Russia dragged into US media wars over Iran

Once upon a time, intrepid reporters followed armies into the heat of battle; today, judging by the hysterical news stories coming out of the West, it will be armies that are imbedded in the media.

Armed with a vast array of “confidential analysis” and “inside information” from “anonymous sources,” the western media machine is beating the war drum yet again, this time against Iran. And in the latest revelation, based on nothing more than flimsy information allegedly discovered on a laptop computer, Russia is also fingered as an accomplice.

A New York Times article, matter-of-factly entitled, “Report Says Iran Has Data to Make Nuclear Bomb (Oct. 4),” begins with this sensational grabber: “Senior staff members of the United Nations nuclear agency have concluded in a confidential analysis that Iran has acquired ‘sufficient information to be able to design and produce a workable atom bomb.’”

Now if anybody was looking for a smoking gun against Iran, this would seem to be it. But there’s just one problem: Proof. Individuals hoping to read about solid evidence – at one time an essential requirement for what could be passed off as a legitimate news story – to these very serious allegations will be sadly disappointed.

The New York Times article by William J. Broad and David Sanger, while perhaps a nice rough draft for a Tom Clancy novel (the plot is revealed at the end; please be patient), provides next to zero substantial evidence to its claims, not to mention the very existence of the report itself. The only certain thing about the “classified analysis,” it seems, is its name, which is entitled, “Possible Military Dimensions of Iran’s Nuclear Program.”

Broad and Sanger claim that the unreleased report, “produced in consultation with a range of nuclear weapons experts inside and outside the agency,” provides a scenario of a “complex program” by Iran’s Ministry of Defense “aimed at the development of a nuclear payload to be delivered using the Shahib 3 missile system,” Iran’s medium-range missile, the authors remind us, that “can strike the Middle East and parts of Europe.”

So what is the source of this information? The New York Times story is the regurgitation of an AP story that broke on Sept. 17 (“Nuke agency says Iran can make bomb”) that makes reference to a so-called “secret annex” department of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that allegedly performed its research without the official blessing of the nuclear watchdog.

Despite admitting that the conclusions of the document are “tentative” and carries “loose language,” and is “not ready for publication as an official document,” that did not stop The New York Times from strongly suggesting that Iran has what it takes to build the bomb.

The IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei heatedly denies the charges that his organization is withholding information on Iran.

“Continuing allegations that the IAEA was withholding information on Iran,” ElBaradei told the 35-nation governing board at the beginning of September, “are politically motivated and totally baseless.”

“The IAEA reiterates that all relevant information and assessments… have already been provided to the IAEA Board of Governors in reports of the director general.”

The media plot thickens

Curiously, the abovementioned AP news story broke on the very same day that the U.S. presidential administration of Barack Obama announced that it would “shelve” the Bush-era missile defense shield that had been planned for Poland and the Czech Republic due to a “reassessment” of the Iranian missile threat.

President Obama said in a live TV address that the change was needed to “deploy a defense system that best responds to the threats we face.”

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the change in strategy was “not about Russia.”

“There is an underlying assumption,” wrote the BBC’s Kevin Connolly, “that Tehran’s capacity for mounting warheads on long-range missiles does not pose an immediate strategic headache.”

Iran is presently building a nuclear program that it contends will be used for peaceful purposes. However, other countries, most notably the United States and Israel, insist that Iran’s program to generate nuclear energy is a front to build nuclear weapons. Tehran, a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty along with 186 other countries, denies the charges.

Countries that have signed on to the treaty are permitted to build nuclear facilities for non-military purposes.

So why all the fear mongering if Iran's nuclear capabilities seem to be under control?

Russia dragged into the plot

Last month, it emerged that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had secretly traveled to Moscow, apparently in an effort to persuade the Russians not to sell the advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Iran.

Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, did not deny reports of the visit: “To verify the rumor, you should go to the source of the rumor,” he said. “Our cooperation with Iran is quite legitimate. We are not selling offensive weapons to Iran.”

But according to a story in Sunday’s Times, Netanyahu “handed the Kremlin a list of Russian scientists believed to be helping Iran to develop a nuclear warhead. He is said to have delivered the list during a mysterious visit to Moscow.”

“In western capitals the latest claims were treated with caution,” the Times reported. “American and British officials argued that the involvement of freelance Russian scientists belonged to the past.”

Indeed, the story provided no details as to exactly what “expertise” the Russian experts were providing to Iran, nor the dates of the alleged assistance. Are the allegations being made against Russia for its participation at the Bushehr Nuclear reactor Plant, which was started by the German company Siemens AG in 1975?

Work was halted in 1979 following the outbreak of the Iranian Revolution. Later, Russia agreed to complete work on the plant’s light water reactor. The agreement, which was authorized by the IAEA, called for the spent fuel rods, which could be used in the construction of a nuclear weapon, to be returned to Russia for reprocessing.

The story of Russian experts collaborating with the Iranians, as well as Iran’s technical ability “to make a nuclear bomb,” is solely based on information allegedly discovered in a laptop computer of dubious origins itself.

“Much of the IAEA’s information,” states the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) website, which first provided fragments of the report, “including test data, reports, diagrams, and videos, was reportedly contained on a laptop (the whereabouts of the mysterious laptop are unknown).”

“This laptop has received considerable attention since its public revelation in 2005…” the ISIS continues, before revealing the incredible journey of the laptop. “ISIS has learned from intelligence officials… that electronic media was smuggled out of Iran by the wife of an Iranian who was recruited by German intelligence.”

But the story gets better.

“Iranian authorities had discovered his activities,” the ISIS writes, “and one of his last acts before arrest was passing of the records to his wife. Intelligence officials… assume he is dead.”

ISIS stresses, “Questions have arisen about the authenticity of these records, which are inevitable given the sensitivity of the issue.”

Although Moscow has not officially responded to the allegations, there is already talk in Russia that the move on the part of the Israeli leader, whether based on bogus information or otherwise, underscores Israel’s real anxieties over Iran’s alleged nuclear plans.

Indeed, the Times quoted Ephraim Sneh, a former Israeli deputy defense minister, who warned that Israel may be forced to act alone against Iran.

“If no crippling sanctions are introduced by Christmas, Israel will strike,” he said. “If we are left alone, we will act alone.”

Whatever the case may be, it is rather unsettling to say the least that so much excitement has been created over the contents of a laptop computer, the existence of which has never been confirmed.

The importance of not jumping to conclusions on weapons of mass destruction was adequately proven by the Iraqi debacle. Hopefully that painful lesson will not be forced upon the world once again due to a too-quick-to-judge media. The world can ill afford such a lesson again when the stakes are so high.

Robert Bridge, RT