I. From the New Yorker: Iran and I.A.E.A
November 18, 2011
Iran and the I.A.E.A.
Posted by Seymour M. Hersh
The first question in last Saturday night’s Republican debate on foreign policy dealt with Iran, and a newly published report by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The report, which raised renewed concern about the “possible existence of undeclared nuclear facilities and material in Iran,” struck a darker tone than previous assessments. But it was carefully hedged. On the debate platform, however, any ambiguity was lost. One of the moderators said that the I.A.E.A. report had provided “additional credible evidence that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapon” and asked what various candidates, upon winning the Presidency, would do to stop Iran. Herman Cain said he would assist those who are trying to overthrow the government. Newt Gingrich said he would coördinate with the Israeli government and maximize covert operations to block the Iranian weapons program. Mitt Romney called the state of Iran’s nuclear program Obama’s “greatest failing, from a foreign-policy standpoint” and added, “Look, one thing you can know … and that is if we reëlect Barack Obama Iran will have a nuclear weapon.” The Iranian bomb was a sure thing Saturday night.
I’ve been reporting on Iran and the bomb for The New Yorker for the past decade, with a focus on the repeated inability of the best and the brightest of the Joint Special Operations Command to find definitive evidence of a nuclear-weapons production program in Iran. The goal of the high-risk American covert operations was to find something physical—a “smoking calutron,” as a knowledgeable official once told me—to show the world that Iran was working on warheads at an undisclosed site, to make the evidence public, and then to attack and destroy the site.
The Times reported, in its lead story the day after the report came out, that I.A.E.A. investigators “have amassed a trove of new evidence that, they say, makes a ‘credible’ case” that Iran may be carrying out nuclear-weapons activities. The newspaper quoted a Western diplomat as declaring that “the level of detail is unbelievable…. The report describes virtually all the steps to make a nuclear warhead and the progress Iran has achieved in each of those steps. It reads likes a menu.” The Times set the tone for much of the coverage. (A second Times story that day on the I.A.E.A. report noted, more cautiously, that “it is true that the basic allegations in the report are not substantially new, and have been discussed by experts for years.”)
But how definitive, or transformative, were the findings? The I.A.E.A. said it had continued in recent years “to receive, collect and evaluate information relevant to possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program” and, as a result, it has been able “to refine its analysis.” The net effect has been to create “more concern.” But Robert Kelley, a retired I.A.E.A. director and nuclear engineer who previously spent more than thirty years with the Department of Energy’s nuclear-weapons program, told me that he could find very little new information in the I.A.E.A. report. He noted that hundreds of pages of material appears to come from a single source: a laptop computer, allegedly supplied to the I.A.E.A. by a Western intelligence agency, whose provenance could not be established. Those materials, and others, “were old news,” Kelley said, and known to many journalists. “I wonder why this same stuff is now considered ‘new information’ by the same reporters.”
A nuanced assessment of the I.A.E.A. report was published by the Arms Control Association (A.C.A.), a nonprofit whose mission is to encourage public support for effective arms control. The A.C.A. noted that the I.A.E.A. did “reinforce what the nonproliferation community has recognized for some times: that Iran engaged in various nuclear weapons development activities until 2003, then stopped many of them, but continued others.” (The American intelligence community reached the same conclusion in a still classified 2007 estimate.) The I.A.E.A.’s report “suggests,” the A.C.A. paper said, that Iran “is working to shorten the timeframe to build the bomb once and if it makes that decision. But it remains apparent that a nuclear-armed Iran is still not imminent nor is it inevitable.” Greg Thielmann, a former State Department and Senate Intelligence Committee analyst who was one of the authors of the A.C.A. assessment, told me, “There is troubling evidence suggesting that studies are still going on, but there is nothing that indicates that Iran is really building a bomb.” He added, “Those who want to drum up support for a bombing attack on Iran sort of aggressively misrepresented the report.”
Joseph Cirincione, the president of the Ploughshare Fund, a disarmament group, who serves on Hillary Clinton’s International Security Advisory Board, said, “I was briefed on most of this stuff several years ago at the I.A.E.A. headquarters in Vienna. There’s little new in the report. Most of this information is well known to experts who follow the issue.” Cirincione noted that “post-2003, the report only cites computer modelling and a few other experiments.” (A senior I.A.E.A. official similarly told me, “I was underwhelmed by the information.”)
The report did note that its on-site camera inspection process of Iran’s civilian nuclear enrichment facilities—mandated under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which Iran is a signatory—“continues to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material.” In other words, all of the low enriched uranium now known to be produced inside Iran is accounted for; if highly enriched uranium is being used for the manufacture of a bomb, it would have to have another, unknown source.
The shift in tone at the I.A.E.A. seems linked to a change at the top. The I.A.E.A.’s report had extra weight because the Agency has had a reputation for years as a reliable arbiter on Iran. Mohammed ElBaradei, who retired as the I.A.E.A.’s Director General two years ago, was viewed internationally, although not always in Washington, as an honest broker—a view that lead to the awarding of a Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. ElBaradei’s replacement is Yukiya Amano of Japan. Late last year, a classified U.S. Embassy cable from Vienna, the site of the I.A.E.A. headquarters, described Amano as being “ready for prime time.” According to the cable, which was obtained by WikiLeaks, in a meeting in September, 2009, with Glyn Davies, the American permanent representative to the I.A.E.A., said, “Amano reminded Ambassador on several occasions that he would need to make concessions to the G-77 [the group of developing countries], which correctly required him to be fair-minded and independent, but that he was solidly in the U.S. court on every strategic decision, from high-level personnel appointments to the handling of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program.” The cable added that Amano’s “willingness to speak candidly with U.S. interlocutors on his strategy … bodes well for our future relationship.”
It is possible, of course, that Iran has simply circumvented the reconnaissance efforts of America and the I.A.E.A., perhaps even building Dick Cheney’s nightmare: a hidden underground nuclear-weapons fabrication facility. Iran’s track record with the I.A.E.A. has been far from good: its leadership began construction of its initial uranium facilities in the nineteen-eighties without informing the Agency, in violation of the nonproliferation treaty. Over the next decade and a half, under prodding from ElBaradei and the West, the Iranians began acknowledging their deceit and opened their enrichment facilities, and their records, to I.A.E.A. inspectors.
The new report, therefore, leaves us where we’ve been since 2002, when George Bush declared Iran to be a member of the Axis of Evil—with lots of belligerent talk but no definitive evidence of a nuclear-weapons program.
Illustration by Guy Billout
II. The Guardian (UK)
06th December 2011
War drums are beating for Iran. But who’s playing them?
by: Terry Jones
In the 14th century there were two pandemics. One was the Black Death, the other was the commercialisation of warfare. Mercenaries had always existed, but under Edward III they became the mainstay of the English army for the first 20 years of what became the Hundred Years war. Then, when Edward signed the treaty of Brétigny in 1360 and told his soldiers to stop fighting and go home, many of them didn’t have any homes to go to. They were used to fighting, and that’s how they made their money. So they simply formed themselves into freelance armies, aptly called “free companies”, that proceeded around France pillaging, killing and raping.
One of these armies was called the Great Company. It totalled, according to one estimate, 16,000 soldiers, larger than any existing national army. Eventually it descended on the pope, in Avignon, and held him to ransom. The pope made the mistake of paying off the mercenaries with huge amounts of cash, which only encouraged them to carry on marauding. He also suggested that they move on into Italy, where his arch-enemies, the Visconti, ran Milan. This they did, under the banner of the Marquis of Monferrato, again subsidised by the pope.
The nightmare had begun. Huge armies of brigands rampaging through Europe was a disaster second only to the plague. It seemed as if the genie had been let out of the bottle and there was no way of putting him back in. Warfare had suddenly turned into a profitable business; the Italian city states became impoverished as taxpayers’ money was used to buy off the free companies. And since those who made money out of the business of war naturally wished to go on making money out of it, warfare had no foreseeable end.
Wind forward 650 years or so. The US, under George W Bush, decided to privatise the invasion of Iraq by employing private “contractors” like the Blackwater company, now renamed Xe Services. In 2003 Blackwater won a $27m no-bid contract for guarding Paul Bremer, then head of the Coalition Provisional Authority. For protecting officials in conflict zones since 2004, the company has received more than $320m. And this year the Obama government contracted to pay Xe Services a quarter of a billion dollars for security work in Afghanistan. This is just one of many companies making its profits out of warfare.
In 2000 the Project for the New American Century published a report, Rebuilding America’s Defenses, whose declared aim was to up the spending on defence from 3% to 3.5% or 3.8% of American gross domestic product. In fact it is now running at 4.7% of GDP. In the UK we spend about $57bn a year on defence, or 2.5% of GDP.
Just like the taxpayers of medieval Italian city-states, we are having our money siphoned off into the business of war. Any responsible company needs to make profits for its shareholders. In the 14th century the shareholders in the free companies were the soldiers themselves. If the company wasn’t being employed by someone to make war on someone else, the shareholders had to forgo their dividends. So they looked around to create markets for themselves.
Sir John Hawkwood’s White Company would offer its services to the pope or to the city of Florence. If either turned his offer down, Hawkwood would simply make an offer to their enemies. As Francis Stonor Saunders writes in her wonderful book, Hawkwood – Diabolical Englishman: “The value of the companies was the purely negative one of maintaining the balance of military power between the cities.” Just like the cold war.
In 1989 I picked up an in-house magazine for the arms industry. Its editorial was headed “Thank God For Saddam”. It explained that, since the collapse of communism and end of the cold war, the order books of the arms industry had been empty. But now there was a new enemy, the industry could look forward to a bonanza. The invasion of Iraq was built around a lie: Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction, but the defence industry needed an enemy, and the politicians duly supplied one.
And now the same war drums, encouraged by the storming of the British embassy last week, are beating for an attack on Iran. Seymour Hersh writes in the New Yorker: “All of the low enriched uranium now known to be produced inside Iran is accounted for.” The recent IAEA report which provoked such outcry against Iran’s nuclear ambitions, he continues, contains nothing that proves that Iran is developing nuclear weapons.
In the 14th century it was the church that lived in symbiosis with the military. Nowadays it is the politicians. The US government spent a staggering $687bn on “defence” in 2010. Think what could be done with that money if it were put into hospitals, schools or to pay off foreclosed mortgages.
The retiring US president, Dwight D Eisenhower, famously took the opportunity of his farewell to the nation address in 1961 to warn his fellow countrymen of the danger in allowing too close a relationship between politicians and the defence industry.
“This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience,” he said. “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.” It exists. The genie is out of the bottle again.
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