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.
- “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
- Testimony of Leon E. Panetta (Director of the CIA) on 5 February before the Senate Intelligence Committee
- CNN transcript of President Obama’s first press conference, 9 February 2009
- “U.S. now sees Iran as pursuing nuclear bomb“, Los Angeles Times, 12 February 2009
- “Now they tell us: Iran is pursuing a bomb“, Tigerhawk, 13 February 2009
- “Annual Threat Assessment of the Intelligence Community for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence“, Dennis C. Blair (Director of National Intelligence), 12 February 2009
- About information operations
- Other posts in this series
- 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.
- 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.
- As noted, Iran continues to deploy and improve ballistic missiles inherently capable of delivering nuclear weapons.
- 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:
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
- 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
- Iran’s getting the bomb, or so we’re told. Can they fool us twice?, 16 January 2009
- Iran will have the bomb in 5 years (again), 2 January 2010 — Forecasts of an Iranian bomb really soon, going back to 1984
- About the escalating conflict with Iran (not *yet* open war), 4 January 2012
- Have Iran’s leaders vowed to destroy Israel?, 5 January 2012 — No, but it’s established as fact by repetition
- 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
- What does the IAEA know about Iran’s nuclear program?, 9 January 2012 — Their reports bear little resemblance to reports in the news media
- What happens when a nation gets nukes? Sixty years of history suggests an answer., 10 January 2012
- What happens if Iran gets nukes? Not what we’ve been told., 11 January 2012
- Status report on the already-hot conflict with Iran – and the looming war, 12 January 2012
- 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
- What the conflict with Iran teaches us about modern State-to-State war, 16 January 2012
- Has Iran won a round vs. the US-Israel?, 17 January 2012
- 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:
- News from the Front: America’s military has mastered 4GW!, 2 September 2007
- 4GW at work in a community near you, 19 October 2007
- The media discover info ops, with outrage!, 22 April 2008
- Successful info ops, but who are the targets?, 1 May 2008
- “Attacking Iran, in order to stop its nuclear plans, will be unavoidable”, 8 June 2008 – About Debkafile
- Does reading Debkafile make us smarter, or dumber?, 15 June 2008
- Psywar, a core skill of the US Military (used most often on us), 26 November 2008
- Concrete evidence of government info ops against us, but it’s OK because we are sheep, 2 December 2008
- Iran’s getting the bomb, or so we’re told. Can they fool us twice?, 16 February 2009
Posts about our relations with Iran:
- 4GW at work in a community near you , 19 October 2007 — Propaganda warming us up for war with Iran.
- Will we bomb Iran, now that Admiral Fallon is gone? , 17 March 2008
- More post-Fallon overheating: “6 signs the US may be headed for war in Iran” , 18 March 2008
- A militant America, ready for war with Iran , 6 May 2008
- Another step towards war with Iran?, 7 May 2008 — About Andrew Cockburn’s article in Counterpunch.
- “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).
- The most expensive psy-war campaign – ever!, 13 July 2008
- ISIS: “Can Military Strikes Destroy Iran’s Gas Centrifuge Program? Probably Not.”, 8 August 2008
- Proposed legislation prepares the way for war with Iran!, 25 August 2008
- Will trade sanctions work against Iran, as they did against Japan in 1941?, 27 August 2008
- 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.
- Update on the prospects of war with Iran, from Stratfor, 6 September 2008
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.