Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
HAVE YOUR DONATION DOUBLED!

If you are able to donate $100 or more for our Annual Fund Drive, your donation will be matched by another generous CounterPuncher! These are tough times. Regardless of the political rhetoric bantered about the airwaves, the recession hasn’t ended for most of us. We know that money is tight for many of you. But we also know that tens of thousands of daily readers of CounterPunch depend on us to slice through the smokescreen and tell it like is. Please, donate if you can!

FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Wikileaks Exposes Complicity of the Press

by GARETH PORTER

A diplomatic cable from last February released by Wikileaks provides a detailed account of how Russian specialists on the Iranian ballistic missile program refuted the U.S. suggestion that Iran has missiles that could target European capitals or intends to develop such a capability.

In fact, the Russians challenged the very existence of the mystery missile the U.S. claims Iran acquired from North Korea.

But readers of the two leading U.S. newspapers never learned those key facts about the document.

The New York Times and Washington Post reported only that the United States believed Iran had acquired such missiles – supposedly called the BM-25 – from North Korea. Neither newspaper reported the detailed Russian refutation of the U.S. view on the issue or the lack of hard evidence for the BM-25 from the U.S. side.

The Times, which had obtained the diplomatic cables not from Wikileaks but from The Guardian, according to a Washington Post story Monday, did not publish the text of the cable.

The Times story said the newspaper had made the decision not to publish “at the request of the Obama administration”. That meant that its readers could not compare the highly- distorted account of the document in the Times story against the original document without searching the Wikileaks website.

As a result, a key Wikileaks document which should have resulted in stories calling into question the thrust of the Obama administration’s ballistic missile defense policy in Europe based on an alleged Iranian missile threat has instead produced a spate of stories buttressing anti-Iran hysteria.

The full text of the U.S. State Department report on the meeting of the Joint Threat Assessment in Washington Dec. 22, 2009, which is available on the Wikileaks website, shows that there was a dramatic confrontation over the issue of the mysterious BM-25 missile.

The BM-25 has been described as a surface-to-surface missile based on a now-obsolete Soviet submarine-launched ballistic missile, the R-27 or SS-N-6. The purported missile is said to be capable of reaching ranges of 2,400 to 4,000 km – putting much of Europe within its range.

The head of the U.S. delegation to the meeting, Vann H. Van Diepen, acting assistant secretary for international security and nonproliferation, said the United States “believes” Iran had acquired 19 of those missiles from North Korea, according to the leaked document.

But an official of the Russian Defense Ministry dismissed published reports of such a missile, which he said were “without reference to any reliable sources”.

He observed that there had never been a test of such a missile in either North Korea or Iran, and that the Russian government was “unaware that the missile had ever been seen”. The Russians asked the U.S. side for any evidence of the existence of such a missile.

U.S. officials did not claim to have photographic or other hard evidence of the missile, but said the North Koreans had paraded the missile through the streets of Pyongyong. The Russians responded that they had reviewed a video of that parade, and had found that it was an entirely different missile.

The Russian official said there was no evidence for claims that 19 of these missiles had been shipped to Iran in 2005, and that it would have been impossible to conceal such a transfer. The Russians also said it was difficult to believe Iran would have purchased a missile system that had never even been tested.

U.S. delegation chief Van Dieppen cited one piece of circumstantial evidence that Iran had done work on the “steering (vernier) engines” of the BM-25. Internet photos of the weld lines and tank volumes on the second stage of Iran’s space launch vehicle, the Safir, he said, show that the ratio of oxidizer to propellant is not consistent with the propellants used in the past by the Shahab-3.

That suggests that the Safir was using the same system that had been used in the R-27, according to Van Dieppen.

The Russians asserted, however, that the propellant used in the Safir was not the one used in the R-27.

Even more important evidence from the Safir launch that Iran does not have any BM-25 missiles was noted in an authoritative study of the Iranian missile program published by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) last May.

The study found that Iran had not used the main engine associated with the purported BM-25 to help boost its Safir space-launch vehicle.

If Iran had indeed possessed the more powerful engine associated with the original Russian R-27, the study observes, the Safir would have been able to launch a much larger satellite into orbit. But in fact the Safir was “clearly underpowered” and barely able to put its 27 kg satellite into low earth orbit, according to the IISS study.

The same study also points out that the original R-27 was designed to operate in a submarine launch tube, and a road- mobile variant would require major structural modifications. Yet another reason for doubt reported by IISS is that the propellant combination in the R-27 would not work in a land- mobile missile, because “the oxidizer must be maintained within a narrow temperature range”.

Van Diepen suggested two other Iranian options: use of the Shahab-3 technology with “clustered or stacked engines” or the development of a solid-propellant MRBM with a more powerful engine.

The Russians expressed strong doubts about both options, however, saying they were sceptical of Iranian claims to have a missile with a 2,000 km range. They pointed out that the longest range on a missile tested thus far is 1,700 km, and that it was achieved only by significantly reducing throw weight.

Van Diepen cited “modeling” studies that showed Iran could achieve a greater range, and that adding an additional 300 km “is not a great technological stretch”. But the Russian delegation insisted that the additional length of the flight could cause various parts of the missile to burn through and missile could fall apart.

The head of the Russian delegation, Valimir Nazarov, deputy secretary of the Russian Security Council, said Russia believes any assessment of the Iranian missile program must be based not only on modeling but on “consideration of the real technical barriers faced by Iran”.

One of several such barriers cited by the Russians was the lack of the “structural materials” needed for longer-range missiles that could threaten the United States or Russia, such as “high quality aluminum”.

The Russians maintained that, even assuming favorable conditions, Iran would be able to begin a program to develop ballistic missiles that could reach Central Europe or Moscow only after 2015 at the earliest.

The Russians denied, however, that Iran has such an intention, arguing that its ballistic missile program continues to be directed toward “regional concerns” – meaning deterring an attack on Iran by Israel.

The U.S. delegation never addressed the issue of Iranian intentions – a position consistent with the dominant role of weapons specialists in the U.S. intelligence community’s assessments of Iran and their overwhelming focus on capabilities and lack of interest in intentions.

Michael Elleman, the senior author of the IISS study of the Iranian missile programme, told me the report of the U.S.- Russian exchange highlights the differences in the two countries’ approaches to the subject. “The Russians talked about the most likely set of outcomes,” said Elleman, “whereas the U.S. side focused on what might happen.”

* GARETH PORTER is an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, “Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam”, was published in 2006.

 Full text of the U.S. State Department report on the meeting of the Joint Threat Assessment in Washington Dec. 22, 2009

GARETH PORTER is an investigative historian and journalist with Inter-Press Service specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, “Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam“, was published in 2006.

 

More articles by:

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.

October 23, 2017
Jack Heyman
Puerto Rico and the Jones Act Conundrum
Howard Lisnoff
Will the Military Throw the Book at Bowe Bergdahl?
Robert Hunziker
Hidden Danger of Ecological Collapse
Sheldon Richman
Dying for the Empire is Not Heroic
Dimitris Konstantakopoulos
Careening Toward Nuclear War: the Political Paralysis of Europe, Russia and China
Jeff Berg
Looking for a Glass of Water and a Place to Shit
Yoav Litvin
The Art of Trolling – an Analysis of a Toxic Trend
Sarah Browning
There’s No Defense for Founding Fathers Who Practiced Slavery
Chuck Collins
An Independent Thinker’s Guide to the Tax Debate
Elliott Adams
Congress Can Stop War with North Korea
Jesselyn Radack – Kathleen McClellan
Insider Threat Program Training and Trump’s War on Leaks
Rosemary Mason - Colin Todhunter
The Global Food and Health Crisis: Monsanto’s Science is Bogus
Thomas Knapp
Hillary Clinton: Cold Creepiness with a Side of Corruption
Mel Gurtov
The Tragedy of American Foreign Policy
Weekend Edition
October 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Clinton, Assange and the War on Truth
Michael Hudson
Socialism, Land and Banking: 2017 Compared to 1917
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Day in the Life of CounterPunch
Paul Street
The Not-So-Radical “Socialist” From Vermont
Jason Hirthler
Censorship in the Digital Age
Jonathan Cook
Harvey Weinstein and the Politics of Hollywood
Andrew Levine
Diagnosing the Donald
Michelle Renee Matisons
Relocated Puerto Rican Families are Florida’s Latest Class War Targets
Richard Moser
Goldman Sachs vs. Goldman Sachs?
David Rosen
Male Sexual Violence: As American as Cherry Pie
Mike Whitney
John Brennan’s Police State USA
Robert Hunziker
Mr. Toxicity Zaps America
Peter Gelderloos
Catalan Independence and the Crisis of Democracy
Robert Fantina
Fatah, Hamas, Israel and the United States
Edward Curtin
Organized Chaos and Confusion as Political Control
Patrick Cockburn
The Transformation of Iraq: Kurds Have Lost 40% of Their Territory
CJ Hopkins
Tomorrow Belongs to the Corporatocracy
Bill Quigley
The Blueprint for the Most Radical City on the Planet
Brian Cloughley
Chinese Dreams and American Deaths in Africa
John Hultgren
Immigration and the American Political Imagination
Thomas Klikauer
Torturing the Poor, German-Style
Gerry Brown
China’s Elderly Statesmen
Pepe Escobar
Kirkuk Redux Was a Bloodless Offensive, Here’s Why
Jill Richardson
The Mundaneness of Sexual Violence
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
The Choreography of Human Dignity: Blade Runner 2049 and World War Z
Missy Comley Beattie
Bitch, Get Out!!
Andre Vltchek
The Greatest Indonesian Painter and “Praying to the Pig”
Ralph Nader
Why is Nobelist Economist Richard Thaler so Jovial?
Ricardo Vaz
Venezuela Regional Elections: Chavismo in Triumph, Opposition in Disarray and Media in Denial
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
NAFTA Talks Falter, Time To Increase Pressure
GD Dess
Why We Shouldn’t Let Hillary Haunt Us … And Why Having a Vision Matters
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail