Friday, February 03, 2012

Letter to ABC World News about James Clapper Testimony

Dear ABC World News: 

The January 31 edition of ABC World News with Dianne Sawyer presented a massively distorted, uncritical report of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper's testimony before Congress. ABC has turned a story about Iran not having weapons and operating their program on a cost-benefit basis to an inflammatory, inaccurate story about Iranians launching probable attacks against the U.S. on U.S. soil.

James Clapper's testimony clearly states that Iran has no nuclear weapons program:

- We continue to assess Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons in part by developing various nuclear capabilities that better position it to produce such weapons, should it choose to do so. We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons.
- Iran has the scientific, technical, and industrial capacity to eventually produce nuclear weapons, making the central issue its political will to do so. These [technical] advancements contribute to our judgment that Iran is technically capable of producing enough highly enriched uranium for a weapon, if it so chooses.
- We judge Iran’s nuclear decision making is guided by a cost-benefit approach, which offers the international community opportunities to influence Tehran.
However, that is not ABC News chose to highlight. The ABC News Broadcast singled out two highly questionable paragraphs that also constituted a miniscule part of the entire report.

The 2011 plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the United States shows that some Iranian officials—probably including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei—have changed their calculus and are now more willing to conduct an attack in the United States in response to real or perceived US actions that threaten the regime. We are also concerned about Iranian plotting against US or allied interests overseas.
Iran‟s willingness to sponsor future attacks in the United States or against our interests abroad probably will be shaped by Tehran‟s evaluation of the costs it bears for the plot against the Ambassador as well as Iranian leaders‟ perceptions of US threats against the regime.

Director Clapper's claim is totally ridiculous given the speciousness of the 2011 plot. The claims for the plot itself has been thoroughly discredited by security experts, regional specialists and Iran experts, such as myself. Most importantly, no Iranian officials have ever been implicated as having ties to this incident. Rather than receiving support from ABC, Director Clapper's conclusion that Iran was "willing. . . to sponsor future attacks" should have been questioned or outright repudiated. ABC's lack of integrity in presenting this story is a form of yellow journalism perpetuating the dangerous policy of beating the drums of war against Iran.

It would behoove ABC News to broadcast a corrective statement.
William O. Beeman 
Professor and Chair 
Department of Anthropology 
University of Minnesota 
395 HHH Center 
301 19th Avenue S.  
Minneapolis, MN 55455 
Past-president, Middle East Section, American Anthropological Association