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David Swanson says CIA inadvertently revealed a dark side of its operations in Iran and Iraq in the Sterling trial.

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. Jeffrey Sterling was sentenced to 42 months on Monday for revealing details about a covert operation. The mainstream press is reporting that the operation known as Operation Merlin back in the year 2000 attempted to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapons plan. However, our next guest David Swanson has uncovered something much darker in the court case. With me to discuss it is David Swanson. David is joining us from Charlottesville, Virginia. David is co-founder of War Is A Crime, and the author of War No More: The Case for Abolition. Thank you so much for joining us. DAVID SWANSON: Thanks for having me. PERIES: So David, what is your revelation here? SWANSON: Well, I guess the one thing that I discovered is that one of the cables that was introduced as evidence in the trial made quite clear, although unintentionally, that this operation to give nuclear plans and, as originally conceived, nuclear parts to the government of Iran was then carried over to the government of Iraq. That is, this former Russian nuclear scientists, CIA asset who was tasked with giving nuclear bomb plans to Iran, which he did, it was then immediately proposed to him that he do the same with Iraq. And whether that was followed through on we don’t really know. We don’t have any way of knowing. Our government operates in secrecy. But we know that this individual and his wife have continued to be paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for several years following this operation for some service or other. And we know that Iraq became a huge focus of the CIA, and that very dubious nuclear weapons plans and parts were produced, supposedly dug up in a nuclear scientist’s backyard in Iraq in 2003, and presented very briefly to the public. And the CIA took the photos down off its website, but you can still see them, that look very much in common with what was given to Iran. PERIES: Now, explain to us, David, the dangers of what they had proposed, or provided by way of plans to Iran. SWANSON: Well you know, the official story, and the story that was presented to the all-white jury that convicted Jeffrey Sterling is that this was an approach to Iran to slow down its nuclear weapons program. That is, you take nuclear weapons plans and introduce mistakes into them. Provide them to Iran without telling them there are mistakes. And this will somehow slow them down. Now, the best information the CIA had at this point, this is in the year 2000, was that Iran didn’t have a nuclear weapons program and that Iraq didn’t have a nuclear weapons program. So you’re introducing nuclear plans into a possibly nonexistent program. And the mistakes, and this was why they were so angry at James Risen’s report in his book, and why they got the New York Times to refuse to report it, was that the mistakes were glaringly obvious. In fact, were immediately obvious to the former Russian scientist to whom they were not supposed to be. And they admitted, quite openly, in Jeffrey Sterling’s trial that they were taking a risk of proliferating nuclear weapons rather than discouraging their proliferation. And so just shortly before making the case that Iraq’s nuclear weapons were grounds for attacking Iraq, which of course made no sense. You want somebody to use a weapon, you attack them. And of course, Iraq didn’t have nuclear weapons. They were at least discussing and pursuing strategies for carrying over from Iran to Iraq this same operation of giving nuclear weapons plans to a country that as far as they knew didn’t have any, with mistakes introduced that as far as they knew were obvious, and that their own team of scientists had saw their way around and successfully created the parts based on the plans. This, this was madness, unless the actual underlying motivation really was to plant evidence that would then be pointed to as grounds for war. PERIES: And there’s much speculation about that. Is there any further evidence to support that scenario? SWANSON: Well you know, we don’t–we aren’t able to get anything out of our government. Jeffrey Sterling went to the relevant committee of Congress that has oversight and has the authority to review these things, and reported to them what was going on with Iran. And they did absolutely nothing. And he went to a congress member who told him to flee the country. This is an innocent man trying to blow the whistle on an outrageously reckless, if not criminally warmongering operation, is told to flee the country and the committees in Congress do nothing. And so we don’t have access through Congress to find out information. We have to find it through other leakers who now face the increased risk of prison based on the example of Jeffrey Sterling and Bradley–now Chelsea Manning and others. So we don’t know. But we know that there were teams of special operations, plans, officials running about Iraq right after the invasion, trying to find if not plant weapons of mass destruction. We know that just shortly after Condoleezza Rice got the New York Times to not publish this story about Operation Merlin the CIA went public with this claim that a scientist had dug up nuclear plans and weapons in his backyard in Iraq. Plans that were supposedly from Germany and reproduced by Iraqis, but were mysteriously in English. Just like the Russian’s plans were in English. And so we know–and we know, of course, the fabrication of evidence around buying Uranium and the fabrication of evidence around aluminum tubes. We know that there was a huge operation around planting evidence on Iraq. Whether this was followed through on, whether it became part of that, we don’t know. But that appears to have been the intention. PERIES: And David, you also found a very interesting link between the appeals court decision this week on the metadata collection being illegal and this case. Tell us a bit about that. SWANSON: Well you know, my colleague Norman Solomon has written about that quite well, and I should credit Marcy Wheeler with having written extremely well about everything I’ve been talking about here. But what Norman pointed out was that Jeffrey Sterling was convicted on the basis of metadata, which is something we’re told we shouldn’t worry about the government having. That is to say, the government knew Jeffrey Sterling had spoken with James Risen. They knew what phone numbers were involved, what time of day, how many minutes, what days they spoke. They had nothing, no knowledge whatsoever of the content of those phone calls. No solid evidence that Jeffrey Sterling had told James Risen anything secret. Anything on which they were convicting him. And yet on the basis solely of that metadata, and a lot of smoke and mirrors and talk about the grandeur of the CIA, they got a jury to convict Jeffrey Sterling. So the idea that you shouldn’t worry about the government having all this metadata on you is ridiculous when they’re putting people in prison on that basis. PERIES: David Swanson, thank you so much for joining us today. SWANSON: Any time. Thank you. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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David Swanson's books include: War Is A Lie (2010), When the World Outlawed War (2011), and The Military Industrial Complex at 50 (2012).  He is the host of  Talk Nation Radio. He has been a journalist, activist, organizer, educator, and agitator.  Swanson helped plan the nonviolent occupation of Freedom Plaza in Washington DC in 2011.  Swanson holds a master's degree in philosophy from the University of Virginia. He has worked as a newspaper reporter and as a communications director, with jobs including press secretary for Dennis Kucinich's 2004 presidential campaign, media coordinator for the International Labor Communications Association, and three years as communications coordinator for ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. He blogs at and and works as Campaign Coordinator for the online activist organization Swanson also works on the communications committee of Veterans For Peace, of which he is an associate (non-veteran) member. Swanson is Secretary of Peace in the Green Shadow Cabinet.