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The Mossad and the Iranian Graph That Never Was

Tonight, I’m writing a blog post that no blogger wants to write.  And almost none do, even ones who should. I recently reported an AP story that reputed to offer a leaked Iranian nuclear explosion simulation prepared by its thee most senior nuclear scientists.

In my story, I noted my grave skepticism that the document was what it claimed to be. But I did, at the time, accept that it was at least Iranian in origin, since my own Israeli source told me the graph had been stolen from an Iranian computer via Israeli malware that hacked into it.

After hearing the scientific judgments of Prof. Muhammad Sahimi, two specialists at the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, and the reporting of Glenn Greenwald, it’s likely my source was wrong and that the diagram probably isn’t Iranian in origin. Since the source of the leak was the Mossad, it appears it is a forgery created by the Mossad (or possibly its Iranian proxies, the MEK) with the help of Israeli technical experts and Israeli Farsi-speakers.

There is one way in which the story I was told might still be correct. If Iran left the document in some location that was easily viewed or hacked, deliberately wishing the Israelis to find and publicize it, so that they could further discredit the spy agency–then the version I offered might still be correct. Don’t scoff at the plausibility of this theory, because that’s precisely what Hamas did to the Mossad when they betrayed Dirar Abusisi.  They leaked word he was its supposed rocket mastermind and that he also knew the hiding place of Gilad Shalit. Israeli intelligence took the bait and kidnapped Abusisi, only to find that they’d been “had” and the Gaza civil engineer knew nothing.

But I admit this version of events is a long shot. What’s more likely is that Mossad wanted to divert world attention from the Gaza assault and recriminations against Israel for its massacre of civilians; plus Israel anticipated today’s UN vote recognizing Palestine as a state. What better way to focus the world on the Israeli agenda than by passing off a doctored Iranian scientific graph as the real thing, hoping to get a few days worth of news cycle that painted Iran as the villain.  As Sahimi wrote in Antiwar.com:

This is the type of “evidence” that Jahn and AP provide. But here is the crucial point: the goal is not to prove anything. This sort of campaign requires no real evidence, but merely the constant reiteration of accusations, so that a layman or casual observer is ultimately led to believe that there must be something to them…

As as far as what my role in all this was, presuming the information my source passed to me came from similar Israeli intelligence circles, they might’ve been hoping to buttress the claim that the documents were authentic by spreading word that they secured them through cyber-theft. What they may not have bargained for, was the speedy identification of the diagram as a fake and the fact that I might retract the story offered to me by my source.

In this business, and given the levels of opacity regarding Israeli military and intelligence matters, you have to trust your sources. But you also have to recognize that they have personal or political agendas, as do the IDF or Mossad sources who convey information to them. Frankly, I’d rather have the source and take the chance that once in a while he’s either going to get it wrong or be sold a bill of goods by his own source. It’s the chance you take.

The only thing you know for sure is your own motives and integrity, which is why I’m saying here now that I probably got part of that post wrong.  You almost never find bloggers or journalists saying they got a story wrong (or partially wrong in my case).  It reminds me of Walter Mondale’s memorable debate line against Ronald Reagan: “Mr. Reagan will raise taxes, and so will I. He won’t tell you. I just did.”  The only way I can maintain my self-respect is by reporting stories to you that are accurate to the best of my knowledge.  When I get it wrong, I want you to know that too.

Returning to the Mossad, all this makes you wonder whether anything Mossad does is real. Far too much of their activity is based on smoke and mirrors. Though that’s always been the case with spy craft, other spy agencies have acted with far more finesse than Mossad. You get the impression that these people are spooks of very little brain, who prefer muscle or brute force to subtlety or nuance.

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{ 11 comments… add one }

  • Daniel November 30, 2012, 12:36 AM

    How about you just admit to have no sources other than the media & journalists and to cherry picking the opinions and facts that fit your general editorial line ?

    • Strelnikov November 30, 2012, 12:57 AM

      How about you crawl back under that rock in the Negev Desert?

  • Daniel November 30, 2012, 1:33 AM

    How thoughtful of you :) Thanks !

  • Romilly Hambling November 30, 2012, 6:22 AM

    Well said, and I don’t think you have to be embarrassed. But I do have to say that after examining the diagram, and reading your previous post, I never thought for a moment that it could ever have been on a computer inside Iran, let alone in one of their nuclear facilities. It is too ridiculously flawed, such an elementary piece of work. What s surprising is that the hoaxer didn’t do his research on what might pass for an authentic technical document more thoroughly as a more convincing document could have been really embarrassing for Iran. Other questions are where are the other figures? And why is there no textual commentary? A figure on a blank page is an unusual way to present scientific/technical information.

    Disinfo by the Iranians/a clever plot to discredit Mossad? Interesting, and very devious! But I don’t buy it. Too risky.

    MEK involvement? Aren’t they too concerned with other matters, like their own survival? Maryam Rajavi has just been in Estonia, probably trying to find someone on the fringes of Europe who will give her money and support.

  • Piotr Berman November 30, 2012, 4:23 PM

    I am not a physicist, but it is easy to see why the graph stinks and perhaps even one can guess what it could represent.

    The graph does not seem to be a result of a simulation of any physical process that is widely asymmetric in its nature. Initially, conventional explosive push pieces of enriched uranium together to form the shape with the critical mass. The speed of that process comes from the energy released by the explosives that propels the pieces of uranium. Then the chain reaction starts and it has exponential growth but the much larger energy of that is released disperses the uranium. I may be wrong, but it is very clear that the process of finishing the explosion is not a simple mirror image of the process that starts it, so the slopes should be different. Instead we have a symmetric plot.

    The plot is almost certainly showing the well known Gaussian distribution and the corresponding cumulative distribution. The labels on the vertical axes are pretty wrong. It seems that this is simply an practise sketch, someone trying a plotting program (Matlab?) not with any data or simulation results but with a function available from the menu. In other words, it may be a file from a computer, but essentially this is a doodle. I do not know what the caption says, perhaps “Energy released when the hottest girl in Tehran comes to the party”.

    • Richard Silverstein November 30, 2012, 6:17 PM

      “Energy released when the hottest girl in Tehran comes to the party”.

      Coming from devout Muslims, I doubt this. But it IS funny.

      • Fred Plester December 2, 2012, 2:56 AM

        If Iranian Physicists are like most others, they won’t be particularly devout. Just useful enough for the theocracy to turn a blind eye.

  • Nimrod December 2, 2012, 4:34 AM

    What makes you think that the “Iranian Graph” was fabricated by the Mossad, and not by some reporter or anyone else who wanted to fool a reportrer?
    It wouldn’t be a first time that an unnamed source pulls a reporter’s leg by leaking something like that, as you probably know too well.

    • Richard Silverstein December 2, 2012, 4:26 PM

      Because Mossad did this before with a purportedly stolen Iranian laptop and other forged documents supposed to have been taken from Iran confirming research on a nuclear triggering device. All were proven forged or fake. This is the work of an intelligence agency, not a reporter. And only one intelligence agency has both the means & motivation to conduct such fraud: Israel’s.

      But nice attempt at deflection.

      • Nimrod December 2, 2012, 11:05 PM

        Not a deflection as much a hope that a fabrication of such low quality, as explained by Piotr, did not come out from the Mossad.

        • Richard Silverstein December 2, 2012, 11:09 PM

          Abandon hope all ye who enter the gates of the Mossad! (With acknowledgement to Dante Alligheri)

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