Please note: The Militarist Monitor neither represents nor endorses any of the individuals or groups profiled on this site.
- Institute for Science and International Security: President and Founder
- Federation of American Scientists: Former staff scientist
- American Physical Society: Fellow
- Princeton University’s Center for Energy and Environmental Studies: Research staff
- George Mason University: Lecturer
- Colorado Health Advisory Panel: Former member
- Department of Energy Openness Advisory Panel: Former member
- Indiana University: MS, Physics
- Wright State University: MS, Mathematics
- Wright State University: BS
- Albright on Iran, before and after Trump election
- Albright v. Joyner
- Albright v. Porter
- The Case of Parchin (Albright v. Sahimi and Robert Kelly)
- Iran Politiking and Working with Neoconservatives
David Albright is the president and founder of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), a think tank that dubs itself “the good ISIS” and whose work on nuclear proliferation issues has helped shape policy discourse while at the same time provoking intense disagreement and criticism.
A notable example of Albright’s controversial work is a May 2017 report he coauthored with Olli Heinonen of the neoconservative Foundation for Defense of Democracies that questioned whether Iran was “mass producing advanced gas centrifuges” in violation of international agreements, a claim that would buttress President Donald Trump‘s antagonism to Iran and opposition to the 2015 nuclear agreement. The basis for the article was a mistranslation from Persian of a statement by the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization. According to Albright and Heinonen, this official said that Iran had “initiated” mass production of centrifuges; in fact, he only stated that Tehran had the “capacity” to do so. When confronted with the error, ISIS said they would “re-issue” the report yet stick to its original conclusions. Noted one observer: “In other words, the Good ISIS published a report based entirely on the mistaken belief that Iran had initiated the mass production of advanced uranium centrifuges, but after learning that Iran has not initiated the mass production of advanced uranium centrifuges, that report’s findings haven’t changed.”
Albright is often regarded as an important proliferation expert. He cooperated with the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Iraq “Action Team” during much of the 1990s and was invited to participate in an IAEA visit to the country in 1996, though his precise role has been hotly debated. He is the author of several books (including, most recently, Peddling Peril: How the Secret Nuclear Trade Arms America’s Enemies, Free Press 2010), has contributed to noted journals like the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and appears so regularly in print and TV news outlets that one observer has dubbed him the “news media’s ‘favorite’ expert” on Iran’s nuclear program. Albright also frequently presents ISIS’s work to think tanks and advocacy institutions, as well as at congressional hearings, where he is typically introduced as “a leading nuclear and non-proliferation expert.”
ISIS, which was founded by Albright in 1993, describes itself as a “non-profit, non-partisan institution” whose “primary focus is on stopping the spread of nuclear weapons and related technology to additional nations and to terrorists, bringing about greater transparency of nuclear activities worldwide, strengthening the international non-proliferation regime, and achieving deep cuts in nuclear arsenals.”
Despite his reputation for producing independent, apolitical analyses of proliferation issues, Albright has in recent years appeared to develop close working relations with rightist ideological groups committed to promoting U.S. military intervention in the Middle East, including collaborating with think tanks like the neoconservative Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). A number of observers have also accused him of providing erroneous assessments of Iran’s nuclear program and expressed surprise at his willingness to become involved in political advocacy.
For his part, Albright has vigorously contested criticism of his work and written hard-nosed critiques of those he disagrees with. In early December 2014, just a few days after Right Web published an initial profile on Albright that quoted some of his critics, he wrote to the project arguing that the profile was mistaken. He accused one of the writers cited in the profile, Gareth Porter, of being a “supporter/apologist” of the Khmer Rouge’s Pol Pot and characterized his work as having “deep fallacies.” He also claimed that another person quoted in the profile, Muhammad Sahimi, a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Southern California, had a “close association” with the “Iranian regime” and thus had doubtful credibility (Sahimi vehemently denied this claim in an email to Right Web). He then asked that Right Web’s “biased, inflammatory, defamatory profile” be removed or revised.
Right Web promptly responded to Albright saying that we would endeavor to add more balance to his profile and asking him to providematerial demonstrating the fallacies of Porter’s and Sahimi’s critiques of his work. Albright replied arguing that our proposal was “unfair,” claiming that statements in the profile were defamatory and highlighting Porter’s comments about his work as “false and despicable.” He also accused Right Web of making defamatory statements, although he did not specify which claims he believed were factually untrue.
Right Web subsequently took the unprecedented step of temporarily taking down Albright’s profile to investigate his case more thoroughly. We ultimately determined that Albright’s collaboration with groups like FDD and the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI)—whose principals were, among other things, leading actors in the advocacy campaign pushing the United States to attack Iraq after the 9/11 attacks and have advocated military action against Iran—made him an important subject for Right Web, in part because it reflects his judgment about who he considers to be credible allies and may call into question his apolitical credentials. It also appears to demonstrate how different elements of the non-governmental foreign policy community have joined forces on a sensitive and potentially far-reaching U.S. policy issue.
In addition, we decided that it was important to highlight debate over Albright’s work given his significance to public discourse on U.S. policy towards Iran and on proliferation issues more generally. As Yousaf Butt, formerly a scientist-in-residence at the Monterey Institute, wrote in a critique of a misleading February 2013 Washington Post article about efforts by Iran to purchase specialized ring magnets that relied heavily on an ISIS report, “There are serious deficiencies in both the Washington Post story and the assertions in the ISIS report. Given that issues of war and peace may hang on the veracity of such claims, the assertions warrant careful scrutiny.” (Of particular concern to Butt was how ISIS had ignored the everyday uses of such magnets and “jumped to the conclusion” that they were related to Iran’s nuclear program, a pattern of analysis numerous other critics claim to have observed in Albright’s work.)
In fact, a cursory online search reveals a robust debate going back several years regarding various aspects of the work of Albright and ISIS, particularly with respect to Iran. His critics appear to span a broad spectrum, from academic bloggers and left-of-center journalists to scientists and proliferation experts. On the other hand, Albright has had important defenders, including the likes of Jeffrey Lewis of the Monterey Institute and Princeton’s Frank von Hippel.
Within days of posting our updated profile on him, Albright took to Twitter to attack Right Web using ISIS’s Twitter account (presented in full here). In late February 2015, he issued a series of tweets personally attacking Right Web staff members, claiming that our profile of him “cited fringe people and disgruntled folks who resent the publishing of ANY info that could threaten an Iran deal,” and accusing Right Web of engaging in “witch hunt/McCarthy tactics.” He added that it was “time to take down McCarthy tactic site” and that even “if Iran said it had nuclear weapons, this whole group wouldn’t believe it.”
In a July 2015 interview with Foreign Policy, Albright bemoaned that “he has been unfairly labeled by the administration as an opponent of an accord” with Iran. “I’m very frustrated. I’m seen as a hardliner or a critic or a skeptic,” Albright proclaimed.
Albright on Iran, before and after Trump election
Since the election of Donald Trump, Albright has continued to focus criticism on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the Iran nuclear agreement that was adopted in 2015 by Iran and the P5+1 group of states. The agreement has been the focus of a severe backlash among neoconservatives and other hardliners and was repeatedly attacked by Trump during the 2016 election campaign. Since his election, Trump has sought ways to sabotage the JCPOA, either by finding an excuse to drop out or to spur Iran to do so.
Albright’s work has appeared to bolster the administration’s sabotaging efforts. In a May 2017 opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal, Albright and co-author Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, argued that the Trump administration should adopt a “waive and slap” approach to pressuring Iran on the nuclear deal. Instead of certifying compliance, they argued, Trump should waive nuclear sanctions while ramping up sanctions against Iran on a host of nonnuclear issues. This, according to Albright and Dubowitz, could “buy time to devise a lasting Iran strategy.” Experts like Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, derided the idea: “Even if they did a great job, it’s serious risks. And for what gain?”
During the negotiations that led to the agreement, Albright was an incessant and emphatic critic of key parts of the evolving agreement, to such a degree that many commentators concluded that Albright intended to kill it. However, since its adoption, Albright has focused his criticism on reforming rather than opposing the agreement. And he has encouraged Trump to take this line, pushing the administration in congressional testimony “to close key loopholes in the agreement and move to correct its short- and long-term deficiencies.” He stated during February 2016 testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee: “The Trump administration appears committed to maintaining the JCPOA. This decision makes good sense. But the administration also recognizes that if the deal is to survive and serve U.S. national security interests, the JCPOA needs to be more strictly enforced and interpreted, and its most significant weaknesses need to be corrected.”
Albright’s views on Iran have long drawn sharp criticism from experts because he appeared opposed to any diplomatic agreement with Tehran. For instance, after the much lauded framework nuclear agreement was reached between Iran and the P5+1 in April 2015, Albright contended during testimony to Congress as well as at a panel discussion at the Foreign Policy Initiative that Iran was deliberately misleading inspectors. This remark contrasted with the views of many other nuclear experts who welcomed the framework nuclear agreement and who contended that Iran had lived up to its commitments under a November 2013 interim nuclear deal.
Commented former British diplomat Peter Jenkins: “It’s a pity that Congress turns so often to Albright for testimony on Iran. He is too inclined to over-dramatize Iran’s nuclear transgressions and to proclaim the necessity of making demands of Iran that can only lead to one thing: the failure of negotiations.”
Not surprisingly, Albright was critical of the ensuing comprehensive nuclear deal reached between Iran and the P5+1 in July 2015. According to the New York Times, Albright said that “the accord should have pressed Iran much harder.” Albright also said that the deal “warrants special and extraordinary congressional scrutiny … that enshrines and elaborates on its provisions.”
Among his colleagues in the arms control community, Albright has been increasingly isolated in his criticisms of the Iran nuclear deal. In the weeks after the agreement was reached, multiple statements signed by dozens of prominent nuclear and non-proliferations experts were released in support of the deal. One anti-deal organization, United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), even lost its own president, nuclear expert Gary Samore, after he came out in support of the deal.
The incident left UANI hard pressed to find nuclear experts who align with its position. In response to a question from Vox’s Max Fisher about whether UANI would search for an “arms control wonk” to replace Samore given the “dearth of serious non-proliferation experts” who oppose the deal, UANI CEO Mark Wallace stated: “We have [head of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center] Henry Sokolski. Olli Heinonen has been a big player in this. Even David Albright, even though he’s not affiliated with us, has been very useful.”
In December 2015, after the IAEA released an anticipated report on alleged past work Iran conducted on nuclear weapons, Albright argued the IAEA was not accurate in its findings. “The truth of Iran’s work on nuclear weapons is probably far more extensive than outlined by the IAEA in this report,” he claimed. Albright also strongly opposed the IAEA’s case on Iran’s past nuclear activities being closed as a result of the report, which the IAEA board of governors was expected to do as a precondition for lifting sanctions on Iran by the end of 2015, with the support of the United States and the rest of the major powers that negotiated the agreement.
Albright opined at the time: “The bottom line is that the IAEA’s investigation into the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear programs … cannot be closed.”
ISIS’s Twitter account also attacked several nuclear non-proliferation experts and organizations that disagreed with his opinion on the IAEA report. One tweet said: “Several Ploughshares-funded NGOs not only reduced to PR flacks on Iran deal but also do administration’s dirty work.”
Ploughshares President Joe Cirincione said in response: “Suggest you stand down & apologize, whoever you are. The David Albright I know would never write such drivel.”
Criticism of Albright’s take on Iran dates back many years. As a reader of the blog “Arms Control Wonk” put it in 2008, “The main problem [his critics] appear to have with Albright … is that he is contributing to the innuendo that helps the Cheney crowd to establish the case for an Iranian nuclear weapons program. [Former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter] points out that by essentially posing as a former weapons inspector, he lends unwarranted credit to these allegations.”
Ritter is a controversial former UN weapons inspector who in 2011 was convicted on various charges related to indecent exposure and unlawful contact with minors. Despite his criminal convictions, Ritter is generally recognized as having been one of the more prescient and vocal critics of the view that Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of “weapons of mass destruction,” which warranted going to war over. As the New York Times put it in February 2012, “History will record … that Ritter was right, while those who showed him nothing but contempt were flat wrong.”
In 2008, Ritter attacked Albright in an article for truthdig.com titled “The Nuclear Expert Who Never Was.” While acknowledging that Albright had made important contributions to analysis of the nuclear programs of some countries (notably North Korea), Ritter criticized him for consistently overstating his role with the IAEA in Iraq and advancing erroneous arguments based on information provided by politically dubious sources.
Wrote Ritter: “Albright and his organization, ISIS, have served as the conduit for other agencies gaining publicity about the alleged Iranian nuclear weapons program, the alleged Syrian nuclear reactor, and most recently the alleged Swiss computer containing sensitive nuclear design information. On each occasion, Albright is fed sensitive information from a third party, and then packages it in a manner that is consumable by the media. The media, engrossed with Albright’s misleading résumé (‘former U.N. weapons inspector,’ ‘Doctor,’ ‘physicist’ and ‘nuclear expert’), give Albright a full hearing, during which time the particulars the third-party source wanted made public are broadcast or printed for all the world to see. More often than not, it turns out that the core of the story pushed by Albright is, in fact, wrong.”
One case Ritter highlighted concerned Khidir Hamza, an Iraqi nuclear scientist who fled to the United States in the early 1990s, where he became an associate of the neoconservative publicity firm Benador Associates and wrote a book that falsely claimed Saddam Hussein had a nuclear bomb. “A true nuclear expert would have recognized the technical impossibilities and inconsistencies in Hamza’s fabrications,” wrote Ritter. “And a genuine former U.N. weapons inspector would have known that Hamza had been fingered as a fraud by the IAEA and UNSCOM. David Albright instead employed Hamza as an analyst with ISIS from 1997 until 1999.”
Ritter also pointed to Albright’s work on Iran, highlighting one particular episode involving the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (Mojahedin-e Khalq-e Iran, or MEK), an exile Iranian opposition group supported by numerous hawkish political actors in the United States that for many years was listed by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist organization. Ritter: “While Iran did indeed possess uranium enrichment capability at Natanz and a heavy water plant (under construction) at Arak (as reported by Albright thanks to information provided by the Iranian opposition group MEK, most probably with the help of Israeli intelligence), Albright’s wild speculation about weapons-grade plutonium and highly enriched uranium proved to be wrong. There was indeed a building in Syria that was bombed by Israel. But Albright’s expert opinion, derived from his interpretation of photographs, consists of nothing more than simplistic observation (‘The tall building in the image may house a reactor under construction and the pump station along the river may have been intended to supply cooling water to the reactor’) combined with unfocused questions that assumed much, but were in fact based on little.”
Ritter’s article sparked a heated discussion online, with several people supporting Ritter’s arguments and others claiming he went too far. Among those who came to Albright’s defense was Princeton’s von Hippel, who wrote in a letter to truthdig that Ritter was “way off base” and failed to provide adequate discussion of “specific issues where he believes Albright was mistaken.”
In his blog “Arms Control Wonk,” Jeffrey Lewis quoted a “colleague,” who wrote: “Let’s grant that David Albright is a flawed human being. But he’s hardly alone in that, and if he stretches his credentials a bit, he may not be the only one, or even the worst offender. … Thanks in large part to his access to sources, David Albright produces analysis that is impossible to ignore.”
In his blog post on the Ritter article, Lewis wrote that he was divided overwhether to “mention the piece at all, especially after talking with a few colleagues who know [David Albright] much better than I do.” He then added that Albright “seems to be taking the high-road.”
However, since Ritter’s conviction, Albright has on various occasions chosen to attack Ritter’s crimes rather than his arguments. For instance, during a contentious (and filmed) interview with Sam Husseini of the Institute for Public Accuracy, Albright—under aggressive questioning from Husseini—repeatedly brought up Ritter’s criminal record and inaccurately claimed that he had been convicted of “molesting little girls.”
In another instance, Albright responded to criticism of his work on the noted blog “Arms Control Law,” which is authored by University of Alabama School of Law professor Dan Joyner, by again focusing attention on Ritter’s criminal record. Wrote Albright: “[Joyner’s] defensiveness leads him to the scoundrel’s method—untrue nasty personal attacks on me and the US nonproliferation community which he clearly does not understand or care to understand. Depending on Ritter, a sex criminal, Consortium News, and Washington Stakeout as his sources to attack me—no wonder his legal analysis on the NPT and the IAEA is so deeply flawed.”
Albright v. Joyner
Joyner has used his blog to criticize various aspects of Albright’s work, including his tendency to make personal attacks on critics. Inan October 2012 piece, for instance, Joyner pointed to Albright’s interactions with Ritter and Husseini in arguing that the “ad hominem attack” seems “to be Albright’s go-to M.O. when he’s challenged about his work.”
Joyner has also criticized Albright’s efforts to provide legal interpretations of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), highlighting a 2012 “IranPrimer” article Albright coauthored with Andrea Stricker for the U.S. Institute for Peace. In the article, the authors argue that a communiqué adopted by the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) during an August 2012 summit, which criticized EU and U.S. sanctions against Iran, was the result of an important misinterpretation of the NPT. “Contrary to widespread perception,” wrote Albright and Stricker, “the international treaty signed by 190 nations does not guarantee a signatory country access to the nuclear fuel cycle if that state is under investigation for not complying.”
Commented Joyner: “Just 100% incorrect in its legal interpretations of the NPT. … You won’t find me writing articles about the technical aspects of missile capabilities, or the internal physics of a warhead core. I know these things are outside of my training and qualification to do. … With respect, I think David should stick to obsessing over satellite pictures of tarps at random military bases in Iran.”
Albright responded: “I have belatedly read Joyner’s rant about our IranPrimer article with amusement and likewise find his chorus of lackeys a pathetic bunch. Now I understand that Joyner’s blogging is supposed to be an ego trip for him and a safe haven for commentators, but Joyner’s blogging is particularly egotistical and, with respect, off-the-wall. … I would recommend that Joyner have his work reviewed by competent lawyers. He would need to revise most of his work. But it is a path I would recommend he follow.”
Albright v. Porter
Another outspoken critic of Albright has been Gareth Porter, a frequent contributor to the Inter Press Service who has a long track record of publishing critiques of U.S. foreign policy in progressive outlets. Some observers have charged that Porter has at times been naïve about or overly sympathetic towards U.S. adversaries, which Albright is quick to point out when contesting Porter’s criticisms of his work.
Among his recent work, Porter is the author of the 2014 volume, Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare (Just World Books), which received plaudits from the likes of former IAEA chief Hans Blix and University of Michigan history professor Juan Cole.
In a June 2014 piece for Truthout, Porter argued that Albright had “left a trail of evidence indicating that he has embraced the Iran alarmist line coming from the United States, Israel, and the IAEA, despite his knowledge that there were serious problems with the evidence on which it was based.”
In the article Porter contended that Albright’s work on Iraq during the lead up to the Iraq War presaged his later apparent alarmism over Iran (for a similar argument, see Robert Parry ). Porter acknowledged that Albright was an important critic of the claim, heavily pushed by the George W. Bush administration as evidence of an Iraqi bomb program, that the Saddam Hussein regime had “acquired aluminum tubes that could be used for gas centrifuges only.” He quotes Albright’s statements to the Guardian in October 2002, when he said, “There’s a catfight going on about this right now. On one side you have most of the experts on gas centrifuges. On the other, you have one guy sitting in the CIA.”
However, according to Porter, “With that knowledge, a truly independent nongovernment expert would have insisted at the very least that the Bush administration’s broader case involving WMD in Iraq be thoroughly investigated. But instead, Albright simply shifted his emphasis and pushed the Bush administration line that Saddam had biological and chemical weapons.” In an October 2002 with CNN, Albright said: “In terms of the chemical and biological weapons, Iraq has those now. How many, how could they deliver them? I mean, these are the big questions.”
Albright himself later admitted that he had accepted at face value the Bush administration’s claims regarding purported Iraqi chemical and biological weapons, telling the Los Angeles Times in April 2003: “If there are no weapons of mass destruction, I’ll be mad as hell. I certainly accepted the administration claims on chemical and biological weapons. I figured they were telling the truth. If there is no [unconventional weapons program], I will feel taken, because they asserted these things with such assurance.”
Of course, by the time of Albright’s admission, the damage had already been done—U.S.-led forces had attacked Iraq, with U.S. public support for war buoyed in part by non-governmental experts supporting the Bush administration’s assertions about Iraq’s purported WMD arsenal. Porter, however, drew another—and arguably rather exaggerated—lesson from the episode, claiming that the admission amounted to a confirmation that Albright had a specific “role,” which was “not to ascertain the actual facts independently of the official line on WMD issues, but to adjust his analysis to meet that line.” (In contrast, a former editor of Albright’s work during the 1990s told Right Web: “I always regarded Albright as conscientious and apolitical. … He agonized over whether he was getting things right. And he clearly believed that the march to war in Iraq was a mistake. He believed that the inspectors were doing a great job and should be allowed to continue their work.”)
Porter went on to make a series of claims regarding Albright’s work on Iran, including that he “played along” with propaganda peddled by then Undersecretary of State John Bolton, that he knowingly repeated erroneous information regarding the notorious “laptop documents” allegedly stolen from the computer of an Iranian scientist doing covert nuclear weapons research, and that his purportedly flawed analyses of Iran’s capabilities—like that it had a “breakout” ability to quickly produce a nuclear bomb—were bolstering efforts by “pro-Israel” factions to drive hysteria about Tehran.
Albright responded with a lengthy rebuttal to Porter’s article, which appeared in the comments section of the article page on Truthout. Albright begins: “I regret to provide additional attention to Gareth Porter’s work but feel I must respond to his imaginary narrative about me and in general to his journalistic malfeasance and incompetence, two traits that are abundant in his whole body of work on Iran. But I must say as I have watched his writings on Iran, I am not surprised by his recent performance. After all, in the 1970s he was a notorious, vocal, denier of the Khmer Rouge’s genocide of the Cambodian people and he has a long history of launching personal attacks.”
(The full text of Albright’s response to Porter’s Truthout piece, as well as Porter’s rebuttal to this response, which he sent to Right Web, can be read in the following endnote.)
Albright v. Sahimi (and Robert Kelley) and the Case of Parchin
Another writer who has repeatedly criticized Albright’s work on Iran is Muhammad Sahimi, a contributor to Antiwar.com. In a January 2013 article, Sahimi argued that Albright “has played a leading role in inflaming the hysteria about Iran by his grand exaggerations, alarms over non-existing evidence, [and] creating something out of nothing.”
Among the issues Sahimi highlighted in the article was a May 2012 report published by ISIS, which said that Iran was engaged in suspicious activities at the Parchin military site, a long-standing site of concern for the IAEA. ISIS has repeatedly argued—including as recently as February 2015—that activities at this site “likely” represent an effort to “conceal past banned activities,” including allegedly undertaking nuclear experiments using a specialized “chamber” purportedly capable of containing the release of traces of uranium from high-explosive experiments.
Sahimi provided a lengthy direct quote from the ISIS report to give a flavor of Albright’s “scientific” analysis of evidence pertaining to Parchin:
“ISIS has acquired commercial satellite imagery of the [non-nuclear, conventional] Parchin site in Iran showing new activity that substantiates the IAEA’s stated concern regarding recent ‘activity’ at the site. The new activity seen in the satellite image occurred outside a building suspected to contain an explosive chamber used to carry out nuclear weapons related experiments. The April 9, 2012 satellite image shows items lined up outside the building. It is not clear what these items are. The image also shows what appears to be a stream of water that emanates from or near the building. … The items visible outside the building could be associated with the removal of equipment from the building or with cleansing it. The stream of water that appears to emanate from the building raises concerns that Iran may have been washing inside the building, or perhaps washing the items outside the building. Satellite images of the building from recent months do not show any similar activity at the site—indicating that such activity is not a regular occurrence at this building.”
Commenting on this analysis, Sahimi wrote: “Let us consider the ‘scientific’ paragraph again. It is not clear what the items outside the building are. They could be associated with removal of equipment from the building. Iran may have been washing inside the building, or perhaps outside. Satellite images do not show any similar activity at the site. (How often are such images taken?) Yet, all of these sheer speculations supposedly substantiate the IAEA’s stated concern regarding recent ‘activity’ at the site. In addition, ultra-sensitive sensors that the IAEA inspectors have can detect one part in one million particles in a sample, and so no amount of washing would be even nearly enough to hide such particles. And even if this were possible, would the water not contaminate the soil outside the building, so that the IAEA inspectors could, again, easily detect the contaminants?”
After Right Web cited Sahimi’s article in its initial profile on Albright, he wrote to the project saying that Sahimi’s work is “generally recognized as poor” and that it was not credible given his “close association with the Iranian regime.” As of this writing, Right Web has not been able to establish whether Sahimi has had an association with the Iranian government and Albright has not provided any additional details regarding his claim. On the other hand, Sahimi has written many articles that have been sharply critical of the Iranian government. (Sahimi also vehemently denied Albright’s claim in an email to Right Web.)
Regarding the quality of Sahimi’s work, it would certainly be fair to say that he adopts politically charged rhetoric when characterizing those he is critiquing, for instance writing that Albright has adopted positions similar to those of the “War Party and Israel Lobby.”
On the other hand, Sahimi is far from alone in criticizing the type of analysis advanced by Albright and ISIS. For instance, in a December 2014 article for the Inter Press Service, Robert Kelley—a former IAEA director of challenging nuclear inspections and head of the U.S. government’s Remote Sensing Laboratory in Las Vegas—provided a similar set of criticisms of the Parchin allegations. Although Kelley did not mention Albright or ISIS by name in the article, his analysis tracks closely with many of Albright’s claims about Parchin and largely supports Sahimi’s critique.
Among Kelley’s criticisms:
“Would conducting tests in a chamber actually succeed in hiding traces of uranium? The answer is no. When explosives and uranium are detonated together, they produce large amounts of soot and debris, as well as finely divided uranium particles. … Performing the tests in a chamber is frankly a monumentally stupid idea. Indeed, once it was identified, it would be a veritable magnet for inspections and a sure-fire way to get caught.”
“On at least one occasion, water was observed in the parking lot, although traces of water there had been visible for a number of years before. Indeed, the vegetation at the run-off point is visible and abundant compared to other areas in the complex. While the critics cited this as evidence of sanitization, they neglected to mention that any wash-down would actually have concentrated contamination in a ditch, making it easier for inspectors or anyone else to sample.”
“Occasional satellite photos depicting equipment stacked up next to the building have also been cited as evidence that items are being removed from the site, presumably as part of the alleged sanitization operation. But, in the absence of precisely identifying the equipment and establishing that it is actually being removed—as opposed to delivered—such a conclusion testifies only to the amateurism of this kind of analysis.”
“A large area up to one kilometer northeast of the site was also bulldozed and flattened, and new roads were laid out, apparently in anticipation of an expansion of a nearby explosives plant. This, too, has been characterized by some as part of a sanitization effort. But that interpretation fails to account for why there has been no clean-up effort whatsoever just six meters west of the suspect building. That’s where a steep, rocky bluff unsuitable for any construction juts up from the surface, making it a perfect site for sampling for uranium.”
In February 2015, just two months after Kelley’s IPS article was published, Albright coauthored another ISIS report on Parchin, this one contending that “New Digital Globe imagery purchased and analyzed by ISIS … indicate that Iran may be engaging in new asphalting at the site.” Ignoring the doubts expressed by a range of observers regarding the relevance of Parchin, ISIS alleged that these purported activities “likely” were aimed at “concealing past banned activities.” The report also emphasized a long-standing Albright preoccupation—that any comprehensive agreement with Iran must include an account of all its past military-relevant nuclear activities. “Prospects for a comprehensive agreement dim if Iran remains intransigent on Parchin,” argued the report. “A deal that does not include Iran addressing the IAEA’s concerns about the past and possibly on-going military dimensions of its nuclear program would undermine the verifiability of a long-term agreement, and thus the credibility of a comprehensive deal.”
(It is worth noting that issues of asphalt and pavement have long been central elements of Albright’s analyses. A February 2011 ISIS report on Syria, for instance, used satellite imagery of a “compound” of concern to the IAEA in Marj as Sultan, near Damascus, to argue that “Something appears to have been poured on the ground surrounding the larger building.” The report concluded that this “paving at the suspect Marj as Sultan site and the paving of the grounds surrounding the buildings at the Masyaf site after the [2007 Israeli] bombing of the [Kibar] reactor site are consistent with the landscaping activities reported to have taken place at the suspect sites and could be intended to defeat environmental sampling in the event of an IAEA visit.” A 2013 ISIS report on Iran’s Lashkar Ab’ad site, where undeclared uranium laser enrichment once took place, argued that “commercial satellite imagery [shows] the substantial growth of the Lashkar Ab’ad site, where Iran conducted secret laser enrichment activities into 2003.” Although the report admitted that the “images do not provide an indication of when the buildings were inaugurated or what is done inside them,” it nevertheless concluded that analysis of the imagery—coupled with an assessment of Iranian scientific journal articles, authors, and organizational affiliations—leads to the conclusion that Iran “has developed advanced lasers that are suitable for use in laser enrichment of uranium, and that Lashkar Ab’ad is at the center of this work.”)
Iran Politicking and Working with Neoconservatives
In recent years, Albright has collaborated on numerous occasions with individuals and organizations that are closely associated with neoconservatism, a rightist ideological faction in the United States that has long promoted U.S. military intervention in the Middle East, most notably in Iran and Iraq.
Neoconservative outlets like the Wall Street Journal editorial page and other elements of the right-wing “pro-Israel” community have also been quick to cite Albright’s work in support of their hawkish agenda. A recent case was a November 2014 ISIS report alleging that Iran violated the terms of the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) when it reportedly supplied a particular form of uranium (UF6) into advanced centrifuges at its Natanz Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant.
Whether Iran’s actions at Natanz actually violated the JPOA has been hotly contested, but regardless of the accuracy of the claim, Albright’s reports have served as useful fodder for those wanting to kill negotiations with Iran. For instance, the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens, in a November 2014 op-ed, cited Albright’s assessment of the Natanz centrifuges, among other issues, to argue that Iran had “cheated” during the nuclear negotiations. “The latest confirmation of the obvious comes to us courtesy of a Nov. 17 report from David Albright and his team at the scrupulously nonpartisan Institute for Science and International Security,” Stephens wrote.
In an analysis of what he calls “ISIS’s flawed interpretation of the JPOA,” Tyler Cullis, a Legal Fellow at the National Iranian American Council, argued that “The idea that Iran has violated the terms of the JPOA has gone from the margins to the mainstream over the past few weeks, driven in large part by ISIS’s initial analysis and follow-up reports. In their briefer on why Congress should pass new sanctions, for instance, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (‘AIPAC’) cited ‘evidence that Iran has not fully complied with the [JPOA] with respect to both its research and development of advanced centrifuges.’ Likewise, in a series of hearings on Capitol Hill, members of Congress pointed to Iran’s feeding UF6 into the single IR-5 centrifuge as proof of Iranian bad-faith. On December 8, House Foreign Committee Chairman Ed Royce piled on, releasing a statementciting ISIS’s report as evidence of Iran’s intent to be a ‘determined cheater.’”
In September 2014, two months before he helped launch the debate over the JPOA, Albright participated in a panel discussion jointly hosted by two leading neoconservative organizations, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Foreign Policy Initiative, as well as the hawkish Bipartisan Policy Center. Other panelists at the event included noted Iran hawks Ray Takeyh and Mark Dubowitz.
During his intervention at the meeting, Albright appeared to set aside his typical role as a nonproliferation expert to promote a political agenda, arguing that Congress should try to intervene in the on-going diplomacy between Iran and the P5+1, despite widespread concerns that such intervention would scuttle talks. Albright argued that “if there isn’t a good deal” with Iran and the “administration vetoes congressional legislation and they win,” it would be “very hard for Congress to recover as this strong force for sanctions in the world.” He added: “That—that—in a sense, that battle cannot be lost by Congress.”
Earlier, in January 2013, Albright coproduced a major report on U.S. Middle East policy with three other non-proliferation experts as well as the head of FDD, Mark Dubowitz, a controversial promoter ofharsh Iranian sanctions regimes whose record includes opposing adapting U.S. laws to ease the import of sanctions-exempt U.S. medicines. The 155-page report, titled “U.S. Nonproliferation Strategy for the Changing Middle East,” argued that it was imperative for the United States to implement a comprehensive Middle East nonproliferation strategy because of the “threat of proliferation in and by Iran, the vulnerable Syrian chemical arsenal, the challenges and opportunities posed by the Arab revolutions, the relatively frequent prior use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East, several regional states already possessing WMD, and a tense and unstable regional security situation.”
The report called for a number of actions which, if implemented, would—according to most Iran specialists—almost certainly destroy the P5+1 negotiations with Iran and potentially lead to war. It argued that Washington should be prepared to impose a “de facto international embargo on all investments in, and trade” with Iran—with the exception of food and medicine—if Tehran did not halt all its nuclear-related programs. In addition, the United States should “increase Iranian isolation, including through regime change in Syria” and complete “overt preparations for the use of warplanes and/or missiles to destroy Iran’s nuclear capabilities with high explosives.”
The only way Iran could get sanctions relief, argued the report, would be if it suspended all activities related to uranium enrichment and heavy water, closed its Fordow underground enrichment facility, and allowed highly invasive IAEA inspections. “The recommendations appeared to reflect more the position held by Israel than that of the Obama administration,” reported the Inter Press Service (IPS), “which has suggested that it will not necessarily insist on a total suspension of uranium enrichment—a demand that Iran has consistently rejected and which many Iran specialists believe is a deal-killer—as a condition for possible sanctions relief.”
Said Greg Thielmann of the Arms Control Association: “The report does not offer a realistic formula for negotiating a satisfactory agreement on limiting Iran’s nuclear programme. It would require Iran to capitulate on virtually all fronts.” He added: “Some of the measures it suggests would be likely to disrupt P5+1 unity … and the maximalist requirements it cites for an agreement could convince Tehran that the U.S. objective is regime change, rather than full compliance with its obligations to the IAEA.” Thielmann also commented that the fact that the report said very little about Israel, the only nuclear weapons power in the region, was “conspicuous” given its broad scope.
According to IPS, “That the report’s recommendations coincided closely with Israel’s positions may have been due in part to the heavy involvement in the project by staff members from both FDD, which has been a leading proponent of ‘economic warfare’ against Iran, and the Dershowitz Group, a media relations firm with which FDD shares office space and reportedly cooperates closely. Several Dershowitz account executives included in the report’s acknowledgments have previously been associated with Hasbara Fellowships, a group set up by the right-wing, Israel-based Aish HaTorah International, to counter alleged anti-Israel sentiment at U.S. universities. IPS inquiries into the project’s sources of funding went unanswered.”
Regarding Albright’s role in the report, IPS reported: “The endorsement by Albright, who is frequently cited by mainstream U.S. media as an expert on the technical aspects of Iran’s nuclear programme, of the report’s policy-oriented recommendations, such as making a military attack on Iran more credible, came as a surprise to some proliferation experts, including two who participated in the roundtables but asked to remain anonymous because of the off-the-record nature of the proceedings.” One of the experts told IPS: “His expertise is a technical one, but this is mostly a political paper. This covers areas that go far beyond his expertise.”
Despite the criticism of his decision to engage in producing a political report on U.S. Middle East strategy, two months after the report appeared, Albright coauthored an op-ed for the neoconservative Wall Street Journal editorial page that explicitly promoted a political agenda on Iran. The article, titled “Stopping an Undetectable Iranian Bomb” and co-authored with FDD’s Dubowitz and Orde Kittrie (also a coauthor of the Middle East study and a Senior Fellow at FDD), expressed concern over Iran’s purported advances in developing a “critical capacity” to produce a nuclear weapon quickly and urged the United States to ramp up sanctions. They wrote: “Given Iran’s current course, the U.S. and its allies should immediately impose maximum pressure on Iran, including by intensifying economic sanctions and cracking down on Tehran’s illicit imports of centrifuge equipment and materials. … Washington and its allies must insist now that Iran verifiably stop increasing the number and quality of its centrifuges. Anything short of that will leave Iran far too close to an undetectable breakout capacity.”