Gareth Porter, independent historian and journalist for IPSNews, discusses indications that Amiri the mysterious Iranian defector was actually a double-agent sent by Iran to learn what the CIA knew and thought about them, Amiri’s role on the periphery of their nuclear program, his statements to the CIA that there is no nuclear weapons program, Porter’s source who says that the National Intelligence Council will stand by their previous no-nuke-weapons-program-in-Iran stance [.pdf] from 2007 in their soon to be released National Intelligence Estimate update(!), the Washington Post‘s use of the Israeli intelligence front, the National Council for Resistance in Iran, in spinning the Amiri story, the ultimate dishonest neo-crazy media sycophant David Sanger of the New York Times and what a liar he is.
MP3 here. (20:30) Transcript below.
Gareth Porter is an independent historian and journalist. He is the author of Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam. His articles appear on Counterpunch, Huffington Post, Inter Press Service News Agency and Antiwar.com.
Transcript – Scott Horton interviews Gareth Porter July 19, 2010
Scott Horton: All right y’all, welcome back to the show. It’s Antiwar Radio, I’m Scott Horton, and man I’m so lucky I got Gareth Porter on the phone.You guys are maybe wondering, “Gee, how come Scott talks to Gareth Porter all the time?” Well it’s because he’s the best reporter in the world. Welcome back to the show, Gareth!
Gareth Porter: Thanks for having me on again, Scott.
Horton: Man, I’m sitting here reading this brand-new article — it’s not up yet, but it will be up at IPSNews.net and of course at original.antiwar.com/porter. And now I’m trying to click around and find the first one here, it was, “Clues suggest Amiri defection was an Iranian plant.” And now the follow-up is called, “Amiri told CIA Iran has no nuclear weapons program.”
So, first of all, everybody knows Amiri, right? Amiri was the guy who surfaced in a YouTube saying, “Help me, the CIA kidnapped me.” And then there was another YouTube that said, “Nah, I’m chilling here, I’m going to school, everything’s fine.” And then a third one said, “No, the CIA did kidnap me, I’m on my way out of here.” And then he showed up at the Pakistani Embassy in Washington D.C. He was flown out of the country last week, received a hero’s welcome back in Iran. So that’s the basic premise of the thing. Now hit me, Gareth Porter.
Porter: Well, first of all I think the question of whether Amiri was, in fact, a double-agent or what is called in the spy trade a “dangle” is clearly still open, not at all answered yet. The question remains unanswered. I think the question that is most troubling to the CIA itself is that he was an unvetted person who was a walk-in. I’m told he was a walk-in in Turkey, where a lot of Iranians approach U.S. intelligence with offers of information and to be agents and so forth. So it was a logical place to have a walk-in, but also a logical place for the Iranians to have a dangle.
And the fact is that the CIA didn’t really know very much about him when they took him on, apparently, as an agent, you know, as a source, some time ago — we don’t know exactly when. But then the fact that he actually decided to leave Iran and come to the United States without his family is a major issue, a major question that remains unclear as to what that means. I mean it certainly is a danger signal for anybody who would be in a position to make a decision about whether, in fact, this is a sign of being a double agent.
So I’m simply saying that that’s something we don’t know yet, and I think the CIA people who have been observing what happened with Amiri are very concerned about this. But now I think the bigger question is, “What, in fact, did he tell the CIA when he was in touch with them and reporting, supposedly, on what he knew about the Iranian nuclear program?
Horton: Right, now hold on to that for a second, because you’re right, that is the question. But before that is the preliminary question, which is in regards to especially your follow-up article here, which is that you have Antiwar.com’s Philip Giraldi — he’s also a contributing editor at the American Conservative magazine, former CIA officer, former DIA officer — you have him, in this article, saying that he’s talking to CIA guys that are telling him what?
Porter: The CIA contacts that he has, who are people he says who are really in the know, who are knowledgeable about the Amiri case completely, are telling him that what Amiri said to the CIA was that there is no Iranian nuclear weapons program. Now, this has to be – we have to start with the fact that he was clearly extremely marginal to the Iranian nuclear program. He was a scientist who may have been a physicist but was not really working on any of the aspects of nuclear physics that have to do with the Iranian nuclear program.
Horton: Is that part of the indication that he was just a dangle, that they wouldn’t be able to get any real information out of him, but he would be able to report back to the Iranians, “Well, this is what they apparently know because this is what they asked me.”
Porter: I would say that is a perfect indication that the chances are that he was indeed working for the Iranian intelligence agency, but of course, again, this has to be still a supposition at this point.
Porter: No question about it, he would be a perfect candidate from their point of view because he really didn’t know anything. There was no danger that he was going to spill the beans in the United States. At the same time, he could pick up valuable intelligence about what the United States did and didn’t know. So that is indeed, I think, a serious question mark about the case.
But he also was somebody who, according to the sources that Giraldi has still within the CIA, he knew some people who were nuclear scientists who were telling him that, indeed, Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program. And so it was on that basis that he was reporting this to the CIA, and again I’m told by Giraldi that his sources are saying that his contribution was a minor contribution, but nevertheless a contribution to the overall judgment by the CIA in its new intelligence assessment that Iran does not, in fact, have an active nuclear weapons program.
Horton: Oh, wow, well, so — geez, there’s too many questions, and everything you say leads to like ten things. But let’s stay on that for a second. The new NIE, this is the thing that Newsweek especially has been reporting about all this pressure on the CIA and the National Intelligence Council —
Porter: It’s probably like you said, “spin reporting,” but anyway, yes.
Horton: Yeah. Well, you know, either way it’s “Newspeak” magazine. But Hosenball and Michael Hirsh too both had something that said that, you know —
Porter: Right. You know Newsweek has been peddling this idea that the intelligence community is in the process of reversing its position on the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that Iran did not have a nuclear weapons program active.
Horton: And now you’re telling me that from what you know, and you say in this article too that you have a separate source who’s seen at least an initial draft…
Porter: That’s right.
Horton: …of this new NIE, and that what it actually says is that they still stand by the NIE of 2007’s conclusions.
Porter: They basically still stand by it. They’re going to introduce some language that it’s not — we don’t know exactly what the language is, but you know it reflects, obviously, things that have happened since 2007; the Qom or Fordow site, the second enrichment site, and other things that have happened which will be presenting a rather subtle, complex presentation of the changes that have taken place, but not essentially change that conclusion; that’s correct.
Horton: Awesome, that’s the best news I’ve heard in so long.
Porter: It is good news, and what is important to understand here is just how much pressure the intelligence community has been under, politically, to introduce some language that would be indicative of something that could be used against Iran. And this pressure is coming, of course, initially from Israel. Israel is the primary moving force behind it. But they have lined up France, Germany and the United Kingdom in service of that aim.
So basically you’ve got an international coalition of states who are allies of the United States — or in the case of Israel, not an ally but obviously a client — who are saying to the United States, “Now you’ve got to change this 2007 intelligence finding because it is politically impossible to move Iran as long as you’re saying that it doesn’t have a nuclear weapons program.”
And so the political pressure has been intense. It has been coming for the last couple of years. It has stepped up in 2009 and 2010. It is particularly focused, of course, on the news media. And if you go through the stream of stories, as I did in this article for IPS, what you find is that the quality media — New York Times, Washington Post, particularly — have reflected the international coalition’s pressure on the United States perfectly in their coverage of this issue.
Horton: Well you know you brought up France and the UK’s involvement in that on the KPFK interview on Friday, and now I’m remembering Hosenball talking about the Germans and the Israelis pushing, but I guess I wasn’t aware about the France and UK role in that. But we’ll get back to that when we get back from the break. It’s Gareth Porter.
* * * * *
Horton: All right, y’all, welcome back to the show. It’s Antiwar Radio. I’m Scott Horton. I’m talking with Gareth Porter. And now, Gareth, you’re saying that the British and the French too are in with the Israeli-German plot to try to pretend that the CIA and the rest of the intelligence agencies in America need to revise their 2007 estimate that the Iranians do not have a nuclear weapons program to say that, “Yeah, in fact they do now.”
Porter: Yeah, I’m not in touch with any of these intelligence agencies, the British, French, Germans, or the Israelis, by any means. But all this is based on a lot of secondary sources which report the fact that these intelligence agencies have in fact lined up against the 2007 NIE and have been basically saying that they disagree with the assessment for the last few years.
Horton: Well, and what you’re telling me is that the CIA is saying that, “No, they got nothing.”
Porter: Well they don’t. I mean, the fact is that these agencies really don’t have any reporting that they have come up with that anybody has sort of reported on in the media or otherwise that indicates that there is any intelligence that contradicts the 2007 NIE report on this. Basically they’re trying to suggest that there’s an interpretation of the data that they’ve come up with that contradicts it. But there’s no hard evidence at all.
For example, the German BND, the German intelligence agency, has come up with a position that suggests that the Iranians were basically carrying out a nuclear weapons program on the basis that there were procurement items that they came up with that indicate that. These procurement items were dual-use procurement items. And so this is clearly an analysis that is simply based on circumstantial evidence that is not dispositive at all. This is typical, I think, of the kind of arguments that these agencies have been making. And the CIA didn’t buy it in 2007; they’re not buying it today.
Horton: All right now, at the same time, though, the CIA are the worst villains on earth, and according to this guy — which maybe is a double agent and he’s just spreading anti-American propaganda, but he goes, “Yeah, they tried to force me to say that I had a laptop that had a bunch of proof of a secret nuclear weapons program on it.” And that rings true to me, Gareth Porter.
Porter: Well, you know, I don’t know what the CIA said to him, whether they encouraged him to say things that were damaging or not. You know, my tendency is to doubt that for the following reason: These people in the CIA who were handling him, basically are accountable for the kind of information they’re coming up with.
Horton: Ha! Somebody at the CIA’s accountable for what now?
Porter: They’re accountable to people in the CIA at a higher level for the information they’re coming up with. You know, if they’re going to feed in stuff that is completely phony, then they’re going to have to explain the circumstances and so forth. I just tend to doubt that he was being told this by the people who were debriefing him.
Horton: Well, unless the order came from the top down, right? “This is what they want us to do.”
Porter: Yeah, but in fact the people who are handlers, who are familiar with the handling of Amiri, are reporting exactly the opposite; that what he was saying was, “There’s no nuclear program.” So I just don’t think that the people at that level are the ones who are interested in peddling that thesis. I think that that’s coming from an entirely different place in the U.S. government. I think it’s coming from the National Security Council and from the Pentagon and from certain parts of the State Department.
Horton: The thesis that what?
Porter: That the Iranians are trying to get nuclear weapons, and that they in fact have an active weaponization program. I think that this is not coming from within the intelligence community, essentially.
Horton: Right, well, yeah, because based on all the evidence they’re not.
Porter: Yeah. And I think we know that there are people in the Pentagon, starting with Gates himself — we know there are people in the White House national security staff, including Gary Seymour who is a hard liner, who is pushing for giving more prominence to the military option, as is Gates — these are the people who we have very good reason to believe are pushing the line that Iran is going after nuclear weapons and has weaponization programs. I don’t think it’s coming from the intelligence community, and the evidence in my article is basically that we know the way the analytical community is coming down is not to the liking of these people.
Horton: I’m Scott Horton, I’m talking with Gareth Porter. The two articles in question are “Clues Suggest Amiri Defection Was an Iranian Plant,” that’s at Antiwar.com/Porter right now, and then the brand new one, which will be there probably by the time most people hear this in mp3 format later, is called “Amiri Told CIA Iran Has No Nuclear Bomb Program.” And now in this follow-up piece, you point out that the Washington Post is quoting the NCRI about this guy Amiri and what his skills were, is that right? And what’s NCRI?
Porter: The Post wasn’t simply citing some Internet site where the NCRI posted an analysis — or not an analysis, a statement — but actually did an interview with somebody from NCRI; they actually quote a specific individual who is an official of the NCRI. And this is a bit of a shock to me that the Washington Post at this late date would still be seeking out the people who are anti-regime terrorists and people who are known to be conduits for the Israelis as far as so-called “intelligence” is concerned, and quoting them as a source on what Amiri is actually saying. I think that is really sort of scraping the bottom of the barrel in terms of lack of professionalism in American journalism.
Horton: Yeah, well, and what they have the NCRI saying is accusing, or claiming that Amiri “has been associated with sensitive nuclear programs for at least a decade.”
Porter: Right, and this is the idea that has now spread across American journalism, thanks to, basically I think, journalists who have an agenda because of their own personal convictions, because of the people that they talk to a lot basically telling them that this is the case, that Iran is looking for a nuclear weapon. The hard-liners in the U.S. and these other countries obviously share that view. And the journalists tend to go along with that. That’s the atmosphere in which they operate. That’s the sea in which they swim, politically.
And so I think these are journalists in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Associated Press, ABC News — these are people who tend to mirror, to reflect the political views of the people that they deal with day to day. And so I think that it’s their own personal convictions that have shaped this story, reflecting the pressure on the United States intelligence services to come up with a conclusion that would serve the interests of this coalition.
Horton: Well, for example, David Sanger — you cite him here directly contradicting what you’re reporting today. You say you have sources, which by the transitive property of Gareth Porter’s trust that I trust, that say that they’ve seen the drafts of this NIE and they’re not going to back away, or they’re going to be very careful in the new National Intelligence Estimate. Here’s David Sanger in the New York Times basically laying the groundwork, or the trial balloon or whatever, for the exact opposite conclusion, which is that they’re bending over backwards to please the Israelis because that’s I guess what David Sanger wants.
Porter: That’s what Sanger wants. Sanger’s a special case. I mean, he, more than anybody else in the U.S. news media, has a personal mission — and has had a personal mission for years now — to discredit the judgment of the 2007 NIE on the Iranian nuclear issue, and he has been pursuing that with a vengeance every chance that he’s had.
And I’ve lost count of the number of articles he’s done, but I would guess it’s on the order of 16 or 17 articles over the past 2½ years on this subject.
He has basically done everything possible to suggest that the NIE was wrong on this, and that everybody who knows anything knows this, and that it’s only a few stubborn people at the CIA who are resisting this conclusion that Iran is indeed going for weaponization of a nuclear weapon.
Horton: And actually though, over these years you and I have catalogued pretty much each and every one of these claims of his in the New York Times, and none of them amount to anything. It’s a pile of zeroes. You know 0 times 16 or 17 is still zero, isn’t it?
Porter: It really is. He really does not have any evidence that he can put forward, and so what he ends up doing, for example in this story that I cite in my own article, he uses this very strange language to characterize and say that the United States is implicitly admitting that it’s backing away gradually from the conclusion of 2007.
Horton: Yeah, well, anyway, y’all can keep David Sanger, I’ll keep Gareth Porter. Thanks, man.
Porter: Thank you very much. Thanks for having me.
Horton: Antiwar.com/porter. We’ll be right back.