Friday, April 14, 2006

TWO RELATED STORIES BROKE ON WEDNESDAY, which I did not get a chance to blog about until now because Passover started on Wednesday evening.

The first news item was the report, published in the Washington Post, that Pres. Bush knew that two trailers seized in Iraq were not mobile laboratories for the manufacture of biological weapons two days before he announced in a speech (on May 29, 2003) that they were.

On May 29, 2003, Bush hailed the capture of two trailers in Iraq as mobile biological laboratories and declared, "We have found the weapons of mass destruction."

The report in The Washington Post said a Pentagon-sponsored fact-finding mission had already concluded that the trailers had nothing to do with biological weapons. The newspaper cited government officials and weapons experts who participated in the secret mission or had direct knowledge of it.

The Post said the group's unanimous findings had been sent to the Pentagon in a field report, two days before the president's statement.

The second item, at, reports the claim by a State Department official that Iran might be able to build a nuclear bomb in 16 days.

Iran, which is defying United Nations Security Council demands to cease its nuclear program, may be capable of making a nuclear bomb within 16 days if it goes ahead with plans to install thousands of centrifuges at its Natanz plant, a U.S. State Department official said.

"Natanz was constructed to house 50,000 centrifuges," Stephen Rademaker, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation, told reporters today in Moscow. "Using those 50,000 centrifuges they could produce enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon in 16 days."

Once again, the Bush administration is brazenly lying and distorting the truth to build support for an invasion -- and possibly a nuclear first strike -- this time in Iran.

Let's step back for a moment and look at some facts.

Iran does not have 50,000 centrifuges. It doesn't have even 1,000 centrifuges. Actually, it only has 180 centrifuges (or 164, according to the Bloomberg article).

Juan Cole says "Iran can now make glowing Mickey Mouse watches":

Despite all the sloppy and inaccurate headlines about Iran "going nuclear," the fact is that all President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Tuesday was that it had enriched uranium to a measely 3.5 percent, using a bank of 180 centrifuges hooked up so that they "cascade."

The ability to slightly enrich uranium is not the same as the ability to build a bomb. For the latter, you need at least 80% enrichment, which in turn would require about 16,000 small centrifuges hooked up to cascade. Iran does not have 16,000 centrifuges. It seems to have 180. Iran is a good ten years away from having a bomb, and since its leaders, including Supreme Jurisprudent Ali Khamenei, say they do not want an atomic bomb because it is Islamically immoral, you have to wonder if they will ever have a bomb.

The crisis is not one of nuclear enrichment, a low-level attainment that does not necessarily lead to having a bomb. Even if Iran had a bomb, it is hard to see how they could be more dangerous than Communist China, which has lots of such bombs, and whose Walmart stores are a clever ruse to wipe out the middle class American family through funneling in cheaply made Chinese goods.

What is really going on here is a ratcheting war of rhetoric. The Iranian hard liners are down to a popularity rating in Iran of about 15%. They are using their challenge to the Bush administration over their perfectly legal civilian nuclear energy research program as a way of enhancing their nationalist credentials in Iran.

Likewise, Bush is trying to shore up his base, which is desperately unhappy with the Iraq situation, by rattling sabres at Iran. Bush's poll numbers are so low, often in the mid-30s, that he must have lost part of his base to produce this result. Iran is a great deus ex machina for Bush. Rally around the flag yet again.

Pacific Views suggests we look at what Iranian officials have actually said, rather than on what U.S. officials tell us Iranian officials have said:

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Tuesday that Iran for the first time had succeeded on a small scale in enriching uranium, a key step in generating fuel for a reactor or fissile material for a bomb. The U.N. Security Council has demanded that Iran stop all enrichment activity because of suspicions the program's aim is to make weapons.

Iran's small-scale enrichment used 164 centrifuges, which spin uranium gas to increase its proportion of the isotope needed for the nuclear fission at the heart of a nuclear reactor or a bomb.

Saeedi said Iran has informed the International Atomic Energy Agency that it plans to install 3,000 centrifuges at its facility in the central town of Natanz by late 2006, then expand to 54,000 centrifuges, though he did not say when.

"We will expand uranium enrichment to industrial scale at Natanz,'' Deputy Nuclear Chief Mohammad Saeedi told state-run television.

Saeedi said using 54,000 centrifuges will be able to produce enough enriched uranium to provide fuel for a 1,000-megawatt nuclear power plant like one Russia is finishing in southern Iran.

In theory, that many centrifuges could be used to develop the material needed for hundreds of nuclear warheads if Iran can perfect the techniques for producing the highly enriched uranium needed.

Iran, which has made no secret of its plans to ultimately expand enrichment to around 50,000 centrifuges to fuel reactors, is still thought to be years away from a full-scale program.

Natasha summarizes:

So, they plan, sometime in the next several months, to install a number of centrifuges that's too small by almost an order of magnitude to produce enough material for a nuclear weapon. The article says that they currently are believed to have enough parts for about 1500 centrifuges. Sometime after that, and we can only presume that it would take longer to set up an additional 47,000 centrifuges beyond the yet-to-be-installed 3,000, they intend to do something that they've already told the world they plan to do.

Yet the Bush administration would like us to believe that Iran is days away from being able to build a nuke, notwithstanding that it takes additional years beyond having nuclear material to build a functioning weapon. Even the Israeli Lt. General quoted in the article believes they're at least three years away, and when your paranoia about a Muslim state in the Mideast exceeds that of the Israelis, something is very, very wrong.

Josh Marshall says it doesn't take nuclear expertise to figure this one out: just consider the source:

... I'm pretty new to this issue. But even I can spot that Stephen Rademaker works for Robert Joseph. And that's the same Bob Joseph who was charged with muscling the CIA into letting President Bush use the Niger bamboozle in the 2003 State of the Union address. And he actually managed to get it done, even after the Alan Foley and others at the CIA told him repeatedly they didn't think it was true. So he certainly speaks with a lot of credibility on this issue.

TalkLeft has more on Robert Joseph.

Remember Robert Joseph from PlameGate and the "16 words" in Bush's SOTU? Robert Joseph was the force behind the inclusion, winning out over the CIA's Alan Foley, then the head of the Weapons Intelligence, Non-Proliferation and Arms Control Center (and Valerie Plame's boss.)

The Bush administration was lying about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and they're lying now about Iran being only two weeks away from having a nuclear bomb. The only question: Are Americans going to swallow the lies a second time?

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