None of This Month’s Craziest Nuclear Stories Involved North Korea

With the North Korea nuclear standoff still making headlines, other nuclear-related stories – including those involving Saudi Arabia, Israel and Syria – have largely gone unnoticed, Ted Snider explains.

By Ted Snider

The past week featured two crazy nuclear stories. And neither of them involved North Korea.

Saudi Arabia

A nuclear test detonation carried out in Nevada on April 18, 1953.

The first involved Saudi Arabia. Although this highly significant story passed almost uncovered by the media, White House officials confirmed that talks between President Donald Trump and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman “included critical discussions” about Saudi Arabia’s “nuclear aspirations.” Apparently, talks between Energy Secretary Rick Perry and the Saudis have been going on quietly for some time.

The crazy part isn’t that Saudi Arabia aspires to a nuclear program. Article IV of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty guarantees every country the right to a civilian nuclear program for energy and medical purposes. The crazy part also isn’t Saudi Arabia’s insistence that it would be allowed to enrich its own uranium: the same article promises that right.

The crazy part is that while Trump was continuing “to engage with our Saudi partners on their plans for a civil nuclear program and possible US supply of nuclear equipment and material,” the Crown Prince was simultaneously openly declaring Saudi Arabia’s willingness to use that aid to build a nuclear bomb. Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MBS, told a CBC interview that “Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb, but without a doubt, if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we would follow suit as soon as possible.”

The Saudi cabinet recently passed a national policy program that limits nuclear activities to peaceful purposes. However, MBS’s open declaration shows the fragility and flexibility of that cabinet promise.

The danger in MBS’s declaration is not in the way it is formulated. It is formulated as a conditional: if Iran builds a nuclear bomb, Saudi Arabia will build a bomb. The conditional holds no danger because Iran is not building a bomb, as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has repeatedly certified since the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear agreement went into effect.

But there is danger in the declaration. Firstly, because Saudi Arabia claims the right to define its own terms of breaking out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. MBS’s logic makes it clear that Saudi Arabia’s nuclear program could bleed from civilian to military if it feels threatened by an enemy of its choosing. Perhaps Iran is not building a bomb. But, what if Saudi Arabia should identify Pakistan or Israel as a threat? By the Crown Prince’s logic, that would justify using America’s “nuclear equipment and material” to build a nuclear bomb.

Secondly, the conditional takes advantage of a special American-Israeli-Saudi logic that is different than the logic found in text books. Iran never had to actually be building a bomb to suffer the sanctions and isolation of the claim that it was building a bomb. The Saudi logic, therefore, is not If Iran builds a bomb, we will build a bomb; Iran is building a bomb; therefore, we will build a bomb. Rather, it is the special and dangerous logic that if Iran builds a bomb, we will build a bomb; we claim Iran is building a bomb; therefore, we will build a bomb. In other words, the conditional justifies the breakout to nuclear weapons at any time of Saudi Arabia’s choosing.

And those are the terms under which Trump is discussing a Saudi nuclear program with Mohammed bin Salman.

Israel and Syria

The second crazy nuclear story was Israel’s announcement that it was Israel that bombed the Syrian nuclear reactor in September of 2007.

There are two parts that are crazy about the Israeli announcement. The first is that everyone always knew it was Israel who bombed the nuclear reactor. Seymour Hersh’s 2008 article that came quickly in the wake of the strike began with the words, “Sometime after midnight on September 6, 2007, at least four low-flying Israeli Air Force fighters crossed into Syrian airspace and carried out a secret bombing mission.”

The second is that it almost certainly wasn’t a nuclear reactor.

If Syria was building a nuclear reactor, Michael Hayden’s CIA knew nothing about it. And he told that to President Bush. That the CIA missed a secret nuclear program is not impossible to believe or even entirely unprecedented. What is more unbelievable is that they missed it when it was right out in the open, that their highly sophisticated satellites missed what a commercial satellite easily picked up.

A number of nontechnical features just didn’t fit the Israeli story. Seymour Hersh picked this up in his early investigative reporting of the strike, “A Strike in the Dark.” A former State Department intelligence expert told Hersh that much that one would see around a nuclear reactor was missing from the site. There was not even any security around it. Syria’s then ambassador to the United States, Imad Moustapha marveled at the same point. He wondered:

“An allegedly strategic site in Syria without a single military checkpoint around it, without barbed wire around it, without anti-aircraft missiles around it, without any sort of security surrounding it, thrown in the middle of the desert without electricity, plans to generate electricity for it, without major supply plans around it? And yet, it is supposed to be a strategic installation? And people don’t even think of it. Yesterday, in the White House presidential statement, it was stated to the letter that that was a secret location. And yet, every commercial satellite service available on earth was able to provide photos and images of this so-called secret Syrian site for the past five, six years.”

Other facts didn’t fit the Israeli narrative either. North Korean was said to have been a key helper in the construction of the secret reactor. A North Korean ship, the Al Hamed, was said by the Israelis to have delivered nuclear equipment for the reactor. But Hersh’s investigation found that neither maritime intelligence nor the ship’s transponder gave any indication that the Al Hamad had recently docked in North Korea.

But, perhaps the most telling thing is not that the CIA missed what was out in the open for commercial satellites to pick up, not that they didn’t “have any proof of a reactor – no signals intelligence, no human intelligence, no satellite intelligence,” as a former senior U.S. intelligence official who had access to the current intelligence told Hersh. What is, perhaps, more telling is that when they were provided with the intelligence, despite signing on to the Israeli narrative, they actually assessed only “low confidence” that targeted site was part of a Syrian nuclear weapons program. And they weren’t the only ones. Mohamed ElBaradei, then director-general of the IAEA, said that their “experts who have carefully analyzed the satellite imagery say it is unlikely that this building was a nuclear facility.”

The problem was that the technical questions were even bigger than these nontechnical questions. There were three topics of technical questions.

The first was the photos provided by Israel’s Mossad. There were two problems with the photographic evidence. The first was that Hayden never asked the Israelis how they got the photographs even though the CIA Director knew that at least one of the photographs had been photo-shopped to make the case more convincing, as investigative journalist Gareth Porter has reported. The second was that the CIA was provided a bunch of photographs from inside a potential nuclear reactor and a bunch of photographs of the outside of the targeted building in Syria, but “nothing that links the two,” as former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter has pointed out.

The second set of technical problems involves the building itself. The first was that the building was the wrong size. The Israelis and the CIA claimed that the Syrian nuclear reactor was modeled on the North Korean reactor at Yongbyon. It is a type of reactor known as a gas-cooled graphite-moderated (GCGM) reactor. But the Syrian reactor didn’t fit the blueprint. Hersh pointed out this inconsistency early. He says that non-proliferation expert Jeffrey Lewis told him that “even if the width and the length of the building were similar to the Korean site, its height was simply not sufficient to contain a Yongbyon-size reactor.”

Gareth Porter’s later investigation confirmed the contradiction. Porter relied on Yousry Abushady, the top IAEA specialist on North Korean reactors. Abushady knew GCGM reactors better than anyone at the IAEA, and “the evidence he saw in the video convinced him,” Porter reports, “that no such reactor could have been under construction” in Syria. And the first reason, again, according to Abushady was “that the building was too short to hold a reactor like the one in Yongbyon, North Korea.” According to Abushady the building bombed in Syria was only “a little more than a third as tall” as the supposed North Korean archetype.

But there were other problems. The North Korean reactor required at least 20 supporting buildings, but the Syrian site had not one even though Israeli intelligence insisted that it was only a few months from being ready to operate. The reactor was supposed to be a gas-cooled reactor, but there was nothing in place to cool the gas.

Porter reports that former senior IAEA inspector Robert Kelley also pointed to a lack of facility for treating the water in the imaging. There was also no building for a spent fuel pond. However, Abushady says that every GCGM reactor ever built has a separate building to house the spent fuel pond. Building after building is missing from the imaging, but the nuclear reactor was supposed to be on the verge of going operational.

The most serious set of problems is the third: the environmental inconsistencies. There were two damning environmental inconsistencies – the first to do with uranium and the second to do with graphite.

If the bombed Syrian building was a nuclear reactor, there should have been uranium in the environmental samples the IAEA took. But there wasn’t. Mohamed ElBaradei said that “so far, we have found no indication of any nuclear material.” Every sample that was actually taken from the ground in the area of the Syrian building tested negative for uranium and plutonium. That’s a problem for the Israeli narrative.

But, it wasn’t even the biggest problem. The biggest environmental inconsistency came not from testing for uranium but for graphite. After all, the Syrian site was supposed to be a gas-cooled graphite-moderated reactor. If it was, then when the building exploded, it should have sent graphite everywhere, according to Scott Ritter.

Ritter says there would have been thousands of pounds of graphite in the facility already. But, he says, “there’s no evidence in the destruction. … If it had been bombed and there was graphite introduced, you would have a signature all over the area of destroyed graphite blocks. There would be graphite lying around, etc. This was not the case.”

According to Porter, this inconsistency is what bothered Abushady the most too. He says the bombing of the reactor “would have spread particles of nuclear-grade graphite all over the site.” But none of the samples taken by the IAEA showed even a trace of graphite: graphite that would have to be there and that “would have been impossible to clean it up,” as nuclear expert Behrd Nakhai told Porter. Abushady says that “these results are the basis to confirm … that the site cannot [have been] actually a nuclear reactor.”

So, North Korea did not even feature in the craziest nuclear stories of the past few days. The craziest stories featured Saudi Arabia and the States and Israel and Syria: the nuclear weapons program that the Saudis could have and the one the Syrians never did.

Ted Snider has a graduate degree in philosophy and writes on analyzing patterns in US foreign policy and history. This article originally appeared at Antiwar.com. Reprinted with permission.

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31 comments for “None of This Month’s Craziest Nuclear Stories Involved North Korea

  1. drspock
    April 2, 2018 at 9:14 pm

    So the real question is why would the Israeli’s concoct such a flimsy story and why would the US media go along with it? I remember seeing the photos after the bombing raid and immediately thought “they’re no electrical lines in the are..you can’t have a reactor without a significant power source.” But the nightly news simply repeated the Israeli claim and made no effort to ask any questions. So what was/is behind all this?

  2. WTL#!
    March 30, 2018 at 2:21 am

    I recall a year or so ago a Saudi spokesman said they already had nuclear weapons and someone from State or Defence rather nonchalantly saying “yeah they have, they probably bought them off the rack from Pakistan” – was this debunked?

  3. Abe
    March 29, 2018 at 2:27 pm

    Pepe Escobar: Real story behind Israeli air strike has never been investigated (2008)
    http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=1411

  4. Zachary Smith
    March 29, 2018 at 12:16 pm

    When I read about the convoluted Saudi statements about acquiring the Bomb, it occurred to me that any such program might be a cover story for introducing some weapons they bought from another country. They might build a minimal reprocessing complex, or something they claimed was one, and after a decent interval start “producing” weapons.

    Regarding the Syrian “reactor”, the loss of it didn’t seem to bother the Syrians very much, so I’m quite willing to go with the theory that the Israelis ended up with egg on their face by attacking the wrong target.

    • Al Pinto
      March 29, 2018 at 2:22 pm

      @Zachary…

      “Regarding the Syrian “reactor”, the loss of it didn’t seem to bother the Syrians very much, so I’m quite willing to go with the theory that the Israelis ended up with egg on their face by attacking the wrong target.”

      I don’t recall that Israel had received any retribution for the attack in question from the UN, international community etc. Despite a fact that by international laws, Israel’s attacked a sovereign nation with no war declaration between them. So, who has that egg on the face?

    • Mathew Neville
      March 29, 2018 at 2:57 pm

      Zachary Smith ,

      ” the loss of it didn’t seem to bother the Syrians very much ”

      Yes , death & destruction doesn’t seem to bother Arab people some how ! ! .
      Probably it is because if the MSM reports it at all it makes sure that the victims appear to be the guilty party.

      Syrian “reactor”…………H.Res. 674 (110th): Expressing the unequivocal support of the House of Representatives for Israel’s right to self defense in the face of an imminent nuclear or military threat from Syria..
      ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

    • Zachary Smith
      March 29, 2018 at 6:19 pm

      I’ll try again. With the US protecting everything the little venereal canker nation does, Syria’s reaction didn’t matter much in any event. Only since Russia has become involved have things changed – slightly.

      I’m getting the impression that elements within the US Military/Intelligence Complex are itching to see if Russia is bluffing. I’d predict the Holy Hemorrhoid state of Israel is in this up to its ears, for wouldn’t an Israeli attack which killed a bunch of Russians get the same reaction as one by the US or the rest of the “Coalition”? If some antique Syrian missiles managed to take down Israel’s F-16, the prospects of modern S-300s or S-400s doing the same would appear to be substantial. So it is angling to send in some American airplanes and find out.

      Phillip Giraldi, an author who has written for Consortium News, has a new piece up titled “Bolton Means Another War for Israel is Coming”. Reading it was enough to spook me.

      Bolton, the point man for Israeli-American casino billionaire and GOP kingmaker Sheldon Adelson, will be the spark plug that ignites a new round of warfare on behalf of Israel.
      .
      .
      .

      The American soldiers and airmen who are now based in Israel are the sacrificial lambs that will guarantee U.S. entry into a war that Israel intends to start, make no mistake about that.

      If Israel decides to use the US to wage yet another war for it, you can bet the far those American soldiers and airmen will die. Even if Hezbollah doesn’t fire a missile landing with 40 miles of them! Their deaths and manglings are that essential to the maggot nation which has already murdered US sailors on the USS Liberty. We’re talking about Land Grab #3 here! Does anybody seriously believe that our unstable President Pinhead would even attempt to stop an attack? This is the same guy who has just expelled 60 Russian diplomats to show “solidarity” with the Brits.

  5. Bob Van Noy
    March 29, 2018 at 12:09 pm

    You’re welcome Jessika.

  6. March 29, 2018 at 11:36 am

    Thanks to rational people cited in this article who refute lies of the Israeli state actors, who continually do whatever they wish and are supported by the US. And thank you for that video, Bob, will have to watch later.

    Kim Jong-un meeting with Xi Jinping before his meeting with our crazy Kaiser Wilhelm, Donald Trump, is important. More articles out about “The Dragon and The Bear”, China and Russia are no longer putting up with the insanity of the predatory Eagle US. Those who sit stupefied before a TV to get their news will remain zombies, their loss.

  7. Tom Welsh
    March 29, 2018 at 10:33 am

    “The second is that it almost certainly wasn’t a nuclear reactor”.

    And Russia did not shoot down MH17.

    And the Skripals were not poisoned with a nerve agent.

    So what?

    Just as long as millions of gullible Westerners believe that those things are true.

    • john wilson
      March 29, 2018 at 11:48 am

      Too true Tom, and lies don’t just have to be big lies they are now just fairly stories with no substance of anything. Just look at all the crap about chemical weapons in Syria which were supposed to be so deadly, but somehow the ‘white helmets were immune. The policeman in the Salisbury poisoning case who was supposed to be at deaths’ door has been released from hospital and appeared on TV in full uniform looking a picture of health. Skripal’s daughter is now said to be recovering so the UK deep state will have a problem before long, especially if she wants to return to Russia and has a different story to tell. I’m afraid that once you have a stupid public that will believe anything, then the state can say whatever it likes, no matter how improbable. The plane (if it was a plane) that went into the side of the Pentagon, was twice as wide as the hole it was supposed to have gone into. A few of us question how this could possibly be the case, but the mass of the public accept it as fact because their government said it was.

  8. Bob Van Noy
    March 29, 2018 at 9:19 am

    This may appear to be off topic, but I assure you it is not.

    There is a truly excellent Michel Colon video interview with Ray McGovern, and Dimitris Konstantakopolos (a former member of Syriza and journalist) available today as the lead story.
    I’ve often said that I’m very impressed by this site because it’s multilingual, simple, backed by real intellectual research, And Contemporary.

    Within that interview, Ray McGovern explains John Kerry’s confusion about the “complexity of Syrian negotiations… The interviewers speak about “The Fifth Estate,” that’s us!, exactly what Robert Parry discovered out of necessity, that there is a large, active, bright, and rational audience out there in the maze, yearning for the Truth. Please watch; it’s encouraging. “The thing that can free us; is the People themselves”.

    Also, this site is graphically significant because the subsequent links that follow each article are presented as picture “buttons” to their links. I think that a better, more secure Web will be our salvation. It can be that simple… Link here:

    http://www.defenddemocracy.press/on-trump-us-russian-relations-and-the-state-of-the-world-a-debate-with-michel-collon-dimitris-konstantakopoulos-ray-mcgovern

    • March 31, 2018 at 3:15 pm

      Ray McGovern is a very knowledgeable brilliant ex CIA who saw the light. If he says its true I believe him.

  9. Skip Scott
    March 29, 2018 at 8:00 am

    This article ended rather abruptly. Obviously the big question is: if it wasn’t a nuclear facility the Syrians were building, what was it, and why did the Israelis bomb it?

    • March 29, 2018 at 9:16 am

      Skip, the possible “why’s” are numerous but the questions are never asked. Why “false flags”, why try to sink the SS Liberty, why bomb a facility that likely was not building a bomb? Again, it is not the questions that arise but the fact that Israel’s many allies never ask, often accepting its reasons without question or with a wink, and such above comments made by the Syrian ambassador are not reported in the major media or relegated to a paragraph in an article inside the printed media papers. I think the author makes a convincing case that it was not a nuclear facility and it stretches credulity that Israel didn’t know that. But it is a safe bet that they had their reasons.

      • mike k
        March 29, 2018 at 10:14 am

        I venture that the reason for this phony “nuclear facility” strike may have been Israel’s way of threatening Iran with a strike on their nuclear capacity, and testing America’s response to such strikes.

      • Al Pinto
        March 29, 2018 at 10:25 am

        @Skip…
        And pretty much that’s the point nowadays, with “guilty, until proven otherwise” type of foreign diplomacy. Yes, Israel bombed those building and mike k is probably right. It’s been just a show of power and testing the boundaries…

        On the other hand, it makes a great headline (“Israel bombed the Syrian nuclear reactor”), that’s what the masses will remember and base their judgment accordingly. It’s a win-win for both the US and Israel….

    • David G
      March 29, 2018 at 11:44 am

      Gareth Porter addressed this in his excellent CN article (2017/11/18) that Ted Snider links to above. Briefly:

      The structure had originally been built as a missile storage/launch facility, but was already long-abandoned by the time of the Israeli strike. The Syrians seem to have successfully used it as a decoy to distract the Israelis from active Syrian/Hezbollah missile sites, which were the actual Israeli objective.

      • Skip Scott
        March 29, 2018 at 12:19 pm

        Thanks David G. I should have checked the links.

    • TonyV
      March 29, 2018 at 12:46 pm

      This video shows the site in 2013 after its capture by the takfiris. It is a clearly a store for large ballistic missiles.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s5ZxDz3UgwU&t=45

      The site is on the east bank of the Euphrates about halfway between Raqqa and Deir ez Zor at 35°42’27.66″N 39°49’59.38″E. If you have Google Earth Pro, you can use the history feature to confirm its original appearance, its appearance after the strike and subsequent rebuilding.

    • March 31, 2018 at 3:14 pm

      Israel has their false flags too! They did it to start and continue the Project for a New American Century, the playbook designed by the neo cons to attack 7 countries in 5 yrs. Syria is now on the list, even though George War Bush never got that far, bogged down in Iraq and Afganistan. If you actually look at the Prime Ministers, Presidents of most countries they are 90% zionist Israelie owned, just like the american govt.

  10. mike k
    March 29, 2018 at 7:44 am

    Not to be impolite, but so what? A speculation and a rehash.

    • mike k
      March 29, 2018 at 7:56 am

      (Meant to come first, before Sally’s comment and my response to her.)

    • ranney
      March 29, 2018 at 4:58 pm

      The Syria story reminds us how long the lies persist, despite the fact that they were disproven early on. The story also shows the lengths that Israel, and the US (CIA, NSA FBI alphabet soup) will go to provide a lie and then keep it going. No wonder Trump is losing whatever mind he has left. He’s right when he says it’s fake news, but the problem is that both the left and the right are promoting fake news so which set of lies does one choose?

  11. Sally Snyder
    March 29, 2018 at 7:41 am

    Here is a look at what the new National Security Advisor has to say about North Korea:

    https://viableopposition.blogspot.ca/2018/03/john-bolton-and-how-to-start-war-with.html

    We are just experiencing a lull in coverage of North Korea. With Bolton now in charge of national security, war with North Korea is looking increasingly likely.

    • mike k
      March 29, 2018 at 7:53 am

      Trump is like a clueless poker player, who thinks he will always win by escalating his bluffs. Russia has already told him that this will not work with them, and if he goes all in on a first strike, they will immediately go all in with a devastating retaliatory strike. I think Bolton is thinking that Russia and China will stand by and do nothing if they strike North Korea with “tactical” nukes. But no one can be sure what will happen if that genie is released in the world once more…………

    • geeyp
      March 29, 2018 at 7:22 pm

      So, let me get this straight. North Korea supposedly ships supplies for a nuke to Syria and Israel’s police and military does not interdict. Yet, when people of good will transport on the high seas food and medical aid supplies for the Palestinians, they are seen coming a “mile away”, taken over and hijacked? Israel allows nuke parts to pass through? Gee, such humanitarians!

    • March 30, 2018 at 12:02 pm

      There was a very interesting article posted in Zero Hedge this week about the Bolton appointment. I find Bolton’s policy views repulsive and dangerous however if the article is accurate then it appointment makes some twisted sense. The article claims Bolton is being brought in to clean house in the NSA and intelligence circles and stop all the leaks which he will be effective in doing. Furthermore he was informed he is there to implement not question the presidents agenda on foreign policy (somewhat hard to believe Bolton would accept this). The meeting that just took between Xi Li Peng of China (which Trump has a good relationship with) and Kim Joug Un of North Korea was praised by Trump during his post meeting call with the Chinese leader. Although I see Bolton as possibly attempting to sabotage the upcoming Trump-Kim meeting at this point it will probably fail and Bolton would lose his job before he even gets started. The article goes on to say that once the housecleaning in the NSA/intelligence circles has been completed Bolton will be shown the door. From what we have seen from trump this may be plausible. Lets hope so.

    • March 31, 2018 at 3:10 pm

      Bolton Trump Kushner and Pompeo willing to declare war against NK, while the Sauds get their nuclear weapons. We KNOW Israel has them probably thousands at this point, (but they havent admitted they have them. Trump said, “he thought every country should have them’…what does that tell us people. Bolton is a neo con, pro Israel bully who would be very willing to attack NK…to cover up what the Sauds, and israel are doing in the middle east…closer to the Greater Israel than ever before. Why is the media constantly calling Assad a terrorist, because Syria will be part of Israel…

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