OPINION: How The Media Helped Iran Hide Its Nuclear Weapons Program
“Facts,” the English philosopher and writer Aldous Huxley once observed, “don’t cease to exist because they are ignored.”
Yet by ignoring recent revelations about the Islamic Republic of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, several press outlets and pundits seem to hope otherwise.
An Oct. 29, 2018, report by the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, highlighted new documentation seized by Israel from Tehran’s “nuclear archive,” which “indicates that Iran’s nuclear weaponization efforts did not stop after 2003.”
On April 30, 2018, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed that Israeli intelligence operatives managed to remove thousands of documents, which were later authenticated by the United States, showing that Iran had not only lied about its nuclear program, but was engaged in hiding it during negotiations with the United States and others.
The Institute’s analysis upends a widely accepted narrative.
As the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) noted in The Daily Caller, several commentators — many of them supporters of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, popularly known as the “Iran deal” — immediately claimed that Israel’s findings revealed “nothing new.”
A May 3, 2018, report by CNN, for example, was headlined “Israel reveals nothing new about Iran’s nuclear program, experts say.” But amazingly, these “experts” made their claims —which were uncritically parroted by nearly every major Western news outlet — without having viewed any of the thousands of documents.
Indeed, some pro-Iran deal advocates, such as Ned Price, a former spokesperson for the Obama administration’s National Security Council (NSC), even claimed, “What Netanyahu disclosed today was news to the United States … more than a decade ago. The intelligence community declassified parts of its assessment on the matter in 2007.”
The 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that Price linked to claimed that Iran had “halted its nuclear arms bid in 2003,” as The Washington Post noted upon its release.
Price’s views were widely quoted by The Post, The New York Times, and others. Time and careful analysis, both of which Price avoided, have proven them to be incorrect.
In fact, the report by ISIS found that “Iran’s nuclear weaponization efforts did not stop after 2003.” Iran’s nuclear program, the documents reveal, “carried on in a more research-oriented fashion after 2003, aimed at eliminating scientific and engineering bottlenecks in developing nuclear weapons, increasing know-how about them, and maintaining valuable expertise.”
The NIE’s 2007 assessment, the Institute observed, was inaccurate.
That intelligence estimate was widely heralded by the press and pro-Iran deal sources. As The Wall Street Journal noted at the time:
The NIE was a political sensation, seized on by Democrats and Iraq war critics as [evidence of] another case in which the Bush Administration had supposedly politicized intelligence. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called the NIE a “declaration of victory,” and it derailed any hopes for the Bush Administration to garner international support for tougher sanctions on Iran.
In dozens of dispatches, The Washington Post, The Baltimore Sun, The New York Times, and others all cited that NIE as proof that Iran’s nuclear ambitions had subsided or, at the least, to bolster their editorial line supporting the Iran deal.
It should follow then, that the revelation that the 2007 NIE was wrong should be newsworthy. Yet, most major U.S. news outlets have failed to cover the new findings.
The Post offers a particularly striking example. After Netanyahu’s April 2018 remarks, the newspaper filed nearly a dozen dismissive reports and Op-Eds. Yet, The Post hasn’t covered ISIS’s latest analysis — even omitting it in reports on the United State’s November 2018 decision to impose sanctions on Iran.
In addition to repudiating the 2007 NIE, ISIS’s report noted that the captured Iranian archives proved that the United States “overstated the fulsomeness of what it knew at the time of the conclusion of the JCPOA.”
During the debate over the Iran deal, in comments that were often uncritically repeated by the press, then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry claimed that the United States had “absolute knowledge” of the military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program. Kerry, of course, was wrong.
Further, the Institute noted that “the archive’s existence and its careful maintenance strongly support that Iran at least wants to remain ready to build nuclear weapons” — despite the Iran deal.
Legacy media outlets have neglected other malign Iranian activities.
Writing in The Long War Journal, terror analysts Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Ali Afoneh highlighted recently discovered Iran-backed assassination plots in “three different European countries”: Denmark, France and the Netherlands.
The analysts note that the foiled plots suggest a “possible reversion” to the 1980s and 1990s when the Islamic Republic carried out extraterritorial murders of their own citizens and dissidents. Yet, this terror campaign has largely gone unmentioned in media reports on the U.S. decision to impose sanctions.
The famed news anchor Walter Cronkite once lamented that it was “getting harder and harder to get all of the facts of the story.” Perhaps that’s why, with seeming greater frequency, when the facts don’t match the media narrative, the facts are the first to go.
Sean Durns is a senior research analyst for the Washington, D.C., office of CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.