FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

How CIA Evidence from Whistleblower Trial Could Tilt Iran Nuclear Talks

A month after former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling was convicted on nine felony counts with circumstantial metadata, the zealous prosecution is now having potentially major consequences — casting doubt on the credibility of claims by the U.S. government that Iran has developed a nuclear weapons program.

With negotiations between Iran and the United States at a pivotal stage, fallout from the trial’s revelations about the CIA’s Operation Merlin is likely to cause the International Atomic Energy Agency to re-examine U.S. assertions that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons.

In its zeal to prosecute Sterling for allegedly leaking classified information about Operation Merlin — which provided flawed nuclear weapon design information to Iran in 2000 — the U.S. government has damaged its own standing with the IAEA. The trial made public a treasure trove of information about the Merlin operation.

Last week Bloomberg News reported from Vienna, where the IAEA is headquartered, that the agency “will probably review intelligence they received about Iran as a result of the revelations, said the two diplomats who are familiar with the IAEA’s Iran file and asked not to be named because the details are confidential.”

The Bloomberg dispatch, which matter-of-factly referred to Merlin as a “sting” operation, quoted a former British envoy to the IAEA, Peter Jenkins, saying: “This story suggests a possibility that hostile intelligence agencies could decide to plant a ‘smoking gun’ in Iran for the IAEA to find. That looks like a big problem.”

After sitting through the seven-day Sterling trial, I don’t recall that the government or any of its witnesses — including 23 from the CIA as well as former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice — ever referred to Operation Merlin as a “sting.” Instead, it was consistently portrayed as an effort to send Iran down the wrong technical path. In fact, over the years, Operation Merlin may have been both.

Near the end of the Clinton administration, CIA documents released at the trial show, Merlin was a botched effort to screw up Iran’s nuclear program. (There is no evidence that Iran’s government took the bait.) But documents also show that Merlin continued for years, with the CIA considering plans to widen the operation beyond Iran.

As a matter of fact, one CIA document was not redacted sufficiently to hide evident interest in also trying a similar tactic against Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. History certainly tells us that the Bush-Cheney administration would be capable of seeking to cite fabricated evidence in a push to justify military action against a targeted country.

Investigative journalist Marcy Wheeler, my colleague at ExposeFacts, has written an extensive analysis of the latest developments. The article on her EmptyWheel blog raises key questions beginning with the headline “What Was the CIA Really Doing with Merlin by 2003?

An emerging big irony of United States of America v. Jeffrey Alexander Sterling is that the government has harmed itself in the process of gunning for the defendant. While the prosecution used innuendos and weak circumstantial evidence to obtain guilty verdicts on multiple felonies, the trial produced no actual evidence that Sterling leaked classified information. But the trial did provide abundant evidence that the U.S. government’s nuclear-related claims about Iran should not be trusted.

In the courtroom, one CIA witness after another described Operation Merlin as a vitally important program requiring strict secrecy. Yet the government revealed a great deal of information about Operation Merlin during the trial — including CIA documents that showed the U.S. government to be committed to deception about the Iranian nuclear program. If, as a result, the International Atomic Energy Agency concludes that U.S. assertions about an alleged Iranian nuclear weapons program lack credibility, top officials in Washington will have themselves to blame.

Norman Solomon is the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy and the author of “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He is a co-founder of RootsAction.org.

More articles by:

Norman Solomon is executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, where he coordinates ExposeFacts. Solomon is a co-founder of RootsAction.org.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
September 20, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Unipolar Governance of the Multipolar World
Rob Urie
Strike for the Environment, Strike for Social Justice, Strike!
Miguel Gutierrez
El Desmadre: The Colonial Roots of Anti-Mexican Violence
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Pompeo and Circumstance
Andrew Levine
Why Democrats Really Should Not All Get Along But Sometimes Must Anyway
Louis Proyect
A Rebellion for the Wild West
T.J. Coles
A Taste of Their Own Medicine: the Politicians Who Robbed Iranians and Libyans Fear the Same for Brexit Britain
H. Bruce Franklin
How We Launched Our Forever War in the Middle East
Lee Hall
Mayor Obedience Training, From the Pet Products Industry
Louis Yako
Working in America: Paychecks for Silence
Michael D. Yates
Radical Education
Jonathan Cook
Israelis Have Shown Netanyahu the Door. Can He Inflict More Damage Before He Exits?
Valerie Reynoso
The Rising Monopoly of Monsanto-Bayer
John Steppling
American Psychopathy
Ralph Nader
25 Ways the Canadian Health Care System is Better than Obamacare for the 2020 Elections
Ramzy Baroud
Apartheid Made Official: Deal of the Century is a Ploy and Annexation is the New Reality
Vincent Emanuele
Small Town Values
John Feffer
The Threat of Bolton Has Retreated, But Not the Threat of War
David Rosen
Evangelicals, Abstinence, Abortion and the Mainstreaming of Sex
Judy Rohrer
“Make ‘America’ White Again”: White Resentment Under the Obama & Trump Presidencies
John W. Whitehead
The Police State’s Language of Force
Kathleen Wallace
Noblesse the Sleaze
Farzana Versey
Why Should Kashmiris be Indian?
Nyla Ali Khan
Why Are Modi and His Cohort Paranoid About Diversity?
Shawn Fremstad
The Official U.S. Poverty Rate is Based on a Hopelessly Out-of-Date Metric
Mel Gurtov
No War for Saudi Oil!
Robert Koehler
‘I’m Afraid You Have Humans’
David Swanson
Every Peace Group and Activist Should Join Strike DC for the Earth’s Climate
Scott Owen
In Defense of Non-violent Actions in Revolutionary Times
Jesse Jackson
Can America Break Its Gun Addiction?
Priti Gulati Cox
Sidewalk Museum of Congress: Who Says Kansas is Flat?
Mohamad Shaaf
The Current Political Crisis: Its Roots in Concentrated Capital with the Resulting Concentrated Political Power
Max Moran
Revolving Door Project Probes Thiel’s White House Connection
Arshad Khan
Unhappy India
Nick Pemberton
Norman Fucking Rockwell! and 24 Other Favorite Albums
Nicky Reid
The Bigotry of ‘Hate Speech’ and Facebook Fascism
Paul Armentano
To Make Vaping Safer, Legalize Cannabis
Jill Richardson
Punching Through Bad Headlines
Jessicah Pierre
What the Felicity Huffman Scandal Says About America
John Kendall Hawkins
Draining the Swamp, From the Beginning of Time
Julian Rose
Four Funerals and a Wedding: A Brief History of the War on Humanity
Victor Grossman
Film, Music and Elections in Germany
Charles R. Larson
Review: Ahmet Altan’s “I Will Never See the World Again”
David Yearsley
Jazz is Activism
Elliot Sperber
Captains of Industry 
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail