Aluminum Tubes Again . . . Really?

As if the other similarities between the Western ramp up to its unjustified and disasterous war with Iraq on the one hand, and the West’s current program of action vis a vis Iran (this time facilitated and not checked by the IAEA) on the other, weren’t earily similar enough, we now have yet another similarity.  Reuters reports with alarm the transfer of aluminum – one of the most ubiquitously used materials in the world – from a swiss company to an Iranian company. This transfer, Reuters breathlessly reports, could of course have no other end use than in Iran’s centrifuge-based uranium enrichment program.  Not that there is any evidence that it ended up there. It just may have (did David Albright co-author this piece? I may have missed it in the byline).

You do remember the furore over Iraq’s reported aquisition of aluminum tubes in the runup to the 2003 war, right? Well if you don’t, see Dave Chappelle’s explanation here at about 1:21 (viewer discretion advised – I think Chappelle is hilarious, but his comedy isnt for everyone).

This story is particularly groan-inducing because it comes almost ten years TO THE DAY after IAEA DG Mohamed ElBaradei gave a speech to the UN reporting, among other findings, the IAEA’s determination that the aluminum tubes acquired by Iraq had not in fact been used in a nuclear program. 

An old phrase about those who do not learn from history comes to mind . . .


18 Comments on “Aluminum Tubes Again . . . Really?”

  1. yousaf says:

    So we have the Aluminum tubes again.

    We have the shoddy/fabricated flawed graphs from “Iran” — reportedly part of the “Possible Military Dimensions” file:

    We have the allegation that **someone** in Iran ordered (the wrong size for IR-1 centrifuge) common ceramic ring magnets which are of low energy product, from a tiny firm in a dark back alley in India:

    All we need is the yellowcake from Niger.

    Mix together, hire Doug Feith’s son David at WSJ and we got us another war, presto.

    Are there any real reporters left?

    Did the guy reporting for REUTERS think there may be other uses for Aluminum?

    • The article actually put in a one paragraph disclaimer that aluminum is used for just about everything except condoms. 🙂

      The issue appears to be connections between a company called Iralco which is an aluminum supply company and Iran Centrifuge Technology Co (TESA) which is apparently the company that makes Iranian centrifuges and is allegedly a subsidiary of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI). Iralco supplies TESA with aluminum for centrifuges.

      Glencore bartered with Iralco for aluminum metal in exchange for alumina. Supposedly five tons of alumina per one ton of metal times how ever many tons of alumina the deal was about. Supposedly two tons of alumina make one ton of metal so Iralco ends up with an excess of alumina. Supposedly this means it all goes to TESA – but there is ZERO evidence for that part.

      It’s guilt by association. Iralco has a deal with TESA, and Glencore barted with Iralco. So Glencore has to be sanctioned for dealing with Iralco at all regardless of any evidence that any of Glencore’s alumina ended up at TESA.

      • yousaf says:

        sorry did not find the disclaimer(?)

        I did note this: “It is not known whether any of the aluminum produced by Iralco from Glencore’s alumina raw material actually ended up with TESA. ”


        “The company said that alumina and aluminum metal were not prohibited commodities under the sanctions, and that bartering is one of the oldest and most transparent forms of transaction and an accepted method in the metals business.

        Swiss authorities said they saw no evidence of U.N. or Swiss sanctions violations by Glencore. Iralco is not under U.S. or U.N. sanctions.

        The intelligence report described the Glencore deal as a good way for Tehran to get around global financial restrictions, though it did not say that Glencore violated sanctions.”

        So what is this REUTERS article about exactly?

  2. Two things about the Reuters piece.

    First it appears to say that nothing that was done was actually prohibited by sanctions. But then declares all over the place that everyone agrees the company should be sanctioned for doing it.

    Second, the company’s previous connection to commodities broker Marc Rich was interesting. Rich was a major US fugitive for years – living in luxury in Switzerland and dodging US Marshals with the help of Israeli mercenaries and – it is believed – contacts in the US Justice Department who warned him when they got too close.

    Then his wife donated some expensive furniture to the Clintons – and perhaps had a little quality time with Bill since she was apparently pretty hot – and suddenly Marc Rich gets pardoned five minutes before Clinton leaves office! A more sordid case of top of the line corruption is harder to find…

  3. yousaf says:

    The Atlantic has a good summary —

    See #6:

    “Which brings me to:

    6) Iran. Most of the people now warning stridently about the threat from Iran warned stridently about Iraq ten years ago. That doesn’t prove they are wrong this time too. But it’s a factor to be weighed. Most of the technical warnings we are getting about Iran’s capabilities are like those we got about Saddam’s. That doesn’t prove they are wrong again. But it’s a factor.

    Purportedly authoritative inside reports, replete with technical details about “yellowcake” or aluminum tubes, had an outsized role in convincing people of the threat from Iraq. We wish now that more people had looked harder at those claims. If you’d like to see someone looking hard at similar technical claims about Iran, please check out the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, where Yousaf Butt argues that the latest warnings mean less than they seem. Also from the Bulletin, a previous debunking, and a proposal for a negotiated endgame with Iran.

    Again: like most of humanity, I can’t judge these nuclear-technology arguments myself. But the long history of crying-wolf hyped warnings, in some cases by the same people now most alarmist about Iran, puts a major burden of proof on those claiming imminent peril.”

    • Bibi Jon says:

      Though James Fallows says he would “feel better now if [he] had pushed the argument even harder” before the Iraq war, he can only muster ” I can’t judge these nuclear-technology arguments myself” and he advocates only “there should be an asterisk on [proven false-alarmists’] views, like the fine print about side effects in pharmaceutical ads.”

      I am disheartened that Fallows is suggesting journalists should sit in judgement of technical details, rather than inform their readers of bigger pictures, e.g. the control-freak that Saddam was, would never give CW to terrorists he had no hope of controlling. Or, that Iranian government that bases its legitimacy domestically on Islam, and internationally on the opinion of NAM nations, would never volunteer a fatwa only to brazenly break it afterwards. That is Fallows’ job: inform readers about the big picture that rubishes all of ISIS’ misplaced focus on Iran. But, again he is allowing himself to be distracted by the minutia of technical details, as if there could ever be an end to technical details.

      I wonder if Fallows once more sees wheels turning, and the mild rebuke of his fellow journalists for aiding/abetting the Iraq war, is again a sign of relapse into resignation.

  4. Don Bacon says:

    from the article: ” United Nations diplomats say that Tehran keeps finding new ways to do business with willing partners.”
    Of course Iran does, but the companies involved often have even more incentive. In this case, Iran could always find another source of alumina.
    There seems to be a general ignorance in the MSM that Iran trade sanctions have an effect on the non-Iran business sector, trade being (at least) a two-way street, often in Europe, Businesses of course seek to avoid sanction obedience, in this case through a barter arrangement with Iran.
    As I have indicated before, this in no small part is contributing to the financial mess in Europe. Yet the U.S. continues to act against European businesses which are simply trying to make a buck (Euro-type) in tough times.
    And so we had the recent news on European judicial action regarding this illegal restraint of trade.
    By the way, it appears from the story that Glencore was supplying alumina to Iran in trade for aluminum metal (tubes?). So if Iran is now exporting aluminum tubes it makes the story even more hilarious. Also this highlights how the sanctions are making Iran more self-sufficient. Iran is now exporting more cars, steel and aluminum, among other products and services, as a result of sanctions which limit imports. How about Iran sanctions on the US for a comparable result? heh

  5. Johnboy says:

    Well, gosh!, the news article doesn’t actually claim that aluminium TUBES were sold to Iran.

    Heck, if you read it properly you’ll see that no ALUMUMIUM was sold to Iran.

    A barter was set up: Glencore sent alumina *to* Iran, and in exchange Iralco shipped aluminium *from* Iran, at an exchange rate of 5:1.

    Q: So what did Iralco do with that alumina?
    A: I don’t much doubt that Iralco turned it into aluminium.

    Q: Into aluminium TUBES?
    A: Errr, no, reuters does actually say that, no matter how much it tries to insinuate that.

    • yousaf says:

      It says:

      “Aluminum can be used to make aluminum tubes for uranium enrichment gas centrifuges.”

      But that is correct it was Iran making the Al from alumina.

      • Johnboy says:

        yousaf: “It says: ‘Aluminum can be used to make aluminum tubes for uranium enrichment gas centrifuges.’ ”

        Oh, sure, it does.

        But what it doesn’t say is that anyone has sold aluminium tubes to Iran.

        Heck, it doesn’t even claim that Iran *is* making aluminium tubes from this five-alumina-for-one-aluminium swap-meet.

        Indeed, the report merely says (correctly) that if you can make aluminium from alumina (which, obviously, Iran can) then you can make your own aluminium tubes.

        But note this: the barter was foreign alumina in exchange for Iranian aluminium i.e. it is a demonstrable fact Iran ALREADY HAD stocks of aluminium since – du’oh! – that’s what Iran used in liu of currency.

        That’s an important point, precisely because if the “scare” is that Oh My God If Iran Ever Gets Its Hands On Aluminium Then It Can Make Its Own Aluminium Tubes then, so sorry, the scare-monger is a bit late.

        Clearly, it ain’t no scarce resource otherwise Iran would have used something else for the barter.

      • yousaf says:

        Johnboy, yes, I am in agreement with you — I, too, think it is scaremongering (lame, yes, but scaremongering nonetheless). Indeed the sacremonger may be too late but it appears the press is happy to do so nonetheless.

        Blix’s view is instructive:

  6. Bibi Jon says:

    Yousaf has another worthy article I just noticed in CSM

    There’s a certain appealing quality to the innocent questions Yousaf asks, e.g. “Why not achieve the P5+1 goals peacefully and inexpensively by lifting some sanctions soon, instead of trying – and likely failing to – do so at greater cost in a later war? ”

    However, Amb. Mousavian says, and Amb Jenkins confirms that 10 years ago Iran offered to limit the total number of centrifuges to 20 in total, and E3+wizard of Oz said no.

    Given the history of this saga, Prof. Butt’s logic is unassailable, but inapplicable.

    If whatever the real reason behind the nuclear-scare-charade is not addressed, then there will be no change. This will continue to be a race to exhaustion.

    However, it is true that the resolution of the underlying reasons will not be publicized. Indeed, the first hint of such a resolution shall be the closing of the nuclear file.

    • yousaf says:

      Thank you.

      I hope the proposal of an IAEA-staffed conversion facility may be taken up as it is a win-win and no deals needed.

      Also the NYTimes quote that Obama aides are happy with stalemate is telling. How can something be really scary and stalemate in removing it be ok?

      • If the conversion facility is on Iranian soil, the US will never go for it. If it’s maybe next door in Turkey or something, it might work.

        But remember the US refused to accept the idea of Iran moving its LEU to Turkey under IAEA seal in exchange for TRR fuel rods. Apparently the US believed that Iranian ninjas would swoop down in Turkey and take the LEU back once the US delivered the rods. 🙂

        That’s how ridiculous these things get. So I don’t hold any hope for your conversion idea, nice though it may be.

      • “How can something be really scary and stalemate in removing it be ok?”

        Of course, the obvious answer which the NYT would never suggest is that a) it’s not scary at all because the US KNOWS Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program, and b) stalemate is OK if it increases Iran’s pain via sanctions and allows the US and Israel to attack Syria and Lebanon first…

      • yousaf says:

        Well, I am not quite so naive to think it will happen! 😉

        I had posted this elsewhere but worth repeating:

        Samuel Huntington in his book the “Clash of Civilizations” has an excellent quote on arms control post-cold war — excerpted in an essay here:

        Click to access The%20Clash%20of%20Civilizations%20-%20Samuel%20Huntington%20-%20-%20Foreign%20Affairs%20article.pdf

        “Another result is the redefinition of
        arms control, which is a Western concept and a Western goal. During the Cold War the
        primary purpose of arms control was to establish a stable military balance between the United States and its allies and the Soviet Union and its allies. In the post-Cold War world the
        primary objective of arms control is to prevent the development by non-Western societies of
        military capabilities that could threaten Western interests. The West attempts to do this
        through international agreements, economic pressure and controls on the transfer of arms
        and weapons technologies.

        “The conflict between the West and the Confucian-Islamic states focuses largely, although not exclusively, on nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, ballistic missiles and other
        sophisticated means for delivering them, and the guidance, intelligence and other electronic
        capabilities for achieving that goal. The West promotes nonproliferation as a universal norm
        and nonproliferation treaties and inspections as means of realizing that norm. It also threatens a variety of sanctions against those who promote the spread of sophisticated weapons and
        proposes some benefits for those who do not. The attention of the Wests focuses, naturally
        on nations that are actually or potentially hostile to the West.”

        One should also read John Mueller’s “Atomic Obsession” for some straight dope.

        Every student in non-proliferation should read it as her/his first book.

  7. Check this. Ring Magnets, by Ferenc Dalnoki-Veress and Jeffrey Lewis

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