Iran: a Chronology of Disinformation
By GARY LEUPP
Larisa Alexandrovna has recently written an excellent article detailing the neoconservatives’ six-year long project to use American power to attack and produce regime change in Iran. Appended to the piece is a timeline including key Bush administration statements about Iran, “news” stories and neocon writings abetting efforts to vilify Iran, and the antics of such characters as former Congressman Curt Weldon, Iran-Contra arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar, and spy-for-Israel Larry Franklin who have worked to facilitate that attack. I’ve used it as the basis for this more elaborate (although surely incomplete and imperfect) chronology.
On January 29, 2002, President Bush gave his State of the Union speech featuring the now infamous formulation “axis of evil” contrived by speechwriter and Richard Perle cohort David Frum. (Frum currently writes a regular column for the extreme rightwing National Review, arguing among other things that Iran is supporting al-Qaeda-related Iraqi Sunni groups.) Iran was of course included in that “axis” alongside Saddam’s Iraq and North Korea. The conceptual sloppiness of the phrase puzzled world leaders, while its bizarre linkage of dissimilar regimes alarmed mainstream scholarship. But for mass consumption it successfully conflated disparate targets and vaguely associated Iran with the Evil represented by the 9-11 attacks.
On August 14, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (led by the armed Iranian dissident movement Mujahedin-E-Khalq or MEK) held a press conference in Washington D.C. and announced that Iran was constructing a secret nuclear facility near the city of Natanz. The MEK had long been (and still is) listed as a “terrorist” organization by the State Department, and had been under the protection of Saddam Hussein’s regime since the 1980s although disarmed by U.S. forces following the Iraq invasion. But the Bush administration seized upon the report (while Cheney and the neocons pressed for a reconsideration of MEK’s status). In February 2003 the International Atomic Energy Agency visited the Natanz site, finding centrifuge machines. Iran declared that the facility was part of a civilian nuclear energy program.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) criticized Iran for concealing this and other nuclear facilities and demanded that Iran submit to rigorous inspections of its nuclear sites. In December Iran suspended its uranium enrichment program and allowed such inspections, which have not to this day produced evidence for a nuclear weapons program. But the concealment in violation of IAEA rules (by no means unprecedented among Non-Proliferation Treaty signatories, such as close U.S. ally South Korea) was presented by the U.S. administration as virtual proof for an illegal nuclear weapons program.
In January 2003, according to a New York Times report published in 2006, Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, “talked about several ways to provoke a confrontation [with Iraq], including a proposal to paint a United States surveillance plane in the colors of the United Nations in hopes of drawing fire.” In other words, the two leaders discussed the possibility of provoking an attack that could be represented as Iranian aggression against the “international community” in order to generate public support for a planned regime change operation.
Thereafter the disinformation campaign got underway in earnest. In April Pennsylvania Republican Congressman Curt Weldon, vice-chair of the Armed Services Committee and the House Homeland Security Committees, met with a certain “Ali” in Paris who informed him that Iranian agents had stolen enriched uranium from Iraq before the U.S. invasion. (Iran-Contra figure and Weekly Standard neocon propagandist Michael Ledeen, fresh from his work with Donald Feith’s Office of Special Plans, also dispensed this “intelligence.”) This “Ali” was identified by American Prospect reporters Laura Rozen and Jeet Heer in April 2005 as Fereidoun Mahdavi, former minister of commerce in the government of the Shah of Iran and business partner of Manucher Ghorbanifar. (Ghorbanifar and Ledeen were old friends and had met in Rome in December 2001 with Farsi-speaking Defense Department officials Larry Franklin, Harold Rhode and Iranian dissidents to discuss regime change in Iran.)
“Ali” also told Weldon that Iranian-supported terrorists were plotting to fly a hijacked Canadian airliner into the Seabrook Nuclear Power Station outside of Boston, and that Iran was hiding Osama bin Laden. The congressman laid it all out in his 2005 book Countdown to Terror: The Top-Secret Information that Could Prevent the Next Terrorist Attack on America . . . and How the CIA Has Ignored It. The CIA for its part has interviewed Mahdavi and determined that he, like his buddy Ghorbanifar long fingered as a charleton by the Agency, is a liar. (Weldon’s book in any case has apparently sold well and gets rave reviews on amazon.com.)
In May 2003, soon after Weldon and Ledeen channeling Ghorbanifar began to disseminate such charges, al-Qaeda operatives bombed a foreigners’ compound in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, killing 26 people including 9 Americans. Unnamed U.S. officials were quick to allege that the operatives had taken refuge in Iran, or had been directed from Iran. CBS News correspondent David Martin reported that such officials “say they have evidence the bombings in Saudi Arabia and other attacks still in the works were planned and directed by senior al Qaeda operatives who have found safe haven in Iran.” So here was another supposed Iran-al Qaeda link. It was given relatively little attention at the time but could be resurrected in the future.
(This occurred during the same month that Iran faxed a letter to the State Department, via the Swiss ambassador to Iran, offering “full transparency” on its nuclear enrichment program, cooperative measures on terrorism, cooperation in establishing a stable democratic Iraq, and acceptance of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The offer, welcomed by the State Department, was rejected out of hand by Cheney’s office and only made public last year by Colin Powell’s former chief of state Lawrence Wilkerson.)
On August 26, the IAEA reported it had found highly enriched uranium particles at Natanz. Iran insisted that the particles had come with imported centrifuges, an explanation the IAEA later confirmed. The existence of the particles hardly strengthened the case that Iran had a military nuclear program, but was used to encourage anxiety abut that possibility.
Read the next three years worth of lies here.