Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
October 10, 2008

Iran's 'Nuclear Detonators' Are A CIA Fake

The New York Times' Judith Miller Elaine Sciolino has another 'nuclear Iran' scare story which immediately got picked up by other media:

International nuclear inspectors are investigating whether a Russian scientist helped Iran conduct complex experiments on how to detonate a nuclear weapon, according to European and American officials. As part of the investigation, inspectors at the International Atomic Energy Agency are seeking information from the scientist, who they believe acted on his own as an adviser on experiments described in a lengthy document obtained by the agency, the officials said.
Although officials would not say how they had obtained the new document, it was first publicly mentioned in an agency report in May as one of 18 documents presented to Iran in connection with suspected nuclear weapons studies. At the time it was described as a “five-page document in English” about experiments with a complex initiation system to detonate a large amount of high explosives and to monitor the detonation with probes. There was no indication that the document was a translation of a much longer, more comprehensive document in Farsi.

The original, Farsi document is described by officials familiar with it as a detailed narrative of experiments aimed at creating a perfectly timed implosion of nuclear material.

Wait a second: Iran, nuclear detonators and a Russian engineer? Where was that about? Oh yeah: "Operation Merlin"

The New York Times piece mentions nothing about the story which James Risen described in his book State of War partly published in The Guardian. But this seems quite related:

To be precise, [the Russian scientist] was carrying technical designs for a TBA 480 high-voltage block, otherwise known as a "firing set", for a Russian-designed nuclear weapon. He held in his hands the knowledge needed to create a perfect implosion that could trigger a nuclear chain reaction inside a small spherical core.
The Russian, who had defected to the US years earlier, still couldn't believe the orders he had received from CIA headquarters. The CIA had given him the nuclear blueprints and then sent him to Vienna to sell them - or simply give them - to the Iranian representatives to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Gordon Prather did not believe Risen's tale that this was an attempt to lead Iran on a false technical path. He argues that the whole story was simply an attempt by the CIA to plant evidence against Iran. Also here.

The U.S. sent a Russian scientist as an agent to Vienna with manipulated blueprints of special detonators to hand them to a delegate from Iran. Eight years later the IAEA gets handed material by the U.S. about special detonator experiments allegedly made in Iran

Now Iran gets accused by U.S. and European 'officials' (note: NOT IAEA officials) of having worked or planed to work with such detonators based on a 'secret' long brief in Farsi of which the IAEA first only got handed a five page English copy.

I do smell a rat here - a big one. This is Iraq and 'Niger papers' all over.

Posted by b on October 10, 2008 at 14:34 UTC | Permalink


No problem, just let Israel "eat" them first...

Eat this, Israel!

But would they be kosher?

Posted by: ralphieboy | Oct 10 2008 15:48 utc | 1

B, yet another great catch. (I haven't even read the NYT yet today.... but I'm in LA, so I'm in a different time zone.)

Here's what strikes me about the Sciolino piece:

1. It seems to be extremely misleadingly, or shoddily, written. You are quite right to pick up on the obfuscation-- which seems almost deliberate in the first couple of paras-- regarding whether her sources were "European & American officials" or had some official connection to the IAEA. But also, what is with this: "it is the first time that the nuclear agency has suggested that Iran may have received help from a foreign weapons scientist in developing nuclear arms"? Is she trying to establish some kind of a news peg here?

2. She evidently either has never heard of Operation Merlin or chose to completely ignore it. But why on earth should she expect her readers to connive with her in ruling out the possibility that there might be a connection between the two? At the every least, as essential background, she should have mentioned it.

3. Was she spun hard for this story by the Cheneyist disinfo machine in Europe? Quite possibly. They are such tired old hacks. I don't believe they have a chance right now of ginning up enthusiasm for a war against Iran before the election... but perhaps they are still planning for one for the post-election period?

4. After the whole Judy Miller scandal broke around their heads, the editors at the NYT "promised" they would stop all those practices of publishing pieces based on assertions from unnamed "administration officials", etc but would grant anonymity to sources only in rare cases and for reasons that were specified in the text of the piece. At least, that's what I thought they promised. Ha-ha-ha. They should be ashamed of themselves.

Posted by: Helena Cobban | Oct 10 2008 15:59 utc | 2

... But also, James Risen is still on the NYT payroll, doing some good work, and has considerable background in these matters... So why didn't the editors either assign him to write the story or run Sciolino's story by him for comment and strengthening (or debunking) before publishing?

Posted by: Helena Cobban | Oct 10 2008 16:04 utc | 3

The "IAEA says Russian Scientist(...)" story was in our city's paper (Albuquerque Journal), and as w/a long history of their publishing this exact same stuff (Iran scare) my response was skepticism of the highest order.

In previous instances, this paper has published OpED's amplifying the claims. And never once have they printed corrections when these claims were refuted. The "Anonymous Pentagon Official" who started the Iran-manufactured-and-supplied roadside explosives w/phony picture... a subject you covered ably & thoroughly. One of the comments from Pentagon (from memory): "There are no manufacturing capabilities in Iraq for these devices", but a week or so later then found such a factory (as I recall) in a Baghdad superb. Again, no correction or reference to this in our paper.

This is Iraq and 'Niger papers' all over.

Fully agree.

All this stuff, in my mind, is more of a constant reminder (along w/all the market crash gibberish from our gov., WSJ, etc etc) of the poverty that has engulfed this country I live in. It's breathtaking.

Posted by: jdmckay | Oct 10 2008 16:05 utc | 4

This may explain some things:

Barton Gellman on the Cheney Vice-Presidency

Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman speaks on his new book, Angler, the definitive account of Vice President Dick Cheneys role in the Bush White House. Series: Revelle Forum at the Neurosciences Institute [10/2008] [Public Affairs]

Posted by: Uncle $cam | Oct 10 2008 16:51 utc | 5

Addendum: Forgot to add...

59:29 worth every minute

Posted by: Uncle $cam | Oct 10 2008 16:55 utc | 6

Don’t worry! The US is represented in Iran by Livia Leu Agosti.

Very serious, solid, tempered, person.>picture>swiss info brief soft-soap blurb :)

Posted by: Tangerine | Oct 10 2008 16:57 utc | 7


it is a dark book but in the end in that kind of harper"s school cool - at the end it does not really follow the consequences of the facts it reveals

Posted by: remembereringgiap | Oct 10 2008 17:04 utc | 8

The Arms Control Wonk Jeffrey Lewis also makes the connection with Operation Merlin.

Am I the only person who thought this sounds awfully similar to Operation Merlin — the alleged covert action to supply Iran with a Russian firing set?
I am not saying that there can’t be two Russians who provided this assistance or that we know Risen’s sources were telling the truth. But I am saying that the two cases are close enough for the leakers to offer a clarification.

Risen claims the Russian in Operation Merlin told the Iranians that there “was a flaw somewhere in the nuclear blueprints, and he could help them find it.” So, maybe he followed up on the offer of help. Or the Iranians called one of his colleagues back home. Or it is a totally independent Russian route to a firing set.

Or simply nothing ...

Posted by: b | Oct 10 2008 17:37 utc | 9

Why eveyone knows that Iranians put their Top Secret info in English, since they have trouble speaking their native language, Farsi and Persian.

And that laptop that Israel just happened to get its paws on that showed all sorts of Iranian plans for nukes?

Well, seems like the guy the Israeli's got it from died a convenient death after handing over that laptop.

Dang it, now we can't trace where that laptop came from, darn it!!

Iran, the IAEA, and the Laptop

Aside from the above experts' opinions, there are many reasons to believe that the documents are not authentic.

Anyone with even rudimentary knowledge of how the Iranian political establishment works knows that often even the most harmless documents are classified as "top secret." Yet none of the documents had been designated as such.

As Borger of the Guardian reported, all the documents are in English, without any Persian notes. That is odd for a country where the official language is Persian, and many do not know much English. Why had the documents not been translated?

If the documents include exchanges between various officials, then anyone with even elementary knowledge of the workings of the Iranian bureaucracy knows that, once a document is received by some official, he writes (in Persian) in the margins in his own hand "received," and signs and dates it. Do the documents have such notes?

Why would the documents name the projects' leader, Dr. Fakhrizadeh? Iran has had experience with the murder of prominent people in its missile program. In July 2001, Col. Ali Mahmoudi Mimand, known as the father of Iran's missile program, was found dead in his office. After the laptop was supposedly smuggled out of Iran, Dr. Ardeshir Hassanpour, a prominent and award-winning figure in Iran's nuclear program, was murdered on Jan. 15, 2007. reported that Israel's Mossad had murdered Dr. Hassanpour. We also know that a large number of Iraqi nuclear scientists have either disappeared or been killed. Why does a man like Dr. Fakhrizadeh, who supposedly knows so much of Iran's secrets, work and appear in public so freely?

Why could Iran not hide such documents? This is a nation that could hide the development of its extensive uranium enrichment program for 18 years. Iran is also a nation with a thousand-year culture of writing in coded language.

Why would such sensitive documents be put on a laptop? Even then, why was the laptop not at a secure place with very tight control, given the degree of secrecy that the Iranian government applies to all of its affairs?

Iran's Ministry of Intelligence (MI) is known in the Middle East as a ruthless and extremely efficient organization. If the laptop with all the sensitive documents had been stolen, its absence should have been noticed almost immediately. In that case, Iran's MI should have been able to at least trace back the events in order to identify the person who stole the laptop. There has never been a report in Iran about the discovery of such a spy.

If the documents were authentic, then, given that some time after the laptop had been stolen, the Iranian officials knew that they would be confronted with the documents, they should have been able to prepare reasonable and plausible explanations for the documents. After all, as noticed above, Iran provided satisfactory answers to all the issues and non-issues listed above. Yet Iran's only response so far has been that the documents are forgeries.

Damn pesky Iranians. I bet they're hiding Bin Laden too!!!

Posted by: Greg Bacon | Oct 10 2008 18:57 utc | 10

Cui Bono? Only Israel benefits from these endless Middle East wars fought by American soldiers. As the U.S. commits war-crimes abroad, that same gov't commits treason at home by eliminating habeas corpus, using the judiciary to steal private lands, banning books like America Deceived (book) from Amazon, Facebook and Wikipedia, conducting warrantless wiretaps and engaging in illegal wars on behalf of Israel. Soon, another false-flag operation will occur (sinking of an Aircraft Carrier by Mossad) and the US will invade Iran. Then we'll invade Pakistan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, then ....

Posted by: Evan H | Oct 10 2008 20:57 utc | 11

@ Evan H

Your banned book is for sale on Amazon. Buy one - go on, buy one. And stop boring us with this cut-and-paste come-on for self-published tat.

Posted by: Tantalus | Oct 10 2008 21:21 utc | 12

Why do you keep posting that this crappy piece of right wing conspiracy garbage (written by Evan someone or another, aint that a coincidence) is banned on Amazon when it is listed right here priced from $7.40 and up. Only problem for evan is the reader reviews have called it out for what it is.

Do not buy AMERICA DECEIVED unless you are wanting to get a sample of right-wing shock mockery. Or you can Google the title "America Deceived" and see how these right-wing spammers operate. I avoid books like this and these spammers like the plague.

As one person put it:

"I just want to point out, this book stinks. It's very poorly written. For...

There's a whitefella up the road from where I live who has written a book alleging to be an expose on indigenous cannibalism from before the locals got 'saved' by white virtue.
No one was interested cause what would any Pakeha know about pre european cultural practises anyway. So next thing he has sent an anonymous complaint about his book to the Human Rights Commission asking his work be banned. Then he goes off to the media claiming to have inside knowledge about a Human Rights investigation into his book, big freedom of speech issues, he says.

Humans Rights are very puzzled they can't find any mention of his vanity publication anywhere. Eventually someone digs through the 'crank letters file' and uncovers the complaint. Stupid f**k had handwritten that letter and when the journo running with the story sees the complaint the handwriting rings a bell. It's exactly the same as the letter the 'author' sent him advising of the human rights commission investigation.

Posted by: Debs is dead | Oct 10 2008 21:30 utc | 13

Thanks Debs. This shit is exploitative and divisive - as if the world isn't fucked-up enough already.

Posted by: Tantalus | Oct 10 2008 22:34 utc | 14

Theodore Taylor once stated : "The critical mass of Plutonium is a little over two kilograms." (That's a globe of material, about ten inches in diameter). Less than 5 kgs of C4 should suffice to squeeze-implode- the core to 'super criticality',and your choice of 'initiator' materials- TL204/Berrylium would initiate the chain just fine pour moi. (And not too shabby, for a grade 9 edumacation, huh?)

Posted by: lucifers taxi | Oct 10 2008 23:17 utc | 15

@ Tantalus Thanks, I wasn't tryin to gazump ya just with everyone in different timezones 'n not knowing when you'd see it I thought I better point out the issue before some innocent walked into what is actually a pretty lame winger snare.
As I said about the bloke who lives up the road from me. These guys aren't smart about how they do this, and mostly peeps miss their insidious self serving bullshit, but just like phishing or any other form of spam enough people must get caught out to make the effort worthwhile.

Posted by: Debs is dead | Oct 11 2008 2:40 utc | 16

It's impressive to see that Helena Cobban reads and comments here (though not so impressive to see the tiresome 'america deceived' person).

There is something I can point out that Helena can't, namely, that many prominent 'progressive' journalists continue to believe that all CIA personnel are terrifically sexy, and that whatever they tell you, whether on or off the record, is either true, or a lie in a good cause, and hence worth repeating without uncalled-for scepticism. No one ever remarks on the suspicious ease with which these prominent 'progressive' journalists get away with this: it's an open secret, and a conspiracy of silence.

Posted by: Rowan Berkeley | Oct 11 2008 4:31 utc | 17

David Ignatius has a little scoop here:

With Iran, probably the biggest foreign policy challenge for the next president, the Bush administration plans to take a helpful step in mid-November by announcing the opening of a U.S. interest section in Tehran. That will break the ice and make it easier for the next president to begin the kind of dialogue with Iran that's necessary. The administration had planned to announce the interest section in August, but Russia's invasion of Georgia and worries about U.S. election politics intervened. Administration officials assure me that it's still coming.
Unless of course Cheney can again prevent that ...

Posted by: b | Oct 11 2008 16:34 utc | 18

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