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Was Fordo a Hoax? If So, Why?

A few days ago I published a post based on an Israeli source who told me there had been sabotage at the Fordo uranium enrichment plant.  Just before I decided to publish I wrestled with whether to go forward or to wait till journalists I knew with sources in U.S. intelligence could vet this story.  I erred on the side of haste and publication.  This is one of those instances when I wish I’d heeded my instinct for caution at the expense of getting the scoop.

To put my decision in perspective, I’d verified the story with a separate Israeli journalist I respect.  A generally respected Israeli newspaper ran a headline about the Fordo explosion.  I thought between my source and him I’d authenticated the story.  Shortly after I published, the Times of London and Die Welt each published stories confirming the incident using their own independent sources, one Israeli and one Iranian.

But there has always been dubiousness regarding it as I noted in the post I wrote.  A number of Iranian-Americans I respect warned me to exercise caution.  It turns out they were probably right.  Iran itself denied the story (though it initially denied Stuxnet was a problem only to admit it was later).

It has taken a few days for me to reach those U.S. reporters and for them to reach their own sources.  But now, two different individuals, one of whom spoke directly with a U.S. government source, have told me the story is likely false.  Also, Reuters reported yesterday that Jay Carney said the U.S. could not verify the report and that it was likely not credible.  According to that journalist’s government source, this appears to have been an exercise by Israeli diplomats testing how world media would react if Israel were to succeed in sabotaging Fordo.  There is a discrepancy here between what my source told me (that his source was based in Israeli intelligence) and what the U.S. source said.  But given that another reporter told me his newspaper had researched the story and been told there’s nothing there, I’m prepared to recalibrate my own judgment and say my source was likely wrong.

All this raises the question: why would Israeli intelligence or diplomats go to the trouble of putting out a hoax like this?  There is of course the possibility that it would discredit me as a journalist and that is a distinct possible motive.  Though I’m not sure I’m a big enough fry to warrant this treatment.  They may’ve wanted to see which media outlets would report the story so they’d have an idea which publications would be most sympathetic for planting future stories.  Though that too doesn’t seem persuasive.

Or the Israelis might’ve simply been trying to psych out the Iranians to get them thinking about the possibility that Israel could sabotage one of Iran’s most critical nuclear facilities.  It doesn’t seem like a very effective way of doing that, because the Iranians are more likely to laugh at the audacity and foolishness of such an enterprise.

All this reinforces the shadow war that constitutes relations between Iran and the west.  We know so little about what’s really happening on the other side.  We have so few sources and contacts there, and both sides are doing such a poor job of communicating with each other, that a netherworld of rumor, fakery and shadowy figures like Reza Khalili can prosper.  It allows intelligence agencies like the Mossad and others to exploit ignorance and information vacuums to create fictional narratives that advance Israeli interests.  It also indicates how faulty may be the intelligence on which both sides make their judgments about policy.  At any rate, all this means journalists have to exercise extra care and not be hurried into decisions that may reflect poorly afterward.  But of course if we don’t at times take risks, then we may not report a story that is important for the world to know.

It’s important to take credit when you get a story right and to acknowledge when you got it wrong.  It appears the latter was likely the case with this story.  The only thing to do in such a situation is to admit the possibility of error and move on.

One final note: this should hammer a nail in the coffin of Reza Khalili, WND and Hamidezra Zakeri, who initiated this hoax by being the first to report it.

UPDATE: Now, an Iranian monarchist comes out of the wood work to try to revive the story with this report.

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{ 28 comments… add one }

  • Joel January 28, 2013, 9:37 PM

    “this appears to have been an exercise by Israeli diplomats testing how world media would react if Israel were to succeed in sabotaging Fordo.”

    Blaming Israel, as usual.

    “There is of course the possibility that it would discredit me as a journalist and that is a distinct possible motive”

    Richard. Do you really think Israel factors Richard Silverstein into their tactical thinking?

    • Richard Silverstein January 28, 2013, 9:44 PM

      @Joel:

      Blaming Israel, as usual.

      With the prospect that Israeli intelligence interests may’ve created a hoax you wonder anyone would blame Israel? Would you please stop repeating these noxious mantras (“blame Israel”). They’re beyond stupid.

  • Dana January 28, 2013, 11:58 PM

    Here’s a similar take by Ali Gharib – looks like lots of people are wondering what’s up with this story:

    http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/01/28/how-israeli-government-officials-fueled-a-conspiracy-website-story-about-iran.html

  • richardP January 29, 2013, 12:36 AM

    Richard,

    This is a yet another article which you have used questionable sources and facts. Why do you keep publishing such stories? This is seriously undermining your honesty. You should do something about this situation. I much prefer it when you focus on character assassination of individuals you don’t like. You put much more passion into those. How about another one again about that Iran guy in Israel or that Iran guy in US you don’t like? your character assassination of them was informational and useful

    • Richard Silverstein February 6, 2013, 2:37 AM

      @RichardP: Thanks for the unwanted editorial advice. WHy don’t you write your own blog & make your own such decisions for yourself?

  • mary January 29, 2013, 1:53 AM

    Bear in mind that the Times of Israel also carried the story; it would be interesting to know who their source was.

    I cannot imagine what possible reason anyone would have to fabricate such a story. It reminds me of that farcical “terrorist attack” by “Iranian cigarette boats” on a US military ship a few years ago, complete with phony photos.

  • mary January 29, 2013, 1:55 AM

    And don’t forget the enormous amount of fake footage (and even a fake vessel) Israel claimed was from the Mavi Marmara attack back in 2010. So I guess this bogus story falls right into the same category.

  • Brian January 29, 2013, 4:42 AM

    I have no idea how a serious journalist can yell I have a Scoop and a day later say it was a hoax.
    To me it seems that you have no faith in your sources and lack the vast understanding to write such a story.
    For example Fordo is monitored by the IAEA, which means that every 10 days or so, new footage from the IAEA camera’s comes to light. If the IAEA will release the new footage, that means IAEA inspectors made it to the site, took the tape out of cameras etc. The tape will confirm or deny an explosion. If the IAEA inspectors will be denied access to the site for whatever reason, that means the story is probably right.

    • mary January 29, 2013, 7:35 AM

      I guess the Times of London looks no less foolish, then.

      All journalists have sources they trust for information; how else do you think most stories get written?

      This has taken on a new meaning now; the new question is, who inside the Israeli government fabricated this hoax, and why?

      • Brian January 29, 2013, 8:47 AM

        Let’s see if i got it right.
        An Iranian who lives in the US concocts a story and somehow it’s the Israeli Government ?
        I’m sorry but i see no correlation what so ever between this story (if it is a story) and the Israeli Government.
        This story was aired, few days before Mr. Silverstein came with his scoop, in WMD and the israeli site Rotter. is it possible that Mr. Silverstein’s source is a reader of the Rotter forum ? i think it is. Mr. Silverstein will refute that of course, but since he wants to keep the identity of his source confidential we don’t know do we ? All we know is that this source was wrong more then once lately.

        With respect to the incident in Fordo, i have no idea if it was a hoax or not, one thing is interesting. when minister Boogi Yaalon was asked about it, his reply was: I heard about it on the radio. When PM Shamir was asked the same question about Abu-Jihad, an operation commanded by Yaalon, he replied in the same exact way.

        • mary January 29, 2013, 1:40 PM

          No, I don’t think you have it right. It appears that the newspapers, and Richard, all got the story from a source from inside the Israeli government. I don’t think they pulled it out of some dark nether regions of their anatomy, if you get my drift.

          Do you seriously think that the Times of London would use WND or Rotter as source?

          • Brian January 29, 2013, 2:38 PM

            With respect to the times of London, i think it was published after Mr. Silverstein circled his, The TOL reporter is an Israeli who live’s in Tel-Aviv. Mr. Sillverstein is well known in some circles of the Israelis society. It is not impossible that the TOL reporter seen it here and then published it. Since all the sources retain their anonymity everything is possible including the possibility that there are no sources.
            To be frank, i doubt an ex public figure (which i understand is Mr. Silverstein’s Source) would know about such activity, why ? because those things are highly classified and no ex-figure would have any knowledge of such activity.
            Mr. Silverstein, do you personally know your source ? are you using a middle man ? have you voice verified his identity (if he is a public figure you should be able to recognize his voice) Did you cross checked his phone number ? Is your communication email based (cause i can open an email address under the name of Sharon or Rabin and it will take me a sec) It seems to me that someone is trying to humiliate you, and it’s not your readers.

            Just FYI IAEA denies the incident.

          • Richard Silverstein January 29, 2013, 9:33 PM

            You know little about Israel if you believe that ex-Mossad, Shabak, Defense or Security Ministers have no access to classified materials or sources still on active duty who have such access.

            Pls don’t bother questioning or sniffing around the ID of my source. If you doubt or mistrust him be my guest. Neither he nor I answer to you. As for humiliation, thanks for your concern on this subject. It’s truly appreciated (not).

            Sheera Frenkel’s source inside Israeli intelligence was different than my source. She may or may not have known about this story from my post. But her reporting was entirely independent of mine.

        • Richard Silverstein January 29, 2013, 9:46 PM

          Let’s see if i got it right.

          As usual, you got very little right. Khalili lives in Norway as far as I know. His source, Zakeri, lives in Germany. Khalili has very close ties with Israeli intelligence (who undoubtedly helped arrange his Channel 2 interview on Israeli TV) and clearly Norwegian intelligence as well. So you still maintain Khalili couldn’t have been fed the story by the Mossad? Of course, it’s also possible they have some cockamamie source of their own in or outside Iran who fed them this garbage.

          You think I read Rotter after I wrote 5 posts exposing Yeshaya Rotter and his son, Meir as corrupt frauds? Rotter is a site devoted to pure garbage, much like Debka Files. The fact that you think I’d get anything of value from that site tells us a great deal about your own personal reading material, but nothing about mine.

          Sorry. Don’t read Rotter and stopped posting material there long ago. As far as what else you “think,” not much interested in that either. Why don’t you stop pontificating and speculating and start speaking based on facts & evidence. You’d come across a lot more credibly.

    • Richard Silverstein January 29, 2013, 9:50 PM

      COmment rules insist that you deal in substance and issues. I haven’t the least interest in whether you think I’m a serious journalist or your psychologizing about my view of my sources. If you don’t stick to substance and stop making unfounded value judgments you have no business making, your shelf life here will be very short. Consider that a warning. The next comment rule violation will cause you to be moderated.

      The IAEA has denied there was a Fordo accident.

  • moshfeq January 29, 2013, 9:19 AM

    The update at the end of this post refers to a claim by an “Iranian monarchist,” Alireza Nourizadeh, that the explosion took place. I’m not familiar w/ his views, but a quick search didn’t indicate anything about him being a monarchist. How was that designation arrived at? Short bio: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alireza_Nourizadeh

    One article that came up was at the IranGlobal site which ridiculed Nourizadeh as a liar who fabricates news. The same site carries the following article, which in part reads:
    http://www.iranglobal.info/node/15190
    “Richard Silverstein, an Israeli-American journalist, has apologized to his readers for publishing an entirely false and fabricated content titled, “Explosion at Fordow’s atomic site,” and expressed regret for disseminating that news hastily and without heeding warnings, and said, “This (publication of false news) is one of the instances that I wish I had died and not committed this error.”"
    I don’t see any wish for death in this post.

    But if you think this site has a clear view on this topic, here’s an opinion piece published today, titled “Yet another evidence of Mossad’s domination over Iran’s security establishments” by Dr. Kaveh Ahmadi Aliabadi, who is identified as a member of Sociologists Without Borders,
    http://iranglobal.info/node/15204
    The article claims that the explosion at Fordow was heard up to a 5 km radius, blocked off all emergency roads to the site, happened the day before Israeli elections and the Iranians have not been able to extract their technical equipment and personnel from under the rubble. The article doesn’t cite any sources and is mainly ridiculing the ineptness of the Iranian security establishment. So the same site that emphatically denies the Fordow explosion as fabrication, in another piece takes it for granted that it happened!

    • Richard Silverstein January 29, 2013, 9:41 PM

      I think I know the individual who wrote the Iranglobal article about my so-called “apology.” I’ll contact him about those mistranslations & see if I can get them corrected.

      I did some research on Nourizadeh. He left Iran before the Revolution and was an Iranian diplomat. That would mean he probably served under the Shah. Also, Google searches show he’s closely affiliated with pro-monarchist groups and interviewed the Shah’s son or a close relative of the Shah.

  • free man January 29, 2013, 9:54 AM

    This is not the first time you have been spoonfed with BS.

    • Richard Silverstein January 29, 2013, 9:38 PM

      Nor is it the first time you’ve drooled your own BS in the comment threads here.

      • free man January 29, 2013, 10:05 PM

        I see it makes you feel good insulting responders.
        Making the world a better place.

        • Richard Silverstein January 30, 2013, 2:06 AM

          @Free Man: So I suppose your claim that I purvey bullshit here was your version of making the world a better place? If so, I’ll take my version of tikun olam over yours.

  • yankel January 29, 2013, 10:30 AM

    As before, I still maintain you should post all somewhat credible information that comes your way and let us, readers, make our own minds about it.

    Having said that, this independent non-MSM channel is a well-established outlet of otherwise overlooked, ignored or even suppressed relevant information and therefore its credibility is of importance.

    There’s no need to bet Tikun’s credibility on a story’s yet-to-be-proven truthfulness. Why not just present the info you’ve got, caveats-and-all?

  • Dr. Ibrahim Soudy January 29, 2013, 10:50 AM

    The word I worry about most is when people say “intellegence sources”. Given how F-u-c-k-e-d up the “intellegence” agencies of many countries including, but not limited to, the US, why would we waste our time and energy even “guessing” what happened?! Your enemy can defeat you just by making you waste your own resources. Of course there are Iranians who LEFT Iran and would not mind at all making plenty of money from the stupid people of any country by telling them what they want to hear. Remember the Iraqi “curve ball”……….What a tragedy some people are……..

  • Richard January 29, 2013, 11:10 AM

    Richard, Don’t blame some faceless person, “your scoop” was your article. No wonder no paper would touch your articles or quote you.

    • Richard Silverstein January 30, 2013, 2:10 AM

      You mean except for the BBC World Service (twice), NY Times, Haaretz, Jewish Forward, Christian Science Monitor, the Guardian and Los Angeles Times, all of which have published my work? You mean except for them no paper would touch me???

  • Sam Theman January 29, 2013, 12:27 PM

    Now Richard don’t fall for another big lie. Why did you believe this unprovable hypothesis:

    “this appears to have been an exercise by Israeli diplomats testing how world media would react if Israel were to succeed in sabotaging Fordo”

    Did you really fall for that one Richard?

    I would say obviously it’s just Israel trying to puff up their image by pretending they blew up an Iranian installation. Their readers are so stupid, as Joel’s absurd and poorly thought comment above prove, that they will continue to say ‘heh heh’ even AFTER it’s a proven hoax.

    • Richard Silverstein January 29, 2013, 9:35 PM

      @Sam Theman: The quotation in your comment is the thinking of a U.S. gov’t official as to Israel’s motives. It isn’t an idea I drummed up.

  • Robert Mullen January 30, 2013, 7:41 AM

    Then there are the flurry of stories on & after 28 Nov 12: Iranian Official: “We Should be Ready to Face Nuclear Accidents”, Payvand, 28 Nov 12 (quoting Ghoulamreza Massoumi – said to be head of Iran,s accident and medical emergency center); “Disease Related to Radioactive in Center for Enrichment in Isfahan”, Deutsche Welle (in Farsi), 28 Nov 12 (quoting Ghoulmreza Massouni); “Workers of Iran’s Isfahan Nuclear Facility Experience Health Problems”, Trend.az, 28 Nov 12 (re: possible uranium hexafluoride (UF6) release); “Nuclear Disaster in the Making – Iran to Citizens: Flee Isfahan”, Washington Free Beacon, 2 Jan 12; “Warning: People from Isfahan Leave City”, Hamshari, 3 Jan 12; “Report: Iran Orders Evacuation of Isfahan, Near Nuke Site”, Jerusalem Post, 3 Jan 12.

    Interesting, No? An English edition of a Persian site started to discuss the issues surrounding the Isfahan facility but was shut down I failed to anticipate that and cannot now be more specific as to content its content. Also there has been little further reporting in media I have seen related to the UF6 release topic, although I must say I have not been assiduously following it up. It’s not an issue central to my current concerns.

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