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The Race for Iran


The Washington Post had another piece on Iran today, this time on the front page, that could easily have been run about Iraq back in 2002.  We have recently criticized the Post for relying on Green Movement partisans for ostensibly objective “analysis” about Iranian politics.  Today’s piece relies almost entirely on unnamed U.S. officials and a known terrorist organization to make the Iraq-redux argument that Iranian “defectors” are providing the U.S. government with critical information that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons. (The Post’s story refers specifically to three alleged, relatively recent defections.) 

The Post seems to take as fact that, “Iran’s political turmoil,” created by the country’s June 12, 2009 presidential election, “has prompted a growing number of the country’s officials to defect or leak information to the West, creating a new flow of intelligence about its secretive nuclear program.” But, the Post’s journalists do not appear to have asked some basic questions about the information they are being fed by U.S. officials.

At least four main points from the Post’s story do not stand up to serious scrutiny.

1. What is the factual basis for the U.S. officials’ claims that there is any real “political turmoil” in Iran today that would prompt mass defections from an important, prestigious, and sensitive industry like Iran’s nuclear program?  All the evidence at this point shows that support for the Green Movement has dropped precipitously and that the government is firmly in control.  

2. What is the factual basis for linking the three alleged Iranian defections cited by the Post to the supposed “political turmoil” precipitated by Iran’s June 12, 2009 election?  Two of the three defectors named in the Post piece (and the only two with any connection to Iran’s nuclear program), appear to have defected before the June 12, 2009 election. 

–The only individual cited in the story who clearly defected after the June 12, 2009 election was one diplomat at the Iranian embassy in Norway, who had no access to Iran’s nuclear program.

–The second defector cited by the Post reportedly defected in 2007—two years before the 2009 election. 

–The third defector named is Shahram Amiri, now 32, who supposedly disappeared in June 2009 while on pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia—at about the same time as the election in Iran that supposedly prompted a mass of defections.  Given the planning that would be required for someone to defect (both by the defector and by his handlers), it does not seem plausible that Amiri became so dissatisfied with the political order in Iran after June 12, 2009 that, within days, and with significant political demonstrations going on in Iran, he was able to arrange to leave his supposedly sensitive job to travel abroad and establish arrangements for his defection with Western handlers.  If Amiri, in fact, disappeared in June 2009, it more likely that his decision to work with Western handlers and eventually to defect was taken well before the June 12, 2009 election.

3. Amiri’s case deserves more scrutiny than the Post’s journalists gave it.  The reporters cite U.S. and European officials claiming that Amiri

“has provided spy agencies with details about sensitive programs, including a long-hidden uranium-enrichment plant near the city of Qom… Amiri is described by some as the most significant Iranian defector since Brig. Gen. Ali Reza Asgari, a former deputy defense minister and Revolutionary Guard Corps commander who switched sides during a 2007 trip to Turkey.” 

The reporters also cite the National Council of Resistance in Iran (NCRI) to claim that “Amiri had been associated with sensitive nuclear programs for at least a decade.”  The NCRI is identified by the Post only as “an opposition group that publicly revealed the existence of a secret uranium-enrichment program in 2003” without readers being informed that the NCRI is part and parcel of the notorious MEK, which the U.S. government has officially designated as a foreign terrorist organization. 

The Post reporters also have their facts wrong about the NCRI’s previous nuclear “revelation”.  In August 2002—not 2003, as claimed by the Post, the NCRI held a press conference to “expose” two nuclear facilities in Iran (Natanz and Arak) that they claim to have discovered.  However, the sites were already known to U.S. and other intelligence agencies and, under the terms of Iran’s then-existing safeguards agreement with the IAEA, Tehran was under no obligation to disclose the facilities while they were still under construction and not yet within 180 days of the actual introduction of nuclear materials.

Furthermore, how could it be that Amiri, who would have been 31 years old at the time of his defection, would have had meaningful access to anything sensitive about Iran’s nuclear program—much less to have had such access “for at least a decade”?  Unless Amiri completed his doctorate as a teenager and was given a senior position in Iran’s nuclear program with high level access at the age of 20 or 21, this claim literally does not add up.    

4. According to the Post, “Some [unnamed] observers say the Tehran government has been unnerved by the defections and point to the death of an Iranian physics professor more than three months ago as a sign that it has begun a crackdown designed to frighten would-be spies.”  Their evidence for this, yet again, are claims only attributable to the NCRI, which is part of the MEK, a terrorist organization dedicated to the overthrow of the Islamic Republic. 

These claims rest on the January 12, 2010 assassination in Tehran of an Iranian professor, Masoud Ali Mohammadi, who, it is implied, was killed by the Iranian government because of his knowledge of Iran’s nuclear program and sympathy to Iranian opposition groups.  The Post cites only the NCRI for the ominous claim that, “The day before his death, Iranian intelligence agents had searched his home and confiscated documents and notes.” The Post fails to mention that Dr. Mohammadi was a quantum field theorist with interests in such diverse fields as condensed matter physics, cosmology, and string theory.  These subjects are all quite distinct from nuclear physics, nuclear engineering in general, and nuclear weapons in particular.  Therefore, the claim that Dr. Mohammadi was a nuclear physicist with access to sensitive aspects of Iran’s nuclear program is highly suspect.

Oddly, the Post then features a subheading, “Learning from mistakes,” under which the journalists report that U.S. officials are “under pressure to avoid their predecessors’ mistakes”.  Unfortunately, rather than learning from “their predecessors’ mistakes” in perpetrating one of the biggest intelligence in modern American history in their bungled assessments of Iraqi WMD, U.S. officials are instead seeking to avoid a repeat of the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear program—which concluded, among other things, that Iran had stopped work on purely weapons-related aspects of its program.  If that conclusion remained on the table, how could Washington argue for intensified sanctions against the Islamic Republic—much less keep the military option “on the table”? 

It would also be constructive if reporters in America’s most prestigious media outlets sought to learn from “their predecessors’ mistakes” in helping to disseminate the manufactured “intelligence” about Iraqi WMD (much of it based on defectors’ stories) which was used to make the case for invading Iraq. 

Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett



  1. Respecting Flynt and Hillary as I do, I’d hate to see them associated with the mythology in one of the comments on this page. I’m glad that Eric Brill “wouldn’t swear to it,” because I did not write anything remotely resembling the story he seems to recall, declaring Iraq’s CAFCD (currently accurate, full and complete declaration) to be inadequate on its face. As the saying goes, you can look it up. Search Nexis for any terms you like (perhaps Gellman, Iraq, nuclear) in the first quarter of 2003. Of the three hits you’ll find, one was the first story to report, “Special Search Operations Yield No Banned Weapons.” Highlights of what I actually did write are under the heading “Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction” on this page: http://www.bartongellman.com/articles.php.
    It was not merely a mistake in identity on Mr. Brill’s part. I’ll bet a big slice of humble pie that nobody in the WaPo news pages wrote a story that said anything like what Mr. Brill described.

  2. James Canning says:


    I think one of the most damaging aspects of the pernicious grip on US foreign policy, that the Israel lobby has achieved, grows out of the severe damage to American credibility their persistent dishonesty, double-dealing etc inflict on the US.

  3. Esfandiar Bakhtiar says:

    A positive outcome of such falsified and unfounded news by used-to-be-a-credible establishment is the fact that masses become desensitized to the their reporting, if they have not already been yet, and that at point the establishment starts its path toward a “irreversible decline” which you may call it “the beginning of the end” of their existence.

  4. James Canning says:


    I wonder if Obama has taken the Iran quiz you posted? He should. And best estimates of true spending on defence, by the US, exceed $1 trillion per year. Much is concealed one way or another.

  5. Eric A. Brill says:


    “I think you were entitled to a response, and you should have received one.”

    I don’t know that any journalist is obligated to respond to a total stranger. What I do believe, though, is that a responsible journalist who is in a position to seek corroboration of such a serious charge as election-rigging has an obligation to her readers to try to do so, and to let her readers know how that effort turns out.

    I’ll venture some guesses here:

    1. I’ll never hear from Joby again.

    2. Joby will probably make no effort whatsoever to corroborate her story.

    3. If Joby makes an effort, she will start by contacting her government source, who will promptly reply that he is not at liberty to tell her what corroboration the government has obtained, but that she may rest assured that this defector’s story is entirely credible.

    4. If Joby writes about this subject matter again, she will write the same thing she wrote this time, and will not mention her unsuccessful effort to corroborate it.

    5. Other journalists will cite Joby’s story, referring to her claim as if it has been established beyond the shadow of a doubt.

  6. James Canning says:


    I think you were entitled to a response, and you should have received one.

  7. kooshy says:


    I would be happy if I know Joby spent his Saturday with family and didn’t need to file this article Saturday night for Sunday print, since it seems like it’s another one of the archived stocked articles that Fred just needed a few alphabetical changes like Q to N to make work for this run.

  8. Eric A. Brill says:


    “Eric do you play Gotchyou with a poor reporter who’s just writing what was asked.”

    Yep. I don’t expect a response, any more than those who posed similar questions to Judith Miller ever expected a response. I have some slim hope that maybe, just maybe, it will make this reporter pause for at least a moment next time. But I emphasize “slim.”

  9. kooshy says:

    “He feared the backlash afterward, which is why he quit. Perhaps the story should have made that clearer.”

    But please understand that I will first need to ask Fred if that will change the recommended sprit of the story

    Eric do you play Gotchyou with a poor reporter who’s just writing what was asked.

  10. James Canning says:


    Great post (April 26th, 6:42am)!

    One might add that the American public is fed relentless propaganda about Israel’s supposedly being a beacon of “democracy” in the Middle East. The truth of the matter is that the fractious politics of Israel prevent the government from acting in the best interests of the people of Israel. But that fact is swept under the rug, and kept there, by most of the so-called “reporters” writing for major US newspapers.

  11. James Canning says:

    Dan Cooper,

    I hope Obama reads your post of 10:49PM April 25th! Not to be missed by readers of this blog.

    The Washington Post did have a fine reporter in the months leading up to the idiotic invasion of Iraq, Pincus, who was diligent and thorough. His reports were put well into the back pages of the newspaoer, because they challenged the convential “wisdom” being sold by the warmongers.

  12. Eric A. Brill says:

    You may be interested in my recent email exchange with WaPo’s Joby Warrick, author of the article cited in Flynt and Hillary’s piece. Any guesses on what will come of this golden opportunity?

    Eric A. Brill sent the following message [on April 25, 2010, to Joby Warrick of the Washington Post]:

    “Among the defectors was a top diplomat at the Iranian mission in Oslo, who said he was pressured to falsify election returns for Iranian nationals who had cast votes at the embassy.”

    Well, assuming that this “top diplomat” defector was pressured to switch votes to Ahmadinejad, one can only conclude that he was remarkably successful in resisting that pressure. Here is the vote count from the polling station at the Iranian embassy in Oslo, as reported on the American Enterprise Institute’s “Iran Tracker” website:

    Mousavi: 407
    Ahmadinejad: 82
    Karroubi: 29
    Rezai: 5


    I applaud your efforts, but please don’t become the next Judith Miller. That sort of fame can be fleeting, as Judy would probably confirm.

    On Apr 26, 2010, at 7:40 AM, Joby Warrick wrote:

    Hi Eric– Thanks for the note. In this case the Oslo diplomat was “pressured,” according to his own account, but ultimately he refused to change the result, which as you point out came out in favor of Mousavi. He feared the backlash afterward, which is why he quit. Perhaps the story should have made that clearer. Really appreciate the feedback.





    I envy you here.

    You have an excellent opportunity to come up with some rock-solid evidence to support the Iranian opposition’s contentions that the 2009 election was rigged. I’ve studied it and found no evidence so far, but that certainly doesn’t prove fraud did not occur. Given my awareness of how little evidence has actually been found to support the “stolen election” claim (none, as far as I know), I am in a better position than most to assure you that it would be a very big deal if you were able to find some. As I probably need not tell you, many thousands of opposition supporters would be quite grateful, and you would receive a lot of well-deserved attention.

    This former Iranian diplomat is in an ideal position to provide concrete evidence of his serious charges. Obviously he would not have made these remarks if he had been worried that he, or perhaps family members still in Iran, would be punished. He has defected, and the Iranian government obviously knows what he’s said and who he is (after all, how many defecting “top diplomats” from Iran’s mission in Oslo can there be?).

    Judith Miller became a journalistic laughing stock NOT because she reported serious charges made by Iraqi defectors. She became a laughing stock because she published serious charges without bothering to seek corroboration even when there was a plain opportunity to do so. Had she exploited that opportunity and corroborated her stories, Ms. Miller almost certainly would still be working for the New York Times, and far more prominent than she was at the height of her short-lived glory.

    Good luck! I’ll be reading the Post more avidly than ever to see what develops from this promising beginning.

    Eric Brill

  13. Dan Cooper says:

    Watch the Video of William Scott Ritter Jr, Former UN weapon inspector in Iraq and military consultant.

    There is no proof that Iran is pursuing nuclear bomb or being a threat to the US.


  14. Rehmat says:

    The great Persian civilization in the past and Iran’s current political, social and military achievements have been blanked by the Zionist-controlled mainstream media so much that hardly a few Americans not to mention their politicians know the truth about Iran and the culprits behind the current US-Iran conflict. The ‘Israel-First’ politicians and media have successfully painted Islamic Republic as an aggressive regime which is not only poses a grave threat to it neighbors (especially to Zionist entity) but to the entire world. The Tehran regime is also blamed for following Islamic fundamentalism though Israel is more Jewish fundamentalist-controlled, far less democratic (Iran has conducted more fair elections since 1979 than any of Western puppet regimes in the Middle East or elsewhere) and denies women full western-style human rights. The last claims borders on humor – as Iran has more women and minority representatives in the Majlis (Parliament) than the US, Israel and the West’s Arab ally countries. Iran has three woman vice-presidents so far and its education standard among girls have gone up from 27% (in 1978) to 81% (in 2009), making it higher than many countries in Europe. The Zionists’ ‘smoking gun’ against Iran is its nuclear program which Tehran insists on to be for its energy and medicine needs, which has not been proven otherwise by IAEA or American intelligence agencies (NIE). On the other hand, America’s three close allies; Israel, India and Pakistan have already become nuclear powers using the back doors (they’re not signatory to NPT but Iran is).

    Professor Jeffrey Rudolph, who in 2008 asked: “Can You Pass the Israel-Palestine Quiz?“ has come up with a new quiz: “Can You Pass The Iran Quiz?“. The historical background provided by Jeffrey is killing the Zionist camel……


  15. Rehmat says:

    The Washington Post, being listed on the Israel Hasbara Committee as propaganda outlet – cannot be taken seriously.


  16. Iranian@Iran says:

    It looks like new sanctions will be imposed. After new sanctions, of course, Iran will have to punish those who hurt Iranians. After that? War and global economic depression?

  17. Bussed-In, "Drop-Dead Gorgeous" Basiji says:

    Dear Americans (media, policy-makers, academia and otherwise smart people),
    Please don’t listen to anyone who is an Iranian “dissident” or Islam “expert” or to any “American” who says “whatever is in Israel’s best interest is in America’s best interest”. Instead go see for yourself if Iran is really what it is portrayed as (as the Leveretts did) and then make up your own mind whats in America’s best interest.

  18. kooshy says:

    Before the Iraq war when reading NYT and WP and watching the rest of the American news media garbage, I used to get worried, but now days even before reading the titles by just glancing at the writers name I will know what the entire garbage is about, especially if it is published by a major media.

    Ironically today I actually got happy reading this article, I thought to myself wow that is a good sign, it shows me how desperate and confused the US’s Iran policy planers have become, and how short of material and real substantive intelligence the mid level intelligence bureaucrats in charge of marketing related propaganda are, their counter parts in Tehran are laughing reading this output, I really think the Iraq material was more believable, maybe I guess it has to do with
    the budget cuts and the economy so we cannot hire more professional propagandist, I don’t know, but I this kind of propaganda produced don’t look too professional.

    The great American philosopher Donald Rumsfeld once said you go to war with propagandist you have not the propagandist you want. I could not explain to my daughter why we do have to go to the war since it was not explained to me on CNN.

  19. Dan Cooper says:

    Today Americans are ruled by propaganda. Americans have little regard for truth, little access to it, and little ability to recognize it.

    Truth is an unwelcome entity. It is disturbing. It is off limits. Those who speak it run the risk of being branded “anti-American,” “anti-Semite” or “conspiracy theorist.”

    Truth is an inconvenience for government and for the interest groups whose campaign contributions control government.

    I was associate editor and columnist for the Wall Street Journal. I was Business Week’s first outside columnist, a position I held for 15 years. I was columnist for a decade for Scripps Howard News Service, carried in 300 newspapers. I was a columnist for the Washington Times and for newspapers in France and Italy and for a magazine in Germany. I was a contributor to the New York Times and a regular feature in the Los Angeles Times. Today I cannot publish in, or appear on, the American “mainstream media.”

    For the last six years I have been banned from the “mainstream media.” My last column in the New York Times appeared in January, 2004, coauthored with Democratic U.S. Senator Charles Schumer representing New York. We addressed the offshoring of U.S. jobs. Our op-ed article produced a conference at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. and live coverage by C-Span. A debate was launched. No such thing could happen today.

    For years I was a mainstay at the Washington Times, producing credibility for the Moony newspaper as a Business Week columnist, former Wall Street Journal editor, and former Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.

    But when I began criticizing Bush’s wars of aggression, the order came down to Mary Lou Forbes to cancel my column.

    The American media does not serve the truth. It serves the government and the interest groups that empower the government.


  20. kooshy says:


    I guess this diplomat will be the next recipient of Nobel peace prize next year, in efforts to convince Iranians that there are nobel peace loving (green) people among them who recommend color revolutions and since Rumi (Mowlana) is incapable of physically attending the ceremonies in Oslo this mid level diplomat is Dennis’s next best choice with incredible green credentials. Administrations sources who did not want to be identified for this reporting have confirmed with this reporter the president’s approval. Please be convinced or I will make me to spend my next Sunday making up another article, thank you

  21. Shades of Judith Miller! I’ve been wondering how she’s been making a living these days. Maybe she’s taken up mentoring of young writers at the Washington Post.

    Incidentally, for those who don’t remember or (somehow) never noticed, the Washington Post virtually foamed at the mouth during the last four months before the Iraq invasion in March, 2003. Most significant, it wasn’t just the “usual suspects” like Jim Hoagland. Barton Gellman, in my view, was the worst offender, and I think most people thought of him as a good guy. I think it was Gellman, for example, though I wouldn’t swear to it, who concluded that Iraq’s long-awaited 1,200-page report on the status of its efforts to eliminate its weapons of mass destruction, which report was delivered by hand to the IAEA on a Friday afternoon in early December 2002 and was still en route to the US State Department and various other Western foreign ministries when this WaPo story appeared on-line, was conclusively inadequate simply because 1,200 pages obviously was not enough to disprove the existence of WMD in Iraq. Not a single human being outside Iraq had set eyes on that report when the WaPo confidently reported that assessment – based, of course, on “unnamed officials.”


    From today’s WaPo article:

    “Among the defectors was a top diplomat at the Iranian mission in Oslo, who said he was pressured to falsify election returns for Iranian nationals who had cast votes at the embassy.”

    Well, assuming that this “top diplomat” defector was pressured to switch votes to Ahmadinejad, one can only conclude that he was remarkably successful in resisting that pressure. Here is the vote count from the polling station at the Iranian embassy in Oslo, as reported on the American Enterprise Institute’s “Iran Tracker” website:

    Mousavi: 407
    Ahmadinejad: 82
    Karroubi: 29
    Rezai: 5


  23. From today’s WaPo article:

    “Among the defectors was a top diplomat at the Iranian mission in Oslo, who said he was pressured to falsify election returns for Iranian nationals who had cast votes at the embassy.”

    Well, assuming that this “top diplomat” defector was pressured to switch votes to Ahmadinejad, one can only conclude that he was remarkably successful in resisting that pressure. Here is the vote count from the polling station at the Iranian embassy in Oslo, as reported on the American Enterprise Institute’s “Iran Tracker” website:

    Mousavi: 407
    Ahmadinejad: 92
    Karroubi: 29
    Rezai: 5


  24. Dan Cooper says:

    Both “The New York Times and The Washington Post” are criminally responsible for manufacturing false information to brainwash the American and the international public opinion.

    Liz posted this link last week which is interesting.

    Sociopath nation: The New York Times on Iran.


  25. Fiorangela Leone says:

    It’s extremely worrisome that C Span is increasingly on-board the demonization train. Iran is persistently and blithely referred to as “rogue;” moderators do not demand that interviewees provide support for the most basic false assertions; rather, moderators amplify them. C Span defends its Washington Journal programming by claiming that it takes its material from “all the major newspapers — WaPo, NYT, Washington Times,” etc. Which is, of course, the problem: none of the MS papers speaks with an independent voice (possible exception: Christian Science Monitor.

    Worse, C Span increasingly gives a great deal of air time to the same old voices. This afternoon C Span committed three or more hours to LA Times book festival, with focus on Iran through the writing/thoughts of Reza Aslan, Roxana Saberi, and Ilan Berman. Aslan (who is drop-dead gorgeous) was disappointing in his cookie-cutter endorsement of administration policies toward Iran, but his penetrating understanding of the relationship of Islam to the aspirations of the Iranian people and the way religious institutions serve those goals is insightful (did I mention that he’s very handsome).
    Saberi was Saberi; ’nuff said.
    Ilan Berman was predictable as well. It was instructive to hear him explain that his views are based on his parents’ Russian ‘refusenik’ background. Berman, like Ledeen, equates the “problem” of Iran with the USSR, and maintains that the US should “change” Iran the same way US did USSR — by so pressuring the government that the people will rise up and overthrow their odious leaders. Berman claimed that AIPAC’s focus re Iran is NOT to militarily attack Iran but to block Iranian access to gas Three problems: that’s not how it happened in USSR; the Iranian people and government are far different animals and have far different traditions and history than did FSU; and blockading access to energy supplies is an act of war (as Reza Aslan pointed out). Other than that, Berman was spot-on. Hateful and hawkish, but boasting one of the keenest minds of the 1980s.

  26. Jay says:

    This is an excellent factual article! And, I agree that it would be nice if these esteemed reporters learned from past mistakes. However, I have serious doubts.

    Nowadays the difference between the various media outlets from Terri Gross, to NPR, to WashPo, NYT, etc. is merely in style, not substance! This is because the lifeline of media personalities is their “sources”. Once a policy direction is agreed upon, then it is marketed through “backgrounds” and “exclusives” to the media personalities (notice I did not say journalists), which then end up selling it to the public. It is all clean because it is not the government propagandizing directly (that would be illegal). And, it is very effective because a few media personalities are competing for the exclusives from “sources” (which helps them advance their careers). They do the dirty work with plausible deniability — worst case, Judy Miller gets fired to find another lucrative job.

  27. James Canning says:


    Have you considered the possibility fanatical supporters of the insane “Greater Israel” project WANT Iran to proceed with development of nuclear weapons?

    Iran must keep the moral hight ground, and continue to lead the global movement for eliminating nukes. Going ahead with its own programme while campaigning against nukes, would be a catastrophic mistake.

  28. Lysander says:

    This is indeed disturbing and matches the Iraq pattern. The difference is that there is almost no chance that the US is going to attack Iran or permit Israel to do so. Iran, while by no means a major military power, still has enough retaliatory capability to make war painful for any attacker. The US doesn’t even seem enthusiastic about the wars it is already fighting, and the rest of the world has seen that movie before.

    That doesn’t mean the same Iraq war cheerleaders wont keep trying. Circumstances may change, another terrorist attack could happen, etc. They want to keep war in the public discussion as much as possible.

    Quite frankly, if Iran’s government **isn’t** working as fast as possible towards a strong nuclear capability (if not an actual weapon), it is being criminally irresponsible.

  29. Liz says:

    Well done! Really good!

  30. James Canning says:

    Bravo! The Washington Post prostituted itself in the service of the warmongers, in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Things clearly have not changed. Lies, more lies, still more lies. . .