Iran’s getting the bomb, or so we’re told. Can they fool us twice?

Summary:  The LAT puts some high-grade disinformation into circulation; Tigerhawk gives this wagon a push.  The DNI fails to confirm, but this urban legend probably will continue to circulate (that how info ops gain traction, even when false).  This is the second in a series; at the end are links to the other chapters.

The drums are beating again, attempting to rouse Americans to fear Iran.  Why not?  It worked last time, arousing terror about Saddam using nothing but moonshine.  But will even the sheep (aka us, the American public) be so easily fooled a second time?   We might soon know the answer.

Let’s examine the evidence in chronological sequence.  It’s always interesting to watch professionals at work, even when their information operations are directed against us.

This post discusses information operations — directed against us.  We need better awareness of how we are being manipulated.  In this case by people who want a strike at Iran.  They do not speak of a war with Iran, but of course such aggressive actions often start wars. Are they correct?  That is a larger and more complex subject.  This post discusses how they make their case by exaggerating what we know about Iran — its capabilities and motives.  See the links at the end to other posts in this series.

Contents

  1. Has Iran Achieved a Nuclear Weapons Breakout Capability? Not Yet, But Soon“, by David Albright, Jacqueline Shire, and Paul Brannan, Institute for Science and International Security, 2 December 2008
  2. Testimony of Leon E. Panetta (Director of the CIA) on 5 February before the Senate Intelligence Committee
  3. CNN transcript of President Obama’s first press conference, 9 February 2009
  4. U.S. now sees Iran as pursuing nuclear bomb“, Los Angeles Times, 12 February 2009
  5. Now they tell us: Iran is pursuing a bomb“, Tigerhawk, 13 February 2009
  6. Annual Threat Assessment of the Intelligence Community for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence“, Dennis C. Blair (Director of National Intelligence), 12 February 2009
  7. About information operations
  8. Other posts in this series
  9. For more information:  other posts about Iran on the FM website

Note:  The last official words from the US government about Iran’s nukes was this National Intelligence Estimate (NIE):  Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities, November 2007.

(1)  A report by the Institute for Science and International Security

Has Iran Achieved a Nuclear Weapons Breakout Capability? Not Yet, But Soon“, by David Albright, Jacqueline Shire, and Paul Brannan, 2 December 2008 — Conclusion (key text in red; mark its appearance later in this post):

Although some media reports in November 2008 concluded prematurely that Iran has reached a nuclear weapons capability, Iran is moving steadily toward this capability and is expected to reach that milestone during 2009 under a wide variety of scenarios. In the short term, the response should include increasing economic sanctions on Iran and accelerating the timetable for U.S.-led negotiations with Iran over the fate and transparency of its nuclear program.

Note that this is a careful statement by experts, who clearly state that their limited data allows no firm conclusions.  Nevertheless, in the hands of info artists this can be the foundation for big lies.

Per Wikipedia:  ISIS is a non-profit institution, founded in 1993, to inform the public about science and policy issues affecting international security, particularly relating to nuclear weapons. It is led by former United Nations IAEA nuclear inspector David Albright, and is based in Washington, D.C.. Its motto is “Employing Science in the Pursuit of Peace”.

(2)  Words of Leon E. Panetta, Director of the CIA (nothing new)

Testimony on 5 February before the Senate Intelligence Committee:

Senator Bayh:  We had an unfortunate case, I’m sure you’re aware of, with regard to Iran, where the way in which the National Intelligence Estimate was written highlighted the fact that apparently they suspended their weaponization, the weaponization aspect of their program. Then in a footnote, it noted that they continue to pace with their attempts to develop fissile material and delivery capabilities, and those kinds of things, and in fact, may have restarted their weaponization efforts. We just don’t know.

So, my comment, my question is, is it your belief that Iran is seeking a nuclear military capability? Or is their interest solely limited to the civilian sphere?

Panetta:   From all the information I’ve seen, I think there is no question that they are seeking that capability.

(3)  The 13 words that launched a thousand over-the-top blog posts, but also nothing new

An excerpt from the CNN transcript of President Obama’s first press conference, 9 February 2009 — (red emphasis added, otherwise a casual read might miss this trivia).

Question: Thank you, Mr. President. I’d like to shift gears to foreign policy. What is your strategy for engaging Iran? And when will you start to implement it? Will your timetable be affected at all by the Iranian elections? And are you getting any indications that Iran is interested in a dialogue with the United States?

Obama: I said during the campaign that Iran is a country that has extraordinary people, extraordinary history and traditions, but that its actions over many years now have been unhelpful when it comes to promoting peace and prosperity both in the region and around the world, that their attacks — or their — their financing of terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas, the bellicose language that they’ve used towards Israel, their development of a nuclear weapon or their pursuit of a nuclear weapon, that all those things create the possibility of destabilizing the region and are not only contrary to our interests, but I think are contrary to the interests of international peace.

(4)  An excellent information operation, but directed against us (as usual)

Note how the LAT assembles the tiny nuggets described above into a classic “prepare to hide under your bed” scary story.  Also note how a quote from a private study group becomes words of “US officials”, and that the key evidence comes (as usual) from unnamed “US officials”.  The LAT alerts us to watch DNI Blair’s testimony for confirmation (see #6 below; it did not do so).

U.S. now sees Iran as pursuing nuclear bomb“, Los Angeles Times, 12 February 2009 — “In a reversal since a 2007 report, U.S. officials expect the Islamic Republic to reach development milestones this year.” — Excerpt:

Little more than a year after U.S. spy agencies concluded that Iran had halted work on a nuclear weapon, the Obama administration has made it clear that it believes there is no question that Tehran is seeking the bomb.

In his news conference this week, President Obama went so far as to describe Iran’s “development of a nuclear weapon” before correcting himself to refer to its “pursuit” of weapons capability.

Obama’s nominee to serve as CIA director, Leon E. Panetta, left little doubt about his view last week when he testified on Capitol Hill. “From all the information I’ve seen,” Panetta said, “I think there is no question that they are seeking that capability.”

The language reflects the extent to which senior U.S. officials now discount a National Intelligence Estimate issued in November 2007 that was instrumental in derailing U.S. and European efforts to pressure Iran to shut down its nuclear program.

… U.S. officials said that although no new evidence had surfaced to undercut the findings of the 2007 estimate, there was growing consensus that it provided a misleading picture and that the country was poised to reach crucial bomb-making milestones this year. Obama’s top intelligence official, Dennis C. Blair, the director of national intelligence, is expected to address mounting concerns over Iran’s nuclear program in testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee today.

(5)  Tigerhawk gives the info op a helping hand

Now they tell us: Iran is pursuing a bomb“, Tigerhawk, 13 February 2009 — Excerpt:

Most political blog readers will remember the storm of controversy that erupted in early December 2007, when a new American “National Intelligence Assessment” claimed that Iran had stopped development of a nuclear weapon in 2003. The New York Times wrote that “[rarely], if ever, has a single intelligence report so completely, so suddenly, and so surprisingly altered a foreign policy debate here.” Blogs exploded.

Lefty blogs rejoiced. … So imagine my interest to see the Los Angeles Times report that the intelligence agencies have reversed themselves again …

Substantively, Iran hawks should rejoice. The Obama administration is clearly going to great lengths to educate Congressional liberals and the public at large on the danger posed by Iran. The point, presumably, is to dispose of the lefty canard that Iran is a fundamentally peaceful country caught in a security dilemma of American construct. It also commits Obama to an aggressive (even if non-military) posture toward Iran, which is comforting to those of us who believe that we need a hardball, if nuanced, strategy for containing, deterring, and, if necessary, interdicting the Islamic Republic.

… Snarkily, we are waiting for all those lefty blogs to deliberate thoughtfully about whether the December 2007 report, which the Bushies nefariously “suppressed” for a year after its development, might have itself been the “intelligence failure.” Perhaps it is important for a president to question the judgments of the bureaucracy.

Finally, we note that the LAT story appeared more than 36 hours ago with virtually no follow-up in the mainstream media or the blogosphere. It seems like a pretty big story, and a heckuva lot more important than, for example, the ins-and-outs of Judd Gregg’s withdrawal.

(6)  Words of Dennis C. Blair, The Director of National Intelligence

Do you see any confirmation of the LAT story in this?  I do not.  Do you expect a retraction of the LAT story?  Me, neither. Blair almost exactly repeats the conclusions of theNov 2007 NIE.

Annual Threat Assessment of the Intelligence Community for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence“, 12 February 2009 (PDF, 46 pages) — Excerpt:

I want to be very clear in characterizing the Iranian nuclear program. First, there are three key parts to an effective nuclear weapons capability:

  • Production of fissile material,
  • Effective means for weapon delivery, and
  • Design, weaponization, and testing of the warhead itself.

We assessed in our 2007 NIE on this subject that Iran’s nuclear weapon design and weaponization work was halted in fall 2003, along with its covert uranium conversion and enrichment-related activities. Declared uranium enrichment efforts were suspended in 2003 but resumed in January 2006 and will enable Iran to produce weapons-usable fissile material if it chooses to do so. Development of medium-range ballistic missiles, inherently capable of delivering nuclear weapons, has continued unabated.

We assess Iranian military entities were working under government direction to develop nuclear weapons until fall 2003. Iranian entities are continuing to develop a range of technical capabilities that could be applied to producing nuclear weapons, if a decision were made to do so.

  1. Iran continues its efforts to develop uranium enrichment technology, which can be used both to produce low-enriched uranium for power reactor fuel and to produce highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons.
  2. As noted, Iran continues to deploy and improve ballistic missiles inherently capable of delivering nuclear weapons.
  3. We assess Iran since fall 2003 has conducted research and development projects with commercial and conventional military applications, some of which would be of limited use for nuclear weapons.

We judge in fall 2003 Tehran halted its nuclear weapons design and weaponization activities and that the halt lasted at least several years. We assess Tehran had not restarted these activities as of at least mid-2007. Although we do not know whether Iran currently intends to develop nuclear weapons, we assess Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop them.

We judge the halt was directed primarily in response to increasing international scrutiny and pressure resulting from exposure of Iran’s previously undeclared nuclear work. This indicates Iran may be more susceptible to influence on the issue than we had judged in the 2005 National Intelligence Estimate.

We do not have sufficient intelligence reporting to judge confidently whether Tehran is willing to maintain indefinitely the halt of its previously enumerated nuclear weapons-related activities while it weighs its options, or whether it will or already has set specific deadlines or criteria that will prompt it to restart those activities.

We assess Iran has the scientific, technical, and industrial capacity eventually to produce nuclear weapons.

In our judgment, only an Iranian political decision to abandon a nuclear weapons objective would plausibly keep Iran from eventually producing nuclear weapons—and such a decision is inherently reversible. I reiterate that two activities of the three relevant to a nuclear weapons capability continue: development of uranium enrichment technology that will enable production of fissile material, if Iran chooses to do so, and development of nuclear-capable ballistic missile systems.

… We continue to assess Iran does not currently have a nuclear weapon. We continue to assess Iran probably has imported at least some weapons-usable fissile material but still judge it has not obtained enough for a nuclear weapon. We cannot rule out that Iran has acquired from abroad or will acquire in the future a nuclear weapon or enough fissile material for a weapon. Barring such acquisitions, if Iran wants to have nuclear weapons it would need to produce sufficient amounts of fissile material indigenously. We judge it has not yet done so.

Iran made significant progress in 2007 and 2008 installing and operating centrifuges at its main centrifuge enrichment plant, Natanz. We judge Iran probably would be technically capable of producing enough highly enriched uranium (HEU) for a weapon sometime during the 2010- 2015 time frame. INR judges Iran is unlikely to achieve this capability before 2013 because of foreseeable technical and programmatic problems.

(7)  A note about “information operations”

Somewhere in the mid 20th century, the power of information management was discovered — and its ability to shape public opinion and hence public policy. It’s a spectrum. At one end we have advertising, the other we have the Illuminati (and their orbital mind-control lasers). In between we have info ops:

  • organized programs
  • to manipulate public perception and public policy
  • run by state and non-state groups
  • working in loose alliances.

By now almost everybody does these. Pro-life, pro-abortion, the “education lobby”, the pro-Israel lobby, defense contractors, folks wanting war with Iraq (past) and Iran (now). The mainstream media are one of the major battlegrounds for these efforts, and the methods have grown increasingly sophisticated.

Tigerhawk, comment #17:   “Or is it just some aggressive reporter overreading the nuance in all the various administration statements?”

Very little in the newspapers just happens.  Esp not on these high profile issues. A large fraction of stories are fed to media, largely pre-packaged (as press releases or less formally). The cutbacks at the mainstream news media – now accelerating — increase the appeal of this business model.

For more about info ops see Wikipedia.

(8)  Other posts in this series

  1. Is the War on Terror over (because there are no longer two sides)?, 3 September 2008 — Rumors of covert ops by us against Iran, including aid to terrorists
  2. Iran’s getting the bomb, or so we’re told. Can they fool us twice?, 16 January 2009
  3. Iran will have the bomb in 5 years (again), 2 January 2010 — Forecasts of an Iranian bomb really soon, going back to 1984
  4. About the escalating conflict with Iran (not *yet* open war), 4 January 2012
  5. Have Iran’s leaders vowed to destroy Israel?, 5 January 2012 — No, but it’s established as fact by repetition
  6. What do we know about Iran’s nuclear ambitions?, 6 January 2012 — US intelligence officials are clear:  not as much as the news media implies
  7. What does the IAEA know about Iran’s nuclear program?, 9 January 2012 — Their reports bear little resemblance to reports in the news media
  8. What happens when a nation gets nukes?  Sixty years of history suggests an answer., 10 January 2012
  9. What happens if Iran gets nukes? Not what we’ve been told., 11 January 2012
  10. Status report on the already-hot conflict with Iran – and the looming war, 12 January 2012
  11. Continuity and dysfunctionality in US foreign policy (lessons for our conflict with Iran), 13 January 2012 — Insights about today from Cold War strategist Colin Grey
  12. What the conflict with Iran teaches us about modern State-to-State war, 16 January 2012
  13. Has Iran won a round vs. the US-Israel?, 17 January 2012
  14. Is Killing Iranian Nuclear Scientists Terrorism?, 19 January 2012

(9)  For more information on the FM site

To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar.  Of esp interest these days:

Some posts on the FM site about disinformation and propaganda:

  1. News from the Front: America’s military has mastered 4GW!, 2 September 2007
  2. 4GW at work in a community near you, 19 October 2007
  3. The media discover info ops, with outrage!, 22 April 2008
  4. Successful info ops, but who are the targets?, 1 May 2008
  5. “Attacking Iran, in order to stop its nuclear plans, will be unavoidable”, 8 June 2008 – About Debkafile
  6. Does reading Debkafile make us smarter, or dumber?, 15 June 2008
  7. Psywar, a core skill of the US Military (used most often on us), 26 November 2008
  8. Concrete evidence of government info ops against us, but it’s OK because we are sheep, 2 December 2008
  9. Iran’s getting the bomb, or so we’re told. Can they fool us twice?, 16 February 2009

Posts about our relations with Iran:

  1. 4GW at work in a community near you , 19 October 2007 — Propaganda warming us up for war with Iran.
  2. Will we bomb Iran, now that Admiral Fallon is gone? , 17 March 2008
  3. More post-Fallon overheating: “6 signs the US may be headed for war in Iran” , 18 March 2008
  4. A militant America, ready for war with Iran , 6 May 2008
  5. Another step towards war with Iran?, 7 May 2008 — About Andrew Cockburn’s article in  Counterpunch.
  6. “War With Iran Might Be Closer Than You Think”, 13 May 2008 — About Philip Giraldi’s 9 May story in The American Conservative (see below).
  7. The most expensive psy-war campaign – ever!, 13 July 2008
  8. ISIS: “Can Military Strikes Destroy Iran’s Gas Centrifuge Program? Probably Not.”, 8 August 2008
  9. Proposed legislation prepares the way for war with Iran!, 25 August 2008
  10. Will trade sanctions work against Iran, as they did against Japan in 1941?, 27 August 2008
  11. Is the War on Terror over (because there are no longer two sides)? Part 1, 3 September 2008 — Rumors of covert ops by us against Iran.
  12. Update on the prospects of war with Iran, from Stratfor, 6 September 2008

Afterword

Please share your comments by posting below.  Per the FM site’s Comment Policy, please make them brief (250 words max), civil, and relevant to this post.  Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).  For information about this site see the About page, at the top of the right-side menu bar.

54 thoughts on “Iran’s getting the bomb, or so we’re told. Can they fool us twice?

  1. I expected something much more alarmist from Blair. Instead his speech is laced with sleep inducing and evasive language (we “assess”, “we judge”, “we do not know”, “they may have continued”, “have the capacity to”, etc.) This could easily be stirred up to full Colin Powell/UN Assembly seriousness later on, but so far it almost seems to be trying to avoid anything definite.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I read this as a professional accurately describing mixed intelligence. We should be grateful!

  2. Some honesty appears to have seeped through despite the desperate effort to gin up support for more military spending: “Iran stopped nuclear weapons work in 2003” (CNN, 3 December 2007), about the National Intelligence Estimate which says Iran stopped its effort to developed nuclear weapons in 2003.

    Of course, just because Iran has stopped its effort doesn’t mean it can’t start again. And just because we haven’t burst into flames unless we strip naked and paint ourselves blue and run around squawking like a chicken doesn’t mean we won’t.

    According to Seymour Hersh, a 2006 CIA report “found no evidence of a secret Iranian nuclear weapons program running parallel to the civilian nuclear reactor programs.” However, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. And just because invisible fairies from Neptune haven’t attacked us yet doesn’t mean we don’t need to build multibillion-dollar invisible invisible Neptunian fairy antimissile systems.

    At a certain point you have to shake your head and ask yourself if these people think we’re really this stupid.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: No need to rely on what CNN says about the November 2007 NIE “Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities”, you can see it here. The declassified NIE summaries are listed on the FM Reference Page “National Intelligence Estimates – an archive“. But as for Hersh, I would not bet on anything he says without confirmation.

  3. An informative article by Gareth Porter “Intel Estimate Muddied Iran’s Nuclear Intent” (Inter-Press Service, 13 February 2009).

    Porter states “The real problem with the NIE, however, was that it failed to clarify whether the Islamic Republic is determined to have nuclear weapons or only to have the capability to build them as a “hedge” against possible future developments.”

    This, he argues, arose from the conflicting views of two groups involved in preparing the NEI: the weapons specialists and the Iran analysts. It is the latter group, that is the group with real expertise in the matter, that largely saw Iran as following a “hedge” strategy.

  4. It boggles the mind how this keeps coming up. First of all, even a nuclear Iran is zero threat, none, to the US. We went through this panic over Russia, China, Iraq and North Korea, and it never was threatening to this country. The ayatollahs et al are no more inclined to rule over a nation of rural mutants with no remaining cities or religious or cultural centers than any other set of rulers. End of real story.

    What’s clear is that the US is again being gamed by the Likud and Mossad. All we need now is another terror attack on the US by non-Iranians, followed by a parade of Israelis on the cable talk shows and some mysteriously forged documents that find their way into Presidential speeches.

    Fortunately, the Likud Office of Special Plans is now defunct, and even W. didn’t buy this act the second time around and refused to abet another effort in the same direction. A deal with Iran is or soon will be on the table, as they like AlQaeda and Sunni takfiris just about as much as we do, and want both Afghanistan and Iraq to be stable just like we do. And we are in serious economic trouble, as are the Europeans and the Chinese, and the last thing anyone needs is additional conflagration in the area where there is the most remaining oil, and we have a vulnerable army in a Shiite country. Someone needs to tell the Israelis this dog may have hunted once but it ain’t gonna again.

  5. Fabius, apart from geopolitical intelligence the *other* most fertile area in which information warfare happens is, surprisingly, in macroeconomics. Once again, I need your help to have this comment placed as appropriate; it relates to a more general theme of structured information felicity as used in justifying foreign policy stances with an unrevealed private agenda.
    Here’s an interesting link to what SIF is all about: “THE ART OF SIFFING AMONG SEASONED ADULTS – CAN ECONOMISTS BE TRUSTED?”, Uwe E. Reinhardt (Professor of economics, Princeton), a lecture in his Economics 101 course, no date.

    I noticed you’re a follower of Dr. Brad Setser’s blog, and what he’s done, according to my rather painstaking and frequently acrimonius analysis of his views is this: Setser has focused excessive attention on China’s ~ $2 trillion forex reserve, of which he estimates $900 billion ot be held in US Treasuries and another $ 400 billion or so now in US Agencies.He also states that according to certain models this is an excessive level of reserves for China, and contends that China has a ‘mercantilist policy’.

    Through a convoluted reasoning, the details of which will take too many words here, Brad Setser places the blame for the 2008 credit crisis in the US on the People’s Bank of China! While the US should ideally partner with China to emerge from the current economic woes, this type of distortion has the US ‘justifiably’ engaging with China on a broad range of controversial issues, ranging from exchange rate, human rights, Tibet, trade imbalances, environmental pollution, etc that put the transPacific relations on a kerosene stove burner at this crucial period in American economic history.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I disagree with your summary of Setser’s views. I doubt he gives a single-factor explanation for any economic phenomenon, let alone anything so complex as the current global crisis.

    Background note: Setser writes for the Council on Foreign Affairs here.

  6. FM Note: I should have stopped this with comment #6, as this is totally off-topic for a post discussing Iran’s atomic bomb project and disinformation. However, no more posts about Setser and economics this will be allowed.

    If you go through the SIF article above, you’ll realize it isn’t done as openly as you might think. Here’s one link to Brad Setser’s analysis on what led to the ongoing crisis:

    I have always believed that the debtor and the creditor tend to share responsibility for most financial crises. One borrows too much, the other lends too much. … Absent a large savings surplus in Asia and the oil exporters, rising US rates would have choked off the housing bubble much earlier. High long-term rates aren’t conductive to rising home prices — and without rising home values it is hard to turn a home into an ATM.
    …Central banks reserve growth in the savings surplus countries carried this surplus to the US. … The process that led to the boom in risky assets was indirect: Central bank demand for safe assets drove down the return on safe assets and encouraged private sector risk taking. Private banks, famously, didn’t want to sit out the dance.”

    APART from blaming the PBoC for the mortgage boom (you need to closely follow each of his essays to know that he’s actually referring mainly to the PBoC in the above paragraphs) Brad Setser also blames the United States Public Debt on imports from China here:

    “Remember this the next time someone argues that the US will be borrowing more from the rest of the world to finance its fiscal deficit: the total amount the US borrows from the world is defined by the current account deficit and the current account deficit clearly went down in the fourth quarter even as the US fiscal deficit (and the Treasury’s borrowing need) soared.”

    Here Brad Setser revises economic history by claiming that the excessive lending by private banks that weren’t regulated properly by the Federal Reserve was actually a result of China’s exchange rate policy. Excerpts:

    “By holding US interest rates down and the dollar up, China’s policies discouraged investment in tradables production in the US while encouraging investment in the interest-rate sensitive sectors that weren’t competing with Chinese production. This isn’t too say that the US didn’t already have a slew of policies in place to encourage investment in housing. It did — from the Agencies to ability to deduct mortgage interest from tax payments. But the surge in demand for US bonds from the world’s central banks reinforced those policies.
    …More money was allocated to home construction (for a time) and less to investment in the production of goods for export than otherwise would have been the case.
    …Those who attribute the growth of the past several years solely to the market miss the large role the state played in many of the world’s fast growing economies. Conversely, those who attribute all the excesses of the past few years to the market miss the role that governments played in financing many of those excesses …”

    Me: So you see, Brad Setser also blames China for the fact that there wasn’t much investment in industrial production facilities in the US the last several years. Either you need to follow Brad Setser’s “China Yoke” theory of the crisis, or get down to brasstacks and fix some simple lending norms for retail loans in the US to prevent this sort of thing from happening again.

  7. Fabius: … discussing Iran’s atomic bomb project and disinformation.
    Me: I find you to be rather a rare voice of reason amidst the cacophony of hawkish would-be world conquerors. I’m inferring here that you probably think the Iran misinformation campaign is motivated by war profiteering possibilities.
    I invite you to consider that Iran is openly and brazenly engaged in an activity that is far more dangerous to the US than even the development of a full-blooded nuclear arsenal.
    The US military and the US dollar are the two mutually reinforcing pillars of global dominance. If you’re advocating a peaceful approach on the military front, you have to reckon with the implications for the US global monetary policies. Beginning in the 1970s, the US has been manipulating the currency composition of forex reserves and the currency denomination of international trade to artifically strengthen the US dollar.Availability of inordinately cheap imports allows the US domestic economy to focus on military production and innovation, that in turn spirals back into sustained global domination of the dollar.
    This approach is best symbolised in the petroleum trade and is crucial, given the global dependence on imported oil. Iran has shifted its entire forex reserves away from USD to EUR, and other currencies, according to speeches from Ahmedinijad. Also, Iran is actively attempting to create a bourse through which petroleum can be imported without denominating the trade in USD. In response to Iran’s currency rebellion, the Allied oil firms have been trying to sabotage Iran’s exports to East Asia by substituting oil from the Caspian Sea. Crude is brought to the Mediterranean from the Caspian through the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan pipeline, transported by sea to Ashkelon, and thence to the Red Sea Eilat port through a reverse flow in the Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline in Israel.
    Iran supported earlier the Hezbollah, and then the Hamas, to fire rockets inside Israel at this pipeline, so that its crude exports to East Asia would be secure.
    Without aggressive methods, I’d like to hear how Iran can be convinced to hold US dollars in its central bank reserves again. The Iran bourse traded around $1.5 billion worth of petroleum derivatives OTHER than crude, in 2008, and NO US dollars were used in the trade. How can further development of this project into a full fledged crude bourse with non USD denominated transactions be prevented?
    If military aggression has to be abandoned, either there should be some other way to ensure the 1000% overvaluation of USD in purchasing power parity terms; or the US has to be prepared to re build its domestic industries as well; and be just one more country competing equally in global trade.
    Brad Setser’s complete denial of the existence of this dynamic is what makes his analysis relevant to our consideration of the real reasons for hawkish statements from what I like to call the new Obush foreign policy administration in the US.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Iran’s reserve holdings have near-zero impact on the US dollar (USD). The long-feared (in fringe circles) Iran oil bourse is also irrelevant; $1.5B is less than a drop in the stream of world trade. So long as Iran remains a virtual outcast, these things are unlikely to change. So there is no need for military action to protect the USD.

    If a major nation were to shift reserves, or worse, several were to do so, than we would be in serious trouble. The USD — and our economy — have two islands of equilibrium. One with the USD as the reserve currency; one with the USD as just another currency. The transition between these two regimes will probably be very painful, as the trillions of dollars held abroad — by both private and government holders — as a store of value are sent back in exchange for goods, services, or assets.

  8. Re: #4 & #5 — Yes, I agree that threat of retaliation would work to keep Iran from using nuclear weapons. Normal deterrence “works” among nation-states.

    A problem would occur if Iran could transfer weapons to an organization like Hezbollah and then successfully cover its tracks. No attribution = no one to retaliate against = no deterrence. Moreover, we faced the problem of extended deterrence during the Cold War, i.e., would the U.S. risk destruction to retaliate for a Soviet attack on western Europe? Today, the question is how could we, or Israel for that matter, deter a terrorist with a nuke?

    Also, I question that Iran wants “both Afghanistan and Iraq to be stable just like we do.” Stable, yes. Under U.S. influence, no.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: While it is fun to speculate about “what if” scenarios, they should have some basis in fact. Iran giving nukes to Hezbollah would risk their homeland. Why not worry about an attack by the Blue Fairy?

    You faith in keeping secrets has little historical support. An astonishing number of world-changing secrets were leaked in the 20th century, from the Schlieffen Plan to many of Hitler’s war plans — usually ignored by the receiving intelligence agencies.

  9. “A problem would occur if Iran could transfer weapons to an organization like Hezbollah and then successfully cover its tracks” (Arms Merchant)

    Why would Iran, a sovereign state of 70 million people, give a nuclear weapon to a guerilla/resistance movement? Would the US give a nuclear weapon to the President of Georgia? Don’t be deluded by Israeli propaganda, which wants us to believe that Iran, not Israel, is the threat to peace in the ME.

  10. Seneca, because Hezbollah is a wholly funded and directed arm of the Iranian government is why. they are about as “grassroots” to Lebanon, Syria or Palestine as you are.

    While it is clear you are no fan of the Israeli’s, i would argue that Iran is the threat to regional peace and that they have done more to set back civil liberties, democracy and peace in the region than anyone else.

    None of which should imply that they are any more or less likely to develop a bomb.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I disagree with most of this. I don’t understand how people can discuss shadowy groups like Hezbollah as if it was IBM. What is your source for these statements?

    * Most of what I’ve seen suggests that most of Hezbollah’s personnel are locals, not Iranian. That makes them a “grassroots” entity in the usual sense. Do you have other information?
    * It is not certain that “Hezbollah is a wholly funded … arm of the Iranian government”. They don’t publish audited financials, but they probably obtain substantial funding from their activities inside Lebanon.
    * It is not certain that “Hezbollah is a wholly … directed arm of the Iranian government.” There is a long history of governments funding groups over which they have only weak or moderate control.
    * Once Hezbollah has a nuke in their hands, much of Iran’s control over them disappears. Hez becomes a major player. I doubt Iran would risk that.

  11. FM – how about the fact that the mullahs that presently run Iran have the stated goal of eliminating Israel, and have stated that even if Israel were to retaliate and eliminate Iran, they wouldn’t kill all muslims, so it’s a net win for Islam.

    The fallacy here is that Iran is a rational actor. Unless you dismiss all of their public pronouncements as nothing more than flexing, how can you not assume that they intend to acquire and deploy nuclear weapons?
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Some statements during the cold war by Americans — even by politicos and senior military types — about Russia and China were quite alarming. And yes, I discount the 30 years of talk by Iranians, esp so far with no serious actions outside the norms of our global regime.

  12. The Iranian economic system is profoundly dysfunctional and corrupt. Like many other countries who can’t run an economy well, they look for an island of stability in disconnection and in a constant search for scapegoats.

    They have some good talents in creating strong irregular forces (Hezbollah and to a lesser extent Hamas) and a lot of ambition for regional domination in the Mid East. Nuclear program or no nuclear program, they’re a threat that should be dealt with on the basis of what we know for sure already. Whether they have a nuke program (and I suspect that they’ve started up again after a pause starting in 2003) just alters methods and timetables.

    The Iranian model for Hezbollah et al is a threat to the Westphalian system. In my book that’s worse than a nuclear program. Nobody seriously denies Iran’s work with Hezbollah. So why is actively destroying the underpinnings of the rise of the West viewed as less threatening in these precincts than perhaps adding a weapon never meant to be used to the Iranian military official arsenal?

    No nukes does not mean no threat.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I agree that “no nukes does not mean no threat.” Their economy is disfunctional (even more than ours!).

    Low oil prices are wrecking their economy, and the temptation must be great to fire a missile at one of the Gulf States — with a pleasant (for them) effect on the price of oil. The Arab exports might scream, but quietly send “thank you” letters to Iran.

  13. Rather than a focus on attention-distracting conspiracy mongering, I would like to see a rational discussion of this rather plausible scenario (condensed form):

    Iran, already a regional bully, acquires nukes — so then the Saudis, Egyptians, Turks, and Iraqis also acquire nukes to rebalance their power relationships with Iran — then one of the terror groups begs, buys, or steals a few of those nukes from some corrupt, incompetent, or fanatic official of one of those regimes — and then a city or three somewhere goes up in a fireball — with no return address. (There’s lots more, but that’s enough for now.)

    So exactly who will do what to prevent this? And why aren’t you Neville Chamberlain?
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Perhaps because Neville is dead and buried. Perhaps because I do not advocate appeasement.

    People have been spinning apocalyptic fantasies for 50 years, and they have consistently proved a poor guide for policy. Also, eventually technology will advance so that every large State can build nukes, if they want to. The combination suggests that cool thinking, not rash warmongering, is the path to take.

  14. I doubt my post gave the LAT piece more than a tiny push. Between my blog and The Belmont Club, where I cross-posted, it could not have been seen by 20,000 people. Pretty small beer compared to the LAT’s circulation. That said, there is an interesting discussion here. Who do people believe to be the true sources for the LAT article? Israeli hawks? Or is it just some aggressive reporter overreading the nuance in all the various administration statements?

    In any case, a couple of points are worth making. First, I do not favor military action against Iran, or any case overt military action. To me the ideal policy would involve pressure on the regime without provoking a nationalistic reaction in the population. That may be hoping for too much.

    Second, I do not think that many people are afraid of the direct consequences of Iran attacking either the United States or Israel with nuclear weapons, or even American targets, and anyway I do not carry their brief. The risk has a couple of dimensions, I suppose. One, it would touch off a local nuclear arms race and accelerate proliferation. Eventually a weapon might well get in the hands of transnational terrorists. Second, it would make it harder to retaliate against Iran for direct or proxy destabilizing attacks in the region. Iran, for example, could send the signal that if the United States moves against it (perhaps to retaliate for Iranian aggression, even) it will nuke the Saudi oil fields. What would we (or any threatened regional power) do then?

    Point is, we ought to care very much if Iran develops a nuclear weapon, or the option to build one in a short period of time. It is unlikely to threaten Americans directly, but it could create an enormous mess in the region.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Nicely said; I agree on all points.

  15. That’s actually the biggest fear, Tom. Saudi has already stated that if Iran gets the bomb, they want one too. Saudi is terrified of Iranian dominance in the region.

    That said, I don’t think invading Iran is terribly useful either, as it immediately galvanizes the population in support of the regime. There’s considerable unrest in Iran. The wisdom (that I lack – which is why I’m commenting on a blog and not working for DoD) is in figuring out how to accelerate the downfall of the regime from within.

  16. Fabius, are you actually suggesting that Saddam Hussein was some kind of born again goat herder and dirt farmer? He was funding and aiding many worldwide islamic terrorists groups, has a long history of cooperation with Al Qaeda and, according to Josef Bodansky, Con Coughlin, Ken Timmerman, Jack Shaw, Bill Tierney, Ray Robison, Dave Gaubatz,Ihor Smeshko, Ion Pacepa, Yvgeny Primakov and many others, there was plenty going on in Iraq in regards to WMD. The whole WMD debate has been reduced to ONE issue: large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, which of course we never found. Plenty of evidence and speculation about what happened to them. Saddam Hussein was Bluffing? I am not buying it.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: The official reports have all been clear that Iraq had no significant nuke program at the time of the invasion, and no substantial stores of WMDs.

    The definitive report on Saddam’s WMD’s was by the Iraq Survey Group released 30 September 2004: (Wikipedia, DoD press conference transcript, full report) — who said:

    “While a small number of old, abandoned chemical munitions have been discovered, ISG judges that Iraq unilaterally destroyed its undeclared chemical weapons stockpile in 1991. There are no credible indications that Baghdad resumed production of chemical munitions thereafter, a policy ISG attributes to Baghdad’s desire to see sanctions lifted, or rendered ineffectual, or its fear of force against it should WMD be discovered.”

  17. Isn’t the distinction between “are they working towards it” and “have they laid aside their work towards it” the critical one here?

    Back in 2007, the conventional wisdom held that Iran was putting forth its efforts towards development of a bomb. There was wide disagreement over how close they were to a build, but, for a nation-state with Iran’s resources and motivation, a true effort to “get there” would, in fact, get them there, and so the timing issue was less important than the question of whether they were trying.

    The 2007 NIE’s main point – the important essence – was that Iran was no longer trying. If they had truly stopped trying to build, then that all-important “when will it be done” question fades away. “Free beer tomorrow”, as the sign says, but it’s always today.

    Now, while no one has changed any explicit message concerning a build date (either completed or anticipated), the message does seem to say that the Iranians are once again “trying” to build a bomb. And, again, if a nation such as Iran is “trying”, there is little question that they will succeed.

    So, really, is your point simply that we’re back to an alarmist view that has no value because it cannot give us a firm date, even if it can tell us that events are in fact moving towards a known end point at some unknown speed? To me, there is value in being told a fuse has been lit, even if I don’t know its length.

    I doubt this is important to most Americans because of what it says about the danger we face from Iran, nor do I believe that Iran would act with such irrationality (”Millions For Martyrdom!”) as would be required to use such a weapon.

    Of more import is that, if the 2007 NIE turns out to be the mis-call, then it would seem that our intelligence community has intentionally co-opted its putative democratically-chosen bosses. Chiding some for bomb-paranoia when, in fact, they’re concerned with systemic corruption in our government apparatus has the feel of misdirection, somehow.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: (1) What is your basis for saying “the message does seem to say that the Iranians are once again “trying” to build a bomb”? The statement of Blair (Dire of National Intelligence) almost exactly mirrors the Nov 2007 NIE, which says the opposite.

    (2) You put “are they working towards it” in quotes. I don’t see those words. What are you quoting?

    (3) I dont’ see any basis for your analogy to “being told a fuse has been lit”.

    (4) Reading fragmentary bits of elusive intel data is not like reading some alarmist web post. They do the best they can, and their conclusions should be accepted as such. Your aspersions on their integrity are IMO without merit or basis.

  18. I have a different take on the 2007 Iran NIE and the unusual publicity it gained. I believe it can be shown by multiple citations that in the fall of 2007 the Bush Administration took many opportunities to send a message that force was off the table in dealing with Iran. Adm. Fallon was not the only person to express such views. As I recall, President Bush himself softened the normal “no options off the table” rhetoric. Then came the 2007 NIE, presented in such a way that the judgment that Iran ceased nuclear weapons design work in 2003 took precedence over the judgment that Iran continued to pursue enrichment policies that could lead to a nuclear weapon within two or more years. News media seized the first judgment and ran with it as the story, whereas a reasonable reading of the NIE would conclude that Iran was sill in pursuit of nuclear weapons capability. Here’s what I infer: The ordering of the judgments was deliberate and approved, indeed, I would suspect, directed, by the White House. The purpose of the softening of the U.S. line toward Iran and the structure of the NIE presentation was to send a message gto Iran. Why? I further infer that a deal was in the works that required the U.S. to back off from threatening Iran. And why was Fallon fired and a change of tone adopted in 2008? By the logic I have followed, it would appear that the deal fell apart and that Iran did not deliver what Washington had looked for. There are, of course, other explanations for what to me seems a suggestive set of statements, including one that postulates a CIA vendetta against the White HOuse (I find this preposterous when it comes to high-level policy statements like an NIE) and a lack of communication between elements of the government. They may be right, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

  19. Just remember, the Soviet Union exploded its first H-bomb 5 years before our intelligence agencies expected them to be able. Anyone who claims they know that Iran is doing this or that is blowing smoke. The question is, how do we react now to mitigate the risk posed by Iranian acquisition of a nuclear arsenal? Blithely dismissing the possibility on the basis of — now that I come to it, exactly what is your basis? Frankly, it appears to be an exercise in pumping up your own ego in showing everyone how nonchalant you can be while disparaging those who might have a concern, a rather unseemly display of mental masturbation, IMHO.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: As the links provided at the end of the post show, there has been a concerted attempt to convince Americans that Iran poses a clear and present danger to the US, propaganda far in excess of the actual data and official analysis we have. The LAT article is not a -one-off event.

    ‘”Blithely dismissing the possibility on the basis of — now that I come to it, exactly what is your basis”

    The post cites offical statements of US intelligence officials, and their reports. What is the basis for your rebuttal? You sneer and mock. I prefer to base public police on the former, not the latter.

  20. Nukes? 64 year old technology. I don’t understand why you think they cannot build one.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Perhaps you do not understand “why I thing they cannot build one” because I have consistently said the exact opposite. See comment #16 above for just one of many examples.

    This is a persistent problem in the comments, easily avoidable if people used quotes to support their points.

  21. Iran’s economy was just Ok with oil at 100 bucks a bbl. If they act up, price may rise, but substitutes are already gaining traction. They are on a road with few turns, and bad boy antics are soon to lose any remaining luster just as for North Korea. Add this to the list of ways global economic collapse can be a good thing. A lot of silly posturing gets swept away and more serious and pragmatic discussions are forced to ensue.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: The “depressions are good for us” theory. Perhaps you can cite some historical examples.

    Nor is there evidence that “substitutes are already gaining traction.” There are links to many studies on the FM Reference Page Peak oil and energy – studies and reports; none support that view.

    Worse low oil prices are slashing investment in unconventional and alternative energy, probably moving us away from “substitutes.” Look at Alberta, with new projects being cancelled across the board.

  22. The US can have concerns about Iranian nuclear weapons beyond a simple threat to ourselves.

    First, they could cause a regional arms race. This is bad because it multiplies nuclear actors. It also could lead to a war by error. After all, what’s the warning response time between Tel Aviv and Tehran? Minutes? Seconds?

    Even if you do trust the Iranian regime to be a rational actor, we need to consider which elements of the regime would control the bomb, and what would happen if the regime were to fall due to a counter-revolution. If the hard-line guard controls the weapons and they see their regime collapse to be replaced by a liberal one, would they move the weapons, use the weapons, etc.?

    Iran is also a third world country where military officers and researchers could be more easily bribed – thus expanding the risk of proliferation or outright sales of weapons or materiel.

  23. In 1991 I lived in Moscow, Russia (my ex owned Pravda) during a time when myopic Americans were propagandized into believing the US economy was crumbling into depression so vote for Clinton. At the time Americans had no idea of the profitable relationship between the Russian mafia and any middle-eastern tyrant with oil money to spend; lots of state secrets and weapons were sold under the table and undoubtedly continues to this day.

    All I can say what my ex-husband said to me in 1991, US intelligence organizations are pussies.
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    From Wikipedia: On August 22, 1991, a decree by Russian President Boris Yeltsin shut down the Communist Party and seized all of its property, including Pravda. Its team of journalists fought for their newspaper and freedom of speech. They registered a new paper with the same title just weeks after. A few months later, then-editor Gennady Seleznyov (now a member of the Duma) sold Pravda to a family of Greek entrepreneurs, the Yannikoses.

  24. The crux of the problem here is the two essentially stateless areas created by British imperialism and international incompetence: Israel/Palestine and the Afghanistan/Pakistan border. Reluctance and inability on the part of the people in these areas to organize themselves and behave according to Western governmental and bureaucratic patterns has rendered their issues intractable for current national and international institutions and is the underlying issue about Iraq, Iran, whatever. The fact that extremists on all sides actually profit from this means that the disorganization could essentially continue indefinitely and eventually lead to a nuclear conflagration. This is certainly the path we are on.

    It says here that what is needed in both cases is for the West, the UN, the US, NATO, and the concerned stable powers to realize that this is the issue, and to stop waiting for or trying to compel or seduce the people in these areas into adopting organized bureaucratic state behaviors. Instead what needs to happen is to impose an internationally acceptable solution that allows the stateless areas to organize themselves over time, but in a situation where their interface to the entire outside world is controlled and limited until such time as they do so.

    In terms of Israel/Palestine it means that the grownups, the UN and the Arab League with the cooperation of regional neighbors, the US, Russia, NATO etc. negotiate FOR the Palestinians with the Israelis along the lines of the ’67 borders and relevant UN resolutions, patrol the border between Israel and Palestine, guarantee the security of both sides, and allow the Palestinians to be more organized and bureaucratic and state-y at their leisure.

    In the Afghan/Pakistani region it means having both of those countries admit that they cannot defend or control their current borders, and in conjunction with the international community come up with borders which they CAN assert state control over. This would very likely result in a ‘no-man’s-land’ between the two. On both sides, the national governments and international community would tightly control what goes in and what goes out, access to all sorts of trappings of civilization such as international travel, money, cell phones and the like. In essence the Pashtun mountain region would become a sort of reservation or experiment, forcibly excluded in a sort of Prime Directive way from what Barnett calls the Core, such that no terror attacks or training could happen from it. They would then have the choice to stay that way, or organize themselves in a way acceptable to the international community.

    We can solve these issues… but the first thing we need to do is stop pretending.

  25. I appreciate your response to my comment at #16. However, you ducked my actual question, as I’m sure you know. (BTW, I do not accept your hints of a geopolitical “quietism” as being in any way a credible position.)

    Iranian nukes will very likely trigger an irreversible cascade of events in the Middle East leading to a dangerous proliferation of nukes among the world’s most unstable peoples (and governments) in the world’s most critical resource region.

    You have “suggested” that the growing awareness of this is part of a conspiracy to mislead. But why should accusations of conspiracy flow only one way? Why are *you* not part of an international conspiracy to distract attention and suppress any effective response to a “geopolitical power grab” until it’s too late?

    International ANSWER, Hugo Chavez, George Soros, the IRGC, Ali Khameni, the Russian mafia, various Gulf billionaires, lots of fanatical Islamists, and others would be delighted to buy a few dozen (or hundred) bloggers to help their more important minions spread FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) until it’s too late to stop this geopolitical power grab.

    So play “devil’s advocate” for a moment. When “The One” calls you to ask what he should actually DO, what will you tell him?”
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Distinguishing “info ops” from “analysis” is easy at the extremes (such as here).

    One one side we have a dupliticous article in the LAT, creating a misleading picture. Perhaps you are waiting for their follow-up aricle, explaining that they were wrong and DNI Blair addressed these “mounting concerns over Iran’s nuclear program in testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee” by re-iterating the conclusions of the Nov 2007 NIE.

    Note Tigerhawk’s summary: “Los Angeles Times report that the intelligence agencies have reversed themselves again.” That is what the LAT article conveyed, and the public info shows it to be false.

    On the other you have this post, giving specific quotes in context, with links, showing the sources of this misinformation.

    If you cannot tell the difference, I feel sorry for you — but you are beyond my ability to help.

  26. Update added to the post aboout “information operations”

    This post is about “information operations”. We need greater awareness of how we are being manipulated. In this case by people who want a strike at Iran. They do not speak of a war with Iran, but of course such aggressive actions often start wars.

    Are they correct? That is a larger and more complex subject. This post discusses how they make their case by exaggerating what we know about Iran — its capabilities and motives. See the links at the end to other posts in this series.

    About info ops:

    Somewhere in the mid 20th century, the power of information management was discovered — and its ability to shape public opinion and hence public policy. It’s a spectrum. At one end we have advertising, the other we have the Illuminati (and their orbital mind-control lasers). In between we have info ops:

    * organized programs
    * to manipulate public perception and public policy
    * run by state and non-state groups
    * working in loose alliances.

    By now almost everybody does these. Pro-life, pro-abortion, the “education lobby”, the pro-Israel lobby, defense contractors, folks wanting war with Iraq (past) and Iran (now). The mainstream media are one of the major battlegrounds for these efforts, and the methods have grown increasingly sophisticated.

    Tigerhawk, comment #17: “Or is it just some aggressive reporter overreading the nuance in all the various administration statements?”

    Very little in the newspapers just happens. Esp not on these high profile issues. A large fraction of stories are fed to media, largely pre-packaged (as press releases or less formally). The cutbacks at the mainstream news media – now accelerating — increase the appeal of this business model.

    For more about info ops see Wikipedia.

  27. On the other hand, if Iran acquired detailed plans for an atom bomb from say, A.Q. Kahn (Pakistan is known to have tested them), during 2003, Iran may very well have reduced research into building one until they had the actual amount of fissile material to, you know actually put it together.

    This is not to say that they do not have the lower level staff building the non-nuclear components from the detailed plans, no more research necessary there. Just that the main program now just needs to have the correct amount of fissile material to build their, you know, Fire of Allah, that they continuously to talk about (it seems like the V-weapons talk the Germans had during WWII – we will win because we will have superior weapons that will destroy the enemy soon – since a lot of their philosophy and idealogy is taken from WWII Fascist ideology this would not seem to be off course for them).

    Just as they would keep building the delivery system (IRBMs) and testing them in various ways while waiting. A satellite in orbit means you can build fractional orbital delivery systems (which greatly extends the range of IRBMs to potentialy inter-continental ranges), launches with apogee explosions – means you can use it for EMP effect if it is nuclear and explodes above the atmosphere, launches from ship board in the Caspian Sea, so they can launch from the ocean if necessary (which one?), etc. Funny, they HAVE been testing all of these missile modes, come to think of it.

    Just saying you know. Speculation with real facts behind it is so much more fun than other types of speculation. I will let you make the conclusions from the foregoing evidence. You can of course verify all of the previous, except for the A.Q. Khan reference, though that would certainly be a good reason to stop research. And his detailed plans were known to be on the international market.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: This is just wild guessing. What if the Blue Fairy gave them a nuke? I’ll stick to the reports from the experts (government and ngo’s), and leave fantasy geopolitics to you.

  28. FM: I covered terror, specifically anti-terror finance, for five years for several MSM outlets. I know of no one, and my sources in Democratic circles were stronger than the ones in right-leaning camps, who questioned the direct relationship between Iranian funding, training and support for Hezbollah. I should note that in my interviews with people in the intelligence community, the NSC, capitol Hill political staffs and the UN, the Iran-Hezbollah connection was perhaps the only issue without tremendous disagreement among otherwise adverserial factions.

    In fact, outside of paid-for Iranian regime apologists, or the intllectually witless on the extreme left, i know of no one who questions the relationship. Please understand this is NOT a shot at you or your good faith questioning.

    There are two caveats here: Obviously the Iran-Hizb. relationship is not a vertically integrated one like IBM where someone at HQ says something and all fall in line; the best proof of this was the Hezbollah kidnapping of two ISraeli soldiers in 07, which was viewed with anger in tehran and elsewhere. So yes, Hezbollah does some freestyling, to use the vernacular. But again, Im not sure skepticism is warranted on the matter of the connection.

    And two, the Hezbollah-Iran relationship does not imply that should Iran develop a bomb, Hezbollah would be granted access to it.

    I regret that I cant really discuss more than that, but i post already against my employers wishes.
    sadly, BTW, you are correct about media cutbacks and the effect upon the quality of reporting. At most places, if not all, the best reporters have retired, been laid off or left.
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    Fabuis Maximus replies: You are moving the goalposts. Let’s re-play the tape.

    Seneca asked: “Why would Iran, a sovereign state of 70 million people, give a nuclear weapon to a guerilla/resistance movement?”

    You replied in comment #12: “Hezbollah is a wholly funded and directed arm of the Iranian government”

    I said this was an overstatement, that Hez was not “wholly funded” by Iran, not “a wholly directed arm of the Iranian government.”

    Now you speak of a “direct relationship”, but “not a vertically integrated one like IBM where someone at HQ says something and all fall in line”. And that “the Hezbollah-Iran relationship does not imply that should Iran develop a bomb, Hezbollah would be granted access to it.”

    These things clearly contradict your earlier statements.

  29. Thank you for responding to my comments at #16 and #28.

    Although not a regular reader, I do visit this blog often enough to know that you are neither unintelligent nor unperceptive.

    So why do you continue to “blow off” both the spirit and substance of my comments by focusing your responses on other issues? (BTW, “Intelligence” agencies spin like weather vanes, and this is hardly “an unknown fact”.)

    I have raised valid points, which, while not particularly complimentary or complementary to you or yours, still remain valid points about a very possibly ongoing geopolitical power grab. Your behavior lends credibility to my “counter-conspiracy” theory that *you* are (perhaps unconsciously) part of an operation to suppress intelligent discussions that could lead to an effective response to this ongoing geopolitical power grab by some of the world’s nastiest actors.

    I sense that you do not like to be challenged. And I see that you have some fairly effective verbal defenses to suppress/negate/distract it.

    But to return to substance, suppose that you are wrong. Take (for a moment) as a “working hypothesis” that there is in fact an ongoing geopolitical power grab leading to a very dangerous deterioration in world order. What would you do about it? Have you given any thought to this? Do you care to? Because if you, and those who play your game, are wrong, a lot of other people are going to pay a very heavy price because of it.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: As the post made clear — and I have said several times — this post is about information operations. Not a discussion of what our policy should be to Iran. Posts on this site are tightly focused, as they deal with complex issues on the edge of what we know.

    I allow some degree of topic drift in the comments, but keep my replies focused on the subject of the post.

    I have posted frequently about the low utility and potentially severe consequences of a strike at Iran (see Iran – will the US or Israel attack Iran?). I may write about the question of US policy if the spirit moves me. Or not.

    “take as working hypothesis that there is in fact an ongoing geopolitical power grab leading to a very dangerous deterioration in world order.”

    I don’t do fantasy geopolitics. If you have some evidence to such a thing, then I might give some thought to it.

  30. A. Q. Kahn the Blue Fairy? LOL! It seems he would make a good one! I wonder if he would take offense at you calling him that?

    And yes, this is speculation based on putting together known evidence. Just look in the papers for the Iranian missile launches over the past two years. Look at what they have actually done, none of which is propaganda. We tried the same things many years ago and look at what we have militarily today.

    If all Iran has to do is run their uranium refining to get the requisite amount of material this is no fantasy, especially if they already have the complete plans. The Swiss did capture and destroy exactly such plans, this can also be verified in the newspapers of the last two years.

    Not so wild guessing since even some of the intelligence sources have come up with the same scenario. Not so wild guessing since the only thing that cannot be verified without people on the ground is the A. Q. Khan sales of detailed plans to Iran.

    However, what date they may actually blow up their first weapon is, well that is anyone’s guess, could be anywhere from 2010-2015 as the NIE suggests. Then they will start making their conditions on what we must do so they do not use them.
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    Fabuis Maximus replies: Your last point is the key, that Iran will risk atomic warfare to gain its ends. Here we go beyond the technical discussion about if and when Iran might get nukes — to speculation about its actions. In the 30 years since the revolution Iran has done nothing to warrant the belief that it is governed by irrational actors. Expressed as fact, as often done, this is the “big lie” — so effective in propaganda.

    There is little evidence during the past 50 years of any nuke nation taking such risks. Vs. other nations with nukes. nukes have proven to be defensive weapons only.

  31. I do not consider it absurd since they do not have any reference point for whom their nuclear weapons are a counterpoint to. They have stated the wish to destroy the USA, and the West in general, and Israel specifically. Over and over.

    This is not the speech of rational individuals. You do not hear this from Pakistan or India about one another from their leaders. You did not hear this from the USA and Russia even during the cold war. You do not hear this from Russia and China.

    That they wish to destroy their neighbors: You do not hear it from Israel. You do not hear it from Egypt or Turkey or Jordan. You only hear such talk from Iran and Syria. If this is not irrational then who is rational?

    I also charge that if Iran and Syria stopped supporting Hamas and Hizbollah financially and with training and weapons and materiel they would cease to exist as the major players they are.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: The US and USSR said such things about each other during the Cold War.

    As for Hamas and Hez, support for such “proxies” has been the primary mode of great power conflict for 50 years. Everybody does it, in one form or another. Direct conflict is too risky.

  32. Thank you for your responses to my comments @ #16, #28, & #32.

    I think that you and I have reached the end of our small discussion. I have learned things from it.

    1. You will refuse to address the issue of a possibly ongoing geopolitical power grab by some of the world’s nastiest people.

    2. You will instead focus monomaniacally on denying such a power grab by “suggesting” that those who do discuss it are part of an “information ops” conspiracy to mislead the public into a war and by labeling such discussions “fantasy geopolitics”.

    3. But I and others will draw other conclusions about who is part of an information ops conspiracy and what that conspiracy really is.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I agree that we have reached the end of the discussion. I have learned:
    (1) that you refuse to discuss the authoritative sources I cite to support my position, and
    (2) that you cite nothing (zip, zero) to support your bombastic views.

  33. In the 30 years since the revolution Iran has done nothing to warrant the belief that it is governed by irrational actors. Expressed as fact, as often done, this is the “big lie” — so effective in propaganda.

    So, tying orphaned-children-martyrs together in a line to sweep battleground mines in a quixotic quest to capture Najaf and Karbala from Iraq after they had already repelled the invader who was on his knees suing for peace… these are the actions of rational actors? I don’t think you have much insight into the rationality, or lack thereof, of the Iranian leadership at all.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Perhaps you are not familar with past or present history. Iran’s use of it children is an extreme version of a common phenomenon.
    * Sacrifice of children for religious reasons is seen throughout history; see Wikipedia for examples.
    * Boys were a standard component of western armies until the past 2 centuries, and are commonly found on all sides in 3rd world wars today.
    Perhaps things are irrational, but only if you consider much of humanity’s behavior irrational.

    * Drummer boys led western troops into battle for centuries..
    * Ships boys served on warships. Powder monkeys were usually small boys that ran black powder from the powder room to the cannons on warships until the steam age.
    * Underage boys served in the Civil War in large numbers. Bugler John Cook enlisted at age 14, later awarded the Medal of Honor for deeds at the Battle of Antietam.
    * During the Siege of Mafeking in the 2nd Boer War, Robert Baden-Powell recruited and trained 12-15 year old boys as scouts.
    * During WWI an estimated 250,000 British soldiers were actually underage, some as young as 14 and 15 (see here and here).
    * Hitler Youth were the major part of the German Army during the Battle of Berlin.
    * In modern wars (Vietnam and thereafter), children have frequently been used as soldiers. Often as brutally as did Iran.

    For more information about this see:
    The Wikipedia entry on Military Use of Children.
    “Children of the Gun“, N. G. Boothby and C. M. Knudsen, Scientific American, June 2000
    The Real Revolution in Military Affairs (it’s not what you think), 14 November 2005

  34. If the Iranians load a Shahab 3 on a freighter and detonate an EMP device over us we will not be able to take too much solace in FM’s assurances of the unerring accuracy of contradictory and internally contentious intelligence, which after all was also used to tell us Iraq was pursuing WMDs, and the asserted rationality of Messers Ahmadinejad, Khameini etal.
    AQ Kahn, Libya’s previously unknown WMD project and Iran’s high altitude detonations from ships in the Caspian Sea are neither the work of Blue Fairies nor ‘information operations’.
    Do they mean an Iranian bomb or nuclear attack are absolutely inevitable? No. But neither do they mean those expressing a great deal of concern about them are either itching to go to war with Iran or engaged in propaganda. They may sincerely be trying to warn a seemingly complacent world about what seems to be a very real and potentially catstrophic threat. Many of us are quite concerned about the threat but see other alternatives to dealing with the threat besides a military strike.
    The lesson to learn from Saddam and 2003 is not that threats never materialize and anyone raising them is a propagandist warmonger engaging in a big lie, but that care needs to be taken in assessing them.
    Sometimes a threat is just a bluff. Somtimes it’s real. Dismissing a threat with loaded words like ‘beating drums’, ‘sheep’ and the ‘big lie’ is itself more akin to propaganda and ‘information operations’ than a serious argument. One could just as easily infer from the defense of ‘rational’ actors like the mullahs and the number of posts about Iran here that this blog is part of an information operation in the other direction.
    .
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    Fabius Maximus replies: What if George next door brews up superbugs and destroys Cleveland? We can spin wild stories all night around the campfire. The fact remains that we’d turn Iran into a the Middle East’s only year-round glowing outdoor skating ring if they did such a thing, and Iran’s ruling elites know that.

    We went thru 50 years of such unsupported fantasies driving the Cold War. Then we invaded Iraq in part to stop a non-existent WMD program. Now we again get people substituting their imagination for actual intelligence, and consider thier nightmares as sufficient reason for America to start a war.

    Note that none of the folks writing pro-war comments have cited anything to support their case, except their bombastic statements — which for some unknown reason they expect people to take seriously.

  35. Anyone can go to Baghdad by claiming Iraq is trying to acquire nuclear weapons, but real men go to Tehran by claiming Iran is trying to acquire nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons are the ultimate ulterior motive used to sell the “people” part of Clausewitz’s trinity to support war and “hate the enemy”.

    The real question is: what was the real motive for invading Iraq and what is the real motive to attack Iran?

  36. Israel launches covert war against Iran“, Daily Telegraph, 16 February 2009 — “Israel has launched a covert war against Iran as an alternative to direct military strikes against Tehran’s nuclear programme, US intelligence sources have revealed.” Excerpt:

    It is using hitmen, sabotage, front companies and double agents to disrupt the regime’s illicit weapons project, the experts say. The most dramatic element of the “decapitation” programme is the planned assassination of top figures involved in Iran’s atomic operations.

    … The aim is to slow down or interrupt Iran’s research programme, without the gamble of a direct confrontation that could lead to a wider war. A former CIA officer on Iran told The Daily Telegraph:

    “Disruption is designed to slow progress on the programme, done in such a way that they don’t realise what’s happening. You are never going to stop it. The goal is delay, delay, delay until you can come up with some other solution or approach. We certainly don’t want the current Iranian government to have those weapons. It’s a good policy, short of taking them out militarily, which probably carries unacceptable risks.”

    Reva Bhalla, a senior analyst with Stratfor, the US private intelligence company with strong government security connections, said the strategy was to take out key people.

    “With co-operation from the United States, Israeli covert operations have focused both on eliminating key human assets involved in the nuclear programme and in sabotaging the Iranian nuclear supply chain. As US-Israeli relations are bound to come under strain over the Obama administration’s outreach to Iran, and as the political atmosphere grows in complexity, an intensification of Israeli covert activity against Iran is likely to result.”

    Mossad was rumoured to be behind the death of Ardeshire Hassanpour, a top nuclear scientist at Iran’s Isfahan uranium plant, who died in mysterious circumstances from reported “gas poisoning” in 2007. Other recent deaths of important figures in the procurement and enrichment process in Iran and Europe have been the result of Israeli “hits”, intended to deprive Tehran of key technical skills at the head of the programme, according to Western intelligence analysts.

    “Israel has shown no hesitation in assassinating weapons scientists for hostile regimes in the past,” said a European intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity. They did it with Iraq and they will do it with Iran when they can.”

    Mossad’s covert operations cover a range of activities. The former CIA operative revealed how Israeli and US intelligence co-operated with European companies working in Iran to obtain photographs and other confidential material about Iranian nuclear and missile sites. “It was a real company that operated from time to time in Iran and in the nature of their legitimate business came across information on various suspect Iranian facilities,” he said.

    Israel has also used front companies to infiltrate the Iranian purchasing network that the clerical regime uses to circumvent United Nations sanctions and obtain so-called “dual use” items – metals, valves, electronics, machinery – for its nuclear programme. The businesses initially supply Iran with legitimate material, winning Tehran’s trust, and then start to deliver faulty or defective items that “poison” the country’s atomic activities.

    “Without military strikes, there is still considerable scope for disrupting and damaging the Iranian programme and this has been done with some success,” said Yossi Melman, a prominent Israeli journalist who covers security and intelligence issues for the Haaretz newspaper.

    Mossad and Western intelligence operations have also infiltrated the Iranian nuclear programme and “bought” information from prominent atomic scientists. Israel has later selectively leaked some details to its allies, the media and United Nations atomic agency inspectors.

    … The Iranian government has become so concerned about penetration of its programme that it has announced arrests of alleged spies in an attempt to discourage double agents. “Israel is part of a detailed and elaborate international effort to slow down the Iranian programme,” said Mr Melman.

    But Vince Canastraro, the former CIA counter-terrorism chief, expressed doubts about the efficacy of secret Israeli operations against Iran. “You cannot carry out foreign policy objectives via covert operations,” he said. “You can’t get rid of a couple of people and hope to affect Iran’s nuclear capability.” …

  37. While agreeing that there is an Iranian threat in your response to my comment #15, you completely ignored the threat I outlined and substituted a tempest in a teapot threat, roiling oil markets by launching a missile at a Gulf state.

    Westphalianism has given the West great advantages over the past several centuries. It would be smart for us to make sure that the post-westphalian world is one that does not give up those gains in national cohesion. Iran would like a new dispensation, one that favors Islam and their particular brand of it while handicapping Western nations. This is an existential threat and well worth a reasonable application of resources to put down.
    .
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    Fabius Maximus replies: There are dozens of posts here about non-trinitarian conflict, and its subset 4th generation warfare (see the FM Reference Page about Military and strategic theory, and links to dozens more (articles and books) at Modern warfare’s top experts – the library (another hundred go up on Friday, on the John Nagl page).

    None of these support the statement that “The Iranian model for Hezbollah et al is a threat to the Westphalian system.” This statement is probably wrong on many levels.
    * It’s hardly an “Iranian” model;
    * Eliminating Iran’s support is unlikely to desoy Hez;
    * Destroying Hez would not reduce the threat of non-state actors to the Westphallian order;
    * I do not agree that 4GW is certainly a serious threat to the Westphallian system,
    * and it is probably far less of a threat than is internal decay of States.

    In any case, the subject is not topical here, as this post discusses media manipulation — attempts to build support for a war with Iran (part of a series about information operations).

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