What is the Quality of Scientific Evidence Against Iran?

I’m very pleased to be hosting another guest post by friend of ACL Dr. Yousaf Butt.  We often turn to Yousaf to help us understand the technical/scientific questions which are involved in debates concerning Iran’s nuclear program in particular.  Although the legal debates about Iran are not taking place in an international court – at least not yet – the veracity of the scientific evidence espoused by all sides to support their legal arguments is nevertheless an extremely important matter, particularly in light of the debacle of the 2003 Iraq war having been based, at least in part, on bad technical and scientific analysis of intelligence information on similar questions.

 

What is the Quality of Scientific Evidence Against Iran?

By: Yousaf Butt

Dr. Yousaf Butt, a nuclear physicist, is director of the Emerging Technologies Program at the Cultural Intelligence Institute, a non-profit dedicated to promoting fact-based cultural awareness among individuals, institutions, and governments. The views expressed here are his own.

This week the P5+1 and Iranian officials meet again to try to narrow differences over a comprehensive nuclear deal, which is to last for an as-yet unknown duration. Reaching an agreement will be a challenging task because Iran and P5+1 seem to disagree – among other things – about the enrichment capacity Iran should be allowed during the (unknown) term of the comprehensive deal.

According to the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) limits on Iran’s enrichment capacity are important because they would lengthen the time needed for Iran to “breakout” and quickly enrich uranium to weapons-grade in any hypothetical race to a uranium-based device.

But Jeffrey Lewis of the Monterey Institute has suggested that such limits are meaningless, saying, “This is completely wrong. Breakout is precisely the wrong measure of whether a deal is successful,” because the Iranians – goes the argument – could use a covert facility to breakout if they wanted to do that.

Instead, intensive verification and intrusive inspections above and beyond what is codified in international law by the so-called “Additional Protocol” have been suggested to try to address this fear.

Amid this debate within the nonproliferation community, Gareth Porter last week poked a hornet’s nest by suggesting that key evidence against Iran was fabricated and distributed by Iran’s adversaries Israel and the MEK group.

This is not the first time someone has claimed that forged evidence was being used by the IAEA in its case against Iran: highly respected experts have warned about this before.

In a separate report last week, Mr. Porter assesses that David Albright, the founder and executive director of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) in Washington, DC, a prominent commentator on nonproliferation and Iran’s nuclear program has embraced an alarmist line on the Iran issue – despite his knowledge that there were serious problems with the evidence on which it was based.

My intention here isn’t to evaluate the specific items of evidence presented in Mr. Porter’s reports but to weigh in with my own expert analysis –  some of it done in collaboration with Dr. Ferenc Dalnoki-Veress of the Monterey Institute – of the quality of the evidence against Iran.

By way of context, Iran has never been formally accused of manufacturing nuclear weapons. The IAEA did determine that Iran was in “non-compliance” with its safeguards agreement in 2005. But this had to do with technical nuclear material accountancy matters — “non-compliance” does not mean Iran was making nuclear weapons. For example, South Korea and Egypt both violated their safeguards agreements in 2004 and 2005. But these U.S. allies were never even referred to the UN Security Council — let alone targeted for sanctions. Pierre Goldschmidt, a former deputy director of safeguards at the IAEA, has noted the “danger of setting bad precedents based on arbitrary criteria or judgments informed by political considerations” at the IAEA.

It is not always easy to obtain access to the actual evidence being used against Iran, but occasionally some is leaked to the press and is amenable to scientific scrutiny. Below, I list some of this evidence being used against Iran, as well some historical record of the group(s) making the allegations:

[1]. An indication into the quality – or, rather, lack thereof – of the evidence against Iran comes from my analysis (done with another physicist, Ferenc Dalnoki-Veress of the Monterey Institute) of the graphs published by the Associated Press purporting to show an Iranian interest in modeling a nuclear explosion. Aside from the fact that there is nothing illegal with doing such theoretical modeling, our analysis showed that there was a large numerical error in the graph and that the time-scale of the explosion was wrong.

We concluded that the AP graphs were either shoddy science and/or simply amateurish forgeries.

 

[2]. In February 2013, the Washington Post published a story that “purchase orders obtained by nuclear researchers show an attempt by Iranian agents to buy 100,000 … ring-shaped magnets” and that such “highly specialized magnets used in centrifuge machines … [are] a sign that the country may be planning a major expansion of its nuclear program.” As evidence, the Post’s Joby Warrick cited a report authored by David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS).

As I outlined in the The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists at the time, the ring-magnet story was exaggerated and inaccurate.

The Washington Post’s ombudsman eventually got involved and his report is appended below (the cc field has been x’ed out as it mentions the emails of editors & others):

======================

From: Patrick Pexton [pextonp@washpost.com]

Sent: Monday, February 25, 2013 2:25 PM

To: Butt, Yousaf Mahmood

Cc: xxxx,xxxx,xxxx,xxxx

Subject: RE: Response from ombudsman

Hello everyone.

I’ve read everything that Mr. Butt referred me to, and Joby’s story.

A couple of things trouble me.  Language like “place the order” doesn’t seem borne out by the nature of those notes that ISIS included copies of in the PDF. It certainly looks like that Iranian company is looking to buy magnets, but I’m not sure I would say “place the order” or “new orders” based on that evidence.  And that there is no evidence that a purchase actually went through, as Joby wrote, correct? And there is no date, other than mentioned in the story “about a year ago.” That’s pretty vague, and Iran since then has made some moves, as Joby reported, such as converting some  enriched uranium into metal, that suggest it might be listening to international concerns.

Is Joby persuaded that these magnets could only be used for centrifuges? Could Mr. Butt be correct that they could be used for other things and Iran would have the industrial and economic demand for them as speaker magnets or what have you? And how would these magnets, if they were intended for use in centrifuges, play in to the damaged caused by stuxnet, in which many of the first generation Iranian centrifuges were damaged?

Just before nuclear talks get underway I am always suspicious of stories that suddenly surface  that seem to reinforce the narrative that Iran is building nuclear weapons.

Last July, Joby had the story on the potential increasing threat of the Iranian Navy against the U.S. Navy.  Nowhere in that story was there anything about the economic sanctions that many defense experts say are hurting the Iranian military deeply.

I’ve been on some 60 U.S. Navy ships, iincluding five or six carrier battle groups underway. The planes and helicopters that circle in the air above battle groups have considerable surveillance- and fire power. So do U.s. attack submarines who patrol with the battle groups. The new littoral combat ships have plenty of ability to attack shoreline installations in minutes. That is a formidable array of offensive capability

Of course we should always be vigilant and pay attention to information that comes to us, and report it out. But neither do we want to overstate any threat from any enemy, real or potential.

Thanks for your time.

__________________________________

Patrick B. Pexton

Ombudsman

The Washington Post

202-334-7521

cell 202 738-3672

===========================

 

Lastly, LobeLog requested a Q&A on the subject which was published and stands as the final word on the matter of the alleged ring magnet web-inquiry.

 

[3]. A lot has been written about the Parchin military base in Iran by David Albright’s and his group at ISIS. However, SIPRI published an expert report by Robert Kelley contesting almost everything asserted by ISIS regarding the Parchin base.

Kelley is a true authority on such matters, being a nuclear engineer and a veteran of over 35 years in the US nuclear weapons complex, most recently at Los Alamos. He managed the centrifuge and plutonium metallurgy programs at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and was seconded by the US DOE to the IAEA where he served twice as a Director in the nuclear inspections in Iraq, in 1992-1993 and 2002-2003. He is currently an Associate Senior Research Fellow at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

Most importantly, the SIPRI report says that the paving work at Parchin would not completely hide any alleged contamination because there is an area west of the building of interest that remains untouched. And, in any case, the important samples in such a test would come from within buildings not outside on the ground.

Let’s also recall that the IAEA has already visited Parchin twice in 2005 and found nothing – although they did not go to the specific area they are now interested in. However, the IAEA could have gone to that area even in 2005 – they simply chose to go to other sites on the military base. As the IAEA report at the time summarized:

“The Agency was given free access to those buildings and their surroundings and was allowed to take environmental samples, the results of which did not indicate the presence of nuclear material, nor did the Agency see any relevant dual use equipment or materials in the locations visited.”

When the IAEA last went to Parchin, Olli Heinonen was head of IAEA safeguards and led the inspections – the methodology for choosing which buildings to inspect is described in an excellent Christian Science Monitor article which is worth reading in its entirety, but I quote the relevant bits:

“At the time, it[Parchin] was divided into four geographical sectors by the Iranians. Using satellite and other data, inspectors were allowed by the Iranians to choose any sector, and then to visit any building inside that sector. Those 2005 inspections included more than five buildings each, and soil and environmental sampling. They yielded nothing suspicious, but did not include the building now of interest to the IAEA.

“The selection [of target buildings] did not take place in advance, it took place just when we arrived, so all of Parchin was available,” recalls Heinonen, who led those past inspections. “When we drove there and arrived, we told them which building.”

In the same article Heinonen also explains why the current IAEA approach is deeply, logically flawed:

“Also unusual is how open and specific the IAEA has been about what exactly it wants to see, which could yield doubts about the credibility of any eventual inspection.

“I’m puzzled that the IAEA wants to in this case specify the building in advance, because you end up with this awkward situation,” says Olli Heinonen, the IAEA’s head of safeguards until mid-2010.

“First of all, if it gets delayed it can be sanitized. And it’s not very good for Iran. Let’s assume [inspectors] finally get there and they find nothing. People will say, ‘Oh, it’s because Iran has sanitized it,’” says Mr. Heinonen, who is now at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. “But in reality it may have not been sanitized. Iran is also a loser in that case. I don’t know why [the IAEA] approach it this way, which was not a standard practice…”

Hans Blix, former chief of the IAEA and later of UN weapons inspectors in Iraq, has also expressed surprise at the focus on Parchin, as a military base that inspectors had been to before.

“Any country, I think, would be rather reluctant to let international inspectors to go anywhere in a military site,” Mr. Blix told Al Jazeera English… “In a way, the Iranians have been more open than most other countries would be.”

One of the reasons that Mr. Blix says that is because normally the IAEA does not have the legal authority to inspect undeclared non-nuclear-materials related facilities, in a nation – like Iran — that has not ratified the Additional Protocol.

The IAEA can call for “special inspections” but they have not done so. They can also choose arbitration, as specified in the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement, but again they have not done that.

So Iran has been more cooperative than they have needed to be in already allowing inspections of Parchin.

Regarding reports (e.g. from the ISIS group ) that Iran may be sanitizing the site, perhaps to prevent the IAEA from detecting uranium contamination, Kelley explicitly states in the SIPRI report mentioned above:

“Iran has engaged in large-scale bulldozing operations on about 25 hectares near the Parchin building. This includes the bulldozing of old dirt piles to level a field 500 metres north of the building of interest. However, there has been no such activity in the area west of the building, except for removing some parking pads within about 10 m of it. The fact that the building’s immediate vicinity has been largely untouched on the west side strongly suggests that the purpose of the earth-moving operations was for construction and renovation work and not for ‘sanitizing’ the site by covering up contamination.”

In another article Kelley has stated: “Some of the experiments described by the IAEA do not and cannot use uranium. The results would be inconclusive if they did. So the basis for the IAEA’s requests continues to be opaque. The timeline for the alleged experiments is also highly suspect, with claims that massive experimental facilities had been fabricated even before they had been designed, according to the available information. The IAEA work to date, including the mischaracterization of satellite images of Parchin, is more consistent with an IAEA agenda to target Iran than of technical analysis.”  [Emphasis added]

 

[4]. The biased analysis of Parchin is, unfortunately, part of a longstanding pattern at ISIS. David Albright co-authored a Sept. 10, 2002, article – entitled “Is the Activity at Al Qaim Related to Nuclear Efforts?” – which declared:

“High-resolution commercial satellite imagery shows an apparently operational facility at the site of Iraq’s al Qaim phosphate plant and uranium extraction facility (Unit-340), located in northwest Iraq near the Syrian border. This site was where Iraq extracted uranium for its nuclear weapons program in the 1980s. …

“This image raises questions about whether Iraq has rebuilt a uranium extraction facility at the site, possibly even underground. … Unless inspectors go to the site and investigate all activities, the international community cannot exclude the possibility that Iraq is secretly producing a stockpile of uranium in violation of its commitments under Security Council resolutions. The uranium could be used in a clandestine nuclear weapons effort.”

Of course the passage is evasive and does not make any definitive claim. But its suggestive and misleading rhetoric implying a possible nuclear weapon program in Iraq turned out to be wrong.

However, ISIS has written almost identical slippery rhetorical statements about various facilities in Iran. There is no end to such “possible facilities” in any country. The point to take home from the erroneous (suggestive) interpretation of the satellite images of facilities in Iraq is that it is very difficult to be sure of what one is seeing in satellite imagery.

 

[5]. The Exploding Bridgewire Detonators (EBWs) issue is among other pieces of circumstantial evidence publicized by Albright’s ISIS group as possibly implicating Iran. But there are many non-nuclear weapons uses for EBWs, especially for an oil-rich nation like Iran. One manufacturer of EBWs explains that these have “…applications in explosive welding of piping and tubing, seismic studies, oil well perforating & hard rock mining.”

The manufacturer is explicit that EBWs “…have found a wide range of applications within the mining, explosive metal welding and energy exploration field. Many of these uses could not be accomplished using conventional blasting equipment without a compromise of safety.”

Furthermore, Iran was not secretive about its work on EBWs. As the November 2011 IAEA report states: Iran “provided the Agency with a copy of a paper relating to EBW development work presented by two Iranian researchers at a conference held in Iran in 2005. A similar paper was published by the two researchers at an international conference later in 2005.”

The Agency, however, noted, “Iran’s development of such detonators and equipment is a matter of concern…” It really is not given its other civilian (and conventional military) uses, and Iran’s relative openness in pursuing the technology.

The expert Atomic Reporters have weighed in: “While the IAEA reported in 2011 that there are ‘limited civilian and conventional military applications’ for exploding bridge wire detonators, the open source literature shows the technology is widely used in the mining, aerospace and defense industries.”

Again, as long ago as 2011 Robert Kelley, a former IAEA inspector, stated: “The Agency is wrong. There are lots of applications for EBWs….To be wrong on this point, and then to try to misdirect opinion shows a bias towards their desired outcome…. That is unprofessional.”

 

[6]. Other technical experts have also weighed in on Albright’s and ISIS’ track-record. For instance, in a long-running argument with the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) over the capability of Iran’s centrifuges at the Fordow facility, ISIS consistently exaggerated their capability.  Ivanka Barzashka and Dr. Ivan Oelrich explained how ISIS generated the wrong numbers:

When given the choice between a higher value attributed to unnamed sources and values he calculates himself, Albright consistently chooses the higher values. This is especially misleading when dealing with weapon production scenarios, which evaluate what Iran can currently achieve.”  [emphasis added]

 

[7]. In a separate long-running argument with a scientist, Dr. Thomas Cochran, at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) over the plutonium production capability of the Khushab II reactor in Pakistan it took David Albright years to admit that he and Paul Brannan over-estimated the capability of the reactor by a factor of 10 to 25. This is not a minor error.

Thus, the pattern that emerges of the “evidence” against Iran (and other nations) is of consistent bias, exaggeration and unprofessionalism by some independent nonproliferation security analysts, as well as by the IAEA itself.

The IAEA under Director General Amano has been particularly unprofessional. Robert Kelley has outlined how:

“What about the three indications that the arms project may have been reactivated?

Two of the three are attributed only to two member states, so the sourcing is impossible to evaluate. In addition, their validity is called into question by the agency’s handling of the third piece of evidence.

That evidence, according to the IAEA, tells us Iran embarked on a four-year program, starting around 2006, to validate the design of a device to produce a burst of neutrons that could initiate a fission chain reaction. Though I cannot say for sure what source the agency is relying on, I can say for certain that this project was earlier at the center of what appeared to be a misinformation campaign.

In 2009, the IAEA received a two-page document, purporting to come from Iran, describing this same alleged work. Mohamed ElBaradei, who was then the agency’s director general, rejected the information because there was no chain of custody for the paper, no clear source, document markings, date of issue or anything else that could establish its authenticity. What’s more, the document contained style errors, suggesting the author was not a native Farsi speaker. It appeared to have been typed using an Arabic, rather than a Farsi, word-processing program. When ElBaradei put the document in the trash heap, the U.K.’s Times newspaper published it.

This episode had suspicious similarities to a previous case that proved definitively to be a hoax. In 1995, the IAEA received several documents from the Sunday Times, a sister paper to the Times, purporting to show that Iraq had resumed its nuclear-weapons program in spite of all evidence to the contrary. The IAEA quickly determined that the documents were elaborate forgeries. There were mistakes in formatting the documents’ markings, classification and dates, and many errors in language and style indicated the author’s first language was something other than Arabic or Farsi. Inspections in Iraq later in 1995 confirmed incontrovertibly that there had been no reconstitution of the Iraqi nuclear program.”

The words of well-connected and informed senior ex-IAEA officials are worth heeding: Dr. Hans Blix, former head of the IAEA, has stated: “So far, Iran has not violated the NPT,” adding, “and there is no evidence right now that suggests that Iran is producing nuclear weapons.” And Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate who spent more than a decade as the director of the IAEA, said that he had not “seen a shred of evidence” that Iran was pursuing the bomb. “All I see is the hype about the threat posed by Iran,” he concluded.

The maximalist approach to non-proliferation advocated by ISIS and other groups may be seen as useful but it is inconsistent with existing international law, as codified in the safeguards agreements. In fact, IAEA records show that all substantial safeguards issues raised in 2005 had been resolved in Iran’s favor by 2008. So Iran was again in compliance with its safeguards agreement at that date. All UN Security Council sanctions ought to have been dropped at that point. Yet Iran’s nuclear file still remains tied up at the Security Council due mainly to the IAEA and Security Council’s flawed handling of the case.

Out of all the countries it inspects, the IAEA spends the second-highest amount on Iran’s nuclear inspections— only Japan, with a vastly greater nuclear infrastructure, accounts for a bigger chunk. About 12 percent of the IAEA’s $164 million inspections budget is spent just on Iran. This is now increased to about 17% during the period of the interim deal because of the even more intrusive—and thus expensive—inspections being carried out now.

On a “per nuclear facility” basis the IAEA spends – by far – the largest amount of its inspections budget on Iran.Comprehensive deal or not, the IAEA will continue to conduct in Iran one of the most thorough and intrusive inspections it carries out anywhere.

However, achieving a deal is in everyone’s favor.  It will be made easier by rejecting any flawed (or exaggerated) evidence or analysis being used against Iran – especially by individuals or groups who have a track-record of bias, exaggeration or erroneous scientific analysis.

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56 Comments on “What is the Quality of Scientific Evidence Against Iran?”

  1. Ibrahim kazerooni says:

    Thank you for your excellent assessment. But don’t you think that your assessment underlines Gareth Porter’s thesis that the whole case against Iran is politically motivated and that IAEA will continue its dubious approach with Iran because of its political capital for the US and its allies.

  2. Dan Joyner says:

    David Albright has posted a comment responding to Yousaf’s post. In general, I have no problem hosting comments from anyone, and in particular allowing people to respond to posts on the subject of their own work. As usual, however, Albright’s mode of attack in his comment is largely ad hominem, including personal attacks against Yousaf that have no relevance to the post itself. I will, however, for the sake of fairness copy here the part of Albright’s comment that does at least have some relevance to the post:

    “as I made clear in a recent email exchange involving people on a pugwash listserve, the Washington Post ombudsman did not in the end side with Butt. In response to Butt’s use of the email, Warrick wrote in March 2013, “This was a private email from the ombudsman responding to Butt’s initial concerns, sent to me for a response. I presented the facts to the ombudsman, who sided with me and decided not to pursue it further.” Warrick called Butt’s action to publish the email as “truly an outrage, and highly unprofessional.” Butt is waving an indictment against someone without telling the reader that the person was found not guilty.”

    • yousaf says:

      I think people can read the ombudsman’s letter above and see what he thinks, for themselves. This is why I copied it above.

      More importantly, the whole story has amounted to absolutely nothing: there were no magnets, no purchase orders. There may have been a web-inquiry. For everyday dual use items.

      Nothing came of it.

      If there is any technical issue Mr. Albright would like to discuss I would be pleased to discuss it.

      The Q&A on this story requested by LobeLog is here:

      http://www.lobelog.com/a-qa-on-the-iranian-nuclear-crisis-with-prof-yousaf-butt/

  3. David Albright says:

    I would refer readers to our piece on Butt’s Bulletin piece which can be found here:

    http://isis-online.org/isis-reports/detail/preventing-the-suppression-of-uncomfortable-truths-on-irans-nuclear-program/

    The conclusion stated: “The above discussion shows that Butt’s op-ed in the Bulletin has a substantial number of errors and distortions. He has little, if any, expertise in evaluating centrifuges, their subcomponents, or the smuggling methods Iran uses to acquire necessary goods abroad. He has certainly demonstrated those deficiencies in his writings on the ISIS ring magnet report and the related Washington Post article. Although ISIS welcomes and values differing assessments, the public must be aware of facts about Iran’s nuclear program and efforts to suppress them should be resisted as we search for remedies to the Iran nuclear issue while avoiding military options.”

    • yousaf says:

      It is odd for Mr. Albright to engage on this ring-magnet issue, which is potentially the weakest non-story of the various ones above. But fine.

      The whole ring-magnet story has amounted to absolutely nothing: there were no magnets, no purchase orders. There may have been a web-inquiry. For everyday dual use items.

      As the WashPost Ombudsman said:

      “A couple of things trouble me. Language like “place the order” doesn’t seem borne out by the nature of those notes that ISIS included copies of in the PDF. It certainly looks like that Iranian company is looking to buy magnets, but I’m not sure I would say “place the order” or “new orders” based on that evidence. And that there is no evidence that a purchase actually went through, as Joby wrote, correct? And there is no date, other than mentioned in the story “about a year ago.” That’s pretty vague, and Iran since then has made some moves, as Joby reported, such as converting some enriched uranium into metal, that suggest it might be listening to international concerns.

      Is Joby persuaded that these magnets could only be used for centrifuges?

      [.....]

      Just before nuclear talks get underway I am always suspicious of stories that suddenly surface that seem to reinforce the narrative that Iran is building nuclear weapons.”

      Does Mr. Albright have any clarification on the wrong values used in his calculations of Fordow’s centrifuge capability?What about the Khushab II calculations?

      Does Mr. Albright have a response to Robert Kelley’s SIPRI report on Parchin?

      Does Mr. Albright think Iran could have other uses for EBWs?

      Does Mr. Albright still think the timescale of the AP graph is correct for a nuclear explosion?

      • David Albright says:

        As I wrote in a series of emails to Mr. Butt that involved several Pugwash members, which Mr Butt conveniently has decided to omit: “ISIS and I have had many discussions over substance with a range of groups and governments. We do not always agree and we do not pretend to be right all the me. We correct mistakes, if we make them. This is a very difficult field. But our record is remarkably good and our work is widely recognized as credible, not available elsewhere in the public domain, and used widely. In your [Butt's] charges, some of which you repeat here, you choose to ignore our responses as we gave in the original debate or in response to your often ill tempered comments [which has been noted by many as out of bounds]. Like in the case of the Washington Post ombudsman’s letter, you typically return to a charge even after the dispute is settled against you. You simply respond by recycling your tired cherry picked quotes, always taking them out of context, and deliberately ignoring our or others’ responses to them.”

        For those who are interested in our responses on these questions raised by Mr. Butt, in particular the AP graphs, Parchin, the debate with FAS over Fordow, the Khushab reactors, the ring magnets, and the EBWs, I would refer them to the ISIS web site and note that Mr. Butt knows well our answers to his questions, including that they do not support his claims.

        We have responded to many of the claims by Mr. Kelley on Parchin, but we did not personalize our critique of his work. We do so only in extreme cases. But you have asked me to do so. I can provide one example of our critique of his study. published as a SIPRI study. Mr. Kelley claimed that the pink tarps covering the buildings on their top and sides were actually styrofoam insulation. What was his evidence? He showed a picture of an American house with pink styrofoam insulation on its sides and essentially said that proves the tarp must actually be styrofoam. I was surprised by the lack of any analysis and that he would make this assertion even though the building he showed was not in Iran and did not even have pink styrofoam on its roof, only on its sides. But in contrast to Mr. Kelley’s analysis, what we had done in arriving at our assessment that the material was a tarp was that in addition to having multiple people evaluate the imagery in-house, we sent the imagery to independent imagery analysts and asked them for their views. Their response was that the covering looked like a tarp since it appeared to be hanging over a frame. Why was it pink? Who knows? Maybe, they have a sense of humor. Maybe they want to create confusion. We continue to assess that the material is a tarp and not styrofoam. We found several other analytic shortcomings in Mr. Kelley’s analysis, some of which Mr. Butt promotes, that led us to reject his findings.

        With regard to Mr. Butt’s question about whether Mr. Warrick thinks the ring magnets had any other uses, he should ask Mr. Warrick. I quoted that he thinks Mr. Butt’s behavior is unprofessional. We at ISIS published information that showed conclusively that the ring magnets in question were for centrifuges. See for example our rebuttal to Mr. Butt’s Bulletin oped [ http://isis-online.org/isis-reports/detail/preventing-the-suppression-of-uncomfortable-truths-on-irans-nuclear-program/ ] This is a good example where Butt merely keeps repeating his original wrong assessment.

      • yousaf says:

        Mr. Albright says: “For those who are interested in our responses on these questions raised by Mr. Butt, in particular the AP graphs, Parchin, the debate with FAS over Fordow, the Khushab reactors, the ring magnets, and the EBWs, I would refer them to the ISIS web site.”

        Great.

        Why not just tell us you made mistakes which consistently overestimated the proliferation threats instead of referring people to your website?

        e.g.

        -your assumptions & calculations on Khushab II were wrong & exaggerated the threat.
        -your calculations on Fordow were incorrect & exaggerated the threat.
        - Dr. Ferenc Dalnoki-Veress & I explained why the timescale of the AP graphs is wrong and there has been no rebuttal to that. The issue is dead.
        -The EBW “threat” has been addressed by the expert Atomic Reporters and Robert Kelley who is an actual nuclear engineer who worked at Los Alamos & Livermore:

        The expert Atomic Reporters have weighed in: “While the IAEA reported in 2011 that there are ‘limited civilian and conventional military applications’ for exploding bridge wire detonators, the open source literature shows the technology is widely used in the mining, aerospace and defense industries.”

        Again, as long ago as 2011 Robert Kelley, a former IAEA inspector, stated: “The Agency is wrong. There are lots of applications for EBWs….To be wrong on this point, and then to try to misdirect opinion shows a bias towards their desired outcome…. That is unprofessional.”

        The question to Joby was not by me: it was by the Ombudsman. The ring-magnet issue is dead. There were no ring magnets. There was no “purchase order”. There was a web inquiry possibly by *someone* in Iran for dual-use items.

  4. Nick says:

    Yousaf, I find your colleague Dr. Ferenc Dalnoki-Veress, quite unreasonable in his assessment of the recently published Iran’s Breakout Calculations. His response is linked here:

    http://www.iranfactfile.org/2014/06/16/response-nuclearenergy-ir-article/

    For instance, there is a repeated discussion on the fact that much less than 25 Kg is needed to dash to a bomb when IAEA is using the 25 Kg measure themselves, regardless of how technically advanced a country is. Referring to Table 1, how do you measure “technical capability” anyway? It has taken North Korea three tries and at least 5 years where the first two were “fizzles” at best. I Would say they are probably more advanced than Iran, using Ferenc’s gut feeling approach, which is really not scientific.

    It is bizarre to compare a gun type of 1945 with what Iran can do under the noses of the IAEA and IC modern detection capabilities. There is no deterrence for 1 Kt gun type, it is a recipe for annihilation.

    Then there is the issue of clandestine sites, well if when ever we get stuck to explain why Iran’s assessment is wrong, we pull that hat trick out, then they could go for those hidden sites anyway, regardless of what the final highly reduced SWU agreement is going to be.

    • yousaf says:

      You should feel free to contact Ferenc — I am sure he would be happy to discuss the details with you. At least the article clearly shows that Ferenc is an independent thinker.

      I would note that within the last few days there has been positive news from Iran on Pu pathway mentioned in that article:

      http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/06/12/us-iran-nuclear-arak-idUSKBN0EN0WK20140612

      I have several problems with the obsession over breakout in general: one of those Jeffrey Lewis pointed out in FP, linked to in my post above. The other is that as breakout is being currently defined it refers only to the raw material needed — there is much much more that goes into making a functioning device so the real timelines to a “threat” are significantly longer. Another problem is that breakout” could apply to any number of NNWSs that have a fuel cycle. Is the P5+1 going to go after Brazil & Argentina & Japan & …?

      Yet another problem is that the duration of the so-called “comprehensive” deal is unknown but definitely finite — so the comprehensive deal is better termed a “temporary” deal.

      A further legal issue is that that by 2008 the IAEA verified that Iran was back in compliance with its CSA and the (flimsy & politicized) reasons for Ch 7 referral evaporated: why is Iran’s file at the UNSC and not at the IAEA now?

      And the covert facility issue, again, amounts to trying to prove a negative: it took troops on the ground to prove that Iraq did not have secret nuclear weapons program.

      There is some important background to accusations that Iran has been “sneaky”, which I outlined in the National Interest: (aside from the legal Code 3.1 vs. Code 3.1mod issue that we can get into about when Iran is supposed to declare its facilities: when designing or 180 days before introduction of nuclear material)

      http://nationalinterest.org/commentary/eight-ways-youre-wrong-about-irans-nuclear-program-9723?page=show

      Quote:

      Meme 8: “Iran has been deceptive in the past so we cannot trust them.”

      Iran’s nuclear enrichment program was not covert by initial design. Iran’s nuclear program was kicked off in the 1950s with the full encouragement and support of the United States, under president Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace program. In 1983, after the Islamic revolution, Iran went—in an overt way—to the IAEA to get help in setting up a pilot uranium enrichment facility. And the IAEA was then quite receptive to the idea. According to an authoritative account by Mark Hibbs in Nuclear Fuel, “IAEA officials were keen to assist Iran in reactivating a research program to learn how to process U3O8 into UO2 pellets and then set up a pilot plant to produce UF6, according to IAEA documents obtained by Nuclear Fuel.” But, according to Hibbs, “when in 1983 the recommendations of an IAEA mission to Iran were passed on to the IAEA’s technical cooperation program, the U.S. government then ‘directly intervened’ to discourage the IAEA from assisting Iran in production of UO2 and UF6. ‘We stopped that in its tracks,’ said a former U.S. official.”

      So when Iran’s open overture to the IAEA was stymied politically, they used more covert means to set up their enrichment facilities. Enrichment facilities by their nature can be dual-use, of course, but they are certainly not disallowed under the NPT. Iran’s allegedly “covert” or “sneaky” behavior may thus have been a response to the politicization at the IAEA documented in Hibbs’ Nuclear Fuel article.

      A good way to stop the propagation of dual-use nuclear technology is to implement a revamped “NPT 2.0” that explicitly discourages the propagation of nuclear fuel-cycle and nuclear power technology.”

      Also in there:

      QUOTE:

      Meme 5: “Iran is in violation of its NPT obligations.”

      This meme is often repeated in the media and by policy wonks but is not true. For instance, former Obama administration official Robert Einhorn has argued, “[W]hat is not debatable is that Iran has forfeited—at least temporarily—any right to enrichment (and reprocessing) until it can demonstrate convincingly that it is in compliance with its NPT obligations.”

      But Iran has never been found to be in non-compliance with the NPT: in fact, there is no agency or international body tasked with checking compliance with the NPT. And there is no automatic nuclear fuel-cycle “forfeiture” provision in the NPT. So statements such as Einhorn’s overreach.

      In older treaties like the NPT and the Outer Space Treaty, there aren’t any enforcement mechanisms. There is the IAEA, but it is not responsible for—nor does it have the ability to—verify compliance with the NPT. The IAEA’s monitors a different set of bilateral treaties: the narrowly focused “Comprehensive Safeguards Agreements” (CSAs). And it’s entirely possible for a state to be in noncompliance with its bilateral CSA and still be in compliance with the NPT. The CSA deals mostly with the precise accounting of nuclear material whereas the threshold of NPT violation for NNWSs—nuclear weaponization—is much higher and much more vague. The CSAs and the NPT are independent legal instruments, although they both deal with nuclear nonproliferation.

      As Dr. Hans Blix, former head of the IAEA, recently stated: “So far, Iran has not violated the NPT,” adding, “and there is no evidence right now that suggests that Iran is producing nuclear weapons.” And Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate who spent more than a decade as the director of the IAEA, said that he had not “seen a shred of evidence” that Iran was pursuing the bomb. “All I see is the hype about the threat posed by Iran,” he concluded.

      Meme 6: “There is no right to enrich uranium in the NPT”

      This meme is deceptive, being more irrelevant than wrong. The right to enrich uranium exists independent of the NPT: this right, like many many others, does not need to be spelled out in the NPT. In fact, theoretically—according to the letter of the NPT—signatory nations can enrich uranium to arbitrarily high concentrations, including weapons grade, so long as the enrichment is done under safeguards. The important point is that uranium enrichment is not prohibited in the NPT: the inherent right to enrich uranium is not interfered with by the NPT.

      The official US government view on the subject was expressed early on. On July 10, 1968, then-Arms Control and Disarmament Agency Director William Foster testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about the NPT. In response to a question regarding the type of nuclear activities prohibited by Article II of the NPT, Foster said:

      “It may be useful to point out, for illustrative purposes, several activities which the United States would not consider per se to be violations of the prohibitions in Article II. Neither uranium enrichment nor the stockpiling of fissionable material in connection with a peaceful program would violate Article II so long as these activities were safeguarded under Article III. Also clearly permitted would be the development, under safeguards, of plutonium fueled power reactors, including research on the properties of metallic plutonium, nor would Article II interfere with the development or use of fast breeder reactors under safeguards.” [emphasis added]

      So not only does the NPT not interfere with the inherent right of nations to pursue nuclear fuel-cycle activities, but the official US government view was that such activities are explicitly permitted under the NPT.

      As Mark Hibbs recently explained: “…like Iran, countries negotiating 123 agreements, including Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Vietnam, refused to have Washington dictate and limit their future nuclear technology choices. Some protagonists in debates on Iran and broader nuclear policy insist there is no “right” to enrich. Yet, if this were self-evidently true, it would not have been a big deal for the UAE to have agreed not to undertake enrichment.”

      Meme 7: “If a country acquires a nuclear-weapons capability, that nation is intending to acquire nuclear weapons.”

      Not so. Much nuclear know-how and technology is dual use and can be used for peaceful or military purposes. Under the NPT, it is not illegal for a member state to have a nuclear-weapons capability: if a nation has a developed civilian nuclear infrastructure—which the NPT actually encourages—this implies it has a fairly solid nuclear-weapons capability. Just like Iran, Argentina, Brazil, and Japan also have a nuclear-weapons capability—they, too, could break out of the NPT and make a nuclear device in short order. Capabilities and intentions cannot be conflated.

      This is like owning a car that can go faster than 35 miles per hour—having the capability to race through your neighborhood and exceed the speed limit does not mean you intend to do so.

      To be sure, this is not an ideal state of affairs. It would certainly be preferable if the NPT had more teeth to prevent the research of nuclear weaponry in member states, or outlawed the collection of excess low-enriched uranium. But the treaty that exists today reflects the political compromises made to win broad international support. The current NPT is simply not a very stringent treaty. Even Pierre Goldschmidt, a former deputy director of the IAEA Safeguards Department, admits that the organization “doesn’t have the legal authority it needs to fulfill its mandate.”

      I have proposed a stricter “NPT 2.0” which would strike a bold new ”more-for-more” bargain…”

    • yousaf says:

      On breakout see: By Greg Thielmann and Robert Wright

      http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/foreigners/2014/06/iran_u_s_nuclear_negotiations_in_vienna_why_it_s_critical_to_understand.html

      quote:

      Others misunderstand its practical meaning; they fail to see that how threatening a given “breakout time” is depends heavily on other aspects of a negotiated deal—and so they pay too little attention to those crucial aspects. The result of Washington’s muddled preoccupation with breakout capacity is that negotiations in Vienna may well be heading toward an outcome that damages America’s interests and makes war with Iran more likely.

      • Don Bacon says:

        Oh come on, that new phrase “dash to a bomb” adds some dash to the “Iran nuclear threat.” I imagine nuclear engineers and even physicists running from Qom to Parchin with large foil-wrapped packages. /s

        Anyhow, the real issue is regime change and regional hegemony. Iran has it and the US wants it.

  5. Bob Kelley says:

    I just think David needs to get out more often. Pink tarps may be the rage at garden parties in Alexandria, but not in Europe or Asia. Here there is constant use of blocks of pink styrofoam insulation for all building projects, new construction and renovation, and that is clearly what is happening at Parchin. It cannot be clearer. David thinks they are pink tarps draped over frames as supported by his anonymous imagery analysts (IAEA?) who think “it looked like a tarp hanging over a frame.” Maybe they have missed out in the real world of construction too.

    Sorry I had to choose a picture of a US building two years ago but the Iranians have refused to let me take my camera to Parchin. It is what one might call an photographic EXAMPLE of insulating a building. I’m sorry the example was taken to be the final word!

    The consistent analytical shortcomings in ISIS satellite imagery are too many to mention but they reflect the fact that IAEA and ISIS are in echo chamber mode. Who is leading who by the nose?

    But we should note the great service done by ISIS in purchasing and publishing expensive satellite imagery. If we could just get them to increase the view to all the surrounding area we could all see the great Parchin hoax for what it is. Zeroing in on details and ignoring the whole picture is an amateur mistake.

    Clearly David and I disagree on Parchin. I’m on the record and so is he. Pick your horse.

    Bob

    • Bibi Jon says:

      Could you explain the significance of a tarp, versus styrofoam insulation in being potentially more incriminating? Also, is Mr Albright effectively conceding all your other points about Parchin leaving only the controversy over the nature of the pink material, and your choice of an illustrative example as issues to be resolved?

      • Bob Kelley says:

        David and the IAEA are the experts on tarps, pink or otherwise. I suggest you ask them how many threads they counted. On the other hand, renovated buildings (and new construction) use styropor insulation, often pink where I live. I’ve counted a dozen in my small town since the pink scare took off. That is then covered over with stucco or other building materials as happened at Parchin. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist (or a nuclear scientist) to observe how buildings are built and maintained. Iran is renovating the two buildings which does not seem adequate justification to go to war.

    • Bibi Jon says:

      Also, can anyone explain whether this discussion is occurring in the context of “crippling sanctions,” “all options on the table,” and various other potential future catastrophe?

      I ask, only because it seems odd that Mr. Albright is not addressing your rebuttal of “sanitizing” what could be a smoking gun covert weapon program. Is Mr. Albright clueless about the seriousness of his accusations that he finds time to engage in pink frivolity?

      • Bob Kelley says:

        Simple. Mr. Butt and Mr. Albright enjoy sparring on this website and usually I just watch. But I am surprised by David’s total lack of analysis, just bland assertions ignoring alternatives and clear facts, such as the absence of sanitation in critical areas. So I find myself once again having to explain all of the facts as they have been presented to reveal a credible story. The complete story is clear only when all the facts are considered together as I did in my SIPRI papers and elsewhere. Until there are some real facts, the time lines, selective leaks and partially analyzed images of Parchin show it is a sideshow and the last thing that should be hanging up the serious talks.
        So once again I have to set the record straight, pink tarps and all.You will have to answer your last question yourself, or have you?

  6. yousaf says:

    I am not an expert on imagery analysis but I would be surprised that pink would be chosen as the color of anything used to hide something in the desert.

    Also, the more important issue is whether Mr. Albright still insists that partial bulldozing work implies santization & whether he thinks samples for analysis would come from outside vs. inside buildings?

    As noted in the post, even Mr. Heinonen is surprised at the way the Parchin issue is being approached.

    To their credit, the Christian Science Monitor at least reported this.

  7. Andrea Stricker says:

    I will not wade in to the technical debate going on, only to urge people to explore the entire body of ISIS’s work, including the policy conclusions it arrives at. Never do we recommend military action to deal with proliferation; I have worked with ISIS for seven years and would never compromise my personal integrity or work for someone who is biased, promotes public distortion, or seeks war. To the contrary, David is a respectable person who has spent decades researching this issue and doing the best job he can to bring public awareness to difficult to understand topics. You may not agree with his or ISIS’s analysis, and to be sure we are not correct 100% of the time, but to libel our motivations when our work speaks for itself as far as our policy conclusions is simply wrong.

    • Dan Joyner says:

      I’m going to allow Andrea’s comment to remain for one reason. A teaching moment.

      There are two things that the ISIS folks desperately need to learn.

      One is to understand the logical fallacy of ad hominem. Please look it up. It completely undermines and discredits argumentation. And it seems to be Albright’s reflexive M.O. whenever he is put on the defensive.

      The second is libel. Andrea uses this word in her comment. I’ve received multiple complaints from readers about it, who identify it as a form of bullying, apparently intent on quashing criticism of ISIS. It’s not worth my time to educate you on your misuse of that legal principle, but please look it up. If you think anything in this comment stream even comes close to satisfying the legal definition, you are mistaken. And its over-liberal use to chill debate and criticism is reprehensible, unprofessional, and cowardly.

      You will be much more respected if you do not employ such tactics, and rather stick to substance.

    • yousaf says:

      Andrea’s comment is simply a strawman, and this is the main reason I had not responded earlier.

      “Never do we recommend military action to deal with proliferation…”

      That’s good to know. Also, it relates to nothing I mentioned in the text of the post.

      Further, there are plenty of other groups in DC willing to promote military action if they are fed flawed analysis. Witness the excerpt from ISIS from 2002 relating to Iraq:

      David Albright co-authored a Sept. 10, 2002, article – entitled “Is the Activity at Al Qaim Related to Nuclear Efforts?” – which declared:

      “High-resolution commercial satellite imagery shows an apparently operational facility at the site of Iraq’s al Qaim phosphate plant and uranium extraction facility (Unit-340), located in northwest Iraq near the Syrian border. This site was where Iraq extracted uranium for its nuclear weapons program in the 1980s. …

      “This image raises questions about whether Iraq has rebuilt a uranium extraction facility at the site, possibly even underground. … Unless inspectors go to the site and investigate all activities, the international community cannot exclude the possibility that Iraq is secretly producing a stockpile of uranium in violation of its commitments under Security Council resolutions. The uranium could be used in a clandestine nuclear weapons effort.”

      Of course the passage is evasive and does not make any definitive claim. But its suggestive and misleading rhetoric implying a possible nuclear weapon program in Iraq turned out to be wrong.Even back then ISIS did not promote military action. But military action was promoted by others using such “non-analysis” rhetoric. And military action happened.

      The post relates to checking the various bits of scientific evidence that are supposed to suggest that Iran may have a nuclear weapons program: the flawed & possibly forged AP graphs, the non-existent ring-magnets, the dual-use EBWs, the falwed logic & analysis of Parchin done by ISIS, etc.

      The post also talks about how ISIS made serious errors in calculating the centrifuge capability of Fordow, and the Pu yield from Khushab II.

      Of course, it is fine to make mistakes. Random mistakes happen all the time in science & technical analysis. But “mistakes” which always exaggerate the proliferation threat start to become suspicious when continued over several decades.

      You say: ” David is a respectable person…” — he may well be. I have never had the pleasure to meet him. I am sure he is a nice guy.

      What we are talking about here is the flaws in his — and ISIS’ — analysis. This is not a personal criticism. This is professional criticism.

      A professional response addressing the technical points raised would be more than welcome.

      I encourage debate on these issues. Raising strawmen arguments about how ISIS does not promote war are completely besides the point.

      • Andrea Stricker says:

        Except that you consistently allege that our technical analysis is intended to “hype” threats which suggests we are fine with other groups or governments using it to justify military options. We are not and neither do we seek to hype proliferation threats. Your findings, by contrast, suit perfectly well your weak legal interpretation of the NPT and IAEA’s authorities. In your world anyone is allowed to pursue military nuclear work. We think that your interpretations are troubling but take comfort in the fact that you are a small minority. We are surprised that Bob who devoted much of his life to the IAEA would waste time with people of this thinking.

      • yousaf says:

        Please let me know SPECIFICALLY where I have had a “weak legal interpretation of the NPT and IAEA’s authorities.”

        Let’s talk specifics and technical details.

        I’ll let Bob Kelley respond for himself to your accusations.

        Thank you.

        PS: where is David? He suddenly disappeared after Bob Kelley discredited his Parchin “analysis” above.

  8. Dan Joyner says:

    I think that’s about all from you, Andrea, unless you have something substantive to say.

    • Andrea Stricker says:

      It isn’t pleasant when people question your motives is it? That’s all from me.

      • Bob Kelley says:

        How could anyone who knows me accuse me of wasting much of my life to the IAEA. This is the most bizarre and uninformed posting I have ever seen. Thank goodness for those who are trying to reform the IAEA!

      • Andrea Stricker says:

        Bob- I said you devoted much of your life, not wasted.

      • Bob Kelley says:

        Andrea

        35 years in the University of California, five years supporting the UNSC Action Team, and a few months wasting my life on safeguards hardly counts as devoting my life to IAEA! Get real!

  9. yousaf says:

    Do the people at ISIS continue to (wrongly) believe they are right on this?

    http://docs.nrdc.org/nuclear/files/nuc_06090801A.pdf

    “ISIS has estimated, we believe erroneously, that the Khushab II reactor vessel is
    approximately 5 meters (m) in diameter….ISIS analysts David Albright and Paul Brannan likely mistakenly assumed that the size of a dark ring in the
    reactor building under construction – as seen in DigitalGlobe’s Quickbird satellite image
    and measured to be about 5 m in the 0.7 m resolution image – is the size of the reactor
    vessel. As we argue in this report, the actual size of the reactor vessel is smaller and will
    fit inside the ring, and thus the power level is more likely to be in the 40 to 100 MWt
    range, rather than 1,000 MWt or larger.”

    =====================

    Again, it is fine to make mistakes but when ISIS consistently makes mistakes in the direction of exaggerating the proliferation threat over decades, then, yes, people do begin to begin to wonder what they are doing and if they are sound unbiased source of technical analysis.

    Technical experts (engineers, scientists) in non-proliferation are almost united in their opinion of the quality and history of ISIS’ analysis — anyone should go ask a few.

  10. Johnboy says:

    I’m not going to weigh into the technical details of Yousef’s post, because I am not competent to do so.

    But I find it….. troubling…. that while both Andrea Stricker and David Albright claim to possess that technical competence they do not appear to be making the slightest attempt to demonstrate that competence.

    Yousef claims that ISIS gets its facts and figures wrong. He further claims that his interpretation of the available data is at odds with the interpretation of ISIS. And, finally, he claims that the reason why is simplicity itself: He is right, and ISIS is wrong.

    One would think that both Andrea and David would choose to defend the accuracy of their facts, figures and interpretations in order to demonstrate that, no, the reason for this disagreement is that Yousef is wrong, and they are right.

    After all, that is how a scientist would approach this.

    But I see precious little evidence that either of those two ISIS luminaries are approaching this in a manner that befits a scientist.

    Dan is correct: both Andrea and David choose instead to rush to the ad-hom attack.

    I have no training in physics – none – but I am a scientist by training.

    So while I wouldn’t know a quark if I tripped over it I do know a scientist when I see one.

    And when I look over these posts I’m not seeing anything the slightest bit “scientific” coming from either Andrea Stricker nor David Albright.

    Lots of bluster, sure.
    A heap of bombast, certainly.

    But I’ll be perfectly honest: what I’m seeing here looks a lot like an argument between Scientists versus Some People Who Are Pretending.

  11. masoud says:

    Just finished watching the Iran-Argentina game before finding this article, and Albright’s responses remind me of piece of football terminology that I think should be in wider circulation. You see, when a weaker side is confronting a stronger one, or sometimes when a strong side is desperate to hold on to a result it fears loosing, there’s a tried and tested strategy:’grass-rolling’. It’s kind of amazing to see really, how in the quickest of instants an entire ten man team of incredibly fit contestants can go from displaying a dizzying array of athletic feats, to being the most delicate and fragile creatures on God’s green earth. Even the mildest from the opposing team results in a member of team grass-roller to somehow be thrown, quite violently, across the pitch. They’ll spend long minutes clutching at imaginary sprains in their their hamstrings, or ankles, rolling to-and-fro. They’ll clutch their eyes, or the top of their heads, they’ll work up the most indignant looks on their faces. They can be quite convincing, actually. Sometimes they’ll be awarded a penalty or free kick, maybe even get one of their opponent’s carded. But those are only side benefits. Opportunistic deception and strategic feints are sometimes standard practice throughout a match, and if anything a team might even become less likely to win actually win a decision with these tactics when they are seen to be in outright grass-rolling mode, but that’s an acceptable price to pay. You see, the main aim of a grass-roller is to run down the clock. And they all know how bad it looks, how much they disgust the people watching, but they’ve made the judgement that the certainty of looking like a poor sport is preferable to the possibility of being seen to lose in fair play.

    South American teams are experts at grass-rolling, but they’ve got nothing on American media personalities.

  12. Andrea Stricker says:

    Frankly, this is getting tiresome. I stated at the outset that I was not here to address the technical questions you have raised, Yousaf. I am chiefly a policy analyst and was not involved in many of the reports you question. I have not spoken to David about whether he plans to address it; he is quite busy being the president of an organization. I only spoke up to address your maligning of our intentions and findings. Being that I handle some of our communications, that fact interests me. But if David feels the need to respond, I am sure he will. Meanwhile, it might do you all some good to take a class in civility.

  13. masoud says:

    Wow, an entire thirty some comment thread about the proffesional shortcomings of David Albright’s work, and nowhere is there even a mention of ‘curveball’.
    That’s how you know the man’s body of work is epic.

  14. First of all, let me say that using the word libel is a tactic used by Albright and company. I know it because he used it against me in his e-mails to me after I published my piece criticizing him for his work regarding Iran:

    http://www.antiwar.com/orig/sahimi.php?articleid=14420

    He also invited me to a radio debate, but backed out at the last moment, claiming that I had already spoken in the same radio, and it was his turn.

    Secondly, the arrogant attitude of Andrea Stricker aside, she claims that ISIS wants to prevent war. Well, then, let me point to an Albright et al. report on what to do about the Middle East, His co-authors included Mark Dubowitz of the anti-Iran Foundation for the Defense of Democracy, Michael Yaffe who supported invasion of Iraq, Orde Kittrie, a proponent of crippling economic sanctions against Iran, and Leonard Spector who has advocated use of threats, economic sanctions and use of “every tool in the tool kit” to stop Iran’s nuclear program.

    In the report Albright et al. urged crippling economic sanctions against Iran. They denied that the3 sanctions had caused hhardship for the ordinary Iranian people. Economic sanctions are NOT a replacement for war and do not prevent war, THEY ARE WARS that, as the economic sanctions against Iraq in the 1990s demonstrated, may kill more than a military war. At least half a million young Iraqi children died due to those sanctions, and the statistics are due to UN UNICEF, not some leftist loony somewhere. When Albright advocates the same thing about Iran, he is calling for war, economic war against Iran. See my article about the report:

    http://original.antiwar.com/sahimi/2013/01/18/david-albright-and-company-call-for-intensifying-war-on-the-iranian-people/

    Interestingly, the report was originally on the ISIS site, but it is no longer then. At least when I clicked on the link in my article, it said the report is no longer then.

  15. Andrea Stricker says:

    Folks, we direct you for further questions to our website and our reports, many of which deal with the questions raised time and time again by Butt. Just because he does not accept our answers does not mean he should continue to question us ad nauseum. He either has amnesia about previous discussions or chooses to ignore responses.

    To answer a couple of questions, we have top technical experts we liaise with at University of Virginia and elsewhere. Some are cited in publications and some inform our work quietly. Bob Kelley did not rebut the Parchin analysis, he presented a different interpretation, suggesting that he does not believe several countries and dozens of intelligence agencies as well as the IAEA have anything right intelligence-wise. This seems to be a core belief of most people who write on this site, in addition to the belief that non nuclear weapon states can engage in any sort of military related work they would like to without garnering international suspicion or concern.

    Finally, not everything is a big conspiracy, people. This isn’t the Bush years anymore. It’s time to get over the hangover.

    • Bob Kelley says:

      This is refreshing. Andrea got it in one. There are not dozens of intelligence agencies making claims. Probably not even one. This is just suggesting an alternative. That mysterious pink tarps are guys putting pink Styrofoam insulation on a building. nothing suspicious. Curious observation explained. Since millions of intelligence agencies do not publish their opinion, only ISIS, I am only on the record as suggesting an alternative explanation that any civilian observer can consider. It is painfully simple. There are no pink tarps and ISIS could be civil enough to concede that the alternative speculation is not an attack on their prerogatives, just an informed opinion!

    • masoud says:

      “This isn’t the Bush years anymore. It’s time to get over the hangover.”

      Curious choice of words coming from a policy hand at ISIS. The metaphorical hangover is not just invoked to convey a sense of a disaster, but a disaster that’s come about as natural, and in retrospect obvious, episode of over indulgence. Partying too hard, having too much fun.
      I’ll grant that this probably wasn’t Andrea’s concioualy intended meaning. But I believe it does provide a great deal of insight into the kind thinking that informs ISIS’s policy analysis.

    • masoud says:

      “This isn’t the Bush years anymore. It’s time to get over the hangover.”
      Don’t blame her, she voted for Kodos.

    • Andrea Stricker says:

      Yup, hangover as in, the US government is not manufacturing evidence to invade a country (anymore). You folks should look into ISIS’s record on Iraq at more than a superficial level. While initially a lot of people took seriously the claims about a reconstituted nuclear weapons program, and even ISIS wrote at least one report looking into the issue, we quickly realized the information coming out was bogus. David and other technical analysts working with ISIS worked very hard to rebut the dangerous claims coming out. Dick Cheney even had a smear file prepared to undermine us.

      We continue to assess Iran with a critical eye, despite what you all have chosen to believe. This one just happens to have evidence of military nuclear work, procurements, purposely hidden sites, etc; and our legal interpretation (and most of the international community’s) of evolving IAEA safeguards is that it has the right to determine the correctness and completeness of a state’s declarations. Iran obtaining nuclear weapons would be very destabilizing to the region as well as retaining its large enrichment capability.

      Bob, as David said, we had outside people check the pink tarp issue and they concluded they were tarps due to the way they appeared to hang off the building. So, I suppose we disagree on that. And I thought you were with the IAEA longer, so I shall restate: you devoted your life to nonproliferation, so why now the desire to commiserate with the conspiracy theorists?

      • Johnboy says:

        …” and our legal interpretation (and most of the international community’s) of evolving IAEA safeguards is that it has the right to determine the correctness and completeness of a state’s declarations.”….

        An interesting claim, though I would very much like Andrea to write a ledger with two columns – “agree” and “disagree” – listing the views of the “international community” on that claim.

        I would suggest that one column would consists almost exclusively of the names of The USA, Its Allies and Vassals, while the other list would include Just About Everyone Else.

        Furthermore, I would wager that the latter list would be very much longer than the former.

        Regardless, the claim itself is an interesting one… in a very, very dodgy sorta’ way.

        After all, there is no question that the IAEA is a “treaty-based” organization, that the NPT is “a multi-national treaty”, and that each CSA is “a bilateral treaty”.

        There really is nobody who disputes that, is there?

        In which case I would like to ask the legal advice of Dan Joyner: can a treaty-based organization “evolve” its legal mandate by, oh, I dunno’…. simply insisting that such an “evolution” has taken place?

        Doesn’t that rather defeat the concept of “treaty-based international law”?

      • Bob Kelley says:

        Commiserating with the conspiracy theorists? That’s a stretch. You are the one who blogs on this site regularly not me. The only reason I joined this thread was to defend myself against another sneak attack by ISIS and David. I would not have even known about it if someone hadn’t tipped me off to look at it. Defending myself against your lot is hardly commiserating with your enemies. Fight your battles with them yourselves and leave me out of it. But I cannot let “analysis” like ISIS stand without pointing it out to thinking people.

        Per David: “Their response was that the covering looked like a tarp since it appeared to be hanging over a frame Why was it pink? Who knows? Maybe, they have a sense of humor.”

        Looked like a tarp! From a satellite image 200 km away. That is the ISIS analysis and I have no qualms about repeating it for anyone who wants to read it and grade it. It’s on the record.

        I did my own research and showed it to other people and we think it is exactly like building renovation using commonly sold pink Styrofoam insulation sold worldwide. I am not pontificating about a mystery, I’m offering an explanation. That is my opinion. I have explained why it was pink and what they were doing.

        I don’t have the slightest interest anymore in convincing you I am right. You are not my audience. You are a self-confessed policy analyst who doesn’t spend much time in nuclear facilities or building renovation sties. It is the other people who read this blog with an open mind and draw their own conclusions. They will decide whether my stupid explanation or yours or another one is correct. In the world of science and analysis that is the way it works. You should leave the echo chamber and get a real job outside the beltway. Observation, theories, discussion, constructive criticism and possibly a conclusion or maybe an enigma. Let the readers of the blog make up their own minds based on evidence and theories. I am perfectly willing to accept criticism on the facts. But not the nasty digs about how my analysis is lacking. I have worked on the really big problems and have a track record of which I am proud and confident.

      • Andrea Stricker says:

        Actually, we too only look at this site when tipped that we are under attack, which seems to be a hobby of many here. It seems to be a foolish errand to attempt to make headway though. Glad you stand by your analysis, Bob. Nastiness is not our intention. Again I refer readers to our website for alternative viewpoints.

    • Andrea Stricker says:

      Bob, one final point- the issue is not over pink tarps or styrofoam- it is about your analysis attempting to undermine the IAEA’s justification to do its verification job. And with that, I’m signing off.

      • Bob Kelley says:

        Wow. Now the IAEA has a mandate to analyze tarps? They are the best in the world in nuclear material verification. I’ve published that endlessly. Not tops in tarpificication. Once again you are defending ISIS and ignoring the real world. Get a real job!

        Sleepless in VIenna

  16. yousaf says:

    So I believe the final word from ISIS on this is:

    “I am chiefly a policy analyst and was not involved in many of the reports you question.”

    If there are technical people — scientists, engineers — at ISIS who could respond that would be good.

    Pretty shocking that no-one at ISIS or the non-proliferation community generally can respond to the substance of this post..

  17. Andrea Stricker says:

    I would add that the intent of your work, gentlemen, appears to be motivated to downplay nuclear threats at the expense of international security.

  18. yousaf says:

    Very nice of you to continue to avoid the technical issues, but to your point: Not at all. I try very hard to advocate for the true existing law.

    Here’s a newsflash: The true existing nonproliferation law is not very stringent. Go read it — you might be surprised what you find when you read the Iran-IAEA CSA.

    The NPT and CSAs are quite lenient. Unfortunate but true fact. They were made that way by design by 2nd and 3rd world diplomats on purpose in the 60s and 70s because they did not wish to give up a lot of national sovereignty for watered-down promises of possible future disarmament by the NWSs. Th ediplomats were looking out for their countries.

    ISIS appears to think — judging by the body of their work and political advocacy — that the law is anything they want it to be, and that any nation should be subject to invented legal standards, that ISIS comes up with on the fly.

    Yes, it would be great if no-one enriched uranium. That’s not the law, OK?

    I have proposed an NPT 2.0 which would much stricter than the current one in Foreign Policy:

    http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/12/18/radioactive_decay

    So you are — again — wrong that I “downplay nuclear threats at the expense of international security.”

    Again, let’s stop with the motivations and address the technical points — and it would be good if Mr. Albright would defend himself instead of Andrea trying to play that role:

    - Please tell us why ISIS is right and Robert Kelley (a real former IAEA inspector and a nuclear engineer and weapons engineer at Los Alamos & Livermore for more than 3 decades) is wrong on Parchin?

    -Does Mr. Albright have any clarification on the wrong values used in his calculations of Fordow’s centrifuge capability?

    -What about the wrong Khushab II calculations?

    -Does Mr. Albright think Iran could have other uses for EBWs?

    -Does Mr. Albright still think the timescale of the AP graph is correct for a nuclear explosion?

    Please try to stick to the technical issues above — or any other technical issues.

  19. Johnboy says:

    AS: “I would add that the intent of your work, gentlemen, appears to be motivated to downplay nuclear threats at the expense of international security.”

    Well, that’s a splendid political statement, but not exactly within your area of competence.

    World leaders get to make THOSE judgement calls, because World Leaders exist to muck around in the sandpit that is Big Power Politics.

    That’s a thankless task, but I’m curious where in ISIS’s mission statement it says that the role of your organization is to jump into that sandpit with them and start offering them your own value judgements on THAT issue.

    I would have thought that the role of your organization is the same as the role of Yousaf, Dan, etc.

    Which is this: to stick within your area of competency with as much dispassion as you can, and never, ever, ever succumb to the hubris of thinking that you are entitled to play in the Big Boys League.

    Just stick to the facts, ma’am, and let the Big Boys decide what is/isn’t a “nuclear threat to international security”.

    After all, that’s their “motivation”, it should not be yours.

  20. Andrea Stricker says:

    You all might want to learn what a nonproliferation think tank’s mission typically is. One part of it is precisely to identify threats to international (and U.S.) security. Another is informing public debate and governments.

  21. Johnboy says:

    AS: “You all might want to learn what a nonproliferation think tank’s mission typically is.”

    I do, Andrea, apparently in greater depth than yourself.

    I would suggest that the role of a non-proliferation think tank is to, you know, investigate issues of “non-proliferation”. It is not to make value judgements on issues of “international security”, because that’s someone else’s job.

    AS: “One part of it is precisely to identify threats to international (and U.S.) security”

    No, it isn’t, precisely because your interpretation of who is/isn’t a “threat to international security” feeds back into – and skews – your “non-proliferation” work.

    Case in point: in the Middle East your organization expends an enormous amount of effort looking into a nation that does not have undeclared and illicitly-obtained nukes, while spending far, far, far less effort looking into the undeclared and illicitly-obtained nuclear stash in another country not a million miles removed.

    That disparity can not be explained in “non-proliferation” terms, since it is axiomatic that the country that does have nukes represents by far the bigger “non-proliferation” problem than a country that doesn’t have nukes.

    It can only be explained by suggesting that you are giving a free pass to the country that is the ally of the USA on the grounds that their (very real) nuclear stash is not a “threat” because, err, they are an ally of the USA.

    But that’s a POLITICAL judgement, which would mean that you are allowing your POLITICS to skew your science, Andrea.

    Not only that, but you are actually boasting about it.

  22. Dan Joyner says:

    Well said, Johnboy.

  23. Johnboy says:

    I just find the attitude of Andrea Stricker to be…. bizarre, to say the least.

    There is nothing wrong with being a “think-tank” that advocates for policy changes in the face of “international threats”.

    After all, the Rand Corporation does that all the time, and it is held in very high esteem for the quality of its work and the thoroughness of its advocacy.

    But the Rand Corporation does not pretend to be a scientific organization, nor does it dispute that it’s raison d’etre is government policy advocacy.

    What Andrea Stricker is saying leads me to think that the leadership of ISIS wants it to be a boutique version of Rand Corporation, and the narrow niche market that it wants to inhabit is USA public policy advocacy with respect to “nuclear threats to international security”.

    Which – obviously – is much, much smaller marketplace than “threats to international security”.

    OK, fine, go for it.I’m sure you will find receptive ears inside the Beltway, just as much as those Beltway sweet nothings will titillate the eardrums of the senior leadership of ISIS.

    But don’t pretend that ISIS is a SCIENTIFIC organization because – du’oh! – it isn’t.

    It is what it is i.e. a tunnel-visioned Mini-Me version of Rand Corporation.

    As I said: there is nothing inherently wrong with that, so long as you are honest about what you are doing and why you are doing it.

  24. yousaf says:

    This an honest question not an insult: do any scientists work at the Institute for Science and International Security?

    I don’t know all the employees of ISIS so just curious.

    What about image analysts?

  25. Nick says:

    I doubt it. It is a leasing operation. Utilizes experts for the topic at hand. Houston Wood for technical papers on centrifuges. Less technical ones will have Andrea to help out. Olie for anything to do with Iran bashing from his days at the IAEA.

    The narrative is always the same: Albright claims he is against a military solution with Iran. But he probably doesn’t realize that his actions on bending the truth on PMDs or NPT rules, has been instrumental for the US Congress to bring draconian sanctions onto 10,000′s of ordinary Iranians, perhaps killing many waiting for medications. Also, may end up in a military closure, because of his provocative statements and reports.


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