Gareth Porter: Dubious intelligence used as pretext for tougher sanctions - November 13, 2011
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Gareth Porter is a historian and investigative journalist specializing in US foreign and military policy. He writes regularly for Inter Press Service on US policy towards Iraq and Iran. He is the author of five books, of which the latest is Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Washington. Last week, the IAEA leaked and then released of sorts a new report on a supposed weapons program in Iran. Headlines around the world said now there is proof there is a nuclear weapons program in Iran--the IAEA says so. But what's new about this report? What is the evidence? And what does it actually show? Now joining us to talk about all this is Gareth Porter. Gareth is an investigative journalist, and he's been following this story for many years, and he's a regular contributor to the Real News Network. Thanks very much.GARETH PORTER, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: Hello again, Paul.JAY: Hi. So start with what the media has been saying. What are sort of the big things that are supposed to be new here, and then what do you make of it?PORTER: Well, the big headlines all around the world in conjunction with a new report were: a former Soviet weapons specialist, weapons scientist, helped Iran build a nuclear weapon, essentially, to build a device to trigger a nuclear weapon.JAY: And this happens after 2003, where, according to the American national intelligence estimate, the weapons had stopped in 2003.PORTER: Well, that's a separate point. No. In fact, what the IAEA is claiming--and, you know, there's--it's a half-truth or less than a half-truth--is that this supposed former weapons specialist, who is not a Russian or Soviet but a Ukrainian scientist technician, was in Iraq from 1996 to 2000, roughly, and that while he was there, he was in fact helping the Iranians to assemble, to essentially engineer a system of what they call a multipoint implosion system to trigger a nuclear weapon. So that's really the sensational news that accompanied the [incompr.]JAY: So what do we know about this Ukranian, supposed Russian?PORTER: Well, what we know, basically, is that he was never a nuclear weapons specialist. He did in fact work for a Soviet research institute in Chelyabinsk--it was called the Chelyabinsk Institute--which was well known for having been specializing in nuclear warheads. But the reality is that he did not work on nuclear weapons. He worked on nanodiamonds. And that is a kind of hard--very, very hard, obviously, industrial diamond, very, very tiny industrial diamonds which had a lot of industrial uses. And it's--you know, has--the only commonality with a nuclear weapon is that it's done through an explosive process. They use explosions to make the nanodiamonds. But we know from published biographical information on this guy--and it's been confirmed now by others--that he went to this institute when he was 25 years old, and the first thing he started on was--this is 1960--was nanodiamonds. He was never involved in anything else but nanodiamonds. And so he created this new field, essentially. He was one of the pioneers in the world in nanodiamonds.JAY: So if the IAEA has evidence he's actually somehow other than that, is there anything in the document that proves this point?PORTER: Well, the only evidence they have is that some, quote, member state, unnamed, told them that that was so, that he was a former Soviet weapons specialist. And what obviously happened was that that "member state", quote-unquote, learned that he had worked at this Soviet research institute which was known for its nuclear weapons, and that was good enough for them. They pressed ahead and said, you know, now we know that he was a weapons--a nuclear weapons specialist.JAY: So the other thing in the headlines has been that the UN is saying that the national--American national intelligence estimate that said that the weapons program ended in 2003, they're now saying that, well, maybe it didn't. So what is that about?PORTER: Well, what that is about is that there have been forces pressing the IAEA to move in the direction of that conclusion for years now. And that goes back again to the laptop of death, as it's often called--the IAEA called it the alleged studies documents--which were turned over by unknown parties to the United States government in 2004, and which are still extremely mysterious, and which I've written about a number of times and shown are just--it's implausible that it's anything but a fraud for a variety of reasons. There's all kinds of evidence, indications within the papers themselves.JAY: What's an example of that?PORTER: Well, an example is that in the papers on supposedly redesign of the warhead of the Shahab-3 missile, which shows, you know, what looks like making room for a nuclear weapon, they basically chose the wrong--those people who made those drawings chose the wrong rocket, the wrong--sorry--the wrong missile. By the time that the designs were being made, the Iranians, we know from research that has been published by the IISS in London, the most authoritative work on the Iranian missile program, and from the fact that they actually tested this missile in 2004, that they'd moved on to a more advanced model of this missile, which had a different shape of warhead from the one that was shown in these drawings. And it's simply not plausible that the Iranians were going to design a new--design a warhead that included a nuclear weapon based on the one that they had abandoned which could not reach Israel--could not reach Israel. The new one that they designed that they had--they'd already begun to test would reach Israel.JAY: Right. So then what is in this report that would cause all these headlines to act as if there's new revelations here?PORTER: Well, you know, I mean, the real storyline here is that the IAEA has been very artful about presenting very small bits of evidence which are uncertain, which have to do with dual-use technology and the possibility that something exists, and presenting it as evidence that Iran probably has done something. And that's really what happens in this current report, just as it has been for the last five years in their reports. They've done this over and over again.JAY: Now, there--a lot of credible sources, including Hans Blix and ElBaradei himself, who used to head up the IAEA--. And before ElBaradei left the IAEA, he left with a fairly critical note about Iran not disclosing as much as he thought they should have, even though ElBaradei, I think, made it pretty clear he thought all this other evidence that's now been revealed again was pretty dubious. But he was critical of the Iranians for not being more transparent. So why aren't they?PORTER: Well, I think they're partly not transparent because of the fear of giving away secrets that are important military secrets. Partly, you know, those secrets have to do with location of facilities and giving information to the IAEA about those facilities sooner than they have to. I mean, they wait until the absolute last moment in order to fulfill the requirement, the legal requirement under their initial commitment to the IAEA, not under the additional legal obligations they took on later on, 2003, but they wait until last minute, 180 days before they plan to put in any nuclear material, so that they can keep the United States and Israel guessing.JAY: And this is nuclear material--according to the Iranians, is all for an energy program, not a weapons program.PORTER: Well, I mean, that's the obvious argument that they make. But I think that it's clear--and they make no secret about this--that they cite the Japan model as something that they want to emulate. And that Japan model is, of course, a non-nuclear weapons state, which nevertheless makes it known to the world that they have the capability on very short notice, within a matter of weeks, or at most a few months, to manufacture a nuclear weapon. And that's what they want to be known as having the capability for.JAY: And if people who have been critical of this leaking of IAEA positions and this idea that they already have a weapon or about to have a weapon, that's sort of the general wisdom, is it not, that Iran wants to go up to a point where they could take a step if needed, but they are not going past that line? PORTER: I think that's the consensus.JAY: And that's more or less what the national intelligence estimate said.PORTER: I think that is the consensus. I can tell you that Paul Pillar, who worked on the NIE in 2000 and 2005, was convinced that it was in fact precisely that, it was a nuclear hedging strategy trying to take advantage of the deterrence value of a capability for having nuclear weapons without going to actual manufacture of nuclear weapons.JAY: And the timing of this report comes just after this supposed Iranian conspiracy to kill a Saudi diplomat in the United States. There's a lot of, like, things that, when you actually look at them, start to fall apart. But there seems to be the attempt to create a bit of a mood, an atmosphere or something.PORTER: Well, it's more than--yeah, it's more than a mood and atmosphere. It's an effort to create the political requirements, if you will, for getting Russia and China to agree to much stronger sanctions against Iran. That was quite explicit in reporting in Tel Aviv this week around the IAEA report. They're saying that the purpose that Israel had in mind in giving information to the IAEA--and basically the Israelis don't hide the fact that the information that they talk about from a member state is coming from Israel. The purpose of it was to get the Russians and the Chinese, to position them so that they could support much stronger sanctions, sanctions against the oil and gas sector and against the National Bank of Iran.JAY: And the saber rattling that's going on in Israel now [crosstalk] PORTER: Same thing. It's the same thing.JAY: --is the same thing [crosstalk] PORTER: It's all supposed to be coordinated to create the impression that Israel is feeling very strongly that unless something's done soon, they'll have to strike. And that's conceived in Israel as a way of pushing the Russians and the Chinese to accept stronger sanctions.JAY: So in your estimation, how much of this is a psychological, political preparation for a possible actual attack on Iran versus the sanctions?PORTER: I think it's really for the most part--and I would say 90 percent--it's to really engineer a new round of sanctions which are much tougher on Iran. I think, you know, the politics of Israel today about attacking Iran do not look good for the Bibi Netanyahu folks and their dream of being able to pull that off. There's a lot of pushback politically within the political system, as well as, crucially, from the intelligence and military leadership of Israel. So I think it's less and less likely as time goes by that they can do that. So I think it's much more likely now that this is really about sanctions.JAY: Thanks for joining us.PORTER: Thank you.JAY: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
End of Transcript
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