Sunday, April 22, 2012

David Albright's Alarmism & Allegations of Khamenei's Flip-Flopperism

David Albright, providing testimony at the House Foreign Affairs Committee: “Stopping the Spread of Nuclear Weapons, Countering Nuclear Terrorism: The NPT Review Conference and the Nuclear Security Summit” in Washington DC on April 21, 2010. (photo by Jeff Malet)

On April 20, 2012, The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), led by career alarmist David Albright released a brief - and rather odd - report.  Deliberately designed to question the credibility of Iranian Leader Ali Khamenei's recent reiteration of his religious declaration against nuclear weapons, the short memo (entitled "Internal IAEA information links the Supreme Leader to 1984 decision to seek a nuclear arsenal") opens with patronizing rhetoric:
Can we believe Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, when he says he opposes the construction of nuclear weapons on religious grounds? Information obtained by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) suggests the need to approach the statement with skepticism.
The report goes on to quote from "an internal 2009 IAEA document," recounting a meeting of high-level Iranian officials in 1984.  The report claims that "Ayatollah Khamenei declared...that the spiritual leader Imam Khomeini had decided to reactivate the nuclear programme" because "this was the only way to secure the very essence of the Islamic Revolution from the schemes of its enemies, especially the United States and Israel, and to prepare it for the emergence of Imam Mehdi."  Furthermore, "Ayatollah Khamenei further declared during the meeting, that a nuclear arsenal would serve Iran as a deterrent in the hands of God’s soldiers."

The ISIS statement concludes, "Khamenei’s pledge against nuclear weapons is welcome. However, it is not prudent to take his recent commitment at face value. He must prove it."

A footnote on the brief post states:
This quote is not contained in the excerpts published by ISIS from the 2009 internal IAEA document.  The statement appeared in the book Peddling Peril by Albright, 2010, p. 71. Almost all of the rest of the document was published on the ISIS web site and is available here:
By following the trail to this ISIS report from October 2, 2009, one can easily spot how absurd this entire charade really is.  First, note the acknowledgement that "[t]he information below [in the ISIS document] is taken from one version of this IAEA assessment cited by the AP; it is a 67-page long report titled 'Possible Military Dimensions of Iran's Nuclear Program.' ISIS is not certain of the date of this document but understands it was authored in the past 6 to 12 months."

And: "Much of the IAEA's information, including test data, reports, diagrams, and videos, was reportedly contained on a laptop."

Also, "ISIS emphasizes that these excerpts appear to be from a working document that has been revised at least once. Its author is unknown. It is subject to revision both substantively and editorially.

So what's the source material for this alleged high-echelon, dark room, Tehran tete-a-tete in which Khamenei neatly made reference, in a few sentences, to all well-worn tropes that we're fed regarding Iran: paranoia over the schemes of enemies; Twelverism, martyrdom, and mujahideen; and fierce anti-Americanism and anti-Israeli rhetoric (at a time when Iran was deeply entrenched in a war with neighboring Iraq, which isn't mentioned...)?  Oh right!  It's that mysterious stolen Laptop of Death, the authenticity of which has long been known to rest somewhere on the spectrum of dubious to fabricated, and which was provided to the IAEA by the United States by way of the MEK by way of the Mossad and has never been made available to either the public, press or Iran itself to assess.  Gotcha.

Oddly enough, back in 2005, Albright himself questioned the relevance of the laptop's alleged contents to any clandestine nuclear weapons program.  In a letter to the New York Times, he wrote that "the [laptop's reported] information does not contain any words such as nuclear or nuclear warhead."

Albright has also denounced information provided by the MEK about the Iranian nuclear program as untrustworthy.  As far back as October 2003, he told the San Francisco Chronicle, with specific regard to claims about a possible Iranian nuclear weapons program revealed at the time by the MEK, "We should be very suspicious about what our leaders or the exile groups say about Iran's nuclear capacity." He continued, "There is a drumbeat of allegations, but there's not a whole lot of solid information. It may be that Iran has not made the decision to build nuclear weapons. We have to be very careful not to overstate the intelligence."

Last August, he said that MEK claims reflected "a political agenda," while "[t]here is not a single bit of evidence that has been offered to back any of this."  He added, "I can no more trust their information."

Moreover, it is truly pathetic to see David Albright stoop to using the "swift boat" model of discourse in order to paint Khamenei as a "flip-flopper."  ISIS has a well-documented history of hysteria and has long acted as a font of deliberately leaked information that serves explicitly to fear-monger about the Iranian nuclear program (just as it did with Iraq).

This one alleged quote from Khamenei seems to have been floating around since September 17, 2009, when George Jahn used it in an Associated Press article.  It was subsequently picked up the next day by Julian Borger in the Guardian.  ISIS is never identified as the source of this leaked information and this alleged quote is not seen in Albright's writing until 2010.

Since then, this one quote - a quote which, incidentally, proves literally nothing and is simply used as a way to further call into question the three decades of consistent statements by Iranian officials regarding nuclear weapons, in no small part related to the claims that the "taqiyya" concept in Shi'a Islam is somehow a license to "lie" (welcome back Orientalism, folks!) - has been used and misused repeatedly by Iran alarmists, mostly of the virulent Islamophobic and Israeli apologist stripe.

Not only do outlets like neocon Commentary magazine and the right-wing Zionist blog Elder of Ziyon traffic in such nonsense, but Ehud Barak recently touted this grotesque and Islamophobic distortion of truth to CNN's Christiane Amanpour when, with regard to the Khamenei fatwa, he stated (with a smirk and eye-roll):
"Have you heard the term taqiyya, which means in Islam, especially the Shi'a, a kind of permission, from heaven, to the leader to lie [and] mislead partners as long as it's needed in order to reach the objective, the political objectives of the movement, the group or the tribe or the clan or the nation. So, I don't buy it."
This lie is often used in conjunction, not only with the 1984 Khamenei quote that Albright is now promoting, but also with the claim that Ayatollah Khomeini himself actually supported the development of nuclear weapons.  As "proof" of this so-called support, Iran alarmists point to Khomeini's 1988 agreement to a cease-fire with Iraq (which he likened to "drinking the poisoned chalice"), alleging that the Iranian leader was merely using the cease-fire to build up a nuclear bomb.

But one look at what Khomeini actually said proves the opposite.

In the document, Khomeini clearly lays out his rationale for agreeing to the cease-fire.  He explains that nearly all military officials and experts concur that Iran will not be able to win the war at present due to the military superiority of Iraq as a result of its foreign backers.  He explains that "military and political officials of the Islamic Republic see the continuation of the war not advisable at all, and are firmly pointing out that, under no circumstances and at any price, they can obtain even one-tenth of the weapons put at Saddam's disposal by the Eastern and Western arrogant [powers]."  Khomeini continues that his decision is also made "in view of the shocking letter of the IRGC commander" who "is one of the few commanders who believes in the continuation of the war."

Khomeini responds directly to this "shocking letter" (not the most sympathetic description) by first summarizing this commander's position.  The commander, he explains, claims he "can embark on offensive operations if after 1371 [1992] the Islamic Republic is able to have 350 infantry brigades, 2,500 tanks, 300 fighter planes and 300 helicopters as well as having the ability to make a substantial number of laser and atomic weapons which will be the necessity of the war at that time" and "adds that the strength of the IRGC must be increased seven times and the Military by two-and-half times."

"He also said that America should be evicted from the Persian Gulf, otherwise he would not succeed," Khomeini continues. "The [IRGC] commander stated that the most important factor for his success was the timely budget and resources, and in his opinion, the government and the supreme commander's staff would not be able to meet their commitments," and concludes, "In spite of stating this, he said the Islamic Republic must continue fighting, which is now no more than a slogan."

Khomeini uses this letter as an example of what he refuses to do.  He explicitly disagrees with this unnamed IRGC commander and makes his decision based on rational, strategic considerations and what will most benefit his country and religion.  Doesn't sound like much of an endorsement of a nuclear weapons program, does it?

Khomeini also calls upon government officials to support the cease-fire and to "be careful because some hard-liners with their revolutionary slogans might divert you attention from what is best for Islam," adding, "Diversionary actions are haram [religiously forbidden]."

But back to the original issue of the ISIS report casting aspersions on the Khamenei fatwa: by stating that "Khamenei's pledge against nuclear weapons" is a "recent commitment," Albright and team is being willfully dishonest or staggeringly ignorant.  This commitment never to build or acquire nuclear weapons (not only on religious ground, but on strategic, humane, and legal grounds as well) is decades-old and has been reaffirmed, repeated and referenced constantly.

Efforts like those of David Albright and his fellow Iran hysterics to depict Iranian officials as liars and deceivers, to be seen always as mischievous snake-charmers and unworthy of Western trust, is a new low in the ever-continuing propaganda about the Iranian nuclear program.

No wonder Albright titled his 2009 book "Peddling Peril."  He's a pro at it. 


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