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26 June 2008

SELLING THE FIREBALL - GEORGE BUSH AND IRAN | Medialens, 6/25/08, with a sequel

If you want a specific, case-by-case demonstration of how the propaganda system works, read Medialens religiously. What follows is one textbook example of some moment:

When George Bush arrived in Britain last week as part of his "farewell tour", the real reasons for the visit were buried well out of sight. The tour was not, as the Guardian suggested, a mere "continental au revoir". The purpose was to coerce Gordon Brown into raising troop levels in Afghanistan and to support toughened sanctions on Iran. Bush said pressure on Iran was necessary to "solve this problem diplomatically", but warned: "Iranians must understand, however, that all options are on the table." (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/ uk_news/politics/7456081.stm)

The remarks raised fears in London that Bush is "determined to take action against Iran before he leaves office in January," the Independent reported. (http://www.independent.co.uk/ news/world/politics/bush-threatens-iran-with-military-action-848488.html)

Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), warned that any attack on Iran would transform the region into a "ball of fire." Even from the West's point of view an attack would be disastrous:

"A military strike would spark the launch of an emergency programme to make atomic weapons, with the support of all Iranians, including those living abroad." (http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5hWSpmwY-Ckcf_V2Kf5RRNOgDh7Hg)

ElBaradei added that an attack would make it impossible for him to continue as head of the IAEA.

In support of Bush warmongering, French President Nicolas Sarkozy declared, on cue:

"Today, the most immediate threat is that of a terrorist attack. Thanks to the effectiveness of our security forces, France has not been attacked in recent years. But the threat is there, it is real and we know that it could tomorrow take on a new form, even more serious, by nuclear, chemical and biological means." (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7458650.stm)

Sarkozy's propaganda contribution was splashed all over the BBC website as "Breaking News." The previous weekend, the Times had hinted at machinations behind the scenes, noting that "the French President has quite deliberately donned the mantle once worn by Tony Blair, defiantly - even triumphantly - talking up his love for all things American". (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/ news/world/europe/article4133574.ece)

Sarkozy had delighted Washington by saying the West must choose between "an Iranian bomb and the bombing of Iran". "The frost is over," according to one French government aide. "We want to show the warmth that now exists between the two countries after the frictions of the recent past." (Ibid)

The "warmth" translates as French obedience to US power - a policy change which will make France far more, not less, likely to be targeted for terrorist attack, particularly if Iran becomes the next victim of a US-led terrorist 'coalition'.

Madness In Search Of War

The BBC also found space to boost Bush-Brown propaganda:

"Iran has been accused of not co-operating with the UN over its nuclear programme, amid fears it is enriching uranium to use in weapons." (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/ uk_news/politics/7456081.stm)

No mention was made of last November's US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), which summarised the work of the 16 American intelligence agencies. The report disclosed that Iran had not been pursuing a nuclear weapons development programme for the previous four years:

"We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003 Tehran halted its nuclear weapons programme."

The report added:

"Tehran's decision to halt its nuclear weapons programme suggests it is less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005." (http://www.guardian.co.uk/ world/2007/dec/04/politics.topstories3)

It is 'balanced' BBC reporting to mention alleged "fears" about Iran as genuine, but not to mention an intelligence report that undermines the credibility of those fears. This, recall, even as the catastrophe in Iraq - based on identical US-UK propaganda and identical BBC servility - is ongoing.

We asked Bronwen Maddox, chief foreign commentator at the Times, why she had failed to mention the NIE report in her June 17 article on Iran. She replied on June 17:

Good morning. You don't introduce yourself, beyond your name, so I have no sense of whether you are professionally involved in the subject, or are simply interested. I'll answer assuming the latter.

I have written extensively on the NIE. But things move on, and the comments since November by the NIE authors that they should have phrased it differently have helped change the mood. The phrasing gave too much attention to a perceived abandonment of an attempt to design actual weapons, and too little (the authors acknowledged) to two more serious points: the fact that there had been a weapons design programme, the first time that the US had said it had evidence of this; and the rapid progress of uranium enrichment, a much more difficult technical barrier to overcome than the design of a warhead.

The NIE report unfortunately gave Iran a propaganda coup, but did not, in the opinion of IAEA inspectors, portray a lower threat than was already discerned.

Really, though, it is the IAEA's report a few weeks ago which has injected the new urgency. So in blunt answer to your question, as I write a daily, short running commentary on current news, I didn't mention the NIE directly as it is too out of date for the purposes of yesterday's piece.

Very best and thanks for taking the trouble to write.

Bronwen Maddox
Chief Foreign Commentator
The Times

We replied on June 23:

Dear Bronwen

Many thanks for such a speedy response; it's very much appreciated. I'm co-editor of Media Lens, a website that monitors media issues.

You write that the NIE report authors commented "that they should have phrased it differently". Have you got a reference for their comments, please?

You also write that the IAEA report in May "has injected the new urgency."

The report noted that "substantial explanations" were still lacking for documents suggesting that Iran had worked on atomic bomb-related explosives and a missile warhead design. But these are documents introduced into the process at the very last minute by Washington in early February. Given the US record of inventing evidence on Iraqi WMD, isn't it reasonable to assume that these may prove to be baseless allegations designed to prevent the IAEA from resolving all "outstanding issues" with Iran as part of US warmongering?

You write "I didn't mention the NIE directly as it is too out of date for the purposes of yesterday's piece."

But why, then, did you not mention a June 15 Reuters report that noted:

"Analysts believe that offering Iran security guarantees, an idea floated by Russia, could help end the deadlock, seeing such guarantees as Iran's fundamental goal given the Bush administration's 'regime change' policy toward it." (Parisa Hafezi, Reuters, June 15, 2008)?

The US has refused to withdraw its threats. This is technically a criminal act (the UN Charter forbids the issuing of threats) and a sure way to prevent diplomacy. Indeed, in May 2007, Zbigniew Brzezinski, the hawkish National Security Adviser during Jimmy Carter's presidency, called the US approach on Iran "clumsy" and "stupid". He noted that the US had insisted that the Iranians give up their right to enrich uranium as a precondition for a serious dialogue on the subject. Brzezinski commented:

"I frankly don't understand how anyone in his right mind would make that condition if he were serious about negotiations, unless the objective is to prevent negotiations." (http://www.prospect.org/cs/articles? article=a_conversation_with_zbigniew__brzezinski)

Again, you appear never to have mentioned Brzezinski's view. Why is that?

And why did you not mention the view of the Saudi press earlier this year in response to Washington's efforts to line them up in an anti-Iranian crusade? Arab News commented:

"In his confrontational remarks about Iran, he offers no carrot, no inducement, no compromise-only the big U.S. stick. This is not diplomacy in search of peace. It is madness in search of war." (http://www.cfr.org/publication/15352/bush_ fails_to_convince_arab_states_about_iran.html)

That observation is also not out of date, and has also not been mentioned by the Times.

Finally, why did you not mention the call for a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East? Polls suggest that such an initiative is supported by 75% of the American people, Iran would almost certainly accept it, and the US-UK are specifically committed to it.

After all, Bush, Blair and Brown have all attempted to offer a legal cover for the Iraq invasion by appealing to UN Resolution 687, which calls on Iraq to end its production of weapons of mass destruction (which Bush and Blair of course claimed it had failed to do). Article 14 calls on parties to establish a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the region. This is an embarrassment to the United States and particularly to Israel, which has 150-200 nuclear warheads it is not about to give up.

Best wishes


We have received no further reply.

Well, here's the reply Medialens just received followed by its response:
June 26, 2008


Yesterday, we published a media alert (http://www.medialens.org/alerts/08/080625_selling_the_fireball.php), in which we discussed our exchange with Times commentator, Bronwen Maddox. In response, Times commentator Oliver Kamm wrote to us:

I have read your latest media alert urging your supporters to lobby Browen [sic] Maddox, Chief Foreign Commentator of The Times. You ask Bronwen for a reference for her comment that the authors of the NIE report on Iran's nuclear programme believe, with hindsight, that "they should have phrased it differently".

The reference is a statement by Admiral Michael McConnell, director of the National Intelligence Council, before the Senate Intelligence Committee on 5 February this year. Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana asked McConnell: "You just mentioned that if you had to do it over again [i.e. report on Iran's nuclear programme] without the heat of the moment, some time to reflect, you would have changed a couple of things. What would you have changed?"

McConnell replied: "I think I would change the way that we describe [the] nuclear program; I mean, put it up front, a little diagram, what are the component parts so that the reader could quickly grasp that a portion of it, I would argue, maybe even at least significant portion, was halted and there are other parts that continue."

You'll find the exchange on page 32 of the transcript, here: http://www.dni.gov/testimonies/20080205_transcript.pdf

It seems to me that you would be doing your own supporters a service if you were to try answering your own questions before launching imprecations at senior journalists who exercise unreasonable patience and courtesy in responding to you. Conversely, given that your supporters declare on your message board that the BBC World Service broadcasts "blatant propaganda for the Jewish religion", I think Bronwen and the other commentators you target might be forgiven if they are unmoved by your complaints.

Oliver Kamm
To quickly address the last point, it is amazing that anyone would attempt to denigrate a website on the grounds that it hosted a particular comment posted by a member of the public. Presumably, then, media professionals should revile the Guardian editors, associated as they are with the paper’s Comment is Free website, which hosts all manner of outrageous comments. Maddox was a “target”, not of “complaints” or “imprecations”, but of polite invitations to rational discussion of the facts. Kamm is arguing that these should be rejected on the grounds that a post he didn’t like appeared on our message board. Comment is indeed free, but sometimes superfluous.

Media Lens is very much a collaborative effort. We are assisted by a large number of friends, including specialists and expert commentators in different fields. They are often incredibly generous in sending us advice, comments, references and other help. On this occasion, we circulated Kamm’s email to Noam Chomsky, John Pilger, David Peterson and others, hoping for a couple of comments in response. But Peterson went much further - he sent us a full demolition of both Maddox’s and Kamm’s arguments. There’s little point trying to gild the Peterson lily, so we are very happy to publish his reply as a Guest Media Alert.

We would, though, first like to invite readers to reflect on how confidently the mainstream journalists recited the official propaganda line that the authors of the NIE report had radically changed their testimony to highlight the Iranian ‘threat’. And notice how Maddox in particular strongly asserted that “the IAEA's report a few weeks ago... has injected the new urgency”, which had left the NIE report badly out of date.

As we will see, in an almost identical replay of media performance in 2002-2003 over Iraq, these bold assertions are based on a heap of highly questionable government claims involving captured laptops and the like.

It is also useful to compare the quality of Peterson’s analysis with that of Kamm and Maddox. The chasm in rationality tells us much about why the corporate media is doing such an appalling job of informing the public and in working to relieve human suffering.

Peterson’s response:
Dear David [i.e., the coeditor of Medialens]:

What is changed in our reading of [the NIE report] Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities (Dec. 3, 2007) by the little excerpt that Oliver Kamm produces from U.S. National Intelligence Director Michael McConnell's testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (Feb. 5, 2008)? Kamm believes that everything is changed. In point of fact, nothing is changed.

In the passage quoted by Kamm, McConnell's phrase is "nuclear program" - not nuclear +weapons+ program. There is no question that Iran has a nuclear program.

Bronwen Maddox had written that the NIE's authors now believe it "gave too much attention to a perceived abandonment of an attempt to design actual weapons, and too little (the authors acknowledged) to two more serious points: the fact that there had been a weapons design programme, the first time that the US had said it had evidence of this; and the rapid progress of uranium enrichment, a much more difficult technical barrier to overcome than the design of a warhead."

I do not know by what criterion Iran has been determined to be making "rapid progress" in uranium enrichment - (a) Iran has been at it for years; (b) both the IAEA and Iran itself report that Iran has achieved a reactor-grade level of enrichment between 4% and 5%; and (c) aside from Washington's capacity to influence the way these matters are treated internationally, what other reason could there be for calling this "rapid progress"?

The source of the allegations about "actual weapons" and "weapons design" is dubious in the extreme. Here was how the Christian Science Monitor explained it three weeks ago:

“But there is a history of imperfect intelligence tips. A report in the Los Angeles Times last year quoted a senior diplomat at the IAEA saying that the CIA and other Western spy agencies had been giving sensitive information, but that ‘since 2002, pretty much all the intelligence that's come to us has proved to be wrong.’ The story said US officials "privately acknowledge" that much of the evidence they had on Iran - including the detailed designs described in the current IAEA report, reportedly taken from a laptop stolen in Iran -‘remains ambiguous, fragmented and difficult to prove.’" (Scott Peterson, ‘Nuclear report: parsing Iran's intent,’ June 5; http://www.csmonitor.com/2008/0605/p06s02-wome.html?page=1)

Because of the way the LA Times archives its material, this article at the moment is inaccessible to me. However, see Julian Borger’s article from February 23, 2007:

“One particularly contentious issue concerned records of plans to build a nuclear warhead, which the CIA said it found on a stolen laptop computer supplied by an informant inside Iran. In July 2005, US intelligence officials showed printed versions of the material to IAEA officials, who judged it to be sufficiently specific to confront Iran.

"Tehran rejected the material as forgeries and there are still reservations about its authenticity in the IAEA, according to officials with knowledge of the internal debate inside the agency. ‘First of all, if you have a clandestine programme, you don't put it on laptops which can walk away,’ one official said. ‘The data is all in English which may be reasonable for some of the technical matters, but at some point you'd have thought there would be at least some notes in Farsi. So there is some doubt over the provenance of the computer.’ IAEA officials do not comment on intelligence passed to the watchdog agency by foreign governments, saying all such assistance is confidential.” (Borger, ‘U.S. Intelligence on Iran Does Not Stand Up, Say Vienna Sources,’ The Guardian, Feb. 23, 2007; http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/feb/23/topstories3.usa)

For another helpful report, also see Ewen MacAskill, ‘Intelligence expert who rewrote book on Iran,’ The Guardian, Dec. 8, 2007.

Anyway. Bronwen Maddox makes her assertions on very weak (and my hunch is officially-sourced and meritless) grounds. Oliver Kamm's use of Michael McConnell's February 5, 2008 exchange with U.S. Senator Evan Bayh changes nothing in our reading of the December National Intelligence Estimate on Iran - most certainly nothing in a direction that warrants belief in Iran's nuclear weapons threat to international peace and security. What is more, to resort to this exchange strikes me as an act of desperation.

On the other hand, where Iran is concerned, the threat posed to international peace and security by the U.S.-Israel axis is as grave or graver than ever. But this is a categorically different point than one derived from U.S. and Israeli allegations about Iran's nuclear program.

Last Point. In an appearance by Oliver Kamm on the BBC's Late Edition program Kamm was once asked a question that (to roughly paraphrase it) went something like this: The U.K. has nuclear weapons. The Government is proposing to upgrade them and to maintain them for decades to come. How do you justify denying nuclear weapons to other states such as Iran and North Korea, but accept the fact that the U.K. and U.S. not only keep but upgrade theirs? Kamm's reply was:

“We are a civilized state. Iran and North Korea are not. It's not just a matter of the way we conduct our own affairs. Iran has conducted systematic nuclear deception, while being a signatory to the [nuclear] non-proliferation treaty.” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3WHGIxIIr18)

Given that Oliver Kamm has placed himself within the "clash-of-civilizations" camp, on the +civilized+ side of the great divide, no less, I for one may be forgiven if I am unmoved by his defense of Bronwen Maddox and the Washington regime's allegation that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons.

And I trust that the rest of Media Lens's supporters will be equally unmoved.

David Peterson
Chicago, USA

Postscript. For the sake of the Media Lens archives, I will reproduce here the relevant excerpt from Michael McConnell's February 5, 2008 exchange U.S. Senator Evan Bayh; three contemporaneous reports that dealt with Michael McConnell's testimony; and an op-ed by John R. Bolton, wherein this quite brutal American pre-emptively attacks McConnell on the very day McConnell was scheduled to testify before the U.S. Senate:


The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. If you do write to journalists, we strongly urge you to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

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