Monday, December 06, 2010

Diplomatic candor will survive Cablegate--Interview with William O. Beeman (Global Times)

Diplomatic candor will survive Cablegate

Interview with William O. Beeman
Global Times [08:26 December 03 2010]

GT: So the biggest role of WikiLeaks is that it provides an alternative to censored media?

Beeman: That's true. When the Internet started, there were questions about whether it should be regulated.

However, it moved so fast, and turned out unregulated. The technology is available to everyone. These organizations have a very important function as the alternative to the censored media.

GT: Will similar websites appear in the future and engage in competition with WikiLeaks?

Beeman: Absolutely. There is no question that it's going to happen. I'm sure people are right now working on this. This phenomenon is going to spread.

That's not necessarily a bad thing. People will be more careful, and also may become more responsible for their words and actions.

GT: Is it possible that the US government is using Cablegate for diplomatic leverage?

Beeman: I don't think that's the case. In the US, they were pretty angry about Julian Assange. Maybe there is something going on that we don't know about even now. Many scholars and politicians in the US are making wild statements about Assange.

It's very funny that one lawmaker, Michelle Barkman, said Assange should be tried for treason. This is very strange, because Assange is not a US citizen, so nothing he does could be declared treason.

There are so many documents, and they say so many things that anybody who wants to make political points can take one or more of these documents in isolation, and try to make a case for their own ideological positions. They can certainly use it for propaganda.

GT: So do you think Cablegate will initiate a new era of global diplomacy?

Beeman: I think these diplomats always make such statements. There is nothing new about these statements themselves. In diplomatic channels, these sort of private, candid statements were always made.

But now they realize that this is a different world where anything you say is likely to be reported. Anything you do or say at all might get on a camera or a microphone.

What I'm surprised actually is that the people who were quoted in the WikiLeaks documents didn't take more care in trying to protect themselves by printing those things in coded messages or other ways that would keep them from being identified.

I'm sure that people now knowing this could happen are going to be much more careful about how they send their material. But I don't think they will be more careful about what they say, because all human beings like gossip and want to express their personal opinions.

GT: Hundreds of thousands of documents were leaked, but the CIA could only blame a 23-year-old intelligence agent. Is that convincing?

Beeman: They are blaming one agent for having downloaded all these documents and compromised security. We don't know whether he was the only source.

The tendency, unfortunately, is always to find somebody to blame and to find a scapegoat. When a similar scandal happens, it's important for officials to identify somebody right away, so that they can show that they are able to control the situation.

GT: Some former FBI agents say that if WikiLeaks had existed before 2001, perhaps 9/11 would have been prevented.

Beeman: That might be true. That's a very interesting statement, because we knew about the people who carried out the 9/11 and about their organization, in all the way backed in 1998 before the Bush administration came into power. The Bush administration was warned about Al Qaeda.

But they ignored the warnings. And these warnings were turned into secret documents.

If these documents were made public before 2000, then it was very likely that people who carried out the attack would have been discovered.

GT: Do you think WikiLeaks is given too much credit?

Beeman: Eventually these dispatches will be released anyway, likely in 25 years. But many people living today, including politicians, wouldn't be around in 25 years from now.

The reason that the delay is there is exactly that people whose actions are revealed won't be embarrassed, and those government actions that they want to keep secret won't be compromised. But in the US, we have many secret documents, and it's crazy and ridiculous to keep them all secret. There is no strategic interest involved at all.

GT: Are developing countries, with less social stability, more vulnerable to the effects of leaked information? What if false information was included?

Beeman: It could happen. The question we all have to answer is the consequences of information of such value that you are willing to risk: Some degrees of social unrest in order to have that critical information.

When printing the WikiLeaks documents, the newspapers didn't eliminate the names of the individuals who were named in the documents. This could put these people in some danger.

The next question is what is the limits of such information freedom. The public certainly would like to have information that reveals the wrongdoing, like crime, misappropriation of funds, or politicians lying to their own people. Such information should be known by the public.

Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout was recently arrested in Thailand. He provided illicit weapons for illicit government operations. I think people in those countries need to know that. But there are people working as undercover operative with their organizations. If their names were revealed, they might be killed.

 GT: So the biggest role of WikiLeaks is that it provides an alternative to censored media?

Beeman: That's true. When the Internet started, there were questions about whether it should be regulated.

However, it moved so fast, and turned out unregulated. The technology is available to everyone. These organizations have a very important function as the alternative to the censored media.

GT: Will similar websites appear in the future and engage in competition with WikiLeaks?

Beeman: Absolutely. There is no question that it's going to happen. I'm sure people are right now working on this. This phenomenon is going to spread.

That's not necessarily a bad thing. People will be more careful, and also may become more responsible for their words and actions.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

WikiLeaks: Beyond the Spin--Institute for Public Accuracy

Institute for Public Accuracy (IPA)
News Release

WikiLeaks: Beyond the Spin

November 29, 2010

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Chatterjee is a regular columnist for the Guardian and just wrote a piece titled "WikiLeaks v the imperial presidency's poodle: Once, Harold Koh spoke truth to power. Now, as Hillary Clinton's legal adviser, he obediently denounces the embassy cables leak."

Chatterjee is author of Iraq, Inc: A Profitable Occupation and Halliburton's Army: How a Well-Connected Texas Oil Company Revolutionized the Way America Makes War. He recently joined the Center for American Progress as a fellow.


Author of The "Great Satan" vs. the "Mad Mullahs": How the United States and Iran Demonize Each Other, Beeman said today: "These dispatches represent communications in diplomatic circles. They don't necessarily represent truth on the ground, and they frequently seem to represent posturing and the same kind of bluffing and chicanery that is the bread and butter of diplomatic negotiations. So, if the Ambassador to the UAE says 'Iran is a nuclear danger,' that doesn't mean that Iran is actually a nuclear danger -- only that he said so for whatever reason.

"Diplomatic assessments are only as good as the underlying information that prompts them. In many cases the underlying information is purposely misleading or inaccurate. Just because a diplomat said something doesn't make it any more true. Much of the material relating to Iran and the Persian Gulf is the result of a concentrated propaganda campaign by the United States, spearheaded during the Bush administration, to ensure U.S. influence in the Gulf region by frightening local leaders into fearing Iran. The documents are more interesting for pointing out the ways in which nations at the top levels tried to influence each other's opinions about world affairs."


Rowley, whose May 2002 memo described some of the FBI's pre-9/11 failures, was named one of Time Magazine's “Persons of the Year” in 2002. She recently co-wrote a Los Angeles Times op-ed titled "WikiLeaks and 9/11: What if? Frustrated investigators might have chosen to leak information that their superiors bottled up, perhaps averting the terrorism attacks."

She said today: "For some reason many Americans have the attitude that more governmental secrecy means greater security. Paradoxically, people have, at the same time, been willing to sacrifice their own personal privacy. Eighty-one percent in the U.S. reportedly support the government implementation of body scanners and enhanced patdowns at airports as a pre-condition of flying. A majority don't want to ask questions about their government dropping bombs in other parts of the world. People commonly respond that they just want to be safe and don't want to necessarily know the details of what or how their government goes about that task.

"But actually, a lot of those things make the U.S. public less safe. Information sharing means less secrecy -- and is a key to more security. That was acknowledged by the 9-11 Commission; that if government agencies had done a better job sharing information and not only amongst themselves but with the public and the media, the 9-11 attacks could have been averted.

"WikiLeaks stated its motives for releasing these documents by quoting U.S. founding father James Madison who famously said: 'Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.' This basic philosophy of the American revolution is said to inspire WikiLeaks' work: 'The cables appear to be the single most significant historical archive ever released and affects basic and heartfelt issues all over the world; geopolitics and democracy; human rights and the rule of law; national resources and global trade.'

"It’s undoubtedly good that WikiLeaks and its media partners in five different countries are publishing the information in the U.S. diplomatic cables, as with the war logs released earlier. It's important, however, to consider these cables in their proper context. Obviously the authors of these previously secret documents (State Department and military members) are usually 'reporting' what their departments expect or want to hear, and are not attempting to necessarily provide independent analysis that conflicts with pre-established policies. True whistleblower protection is still needed to produce more independent and less-politicized analysis."

Background: WikiLeaks has begun releasing over 200,000 U.S. diplomatic cables, a process that may take months. See and Also, see coverage by the British Guardian, Der Spiegel and the New York Times.

For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:

Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167

Monday, November 08, 2010

Ali Gharib--The New York Times' Middle Eastern Spin

The New York Times' Middle Eastern Spin

by ALI GHARIB in New York

08 Nov 2010 19:0713 CommentsProceed with caution.

Commentary by William O. Beeman: This superb, well-researched commentary by Ali Gharib exposes New York Times correspondent Michael R. Gordon for his distortions of the role of Iran in Iraq. In light of the Wikileaks documents on American involvement in Iraq, Mr. Gharib's corrective is especially important. The litany of Mr. Gordon's hyped accusations of Iran's involvement in military action against the United States without proof desperately needs to be exposed, and the American public needs to be warned about the inaccuracies and biased reporting of Mr. Gordon, who of late is touting his credentials as an "Iran expert."

[ opinion ] The record of the New York Times merits special scrutiny with regard to the possible overstatement of conclusions drawn from the WikiLeaks document dump about Iranian support for Iraqi Shia insurgent militias.

In a recent article on the Columbia Journalism Review's website urging caution reading the WikiLeaks documents, I laid out an approach to the military and intelligence reports from the field -- broad conclusions extracted from mostly snap assessments often based on anonymous accounts of single-source information -- that was common in the press.
But the Times has two things the other outlets don't: the clout inherent to being the "Gray Lady" atop the list of influential papers, and its recent history of stumbles in the run-up to the Iraq War. These factors worked in tandem as the Times printed stories in 2002 that vastly overstated Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction programs and public opinion began to turn in favor of attacking Iraq.
With the sights of Washington's hawks now focused squarely on Iran, many critics feel they've seen the movie before as the Islamic Republic's alleged nefarious activities in Iraq are relentlessly trotted out. And many of them even have their roots in the same journalist, Michael Gordon, who played a central role in the Times' catastrophic abdication of its responsibility to the public in 2002 and 2003.
As a result, even the Times itself has been cautious, with then-public editor Byron Calame reviewing the Times' reporting on Iranian activities in Iraq when the story first heated up in 2007.
In a blog post on the Times' coverage, University of Minnesota professor William Beeman pointed back to an incident in 2008: The U.S. military had to abort a planned press conference featuring "Iranian-made" weapons when it turned out that the weapons didn't come from Iran after all. Tina Sussman had the story for the Los Angeles Times:
A plan to show some alleged Iranian-supplied explosives to journalists last week in Karbala and then destroy them was canceled after the United States realized none of them was from Iran. A U.S. military spokesman attributed the confusion to a misunderstanding that emerged after an Iraqi Army general in Karbala erroneously reported the items were of Iranian origin.

When U.S. explosives experts went to investigate, they discovered they were not Iranian after all.
Beeman also cited the example of an assertion, initially made by anonymous officials speaking to the New York Times and then by Bush in February 2007, that Iran was providing Iraqi insurgents with "explosively formed penetrators," or EFPs. When a raid shortly thereafter turned up weapons, the Times' coverage acknowledged, high up in the article, that many critics were questioning the certainty with which the Bush administration was making claims.
Calame, the public editor, said that the stories from February 2007, despite much anonymous sourcing, "reflected healthy levels of skepticism and editing vigilance," especially with qualifications inserted into articles -- and entire stories -- that acknowledged critics and uncertainties.
Beeman remains unconvinced. "It should be noted that when the military tried to show the captured equipment, they couldn't trace even one piece definitively to Iran," he wrote. "Having a leaked memo expressing the military's belief that this equipment was Iranian without further proof doesn't make this any more believable."
Nonetheless, neoconservative journalist Eli Lake wrote in the hawkish Washington Times -- without any of the caveats of his colleagues at the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times -- that the WikiLeaks document dump "confirms a long-standing assertion of President George W. Bush at the start of the 2007 troop surge: Iran was orchestrating one side of the Iraqi insurgency."
Other less credulous readers like Beenman, however, find fault in even the New York Times' weak caveats. Perhaps what's most worrying, especially in light of the Times' seeming lack of caution in reporting the WikiLeaks documents as confirmation, is the record of the paper on Iraq. And there's a consistent thread that runs through both the contemporary reporting and the paper's failures in 2002 and 2003.
Take a look at this sampling of Times headlines, datelines, and bylines on the subject of Iran's involvement in Iraq that I compiled for the CJR piece:
* "Iran Aiding Shiite Attacks Inside Iraq, General Says," June 23, 2006, by Michael R. Gordon
* "Iran Ties Role in Iraq Talks to U.S. Exit," December 10, 2006, by Hassan M. Fattah and Michael R. Gordon
* "U.S. Says Captured Iranians Can Be Linked to Attacks," December 27, 2006, by Sabrina Tavernise with contributed reporting from Michael R. Gordon
* "Deadliest Bomb in Iraq Is Made by Iran, U.S. Says," February 10, 2007, by Michael R. Gordon
* "U.S. Says Arms Link Iranians to Iraqi Shiites," February 12, 2007, by James Glanz with contributed reporting from Michael R. Gordon
* "Why Accuse Iran of Meddling Now? U.S. Officials Explain," February 15, 2007, by Michael R. Gordon
* "U.S. Says Raid in Iraq Supports Claim on Iran," February 26, 2007, by James Glanz and Richard A. Oppel Jr. with contributed reporting from Michael R. Gordon
* "U.S. Long Worried that Iran Supplied Arms in Iraq," March 27, 2007, by Michael R. Gordon and Scott Shane
* "U.S. Ties Iran to Deadly Attack," July 2, 2007, by Michael R. Gordon
* "U.S. Says Iran Helped Iraqis Kill Five G.I.s," July 3, 2007, by John F. Burns and Michael R. Gordon
* "U.S. Says Iran-Supplied Bomb Kills More Troops," August 8, 2007, by Michael R. Gordon
* "Hezbollah Trains Iraqis in Iran, Officials Say," May 5, 2008, by Michael R. Gordon
Last month, two years after the last article in that list, Gordon came out with his front-page story on Iran and the WikiLeaks documents:
* "Leaked Reports Detail Iran's Aid for Iraqi Militias," October 22, 2010, by Michael R. Gordon and Andrew W. Lehren
You might be forgiven for seeing a consistent pattern here, especially considering that the articles mentioned by the Times's public editor in February 2007 -- the ones that embraced skepticism -- were all written by journalists like Helene Cooper, Mark Mazzetti, and James Glanz. In other words, they were not written by Michael Gordon.
Gordon, rather than exercising caution with the information he was receiving, seemed to go beyond what he reported and what he was handed. Investigative journalist Gareth Porter documented for the American Prospect how it was not Gordon's sources, but Gordon himself who "articulated the narrative of an Iranian-inspired attack on Americans" in a briefing reported for a mid-2007 New York Times story.
And you might also be forgiven for considering Gordon a reporter with a less than savory record on matters that might drive the nation to war. He was the reporting and writing partner of none other than Judith Miller, the former New York Times reporter whose cozy relationships with Iraqi defectors and administration officials were instrumental in rousing public opinion against Iraq. Miller has since been dispatched by the Times and has staked out a more overtly ideological position writing for outlets like Fox News, where her distortions and use of almost exclusively neoconservative-aligned sources don't prompt questions.
In 2002, however, Miller and Gordon were working together on stories about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction for the Times. On Sunday, September 8, they had a front-page story on Iraq's attempts to acquire aluminum tubes. Miller and Gordon wrote that the tubes were intended for centrifuges aimed at producing highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon. In the New York Review of Books in 2004, journalist Michael Massing recalled the boost the article gave to the Bush administration's drive to get public opinion behind an invasion of Iraq:
On that morning's talk shows, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, and Condoleezza Rice all referred to the information in the Times story. [...]

In the days that followed, the story of the tubes received wide publicity. And, on September 12, 2002, President Bush himself, in a speech to the UN General Assembly, said that "Iraq has made several attempts to buy high-strength aluminum tubes used to enrich uranium for a nuclear weapon" -- evidence, he added, of its "continued appetite" for such a weapon. In the following months, the tubes would become a key prop in the administration's case for war, and the Times played a critical part in legitimizing it.
Massing reports that a nuclear specialist at a D.C. think tank made Miller aware of dissenting expert opinions -- even within the administration -- but five days later, Gordon and Miller's follow-up article allowed an anonymous administration official to dismiss the skepticism as a "footnote."
Massing went on to describe both Miller's and Gordon's reactions to their work on the aluminum tubes story. Miller couldn't even be bothered with reflection, referring to herself as simply a "messenger." Gordon, too, deferred blame to the intelligence community, but offered a more nuanced reading -- that the "majority view of the intelligence community" was that Iraq was pursuing a nuclear weapon. "I don't recall a whole lot of people challenging that," he told Massing, who demurs on the point, commenting that the dissent was there and Gordon missed it. (Gordon took issue with Massing's article, and the two debated the piece at length in a subsequentexchange of letters published by the New York Review.)
Even Calame, the Times' public editor, acknowledged that Gordon's record opens him up to be singled out in a parenthetical interjection to the February 2007 report:
Mr. Gordon has become a favorite target of many critical readers, who charge that the paper's Iran coverage is somehow tainted because he had shared the byline on a flawed Page 1 W.M.D. article. I don't buy that view, and I think the quality of his current journalism deserves to be evaluated on its own merits.

This very same question -- Does the past record of a journalist matter? -- was also raised more recently about another writer. The Atlantic's James Fallows asked it about his own colleague, Jeffrey Goldberg, in reference to Goldberg's September cover article on the prospects for an Israeli military strike on Iran. Like Michael Gordon's reporting, Goldberg's work in the run-up to the Iraq War -- much of which was disproved -- was promoted heavily by the Bush administration and other war hawks. Fallows answers "no," because the Goldberg article, he thinks, "hews to a strictly repertorial perspective." One might say it should be evaluated for its own merits. Glenn Greenwald, for one, has a field day with Fallows's defense of Goldberg:
[I]f Fallows were right that suspicions and doubts about Goldberg's article were based on his past behavior, wouldn't that be perfectly justifiable? The Iraq War is the single worst political and media debacle of this generation -- the massive human suffering it caused is staggering -- and Goldberg's shoddy, error-filled, reckless "journalism" played a leading role in helping to bring it about. So discredited and humiliatingly wrong was Goldberg's prewar "reporting" that it's squarely within Judy Miller territory.

And Michael Gordon is, of course, the vice-president of Judy Miller territory.
Greenwald frames the utter lack of accountability inherent in the Obama administration's formulation of "looking forward, not backward" -- the philosophy that has spared Bush administration officials investigation for their complicity (or worse) in torture, kidnapping, and cherry-picking and manipulating intelligence to sell the United States on war with Iraq.
That Judith Miller was dismissed at all is something of an aberration. Gordon's treatment is more par for the course. Greenwald notes that even after his error-laced Iraq reporting, Goldberg was lured away from the New Yorker, presumably with "bags full of cash," by the Atlantic. He and Michael Gordon have now moved on to reporting about Iran -- Goldberg through the eyes of the hawkish Israelis, and Gordon from Iraq, through single-source raw intel and unnamed military and administration officials.
This is not looking forward nor looking back, but not looking at all -- a collective aversion of the eyes -- as those same journalists responsible for enabling an aggressive war on questionable premises do so once again from their perch atop the journalistic establishment.
Ali Gharib is a New York-based journalist who blogs daily on U.S.-Iran relations at

Copyright © 2010 Tehran Bureau

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Beeman--State Department refers to Persian Gulf as "Arabian Gulf" to annoy Iran

State Department refers to Persian Gulf as "Arabian Gulf" to annoy Iran

In the latest round of childish interchange between the United States and Iran, the U.S. has decided to use the cheap shot of referring to the Persian Gulf as the Arabian Gulf. Never mind that many bodies of water in the world have dual nomenclature. The State Department well knows that this is a hot-button item for the Iranians. I saw the State Department announcement of a $60 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia intended to "stabilize the region."It seems that Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro went out of his way to be provocative. He pointedly referred to the "Arabian Gulf" several times. There was no need to do this at all. The State Department could have simply talked about Saudi Arabia without referring to the Gulf at all. Most of us outside of the region have no dog in this fight, aside from wishing to be historically correct (the term "Arabian Gulf" is, as most everyone knows, fairly recent in historical reference--certainly more recent than "Persian Gulf"), but the repercussions on the Iranian side are certain to be negative. It was a gratuitous slap in the face calculated to get a rise out of Iranian officials. The effect is to worsen the already terrible relations between the nations, and to create heightened tensions in the region. If the Iranians are wise they will ignore this cheap little trick, but my guess is they won't.

see Jamal Abdi's article on this matter:

Monday, October 25, 2010

Beeman--Iran's Involvement in Iraq--Wikileaks Documents don't prove a thing

Michael R. Gordon and Andrew W. Lehren wrote a long front-page article in The New York Times on Saturday, October 22 entitled "Leaked Reports Detail Iran’s Aid for Iraqi Militias"

This article is based on documents produced by the whistleblower site, Wikileaks.

Readers should be deeply skeptical of claims that the the NY Times reporting on Iran's involvement in Iraq based on the Wikileaks documents constitutes some kind of smoking gun about Iran's involvement in attacks on the U.S. military, or, actually, that the reporting constitutes anything new at all.

These Wikileaked documents are all internal U.S. military dispatches. They merely report what the military believes to be true. In fact, everything reported in the Times by Gordon and Lehren--all the stuff about missiles, EFT's and Hezbollah-- have already been claimed by the military over the years, and dutifully reported by the Times, sometimes with "enhancements" from the writers, and others such as Michael Slackman.  It should be noted that when the military tried to show the captured equipment, they couldn't trace even one piece definitively to Iran. Having a leaked memo expressing the military's belief that it this equipment was Iranian without further proof doesn't make this any more believable. The Times had the gall to show a picture of the non-conclusive materiel along with their story as if now their claims would render the claims valid.

The only thing that is different in this report is that the Wikileaks documents give us the verbatim internal reports. Merely having them stated in this form doesn't constitute proof of the assertions. Indeed, Gordon and Lehren themselves point out that the claims can not be verified. They further pad their article with negative quotes about Iran from U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Christopher Crocker, unrelated to the Wikileaks documents, as if his speculations constituted better proof. Some commentators have been somehow impressed by these documents, but a close inspection shows that they provide no more proof than anyone had before.

The Times has much to report regarding this fantastic trove of documents, Why they chose to feature this story is obvious to me. They have made this story a running epic over the last seven years with no end of criticism. They now seem to be returning to the well with these documents, but the evidence is no more compelling for its repetition.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Franklin Lamb--"Isn't This One Fine View?" On the Road with Ahmadinejad in Lebanon

EditionOctober 15 - 17, 2010

"Isn't This One Fine View?" On the Road with Ahmadinejad in Lebanon


Commentary by William O. Beeman: President Ahmadinejad's enthusiastic welcome in Lebanon is a surprising and singular phenomenon. It will be analyzed for some time. The most astonishing aspect of it is the broad participation by the Lebanese community, transcending Shi'a/Sunni/Christian/Druze splits in the society.


He came, he saw, he conquered.

As he watched the Iranian President blow kisses to cleaning workers at Beirut’s airport during his departure for Iran early this morning, a Lebanese Christian historian commented “This Persian’s glory at the moment is arguably greater than Caesar’s following Rome’s second conquest of Britain”.

And the Iranian president did indeed throw much more than a stone at US-Israel projects for Lebanon, perhaps energized by the adoring public he encountered. A grateful nation extended to Makmoud Ahmadinejad what one Bishop claimed was the greatest outpouring of popular support on the streets, all along this country’s sectarian divide, that the Republic of Lebanon has ever witnessed including the May 10, 1997 visit of Pope John Paul II.

An important reason for the outpouring of popular support was the quarter century of Iranian assistance to Lebanon for social projects, and for rebuilding much of Lebanon following the 1993, 1996 and 2006 Israeli aggressions. Massive aid that was detailed by Hezbollah’s Secretary-General in a recent speech and the cost of which is estimated to be in excess of one billion dollars.

Iran’s President is widely believed in the diplomatic community here to have promoted sectarian unity in Lebanon, calmed the current political atmosphere, and delivered on offers of more desperately needed economic projects via 17 bilateral agreements. A particularly appreciated offer throughout Lebanon is Iran’s major pledge of an electrical complex that will deliver 7 times Lebanon’s current power supply, which in 2010 still sees power cuts throughout Lebanon. The current deficiencies range from three hours to 12 hours daily power cuts everywhere in Lebanon plus total blackouts for days at a time in some areas. Iran’s President is widely believed to have achieved a major advancement for Lebanese stability, sovereignty, and independence.

The throngs were cheering, waving, and shouting their admiration. Local media used descriptive words like “rock star, rapturous, massive affection,” to describe his reception.

Wretched Palestinian refugees, tightly shoe horned into Lebanon’s squalid UN camps, denied even the most elementary civil rights by an apathetic international community and some of the local sects, could be seen along the route. Many with eyes moistened, perhaps by Nakba memories and tears of hope for the early liberation of their sacred Palestine and the full exercise of their internationally mandated and inalienable Right of Return to their homes.

Refugees, plenty of them illegal, Iraqis, Afghans, Kurds and others, urging the expulsion of occupation forces from their countries and the restoration of their former lives waved and blew kisses. Lebanese domestic ‘guest/slave workers’ from Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, Sudan, Philippines, Bangladesh, and other countries could be seen in the crowds along with Syrian construction workers. Also a sprinkling of Stendhal “Le Rouge et le Noir” characters who, seeking secure advancement in life, have fixed themselves to one or the other, both requiring that they be seen publicly at such an important event.

Close to 750,000 people, or approximately one quarter of the total population of Lebanon,) of all ages and stations in life, appeared at the main road from Beirut’s airport and at other events during an intense two day frenetic series of appearances. Red, green and yellow rose petals, the colors of Iran’s flag, greeted Lebanon’s guest. Due to time constraints, some events for which much preparation had been made were “postponed”, including an “American Town Hall Meeting with President Ahmadinejad. ” It was to include 15 Americans currently in Lebanon as academics, business people, students, housewives, and NGO’s, in a much anticipated US political campaign type format with Iran’s President joining an informal dialogue with his interlocutors.

At Al Raya Athletic field in South Beirut, often used for popular Hezbollah events, an estimated 150, 000 people crowded onto just the main field boundaries, , one Hezbollah source reporting that it was the largest gathering inside the field ever seen. Thousands of other attendees spilled onto the side streets where huge TV screens has been set up and vendors hocked roasted ears of corn, boiled balila beans, kaak asrounye (baked bread with filling) ) various treats, including chips, cotton candy and soft drinks. Driving around the area on the mercifully cool autumn evening by motorbike, one could see thousands more gathered at several dozen Dahiyeh outdoor cafes and store front shops where families and friends gathered to watch on the proprietors’ outdoor TV screens. Some of the adults smoked arguila water pipes and little kids played, happy to be allowed to stay up late while teenagers appeared contented to get a day off from school and an evening without homework.

Lebanese and Iranian flags were fluttering everywhere without huge numbers of Hezbollah flags displayed in keeping with the message that this was an official state visit. President Ahmadinejad of Iran was invited by President Michel Suleiman of Lebanon on behalf of every Lebanese, including the majority of Lebanese who live in the Diaspora. Deployments of Suleiman’s Presidential guards were the ones seen to be providing security for Iran’s president with Hezbollah security largely out of site, except for occasional fleeting glimpse of Hezbollah sharpshooters in windows throughout the assembly area. They also surfaced quickly if a dispute or argument flared up in the packed crowds. In these few cases a representative of Hezbollah would apologize for the crowded conditions and ask for patience and understanding during the event.

At one stop near the blue line in South Lebanon he smiled broadly, winked to the media contingent and adoring villagers surrounding him and, gazing deep into occupied Palestine, as if posing for a Marlboro Country billboard advertisement, Iran’s charismatic President made many a heart flutter when he spoke softly, almost whispering to some villages, and with a twinkle in his eye, as if someone were eavesdropping: “Now isn’t this one fine view?”, as he discretely pointed. “I like it over there, don’t you?”

Almost everyone laughed at his joke.

A young lady wearing a full length black Chador (a women wearing one is called a ‘Chadori’ in Persian and Lebanese resistance culture) , with some of her school mates in tow who were volunteering as hostesses and Farsi, Arabic, and English interpreters, offered arriving American guests enthusiastic greetings: “Welcome to the Islamic Republic of Iran’s new border with Palestine!”

Almost everyone laughed at her joke.

Then, exuding an easy self confidence and speaking American accented English while obviously having a good time, the student noticed one seemingly horror struck humorless lady wearing a light brown business suit and heels who a security guy later confided was suspected of being a US Embassy plant. “Just teasing”, she assured the woman, as she offered her hand in friendship to the flinching guest who glared uneasily at the hostesses’ hand as if it held a dead rat or might bite hers. “Why are you Americans so serious”? the loquacious hostess smiled. “Do you agree Iran and America are destined to be good friends after our countries are finished with this problem?”, and she gestured with her head south toward Tel Aviv.

“Please tell me what do Americans think? I read a few days ago in preparation for my work today-I should not say work, it’s really fun- a report that ninety percent of Americans in a recent poll said they did not favor attacking Iran unless Iran attacks Israel first. This is very good news because I am sure Iran, unlike Israel’s record, will never be the first to start a war. Iran will retaliate naturally and that could mean World War III, but there will be no war involving Iran unless Iran, Syria, or Lebanon is attacked. We in the Resistance Alliance are ‘one for all and all for one’ but we really want to be friends with the American people.” And she offered the woman a small ribbon-tied, party wrapped, cellophane pouch with Iranian pistachios and candy attached to a small Iranian flag. “No thanks”, the American answered as she walked away.

The American Embassy warned Americans to avoid Ahmadinejad’s “provocative and potentially dangerous visit because the Lebanese government cannot protect US Citizens.” Jeffrey Feltman, the assistant secretary of State for Near Eastern affairs, complained to the pan-Arab Al-Hayat on 10/13/10: “Why is the Iranian president organizing activities that might spark tension? We are taking steps to lower tension while Ahmadinejad is doing the opposite.”

Nevertheless, there were plenty of Yanks in attendance at all of Ahmadinejad’s appearances.

During his Qana visit, the Hezbollah Parliamentary delegation, friends with many Americans here, must have tipped off the Iranian President that Americans were sitting near them. The reason for this hunch is that he could not have been more gracious, making frequently eye contact and touching his forehead as a greeting and salute and thanking them for coming. He assured the American guests that eventually Iran and America will be good friends and perhaps allies.

Shortly before the Iranian President’s 35 car convoy carrying his delegation and various Lebanese officials arrived at Qana, his fourth largest gathering, an Israeli Air Force MRPV circled lazily yet provocatively above the site of the 1996 Qana massacre. Some in the more than 15,000 person crowd pointed skyward, some kids squealing “Israel!”. From their experience, “Qanains” as Ali, who grew up in this village explained some locals call themselves, were able to give foreigners fairly precise details of the MRPV’s specs and capabilities. This Israeli provocation ended, according to a Hezbollah security source, when the MRPV’s controllers realized that a Resistance laser guided missile had locked on to the uninvited intruder. The same source divulged that Hezbollah did not intend to shoot it down and would only monitor the threat. This was because the Resistance did not want mar the Iranian Presidents tour. In addition, he explained, explained that Lebanon’s resistance wanted to maintain “tactical and strategic ambiguity” concerning its array of anti-aircraft weapons until the moment war comes.

Lebanon’s people, army and resistance ignored provocations from this country’s southern enemy, including assassination threats like the one made by the Nakba-denying Knesset member Aryeh Eldad , more blustering from Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak, and PM Netanyahu, the beefing up of Israeli forces along the blue line, efforts to crack Hezbollah communications and send SMS threats via hacked mobile phones, conducting a chorus of US officials in childish criticisms of the visit, and Israeli spokesmen like Mark Regev and political extremists in Congress issuing threats.

Israeli warplanes on Friday carried out intensive, mock air raids over south Lebanon as if to send the message, “He is gone but we are still here!” The state-run National News Agency said Israeli jets staged mock air raids at medium attitude over Nabatiyeh, Iqlim al-Tuffah, Marjayoun, Khiam and Arqoub. Another signature Israeli taunt during Iran’s Presidents visit was the launching of hundreds of blue and white balloons to catch the air current north to Bint Jbeil when Ahmadinejad was appearing. Some with insults written on them by children with magic markers and others allegedly smeared with human feces, the spreading of the latter being an IDF insult employed over the past 45 years of incursions into Lebanon and Palestine when during occupations of Lebanese and Palestinian homes some Israeli soldiers create what they call “poop art” on walls, mattresses and other surfaces.

Analysts will write about Iran’s Makmoud Ahmadinejad’s historic visit for months to come and what the visit means for the two countries, for the question of Palestine, strategic alignments in the region, and consequences for China, Russia and the wider international community.

A perhaps too early, road-weary, sleep-deprived photo snap of his visit’s effects would warrant the following brief and tentative evacuation, as Lebanon’s guest has just departed Beirut airport to return to his country. His midnight departure followed a visit at the Iranian Embassy with Hassan Nassrallah during which the Hezbollah Secretary-General gave the Iranian President an Israeli rifle taken from an Israeli soldier during the July 2006 war.

Ahmadinejad’s visit achieved more than a symbolic consecration of a new local and regional reality that encompasses a third way, separate from the US-Israel-Saudi or Syrian path. Some here think we are witnessing a new era of growing and uncompromising Resistance to Israel’s brutal occupation and ethnic cleansing of Palestine as well as America’s occupation and exploitation of Arab natural resources. Some analysts are speaking about a six member Axis of Resistance led by Iran and Turkey and including Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and Lebanon that is the rising regional power.

What seems quite evident is that Iran’s President and the large delegation of business people comprising his entourage have opened a new era of bilateral relations between the two countries. His positive personal and political connections with virtually all Lebanon’s leaders, including compliments from rightist Christian politicians including Samir Geagea, will likely lead to big joint economic projects, the Iranian arming of the Lebanese Armed Forces, and strategic political cooperation, starting now.

Franklin Lamb is doing research in Lebanon and can be reached at

Saturday, September 25, 2010

My Dinner with President Ahmadinejad of Iran--Beeman

Dinner with President Ahmadinejad of Iran
William O. Beeman 
I was at an intimate dinner with Iranian President Ahmadinejad (and 57 others!) on Wednesday, September 22 at the Warwick Hotel in New York. We had an excellent Persian meal without the President being present (perhaps to meet the objection some had about "breaking bread" with him). Dinner was followed by a question and answer session in an adjacent room. The guests were largely public policy specialists, ex-ambassadors and a smattering of academics, a few of whom, including me, who spoke Persian because they were Iranian-American or because they had bothered to learn the language.
President Ahmandinejad is a fiery and controversial speaker in public, but in private he is a polished and polite conversationalist, and a highly skillful rhetorician. He manages to combine an erudite vocabulary with an informal, highly conversational verbal style. He answers questions even in a forum like this as if he was having an intimate chat with his interlocutors. This doesn't mean that he is any less controversial. He has pat answers for nearly every predictable question. Asked about executions in Iran, he points to the incipient execution of a woman in Virginia (which took place late last week after the dinner). When asked about nuclear weapons he says, "Announcing that you want nuclear weapons is to announce that you are a murderer. What other purpose is there for having nuclear weapons than to murder people." Asked about the judiciary, he points out that it isn't under his control and that in the U.S. and other nations, presidents often disagree with the decisions of the independent courts. 
Ultimately however, I was disappointed with the event. President Ahmadinejad extended the time originally allocated for questions and answers by 45 minutes. His patience with the assembled body was notable. However, the extra time was wasted. With few exceptions the vast bulk of the questions were really variations of each other--and all about Iran's nuclear program. This was disappointing because President Ahmadinejad had been answering questions from the press almost exclusively about this issue for two days. A simple Google search would have yielded up virtually every single answer he gave to those assembled at dinner.

The golden opportunity to engage President Ahmadinejad on a wider variety of issues--human rights, Afghanistan, Iraq, the environment, drug trafficking, trade policy, relations with India and China, and on and on was totally wasted in the obsession with the nuclear issue. At times I got the feeling that the assembled academics, ambassadors and policy specialists were trying to play "gotcha journalism" as if asking the same question over and over again in slightly different language was going to trap the President in to making some kind of verbal mistake. His line on the nuclear issue is by now finely honed, and he is quite practiced under fire. Any hope that he would break rank on this topic should have been dispelled in the first ten minutes. One of my companions snuck out early, saying "My God, this repetition is like water torture." I don't want to be mean spirited, but this was a sad showing from some of the finest minds in the country who somehow couldn't break away from this one-note theme.

But the food was superb.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Beeman discusses relationship between US, Iran (Grinnell College--Scarlet & Black)

September 17th, 2010 | By | Section: News

On Thursday Sept. 16, William Beeman visited Grinnell College and gave a lecture entitled “Iran Is Not What You Think It Is.” Beeman is a specialist in Middle East Studies, Japanese Studies, Central Asian Studies, Linguistics and Performance Studies. He is currently a professor and Chair of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota while continuing a reputable musical career as an opera singer. Beeman has published, among other works, “The Great Satan vs. The Mad Mullahs: How the United States and Iran Demonize Each Other,” “Language, Status, and Power in Iran” and “The Third Line: The Opera Performer as Interpreter.”
He proclaims views on Iran that are contrary to commonly held misconceptions­—although he is a strong critic against Iran’s human rights record. In my interview with him, he shared with me a history of Iranian-American relations.
Beeman Convo
William Beeman shaking hands - Radka Slamova
Q: What is public perception of Iran in America? Why do you disagree with it?
A: I think people see Iran as, it’s been characterized by a lot of people as a medieval backward country that’s ruled by repressive religious forces, and the picture also paints Iran as this very dark, gloomy place. And this is, you know, I didn’t say this explicitly in the talk, but the first thing you want to dispel is this notion. Because most Iranians live with economic and political difficulty, but for the most part the Iranians live a very happy life.
The idea, too, that the place is ruled by mullahs is wrong. During the time when Ayatollah Khomeini was established as the spiritual leader, yes indeed, they put a lot of clerics in positions of authority. But over the years they’ve proven to be not very good managers. … They’ve gradually been replaced by people who really knew what they were doing. So even in government, maybe 25 percent are still bona fide clerics, but the balance of the government is all now secular individuals, or people who stopped pretending that they’re clerics.
And getting to be a high-ranked cleric is also, I should say, not necessarily a guarantee that you’re going to be conservative. And what you find is that you go to the theological schools in the city of Qom. It’s a big capital with theological training, and some of those clerics, first of all they are just so smart, they have the equivalent of a Ph.D. in philosophy, and of course they know Arabic and they are skilled in argumentation. And many of them are very, very liberal, and very radical, and they also feel that they have the right to come out and just flatly criticize the government, which they do on a regular basis. So being a mullah, so to speak, is not a guarantee that you’re going to be conservative.
So both of those stereotypes that mullahs run the government is not correct, and the stereotype that mullahs are very conservative is not correct.
Q: What is the root of strained relations between Iran and America?
A: Well there are two sides to it. There are Iran’s problems with the United States. And these go way back. In Iranian thinking, the United States is an extension of Great Britain, and in the 19th century, Great Britain and Russia more or less divided up the country into spheres of influence, and the British had enormous influence over Iranian politics and the Iranian government. … In 1952, the Prime Minister then, Muhammad Musaddiq nationalized the Iranian oil company. The British were furious about the nationalization of oil, and the United States was afraid that Musaddiq was creating an unstable situation, so the U.S. staged a coup and brought the Shah back into power and deposed of Musaddiq. This was the first time the United States had acted really directly to deal with Iranian internal affairs. Then gradually over time the United States developed commercial relations with the Shah…The U.S. sold arms to Iran, lots of them, extensively for the defense of the country, but the Shah more or less used the increased military expenditure to develop a very strong defense force that also repressed the population of the country. So gradually there was opposition to the Shah because of his repressive tendencies, [and this was] also directed towards the United States for their support of the Shah…Then when the revolution finally came in ’78-’79, the United States made the terrible mistake of admitting the Shah to the United States for medical treatment. This was a big surprise to the Iranians, they didn’t know he was sick. And when they’d heard he had cancer and he was going to the U.S., they thought “uh oh, here we go again. They deposed the government in 1952 and restored the Shah, and now they’re bringing the Shah to the United States to make plans to depose the government again.” So they wanted to send their own doctors to New York to examine him to see if he really had cancer because they didn’t believe it. And then the U.S. refused. And that was the thing that touched off the takeover of the American embassy. The American embassy was taken over then, and many people in Washington view this as the most awful insult that has ever been leveled against the Unites States.
So the United States started to have trouble, serious trouble, at the time of the hostage crisis. The U.S. broke off diplomatic relations at that time with Iran and they’ve never restored them. Gradually, the U.S. imposed economic sanctions upon Iran, it’s not clear why …but these sanctions were renewed under Bill Clinton, and then finally under George W. Bush we had a whole neoconservative agenda that had been cooked up during the 1990s to affect regime change in all of the countries in the Middle East and get rid of the Iranian government.
And the U.S. tries to find ways to make up an excuse for attacking Iran that would be plausible to the American public. So once again they renewed the idea that Iran was supporting terrorists worldwide. And then they claimed that Iran was attacking the U.S. through proxies in Iraq. And finally they hit on this nuclear idea, as a justification for attacking Iran. So you can see that there’s a lot of bad blood between the two nations. And untangling 30 years of hostility is really, really tough. And a lot of it is actually quite emotional, not even substantive.
In point of fact, Iran hasn’t done anything to the United States, not anything, they haven’t done anything. I mean they kicked out the Shah, but it was their Shah. The charge that they were attacking the U.S. military in Iraq turned out to be completely unsubstantiated. They haven’t attacked Israel—they haven’t done anything to us. And yet the United States is still claiming that they are the most dangerous people in the world, the most dangerous nation on Earth. And Iran can point to several things that the United States has done to Iran.
Also what’s happened in the last ten years is that US-Iranian relations, they weren’t very good, but they were separate from U.S.-Israeli relations. The last decade, they’ve become united. And there’s a kind of formula—if you’re soft on Iran or friendly towards Iran, then you’re an enemy to Israel. It’s kind of amazing because we really should be pursuing separate tracks in my way of thinking. This affects American political life, because nobody, no politician can come out and say not even anything positive, or they can’t even say we should rethink our dealings with Iran—because then they get attacked by people who say they’re not supporting Israel, because in order to be a friend of Israel they have to be an implacable enemy of Iran.
Anyway, I know that sounds long, but it’s kind of a short litany of these grievances between the two.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Reality check: Iran is not a nuclear threat--Christian Science Monitor

The Christian Science Monitor -

Reality check: Iran is not a nuclear threat

Forget the neoconservative hype. The facts show Iran is not and has not been a nuclear threat to either the United States or Israel.
By Scott Horton
posted September 17, 2010 at 12:42 pm EDT
Comment by William O. Beeman:  Many of us have been trying to get this message across to the American public since 2003. The claim that Iran was making nuclear weapons was an excuse promulgated by the neoconservatives of the Bush administration to make attacking Iran acceptable to the U.S. body politic. Sadly, though there is ABSOLUTELY NO PROOF that an Iranian nuclear weapons program exists, it has now been presented so often that most Americans believe it to be true. This is a sad commentary both on our political life and on the American media. Please read and forward this piece widely.

Los Angeles —
Politicians, lobbyists, and propagandists have spent nearly two decades pushing the lie that Iran poses a nuclear weapons threat to the United States and Israel. After a brief respite in the intensity of the wolf cries over the past two years, the neoconservative movement has decided to relaunch the “Must Bomb Iran” brand.
The fact that Iran is not and has not been a nuclear threat to either nation is rendered irrelevant by a narrative of universal “concern” about its nuclear program.

US media distortions

In mid-August, for example, after The New York Times quite uncharacteristically ran a piece diminishing the supposed danger of Iranian nukes, the story was misrepresented in newspapers and on TV stations across the country in the most frightening terms. As MSNBC’s news reader put it that afternoon: “Intelligence sources say Iran is only one year away from a nuclear bomb!”
On August 13, on Fox News, former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton implicitly urged Israel to attack Iran’s new light-water reactor at Bushehr before it began “functioning,” the implication being that the reactor represented some sort of dire threat. But the facts are not on Mr. Bolton’s side. The Bushehr reactor is not useful for producing weapons-grade plutonium, and the Russians have a deal to keep all the waste themselves.
On September 6, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released a new paper on the implementation of Iran’s Safeguards Agreement which reported that the agency has “continued to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran to any military or other special purpose.”
Yet despite the IAEA report and clear assertions to the contrary, news articles that followed were dishonest to the extreme, interpreting this clean bill of health as just another wisp of smoke indicating nuclear fire in a horrifying near-future.
A Washington Post article published the very same day led the way with the aggressive and misleading headline “UN Report: Iran stockpiling nuclear materials,” “shorthanding” the facts right out of the narrative. The facts are that Iran’s terrifying nuclear “stockpile” is a small amount of uranium enriched to industrial grade levels for use in its domestic energy and medical isotope programs, all of it “safeguarded” by the IAEA.

More sensational claims

If the smokescreen wasn’t thick enough, late last week a group of Marxist holy warrior exiles called the Mujahadeen-e-Khalq, working with the very same neoconservatives who sponsored Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress – which manufactured so much of the propaganda that convinced the American people to support the invasion of that country – accused the Iranian government of building a secret nuclear enrichment facility buried deep in tunnels near Qazvin.
Headlines once again blared in total negligence and without verification that here indeed was, an official told Fox News, proof that Iran has a “hidden, secret nuclear weapons program.’” TV news anchors on every channel furiously mopped sweat from their brows, hearts-a-tremor. When will the forces of good rise to stop this evil?!
Yet even US officials quickly admitted that they’ve known about these tunnels for years. “[T]here’s no reason at this point to think it’s nuclear,” one US official said – a quote that appeared in Fox’s article, but only after five paragraphs of breathless allegations. All day long, top-of-the-hour news updates on TV and radio let the false impression stand.
IAEA inspectors have had open access to the gas conversion facility at Isfahan, the enrichment facility at Natanz, and the new lightwater reactor at Bushehr, as well as the secondary enrichment facility under construction at Qom.

An ignored clean bill of health

The September 6 IAEA report confirming for the zillionth time the non-diversion of nuclear material should be the last word on the subject until the next time they say the same thing: Iran, a long-time signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), is not in violation of its Safeguards Agreement.
So what’s all the hubbub about Iran’s “nuclear defiance” and “danger”?
The IAEA’s latest report does note that Iran has “not provided the necessary cooperation to permit the Agency to confirm that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.” Indeed, the agency’s frequent mentions of Iran’s “lack of full cooperation” is a big reason why US media reports portray Iran in ominous terms.
But here, too, US media frequently miss the point. Never mind that 118 nations around the world have signed a statement criticizing the IAEA’s “peaceful activities” conclusion as a departure from standard verification language. More broadly, Iran’s “lack of full cooperation” by itself is an outcome of Western bullying and propaganda.

Real reason for lack of cooperation

The US and the UN, acting upon no legitimate authority whatsoever, have demanded that Iran submit to an Additional Protocol to the Safeguards Agreement, which would ban any further enrichment on Iranian soil, as well as demanded they submit to an endless regime of IAEA inspections and questioning, based mostly on the “alleged studies” documents, which several sources have said are forgeries posing as a pilfered laptop of a dead Iranian nuclear scientist.
These separate, UN Security Council-mandated investigations have even demanded blueprints for Shahab 3 missiles – a subject far removed from hexafluoride gas or any legitimate IAEA function. In 2003, Iran voluntarily agreed to the extra burden of the unratified Additional Protocol during “good faith negotiations” with the so-called “E-3,” Britain, France, and Germany, acting on behalf of the US. When those negotiations broke down, Iran withdrew in 2006.
With these details left out of the discussion, the impression is left that Iran is refusing to abide by international law, when in fact, it is completely within its NPT obligations.

An outrageous standard

Meanwhile, Washington continues to apply to Iran the outrageous standard it used in the run-up to the Iraq war: an unfriendly nation must “prove” it doesn’t have dangerous weapons or a secret program to make them – or potentially face military action.
“Proving a negative” is, to say the least, a difficult obligation to meet: You say you haven’t read Webster’s Dictionary cover to cover? Prove it!
The bottom line is that Iran is still within its unalienable rights to peaceful nuclear technology under the NPT and the Safeguards Agreement – a point even Tehran’s fiercest critics (grudgingly) acknowledge. The only issues it is defying are the illegitimate sanctions and demands of the US and UN, which themselves defy logic and sense.

Journalists’ ethical obligation

It is far past time for the members of the American media to get their act together and begin asking serious follow-up questions of the politicians, “experts,” and lobbyists they interview on the subject of Iran’s nuclear program.
Many of these same journalists still have the blood of hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis on their hands from the months they spent continuously and uncritically parroting the lies, half-truths, and distortions of agenda-driven Iraqi dissidents and their neocon champions who pushed us into the Iraq war.
Perhaps this is their shot at redemption.
Scott Horton is host of Antiwar Radio on the Liberty Radio Network and assistant editor at

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Rich--The Billionaires Bankrolling the Tea Party

The New York Times

August 28, 2010

The Billionaires Bankrolling the Tea Party

ANOTHER weekend, another grass-roots demonstration starring Real Americans who are mad as hell and want to take back their country from you-know-who. Last Sunday the site was Lower Manhattan, where they jeered the “ground zero mosque.” This weekend, the scene shifted to Washington, where the avatars of oppressed white Tea Party America, Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, were slated to “reclaim the civil rights movement” (Beck’s words) on the same spot where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. had his dream exactly 47 years earlier.

Vive la révolution!

There’s just one element missing from these snapshots of America’s ostensibly spontaneous and leaderless populist uprising: the sugar daddies who are bankrolling it, and have been doing so since well before the “death panel” warm-up acts of last summer. Three heavy hitters rule. You’ve heard of one of them, Rupert Murdoch. The other two, the brothers David and Charles Koch, are even richer, with a combined wealth exceeded only by that of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett among Americans. But even those carrying the Kochs’ banner may not know who these brothers are.

Their self-interested and at times radical agendas, like Murdoch’s, go well beyond, and sometimes counter to, the interests of those who serve as spear carriers in the political pageants hawked on Fox News. The country will be in for quite a ride should these potentates gain power, and given the recession-battered electorate’s unchecked anger and the Obama White House’s unfocused political strategy, they might.

All three tycoons are the latest incarnation of what the historian Kim Phillips-Fein labeled “Invisible Hands” in her prescient 2009 book of that title: those corporate players who have financed the far right ever since the du Pont brothers spawned the American Liberty League in 1934 to bring down F.D.R. You can draw a straight line from the Liberty League’s crusade against the New Deal “socialism” of Social Security, the Securities and Exchange Commission and child labor laws to the John Birch Society-Barry Goldwater assault on J.F.K. and Medicare to the Koch-Murdoch-backed juggernaut against our “socialist” president.

Only the fat cats change — not their methods and not their pet bugaboos (taxes, corporate regulation, organized labor, and government “handouts” to the poor, unemployed, ill and elderly). Even the sources of their fortunes remain fairly constant. Koch Industries began with oil in the 1930s and now also spews an array of industrial products, from Dixie cups to Lycra, not unlike DuPont’s portfolio of paint and plastics.

Sometimes the biological DNA persists as well. The Koch brothers’ father, Fred, was among the select group chosen to serve on the Birch Society’s top governing body. In a recorded 1963 speech that survives in a University of Michigan archive, he can be heard warning of “a takeover” of America in which Communists would “infiltrate the highest offices of government in the U.S. until the president is a Communist, unknown to the rest of us.” That rant could be delivered as is at any Tea Party rally today.

Last week the Kochs were shoved unwillingly into the spotlight by the most comprehensive journalistic portrait of them yet, written by Jane Mayer of The New Yorker. Her article caused a stir among those in Manhattan’s liberal elite who didn’t know that David Koch, widely celebrated for his cultural philanthropy, is not merely another rich conservative Republican but the founder of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, which, as Mayer writes with some understatement, “has worked closely with the Tea Party since the movement’s inception.” To New Yorkers who associate the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center with the New York City Ballet, it’s startling to learn that the Texas branch of that foundation’s political arm, known simply as Americans for Prosperity, gave its Blogger of the Year Award to an activist who had called President Obama “cokehead in chief.”

The other major sponsor of the Tea Party movement is Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks, which, like Americans for Prosperity, is promoting events in Washington this weekend. Under its original name, Citizens for a Sound Economy, FreedomWorks received $12 million of its own from Koch family foundations. Using tax records, Mayer found that Koch-controlled foundations gave out $196 million from 1998 to 2008, much of it to conservative causes and institutions. That figure doesn’t include $50 million in Koch Industries lobbying and $4.8 million in campaign contributions by its political action committee, putting it first among energy company peers like Exxon Mobil and Chevron. Since tax law permits anonymous personal donations to nonprofit political groups, these figures may understate the case. The Kochs surely match the in-kind donations the Tea Party receives in free promotion 24/7 from Murdoch’s Fox News, where both Beck and Palin are on the payroll.

The New Yorker article stirred up the right, too. Some of Mayer’s blogging detractors unwittingly upheld the premise of her article (titled “Covert Operations”) by conceding that they have been Koch grantees. None of them found any factual errors in her 10,000 words. Many of them tried to change the subject to George Soros, the billionaire backer of liberal causes. But Soros is a publicity hound who is transparent about where he shovels his money. And like many liberals — selflessly or foolishly, depending on your point of view — he supports causes that are unrelated to his business interests and that, if anything, raise his taxes.

This is hardly true of the Kochs. When David Koch ran to the right of Reagan as vice president on the 1980 Libertarian ticket (it polled 1 percent), his campaign called for the abolition not just of Social Security, federal regulatory agencies and welfare but also of the F.B.I., the C.I.A., and public schools — in other words, any government enterprise that would either inhibit his business profits or increase his taxes. He hasn’t changed. As Mayer details, Koch-supported lobbyists, foundations and political operatives are at the center of climate-science denial — a cause that forestalls threats to Koch Industries’ vast fossil fuel business. While Koch foundations donate to cancer hospitals like Memorial Sloan-Kettering in New York, Koch Industries has been lobbying to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from classifying another product important to its bottom line, formaldehyde, as a “known carcinogen” in humans (which it is).

Tea Partiers may share the Kochs’ detestation of taxes, big government and Obama. But there’s a difference between mainstream conservatism and a fringe agenda that tilts completely toward big business, whether on Wall Street or in the Gulf of Mexico, while dismantling fundamental government safety nets designed to protect the unemployed, public health, workplace safety and the subsistence of the elderly.

Yet inexorably the Koch agenda is morphing into the G.O.P. agenda, as articulated by current Republican members of Congress, including the putative next speaker of the House, John Boehner, and Tea Party Senate candidates like Rand Paul, Sharron Angle, and the new kid on the block, Alaska’s anti-Medicaid, anti-unemployment insurance Palin protégé, Joe Miller. Their program opposes a federal deficit, but has no objection to running up trillions in red ink in tax cuts to corporations and the superrich; apologizes to corporate malefactors like BP and derides money put in escrow for oil spill victims as a “slush fund”; opposes the extension of unemployment benefits; and calls for a freeze on federal regulations in an era when abuses in the oil, financial, mining, pharmaceutical and even egg industries (among others) have been outrageous.

The Koch brothers must be laughing all the way to the bank knowing that working Americans are aiding and abetting their selfish interests. And surely Murdoch is snickering at those protesting the “ground zero mosque.” Last week on “Fox and Friends,” the Bush administration flacks Dan Senor and Dana Perino attacked a supposedly terrorism-tainted Saudi prince whose foundation might contribute to the Islamic center. But as “The Daily Show” keeps pointing out, these Fox bloviators never acknowledge that the evil prince they’re bashing, Walid bin Talal, is not only the biggest non-Murdoch shareholder in Fox News’s parent company (he owns 7 percent of News Corporation) and the recipient of Murdoch mammoth investments in Saudi Arabia but also the subject of lionization elsewhere on Fox.

No less a Murdoch factotum than Neil Cavuto slobbered over bin Talal in a Fox Business Channel interview as recently as January, with nary a question about his supposed terrorist ties. Instead, bin Talal praised Obama’s stance on terrorism and even endorsed the Democrats’ goal of universal health insurance. Do any of the Fox-watching protestors at the “ground zero mosque” know that Fox’s profits are flowing to a Obama-sympathizing Saudi billionaire in bed with Murdoch? As Jon Stewart summed it up, the protestors who want “to cut off funding to the ‘terror mosque’ ” are aiding that funding by watching Fox and enhancing bin Talal’s News Corp. holdings.

When wolves of Murdoch’s ingenuity and the Kochs’ stealth have been at the door of our democracy in the past, Democrats have fought back fiercely. Franklin Roosevelt’s triumphant 1936 re-election campaign pummeled the Liberty League as a Republican ally eager to “squeeze the worker dry in his old age and cast him like an orange rind into the refuse pail.” When John Kennedy’s patriotism was assailed by Birchers calling for impeachment, he gave a major speech denouncing their “crusades of suspicion.”

And Obama? So far, sadly, this question answers itself.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Back in Iran

I am back in Iran this week attending a conference and seeing friends. I will have a lot to write when I return. Please keep posted!
Bill Beeman

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Gareth Porter--Heinonen Pushed Dubious Iran Nuclear Weapons Intel (IPS)


Heinonen Pushed Dubious Iran Nuclear Weapons Intel Analysis by Gareth Porter*

Commentary by William O. Beeman:
This is a definitive report on the highly questionable information cooked up by IAEA Deputy Director Olli Heinonen on Iran's nuclear program. It explains quite a bit about the "shift" in tone at the IAEA. I emphasize that IAEA reports still clearly state that "no nuclear material has been diverted" for military use in Iran, i.e. there is no proof of a nuclear weapons program. Gareth Porter is a scrupulously honest and thorough investigator. 

WASHINGTON, Jul 2, 2010 (IPS) - Olli Heinonen, the Finnish nuclear engineer who resigned Thursday after five years as deputy director for safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), was the driving force in turning that agency into a mechanism to support U.N. Security Council sanctions against Iran.

Heinonen was instrumental in making a collection of intelligence documents showing a purported Iranian nuclear weapons research programme the central focus of the IAEA's work on Iran. The result was to shift opinion among Western publics to the view that Iran had been pursuing a covert nuclear weapons programme.

But his embrace of the intelligence documents provoked a fierce political struggle within the Secretariat of the IAEA, because other officials believed the documents were fraudulent.

Heinonen took over the Safeguards Department in July 2005 - the same month that the George W. Bush administration first briefed top IAEA officials on the intelligence collection.

The documents portrayed a purported nuclear weapons research programme, originally called the "Green Salt" project, that included efforts to redesign the nosecone of the Shahab-3 missile, high explosives apparently for the purpose of triggering a nuclear weapon and designs for a uranium conversion facility. Later the IAEA referred to the purported Iranian activities simply as the "alleged studies".

The Bush administration was pushing the IAEA to use the documents to accuse Iran of having had a covert nuclear weapons programme. The administration was determined to ensure that the IAEA Governing Board would support referring Iran to the U.N. Security Council for action on sanctions, as part of a larger strategy to force Iran to abandon its uranium enrichment programme.

Long-time IAEA Director-General Mohammed ElBaradei and other officials involved in investigating and reporting on Iran's nuclear programme were immediately sceptical about the authenticity of the documents. According to two Israeli authors, Yossi Melman and Meir Javadanfar, several IAEA officials told them in interviews in 2005 and 2006 that senior officials of the agency believed the documents had been "fabricated by a Western intelligence organisation".

Heinonen, on the other hand, supported the strategy of exploiting the collection of intelligence documents to put Iran on the defensive. His approach was not to claim that the documents' authenticity had been proven but to shift the burden of proof to Iran, demanding that it provide concrete evidence that it had not carried out the activities portrayed in the documents.

From the beginning, Iran's permanent representative to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, denounced the documents as fabrications. In Governing Board meetings and interviews, Soltanieh pointed to several indicators, including the absence of official stamps showing receipt of the document by a government office and the absence of any security markings.

The tensions between Heinonen and the senior officials over the intelligence documents intensified in early 2008, when Iran provided detailed documentation to the agency disproving a key premise of the intelligence documents.

Kimia Maadan, a private Iranian company, was shown in the intelligence documents as having designed a uranium conversion facility as part of the alleged military nuclear weapons research programme. Iran proved to the satisfaction of those investigating the issue, however, that Kimia Maadan had been created by Iran's civilian atomic energy agency solely to carry out a uranium ore processing project and had gone out of business before it fulfilled the contract.

Senior IAEA officials then demanded that Heinonen distance the organisation from the documents by inserting a disclaimer in future agency reports on Iran that it could not vouch for the authenticity of the documents.

Instead Heinonen gave a "technical briefing" for IAEA member countries in February 2008 featuring a diagram on which the ore processing project and the uranium processing project were both carried out by the firm and shared the same military numbering system.

The IAEA report published just three days earlier established, however, that the ore processing project number -- 5/15 -- had been assigned to it not by the military but by the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran. And the date on which it was assigned was August 1999 - many months before the purported nuclear weapons programme was shown to have been organised.

Heinonen carefully avoided endorsing the documents as authentic. He even acknowledged that Iran had spotted technical errors in the one-page design for a small-scale facility for uranium conversion, and that there were indeed "technical inconsistencies" in the diagram.

He also admitted Iran had provided open source publications showing spherical firing systems similar to the one depicted in the intelligence documents on alleged tests of high explosives.

Heinonen suggested in his presentation that the agency did not yet have sufficient information to come to any firm conclusions about those documents. In the May 2008 IAEA report, however, there was no mention of any such caveats about the documents.

Instead, the report used language that was clearly intended to indicate that the agency had confidence in the intelligence documents: "The documentation presented to Iran appears to have been derived from multiple sources over different periods of time, is detailed in content and appears to be generally consistent."

That language, on which Heinoen evidently insisted, did not represent a consensus among senior IAEA officials. One senior official suggested to IPS in September 2009 that the idea that documents came from different sources was not completely honest.

"There are intelligence-sharing networks," said the official. It was possible that one intelligence organisation could have shared the documents with others, he explained.

"That gives us multiple sources consistent over time," said the official.

The same official said of the collection of intelligence documents, "It's not difficult to cook up."

Nevertheless, Heinonen's position had clearly prevailed. And in the final year of ElBaradei's leadership of the agency, the Safeguards Department became an instrument for member states - especially France, Britain, Germany and Israel - to put pressure on ElBaradei to publish summaries of intelligence reports portraying Iran as actively pursuing a nuclear weapons programme.

The active pressure of the United States and its allies on behalf of the hard line toward Iran was the main source of Heinonen's power on the issue. Those states have been feeding intelligence on alleged covert Iranian nuclear activities to the Safeguards Division for years, and Heinonen knew that ElBaradei could not afford to confront the U.S.-led coalition openly over the issue.

The Bush administration had threatened to replace ElBaradei in 2004 and had reluctantly accepted his reelection as director-general in 2005. ElBaradei was not strong enough to threaten to fire the main antagonist over the issue of alleged studies.

ElBaradei’s successor Yukio Amano is even less capable of adopting an independent position on the issues surrounding the documents. The political dynamics of the IAEA ensure that Heinonen's successor is certain to continue the same line on the Iran nuclear issue and intelligence documents as Heinonen's.