U.S. Policy towards Iran

It is a “myth”, Matt declares, that “there is no evidence that Iran has a nuclear weapons program”. As I observed previously, the U.S.’s own intelligence community assesses that Iran today has no active nuclear weapons program, so apparently Matt knows something the intelligence community doesn’t know. To support his claim, he cites an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report from November 2011 and quotes from the section titled “Possible Military Dimensions”. This is the smoking gun, he seems to think, stressing that if readers “walk away from” his article “with nothing, save for” this one point, on which count “Jeremy R. Hammond really comes up short”, then he will “be satisfied.”

What Matt doesn’t inform us is that the report also stated that the IAEA “continues to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material” to any weapons-related program. He also doesn’t inform us that most of the information under the “Possible Military Dimensions” section and related annex was simply rehashed allegations about past activities. The IAEA report noted its concern “about the possible existence in Iran of undisclosed nuclear related activities involving military related organizations, including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile” (emphasis added). The report also characterized the information it had in this regard as “overall, credible”. However, what the report is referring to here are allegations contained in what the IAEA calls the “alleged studies”, which a number of senior officials at the IAEA consider the information less than credible, including former IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei, who “considers the documents as forgeries”, according to the executive director of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), David Albright. The IAEA has never verified the authenticity of the documents, and, as investigative journalist Gareth Porter has observed, there is considerable evidence that the “alleged studies” are a fraud. Most of the information presented in the November IAEA report pertained to alleged activities “prior to the end of 2003” (emphasis added), the IAEA report noted—at which time, according to the U.S. intelligence community, Iran halted its nuclear weapons program. This U.S. assessment is not shared by the IAEA, which issued a statement in September 2009 saying that “the IAEA reiterates that it has no concrete proof that there is or has been a nuclear weapon programme in Iran” (emphasis added). Mohammed ElBaradei repeatedly emphasized that there was no evidence Iran has a nuclear weapons program, and his successor, Yukiya Amano, when asked in July 2009 whether he believed Tehran was seeking a nuclear weapons capability, answered, “I don’t see any evidence in IAEA documents about this”.

Take the claim that Iran has worked on a nuclear payload for a missile. Among the evidence that the “alleged studies” are a fabrication—(and it’s useful to recall the U.S.’s reliance on fabricated documents in the run-up to the Iraq war to bolster its claim that Iraq was trying to obtain yellowcake uranium from Africa in order to enrich to make a nuclear weapon)—is the fact that the documents contain drawings of the wrong warhead. As Gareth Porter has documented, the “alleged studies” purport to show an effort by Iran to redesign its Shahab-3 missile warhead to carry an unidentified payload. But the drawings showed alleged modifications to a warhead design that Iran had already long since abandoned. As Porter has written, “The implausibility of the suggestion that a group organized to redesign the IRBM warhead would not have been working with the new warhead underlines the tortuous thinking that must be used to avoid an obvious conclusion: the warhead schematics are fraudulent.” Furthermore, the documents—allegedly obtained from a laptop smuggled out of Iran—were reportedly provided to the U.S. by the Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK), an Iranian opposition group on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations, which in turn was by some accounts provided with the information by Israeli intelligence.

The IAEA report did contain one new allegation that was latched onto by the media as constituting solid evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program: the sensational claim that a former Soviet nuclear weapons scientist had helped Iran to construct a what the IAEA report described as “a large explosives containment vessel” at the Parchin military base in 2000 (again, before the U.S. intelligence community assesses Iran halted its alleged nuclear weapons program). The Agency described the “cylinder” as being “suitable for carrying out” explosive testing related to the development of a nuclear payload for the Shahab-3 missile. The report described the scientist as “a foreign expert” who is “knowledgeable in these technologies” and who “worked for much of his career with this technology in the nuclear weapon programme of the country of his origin.” The expert in question, however, Vyacheslav Danilenko, is not a nuclear weapons scientist, as Gareth Porter has also noted, but one of the world’s top specialists in the production of nanodiamonds. Danilenko did work at a research institute in the Soviet Union known for its work on nuclear warhead development, but the IAEA’s implication that he worked himself on nuclear weapons and had expertise in this area is baseless. It is well documented that his work there was related to the synthesis of diamonds. The IAEA report noted that his work in Iran from 1996 until 2002 was “ostensibly to assist in the development of a facility and techniques for making ultra dispersed diamonds (UDDs) or nanodiamonds”, thus implying that this was merely a cover story and that his real purpose was to help Iran develop a nuclear warhead—an entirely baseless implication.

Shortly after the IAEA released its report, Robert Kelley, who worked at the Los Alamos National Laboratory and is a former IAEA inspector, pointed out that “there’s very little new in the report” and explained that “we’ve been led by the nose to believe that this [explosives] container is important when in fact it’s not important at all. It’s highly misleading. And that kind of new information in this report is very distressing.” Kelley also wrote an article noting that the question was “whether there is evidence” that Iran’s nuclear weapons program “was restarted after being shut down in 2003.” He observed that there “appeared to be a misinformation campaign” not unlike that prior to the war on Iraq, and that the authenticity of documents relied upon by the IAEA had not been established. On the contrary, there were numerous indications that some of the documents were forgeries, he noted. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists also commented on how “the media has misread the IAEA’s report Iran” and remarking that the “scattered research” suggested in the report didn’t indicate that Iran has an active nuclear weapons program, which “still appears to have halted in 2003.” Two months after the IAEA issued that report, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta admitted, “Are they trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No.” He went on to suggest Iran was “trying to develop a nuclear capability”—much like Japan, which has the technical knowledge to develop a nuclear weapon but no active program to actually do so. Again at the end of January 2012, Panetta acknowledged that the U.S. had no intelligence that Iran was “proceeding with developing a nuclear weapon”. The Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, similarly acknowledged in a report for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that “Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons, in part by developing various nuclear capabilities that better position it to produce such weapons, should it choose to do so. We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons.” In other words, there is no evidence that Iran today has an existing, active program to build nuclear weapons, an assessment which the U.S. intelligence community continues to maintain.

But never mind the facts, it is a “myth” that there is no evidence that Iran has a nuclear weapons program, according to Matt Johnson.

I previously observed that Matt’s statement that the nonexistent “Iranian nuclear weapons program would be given an idiotic American blessing” under a President Ron Paul is “a ridiculous strawman argument which just goes to show that either he has never actually listened to what Ron Paul has had to say about the matter or he just doesn’t care to be honest with his readers”. Incredibly, Matt responds to this by appealing to readers to watch a video of Ron Paul in one of the presidential debates (which he had linked to in his original article) that he somehow fancies proves his point. I had observed that what Matt was “really referring to is the fact that Ron Paul has argued that the U.S. should not use military force to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon”, and that it would be “too inconvenient for Matt Johnson to point out other relevant facts about what Ron Paul has said about it, such as that he wouldn’t want to see Iran get nuclear weapons, but that Iran has a right under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty (NPT) to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes, that there isn’t any evidence Iran has a nuclear weapons program, and that a military attack on the country would only serve to incentivize Iran to actually try to develop nukes to deter further such attacks”. Matt responds to this by insisting that I should “Please try to actually watch it this time”—which is truly remarkable since all of my observations there came from what Ron Paul actually said in that video (which I was already perfectly familiar with). Indeed, by all means, please watch it. Observe the fact that Ron Paul prefaced his whole remark about the matter by saying, “Well, even our own CIA gives me this information that they have no evidence that they are working on a weapon” (emphasis added). He proceeded to note the irrationality of talking about war against a country “that might get a nuclear weapon someday”, and that the warmongering serves only to incentivize Iran to actually develop a nuclear weapon to deter the U.S. and other nuclear-armed nations in the region, including Israel. He asks, “What’s so terribly bad about” talking to the Iranians? He expresses his opposition to the sanctions. “I say a policy of peace is free trade, stay out of their internal business, don’t get involved in these wars, and just bring our troops home!” he concluded. From those comments, FOX News correspondent Chris Wallace—not unlike Matt Johnson—created the asinine strawman: “So your policy towards Iran is if they wanna develop a nuclear weapon, that’s their right, no sanctions, no effort to stop them.” Dr. Paul nowhere suggested Iran had a “right” to build nuclear weapons, of course, which it is forbidden from doing under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty. He was merely making the argument that the sanctions are a bad policy and that even if Iran did have a nuclear weapons program—where there is no evidence of—the solution would not be “to go to war against them”.

This is what Matt Johnson, taking his cue from Wallace, somehow twists into a “blessing” to Iran to develop nukes, which he clarifies in his follow-up article “simply means ‘approval’ in this case”—a no less dishonest adjective. By such means, Matt idiotically turns any opposition to launching a war to stop a nonexistent nuclear weapons program into a “blessing” for and “approval” of Iran obtaining a bomb. Yet he writes, “Hammond continues to misrepresent the truth even in the face Congressman Paul’s own words.” Matt’s dishonesty is thus matched only by his hypocrisy.