Jon Schwarz, The Intercept, April 05 2015:… Bolton has acknowledged delivering paid speeches in support of the People’s Mojahedin of Iran, or MEK. The MEK advocates the overthrow of the Iranian government (as Bolton does himself in his op-ed) and was designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. until 2012. According to a 2012 NBC report, U.S. …
The Factual Errors in John Bolton’s “Bomb Iran!” Op-Ed in the New York Times – and Why You Should Care
Last week, at a crucial moment in nuclear negotiations between the U.S. and Iran, the New York Times published an op-ed by former U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton titled “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran.” As I pointed out at the time, the Times accidentally undermined him by linking one of his key claims to an explanation of why that claim was wrong. After I asked about it, the Times changed the link.
Bolton’s many other factual mistakes, detailed below, have also not been corrected — on top of which, Bolton failed to make a relevant disclosure about his paid work for a group that advocates the overthrow of the Iranian regime. It’s worth dwelling on these problems a bit given that Bolton’s perspective has a significant constituency in Congress — which could still derail the accord the White House is closing in on with the Iranians.
• Bolton: the Obama administration has “abandon[ed] the red line on weapons-grade fuel…”
This is false. Natural uranium contains only 0.7% uranium-235, the isotope needed both for nuclear power and nuclear weapons. Uranium can be used as reactor fuel when enriched to 3-5% uranium-235, but it only becomes weapons-grade when enriched to about 90%. The “Joint Plan of Action” agreed to in 2013 by Iran, the U.S. and other nations capped Iran’s permitted ability to enrich at 5%, the level of reactor fuel. Under the framework announced this week, Iran will agree not to enrich uranium beyond 3.67% for at least fifteen years. There’s no evidence that the Obama administration ever considered a long-term agreement that would allow Iran to enrich uranium to 90%, or indeed anywhere past 5%.
• Bolton: “There is now widespread acknowledgment that the rosy 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, which judged that Iran’s weapons program was halted in 2003, was an embarrassment, little more than wishful thinking.”
“Widespread acknowledgement” could mean almost anything – for instance, in my apartment there’s widespread acknowledgment that I should be cast as the next James Bond. And presumably there’s widespread acknowledgement among John Bolton’s friends that they’ve never believed the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran. However, the Times itself reported in 2012 that “Recent assessments by American spy agencies are broadly consistent with a 2007 intelligence finding that concluded that Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program years earlier” and that that “remains the consensus view of America’s 16 intelligence agencies.” Moreover, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence commented that Bolton’s op-ed “misrepresents several [Intelligence Community] positions.”
• Bolton: the U.S. was “guilty of inattention” regarding Pakistan’s development of nuclear weapons.
Rather than being “inattentive,” the Reagan administration – in which Bolton served – proactively helped Pakistan violate U.S. law and purchase key material for its nuclear weapons in the United States. Reagan also falsely certified to Congress that Pakistan did not have nuclear weapons so that the U.S. could continue sending the country hundreds of millions of dollars in aid each year. When a Defense Department intelligence analyst complained, the George H.W. Bush administration – in which Bolton also served – fired the analyst and stripped him of his security clearances. The analyst, whose life was ruined, discovered that the specific officials involved in his firing included Scooter Libby and Stephen Hadley – both then working for Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney and both, of course, key ideological allies of John Bolton.
• Bolton does not disclose his paid speeches on behalf of the MEK.
The Times identifies Bolton only as “a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute [and] the United States ambassador to the United Nations from August 2005 to December 2006.” However, Bolton has acknowledged delivering paid speeches in support of the People’s Mojahedin of Iran, or MEK. The MEK advocates the overthrow of the Iranian government (as Bolton does himself in his op-ed) and was designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. until 2012. According to a 2012 NBC report, U.S. officials believe the MEK has carried out assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists with training and financing from Israel.
Bolton did not respond to questions about how much he has been paid by the MEK. However, the Financial Times reported in 2011 that speakers such as Bolton received from $20,000 to $100,000 per speech, with four-speech packages being “common.”
According to the Times’ own stated policy, contributors such as Bolton are contractually required both to disclose any conflicts of interest to the Times and be truthful:
We request that you disclose anything that might be seen as a conflict of interest, financial or otherwise … We need to know. That doesn’t mean we’ll throw out your article on that basis — in most cases it just means disclosing the relationship to the reader. We also need all of the material that supports the facts in your story … Yes, we do fact check. Do we do it perfectly? Of course not. Everyone makes mistakes, and when we do we correct them. But the facts in a piece must be supported and validated.
None of the above, however, makes any impression on the Times op-ed editors. Asked for comment, they responded: “Mr. Bolton’s views and affiliations are widely known and a matter of public record. All our Op-Ed articles are fact-checked. We do not see a factual error that needs to be corrected.”
That Secret Iranian ‘Nuclear Facility’ You Just Found? Not So Much.
Jeffrey Lewis, Foreign Policy, March 04 2015:… Iran’s most notorious dissident group loves luring gullible U.S. officials and journalists into seeing a bomb factory beneath every building in Tehran. Dig a little deeper, sheeple. On Tuesday, Feb. 24, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), the political front for the “cult-like dissident group” known …
That Secret Iranian ‘Nuclear Facility’ You Just Found? Not So Much.
Iran’s most notorious dissident group loves luring gullible U.S. officials and journalists into seeing a bomb factory beneath every building in Tehran. Dig a little deeper, sheeple.
On Tuesday, Feb. 24, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), the political front for the “cult-like dissident group” known as the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), revealed the location of what it claimed was an underground centrifuge facility in the suburbs of Tehran. The announcement was, evidently, intended to derail ongoing negotiations toward a diplomatic settlement over Tehran’s nuclear programs. The State Department spokeswoman stated, “Well, we don’t have any information at this time to support the conclusion of the report.”
That’s not quite the same thing as saying it’s a load of bullfeathers, but we’ll get there in due course. The story may be false, but it demonstrates both the culture of leaks in Washington and the way open-source information can challenge that culture.
This is not the first time that NCRI has organized a press conference with startling revelations about Iran’s nuclear program. The one everyone remembers was in 2002, when the group made the first public reference to the underground enrichment facility at Natanz. Reporting by folks like Mark Hibbs, however, suggests the United States and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) already knew about the existence of the site. An intelligence agency simply may have laundered the information through NCRI. The group has more often gotten the story all wrong. For example, NCRI calls the new site Lavizan-3. For some reason, they don’t talk about Lavizan-2, which was a site they “revealed” in 2008, shortly after the United States released a National Intelligence Estimate stating that Iran had “halted” or paused its covert nuclear weapons program, in what was totally-not-a-coincidence.
But when I read NCRI’s latest dossier, I thought of a totally different case — one involving North Korea. During the late 1990s, there was growing opposition to the U.S.-DPRK Agreed Framework, under which Pyongyang agreed to freeze plutonium production in exchange for heavy fuel oil and a new light-water reactor to be constructed in North Korea. In August 1998, a U.S. “official” told the New York Times’s David Sanger that satellite images showed North Korea constructing an underground nuclear reactor and reprocessing plant near Kumchang-ri. The Old Gray Lady ran the story under this restrained headline: NORTH KOREA SITE AN A-BOMB PLANT, U.S. AGENCIES SAY.
That wasn’t, strictly speaking, true. The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) thought Kumchang-ri might house a secret nuclear reactor. The rest were more skeptical. Jack Pritchard was an intelligence analyst at time. “Everybody threw up their hands and said we don’t know what it is, but we don’t have a better explanation,’’ he would later tell Dan Sneider of the San Jose Mercury News. The DIA couldn’t win consensus for its view within the government, so someone decided to appeal though the press. The U.S. intelligence community might not have collectively agreed that Kumchang-ri was an underground nuclear reactor, but that no longer mattered after the New York Times said otherwise. The Clinton administration was forced to negotiate access for a team of inspectors to the site, at considerable expense to U.S. taxpayers.
When the inspectors arrived, they could not determine the purpose of the site, but concluded that Kumchang-ri, laid out as a grid of tunnels, was “unsuitable” for a nuclear reactor and “not well designed” for a reprocessing facility. It was just a big, enigmatic hole in the ground. Still, the damage was done: The Clinton administration asked former Secretary of Defense William Perry to undertake a review of U.S. policy toward North Korea, motivated in part by Kumchang-ri and other allegations of North Korean cheating. Although there was a last-minute effort to re-engage with North Korea under something called the “Perry Process,” the Clinton administration ran out of time. George W. Bush’s administration undertook its own policy review once in office, but then shelved its “bold approach” after the U.S. intelligence community concluded that North Korea was pursuing a sizeable covert uranium enrichment program.
Much like the case of Kumchang-ri, there is every reason to think the latest allegations by NCRI represent a politically motivated effort to derail the engagement of Iran over its nuclear program.
Almost immediately, there were reasons to doubt NCRI’s claim. A review of commercial satellite images reveals no evidence of large-scale excavation or tunneling during the 2004-2008 period identified by NCRI. The site seems to lack a suitable transformer substation for electricity to power centrifuges or evidence of ventilation systems so workers underneath can breathe. (It turns out workers tend to insist on breathing.) And if Iran had excavated a massive 2,000-square-meter underground facility, where’d all the dirt go? It just doesn’t add up.
Moreover, the press release contained a number of details that were obviously fabricated. NCRI claimed that the facility had “3 by 3 m radiation proof doors that are 40 centimeters thick and weigh about 8 tons … to prevent radiation leak.” There is no reason for such doors at a uranium-enrichment facility, which is not subject to massive radiation leaks. Almost immediately, others were able to determine that the picture of the door released by NCRI was actually lifted from an Iranian commercial website. That detail is just balderdash, despite NCRI’s lame defense that the firm supplies doors to the Iranian nuclear industry.
The site that NCRI identified is, in fact, a facility operated by a firm called Matiran. NCRI described Matiran as a firm that produces identification documents, like passports, for the Iranian government. Helpfully, that’s how Matiran describes itself, as well. You may not have heard of it before — I had not — but its representatives attend international conferences and its employees post their CVs on social networking sites. The construction of the new facility roughly corresponds with Matiran’s successful bid to produce the new Iranian national identification card.
Hey, what do I know, but it seems unlikely that Iran has decided to double-up producing ID cards and enriching uranium at the same site.
But guess what? I found someone who’s been there. This illustration shows a “GPS trace” created by a European who visited the site in February 2013. (There is a cool project called “Open Street Map” which is like Google Maps meets Wikipedia.) The user traveled from a hotel in Tehran to the Matiran facility in question and uploaded the GPS trace of his route to Open Street Map. (He has since taken it down.) Despite claims by NCRI that the site is located within a “restricted military zone,” he took a car right into the site. Since the journey is time-stamped, we can tell he didn’t spend a bunch of time at checkpoints.
My colleague Paul-Anton Krüger, who writes for the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, and I contacted this person. His story checks out. Iran makes identification cards at the site. It also has a steady stream of foreign visitors. None of his colleagues saw anything out of the ordinary.
In addition to foreign firms working with Matiran, at least two international delegations have also visited the facility. Iran organized an October 2011 site visit by a delegation of National Civil Registration Organizations as part of a conference held in Tehran. Iran organized a second site visit, in April 2013, as part of a similar meeting. So there you have it: NCRI “found” a secret site producing identification cards that has been visited repeatedly by foreigners.
Somehow, not a single newspaper tried to contact any of these people. Carol Morello at the Washington Post wrote that NCRI’s claims “could not be independently verified.” Yeah, not unless you have a computer and an Internet connection.
This is not to suggest that the problem of covert enrichment sites in Iran is not a real concern. It is by far the biggest challenge facing any deal. Iran still maintains the remnants of its pre-2003 nuclear weapons program. (The enigmatic Dr. Mohsen Fakhrizadeh has to have an office somewhere.) Moreover, Iran has been repeatedly caught attempting to build covert enrichment facilities. The details suggest Iran had no intention of declaring enrichment plants at Natanz or Fordow. And Iran still denies that a nearby site, referred to as Lavizan-Shian, housed a covert weapons program, despite the fact that Tehran bulldozed the site after the IAEA expressed interest, turning it into a park. At one point, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad openly discussed constructing as many as 10 new enrichment facilities at various locations.
So, yeah: Any new agreement with Iran is going to depend on some measure of confidence in the West’s ability to detect covert sites.
But this ain’t one of ‘em.
The Iranian government could, of course, invite one more delegation to a site visit, perhaps to serve them a working lunch of crow.
This was like old times for Krüger and me. He helped me debunk another suspected centrifuge plant back in 2011, when “officials” leaked information to the Associated Press suggesting that the IAEA suspected that Syria had an enrichment facility on the outskirts of Hasakah — one that was identical to plans for a centrifuge facility found in Libya, right down to the toilets.
Within a few days, however, I was able to determine that the site was actually a textile factory constructed by East Germany in the early 1980s. Both old satellite images and the Syrian company’s website helped establish its purpose. Krüger then actually tracked down the chief East German engineer and scored an interview. The facility was not a copy of a Libyan centrifuge facility. The Libyan facility, on the other hand, might have been disguised as an East German-built textile factory, many examples of which can be found in the Middle East. One wonders if it was designed by German business partners of Pakistan’s Dr. A. Q. Khan. My colleague Tamara Patton built a pretty cool 3-D model of the site, if you are interested.
The important thing is that open-source tools, plus a little investigative shoe leather, allowed us to quickly determine that the allegation was false. I was able to go through historical satellite photographs to determine the date of construction and find the firm’s website. I have never met Krüger in person, but we were able to collaborate over email. We killed off this particular rumor — and without Washington having to pay the local authorities millions of dollars’ worth of “aid” to get a look inside. You’re welcome, taxpayers!
Any agreement with Iran is destined to contend with a series of leaks like this. But let’s remember: The MEK and the United States have fundamentally different interests. The MEK highlights Iran’s nuclear programs — real, imagined, and downright fabricated — as a way to build support for regime change in Tehran. Hemming in the Iranian nuclear program through diplomacy removes one of the MEK’s most effective talking points in favor of bombing Iran. They won’t go down without a fight.
We can expect to hear more about Iran’s misdeeds ahead of any agreement, and as long as there is an agreement in place. It is probably too much to ask many journalists to fact-check their stories in advance. Even with the best of intentions, journalists operate under tight deadlines and the fear of being scooped by less cautious colleagues. (Ed. note: The author is not referring to the fine journalists at Foreign Policy.) But those of us in civil society can hold the MEK, comically bellicose pundits, and credulous journalists accountable in way that would have been impossible in 1998 when Kumchang-ri broke. (We can, however, ask them to run corrections with the same prominence as error-ridden alarmist stories.)
It really is a different world than in August 1998, when Google didn’t even exist. (Well, at least for another few weeks.) There are many reasons to hope that a nuclear deal with Tehran will prove more durable than the one with Pyongyang, one of which is the flood of open-source information. There is, today, an enormous amount of information that can help the public sort fact from fiction. It is really is just a matter of having skilled nongovernmental groups working in the public interest. There isn’t, at the moment, much funding available for this sort of work and only a few institutions really do it for nuclear issues, including the Institute for Science and International Security as well as my home institution, the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. But the important point, the one illustrated by the Hasakah Spinning Factory and now Matiran, is that, given a chance, we can sort fact from fiction, and at a modest cost.
Jafarzadeh has already published his suicide bombing note.
Wondering at those Americans who stand under the flag of Mojahedin Khalq (MKO, MEK, NCRI, Rajavi cult) only to LOBBY for the murderers of their servicemen
BREAKING: Amateur hour at the pro-war media, latest allegations by Mojahedin Khalq (Rajavi cult) FABRICATED.
Florida Democrat, Daily Kos, February 26 2015:… But it’s a total fabrication. The image included in the NCRI report is actually a product shot from the Iranian safe company. Original report as republished by the rabid pro-war site “Washington Free Beacon” and linked in their over-hyped story. Fox News article. GMP Safe company “explosion resistant doors …
BREAKING: Amateur hour at the pro-war media, latest allegations against Iran FABRICATED.
Page 10 of NCRI Report, Feb 24, 2015
In the wake of the embarrassing new revelations that the top Israeli intelligence agency is contradicting Bibi Netanyahu on his alarmist Iran intelligence, the well known liars, the “dissident” group NCRI (aka MEK), has jumped into damage control action and has released a suspiciously timed report that claims Iran has a new secret site. Countless media outlets including of course Faux News, have jumped on this as well.
Here’s a Fox video segment about it.
But it’s a total fabrication. The image included in the NCRI report is actually a product shot from the Iranian safe company.
GMP Safe company “explosion resistant doors” product shot.
This is truly amateur hour. It took only a Google “search by image” to find it. Actually, I first became suspicious when I read the original report and saw the picture. They said this was for “radiation”. To quote Washington Post’s coverage:
Satellite images the group culled from Google showed a large, walled complex of buildings at the foothills of the mountains outside Tehran. They also exhibited photographs purportedly taken inside the tunnel showing a steel door that they said was lined with lead to prevent radiation leaks.
But why would a radiation resistant door be made out of stainless steel? Shouldn’t it be covered completely by lead? Also, these clowns supposedly infiltrated this large underground nuclear bunker, but only had like a 1990′s camera phone on them? Why not more pictures or videos?
Well, once you see the real picture they stole (the product shot from GMP Safe Company), you see that the original shows windows with sunlight coming in from behind the safe. It’s clearly not in a secret underground bunker, but rather a warehouse which makes perfect sense for a safe.
Here’s a partial shame list of the irresponsible and complicit media reporting on the report as fact without even a pretense of verification.
Washington Free Beacon (Adam Credo)
World Net Daily (Jerome Corsi)
MEK Hoax Exposed: “Lavizan-3″ Revelations Found Fake
Campain against sanctions and military intervention in Iran (CASMII),
February 26 2015
GMP product photo
The latest NCRI revelations of a new “Lavizan 3″ facility has been sent to the right wing and pro-war media and has been playing in the US non-stop. The group claims it has photo of a “steel door” designed to prevent radiation leaks. (Washington Post).
Here’s a typical article. It links to the original report.
The report feature only one singular picture as proof, they say was taken from an underground bunker that is “anti nuclear radiation”. But the picture is from an Iranian safe company GMP It’s a product shot for their “explosive resistant” door.
Page 10 of NCRI Report, Feb 24, 2015
The NCRI is a front organization controlled by the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (MEK), a violent terrorist organization at war with Iran. It has targeted and killed many civilians including American citizens since the 1960′s. The group was listed as a terrorist organization until 2012 in the United States.
The cult-like group has also perpetrated human rights abuses against its own members. But in the post-Iraq invasion era, it has become a vocal supporter of military action by US and Israel. MEK participated in assassination of Iranian scientists and has an established relationship with Israel. Read this National Interest article for some of the details.
MKO claims on underground nuclear site baseless: Iran UN mission
Press TV, February 26 2015
The Islamic Republic of Iran has strongly rejected allegations about the existence of an underground nuclear research center in the northern part of Tehran as claimed by the terrorist Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO).
In a Wednesday statement, Iran’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations called the allegations reported by The Washington Post “baseless” and “fake”.
“It is regrettable that the newspaper has released false and repeated claims of a terrorist grouplet whose anti-human nature is evident to all,” the Fars news agency quoted the statement as saying.
It reiterated that Iran’s nuclear energy program is peaceful and the allegations by the terrorist group are made out of desperation as Tehran has adopted a logical approach towards the issue.
On Tuesday, the Post quoted MKO members as saying the site, referred to in the report as “Lavizan-3”, has been used “since 2008 to enrich uranium”.
Similar claims by MKO have previously proven false while the group continues attempts to turn the matter into a security case, said the Iran mission to the UN.
In reaction to the new allegations, US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the US officials “have no information at this time to support such a conclusion.”
Tehran and the Sextet of world powers – the US, Britain, Russia, France, China, and Germany – have been engaged in nuclear negotiations in an effort to ink a high-profile political deal by the end of March and to confirm the full technical details of the accord by July 1.
Iran has so far suspended some of its enrichment program in return for certain sanctions relief.
Anne Khodabandeh (Singleton), Middle East Strategy Consultants, December 27 2013: … In the past year over 8,000 people have died in violent incidents in Iraq. The problem is not that the MEK are being singled out for attack, the real problem is that nobody is allowed to get inside Camp Liberty to help rescue these people from their enforced captivity. Nobody is allowed to help them or
Holly Dagres, Huffington Post, December 12 2014:… Maryam Rajavi’s marriage to one of the original founders of the MEK symbolized the transformation from an organization to a “cult of personality.” With the money provided by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein–they formed an alliance due to a deep disdain for the Iranian regime–to “construct self-sufficient camps” …
Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich, Foreign Policy Journal, November 08 2014:…In addition to the “Iran experts”, Washington has found itself other sources of ‘intelligence’, foremost; the Mojahedeen Khalg (MEK) terrorist cult. This group feeds Washington information provided them by Israel. Previous to this assignment, the cult was busy fighting alongside Saddam …
Fars News, Tehran, November 27 2014:… the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has come to realize that the allegations raised by enemies and the terrorist Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO, also known as MEK, PMOI and NCRI) against Tehran’s nuclear program have all been fake and wrong. “Today, the IAEA has come to this conclusion …