Seymour Hersh writes in the New Yorker that in the rush to accept the Israeli and American line over Iran – Tehran is a major threat and must be isolated (pretty much the same argument they’ve been making for a decade or more) – skepticism and rationality has once again disappeared:
I’ve been reporting on Iran and the bomb for The New Yorker for the past decade, with a focus on the repeatedly inability of the best and the brightest of the Joint Special Operations Command to find definitive evidence of a nuclear-weapons production program in Iran. The goal of the high-risk American covert operations was to find something physical—a “smoking calutron,” as a knowledgeable official once told me—to show the world that Iran was working on warheads at an undisclosed site, to make the evidence public, and then to attack and destroy the site.
The Times reported, in its lead story the day after the report came out, that I.A.E.A. investigators “have amassed a trove of new evidence that, they say, makes a ‘credible’ case” that Iran may be carrying out nuclear-weapons activities. The newspaper quoted a Western diplomat as declaring that “the level of detail is unbelievable…. The report describes virtually all the steps to make a nuclear warhead and the progress Iran has achieved in each of those steps. It reads likes a menu.” The Times set the tone for much of the coverage. (A second Times story that day on the I.A.E.A. report noted, more cautiously, that “it is true that the basic allegations in the report are not substantially new, and have been discussed by experts for years.”)
But how definitive, or transformative, were the findings? The I.A.E.A. said it had continued in recent years “to receive, collect and evaluate information relevant to possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program” and, as a result, it has been able “to refine its analysis.” The net effect has been to create “more concern.” But Robert Kelley, a retired I.A.E.A. director and nuclear engineer who previously spent more than thirty years with the Department of Energy’s nuclear-weapons program, told me that he could find very little new information in the I.A.E.A. report. He noted that hundreds of pages of material appears to come from a single source: a laptop computer, allegedly supplied to the I.A.E.A. by a Western intelligence agency, whose provenance could not be established. Those materials, and others, “were old news,” Kelley said, and known to many journalists. “I wonder why this same stuff is now considered ‘new information’ by the same reporters.”
A nuanced assessment of the I.A.E.A. report was published by the Arms Control Association (A.C.A.), a nonprofit whose mission is to encourage public support for effective arms control. The A.C.A. noted that the I.A.E.A. did “reinforce what the nonproliferation community has recognized for some times: that Iran engaged in various nuclear weapons development activities until 2003, then stopped many of them, but continued others.” (The American intelligence community reached the same conclusion in a still classified 2007 estimate.) The I.A.E.A.’s report “suggests,” the A.C.A. paper said, that Iran “is working to shorten the timeframe to build the bomb once and if it makes that decision. But it remains apparent that a nuclear-armed Iran is still not imminent nor is it inevitable.” Greg Thielmann, a former State Department and Senate Intelligence Committee analyst who was one of the authors of the A.C.A. assessment, told me, “There is troubling evidence suggesting that studies are still going on, but there is nothing that indicates that Iran is really building a bomb.” He added, “Those who want to drum up support for a bombing attack on Iran sort of aggressively misrepresented the report.”
Joseph Cirincione, the president of the Ploughshare Fund, a disarmament group, who serves on Hillary Clinton’s International Security Advisory Board, said, “I was briefed on most of this stuff several years ago at the I.A.E.A. headquarters in Vienna. There’s little new in the report. Most of this information is well known to experts who follow the issue.” Cirincione noted that “post-2003, the report only cites computer modelling and a few other experiments.” (A senior I.A.E.A. official similarly told me, “I was underwhelmed by the information.”)