New Piece on Albright’s “Independence” by Gareth Porter

I’m out of town on a family road trip at the moment, but I just quickly wanted to make sure everyone saw Gareth Porter’s new piece on David Albright. See it here:

It’s pissing off establishment types like Jeffrey Lewis, so you know it must be good.



35 Comments on “New Piece on Albright’s “Independence” by Gareth Porter”

  1. yousaf says:

    I’m surprised that Jeffrey would be pissed off about it since he just published something that shoots down Albright’s obsession with Iranian centrifuges:

    This is what happens when non-proliferation is based in opinion rather than international law & technical insight: one guys says some shit and another guy says some other shit.

  2. Don Bacon says:

    If an Albright hadn’t existed in order to provide a supposedly qualified scientific basis for the US attempt to regain political control of Persia they would have had to invent one.

    Ooops — they did, didn’t they.

    • yousaf says:

      Also he is not a scientist. Would one call a climate researcher without a PhD a scientist?

      He is also not a former IAEA official.

      • Nick says:

        One other point that I have made in the past is that: Why does he put his name first in almost every article? Surely as pointed out by Yousaf and others he is not a scientist but an opportunist that gets help from whoever is working for him a that time, including potential loaners from government agencies. Give others a chance man to be the first author. You can’t be an expert on international law, centrifuges, heavy water, and procurement, without proper credentials.

      • Don Bacon says:

        I did say that they invented a scientist.

  3. masoud says:

    Can someone point out where Jeffery Lewis has responded to this article?

  4. Nick says:

    Princeton folks, Glasser, et al., have a new article that appeared first on ACA yesterday. It would be nice if Dan could start a thread on that one. Titled:
    “Agreeing on Limits for Iran’s Centrifuge Program: A Two-Stage Strategy”

  5. Russ Wellen says:

    If you haven’t read it yet, Nick, here’s that article:

    The Problem With Stopwatches and Centrifuges
    Why it’s Iran’s hidden facilities, not the breakout time to making a bomb, we should be worrying about.
    • JUNE 5, 2014

    Oh, my God, they’re going to screw this up.
    I will be the first to tell you that most of the criticism of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy reflects the prerogatives of the chattering class. If things were going swimmingly, there’d be nothing to chatter about.
    In fact, this administration usually has it about right on substance, even if it gets low marks for articulating its vision and too often flubs the execution of sensible policies. But no administration is perfect — not even former President George H.W. Bush’s vaunted team. Obama has wound down two disastrous wars, without starting any new ones — and now he needs a big win. One or two big foreign-policy achievements is all that separates a modern-day Richelieu from a bumbling amoral criminal. Ask Henry Kissinger.
    If the Obama administration can achieve a diplomatic agreement to keep Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, historians will probably judge the U.S. president much more kindly than contemporary pundits and partisans. That’s why I spit out my coffee when on Wednesday I read that the chances for an Iran deal are slipping away over the issue of how many centrifuges Iran will be allowed to keep.
    “[The Iranians] expect to get capacity to fuel Bushehr, and that’s unrealistic,” one diplomat told Reuters. “It gets you a very short breakout time.”
    “Breakout” is the theoretical time it would take Iran to reconfigure its cascades of centrifuges at its declared enrichment sites and then make enough highly enriched uranium for one nuclear weapon. The theory goes that a “short” breakout time — on the order of weeks — makes it somehow more likely that Iran will build a nuclear weapon.
    This is completely wrong. Breakout is precisely the wrong measure of whether a deal is successful. If Obama lets this deal slip away over a breakout calculation, he’ll earn the dismal reputation that pundits have been trying to hang on him.
    The Iranians are extraordinarily unlikely to break out using a facility that is under International Atomic Energy Agency inspection, even if they are able to do so very quickly. I don’t know how this calculation became the dominant measure of any agreement with Iran — but it depends on a number of dubious assumptions.
    The most dubious assumption is that anyone in Iran cares about the breakout timeline. Breakout is a wonk’s calculation — there is simply no evidence that political figures in Iran, like Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, think about the problem in terms of math and are, therefore, deterred by breakout taking a month in way they might not if it took a week.
    And if Iran gains enough fissile material for one weapon in a week’s time, so what? The United States nearly attacked North Korea when it had enough plutonium for, in the words of the U.S. intelligence community, “one, possibly two” nuclear weapons. Having a significant quantity of highly enriched uranium sitting around isn’t a deterrent — it is an invitation to preemption. If Khamenei chooses to break out, this will ignite an enormous crisis with the United States, Israel, and others. The supreme leader might opt for a crisis, but this is the kind of decision that usually depends on larger issues such as domestic political considerations, how the Iranian leadership judges U.S. resolve, and the stakes at the moment. Back-of-the-envelope breakout calculations don’t matter.
    What Khamenei is more likely to do, if he decides that nuclear weapons are no longer un-Islamic, is to order the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to build a covert facility with technology from the civil program. You know, like Iran did at Natanz before 2002, and near Qom before 2010. A covert facility would provide Iran with a significant and steady supply of highly enriched uranium. With a little luck for the Iranians, this approach would present the United States and its partners with a fait accompli — one where we don’t know how much highly enriched uranium they have or where it’s made. That’s what the North Koreans are doing now, having wised up about the limited value of a plutonium production infrastructure housed in very large reactors and a reprocessing building that are easily identified and targeted.
    Let me put this simply: Even if the Iranians build a bomb, they are likely to pretend for a prolonged time that they haven’t. Imposing limits on the number, capability, or operation of Iran’s centrifuges is a fool’s errand. It is far more important to win concessions on verification and access to Iran’s nuclear program.
    Try this thought experiment. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, in talks with the international powers, agrees to scrap the entire nuclear program down to the last centrifuge. That’s wonderful, Lady Catherine Ashton says — now we just have to talk about sanctions relief and verification. Verification, Zarif chuckles — oh, there’s no need for verification! There is nothing for you to verify!
    That’s a terrible deal, right? Any deal, no matter how many centrifuges it permits, depends fundamentally on the quality of the verification measures. Every ounce of leverage the United States and its partners spend on limiting the known centrifuge program is leverage they have wasted by not using it to win the best possible verification measures.
    I don’t mean to say that breakout doesn’t matter at all. It is surely one factor — though it was more persuasive when we thought Iran lacked the ability to manufacture many centrifuge components. But to let breakout calculations be the primary, let alone sole, measure of the deal’s value is wrong.
    Officials and analysts often don’t describe the function of any agreement with Tehran, beyond the high-level goal to “prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.” The purpose of an agreement is to trade sanctions relief for a verifiable gap between Iran’s technical option to build a bomb and any political decision to exercise that option. Sanctions relief provides the incentive to remain in compliance with the agreement, backed by verification and monitoring measures that convince the supreme leader that any cheating would be detected.
    First and foremost, that means maximizing our ability to detect covert facilities, not limiting the breakout time. Khamenei might still choose to build a bomb under such circumstances — but at the cost of a major crisis that will guarantee heavy sanctions and risk military action. That’s no guarantee of sensible decisions in Tehran, of course, but neither can sanctions or bombing runs guarantee that cooler heads will prevail. Life is frustrating like that. But an offer of sanctions relief backed by the threat of pain and yet more pain to come is the best we can do — and it all hinges on verification.

    • Nick says:

      Thanks. Boy sometimes he makes sense.

    • Cyrus says:

      First of all, assuming that Iran was willing to magically renegotiate the NPT on an ad hoc basis, how exactly will they prove they don’t have “Hidden” enrichment facilities? (Note of course how Jeffrey deliberately confuses “covert” for “undeclared”) Furthermore, without reprocessing, how would Iran extract and use any of the plutonium from reactor rods? Or will the reprocessing plant also be “hidden”? If it is so easy to run an entirely “hidden” nuclear weapons program, from exacting the uranium to making the bombs, what use exactly is the NPT? Isn’t Jeffrey really insisting on imposing a standard on Iran to prove a negative?

      He goes on to whine about the need
      “to keep Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons”

      As long as the wonks promote this nonsense narrative according to which the US-Iran crisis had something to do with “preventing Iran from acquiring nukes” then you know they’re full of BS.

      There never was any evidence at all, that Iran was or is interested in nukes. There is in fact quite a bit of contrary evidence, including Iran’s many compromise proposals that would have imposed far greater voluntary limits on its nuclear program (including enrichment) than what is being negotiated now or what other nations have accepted — in fact Iran suspended enrichment entirely for close to 3 years. The Iran hawks insisted that these opportunities be ignored, so the Iranians further developed their nuclear program, puttng the US in the unenviable position of now having to negotiate-down the Iranian capabilities. Wonderful job.

      All of these efforts were for naught and were frustrated by the US insistence on “Zero Enrichment” and other demands which were deliberately intended to PREVENT a peaceful resolution of the issue, because the US was using the “Iranian nuclear threat” as a pretext for a policy of imposing regime-change there, just as “WMDs in Iraq” was never about any WMDs but was in fact about publicly justifying starting an illegal war.

      But since there is no actual evidence of a past nuke program despite all the demands for inspections beyond what is legally required of Iran — again, deliberately intended to portray the Iranians as intransigent and hiding things — the “Conventional Wisdom” generators have latched onto this idea of “breakout capability.” Nevermind the NPT, nevermind that in acquiring the theoretical capability to make nukes, Iran has simply joined 1 out of 4 nations on the planet. Ultimately, trying to “limit Iran’s breakout capacity” is just another fake pretext, nothing more.

      The irony of the US insisting that Iran remain reliant on Russia for fuel rods is quite funny when you consider that Cheney himself accused Russia of practicing energy blackmail, and even right now Iran is being denied not only gasoline imports due solely to political considerations.

      • Cyrus says:

        but also parts for civilian aircrafts, placing thousands of innocent lives at risk in blatant violation of intenational law. Iran should just trust the same people who helped Saddam gas 80,000 Iranians and allow those people to set limits and dictate Iran’s internal energy and development policies? Try selling that at home. Go on.

      • yousaf says:

        Agree the ““to keep Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons” narrative implies mind-reading abilities into the intentions of Iranian decision-makers that I believe are beyond the capabilities of most humans.

        Let’s also take everyone’s cars to “keep them from speeding”.while we are pre-emptively punishing nations for what we think they might do.

    • Cyrus says:

      Ah but Albright is so accessible and available to the reporter with a deadline (Barbara Slavin is a personal fan) complete with his a ready-for-copy talking points. It is a lot cheaper and easier to just transcribe whatever “the expert” says, nevermind seeking alternative viewpoints especially when it comes to complicated tech stuff that may bore readers and complicate the “Iran nukes” message which, after all, still sells papers.

    • Johnboy says:

      I do like the demolition job that Barzashka and Oelrich do on Albright in that FAS article.

      In particular, they are right on the money when they make this observation: “First, their track record of using higher vaguely referenced values and dismissing values based on physical data and their own calculations, just because they are inconsistent with their previous assessments, is troubling.”

      The phrase “is troubling” is far too kind a depiction of the shannigans that Albright oh-so-regularly gets up to as he massages his data to make it fit into his preconceptions.

      There are words to describe such a person, but “scientist” isn’t one of them.

  6. Cyrus says:

    Folks, the agenda that the neocons tried to execute on Iran, had close parallels to the invasion of Iraq — sanctions, manufactured claims of weapons, and of course, media mouthpieces and fronts who promote and legitimate the official line, acting as cheerleaders and echo chamber as well as filling in details and embellishments as needed. During the Iraq war, this function was carried out by another “arms control expert” Gary Milholland his “Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control” , who put out a regular stream of similar “expert analysis” for the gullible and complicit media about Iraq, including foundng He was just as widely quoted about Iraq’s “WMDs” back then and in editorials published in the Wall Street Journal he even went so far as to repeatedly accuse Hans Blix of being “timid”-and “irrelevant” because of the “failure” to find the non-existent WMD in Iraq.

    They tried to execute the same plan on Iran, but instead of Milholland and the WIsconsin Project, we have Albright and ISIS, that’s all. And the same gullible and complicit media.

  7. yousaf says:

    From that piece:

    For instance, in the run-up to war in Iraq, 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 his suggestive rhetoric was wrong.

    But he has written almost identical stupidity about Iran. (eg. the famous fences at Parchin; the pink tarps, the paving…. etc. etc,)

    • Johnboy says:

      yousaf: “Of course his suggestive rhetoric was wrong.”

      Perhaps it would be quicker to list how many of Albright’s speculative interpretations of satellite imagery have turned out to be correct?

      Any? Or none?

      • yousaf says:

        Excellent idea.

        Does anyone have the time, inclination & stomach to delve into such a project?

        I have the inclination but neither the time nor the stomach.

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