Wednesday, October 24, 2007

"Being Judith Miller'd" (Updated)

By Cernig

Updated below and bumped

The question of exactly what Israeli warplanes bombed in Syria back in September is still not clear. However, Steve Clemons throws some interesting information into the mix today. He reports that several journalist friends have said they were being pressured by Cheneyites in the administration to push the nuke story - some described the pressure as "being Judith Miller'd".

Clemons, though, has a different theory based on conversations with intel types he knows.
Jane's Defense apparently had a leak that the Syrians were experimenting with chemical warheads for the scud missiles -- and that these warheads had airburst capacity. Some folks I spoke to in the Pentagon -- who were not in the deep core of knowledge -- but close enough that they helped indicate the right and wrong direction of inquiry led me to believe that the Syrians had worked with North Koreans to assemble some kind of new machine tooling operation that would transform the thousands upon thousands of rockets that Syria was producing to aim at Israel -- and also to supply Hezbollah with -- into more sophisticated "air burst" warhead compatible scuds.

Then someone I can't mention but very close to the action on the Arab side of the equation essentially confirmed the story above.
I'm inclined to believe this - not least because it's pretty much what I had come to believe after reading all the reporting on the attack. The Syrians can't admit to CW and so the OVP and Israel can milk it with impunity.

Why not just say CW then? Three reasons spring to mind -
1) Nukes are "sexier" - they're just more newsworthy and that helps push along the demonization narrative just a little further than chemical weapons on missiles does.
2) Connecting Iran to the narrative as well as North Korea. N-Pod, Bolton, Wurmser and others (probably including Cheney) believe the route to Iran regime change lies through toppling Damascus; that by thus showing that Teheran can't protect its allies the people of Iran will finally lose their patience with the Mullahs.
3) Defusing the Arab push to have Israel either permit IAEA inspections or face Iran-standard sanctions by adding an element of Syrian nuke "gotcha" at a crucial time.

Update Today the WaPo has a report that say independent experts might have found the bombed site. Emphasis on the might because no-one official is confirming anything as yet.
Photographs of the site taken before the secret Sept. 6 airstrike depict an isolated compound that includes a tall, boxy structure similar to the type of building used to house a gas-graphite reactor. They also show what could have been a pumping station used to supply cooling water for a reactor, say experts David Albright and Paul Brannan of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS).

..."I'm pretty convinced that Syria was trying to build a nuclear reactor," Albright said in an interview. He said the project would represent a significant departure from past policies. ISIS, a nonprofit research group, tracks nuclear weapons and stockpiles around the world.
Albright is a serious expert, and has to be taken seriously. If he's right, it's a serious contravention of the NPT by Syria and will raise further questions about North Korea's honesty. But then again, Albright's been pretty hawkish of late, making pronouncements about Iran's program, for instance, that have been later falsified by IAEA inspections.

Albright and other interviewed experts also cite a couple of reasons why it might not be a nuclear plant.
Albright acknowledged the difficulties of proving what the site is, in part because the roof was put on at an early stage, blocking views of the foundation and obscuring any potential reactor components. In construction of other types of nuclear reactors, the roof is left off until the end so cranes can move heavy equipment inside.

Some nuclear experts urged caution in interpreting the photos, noting that the type of reactor favored by North Korea has few distinguishing characteristics visible from the air. Unlike commercial nuclear power reactors, for example, a North Korea-style reactor lacks the distinctive, dome-shaped containment vessel that prevents the release of radiation in the event of a nuclear accident.

"You can look at North Korea's [reactor] buildings, and they look like nothing," said John E. Pike, a nuclear expert and director of "They're just metal-skinned industrial buildings." The proximity of the building to a water source also is not significant by itself, Pike said.
That's because North Korean reactors aren't water cooled - they use a gas cooling system.

Kevin notes: "We also don't have imagery of this site from September, which would tell us if this is really the location that was bombed by the Israelis."

The rightwingers are going nutzo over a pic someone got from GoogleEarth that doesn't show a thing and might not be of the same place in any case.

Larisa points out the key paragraph - the one that says no-one knows anything more than they did before.
The new report leaves many questions unanswered, such as what Syria intended to use the unfinished structures for and the exact role, if any, of North Korea in their construction. Also unclear is why Israel chose to use military force rather than diplomatic pressure against a facility that could not have produced significant nuclear material for years. The new details could fuel debate over whether Israel's attack was warranted.
I'd also like to point out that, even experts can usually convince themselves that they've found what they set out to find.
Brannan, of ISIS, combed through a huge amount of satellite imagery to find a site along the Euphrates that matches a reactor's specifications as well as descriptions of the attack site.
It only sort-off matches a reactors specifications, though - it isn't a mirror image of any NK reactor at the same stage of construction - not even in dimensions. The building could just as easily be, for instance, a rocket and missile fabrication site. Unfortunately, Abright and Co. were focussed entirely on their nuke-hunt and give no insight into other possibilities.

But it's worth remembering that the original agitprop about photos of the alleged site clearly mentioned "a big cylindrical structure, with very thick walls all well-reinforced." Albright's structure is a single-story square affair.

I'm still with Steve Clemon's sources on this one.

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