Friday, June 24, 2011

The Iranian "Nuclear Test" Report:
Gerdab, The Guardian, and How Propaganda Spreads

"A lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on."

- Reverend C.H. Spurgeon, April 1, 1855

Earlier this month, on June 8, The Guardian's Global Security blogger Julian Borger reported that, a website is run by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Cyber Command, ran an article which opined on the domestic and international reaction to an Iranian nuclear bomb test.

Borger described the article, entitled "The Day After the First Iranian Nuclear Test: A Normal Day," as "remarkable" and "strange" and quoted (my favorite Iran alarmist) Meir Javedanfar as calling the revelation "unbelievable" and breathlessly stating that he had "never seen anything like [it]." Borger suggested that the appearance of this article - and the hypothetical introduction of a nuclear-armed Islamic Republic - was a calculated act by the Iranian government. "This has the look of a kite being flown, but for whom?" he wondered, continuing, "It could be intended to get Iranians used to the idea of a nuclear test, and less fearful of international reaction. It could be a gesture of defiance to the world by hardline elements..."

Yet, the piece is undoubtedly a bit of creative writing, a satirical speculation on what would actually happen if Iran were to develop an operational nuclear arsenal (or, more simply, a single nuclear bomb). Arms Control Wonk writer Jeffrey Lewis pointed out how "device of comparative headlines yields some amusing insights about how Iranians view various news sources," elaborating:
The author imagines Al Jazeera describing the test as an Islamic bomb, while Saudi-owned Al Arabiya calls it is a Shiite bomb. Only Reuters and CNN give credit to Iran. Similarly, the Jerusalem Post has a tabloid style headline — “Mullahs obtain nuclear weapon” — while the Washington Post gives equal billing to the test as well as reaction in Israel. Then there is a dig at a government-run, pro-Ahmadinejad newspaper touting “By the order of the President, Iran tests 100% Iranian atomic bomb”
Lewis also cautioned that "we ought not read too much into this bit of satire." He was right to do so. The article in question did not originate from the IRGC website - rather, it was picked up from a Iranian blogger's personal website and cross-posted on Gerdab.

Just a few hours after the Guardian article was posted, commenters shed some light on the story, revealing that Gerdab's "webmaster scans pro-government blogs and selects their posts for republishing" in its "In The Blogs" section.

Soon thereafter, Borger was contacted by the blog's author, 30-year-old Qom-based writer Seyed Ali Pourtabatabaei, who confirmed that the piece was indeed just satire. Borger conducted an interview with Pourtabatabaei, during which he asked how "his blog end up on Gerdab, a website run by the IRGC's cyber-security wing?" Pourtabatabaei responded:
"Gerdab was firstly an IRGC project to clean the Persian web of porn. After that was done, it just became a site that collects links to what it thinks is good content. There was a university student I know working for Gerdab and he read my blog and liked it and put in a link to it. He has to put up five links a day to get paid in his job. I don't think Gerdab management knew anything about it. Now they have some more rules."
Borger added that "Pourtabatabaei did not go into details, but the authorities have communicated their displeasure to him. Beyond that, he has not been punished in any way."

At the end of it all, and to his credit, Borger concluded:
I found Pourtabatabaei to be very credible. He described an Iranian reality in which political and religious allegiances cut across each other and do not always fit in neat categories. The "five-links-a-day" explanation for the Gerdab connection also seems to be me plausible (the cock-up theory of history at work) in which case I clearly jumped to conclusions prematurely on the IRGC role. I was also only half-right at best in saying there was a taboo in Iran over talking about nuclear weapons.
Nevertheless, Borger's Guardian piece introduced the notion that the IRGC were breaking some sort of taboo on the discussion of a nuclear weapons program and was seized upon by the usual propagandists as yet one more example of the Iran nuclear threat. Despite the subsequent revelations about the true source and meaning of the piece, the damage had already been done.

As soon as Borger's original piece appeared online (which was about a month and a half after Pourtabatabaei penned the blog post), it sparked a firestorm of hysterical fear-mongering that has yet to subside.

On June 9, the Jerusalem Post declared, under its "Iran Threat" web section, that Iran's "Revolutionary guards foresee day after nuke test." The same day, Ynet wrote, "An article praising the idea of Iran testing a nuclear bomb on a Revolutionary Guard website is raising alarms in western intelligence circles, which interpret it as evidence of strong backing in the Islamic Republic for such a move."

The following day, writing on the right-wing website American Thinker, Rick Moran reposted most of Borger's Guardian piece and added his own analysis. "The fact that it hasn't been taken down and the website scrubbed is significant I think," he wrote. "This may indicate that someone very high up in government - perhaps Khamenei himself - has approved the article and is preparing the world for the inevitable; an Iranian atomic bomb." Borger's report was also taken at face value by Russ Wellen at the Institute for Policy Studies, a liberal DC-based think tank.

The same day, regime change enthusiast Kenneth Timmerman got in on the action, writing a Newsmax piece called "Iran Eager for Nuclear Test." Timmerman suggests that the "nuclear test" article together with recent reports that Iran "plans to withdraw uranium from safeguarded stockpiles at Natanz and send it to an underground bunker near Qom for further enrichment" indicates that Iran is "heading toward a 'break-out' scenario, where it would enrich its existing stockpiles of nuclear fuel to weapons grade at unsafeguarded nuclear sites." What Timmerman deliberately leaves out is that the Fordow facility near Qom is, in fact, an IAEA-monitored site.

Also on June 10, neoconservative Commentary magazine ran a piece by its senior online editor Jonathan Tobin entitled "Iran Anticipates the Day After Nuclear Test." The article, unsurprisingly rife with neocon and Zionist talking points, claims (without providing even one single piece of corroborating information) that "the evidence that Iran is working on building a nuclear bomb is overwhelming" and that it should not be discounted as a "hypothetical piece [of] pure science fiction." Tobin issues the following warning:
The greatest danger of a nuclear Iran is not so much the possibility of them actually launching a strike at Israel, though that horrifying scenario can’t be discounted. Rather, it is that the existence of this “Shia Bomb” as the Guard article calls it, would make Iran a regional superpower.
Such a scenario, he writes, "would bring untold dangers both to Israel and to the West." Tobin then suggests that, whereas the article could just be the result of a "momentary lapse" in the official Iranian narrative, it actually might be "a warning to the international community to back down on sanctions because of the consequences of angering a future nuclear power. Either way it ought to concentrate minds in Washington and elsewhere in the West." Having sufficiently fear-mongered, Tobin turns his attention to a military attack, concluding, "The question remains whether Obama and the West will do what needs to be done in order to ensure that the day the Islamists anticipate never dawns."

A few days later, longtime propagandist Jamsheed Chosky - who seems wholly incapable of understanding the difference between nuclear energy and nuclear weapons - wrote in Forbes that "the IRGC's candidness should come as no surprise, for a nuclear Iran is inevitable. Tehran, it seems, is attempting to reassure the world that it can behave no differently than the nine other nations with atom bombs."

The same day, June 14, the neoconservative flagship American Enterprise Institute published a piece on its "Iran Tracker" website which claimed that, despite the consistent official statements by Iran that it doesn't seek nuclear weapons, "a recent article published by an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) website, however, appears to drop the pretense about the nature of Iran's nuclear program, describing the hypothetical day after testing of a nuclear bomb."

The very next day, The Weekly Standard's Daniel Halper declared, "Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has just published the following article on its website, indicating clearly that the regime seeks a nuclear bomb." After linking to the AEI article from the day before, Halper repeats his contention that this "indicates that the Iranians aren't merely seeking nuclear capability for energy purposes. Instead, it's quite clear that the Iranians want the bomb."

On June 23, long after the entire "nuclear test" scare had been debunked, Ha'aretz reporter Yossi Melman resurrected the specter of impending doom in an article entitled "All signs say Iran is racing toward a nuclear bomb." The piece is chock full of the usual nonsense, including the claim that the Fordow facility was "revealed in September 2009 thanks to information obtained by the intelligence agencies of Israel, the U.S. and Britain" (not true, Iran itself announced its existence to the IAEA) and Melman's weird rhetorical question, "Is the site at Qom Ahmadinejad's Armageddon, where a weapon will be developed that will annihilate the unbelievers and hasten the coming of the Messiah?"

Melman then writes,
Another cause for concern is an article published about two months ago on a Revolutionary Guards website. In it, for the first time, the author talked about "the day after" Iran carries out a successful nuclear test that would transform it into a nuclear power. Previously, Iranian government officials had always maintained strict silence on this subject. Was the article a fluke, the result of negligence by inattentive censors, or was it written to prepare public opinion, both at home and abroad?
The answer, clearly, is neither and Melman - a veteran journalist and analyst - should have done his research. The truth about the "nuclear test" post had been confirmed by Julian Borger himself more a week earlier.

Nevertheless, Melman concluded that recent "developments," including the Gerdabpiece, "may indicate that Iran is closer to reaching a decision than experts had previously thought."

Before all of the above lying began, and nearly two weeks in advance of Melman's Ha'aretz piece, a commenter at the Guardian had this to say about Borger's original report:
Notice theres no evidence of any nuclear weapon being advocated in this fictional piece, theres no evidence that one actually exists in Iran, nor that the Iranians have intentions to build any. Yet this piece is enough to send some of the resident war mongerers and anti-Iranians into a tizzy and I'm sure those in Tel Aviv are shifting uncomfortably.
The truth of this prescient statement is undeniable.

As of yet, with the exception of Borger himself, none of these publications has printed a retraction or correction about the "nuclear test" hysteria. As usual, propaganda has won the day.


UPDATE: I stand corrected. Two days ago, on June 22, Ynet published an article entitled "'Iranian nuke test' debunked as blogger's hoax," which states:
An Iranian blogger revealed on Tuesday that the controversial article published on a Revolutionary Guard website in April, describing a hypothetical nuclear experiment by the Islamic Republic, was nothing but a figment of his imagination.

The essay caused an international stir as it was not inline with the official Iranian claim that its nuclear program is being developed for civilian purposes only.
It should not need pointing out that the word "hoax" in the article's title is somewhat of a misnomer. Pourtabatabaei, the author of the original blog post which was republished by Gerdab then seized upon by Borger in The Guardian, never tried to fool anyone nor attempted to promote a false narrative nor sought to present anything other than a satirical take on current events. The "hoax" is what this story turned into, after the Western media got a hold of it and twisted it into some huge gaffe by the genocidal, bearded, bomb crazy "mullahs" in Tehran.

So, to Ynet, credit where credit is due. Thanks for basically setting the record straight.

And to the rest of the liars: your turn.


UPDATE II: Oh, there's more:

Even with both The Guardian and Ynet revealing the backstory of the "nuclear test" frenzy, the truth is never good enough for the hardcore propagandists. Zionist translation mill MEMRI, which ran an English version of the original blog post the day after Borger wrote about it, stands by their efforts. In an email to the Likudnik blogger who runs the "Elder of Ziyon" site, MEMRI writes:
"MEMRI's piece was a translation from Gerdab , which is an official IRGC site. Ynet does not (and can not) negate any of the facts. they just buy into a possible Iranian attempt to clean themselves off the problems this article may have created for them once it got translated and distributed in the west. No fact was challenged. It was an article on Gerdab. calling it a hoax does not make it one."
Also, in reaction to the corrective follow-up that Borger himself posted in mid-June, World Jewish Daily remained skeptical:
"Is it really that simple or is there something more sinister at play here?

"The whole incident raises the scary prospect that Iran's overlords are now regulating the blogosphere, using proxies on the ground for the purpose of gauging world reaction to their developing nuclear scheme."


1 comment:

hass said...

Once a lie is established it becomes hard to undo it. This lie was caught relatively quickly but as you see it won't die entirely, and I suspect some people will refer your even years from now. Thank, Julian Border, for promoting hype as news.