Israel Behind AP's Appaling 'Iran Bomb' Hoax?
December 12, 2012
Julian Borger / The Guardian & Glenn Greenwald / The Guardian
It is, to put it as generously as possibly, completely reckless for AP to present this primitive, error-strewn, thoroughly common graph as secret, powerful evidence of Iran's work toward building a nuclear weapon. At the very least, they have the duty to respond to this scientific and documentary proof that the graph they trumpeted, and certainly the claims they made about it, are misleading in the extreme.
Israel Suspected Over Iran Nuclear Programme Inquiry Leaks
Julian Borger, diplomatic editor / The Guardian
LONDON (December 10, 2012) -- Israel is suspected of carrying out a series of leaks implicating Iran in nuclear weapons experiments in an attempt to raise international pressure on Tehran and halt its programme.
Western diplomats believe the leaks may have backfired, compromising a UN-sanctioned investigation into Iran's past nuclear activities and current aspirations.
The latest leak, published by the Associated Press (AP), purported to be an Iranian diagram showing the physics of a nuclear blast, but scientists quickly pointed out an elementary mistake that cast doubt on its significance and authenticity. An article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists declared: "This diagram does nothing more than indicate either slipshod analysis or an amateurish hoax."
The leaked diagram raised questions about an investigation being carried out by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors after it emerged that it formed part of a file of intelligence on alleged Iranian nuclear weapons work held by the agency.
The IAEA's publication of a summary of the file in November 2011 helped trigger a new round of punitive EU and US sanctions.
Western officials say they have reasons to suspect Israel of being behind the most recent leak and a series of previous disclosures from the IAEA investigation, pointing to Israel's impatience at what it sees as international complacency over Iranian nuclear activity.
The leaks are part of an intensifying shadow war over Iran's atomic programme being played out in Vienna, home to the IAEA's headquarters.
The Israeli spy agency, the Mossad, is highly active in the Austrian capital, as is Iran and most of the world's major intelligence agencies, leading to frequent comparisons with its earlier incarnation as a battleground for spies in the early years of the cold war.
The Israeli government did not reply to a request for comment and AP described the source of the latest leak only as "officials from a country critical of Iran's atomic programme".
An "intelligence summary" provided to AP with the graph appeared to go out of its way to implicate two men in nuclear weapons testing who had been targeted for assassination two years ago. One of them, Majid Shahriari, was killed on his way to work in Tehran in November 2010 after a motorcyclist fixed a bomb to the door of his car. The other, Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, was wounded in a near identical attack the same day.
A book published earlier this year by veteran Israeli and American writers on intelligence, called Spies Against Armageddon, said the attacks were carried out by an assassination unit known as Kidon, or Bayonet – part of the Mossad.
One western source said the "intelligence summary" supplied with the leaked diagram "reads like an attempt to justify the assassinations".
According to one European diplomat, however, the principal impact of the leak would be to compromise the ongoing IAEA investigation into whether Iran has tried to develop a nuclear weapon at any point. "This is just one small snapshot of what the IAEA is working on, and part of a much broader collection of data from multiple sources," the diplomat said.
"The particular document turns out to have a huge error but the IAEA was aware of it and saw it in the context of everything it has. It paints a convincing case."
Sources who have seen the documents said the graph was based on a spreadsheet of data in the IAEA's possession which appears to analyse the energy released by a nuclear blast. The mistake was made when that data was transposed on to a graph, on which the wrong units were used on one of the axes.
There is widespread belief among western governments, Russia, China and most independent experts that evidence is substantial for an Iranian nuclear weapons programme until 2003. There is far less consensus on what activities, if any, have been carried out since. The IAEA inquiry has so far not found a "smoking gun".
Analysts say that the recent leaks may have shown the IAEA's hand, revealing what it knows and does not know, and therefore undermined the position of its inspectors in tense and so far fruitless talks with Iranian officials about the country's past nuclear activities.
Iran rejects the evidence against it as forged and has not granted access to its nuclear scientists or to a site known as Parchin where IAEA inspectors believe the high-explosive components for a nuclear warhead may have been tested.
The IAEA says it has evidence that the site is being sanitised to remove any incriminating traces of past experiments.
David Albright, a nuclear expert at the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, said he had no knowledge of who was behind the leak but added: "Whoever did this has undermined the IAEA's credibility and made it harder for it to do its work."
The next round of IAEA talks with Iran will take place on Saturday in Tehran. The US has said that if Iran does not co-operate with the IAEA investigation by March, the matter should be referred to the UN security council.
The security council has repeatedly demanded that Iran suspend enrichment of uranium until it has satisfied the international community that it is not pursuing a covert weapons programme. Iran has rejected the demand, insisting its programme is entirely peaceful, and has intensified its enrichment effort, triggering Israeli threats of military action.
A new round of negotiations between Iran and six world powers, aimed at trading curbs on enrichment for sanctions relief, is due to begin in the next few weeks but no date has been set.
AP Believes It Found Evidence of
Iran's Work on Nuclear Weapons
Glenn Greenwald / The Guardian
(November 28, 2012) -- Uncritical, fear-mongering media propaganda is far too common to take note of each time it appears, but sometimes, what is produced is so ludicrous that its illustrative value should not be ignored. Such is the case with a highly trumpeted Associated Press "exclusive" from Tuesday which claims in its red headline to have discovered evidence of "Iran Working on Bomb".
What is this newly discovered, scary evidence? It is a "graph" which AP says was "leaked" to it by "officials from a country critical of Iran's atomic program to bolster their arguments that Iran's nuclear program must be halted before it produces a weapon" (how mysterious: the globe is gripped with befuddlement as it tries to guess which country that might be). Here's how AP presents the graph in all its incriminating, frightening glory:
This, says AP, shows that "Iranian scientists have run computer simulations for a nuclear weapon that would produce more than triple the explosive force of the World War II bomb that destroyed Hiroshima." Moreover, "an intelligence summary provided with the drawing" -- provided, that is, by the mysterious "country critical of Iran's atomic program" -- "linked [the graph] to other alleged nuclear weapons work -- significant because it would indicate that Iran is working not on isolated experiments, but rather on a single program aimed at mastering all aspects of nuclear arms development."
Where to begin? First, note that AP granted anonymity here not merely to an individual but to an entire country. What's the proffered justification for doing so? The officials wanted it, so AP gave it: "officials provided the diagram only on condition that they and their country not be named." That's very accommodating of AP.
Second, this graph -- which is only slightly less hilariously primitive than the one Benjamin Netanyahu infamously touted with a straight face at the UN -- has Farsi written under it to imbue it with that menacing Iranian-ish feel, but also helpfully uses English to ensure that US audiences can easily drink up its scariness.
As The Atlantic's Robert Wright noted: "How considerate of the Iranians to label their secret nefarious nuke graph in English!". It's certainly possible that Iranian scientists use English as a universal language of science, but the convenient mixing of Farsi and English should at least trigger some skepticism.
Third, even if one assumes that this graph is something other than a fraud, the very idea that computer simulations constitute "evidence" that Iran is working toward a nuclear weapon is self-evidently inane. As John Glaser extensively documents, "experts from across the spectrum have agreed with the military and intelligence consensus [from the US and Israel] that Iran has no nuclear weapons program and presents no imminent threat."
Buried in the AP article is a quote from David Albright explaining that though "the diagram looks genuine [it] seems to be designed more 'to understand the process' than as part of a blueprint for an actual weapon in the making."
The case for the attack on Iraq was driven, of course, by a mountain of fabricated documents and deliberately manipulated intelligence which western media outlets uncritically amplified. Yet again, any doubts that they are willing and eager to do exactly the same with regard to the equally fictitious Iranian Threat should be forever dispelled by behavior like this.
As always, the two key facts to note on Iran are these: 1) the desperation to prevent Iran from possessing a nuclear weapon has nothing to do with fear that they would commit national suicide by using it offensively, but rather has everything to do with the deterrent capability it would provide -- i.e., nukes would prevent the US or Israel from attacking Iran at will or bullying it with threats of such an attack; and 2) the US-led sanctions regime now in place based on this fear-mongering continues to impose mass suffering and death on innocent Iranians.
But as long as media outlets like AP continue to blindly trumpet whatever is shoveled to them by the shielded, unnamed "country critical of Iran's atomic program", these facts will be suppressed and fear levels kept sky-high, thus enabling the continuation and escalation of the hideous sanctions regime, if not an outright attack.
Compare the super-scary graph in the possession of the Tehran villains that was unveiled by the sleuths at AP to what one randomly finds on the Internet from a Google Images search of the phrase "normal distribution cumulative probability", on a nice little website devoted to teaching people about how to use Excel documents (via @AtomTrigger):
This means that not only Iran, but also aspiring Excel users on the Internet, are plotting to develop nuclear weapons.
At the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Yousaf Butt and Ferenc Dalnoki-Veress document that the graph trumpeted by AP "does nothing more than indicate either slipshod analysis or an amateurish hoax". That's because, they explain, "the diagram features quite a massive error, which is unlikely to have been made by research scientists working at a national level."
Moreover, "the level of scientific sophistication needed to produce such a graph corresponds to that typically found in graduate- or advanced undergraduate-level nuclear physics courses." And they echo what I documented in that prior update: "Graphs such as the one published by the Associated Press can be found in nuclear science textbooks and on the Internet."
That this AP graph quite strongly appears to be a hoax seems a much more significant story than the discovery of the graph itself, given the ends toward which this was clearly being put, and given the way that the war in Iraq was sold to the public.
Alleged Iranian Nuclear Weapon Diagram
'Amateurish and Wrong'
US scientists debunk latest leaked 'evidence' of Iran's weapons work
Julian Borger / The Guardian
(November 29, 2012) -- The latest in a series of leaks purporting to show Iran's efforts to design a nuclear warhead emerged this week in the form of an Associated Press exclusive about a diagram of the blast dynamics of a bomb said to be three times the size of the one that destroyed Hiroshima.
The report said that the leak came from 'a country critical of Iran's atomic programme', which it does not name, but it quotes a senior diplomat 'considered neutral' on the Iranian nuclear issue as confirming that the diagram was cited in a critical IAEA report last November, which laid out the evidence of the 'possible military dimensions' of the Iranian programme.
However, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the house magazine of US nuclear physicists has put out an analysis of the graph saying it contains a 'massive error, which is unlikely to have been made by research scientists working at a national level'.
According to the two authors, Yousaf Butt and Ferenc Dalnoki-Veress, the two curves on the graph, showing the relationship between energy and peak power 'features a nearly million-fold error', adding:
This diagram does nothing more than indicate either slipshod analysis or an amateurish hoax.
In any case, the level of scientific sophistication needed to produce such a graph corresponds to that typically found in graduate- or advanced undergraduate-level nuclear physics courses.
Apart from raising questions about the wisdom of publishing leaked documents on this subject from countries with big axes to grind, the Bulletin's critique raises concerns about the IAEA November report and the strength of the analysis underpinning it. Critics of the agency, like former inspector Bob Kelley, have claimed that the safeguards department lacks sufficient expertise in weaponry to make critical judgements.
If this diagram is really from the November report, and really is this shoddy, it would raise more questions, remembering that this particular judgement helped trigger the EU oil embargo and new US sanctions.
AP's Dangerous Iran Hoax Demands
An Accounting and Explanation
Glenn Greenwald / The Guardian
LONDON (November 29, 2012) (updated below w/AP's response) -- It's important to return to the story about AP's nuclear Iran "exclusive" which I wrote about yesterday. Although it was intuitively obvious that the graph trumpeted by AP as scary and incriminating of Iran's nuclear program was actually a farce, there is now new, overwhelming, very compelling scientific evidence that is the case.
Whether as victim or recklessly culpable participant, AP helped perpetrate a dangerous hoax, and owes an explanation and accounting for what took place, including identifying the "officials from a country critical of Iran's atomic program" who made false claims about what this is.
To begin with, the graph AP touted as reflecting some sort of nefarious, highly threatening and complex nuclear calculation is, in fact, widely available all over the Internet in the most innocuous places. Just consider this side-by-side comparison of the AP graph on the left, with the graph on the right on this harmless site designed to teach beginner users how to use Microsoft Excel:
At the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (BAS), Yousaf Butt and Ferenc Dalnoki-Veress on Wednesday night wrote: "Graphs such as the one published by the Associated Press can be found in nuclear science textbooks and on the Internet." Similarly, Prof. Muhammad Sahimi, a professor of chemical engineering at USC and expert in Iran's nuclear program, told Richard Silverstein of Tikun Olum that "too many graphs like this can be generated by a competent undergraduate student."
So what AP presented to the world as some sort of highly complex, specialized document was, in fact, nothing more than a completely common graph easily found in all sorts of public venues.
Even worse, the calculations reflected on this graph are patently ridiculous. Butt and Dalnoki-Veress document that the graph "does nothing more than indicate either slipshod analysis or an amateurish hoax" [emphasis added]. That's because, they explain, "the diagram features quite a massive error, which is unlikely to have been made by research scientists working at a national level"; namely:
"The image released to the Associated Press shows two curves: one that plots the energy versus time, and another that plots the power output versus time, presumably from a fission device. But these two curves do not correspond: If the energy curve is correct, then the peak power should be much lower -- around 300 million ( 3x108) kt per second, instead of the currently stated 17 trillion (1.7 x1013) kt per second. As is, the diagram features a nearly million-fold error."
This error is patently obvious to anyone versed in nuclear physics. Nima Shirazi yesterday spoke with Dr. M. Hossein Partovi, who teaches courses in thermodynamics and quantum mechanics at Sacramento State, and he echoed the BAS scientists:
"[Dr. Partovi], noting that the graph is plotted in microseconds, explains that 'the graph depicted in the report is a nonspecific power/energy plot that is primarily evidence of the incompetence of those who forged it: a quick look at the energy graph shows that the total energy is more than four orders of magnitude (forty thousand times) smaller than the total integrated power that it must equal!'"
Notably, the nuclear expert quoted by AP in its article, David Albright, also seemed to be trying to tell AP that the graph contained this same obvious, glaring error, yet AP -- eager to believe, or at least lead others to believe, that it had some incriminating evidence -- either failed or refused to understand its significance. Buried in the AP article was this passage:
"'The yield is too big,' Albright said, noting that North Korea's first tests of a nuclear weapon were only a few kilotons."
But AP never indicated that this error strongly suggested that no real nuclear scientist would have prepared it, and immediately went back in the very next paragraph to touting the document as some sort of scary evidence of Iran's threatening nuclear weapons machinations.
Then there's the obvious crudeness of the graph itself, which I noted yesterday. Professor Sahimi told Silverstein: "The graph itself looks low quality, as if it has been drawn by hand." And the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists authors noted the same thing: "the level of scientific sophistication needed to produce such a graph corresponds to that typically found in graduate- or advanced undergraduate-level nuclear physics courses." Indeed, they added: "no secrets are needed to produce the plot of the explosive force of a nuclear weapon -- just straightforward nuclear physics" [emphasis in original]. They continued:
"Though the image does not imply that computer simulations were actually run, even if they were, this is the type of project a student could present in a nuclear-science course. The diagram simply shows that the bulk of the nuclear fission yield is produced in a short, 0.1 microsecond, pulse. Since the 1950s, it has been standard knowledge that, in a fission device, the last few generations of neutron multiplication yield the bulk of the energy output. It is neither a secret, nor indicative of a nuclear weapons program."
It is, to put it as generously as possibly, completely reckless for AP to present this primitive, error-strewn, thoroughly common graph as secret, powerful evidence of Iran's work toward building a nuclear weapon. Yet from its inflammatory red headline ("AP EXCLUSIVE: GRAPH SUGGESTS IRAN WORKING ON BOMB") to the end of the article, this is exactly what AP did. And it did so by mindlessly repeating the script handed to it by a country which AP acknowledged is seeking to warn the world about the dangers of Iran.
This is worse than stenography journalism. It is AP allowing itself, eagerly and gratefully, to be used to put its stamp of credibility on a ridiculous though destructive hoax.
The obligation of journalists to protect the identity of their sources to whom they have pledged anonymity ends when the "sources" use them purposely to disseminate falsehoods. Indeed, the obligation to protect these sources not only ends, but a different obligation arises: to tell the public who fed them the hoax.
This was exactly the issue that arose when it became clear that multiple sources had falsely told ABC News' Brian Ross in late 2001 that government tests had linked the anthrax attacks in the US to Saddam's chemical weapons program, a story that Ross spread far and wide -- thus, as intended, heightening fears of Iraq, but which turned out to be completely false from start to finish. As numerous journalists argued then, Ross had the obligation to tell the public who was behind the hoax he so damagingly spread.
AP has that same obligation here. At the very least, they have the duty to respond to this scientific and documentary proof that the graph they trumpeted, and certainly the claims they made about it, are misleading in the extreme. On Wednesday afternoon, I asked AP to comment on these issues and have thus far received no response.
As both Shirazi and John Glaser document, the AP writer responsible for this absurdity, George Jahn, has a history of similar behavior. That includes producing an equally hyped and equally absurd report back in May featuring a cartoon-like drawing that, as Jahn put it, "was provided to The Associated Press by an official of a country tracking Iran's nuclear program who said it proves the structure exists, despite Tehran's refusal to acknowledge it."
As the Iraq War proved, there are few things more irresponsible and dangerous than having a large media outlet trumpet extremely dubious claims from anonymous sources designed to hype the threats posed by some targeted foreign regime. That is exactly what AP is doing here, and given how obvious the sham is, it is inexcusable. AP owes a clear explanation of what happened here.
The real story here is not this inane graph, but the behavior of AP and its "sources". That someone is purposely feeding this influential media outlet obvious hoaxes shows two facts:
(1) the evidence of Iran's nuclear weapons program must be very thin if fabrications of this type are needed; and
(2) someone from an unnamed country or countries is very eager to scare the public into believing this weapons program exists and is vigorously proceeding, and is willing to use fraud to advance those fear-mongering ends.
Here, in its entirety, is the response sent by AP to all of the objections raised to its story:
"We continue to report this story."
It's hard to decide which is worse: the original story or their "response" to the very serious flaws in their reporting.
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