United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Carmen Ortiz
A brief news story posted by Reuters at 3pm on Friday afternoon reported that Sihai Cheng, a Chinese national, is facing criminal charges brought by the U.S. government for allegedly having conspired to export "pressure transducers," sensors that translate the application of pressure into electrical signals, to Iran. This is in violation of sanctions that restrict trade of scientific equipment and technology to that country.
Cheng was arrested at Heathrow airport two months ago and the indictment was brought by Boston field offices of the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Commerce, and the Department of Justice's Massachusetts District Attorney.
Following the publication of the Reuters report, the news traveled fast via such outlets like Bloomberg News, AFP, Telegraph, and BBC, inevitably tying the news to the ongoing international nuclear negotiations taking place between six world powers and Iran.
Pressure transducers have myriad industrial and scientific uses; their use in the transforming pressurized gas in centrifuges to an analog electrical signal is but one of these applications. A statement released by the U.S. Attorney's office declares, "Pressure transducers can be used in gas centrifuges to enrich uranium and produce weapons-grade uranium."
The fact is that transducers can be used for thousands of other reasons. Still, it is important to understand that Iran's enrichment of uranium is legal, its enrichment facilities are under strict IAEA monitoring and inspection, and Iran has never been accused of enriching uranium to weapons-grade levels.
The prosecution of people accused of breaching the aggressive U.S.-led sanctions regime is nothing new. Just last month, Mohammad Reza Nazemzadeh, a prolific and respected medical research scientist in Michigan was inexplicably indicted for trying to send a refurbished coil for an MRI machine to a hospital in Iran. However, the particular language used in press reports to describe the indictment of Cheng - in bold below - is relevant.
Reuters reported that Cheng had "supplied thousands of parts that have nuclear applications to Eyvaz, a company involved in Iran's nuclear weapons program, in violation of U.S. sanctions on Iran, federal prosecutors said."
Bloomberg News used the same formulation:
From November 2005 to 2012, Cheng allegedly supplied thousands of parts that have nuclear applications to Eyvaz, an Iranian company involved in the development and procurement of parts for Iran’s nuclear weapons program."Iran's nuclear weapons program." Read that again. "Iran's nuclear weapons program." The ubiquity of this phrase in the press and political speechifying belies the fact that Iran does not actually have a nuclear weapons program and is thus, not only deliberately deceiving, but patently false.
It should now go without saying that, for years now, the United States intelligence community and its allies have long assessed that Iran is not and never has been in possession of nuclear weapons, is not building nuclear weapons, and its leadership has not made any decision to build nuclear weapons. Iran's uranium enrichment program is fully safeguarded by the IAEA and no nuclear material has ever been diverted to a military program. Iranian officials have consistently maintained they will never pursue such weapons citing religious, strategic, political, moral and legal grounds.
This assessment has been reaffirmed year after year by the U.S. Director of Intelligence James Clapper, most recently in mid-February before the Senate Armed Services Committee. U.S. intelligence has maintained for nearly seven years a high level of confidence that Iran has no nuclear weapons program.
Nevertheless, this phraseology goes frequently unchallenged in the mainstream media - despite repeated appeals by ombudsmen and public editors for more careful and measured writing by their reporters.
Reporting on the Cheng case, however, is a bit more revealing. The specific claim referencing an Iranian "nuclear weapons program" did not originate with the Reuters wire service or Bloomberg's own cribbed report. That phrase in its entirety came from the U.S. Attorney's own press release about the indictment, which was posted Friday by the "Boston Press Release Service," and has still (as of this writing) not appeared on the website for the U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts.
That the offending phrase - "Iran's nuclear weapons program" - was literally copied-and-pasted directly from a government statement by professional reporters for major news outlets, without a shred of skepticism, scrutiny or fact-checking, is sadly par for the course in a media landscape wherein the press simply parrots the government line as a matter of policy.
"The indictment alleges that between in or about November 2005 and 2012, Cheng supplied thousands of parts that have nuclear applications, including U.S. origin goods, to Eyvaz, an Iranian company involved in the development and procurement of parts for Iran's nuclear weapons program," the release reads.
The government prosecutor responsible for the indictment is Massachusetts' U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, whose sordid history of overly-aggressive prosecution includes one case leading to the suicide of computer programmer and online activist Aaron Swartz in January 2013.
In the Cheng indictment, Ortiz has thus made an assumption about Iranian actions and intentions that directly contradicts the consensus of 16 American intelligence agencies. Furthermore, the prosecution itself is part of the Obama administration's own economic war on Iran.
Just two weeks after Iran and the P5+1 signed a Joint Plan of Action in late November 2013, the U.S. State and Treasury Departments specifically named Eyvaz Technic Manufacturing Company among companies targeted "for evading international sanctions against Iran and for providing support for Iran's nuclear program."
The recent indictment and accompanying press release present a clear indication that the decades-long disinformation campaign about Iran's nuclear program is far more powerful and sustaining than facts and evidence. And that's bad news when the propaganda comes straight from the Department of Justice.
April 12, 2014 - As usual, the great investigative journalist Gareth Porter has sunk his teeth into this indictment story and has - also, as usual - emerged with some striking revelations.
In his story for the DC-based wire service IPS, Porter addresses the constant conflation between Iran's legal, safeguarded and monitored gas centrifuge enrichment program and an imaginary "nuclear weapons program."
The indictment doesn’t actually refer to an Iranian nuclear weapons programme, as the Ortiz press release suggested. But it does say that the Iranian company in question, Eyvaz Tehnic Manufacturing, “has supplied parts for Iran’s development of nuclear weapons.”
The indictment claims that Eyvaz provided “vacuum equipment” to Iran’s two uranium enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordow and “pressure transducers” to Kalaye Electric Company, which has worked on centrifuge research and development.
But even those claims are not supported by anything except a reference to a Dec. 2, 2011 decision by the Council of the European Union that did not offer any information supporting that claim.
The credibility of the EU claim was weakened, moreover, by the fact that the document describes Eyvaz as a “producer of vacuum equipment.” The company’s website shows that it produces equipment for the oil, gas and petrochemical industries, including level controls and switches, control valves and steam traps.Moreover, the connection between the companies designated off-limits by the U.S. government and Iran's nuclear program are shown to be quite tenuous and exaggerated for political purposes.