Planting False Evidence on Iran

Prior to the U.S. intelligence community’s 2007 assessment that Iran was not working on a nuclear weapons program, there was a scramble among U.S. and Israeli officials to show that it was. The CIA’s Operation Merlin also revealed that U.S. officials were not above planting false evidence, writes Norman Solomon.

By Norman Solomon

A month after former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling was convicted on nine felony counts with circumstantial metadata, the zealous prosecution is now having potentially major consequences — casting doubt on the credibility of claims by the U.S. government that Iran has work on a nuclear weapons program.

With negotiations between Iran and the United States at a pivotal stage, fallout from the trial’s revelations about the CIA’s Operation Merlin is likely to cause the International Atomic Energy Agency to re-examine U.S. assertions that Iran has pursued nuclear weapons.

Iranian women attending a speech by Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. (Iranian government photo)

Iranian women attending a speech by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. (Iranian government photo)

In its zeal to prosecute Sterling for allegedly leaking classified information about Operation Merlin — which provided flawed nuclear weapon design information to Iran in 2000 — the U.S. government has damaged its own standing with the IAEA. The trial made public a treasure trove of information about the Merlin operation.

Last week Bloomberg News reported from Vienna, where IAEA is headquartered, that the agency “will probably review intelligence they received about Iran as a result of the revelations, said the two diplomats who are familiar with the IAEA’s Iran file and asked not to be named because the details are confidential.”

The Bloomberg dispatch, which matter-of-factly referred to Merlin as a “sting” operation, quoted a former British envoy to the IAEA, Peter Jenkins, saying: “This story suggests a possibility that hostile intelligence agencies could decide to plant a ‘smoking gun’ in Iran for the IAEA to find. That looks like a big problem.”

After sitting through the seven-day Sterling trial, I don’t recall that the government or any of its witnesses — including 23 from the CIA as well as former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice — ever referred to Operation Merlin as a “sting.” Instead, it was consistently portrayed as an effort to send Iran down the wrong technical path. In fact, over the years, Operation Merlin may have been both.

Near the end of the Clinton administration, CIA documents released at the trial show, Merlin was a botched effort to screw up Iran’s nuclear program. (There is no evidence that Iran’s government took the bait.) But documents also show that Merlin continued for years, with the CIA considering plans to widen the operation beyond Iran.

As a matter of fact, one CIA document was not redacted sufficiently to hide evident interest in also trying a similar tactic against Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. History certainly tells us that the Bush-Cheney administration would be capable of seeking to cite fabricated evidence in a push to justify military action against a targeted country.

Investigative journalist Marcy Wheeler, my colleague at ExposeFacts, has written an extensive analysis of the latest developments. The article on her EmptyWheel blog raises key questions beginning with the headline “What Was the CIA Really Doing with Merlin by 2003?

An emerging big irony of United States of America v. Jeffrey Alexander Sterling is that the government has harmed itself in the process of gunning for the defendant. While the prosecution used innuendos and weak circumstantial evidence to obtain guilty verdicts on multiple felonies, the trial produced no actual evidence that Sterling leaked classified information. But the trial did provide abundant evidence that the U.S. government’s nuclear-related claims about Iran should not be trusted.

In the courtroom, one CIA witness after another described Operation Merlin as a vitally important program requiring strict secrecy. Yet the government revealed a great deal of information about Operation Merlin during the trial — including CIA documents that showed the U.S. government to be committed to deception about the Iranian nuclear program.

If, as a result, the International Atomic Energy Agency concludes that U.S. assertions about an alleged Iranian nuclear weapons program lack credibility, top officials in Washington will have themselves to blame.

Norman Solomon is the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy and the author of War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. He is a co-founder of

7 comments for “Planting False Evidence on Iran

  1. February 28, 2015 at 21:39

    Nor should the substantial nuclear arsenal of Israel, in the ME, be allowed to exist without any accountability.

    It should be asked …
    Why is a nation that has nuclear weapons being allowed to point fingers and threaten war against a nation which doesn’t have any … without being told to pull-their-head-in, or else??

  2. Rob Roy
    February 28, 2015 at 03:30

    Borat, the others commenting here are right. You are not. You say, “the reality of their state [Iran] sponsored terrorism and designs for being a nuclear power in the Middle East cannot be ignored.” Yes, it can, because it is not true, and there is not a shred of evidence for it. To think so is to me parroting MSM who parrots the White House and/or war mongers. If anyone should have nuclear weapons, it’s Iran, but they declared in 2003 to G.W Bush that they would never make any and sent him a ‘grand bargain.’ What they mainly wanted was to trade with Europe and stop being called one of the Axis of Evil. G.W. slapped down the Swiss diplomat who delivered it and wouldn’t ever consider it. Why? The neo-cons decided to take Iran, Iraq and Syria a couple decades ago plus four more mid-east countries after that. I read their papers on this at the time. In other words, I have proof of this. Iran has never in memory attacked another country; the Israelis do it on a regular basis, attacking anyone around them with impunity (not long ago, they bombed Iraq, then more recently Syria…never hear about that in our MSM). Oh, yes, Mossad murdered five Iranian scientists a couple years ago. Why aren’t they on trial in the ICC? Iran should say to the U.S. and Israel about nuclear weapons, “You have them.” It’s a mystery to me why that is never mentioned. Why do we have them and Iran can’t? We are the ones who attack other countries regularly without just cause. What on earth would Iran do with nuclear weapons? Zionists acts as if Iran would bomb Israel. Not a chance. Israel has the fourth most powerful military in the world. This deal may be prevented because the big money making business of the U.S. is war and selling war machinery/ weapons to everyone who wants them, and Israel just wants to bomb Iran for the hell of it. God, they just murdered 519 Palestinian children without outcry in our news outlets, because they can get away with war crimes any time they want to. Now they are teaming up with Saudi Arabia where the terrorists who committed 9/11 came from and where human rights abuses are worse, yes worse, than ISIS. I believe they beheaded nearly 200 people last year. The person heading up the IAEA Yukiya Amano told the U.S. “I will give you what you want.” Before him, ElBaradi and Blix were honest; they found Iran’s nuclear program was for energy and medical isotopes. Period.

  3. Larry Motuz
    February 27, 2015 at 15:42

    Quote: ” The trial made public a treasure trove of information about the Merlin operation.”

    No doubt this is why abandoning trials is the way to go. I very much suspect that is where the future lies.


  4. Joe Tedesky
    February 27, 2015 at 02:05

    How would any reporting from the Alternative Internet Media make a difference? I mean, what force maybe strong enough to pierce the MSM’s narrative shield? The lies which have been fed to the American public are so blanketed that they cover every aspect of U.S. life. These untruths effect our country’s military, healthcare, pensions, economics, and much more. Yet, everyday we are force fed even more of their Neocon junk food of lies, to the point that most average citizens just tune out. The New World Order is so determined to dominate that such genius ideas as Operation Merlin just feels right to the them. When you look at a map to where the U.S. & it’s Allies have already implemented their conflicts, you may come to the conclusion that WW3 started back in 1991.

  5. Andrew Nichols
    February 26, 2015 at 23:38

    Considering the only two nations providing “evidence” have been the USA and Israel (always laughingly referred in the media to as an unidentified nation) the Iran weapons things has always been a load of Cr..p. However’ the japanese stooge for these two nations running the IAEA wont let that affect the narrative. The outrage will continue as long as the Empire wants it to.

  6. Zachary Smith
    February 26, 2015 at 22:57

    History certainly tells us that the Bush-Cheney administration would be capable of seeking to cite fabricated evidence in a push to justify military action against a targeted country.

    Yes it would.

    Tinfoil Hat time and a look at the Big Picture. Poppy Bush set up his prize goon in Iraq by encouraging him to invade Kuwait. This gave him an excuse to craft an incredible Allied Army to cut the uppity Saddam down to size. Recall that Iraq’s infrastructure was targeted and severely weakened, leading to the bitch Madeline Albright defending 500,000 dead Iraqi kids as “worth it”. Thus Clinton was continuing with the plan by doing as he was told and authorizing Merlin.

    All of a sudden it’s 2000 Election Time. Looking back, it’s plain that the Powers That Be were going to install the dim-bulb son of Poppy Bush in the White House if it was at all practical to do so. It took some mighty exertions in Florida and in the Supreme Court, but the deed was done and the dry-drunk oldest kid would have his chance to Show Up Daddy by finishing the job in Iraq. And as everybody knew, Iran was the next target.

    But what if it had NOT been practical to install Dumbya as President? Well, the neocons had a second arrow in their quiver. All that had to occur was for President Gore to have some sort of fatal ‘accident’ or ‘health problem’. Guess what would happen when POTUS #44 took office? President Joseph “crazier than Netanyahu” Lieberman would have attacked every known enemy of Israel.

    I’ve got to wonder how many versions/variations of “Merlin” actually went into effect? Speaking of which, how long has it been since the Obama Administration stopped the endless braying about Malaysia Airlines Flight 17?

  7. JWalters
    February 26, 2015 at 19:42

    The CIA’s role and methods in manufacturing the Vietnam war is described clearly in Col. Fletcher Prouty’s insightful book, “JFK: The CIA, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy”. Prouty was in charge of providing military resources for clandestine CIA operations, so he had deep insider’s view of events. Naturally, this classic book has been ignored by the war profiteer owned media.

    Obama is trying to remove all military operations from the CIA and return it to collecting and analyzing intelligence. That was its stated purpose when Truman signed it into existence. But the war profiteering bankers soon subverted it for their own agenda. Truman wrote an op-ed advocating its return to intelligence work only, and insisted it be published EXACTLY one month to the day after JFK’s assassination. That was a clearly a message that he thought he CIA may have been involved.

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