Washington, DC - March 7, 2014 8AM-5PM at the National Press Club

"..a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils."

-George Washington, Farewell Address


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  The "manufactured crisis" and drive for U.S. / Israel military actions against Iran
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by Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and historian who specializes in U.S. national security policy. He writes regularly for IPS and has also published investigative articles on, the Nation, the American Prospect, Truthout and The Raw Story. His blogs have been published on Huffington Post, Firedoglake, Counterpunch and many other websites. Porter was Saigon bureau chief of Dispatch News Service International in 1971 and later reported on trips to Southeast Asia for The Guardian, Asian Wall Street Journal and Pacific News Service. He is the author of four books on the Vietnam War and the political system of Vietnam. His most recent book is Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare. The book highlights the impact that the United States' alliance with Israel had on Washington's turning the International Atomic Energy Agency into a tool of its anti-Iran policy.

Well I'm here with you this morning because for the last few years I've been tracking very carefully and very closely, the history of the "Iran nuclear program"-- the Iranian nuclear program. And, at the same time, of the policies of the United States and Israel toward that issue.

And what I want to do this morning is to focus on what I call the "manufactured crisis," which is the subject that the centerpiece of the book that has just been published by that same name. Because— for one simple reason—and that is that the role of Israel in this manufactured crisis, which was basically a means of accusing Iran of having a covert nuclear weapons program, which unfolded over a number of years. As a basis for further policy efforts to put pressure on Iran and even, as I will point out, to lay the groundwork for an attack, ultimately, on Iran. That this crisis, what I call the manufactured crisis, was one in which the role of Israel in affecting the Bush Administration's policy toward Iran was far more direct and far more central to the outcome than it was on Iraq. And I think that this is a fact which is not well understood. That the situation surrounding the Israeli role in U.S. policy toward Iran is really one in which the Israelis had essentially the central role.

Now to explain this I have to go back a little bit to the context in which the Iran policy of the Bush Administration unfolded. The context of course is all about Iraq. But that context is one in which the neoconservatives, as Steve Sniegoski has correctly pointed out, had a plan which involved regime change on a wide scale throughout the Middle East, across the entire face of the Middle East. Every regime which was not cooperative with U.S. policy, in other words were not essentially on the same side as Israel and the United States, was targeted for regime change in that plan. That of course included Syria, it included Lebanon, and ultimately it was to include Iran. What is not -- I mean, this is a well understood fact, but what is not well known is that the plan involved essentially laying the groundwork for ultimately using military force against Iran.

Now this was not going to be Israeli military force. One of the points that I emphasize in my book is that at no time over the last two decades has an Israeli government ever seriously contemplated attacking Iran, despite the fact that there's been an awful lot discussion, an awful lot of talk emanating from various Israeli governments over these two decades about the possibility that Israel might be forced to use force against Iran's nuclear program. I show in the book that this has always been a political ruse. It has been used by the Israelis to manipulate the policy of the United States in particular, but also the policies of other major powers who have been involved in one way or another in the issue of Iran and Iran's nuclear program.

And it's been very useful. It's been very successful in this regard. Particularly in the last few years, of course,the Israelis under the Netanyahu government have talked more and more about the possible necessity for Israel to attack Iran. And that has been a point of leverage. It has been used as leverage with regard to the policies of the Europeans, the Chinese and the Russians, as well as the United States.

And it is widely recognized within Israel that that has been a successful policy. And for that reason it has been—it has enjoyed wide support within the security establishment among both IDF and Mossad and other intelligence officials who would never contemplate, would never agree or go along with, any plan to attack Iran by Israel.

But what the Israelis have wanted all along was for the United States to take up the idea of an attack on Iran. This was never really a serious possibility under the Clinton Administration, except for a brief period when there was talk about a possible attack on Iran over the Khobar Towers attack, which of course was blamed on Iran quite falsely, as I've been able to reveal in my own investigation.

But it was really the Bush Administration where this idea that the United States would use force against Iran was a serious possibility. And indeed this was the plan that the neoconservatives within the Bush Administration, starting with John Bolton, David Wurmser, who worked for Bolton originally after the Iraq war, he was on Bolton's staff briefly and then at the end of 2003 he moved to the Vice President's office.

So it was really the Vice President's office and Bolton who were coordinating between the two of them this plan, which ultimately was to involve the use of force. Now Bolton talks about this openly in his own memoirs, so I'm not simply speculating about this. And Wurmser, when he quit the Bush Administration in 2007, actually openly talked about his disappointment that the Bush Administration did not carry out any military action against Iran and said that the idea of regime change, which of course had been the Bush Administration's—I should say, to be more precise, the neoconservatives within the Bush Administration's policy but was never officially accepted by the White House, would necessarily involve the use of military force to some degree.

So the two key players in this, John Bolton and David Wurmser, both have publically confirmed that it was their intention that some kind of military force would be used by the Bush Administration at a later date. And of course this would only happen after the United States had consolidated its control over Iraq. That, of course, was the strategic assumption on which this plan was based. And as we all know now, thankfully, the United States was unable to establish control over Iraq and as a result of that, this idea of an attack on Iran was never really a possibility.

And we also now know that the Pentagon and the military service chiefs were never going to agree to go along with any U.S. use of military force against Iran, simply because it would be too costly to the U.S. military. The U.S. military assets in the Middle East, including the ships in the narrow strait abutting Iran, are too vulnerable, far too vulnerable, for the United States miliary to contemplate a war with Iran. And therefore that was never a serious possibility.

Nevertheless, in 2003-2004, the neoconservatives, led by John Bolton, were attempting to lay the groundwork for the future use of force in Iran. What Bolton was doing during that period was beginning to try to establish the idea that Iran had a secret nuclear weapons program, which idea was to be the basis for condemnation of Iran in the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

And that would then in turn be used to justify moving the Iran file if you will, from the IAEA where Mohamed ElBaradei was Director General, and Bolton quite rightly feared that ElBaradei would not cooperate with the strategy that the United States had in mind. Therefore it was to be moved to the United Nations Security Counsel. That of course would allow the United States either to get international support for whatever punishment of Iran the Bush Administration would choose to adopt, and of course the neoconservatives had in mind that that would involve military force. Or if it was not provided with international support at the Security Counsel, the United States would act unilaterally in that regard.

So in 2004, Bolton began a propaganda offensive at the very beginning of that year using satellite photos, the provenance of which is still very unclear, who provided those satellite photos. But the photos he presented to the IAEA and said, "these photos show that Iran might be carrying out cold testing or hydrodynamic testing of nuclear weapons at their Parchin military facility." Well, what the photos actually showed, of course, was simply facilities that could be used for high explosives experiments. Nothing more than that. But Bolton was cleverly using this as a mechanism for trying to force the hand of ElBaradei to confront Iran and demand an inspection by IAEA of Parchin military facility where these sites were depicted.

Now I'm quite sure that Bolton believed that Iran would never agree to an IAEA inspection of conventional military facilities at this military base. In the end it turned out the Iranians did in fact agree to let the IAEA inspect the facilities, any facilities that they wanted, any five facilities that they wanted to inspect at the Parchin military base in one of the four sectors.

And they allowed them to do it twice in 2005. But I'm quite sure, as I said, that Bolton did not expect the Iranians to do that. So what he thought would happen was that it would be possible then, either ElBaradei would demand this, the Iranians would turn it down, and then the Iranians could be accused of hiding the alleged facilities used to test military -- to test nuclear weapons. Or ElBaradei would refuse to do that, in which case he could try to get ElBaradei removed from his position. Which is exactly what he was doing in late 2004.

So this was the beginning, the first move, by Bolton to try to lay the political groundwork for this propaganda line, that Iran had a secret nuclear weapons program. And in the end, when ElBaradei refused to confront Iran in a couple of IAEA reports, he did not talk about the fact that the IAEA had asked to inspect Parchin, but had not yet gotten an answer from Iran. But when that happened, Bolton then leaked the photographs to ABC News and generated the first major set of stories about this theme that the -- that an unnamed State Department official was accusing Iran of having -- of being suspected of having nuclear weapons testing facility at—or facilities at—Parchin.

Now while Bolton was doing that, something much more important was happening in Israel. And that was that the Israelis were preparing the evidence, which up to that time, had been missing. They simply lacked the evidence to accuse Iran concretely of having a nuclear weapons program. And that was what the Israelis were working on in 2003 and 2004.

And we know now the full story, well, not the full story, but enough of the story—to be able to understand how this unfolded for the first time. In my book, I tell the story of how the documents which surfaced mysteriously in 2004, the so-called laptop documents because they were said to have been—to have come directly from the laptop computer of a scientist who was a participant in this alleged Iranian nuclear weapons research project. These documents, we now know, were handed over to German intelligence by the Mojahedin e Khalq, MEK terrorist organization.

The MEK of course had been accused of being -- had been listed as a terrorist organization by the United States State Department and by European countries because they had killed a number of American civilians and military personnel in Iran in the 1970s. They had blow up civilian gatherings, killed civilians in terrorist bombings -- a series of terrorist bombings in Iran in the 1980s, and then had been used by the Saddam Hussein regime in the war against Iran by Iraq during the 1980s. So this was undoubtedly a terrorist organization which could not be regarded as in any way a reliable source of documentation on the Iranian nuclear program.

And we know that the Bush Administration neoconservatives kept the MEK provenance of these documents, in terms of turning them over to western intelligence, from the non-neoconservative officials of the administration, because Colin Powell made a public statement to reporters in November of 2004 in which he referred to information that came from these laptop documents saying we have information that Iran is working very hard—that was his term—very hard to make a— the Shahab 3 missile with a weapon, by which of course he meant a nuclear weapon.

And in my book I tell the story which was told to me by senior former German Foreign Office official Karsten Voigt, who was in charge of coordination of German/American relations, who was informed immediately after Powell's remarks by the senior officials of the German intelligence agency that they were extremely concerned about Powell's remarks.

He said they told him that they knew all about these documents that had been referred to indirectly by Powell because they had gotten those documents from a member of the Mojahedin e Khalq a few weeks earlier. They ultimately had passed them on, of course, to the CIA.

But the BND officials told him that they judged that source to be doubtful. And they were concerned now that Powell was basically relying on those documents that they believed were doubtful to make U.S. policy.

Now if this sounds vaguely familiar to you, it may be because you remember the Curveball affair. That of course also involved intelligence which came from a source of the German intelligence agency, BND. An Iraqi who was given the code name Curveball who told wild tales of Iraqi bio-weapons labs, mobile bio-weapons labs, which were then passed on to the CIA and which ultimately became the centerpiece of Colin Powell's United Nations speech in February, 2003.

So, understandably, senior officials of the German intelligence agency were afraid that history was going to repeat itself. And that the Bush Administration intended to use this information to build a case against Iran just as it had built a case against Iraq on WMDs grounds as the basis for making war against Iran. Well, as Mark Twain said, history does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme. And this was indeed a major rhyme in U.S. policy and in Israeli policy. And here's the punchline of this story.

The MEK itself was not capable of producing those documents. The documents were extremely sophisticated. They wove around actual people, actual events, and actual documents, a narrative that of course made the point that they wanted to make, that Iran had a nuclear weapons program, a secret nuclear weapons program. But there are contradictions if you examine them carefully enough. There are contradictions that give away the fact that they are not authentic, which I will not go into now. But the point I want to make is that the documents clearly were manufactured, fabricated, by an ally of the MEK, not the MEK itself. And that ally could only have been Israel. The MEK, of course, we know have extremely close relations with the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad.

And so this is really a story about the way in which Israel played the central role in manufacturing the key evidence that was used by the Bush Administration, passed on to the IAEA, then became the major source of evidence on which to condemn Iran from 2008 through 2012. Then the Israelis passed on more documents to the IAEA, which I again document in my book, which were used in a second major report, 2011, by the IAEA, which now is the gold standard, if you will, for the accusation against Iran for having had a nuclear weapons program.

And just to conclude. I think the point that needs to be understood is that this is not just a matter of historical interest. Because the Obama Administration has now taken this evidence, both the laptop documents evidence and the later evidence that the Israelis turned over to the IAEA, and has demanded as part of its negotiating position in the nuclear talks with Iran that Iran must "come clean," quote, unquote, about the evidence that supposedly shows that it had worked with, you know, experimented, with nuclear weapons or had worked on nuclear weapons.

This is extremely dangerous, because of course the Iranians have no intention of coming clean because they understand that those documents were not authentic and that they've been accused on the basis of intelligence that was indeed manufactured. So, essentially, the Obama Administration is setting up a demand which would cause the entire nuclear talks to fail. And then we would all be in the soup because we don't know how -- what sort of dangers that that will lead us to.

So it's very important for people to understand that this manufactured crisis is now very much on the negotiating table. It's very much influencing the negotiations. And it's a very dangerous situation.
So I hope the people will follow up on that point. Thank you.

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