(Updated below -- Update II)
Uncritical, fear-mongering media propaganda is far too common to take note of each time it appears, but sometimes, what is produced is so ludicrous that its illustrative value should not be ignored. Such is the case with a highly trumpeted Associated Press "exclusive" from Tuesday which claims in its red headline to have discovered evidence of "Iran Working on Bomb."
What is this newly discovered, scary evidence? It is a "graph" which AP says was "leaked" to it by "officials from a country critical of Iran's atomic program to bolster their arguments that Iran's nuclear program must be halted before it produces a weapon" (how mysterious: the globe is gripped with befuddlement as it tries to guess which country that might be). Here's how AP presents the graph in all its incriminating, frightening glory:
This, says AP, shows that "Iranian scientists have run computer simulations for a nuclear weapon that would produce more than triple the explosive force of the World War II bomb that destroyed Hiroshima." Moreover, "an intelligence summary provided with the drawing" -- provided, that is, by the mysterious "country critical of Iran's atomic program" -- "linked [the graph] to other alleged nuclear weapons work -- significant because it would indicate that Iran is working not on isolated experiments, but rather on a single program aimed at mastering all aspects of nuclear arms development."
Where to begin? First, note that AP granted anonymity here not merely to an individual but to an entire country. What's the proffered justification for doing so? The officials wanted it, so AP gave it: "officials provided the diagram only on condition that they and their country not be named." That's very accommodating of AP.
Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu with a diagram illustrating Iran's nuclear program. Photograph: Jason Szenes/EPA
Second, this graph -- which is only slightly less hilariously primitive than the one Benjamin Netanyahu infamously touted with a straight face at the UN -- has Farsi written under it to imbue it with that menacing Iranian-ish feel, but also helpfully uses English to ensure that US audiences can easily drink up its scariness. As The Atlantic's Robert Wright noted: "How considerate of the Iranians to label their secret nefarious nuke graph in English!" It's certainly possible that Iranian scientists use English as a universal language of science, but the convenient mixing of Farsi and English should at least trigger some skepticism.
Third, even if one assumes that this graph is something other than a fraud, the very idea that computer simulations constitute "evidence" that Iran is working toward a nuclear weapon is self-evidently inane. As John Glaser extensively documents, "experts from across the spectrum have agreed with the military and intelligence consensus [from the US and Israel] that Iran has no nuclear weapons program and presents no imminent threat." Buried in the AP article is a quote from David Albright explaining that though "the diagram looks genuine [it] seems to be designed more 'to understand the process' than as part of a blueprint for an actual weapon in the making."
The case for the attack on Iraq was driven, of course, by a mountain of fabricated documents and deliberately manipulated intelligence which western media outlets uncritically amplified. Yet again, any doubts that they are willing and eager to do exactly the same with regard to the equally fictitious Iranian Threat should be forever dispelled by behavior like this.
As always, the two key facts to note on Iran are these: 1) the desperation to prevent Iran from possessing a nuclear weapon has nothing to do with fear that they would commit national suicide by using it offensively, but rather has everything to do with the deterrent capability it would provide -- i.e., nukes would prevent the US or Israel from attacking Iran at will or bullying it with threats of such an attack; and 2) the US-led sanctions regime now in place based on this fear-mongering continues to impose mass suffering and death on innocent Iranians. But as long as media outlets like AP continue to blindly trumpet whatever is shoveled to them by the shielded, unnamed "country critical of Iran's atomic program," these facts will be suppressed and fear levels kept sky-high, thus enabling the continuation and escalation of the hideous sanctions regime, if not an outright attack.
Compare the super-scary graph in the possession of the Tehran villains that was unveiled by the sleuths at AP to what one randomly finds on the Internet from a Google Images search of the phrase "normal distribution cumulative probability," on a nice little website devoted to teaching people about how to use Excel documents (via @AtomTrigger):
This means that not only Iran, but also aspiring Excel users on the Internet, are plotting to develop nuclear weapons.UPDATE II
At the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Yousaf Butt and Ferenc Dalnoki-Veress document that the graph trumpeted by AP "does nothing more than indicate either slipshod analysis or an amateurish hoax." That's because, they explain, "the diagram features quite a massive error, which is unlikely to have been made by research scientists working at a national level."
Moreover, "the level of scientific sophistication needed to produce such a graph corresponds to that typically found in graduate- or advanced undergraduate-level nuclear physics courses." And they echo what I documented in that prior update: "Graphs such as the one published by the Associated Press can be found in nuclear science textbooks and on the Internet."
That this AP graph quite strongly appears to be a hoax seems a much more significant story than the discovery of the graph itself, given the ends toward which this was clearly being put, and given the way that the war in Iraq was sold to the public.