Scott Lucas writes for EA Worldview
A discussion, including David Albright and Karim Sadjadpour, on a Sunday talk show about the IAEA report and Iran’s nuclear programme
See also Iran Feature: Did Unnamed Officials Use the Media to Turn Nanodiamonds into Nuclear Bombs?
A classic case study in how information/propaganda — choose the word according to your perspective — circulates between Western governments, supportive media, and “think tanks”….
Last week the International Atomic Energy Agency’s report on Iran’s nuclear programme was publicised, after several days of advance “leaking” by US and “Western” officials on its supposedly sensational findings. Even before the unveiling, the website Moon Over Alabama was undercutting part of the narrative, explaining how a Soviet-era scientist, Vyacheslav Danilenko — identified by the IAEA only as a “foreign expert” assisting Tehran’s push for militarised nuclear capability — was a specialist in the production of nanodiamonds rather than atomic weapons.
Moon over Alabama‘s story got a bit of traction on the Internet. Juan Cole featured it on his website, Informed Comment, as did Mondoweiss: “IAEA Report is a Dud“. Gareth Porter wrote a parallel article for Inter Press Service with additional information.
This, to say the least, was highly inconvenient for those in Obama Administration, Western partners, and the IAEA who were pushing the report as a conclusive account of Iran’s militarised activity. It was highly inconvenient for Joby Warrick of The Washington Post, who had put out the initial pre-IAEA spin about Danilenko. And it was highly inconvenient for David Albright, the former arms inspector and head of the Institute for Science and International Security, who had given the “private briefing” for “intelligence professionals” that led to Warrick’s article.
So once more unto the breach. The original strategy of complementing the cautious official language in the IAEA report with the sensational media revelations had to be reviewed and renewed. And — whether the journalist approached officials, whether they approached him, or a bit of both — another article had to be written. It had to be written, without risking any insight into the actual sources of intelligence for the IAEA production.
Warrick’s new effort, in the 7th paragraph, tries to deal with the annoying nanodiamonds: “the scientist’s synthetic-diamonds business provided a plausible explanation for his extensive contacts with senior Iranian scientists over half a decade”. But before then, he has already given the true story:
[Danilenko had] the ability to make objects blow up with nanosecond precision….He turned to Iran, a country that could fully appreciate the bomb-maker’s special mix of experience and talents….No bomb was built, the diplomats say. But help from foreign scientists such as Danilenko enabled Iran to leapfrog over technical hurdles that otherwise could have taken years to overcome, according to former and current U.N. officials, Western diplomats and weapons experts….Documents and other records — and, in the case of Danilenko, interviews — would offer a rare glimpse inside a highly secretive program hidden within Iranian universities and civilian institutions, the officials and experts said.
But how to put a dagger in the heart of the nanodiamonds alternative? Danilenko — contrary to the spin around the IAEA report — did not spill his secrets to the Agency, and he certainly isn’t talking to Warrick. The journalist has to make the admission that the scientist initially “travel[led through Europe and even to the United States to promote an idea for using explosives to create synthetic diamonds”, Moon Over Alabama‘s explanation for his activities in Tehran. And he has to include the caveat, “Evidence is often ambiguous, as the same technology can sometimes have peaceful as well as military applications.”
Step up, David Albright. The man who gave the private briefing that became public spin last week, the man whose ISIS received a copy of the IAEA report within minutes of its release to member governments and thus could be the first website to post the document, is the ghost-source behind much of Warrick’s article. He lays out the background of Danilenko: a scientist at “Chelyabinsk-70…one of the Soviet Union’s “closed cities” and….home to one of the country’s most sensitive nuclear installations, NII-1011, now known as the All-Russian Scientific Research Institute of Technical Physics.The institute’s main mission was designing the Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons.”
Albright and the ISIS then give the saving claim: “Danilenko’s expertise in explosives and gas dynamics contributed to the design and testing of small, high-precision detonators that could produce a perfectly symmetrical shock wave needed to ensure a sustained nuclear chain reaction. A tiny lapse in timing would cause the fissile core to blow apart too soon.”
In fact, there is nothing in Warrick’s article that directly links Danilenko to the Soviet nuclear programme — the claim is one of guilt-by-association; he was at the installation, thus his work must have been on weapons — and there is nothing that ties him to an Iranian militarised initiative.
Perhaps most significantly, although Warrick and Albright will make no reference to the inconvenience of the timing, all of Danilenko’s alleged work and the claimed Iranian use of it is before 2003. Thus, nothing in this effort can shift the possibility — put out by the US intelligence community’s 2007 National Intelligence Estimate — that Tehran has suspended its military research-and-development programme in that year.
But of course, that does not matter in this world of Government officials, journalists, and think-tank heads. Warrick’s article concludes with the pronouncement of guilt, not upon the network producing his article but upon its target:
“‘Synthetic diamond production is unlikely to have been a priority’ for Iran, ISIS said. ‘Although it has obvious value as a cover story.’”
Russian Scientist Vyacheslav Danilenko’s Aid to Iran Offers Peek at Nuclear Program
Joby Warrick, The Washington Post
When the Cold War abruptly ended in 1991, Vyacheslav Danilenko was a Soviet weapons scientist in need of a new line of work. At 57, he had three decades of experience inside a top-secret nuclear facility, and one marketable skill: the ability to make objects blow up with nanosecond precision.
Danilenko struggled to become a businessman, traveling through Europe and even to the United States to promote an idea for using explosives to create synthetic diamonds. Finally, he turned to Iran, a country that could fully appreciate the bomb-maker’s special mix of experience and talents.