved this claim to myself at least.
      Jewish arrogance and twisted religious pride have led to the destruction of Israel more than once, the last time being the expulsion of Jews from their land by the Roman army. Religious fanaticism then was perhaps more understandable than now, but it seems that history is truly going to repeat itself.

    • flat5
      November 17, 2011 at 00:06

      An antisemite and a stupid one…

  7. ellie remore
    November 10, 2011 at 20:15

    The media reports of Iran’s developing nukes(OMG!!)seem to imply, in a fit of jingoist indignation, that something must be done to save us from the impending doom such a dastardly deed portends. And leads me to wonder yet again how the US got to be the arbiter of which country is allowed to amass which weapons, national sovreignty be damned. Did God retire and pick the only superpower to take over for him/her?

  8. charles sereno
    November 10, 2011 at 19:25

    The NY Times and Wash Post should realize that, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future” (~ Yogi Berra), after having struck out repeatedly.

  9. rosemerry
    November 10, 2011 at 17:11

    America’s preeminent newspapers hahaha! The comments by Pres.Ahmedinejad are telling.
    (paraphrased) Not only are the stories about Iran untrue, but the USA is pretending to care about disarmament while spending $81billion upgrading their nuclear arsenal, while Iran’s total expenditure on Nuclear research is $250million. Do you think we would make a bomb and use it when you have over 5000 of them?

    byw The USA itself is violating the NPT by the use and sale of bunker busters, and its sale (or gift) of nuclear material and info to Israel and India, non-signers of NPT.

  10. William Shnley
    November 10, 2011 at 15:46

    Great reporting, Bob. I just sent your article to NYT’s William Broad. Keep going… William

Comments are closed.