How ‘Operation Merlin’ Poisoned U.S. Intelligence on Iran

Exclusive: The CIA’s “Operation Merlin,” which involved providing Iran with a flawed design for a nuclear weapon and resulted in an alleged whistleblower going to prison, was the perfect example of creating intelligence in order to justify operations, reports Gareth Porter.

By Gareth Porter

Jeffrey Sterling, the case officer for the CIA’s covert “Operation Merlin,” who was convicted in May 2015 for allegedly revealing details of that operation to James Risen of the New York Times, was released from prison in January after serving more than two years of a 42-month sentence. He had been tried and convicted on the premise that the revelation of the operation had harmed U.S. security.

The entire case against him assumed a solid intelligence case that Iran had indeed been working on a nuclear weapon that justified that covert operation.

But the accumulated evidence shows that the intelligence not only did not support the need for Operation Merlin, but that the existence of the CIA’s planned covert operation itself had a profound distorting impact on intelligence assessment of the issue. The very first U.S. national intelligence estimate on the subject in 2001 that Iran had a nuclear weapons program was the result of a heavy-handed intervention by Deputy Director for Operations James L. Pavitt that was arguably more serious than the efforts by Vice-President Dick Cheney to influence the CIA’s 2002 estimate on WMD in Iraq.

The full story of the interaction between the CIA operation and intelligence analysis, shows, moreover, that Pavitt had previously fabricated an alarmist intelligence analysis for the Clinton White House on Iran’s nuclear program in late 1999 in order to get Clinton’s approval for Operation Merlin.

Pavitt Plans Operation Merlin

The story of Operation Merlin and the suppression of crucial intelligence on Iran’s nuclear intentions cannot be understood apart from the close friendship between Pavitt and CIA Director George Tenet. Pavitt’s rise in the Operations Directorate had been so closely linked to his friendship with Tenet that the day after Tenet announced his retirement from the CIA on June 3, 2004, Pavitt announced his own retirement.

Soon after he was assigned to the CIA’s Non-Proliferation Center (NPC) in 1993, Pavitt got the idea of creating a new component within the Directorate of Operations to work solely on proliferation, as former CIA officials recounted for Valerie Plame Wilson’s memoir, Fair Game. Pavitt proposed that the new proliferation division would have the authority not only to collect intelligence but also to carry out covert operations related to proliferation, using its own clandestine case officers working under non-official cover.

Former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling, left, leaves the Alexandria Federal Courthouse on Jan. 26, 2016 with his wife Holly, center, and attorney Barry Pollack, after being convicted on all nine counts he faced of leaking classified information to a reporter. Photo: Kevin Wolf/AP

Immediately after Tenet was named Deputy Director of the CIA in 1995, Pavitt got the new organization within the operations directorate called the Counter-Proliferation Division, or CPD. Pavitt immediately began the planning for a major operation targeting Iran. According to a CIA cable declassified for the Sterling trial, as early as March 1996, CPD’s “Office of Special Projects” had already devised a scheme to convey to the Iranians a copy of the Russian TBA-486 “fireset” – a system for multiple simultaneous high explosive detonations to set off a nuclear explosion. The trick was that it had built-in flaws that would make it unworkable.

A January 1997 declassified cable described a plan for using a Russian émigré, former Soviet nuclear weapons engineer recruited in 1996 to gain “operational access” to an Iranian “target.”  The cable suggested that it would be for the purpose of intelligence on the Iranian nuclear program, in light of the fact that the agency had not issued a finding that Iran was working on nuclear weapons.

But in mid-March 1997 the language used by CPD to describe its proposed covert operation suddenly changed.  Another declassified CPD cable from May 1997 said the ultimate goal was “to plant this substantial piece of deception information on the Iranian nuclear weapons program.”  That shift in language apparently reflected Tenet’s realization that the CIA would need to justify the proposed covert operation to the White House, as required by legislation.

With his ambitious plan for a covert operation against Iran in his pocket, Pavitt was promoted to Associate Deputy Director of Operations in July 1997.  On February 2, 1998, CPD announced to other CIA offices, according to the declassified cable, that a technical team from one of the national laboratories had finished building the detonation device that would include “multiple nested flaws,” including a “final fatal flaw” ensuring “that it will not detonate a nuclear weapon.”

An official statement from the national lab certifying that fact was a legal requirement for the CIA to obtain the official Presidential “finding” for any covert operation required by legislation passed in the wake of the Iran-Contra affair.

Pavitt obtained the letter from the national laboratory in mid-1999, a few weeks after it was announced he would be named Deputy Director of the CIA for Operations.

But that left a final political obstacle to a presidential finding: the official position of the CIA’ s Intelligence Directorate remained that Iran did not have a nuclear weapons program.  The language of the CIA’s report to Congress for the first half of 1999, which was delivered to Congress in early 2000, contained formulations that showed signs of having been negotiated between those who believed Iran must have a nuclear weapons program and those who did not.

The report referred to nuclear-related projects that “will help Iran augment its nuclear technology infrastructure, which in turn would be useful in supporting nuclear weapons research and development.” The shift from “will” to “would” clearly suggested that nuclear weapons work was not yet an established fact.

A second sentence said, “expertise and technology gained, along with the commercial channels and contacts established-even from cooperation that appears strictly civilian in nature-could be used to advance Iran’s nuclear weapons research and developmental program.” That seemed to hint that maybe Iran already had such a nuclear weapons program.

That was not sufficient for Tenet and Pavitt to justify a covert nuclear weapons program involving handing over a fake nuclear detonation device.  So the dynamic duo came up with another way around that obstacle. A new intelligence assessment, reported in a front page article by James Risen and Judith Miller in the New York Times on January 17, 2000, said the CIA could no longer rule out the possibility that Iran now had the capability to build a bomb – or even that it may have actually succeeded in building one.

Risen and Miller reported that Tenet had begun briefings for Clinton administration officials on the new CIA assessment in December 1999 shortly after the document was completed, citing “several U.S. officials” familiar with it.  The Tenet briefings made no mention of any evidence of a bomb-making program, according to the sources cited by the Times.  It was based instead on the alleged inability of U.S. intelligence to track adequately Iran’s acquisition of nuclear technology and materials from the black market.

But the new assessment had evidently not come from the Intelligence Directorate. John McLaughlin, then Deputy Director for Intelligence, said in an e-mail response to a query that he did not recall the assessment.  And when this writer asked him whether it was possible that he would not remember or would not have known about an intelligence assessment on such a high profile issue, McLaughlin did not respond. Pavitt and Tenet had obviously gone outside the normal procedure for an intelligence assessment in order to get around the problem of lack of support for their thesis from the analysts.

A declassified CIA cable dated November 18, 1999 instructed the Russian émigré to prepare for a possible trip to Vienna in early 2000, indicating that Tenet hoped to get the finding within a few weeks. Clinton apparently did give the necessary finding in early 2000; in the first days of March 2000 the Russian émigré dropped the falsified fireset plans into the mail chute of the Iranian mission to the United Nations in Vienna.

Pavitt Suppresses Unwelcome Iran Nuclear Intelligence

Pavitt’s CPD was also managing a group of covert operatives who recruited spies to provide information on weapons of mass destruction in Iran and Iraq.  CPD not only controlled the targeting of the operatives working on those accounts but the distribution of their reports.  CPD’s dual role thus represented a serious conflict of interest, because the CPD had a vested interest in an intelligence estimate that showed Iran had an active nuclear weapons program, and it could prevent intelligence analysts from getting information that conflicted with that interest.

That is exactly what happened in 2001. One especially valuable CPD operative, who was fluent in both Farsi and Arabic, had begun recruiting agents to provide intelligence on both Iran and Iraq since 1995. His talents had been recognized by the CPD and by higher levels of the Operations Directorate:  by 2001 he had been promised an intelligence medal and a promotion to GS-14 – the second highest pay grade level in the civil service.

But that same year the operative reported very important intelligence on the Iran nuclear issue that would have caused serious problems for Pavitt and CPD and led ultimately to his being taken out of the field and being fired.

In a November 2005 court filing in a lawsuit against Pavitt, the unnamed head of CPD and then CIA Director Porter Goss, the operative, identified only as “Doe” in court records, said that one of his most highly valued “human assets” – the CIA term for recruited spies – had given him very important intelligence in 2001. That information was the subject of three crucial lines of the key paragraph in the operative’s complaint that were redacted at the demand of the CIA. For years “Doe” sought to declassify the language that had been redacted, but the CIA had fought it.

It was assumed in press accounts at the time that the redacted lines were related to Iraq.  But the lawyer who handled the lawsuit for “Doe,” Roy Krieger, revealed to this writer in interviews that the redacted lines revealed that the CIA “human asset” in question was an Iranian, and that he had told “Doe” that the Iranian government had no intention of “weaponizing” the uranium that it was planning to enrich.

It was the first intelligence from a “highly-valued” U.S. spy – one who was known to be in a position to know what he claimed to know – on Iran’s intentions regarding nuclear weapons to become available to the U.S. intelligence community. “Doe” reported what the spy had said to his supervisor at CPD, according to the court filing, and the supervisor immediately met with Pavitt and the head of CPD. After that meeting the CPD supervisor ordered “Doe” not to prepare any written report on the matter and assured him that Pavitt and the head of the CPD would personally brief President Bush on the intelligence.

But “Doe” soon learned from his own contacts at CIA headquarters that no such briefing ever took place. And “Doe” was soon instructed to terminate his relationship with the asset.  After another incident involving intelligence he had reported on WMD in Iraq that had also conflicted with the line desired by the Bush administration, CIA management took “Doe” out of the field, put him in a headquarters job and denied him the intelligence medal and promotion to GS-14 that he had been promised, according to his court filing. The CIA fired “Doe” without specifying a reason in 2005.

Pavitt did not respond to requests for an interview for this story both at the Scowcroft Group and, after he retired, at his home in McLean, Virginia.

The intervention by Pavitt to prevent the intelligence from Doe’s Iranian asset from circulating within the U.S. government came as the intelligence community was working on the 2001 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on the Iranian nuclear program. That NIE concluded that Iran was working on a nuclear weapon, but the finding was far from being clear-cut. Paul Pillar, the CIA’s National Intelligence Officer for the Middle East and North Africa, who was involved in the 2001 NIE, recalled that the intelligence community had no direct evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program. “We’re talking about things that are a matter of inference, not direct evidence,” Pillar said in an interview with this writer.

Furthermore he recalls that there was a deep divide in the intelligence community between the technical analysts, who tended to believe that evidence of uranium enrichment was evidence of a weapons program, and the Iran specialists, including Pillar himself, who believed Iran had adopted a “hedging strategy” and had made no decision in favor or a nuclear weapon. The technical analysts at the CIA’s Weapons Intelligence Non-Proliferation and Arms Control (WINPAC), were given the advantage of writing the first draft not only on Iranian technical capabilities but on Iranian intentions – a subject on which it had no real expertise – as well, according to Pillar.

The introduction of the intelligence from a highly credible Iranian intelligence asset indicating no intention to convert its enriched uranium into nuclear weapons would arguably have changed the dynamic of the estimate dramatically.  It would have meant that one side could cite hard intelligence from a valued source in support of its position, while the other side could cite only their own predisposition.

Pillar confirmed that no such intelligence report was made available to the analysts for the 2001 NIE. He noted just how rarely the kind of intelligence that had been obtained by “Doe” was available for an intelligence estimate. “Analysts deal with a range of stuff,” he said, “from a tidbit from technical intelligence to the goldmine well-placed source with an absolutely credible account,“ but the latter kind of intelligence “almost never comes up.”

After reading this account of the intelligence obtained by the CPD operative, Pillar said he is not in a position to judge the value of the intelligence from the Iranian asset, but that the information from the CPD Iranian asset “should have been considered by the NIE team in conjunction with other sources of information.”

That led to a series of estimates that assumed Iran had a nuclear weapons program.

In 2004, a large cache of purported Iranian documents showing alleged Iranian research related to nuclear weapons was turned over to German intelligence, which the Bush administration claimed came from the laptop of an Iranian scientist or engineer. But former senior German Foreign Official Karsten Voigt later revealed to this writer that the whole story was a fabrication, because the documents had been given by the Mujahedin-E Khalq, the Iranian opposition group that was known to have publicized anti-Iran information fed to it by Israel’s Mossad.

Those documents led directly to another CIA estimate in 2005 asserting the existence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program, which in turn paved the way for all the subsequent estimates – all of which were adopted despite the absence of new evidence of such a program.  The CIA swallowed the ruse repeatedly, because it had already been manipulated by Pavitt.

Operation Merlin is the perfect example of powerful bureaucratic interests running amok and creating the intelligence necessary to justify their operations. The net result is that Jeffrey Sterling was unjustly imprisoned and that the United States has gone down a path of Iran policy that poses serious – and unnecessary – threats to American security.

Gareth Porter is an independent journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of numerous books, including Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare (Just World Books, 2014). 

43 comments for “How ‘Operation Merlin’ Poisoned U.S. Intelligence on Iran

  1. March 11, 2018 at 15:56

    This is the first report I’ve come across about Jeffrey Sterling’s release from prison. I could have kept track of the time myself, I suppose, but I can’t even remember my own doctor’s appointments these days. I find it odd that alt media that I look at didn’t mention it. Maybe it was reported and I didn’t see it. And I find it odd that, although I was getting regular email updates about Jeffrey Stirling, nothing from that source came to my inbox. But I’m pleased that he’s out.

  2. March 6, 2018 at 22:24

    Keep up the good work that Parry started. The world relies on you chaps to maintain a true record of events now the MSM have chosen to prefer propaganda and opinion. Slowly but definitely the reading public is turning towards your reports until quite soon their will be no MSM left

    • Gareth Porter
      March 8, 2018 at 00:22

      Thanks for your kind comment, which I appreciate very much. I hope you are right that the reading public is turning, however slowly, toward alternative media trying to reflect reality. It is the only way forward, I am firmly convinced.

  3. Mild-ly - Facetious
    March 6, 2018 at 19:16

    Cyrus the Great —

    The Declaration of Human Rights written by Cyrus the Great has been hailed as the first charter of human rights, predating the Magna Carta by nearly two millenniums (~1700 years) and in 1971 the United Nations was published translation of it in all the official U.N. languages. It is now kept in the British Museum and it is no exaggeration to say that it is one of the most precious historical records of the world. Also a replica of the Cyrus cylinder is kept at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

    Cyrus the Great is regarded as one of the most outstanding figures in history. His success in creating and maintaining the Achaemenid Persian Empire [KNOWN TODAY as IRAN] was the result of an intelligent blending of diplomatic and military skills and his rule was tempered with wisdom and tact. He respected the culture, language and religion of subdued nations and did not assimilate nations in similar methods. He considered all nations equal in terms of their rights. Cyrus was relatively liberal and he was the first king who put an end to slavery and dictatorial oppression. While he himself ruled according to Zoroastrian beliefs, he made no attempt to impose Zoroastrianism on the people of his subject territories. He was a very down to earth person. The Persians called him father, the Greeks saw him as A worthy ruler and lawgiver and the Jews regarded him as The Lord’s anointed. His ideals were high, as he laid down that no man was fit to rule unless, he was more capable than all of his subjects. As an administrator Cyrus’ insight was great, and he showed himself both intelligent and reasonable. His humanity was equaled by his freedom from pride, which induced him to meet people on the same level, instead of affecting the remoteness and aloofness, which characterized the great monarchs who preceded and followed him.

    History has further labeled him as a genius, diplomat, manager, and leader of men, the first great propagandist and able strategist. Cyrus was indeed worthy of the title Great.


    This Cyrus freed the Jews out of their Babylonian Captivity and financed the rebuilding of their capital, Jerusalem.

    Because of Cyrus, the Persian King (Iranian) the Jews were returned to their homeland and provided defensive funds by Cyrus to protect during the re-establishment of a National Israel.

    That was Then — as they say — but TODAY, Israel’s Netanyahu campaigns for the annihilation of (Persia)/Iran AND THE DESTRUCTION and SUBJUGATION OF THE Beautiful Iranian People as if Those Peoples and their Government represent some diabolical/legitimate Threat to Netanyahu’s diabolically weaponized/militarized (Nuclear Armed) State of Israel. !!!

    When will the BULL-SPIT end around this omnipresent/frivolous existential threat to ISRAEL from a nation that lives, serially, UNDER THREAT of encroachment/annihilation (look at Yemen) by an hostile neighbor government in search of Regional Domination?

    Today’s Iran is Yesterday’s Persia —Cyrus The Great and Human Rights proponent.

    Today’s Israel, Netanyahu and Trump’s American Embassy in Jerusalem is the foreboding presage to apocalypse…?

    Does the thawing of Arctic Ice add to the rhetoric of Nordic Superiority? or of Israel’s claim to be the Children of God who’re therefor now (with Real Americans) the “righteous”, “blessed”, ‘sanctioned’/’privileged’, God endorsed/protected humans in this world-age???

    Does God, for example, endorse death by bombs and explosions of cholera in Yemen? Or the destruction of ENTIRE CITIES in Iraq and Syria?– all in the name of and for the sake of multibillionaire Zionist ISRAEL????

    Ignorance of History, even ancient history, does lead to the continuing repeat of history –
    – and as the Word exclaims ”Death opens wide it’s mouth to the fallen, and the ignorant and unbelieving walk straight into it”… .

    • March 6, 2018 at 20:02

      M-F…thanks for the historical tribute…it prompted me to do some research

  4. Lucifer Christ
    March 5, 2018 at 19:23

    “Operation Merlin”? Haaaaaahaaaaaahaaaaa!!!

    Should have been called “”Operation Imbecile” or “Operation Dumb Dumb”. Is this the best that the CIA can think of? Where do they get these people? From Clown College?

    This is what you get when you hire a bunch of Ivy League twits in the CIA. They are a bunch of non-thinking people that can take tests and regurgitate information but can’t think and rationalize information because they have minimal real-world experience in complex situations and in dealing with actual people and reading their motivations. Not all of the CIA but, based on this, I think its the majority. Reminds me of Will Smith in the Men in Black – “Best of the Best of the Best! Sir. With honors!

    Marvel comic books have better ideas. Maybe some of these CIA operatives should take a trip to the local comic book store before they do any “planning”.

    We are so screwed if this is the best our “intelligence” community can do. My side hurts from laughing but its really not funny – its tragic!

    • Dural Lexan
      March 6, 2018 at 03:28

      I doubt Marvel comics have such fun and ridiculous plots. Much older comics maybe and also many plots in the Bible started the trend to total crazyness and wars based on this kind of foolishnes.

  5. Brendan
    March 5, 2018 at 14:23

    My own theory is that the CIA deliberately tried to encourage Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program, and not sabotage it as has been reported in the media.

    In a word, it was entrapment.

    The idea behind that plan would be that, first, Iranian nuclear scientists would spot the flaw in the design. The Iranian leadership would then be unable to resist the temptation to develop a functioning nuclear bomb. The CIA would then “discover” the advanced nuke program that it itself helped to set up, and use it as an excuse for regime change in Tehran.

    However, the Iranians did not fall into that trap, probably because they had no interest in making nukes anyway.

    As I said, that’s just a theory, but it seems much more plausible than the version that leaked out – that the Iranians were not supposed to find and correct a simple design flaw. A plan like that seems too hair-brained even for the CIA.

    • Dural Lexan
      March 6, 2018 at 03:15

      Clearly you mean total destruction of Iran was the ultimate goal and an excuse had to be fabricated for the UN, public opinion etc. How this would play now that Putin has shownn that Russia will enter the fray if such attack would materialize is worrysome.

  6. Christian Chuba
    March 5, 2018 at 09:37

    “in the first days of March 2000 the Russian émigré dropped the falsified fireset plans into the mail chute of the Iranian mission to the United Nations in Vienna.”

    There is no mention that any Iranian official, employee, or someone working for Iran actually solicited for this information or even agreed to take this information after being notified of its existence. This sentence makes it look like it was anonymously dropped off into Iran’s ‘inbox’. If this is accurate this puts Iran in a tight spot, what are they supposed to do, notify the U.S. or the U.N. Security Council? Sure, nothing but goodness would come after that.

    This operation doesn’t even make sense.
    1. If Iran had a weapons program, Iran would discover that this was a flawed device pretty soon since they would test it.
    2. If this was a fishing expedition to test to see if Iran had a nuclear weapons program, the way the info was given to Iran certainly did not indict them.

    This story is kind of insane, is our CIA really that stupid?

    • Dural Lexan
      March 6, 2018 at 03:06

      Reminds me of the fine movie “OUR MAN IN HAVANA ” staring Alec Guiness and Ernie Kovac in addition to a hot blonde…

  7. R Davis
    March 4, 2018 at 18:46

    I cannot believe this ….

    “Hey guys , we ave a plan. we are going to give over to Iran a fake plane for nuclear weapons,”
    “Ha, ha, ha, he, he, he,”
    “They are such chumps, they will believe it’s real,”
    “Ha, ha, ha, he, he, he,”

    Because the United States of America believes that it & only it is capable of making nuclear weapons …. right.

    Oh please,
    Oh please.

  8. nonsense factory
    March 4, 2018 at 16:33

    Very fascinating story, the Pavitt connection to the Scowcroft Group really reveals what the game was – economic control of the region, period. If you look at the Scowcroft Group members you can see it is a neocolonial operation more than anything else:

    Incidentally, all people with technical knowledge of nuclear weapons knew that Iran had no nuclear weapons program to speak of, since it had no nuclear reactor under its control to breed plutonium. All nuclear weapons programs rely on plutonium production from reactors tuned to maximize plutonium production, be it Israel’s Dimona reactor and North Korea Yongbyon reactor, or India and Pakistan, or the five originals, the US, Russia, Britain, France and China.

    You might be able to make a few uranium-only bombs (like the Hiroshima bomb) at great expense, but everyone also knows that a ‘credible nuclear deterrent’ generally means having about 100 nuclear weapons, as Israel, India and Pakistan have, and that’s probably what North Korea is aiming for too. That absolutely requires a reactor-based plutonium production program. Since Iran had no nuclear reactors under its sole control, it had no possible route to producing a ‘credible nuclear deterrent’.

    As far as why the false claim was made? Iran c. 2005, like Iraq c. 2001, was ditching the petrodollar and selling oil and gas in euros, outside the US neocolonial imperial system. It was also building a pipeline to Pakistan and India, the IPI, and planned economic cooperation with Russia and China and France, but not the USA or Britain (the same story was taking place in Iraq, recall the Cheney Energy Task Force documents listing Iraqi oilfields and Iraqi oil contracts?). The whole goal was to get an international sanctions package in place to block these economic developments, and it was all based on lies about a non-existent Iranian nuclear weapons program.

    All evidence points to Iran enriching uranium so that it could sell reactor fuel on the global market to countries like France, which needed it for their domestic electricity program.

    • Zachary Smith
      March 5, 2018 at 01:29

      You might be able to make a few uranium-only bombs (like the Hiroshima bomb) at great expense, but everyone also knows that a ‘credible nuclear deterrent’ generally means having about 100 nuclear weapons, as Israel, India and Pakistan have, and that’s probably what North Korea is aiming for too.

      Though I don’t dare “google” the matter, in my personal opinion this is nonsense. The magnetic separation and diffusion methods for separating out the U235 are indeed slow and expensive, but that’s not the case for the centrifuges.

      • nonsense factory
        March 5, 2018 at 03:05

        U-235 is only 0.7% of natural uranium ore. To work as fuel in nuclear reactors it is enriched to 3-5% or so; for a nuclear weapon it has to be enriched to around 90%.

        It is true that:
        “Moreover, a single typical large commercial nuclear power plant may have ten times more separative work than is needed to produce one uranium bomb per year, so even a modest commercial enrichment facility has a significant nuclear weapons production capability.” – Federation of American Scientists

        However, the yield of uranium weapons is fairly low on the scale of nuclear weapons, Hiroshima was only 16kT. I don’t believe that can be increased very much. This is another reason that every existing nuclear weapons program is built around plutonium production; this is also how you can reduce the size of the nuclear weapon such that it fits on a ballistic missile, by filling the hollow core of the plutonium shell with deuterium and tritium, so the weapon’s yield is gets up above 100 kilotons.

        South Africa apparently made some uranium-only weapons, however, so you may be partially right.

  9. Mike P.
    March 4, 2018 at 14:51

    The self-fulfilling prophecy at work! If it were not for budget and “scope” considerations, much (not all) of this jockeyed disinformation would lose its luster for bureaucrats. That being said, lust for power, and winning position, within these competitive murderous organs of the state is based on income only to the degree that the businesses and organizations who place and control such bureaucrats can be roped and watched (I would like eliminated) to cut them off from influencing decisions. That, and rules regarding public and oppositional input into any decisions made, all in public view and published comment from citizens. Hope does spring…

  10. jack spade
    March 4, 2018 at 14:11

    This is great reporting from a great reporter. What amazes me is that the patriot goes to jail and the traitor goes to Scrowcroft group and posts his picture as an expert and receives a $$$/y salary:

    Lots of people died and lots of wealth was destroyed in operations facilitated by these men and then they constantly go on TV and still make statements about how to run the world!

    There should be a traitor list and the top names on the list should be:
    Dick Cheney
    George W Bush
    Don Rumsfield
    Paul Wolfowitz
    C. Rice
    John Bolton

  11. john wilson
    March 4, 2018 at 05:54

    The only surprise to come out of this story is that there was an MSM reporter prepared to put his neck on the line and tell the story. If MSM was full of reporters like Sterling the deep state and the gangsters who run America wouldn’t find it so easy to carry out their sinister operations.

    • Sam F
      March 4, 2018 at 08:28

      Very true that US mass media is prevented from doing its job by the dictatorship of the rich who control US mass media and elections (referring to the NYT reporter Risen who reported the story of CIA officer Sterling).

  12. Zachary Smith
    March 4, 2018 at 02:08

    The stupidity of “Operation Merlin” still boggles my mind.

    • Dural Lexan
      March 6, 2018 at 02:39

      It was a great attempt to induce Iran into providing info related to their nuclear weapons program if they had one, as the tricky part is to have a reliable detonator. Having the plans for a detonator and by their follow up questions you could infer their extent of advance and expertise in such weapons if the Iranians would be fooled by the CIA trojan horse like trick.

  13. bane
    March 4, 2018 at 01:13

    What has been the goal of a nuclear deal with Iran (The JCPOA), Since Putin warned that any use of nuclear arms against Iran would meet an “immediate response”?

  14. D Lang
    March 3, 2018 at 23:37

    Third to last paragraph: “…German Foreign Official Karsten Voigt later revealed to this writer that the whole story was a fabrication, because the documents had been given those documents by the Mujahedin-E Khalq…” The use of the word ‘documents’ twice appears to be a typo. What is the sentence supposed to say?

    • David G
      March 4, 2018 at 02:18

      Looks like Gareth Porter just got tangled between active and passive voice. Has to just mean German intelligence (or an intermediary) got the phony documents from MEK.

      • Gareth Porter
        March 8, 2018 at 00:25

        You are correct, of course. I did a lot of revisions from a much longer manuscript and sent it without taking sufficient time to edit/proofread the revised text. Ouch!

  15. March 3, 2018 at 23:34

    what does it all mean? sounds like a bunch of nonsense.

    thermite is in all world trade center dust. american people need to stand up.

  16. Jeff
    March 3, 2018 at 15:01

    This, of course, isn’t the first such example of either US regime chicanery or making a bunch of stuff up because they felt like it. And just one of the reasons I label “Russia-gate” bullshit.

    • mike k
      March 3, 2018 at 16:03

      Just about the entire American society has revealed itself to be swimming in bullshit.

  17. David G
    March 3, 2018 at 14:15

    Great thanks to Gareth Porter and CN for this fascinating account.

    I think it might have been useful to include a little epilogue explaining how things got from Pavitt-land to the 2007 NIE that finally backed off from the fraudulent narrative of Iranian nukes (albeit without admitting the earlier estimates to the contrary were b.s.).

    • Gareth Porter
      March 8, 2018 at 00:31

      Many thanks for your comment. And yes, of course, it is important to understand how the 2007 NIE came about and also how it failed to deal adequately with the distorted NIEs of 2001 and 2005. I have covered that in great detail in my boo Manufactured Crisis, and also in this article in Middle East Policy:

      • David G
        March 10, 2018 at 09:30

        Just seeing this now. I appreciate the reply and the further reading.

  18. David G
    March 3, 2018 at 14:03

    “Pavitt proposed that the new proliferation division would have the authority not only to collect intelligence but also to carry out covert operations related to proliferation …”

    This story illustrates why keeping the “operations” side of the CIA separate from the intelligence gathering and analysis is such a good idea, not to be bypassed by an ad hoc outfit like CPD: the dirty tricks people, when given the chance, will just treat the rest of the CIA itself as a target for subversion and manipulation.

    Ideally, of course, the CIA would never have gotten into the whole euphemistically labeled “operations” business at all. At this point it seems to be the tumor that has devoured the rest of the body.

    • Sam F
      March 4, 2018 at 08:13

      Yes, Operations is primarily used for unconstitutional secret wars that serve only the dictatorship of the rich, and should be sharply reduced and heavily monitored. But of course the monitors in Congress are owned by the oligarchy that demands the secret wars. So that improvement requires the destruction of the oligarchy of money that controls US elections and mass media. And restoration to the people of those tools of democracy cannot be done by democratic means, precisely because oligarchy controls those tools.

      A typo in the article: “Iran just have” should be “Iran must have”

      • March 4, 2018 at 11:36

        Sam F, David G: I’m just catching up with the reading here but I find it curious that all these “operations” that inevitably end in fiascos can be traced back to Operation Mockingbird which explains the lack of accountability for all the operations that followed.

        • Sam F
          March 4, 2018 at 14:50

          The wrongful CIA operations including Mockingbird appear to have a common origin in post-WWII McCarthyism. It is amazing that the US was led to ignore the obvious, that the wave of anti-colonial revolutions had the same cause as the American Revolution. No doubt this was due to the anti-socialist fears in the oligarchy that came to control US mass media and elections 1870-1930. They cannot allow the People of the United States to govern themselves and their economy, for that would be “mob rule” meaning liberty and justice for all. All hail the oligarchy.

          • March 4, 2018 at 17:22

            SamF: Actually Operation Mockingbird(1948) started before the McCarthy Hearings(1954), but you are correct as you state McCarthyism had its roots in anti-Soviet propaganda after WWII. This valuable link was originally provided by Bob VanNoy and there are many interesting links to the personalities involved contained in the same article. My point was simply that once the media became subordinate to the operations agenda all accountability was lost and subsequent operations could ram through all the red lights without being seriously challenged

    • Gareth Porter
      March 8, 2018 at 00:33

      Glad you picked up that key lesson of the real story of “Operation Merlin”. I wish there were some way to build pressure for such reforms. But I’m afraid will take some bludgeoning that is much less precise than that to make changes in U.S. intelligence.

    • Gareth Porter
      March 8, 2018 at 00:35

      Sorry wrote a response that should have gone here a few comments below and realized it only after I had sent. But nevertheless I am glad you picked up that key lesson of the real story of “Operation Merlin”. I wish there were some way to build pressure for such reforms. But I’m afraid will take some bludgeoning that is much less precise than that to make changes in U.S. intelligence.

  19. Michael Kenny
    March 3, 2018 at 12:54

    So what? If Iran was actually seeking to develop nuclear weapons, sending them a device that wouldn’t work is a great idea inasmuch as it would have slowed the Iranians down and, once they realised that the device had been sabotaged, they would have realised that the US was on to them. If Iran wasn’t seeking to develop nuclear weapons, no harm whatsoever was done by sending such a device. Revealing the operation does no harm to the CIA, since everybody assumes that intelligence agencies do things like that all the time. I suspect that the author’s real intention was to discredit Russiagate but in fact, he strengthens the case against Putin. If the CIA plants false information why wouldn’t their Russian opposite numbers do the same thing, for example, to influence or manipulate elections and referenda in the US and the EU?

  20. mike k
    March 3, 2018 at 11:07

    This affair shows how an underlying assumption of perpetual no holds barred war with other “competitor” nations leads to undermining any constructive efforts towards peace in the world. Without leadership in the leading nations that abjures this flawed assumption, an ultimate war of total mutual destruction is only a matter of time in coming……..

    • mike k
      March 3, 2018 at 11:08

      Capitalism is the war of each against each, and all against all.

      • March 11, 2018 at 16:06

        Which is why that can’t be expressed that way in major media. If it was, people would opt for socialism, or should I say socialism for all, since much of what is called capitalism is just socialism for the rich and powerful and austerity, or worse, for the rest of the society where it operates.

  21. david
    March 3, 2018 at 07:51

    see operation Susannah

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