Thursday, July 28, 2011

Death and Contradiction: The Case of Iran’s Nuclear Scientists


On 23 July 2011 it was announced that Dariush Rezai-Nejad was shot to death in Tehran by two men on motorbikes. The shooters also chased after his wife and shot her too. According to Al Jazeera Rezai-Nejad was doing research in the field of electronics and had connections to the Iranian Department of Defense. It is not known if he was associated with Iran’s nuclear program. This is not the first such attack. In November of 2010 the cars of two other Iranian scientists who had definite links to the country’s nuclear program were rigged with bombs. One of them, Majid Shahriari, was killed outright and the other, Fereydoun Abbasi, again along with his wife, were injured.

There is a lot of speculation as to who is responsible for these attacks. One favorite Western theory is that the Iranian government is killing its own scientists because they are threatening to defect. The only publicly identified Iranian scientist who may or may not of defected is Shahram Amiri. He claims to have been kidnaped by Saudi agents while on pilgrimage to Mecca in June 2009, and then forcibly taken to the United States. He later made his way back to Iran. The notion that the Iranian government is now murdering some of their own scientists to assure the loyalty of the others seems farfetched. There are any number of less drastic ways to achieve this end. Just about every independent source of analysis on this question agrees that the real perpetrators of these serial murders and attempted murders are the U.S. and Israel, perhaps with an assist from the UK. These sources include Israel’s own senior military correspondent, Yossi Melman, who once told the British paper The Independent that there are "endless efforts of the Israeli intelligence establishment along with its Western counterparts, Britain’s MI6 and the CIA, to sabotage, delay and if possible stop Iran from reaching...its first nuclear bomb." This effort includes the murder of Iranian scientists. The same reports have come from France’s Le Figaro, China’s Xinhua news agency and the Jerusalem Post.

To most Americans it might sound wrong that Washington, classically described to them from birth to death as God’s gift to good government, should be involved in campaigns of "official" murder. However, a brief look at recent history suggests that such practice is actually the norm. For instance, during the Viet Nam war the CIA initiated the Phoenix Program which managed to assassinate 26,369 suspected members of the Viet Cong. The Program lasted from 1967 to 1972 when it was closed down due to negative publicity. Almost immediately it was replaced by a new secret, yet similar, operation code named "F-6." During the 1950s, 60s and 70s the CIA carried out or assisted in the assassination of thousands of individuals in Central and South America. The Agency reportedly tried to murder Fidel Castro hundreds of times. Under the Bush Jr. administration, kidnaping, torture and murder were standard operating procedures. And, finally, it appears that a sloppy form of assassination is still today’s preferred tactic in the on-going "war on terror." The U.S. now uses drones which not only "take out" the target but also everyone else who happens to be in the vicinity at the time of the attack. This brief history should make it clear that the repeated reports of U.S. involvement in the attacks on Iranian scientists is quite consistent with past practice. More generally, one will find no "moral squeamishness" when it comes to Washington’s use of murder as an element of foreign policy.


Now we come to the really amazing part of this story. Readers of this blog may remember my analysis, posted 10 June 2011, entitled"Iran and the Issue of Nuclear Weapons." It laid out strong evidence that Iran’s nuclear program was not aimed at the development of atomic weapons. It will be recalled that this was and still is the conclusion of no less than 16 U.S. intelligence agencies (including the CIA) as put forth in two National Intelligence Estimates. In other words, one part of the United States government appears involved in an effort to kill Iranian scientists because of their alleged work on a program that another part of the United States government has confirmed not to exist. We can reduce this even further. It appears the one part of the CIA is involved in the attacks on these scientists because of nuclear weapons research another part of the CIA tells us is not taking place. What sort of schizophrenic game is being played out here?

1. Complicity in the program of assassinations is a part of a policy that flows from a certain worldview. That worldview is anti-Iranian (this goes back to the 1978-79 Iranian revolution and the holding of American hostages), anti-Muslim (assuming a "clash of civilizations") and pro-Israel (solidified by the power of the Zionist lobby). The decision to pursue this policy is a political one made by a men and women in key foreign policy positions within the Congress and executive branch of government who share or at least acquiesce in this worldview. In addition, all of these individuals adhere to or acquiesce in assumptions about Iran that are compatible with the worldview. Thus, it is assumed that present day Iran is aggressive, ambitious and instinctively hostile to both American and Israeli interests. Therefore, no matter how benign the Iranian quest for nuclear energy is demonstrated to be, it is metamorphosed into something malignant by the demands of the prevailing worldview and its standing assumptions. This in turn justifies the attacks on those involved in Iran’s nuclear energy research.

2. Meanwhile, those who perform the professional intelligence analyses, such as those carried out by National Intelligence Estimates, are not motivated by this worldview and make no assumptions. The ability to approach the intelligence data with an open mind is part of what makes these people professionals. So they look at the intelligence intelligently, determine what it means in an objective fashion, and report accordingly. Obviously this sort of procedure is going to give a more honest and accurate assessment than one largely pre-determined by myriad assumptions.


Unfortunately, honesty and accuracy are not the priorities of policy makers captured by ideologically shaped worldviews and their accompanying assumptions. Be it the Cold War or the War against Terror, it is ideology that defines reality. Intelligence estimates that give a different picture are most often found to be politically unacceptable. Therefore, making clear the contradiction between policy driven by skewed assumptions, and that based on objective investigation is like putting a spotlight on all that is wrong with American foreign policy. Yet this is a message our policy makers cannot hear. That worldview also clogs up their ears.

Professor Lawrence Davidson - Department of History - West Chester University -