Saturday, July 23, 2011

Beeman--David E. Sanger and William J. Broad once again distort Iran's nuclear program

Once again the intrepid team of David E. Sanger and William J. Broad have printed one of their "Saturday specials" ginning up specious, unsubstantiated information about Iran's nuclear program as they have for many years.

The latest article: "Survivor of Attack Accelerates Iran's Effort to Produce Nuclear Material" Saturday, July 23,
is characteristically full of anonymous quotes: "What concerns [unnamed] inspectors and European and American officials is Iran's announced effort to increase production of uranium enriched to nearly 20% purity." They then go on to hang their story on one substantive quote, that of William Hague, the British foreign minister, which they picked up from The Guardian. Hague is re-quoted as saying "When enough 20 percent enriched uranium is accumulated at the underground facility at Qum . . . it would take only two or three months of additional work to convert this into weapons-grade material."

Let's examine this:

A. Mr. Hague is not a nuclear physics expert by any stretch of imagination. His statement is therefore political, absent any real.
B. Centrifuges have not actually been introduced into the Qum (Fordow) facility. In fact it is only a suspicion that they will be.
C. What does "enough" mean in Mr. Hague's statement? I doubt even he knows, but certainly an imprecise term like "enough" is good enough for Sanger and Broad. Iran's announced plans are to generate a small amount for a research reactor, which would not be enough to make a weapon. Hague (and Sanger and Broad) imply that they will make much,.much more. This is pure paranoid speculation.
D. The "additional work:" Mr. Hague mentions is actually a huge, complicated process using facilities that Iranians have not even put on the drawing boards.

The story ostensibly centers on the work of Fereydoon Abbasi, who has now been put in charge of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization. Sanger and Broad try to imply that Mr. Abbasi is somehow very dangerous, or at least not as sophisticated as his predecessor--"not as skillful--or as comfortable" to quote another of their anonymous sources.

The stinger at the end of the piece is to report that Dr. Abbasi announced in June that Iran would triple production of this concentrated form of uranium. That sounds ominous until you realize that "triple" only depends on how much is being currently produced, which is miniscule.

This story continues the kinds of neo-conservative attacks we have seen against the NIE and the U.S. intelligence community, as well as the IAEA who have consistently, incessantly, insisted that Iran does not have a weapons program, and that no nuclear material has been diverted for military use. Sanger and Broad are dismissive: "Senior Obama administration officials . . . do not sound alarmed."

Nevertheless, the headline on Sanger and Broad's piece will be all that most people read: Iran, accelerate, produce, nuclear material. It is all that the "attack Iran" crowd needs as red meat for their relentless campaign to draw the United States into a debilitating conflict in the Middle East

Bill Beeman
University of Minnesota