The truth about the Iranian nuclear program

Investigative journalist Gareth Porter has come out with a new book titled Manufactured Crisis, The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare and he was interviewed about it by Andrew Cockburn for Harper’s magazine.

Porter says that the west has created a myth about the Iranian nuclear program that bears little resemblance to the facts. In reading what he says, I was struck by how the government and the media seem to be following the same script they used when they lied us into war with Iraq, using unreliable and lying informants, manufactured ‘evidence’, and reporters working for major establishment media to relay false information to the public to fan war sentiment.

In Manufactured Crisis, I show that the claim of an Iranian nuclear-weapons program has been based on false history and falsified records. The description of the Iranian nuclear program presented in official documents, in commentaries by think-tank “experts,” and in the media bears no resemblance to the essential historical facts. One would never know from the narrative available to the public over the years that Iran had been prepared in the early 1980s to rely entirely on a French-based company for enriched uranium fuel for its Bushehr reactor, rather than on enriching uranium itself. Nor would one learn that the Reagan Administration sought to strangle Iran’s nuclear program, which was admitted to have presented no proliferation threat, in its cradle by pressuring Germany and France to refuse to cooperate in any way. The significance of that missing piece of history is that Iran was confronted with a choice of submitting to the U.S. effort to deprive Iran of its right to a peaceful nuclear program under the Non-Proliferation Treaty or else acquiring its own enrichment capability.

Not surprisingly, the Iranians chose the latter course, and went to the black market in defiance of what was by that point a unilateral U.S. policy. Their decision is now described in the popular narrative as evidence that Iran was seeking nuclear weapons early on.

The evidence adduced to prove that Iran secretly worked on nuclear weapons represents an even more serious falsification of intelligence than we saw in the run-up to the war in Iraq. I tell the real story behind a large collection of intelligence documents that appeared mysteriously in 2004 and have been crucial to the Iran nuclear narrative. They supposedly came from the purloined laptop of an Iranian participant in a nuclear-weapons research project, but a former senior official with the German foreign office told me the real story: the documents were provided to Germany’s intelligence service by an occasional source who was part of the Iranian-exile terrorist organization Mojahedin-e-Khalq (MEK).

The obviously self-interested MEK member was thus the Iranian equivalent of the now-discredited Iraqi source known as “Curveball,” whose tales of mobile bioweapons labs in Saddam’s Iraq became the centerpiece of the Bush case for invading Iraq. It is well documented, however, that the Israeli Mossad was using the MEK to launder intelligence it didn’t want attributed to Israel, with the aim of influencing the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and foreign governments. Further pointing to the Israeli origins of the documents is the fact that Israel was the only country in the world known to have a special office responsible for influencing news coverage of Iran’s nuclear program.

He describes how the US and Israel were thwarted by then head of the IAEA Mohammed El Baradei who was deeply skeptical of the information he was being fed by Israeli and US intelligence. But their chance came when his term ended.

The IAEA came to play an even more partisan role after Yukia Amano of Japan replaced ElBaradei in November 2009. A WikiLeaks cable from July 2009 reveals that Amano promised U.S. officials he would be firmly in their camp on Iran in return for American support of his election as director general. “In their camp” could only have meant that he would support the publication of the intelligence dossier — based entirely on intelligence reports and documents from Israel — that ElBaradei had refused to authorize.

What is astounding is that the same pattern of lies and deception by both the government and media that led to the invasion of Iraq is being repeated with the hyped up threats of Iranian nuclear weapons, with the US intelligence agencies fabricating evidence that claimed that Iran had a nuclear weapons program and suppressing reports from its field agents and analysts that there was not such program, and the media uncritically passing on false information. Incredibly, Porter says that it is even worse this time around.

With Iraq, there was at least dissent over issues like its alleged illegal importation of aluminum tubes, which reflected debates within the intelligence community. Coverage of Iran, on the other hand, has been virtually unanimous in reporting the official line without the slightest indication of curiosity about whether it might be false or misleading. The closest we got to investigative work in the commercial media were hints, buried inside longer stories in the Washington Post, of skepticism in the intelligence community about the 2004 laptop documents.

Some of the most egregious misinformation came in late 2007 and early 2008, in stories in the New York Times and Washington Post about two IAEA reports containing the final results of a major agency investigation. Rather than reporting the fact that the agency had been unable to challenge any of Iran’s explanations of the six issues under investigation, the Times and Post stories simply quoted Bush Administration officials and an unnamed IAEA official as dismissing the Iranian responses.

When the media challenged the official line, it was only because that line wasn’t hawkish enough. David Sanger of the New York Times carried out a relentless campaign in innumerable articles after the 2007 NIE attacking its conclusion that Iran had ceased work on nuclear weapons in 2003.

Porter says that under pressure from the Israel lobby, the US has adopted a negotiating posture with Iran that makes demands that they know Iran will reject, such as demanding that they remove 80% of their centrifuges.

Nevertheless, the Obama Administration has been so intimidated by the breakout drumbeat that it has now adopted a policy of limiting Iran’s breakout period to between six and twelve months. That translates into a demand that Iran agree to be stripped of 80 percent of its centrifuges, which is all but certain to ensure the breakdown of the talks. Unless the administration changes its posture — which became less likely after it publicly cited that goal as a baseline — fear-mongering propagandists may well succeed in pushing the United States into a situation of increased tension with Iran, including the possible mutual escalation of military threats. That, of course, would be the result that Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long sought.

The full interview is well worth reading.


  1. daved says

    I’m going to astound the skeptics and the rubes alike by using my incredible psychic powers to predict that colnago80 will be along any time now with his usual brain-dead blather about the “mad mullahs.”

  2. colnago80 says

    Re daved @ #1

    Actually, I’m going to question Dr. Porter’s credentials as a neutral and unbiased observer. In other venues, Dr. Porter has questioned the Iranian involvement in the bombing of the Israeli embassy in India and the Iranian involvement in the bombing of a Jewish community center in Argentina. The Governments of India and Argentina have come to different conclusions. He has also downplayed the involvement of Iran in the ongoing activities in Syria and its involvement and support of Hizbollah in Lebanon. I think it would be a fair inference that he is an apologist for the Government of Iran and hence his downplaying of Iranian nuclear activities is less then credible. Of course, Prof. Singham has stated previously on this blog that Iran has the perfect right to develop nuclear weapons if Israel has them so I don'[t quite see why he would care one way or the other about Porter’s claims.

  3. daved says

    Just be patient. He sounded reasonable in that first post, but if someone adds a comment critical of Israel, the dam is bound to break.

  4. richardrobinson says

    Prof. Singham has stated previously on this blog that Iran has the perfect right to develop nuclear weapons if Israel has them so I don’[t quite see why he would care one way or the other about Porter’s claims.

    Iran is a sovereign nation. A case is being built on false information to attack or invade it. Iran’s right to develop its own nuclear program is completely beside the point.

  5. richardrobinson says

    It’s even worse than that, colnago; you’ve got it completely backwards.

    The case for attacking Iran is being built on false information. Even if that information were true, it would not justify an attack because Iran has the right to do what it is being accused of doing.

  6. colnago80 says

    Re richardrobinson

    I am not conceding that the information is false, given Dr. Porter’s questionable bonafides It may be exaggerated, as a former head of Israel’s atomic agency has claimed.

  7. Holms says

    I think it would be a fair inference that he is an apologist for the Government of Iran…

    A bit like you then with your defense of the Israeli state, although you’re much more blatant.

  8. Holms says

    Also colnago80, did you even read the article you linked? The ex-leader says repeatedly that he doesn’t think the current nuclear program is headed towards a bomb, and mused on why on earth Netanyahu was fearmongering in this manner. So, he was in complete agreement with Porter’s ‘Iran isn’t trying to make nukes’ position.

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