Playing Word Games on Iran and Nukes

In the U.S. propaganda war against Iran, a recurring tactic is to play games with words, conflating a nuclear program with a weapons program despite the longstanding judgment of  U.S. intelligence that Iran is not working on a bomb, as Gareth Porter reports for Inter Press Service.

By Gareth Porter

When U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Carmen M. Ortiz unsealed the indictment of a Chinese citizen in the UK for violating the embargo against Iran, she made what appeared to be a new U.S. accusation of an Iran nuclear weapons program.

The press release on the indictment announced that between November 2005 and 2012, Sihai Cheng had supplied parts that have nuclear applications, including U.S.-made goods, to an Iranian company, Eyvaz Technic Manufacturing, which it described as “involved in the development and procurement of parts for Iran’s nuclear weapons program.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at a press conference in Iran. (Official Iranian photo)

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at a press conference in Iran. (Official Iranian photo)

Reuters, Bloomberg, the Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune and The Independent all reported that claim as fact. But the U.S. intelligence community, since its well-known November 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, has continued to be very clear on the public record about its conclusion that Iran has not had a nuclear weapons program since 2003.

Something was clearly amiss with the Justice Department’s claim. The text of the indictment reveals that the reference to a “nuclear weapons program” was yet another iteration of a rhetorical device used often in the past to portray Iran’s gas centrifuge enrichment program as equivalent to the development of nuclear weapons.

The indictment doesn’t actually refer to an Iranian nuclear weapons program, as the Ortiz press release suggested. But it does say that the Iranian company in question, Eyvaz Tehnic Manufacturing, “has supplied parts for Iran’s development of nuclear weapons.”

The indictment claims that Eyvaz provided “vacuum equipment” to Iran’s two uranium enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordow and “pressure transducers” to Kalaye Electric Company, which has worked on centrifuge research and development. But even those claims are not supported by anything except a reference to a Dec. 2, 2011 decision by the Council of the European Union that did not offer any information supporting that claim.

The credibility of the EU claim was weakened, moreover, by the fact that the document describes Eyvaz as a “producer of vacuum equipment.” The company’s website shows that it produces equipment for the oil, gas and petrochemical industries, including level controls and switches, control valves and steam traps.

Further revealing the political nature of the indictment’s nuclear weapons claim, it cites two documents “designating” entities for their ties to the nuclear program: the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1737 and a U.S. Treasury Department decision two months later.

Neither of those documents suggested any connection between Eyvaz and nuclear weapons. The UNSC Resolution, passed Dec. 23, 2006, referred to Iran’s enrichment as “proliferation sensitive nuclear activities” in 11 different places in the brief text and listed Eyvaz as one of the Iranian entities to be sanctioned for its involvement in those activities.

And in February 2007 the Treasury Department designated Kalaye Electric Company as a “proliferator of Weapons of Mass Destruction” merely because of its “research and development efforts in support of Iran’s nuclear centrifuge program.”

The designation by Treasury was carried out under an Executive Order 13382, issued by President George W. Bush, which is called “Blocking Property of Weapons of Mass destruction Proliferators and Their Supporters.” That title conveyed the impression to the casual observer that the people on the list had been caught in actual WMD proliferation activities.

But the order allowed the U.S. government to sanction any foreign person merely because that person was determined to have engaged in activities that it argued “pose a risk of materially contributing” to “the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or their means of delivery”.

The Obama administration’s brazen suggestion that it was indicting an individual for exporting U.S. products to a company that has been involved in Iran’s “nuclear weapons program” is simply a new version of the same linguistic trick used by the Bush administration.

The linguistic acrobatics began with the political position that Iran’s centrifuge program posed a “risk” of WMD proliferation; that “risk” of proliferation was then conflated with nuclear proliferation activities, when that was transmuted into “development of nuclear weapons.” The final linguistic shift was to convert “development of nuclear weapons” into a “nuclear weapons program”.

That kind of the deceptive rhetoric about the Iranian nuclear program began with Bill Clinton’s administration, which argued, in effect, that nuclear weapons development could be inferred from Iran’s enrichment program.

Although Cheng and Jamili clearly violated U.S. statutes in purchasing and importing the pressure transducers from the United States and sending them to Eyvaz in Iran, a close reading of the indictment indicates that the evidence that Eyvaz provided the transducers to the Iranian nuclear program is weak at best.

The indictment says Cheng began doing business with Jamili and his company Nicaro in November 2005, and that he sold thousands of Chinese parts “with nuclear applications” which had been requested by Eyvaz. But all the parts listed in the indictment are dual use items that Eyvaz could have ordered for production equipment for oil and gas industry customers.

The indictment insinuates that Eyvaz was ordering the parts to pass them on to Iran’s enrichment facility at Natanz, but provides no real evidence of that intent. It quotes Jamili as informing Cheng in 2007 that his unnamed customer needed the parts for “a very big project and a secret one.” In 2008, he told Cheng that the customer was “making a very dangerous system and gas leakage acts as a bomb!”

The authors do not connect either of those statements to Eyvaz, but they suggest that it was a reference to gas centrifuges and thus imply that it must have been Eyvaz. “During the enrichment of uranium using gas centrifuges,” the indictment explains, “extremely corrosive chemicals are produced that could cause fire and explosions.”

That statement is highly misleading, however. There is no real risk of gas leaks from centrifuges causing fires or explosions, as MIT nuclear expert Scott R. Kemp told IPS in an interview. “The only risk of a gas leak [in centrifuge enrichment] is to the centrifuge itself,” said Kemp, “because the gas could leak into the centrifuge and cause it to crash.”

On the other hand, substantial risk of explosion and fire from gas leaks exists in the natural gas industry. So even if the customer referred to in the quotes had been Eyvaz, they would have been consistent with that company’s sales to gas industry customers.

Pressure transducers are used to control risk in that industry, as Todd McPadden of Ashcroft Instruments in Stratford, Connecticut told IPS. The pressure transducer measures the gas pressure and responds to any indication of either loss of pressure from leaks or build up of excessive pressure, McPadden explained.

The indictment shows in detail that in 2009 Eyvaz ordered hundreds of pressure transducers, which came from the U.S. company MKS. But again the indictment cites no real evidence that Eyvaz was ordering them to supply Iran’s enrichment facilities.

It refers only to photographs showing that MKS parts ended up in the centrifuge cascades at Natanz, which does not constitute evidence that they came from Eyvaz.

Gareth Porter, an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy, received the UK-based Gellhorn Prize for journalism for 2011 for articles on the U.S. war in Afghanistan. His new book Manufactured Crisis: the Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare, was published Feb. 14.


3 comments for “Playing Word Games on Iran and Nukes

  1. April 14, 2014 at 01:50

    Dear Mr. Porter , all the goods that I imported to Iran for Eyaz were Chinese goods such as Alnico magnet for magnetic level guage , bellows for their different safety valves, diaphragm for their valves, precision casting parts for steam trap body and valve body , mercury switch for level controller , small plastic box for their spare part warehouse , steel tube for floating ball of level controller , flow switch, steel flanges for their valves . Every body can find the usage of our imported goods in this factory web site . I think that you are right and American just trying to play with words in a dirty game against Iran . Regarding transducer , all our food and pharmaceutical industries and universities laboratory are using this goods and importing from MKS Mexico , Wika , Alcatel, Edwards ,…. American have the Chinese man lap top and well know the goods introduced as Mexican products by other 2 Chinese guys to Mr. Sihi Cheng and a lot of photo with “Made in Mexico ” is in his lap top memory . He had been deceived from the beginning of this business by other 2 Chinese who presented and made fake and fraud documents to Sihi Cheng. Both of me and Alex thought goods are Mexican products and had been assembled in Mexico and all imported guages has a printed label ” Made in Mexico ” . I am not so foolish to write to Sihi Cheng about : “making a very dangerous system and gas leakage acts as a bomb!” . it is a big lie . I never did it ! USA is making different fault and fake words on behalf of me . I can invite every expert to show them where the imported 340 pcs guages assembled in pharmaceutical and food projects and where is the rest 142 pcs in a food machinery factory warehouse have been kept . Me and Mr. Sihi Cheng are simple businessman without any political relations . All which is printing about Eyvaz and this company activities is not true. At least , I know as an Iranian engineer . I cut my cooperation with them after their company name entered to sanction list on Dec.2011 . The two other Chinese man who imported the goods from USA and presented fraud documents to Mr. Cheng already had been arrested 2 years ago in USA . Why USA keep silent in 2 years and just explained it at the beginning of 5+1 talks ? I think politic is too dirty and just they are playing with our life . All explanation about Eyvaz are not correct .
    I can help any engineering team who wants to come and visit Eyvaz small factory. Frankly speaking , this company is not so big or high quality production capability as they think. This factory has only 12 simple worker , one sales manager , 3 sale representative shop in the central market and one engineer at all ! How this factory can make and supply such high technology products !!!! I can invite every one to Iran and arrange visiting from this company.

  2. rosemerry
    April 13, 2014 at 15:37

    The USA’s arrogant behaviour, as usual, is quite hypocritical, since it is the greatest nuke owner, the only nuke user for actual mass murders, the refuser (since GWBush) to ban first use of nukes or their use against a non-nuke enemy (the rule of all for decades) and of course it supports Israel in its illegal, “secret” nuke weapons program and illegal occupation of Palestine. What has Iran really done? NOTHING.

  3. incontinent reader
    April 13, 2014 at 04:03

    Mr. Porter, bravo. This is not only a blow for justice in this individual prosecution, but also by extension, a demonstration of how the sanctions, based as they are on not only flawed information, but fabricated intelligence and disinformation, can unfairly affect any one of us trying to do honest business. It really is time for the Administration and our legislators to develop policies based on truthful narratives and to stop trying to frame persons, or peoples, or nations, in order to force them to do what some special interest (whether foreign- e.g. an ‘ally’, such as Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, Britain or France, etc.- or
    domestic- e.g., the arms manufacturers, US energy multinationals, or US banks) wants to do to Iran, especially where they are profiting from it, while at the same time imposing the costs of the sanctions not only on Iran, but on everyone else as well. And it’s also time for those special interests to pay their own way.

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