No Evidence of Iranian Weapons Program, Despite Rhetoric


John Glaser,

Seymour Hersh reports in the latest issue of The New Yorker that “despite years of covert operations inside Iran, extensive satellite imagery, and the recruitment of Iranian intelligence assets, the United States and its allies, including Israel, have been unable to find irrefutable evidence of an ongoing hidden nuclear-weapons program in Iran.” The piece is not available for free yet, but you can find an abstract here. I’ve read it in its entirety.

Hersh cites an update of the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate which concluded that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and added, “We do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons.” Hersh:

A government consultant who has read the highly classified 2011 N.I.E. update depicted the report as reinforcing the essential conclusion of the 2007 paper: Iran halted weaponization in 2003. “There’s more evidence to support that assessment,” the consultant told me.

The views of the I.A.E.A. are more suspicious, but despite some disputes between the agency and Iran, a very tight surveillance has been kept on Iran through the agency, complete with frequent inspections and 24-hour video surveillance inside nuclear facilities.

Despite obedient media lapdogs trying to refute Hersh’s report, claims of a current weapons program or of an intention to begin one remain unsubstantiated. “The guys working on this are good analysts,” Hersh was told by an intelligence analyst, “and their bosses are backing them up.” Hawkish cries to the contrary are understandable, as a Defense Intelligence Agency analyst told Hersh, they knew the 2011 update to the N.I.E would be politically explosive: “If Iran is not a nuclear threat, the Israelis have no reason to threaten imminent military action.” This is an unwelcome potentiality in Washington.

Here is an interesting excerpt regarding intelligence efforts to determine the nature of Iran’s nuclear activities:

The N.I.E makes clear that U.S. intelligence has been unable to find decisive evidence that Iran has been moving enriched uranium to an underground weapon-making center. In the past six years, soldiers from the Joint Special Operations Force, working with Iranian intelligence assets, put in place cutting-edge surveillance techniques, according to two former intelligence officers. Street signs were surreptitiously removed in heavily populated areas of Tehran – say, near a university suspected of conducting nuclear enrichment – and replaced with similar-looking sings implanted with radiation sensors. American operatives, working undercover, also removed bricks from a building or two in central Tehran that they thought housed nuclear enrichment activities and replaced them with bricks embedded with radiation-monitoring devices.

High-powered sensors disguised as stones were spread randomly along roadways in a mountainous area where a suspected underground weapon site was under construction. The stones were capable of transmitting electronic data on the weight of the vehicles going in and out of the site; a truck going in light and coming out heavy could be hauling dirt – crucial evidence of evacuation work. There is also constant satellite coverage of major suspect areas in Iran and some American analysts were assigned the difficult task of examining footage in the hope of finding air vents – signs, perhaps, of an underground facility in lightly populated areas.

The administration and Congress have systematically mischaracterized what U.S. intelligence knows about Iran’s nuclear program, consistently claiming a current weaponization program is underway or that an intention to conduct one is essentially confirmed.

Hersh’s report also talks about the possibility that the Obama administration’s push for sanctions is actually aimed “at changing Iran’s political behavior” as opposed to preventing nuclear proliferation. This seems likely to me. The fact that Iran is not a subservient client state who we pay to obey, like most of the rest of the states in the region, represents a threat to American hegemonic dominance. And they’re unlikely to stand for it.

Also unlikely is the notion that Iran would ever intend to use a nuclear weapon on the U.S. or any of its allies in the Middle East or Europe. There is no evidence that the Iranian leadership yearns for the near-instant incineration of their entire country that would surely be an immediate response of the U.S. if Iran were to do such a thing. If Iran does intend to develop a nuclear weapons program, it’s because they would then be in a position where the U.S. and Israel could not push them around on the international stage. The secret war the U.S. is currently unleashing on Iran – from cyber-attacks to economic warfare to destabilizing covert operations – would be much less likely to continue if Iran had the ability to defend itself.

Yet, U.S. leadership continues to condemn Iran about nuclear enrichment and proliferation, about its support for terrorists, and about its aggressive and threatening rhetoric (all offenses the U.S. continuously engages in as official policy). Unless a more realistic and sober understanding of Iran becomes broadly accepted, we are doomed to rising tensions and a potential repeat of the Iraq War debacle.

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