Monday, May 15, 2006

More Distortion on Iran

Last Friday and over the weekend, we saw a telling example of just how dangerous the global information environment has become.

Friday afternoon, over a cold carbonated beverage at the neighborhood watering hole, my retired Army buddy said, "You heard the latest about Iran?"

"No," I said. I hadn't been plugged into a news source for almost an hour, so I was behind the news cycle. "What about Iran?"

"They found yellow cake in one of their nuclear facilities," he said.

I cut happy hour short, went home, and jumped on Google. Here were the first headlines and lead stories I found.

From Reuters:
UN finds new uranium traces in Iran - diplomats
Fri May 12, 2006 11:16 AM BST

U.N. inspectors have discovered new traces of highly-enriched uranium on nuclear equipment in Iran, deepening suspicions Tehran may still be concealing the full extent of its atomic enrichment programme, diplomats said.

The headline in Calcutta, India's Telegraph read "Fresh Iran uranium traces found."

The second paragraph in the Saturday morning Toronto Sun article read, "This revelation is likely to strengthen U.S. arguments that Tehran wants to develop nuclear arms."

The lead paragraphs in the Saturday New York Times piece said:
Atomic inspectors have found traces of highly enriched uranium on equipment linked to an Iranian military base, raising new questions about whether Iran harbors a clandestine program to make nuclear bombs, diplomats said yesterday.
It is the second such discovery in three years of United Nations inspections in Iran. As the Security Council debates how to handle the atomic impasse with Tehran, the finding is likely to deepen skepticism about Iran's claims that its program is entirely peaceful.

But a deeper analysis of the story shows that the sensational war drum banging found in the headlines and lead paragraphs of the world's major papers is utter bosh.

Buried nose deep in the NYT article is the factoid that, "…the traces of highly enriched uranium could be explained by the inadvertent contamination of machinery that Iran obtained abroad."

"Obtained abroad," in Iran's case, mainly means "bought second, third or fourth hand from Pakistan." Pakistan is the most primitive nation on the planet to possess nuclear technology. Many regions of that country look uncivilized even by medieval standards. Indiana Jones' felt hat, leather jacket, bullwhip, and metal canteen would seem like high tech survival gear to the average Pakistani.

So what does it say about the state of any of Iran's advanced technology programs--nuclear or otherwise--that it's buying high tech industrial equipment from Pakistan?

And what's the surprise that any "dual use" equipment Iran bought from Pakistan is contaminated with traces of enriched uranium?

What do we mean by "traces," and what sort of equipment were the traces found in?

The UN's International Atomic Energy Committee (IAEA) discovered the traces through a microscopic particle analysis of swabs taken from vacuum pumps earlier this year. Vacuum pumps that were purchased from, yes, Pakistan.

The diplomats who leaked information about the "new" discoveries and said they were further evidence that Iran may be pursuing development of weapons grade uranium "demanded anonymity in exchange for divulging the confidential information." If you haven't picked up on the code yet, that's shorthand for "diplomats who wanted to spread propaganda and disinformation in the press without having it blow back in their faces when it turns out to be disinformation and propaganda."

At the end of the day, there was nothing new about this "news." IAEA inspectors have found microscopic traces of highly enriched uranium in dual use equipment that Iran bought from Pakistan before. It doesn't prove or disprove anything regarding Iran's intentions toward acquiring nuclear weapons. It's just another muffled tap on the war drum.

But for the grace of timing, this misleading story could have created a firestorm of misdirected reaction. Fortunately, it appears to have taken a nosedive. It wasn't discussed on any of the Sunday political talking point shows that I watched, and hasn't appeared to grow legs in any of the major U.S. newspapers. That could be because it broke on a Friday and was noise jammed by the more sensational stories about the NSA spying program and General Hayden's nomination to head the CIA. It might also just be that the greater mainstream media took a look at the story and said, "Eh, this looks like we're being manipulated, let's not push it too hard." But that's giving the mainstream media a lot more credit than they deserve, given their track record during the Bush regime.

In any case, don't expect "new" Iraq story to disappear for good. If ugly stuff comes out in the Hayden nomination hearings next week, or if Karl Rove gets indicted in the traitor-gate affair, or some equally spectacular item unfavorable to the Bush administration comes to light, stand by for an all out distraction campaign centering on the "threat" from Iran.

And when the story reemerges, logically impaired Americans like my retired Army friend won't recall the nuance about contaminated equipment bought from Afghanistan. They'll be completely swayed by the hyperbolic and misleading rhetoric of the likes of conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, who just this morning wrote:
As it races to acquire nuclear weapons, Iran makes clear that if there is any trouble, the Jews will be the first to suffer…

… When Iran's mullahs acquire their coveted nukes in the next few years, the number of Jews in Israel will just be reaching 6 million.

Keep in mind that Krauthammer is more than simply a right wing bull feather merchant who writes ill-tempered articles for some of America's leading publications. As a member of the Project for the New American Century he was one of the influential neoconservatives who, days after on September 11, 2001, exhorted young Mister Bush to "remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq" even if "evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack."

And he and his cohorts will doubtless continue to urge action against Iran even if evidence of their alleged ambition to obtain nuclear weapons never amounts to more than microscopic traces of enriched uranium discovered in contaminated dual use equipment the Iranians bought from Pakistan.


  1. What really bothers me is that the Krauthammer types will continue to bang the drum, making entirely unstabtianted claims, and a lot of people will listen to him.

  2. Scott,

    I don't keep up on Navy battle group deployment schedules, but I'm guessing that the Amphib types were kinda sorta scheduled to be in the area anyway.

  3. Well, there's no real telling what's actually going on. If I were planning this whole thing, I'd give the impression that an amphibious assault was not out of the question, especially when conducting a demonstration op like this one seems to be.

    This forces your opponent to plan for more contingencies, thereby spreading his forces thinner (and giving his general staff types extra headaches).

    The Marine Expeditionary Units on the Amphib groups obviously don't have the manpower to invade and occupy Iraq, but there are a lot of "lesser" missions they might accomplish ashore.

  4. Mike,

    I don't want to go too far down the road of what a MEU/SOC might be tasked to do in any kind of action against Iran. Not that I have any sort of inside knowledge, or for that matter any security clearances that would allow me to have such knowledge.

    But I know what I'd be thinking if I were in on the planning right now, and don't think it's a good idea to discuss it in a public forum.



  5. Anonymous6:15 PM

    I don't have the links but I thought there were boots on the ground in Iran already.
    These exercises in the Straits of Hormuz make me fear for a ground strike near the Kurdistan area.

    Maybe Crummy feels we need to get out and stretch ourselves a little.

    And now the National Guard on the Mexican border.
    What say you, Jeff, on this issue?

  6. Anonymous10:00 AM

    For some reason, I feel like I am watching an over used summer rerun titled, "War and Spin: Iraq"

    Oh sure, they are going to bomb us, they are going to bomb Israel, they are going to bomb any country that looks cross eyed at them. They have WMD! They are a terrorist nation and they are going to attack us. Same old, same old.

    And as far as that comtamination, no biggie. To have contamination from nuclear fission get trapped and entrained in equipment is not surprising. To have trace amounts is definately not surprising. To have the come from a place like Pakistan is logical. After working in the nuclear industry for almost 20 years, I can not get excited over this. Chalk it up to more hype, bluff and bluster.

  7. Sorry I've been out of touch for a few days gang. SNAFU with my DSL.

    As Meribeth said, I'm not too excited about this, except that it's adding to the vague, misinformed notions a lot of folks have about Iran's program.

  8. Anonymous5:27 PM

    It seems very clear to me that Iran , which as openly pursued the total destruction of Israel, will certainly use the Nuke when it achieves it!
    Should Israel and the USA NOT bomb the hell out of the Iranian installations and put troops in to be sure they are all gone, we in the West are in for it as we were with similar guy, A. Hitler