‘Operation Merlin’: Another Self-Serving CIA Project against IRAN

TEHRAN (FNA)- The jury is still out in the trial of former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling for allegedly having leaked the story of “Operation Merlin” – the covert CIA effort to lure Iran into working on phony plans for a key component of a nuclear weapon – to New York Times reporter James Risen.

But “Operation Merlin” itself was also on trial. The CIA was hoping that testimony by prosecution witnesses and a series of declassified CIA cables introduced as evidence would show that Risen’s account was wrong in recounting that the CIA’s human asset “Merlin” had immediately spotted a flaw in the plans to be turned over to Iran that Iranian engineers might be able to spot as well.

The cables reporting the incident and “Merlin’s” testimony both indicate that what “Merlin” saw was not a flaw in the schematics of the device, but a discrepancy between the schematics and the parts list accompanying it that would cause the Iranians to doubt the asset’s cover story.

But the evidence also reveals a larger story of a half-baked operation dreamed up by weapons specialists and managers who were ignorant of the most basic facts about the Iranians and their nuclear program. They created a cover story or “legend” for the Russian émigré scientist “asset” now known as “Merlin” that was so questionable that he never believed the Iranians would fall for it.

The exercise was pointless, moreover. The CIA did not claim that Iran had a nuclear weapons program when the planning of the operation began in 1996, and continued to offer no firm conclusion about Iran’s nuclear intentions through 1998.

Only in mid-1999, when the CIA needed to justify the operation to get White House approval for it, did it insert one reference to “Iran’s nuclear weapons research and development program” into its regular half-yearly intelligence assessment of Iran’s WMD policy for the first time.

The cables show that sometime in 1996, the CIA’s Counter-Proliferation Division (CPD) came up with the idea of getting experts at a national laboratory to design a key part in a nuclear explosive device called a “fireset” or “firing set”, among other terms, that was so seriously flawed that it could not be made to work. The device would then be dangled in front of Iran, in the belief that the Iranians would snap it up and expend huge amounts of time, money and manpower to try to get it work.

In September 1996, the CPD started looking for a Russian émigré nuclear weapons specialist “asset” who knew about “fireset” technology. As a result, CPD recruited a former senior Russian engineer identified in redacted CIA documents and testimony at the trial only as “Merlin”.

During 1997 and 1998, while the false set of plans for the “fire set” was being created by experts at one of the national laboratories, “Merlin” was busy writing e-mails and letters to organizations and individuals in Iran who might have some interest in the subject. He was signing his own name and identifying himself accurately as having worked at the Soviet Arzamas 16 nuclear weapons laboratory.

That remarkable feature of the operation reveals the hypocrisy of the prosecution argument, presented by former national security adviser and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, among others, that the exposure of the operation endangered the life of the asset.

At a meeting in San Francisco in November 1998, Merlin was introduced to the schematics of the “fireset” and the parts list to accompany it for the first time.

The secret hovering over the meeting was that Merlin’s case officers were “steering him away from any notion that the design is flawed,” as they were instructed to so, according to a 28 May, 1997 CIA cable. Thus the CPD was seeking to deceive both the “target” and the “asset”.

The deception began to fall apart immediately. Merlin testified on video last week, hidden from journalists in the courtroom by a high screen, that when he saw the schematics and the parts list for the fireset, he told the operation’s manager and two control officers that the most important parts were missing from the schematics. In one of the three interviews Merlin had with the FBI, he was more emphatic. “It’s fake. It will not work. Some parts are missing,” he recalled telling his CIA handlers, according to the FBI report read by defense counsel.

The “case officers” assured Merlin that the omission was “on purpose,” in keeping with the “incompleteness” of the fire set plans, according to the CIA cable reporting the meeting. Merlin was told to acknowledge the omission and to explain it as part of what the Iranians would get once they paid for the package.

What they did not tell Merlin, however, was that they had not realized that such a discrepancy had existed until he spotted it, and that they found out upon further inquiry that the original Russian émigré scientist who had worked on the falsified device did not even know how to make the missing parts.

Merlin was also disturbed to find that the parts list was in English – obviously an odd choice for a former senior Russian engineer whose collaborators were all supposed to be former Soviet engineers as well. “I told them I preferred to see the parts list in Russian,” he testified.

Merlin continued to express concerns about the credibility of his “legend” and his own personal security. He complained about the resume he had cooked up, which claimed scientific experience at Arzanas 16 that the Iranians could easily learn was untrue if they checked. Sterling dismissed the danger, making the wholly unconvincing argument that once the Iranians realized that he was offering a business deal involving nuclear weapons, they would feel no need for an extensive investigation,” according to a 4 February, 1999 cable.

But Merlin continued to fret about Iranian scrutiny. He began refusing to use his real name in letters and e-mails. In February 1999, he fretted that some of the emails he had gotten back from his many attempts to make contact with someone who might be connected with nuclear matters may have come from Iranian intelligence. Merlin informed his handlers that he had twice gotten error messages telling him that intrusions had been detected on his Hotmail account. He even raised the possibility that the Iranians could track him through his e-mails to his residence.

In January 2000, Merlin threatened to quit the project altogether, and walked out of a meeting in February to go over the details of the trip to Vienna he was to take shortly to deliver the plans to the Iranian mission to the International Atomic Energy Agency. When his handlers suggested that he was afraid of having to meet the Iranians, he did not disagree.

Merlin’s account of the operation after his trip to Vienna in early March makes it clear that he contrived to avoid any encounter with an Iranian official. He claimed he couldn’t find the Iranian mission to the International Atomic Energy Agency, although he had the address and directions. He said that when he finally found the office the following day he didn’t have the package with him, and that when he returned later that day and the following day, the office was closed. That was his explanation for simply dropping his package in the Iranian mission’s mail slot instead of handing it over to an Iranian official as planned.

CPD’s managers nevertheless declared the operation an initial success. In early May, CPD wrote in cable with the titled, “Iranians Take the Initial Bait” that the Iranian mission had couriered the package to Iran rather than tossing it in the trash, adding, “We are off to a good start.”

Meanwhile, CPD officials were already thinking of using Merlin as bait for at least one other country, according to a CIA cable on 5 April, 2000. They somehow managed to keep the operation running to 2003, according to testimony at the trial, despite the lack of any Iranian response.

The operation was bumbling and pointless, but the CPD believed that it was good for its business, expanding the range of its services and putting it on the front lines of central national security issues. “Operation Merlin” provides a dramatic illustration of how a bureaucracy serves its own institutional interests by pushing its pet program or operation in the name of national security.

By Gareth Porter

This article originally appeared in the Middle East Eye on January 23.
Source: Fars News

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Ukraine Joining Nato Would Provoke Nuclear War

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Washington’s Blog

U.S and NATO Responsible for Ukraine Crisis … and West Has Agreed to Cover Up Details About Shoot Down of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17

Stephen Cohen is one of America’s top experts on Russia.  Cohen is professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at New York University and Princeton University, and the author of a number of books on Russia and the Soviet Union.

Cohen says that the West is mainly to blame for the crisis in Ukraine:

This is a horrific, tragic, completely unnecessary war in eastern Ukraine. In my own judgment, we have contributed mightily to this tragedy. I would say that historians one day will look back and say that America has blood on its hands. Three thousand people have died, most of them civilians who couldn’t move quickly. That’s women with small children, older women. A million refugees.

Cohen joins other American experts on Russia – such as former U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union, Jack Matlock – in this assessment.

Cohen also says that if Ukraine joins NATO, it will lead to nuclear war:

[Interviewer:] The possibility of Ukraine in NATO and what that means and what—

STEPHEN COHEN: Nuclear war.

[Interviewer:] Explain.

STEPHEN COHEN: Next question. I mean, it’s clear. It’s clear. First of all, by NATO’s own rules, Ukraine cannot join NATO, a country that does not control its own territory. In this case, Kiev controls less and less by the day. It’s lost Crimea. It’s losing the Donbas—I just described why—to the war. A country that does not control its own territory cannot join Ukraine [sic]. Those are the rules.

[Interviewer:] Cannot join—

STEPHEN COHEN: I mean, NATO. Secondly, you have to meet certain economic, political and military criteria to join NATO. Ukraine meets none of them. Thirdly, and most importantly, Ukraine is linked to Russia not only in terms of being Russia’s essential security zone, but it’s linked conjugally, so to speak, intermarriage. There are millions, if not tens of millions, of Russian and Ukrainians married together. Put it in NATO, and you’re going to put a barricade through millions of families. Russia will react militarily.

In fact, Russia is already reacting militarily, because look what they’re doing in Wales today. They’re going to create a so-called rapid deployment force of 4,000 fighters. What is 4,000 fighters? Fifteen thousand or less rebels in Ukraine are crushing a 50,000-member Ukrainian army. Four thousand against a million-man Russian army, it’s nonsense. The real reason for creating the so-called rapid deployment force is they say it needs infrastructure. And the infrastructure—that is, in plain language is military bases—need to be on Russia’s borders. And they’ve said where they’re going to put them: in the Baltic republic, Poland and Romania.

Now, why is this important? Because NATO has expanded for 20 years, but it’s been primarily a political expansion, bringing these countries of eastern Europe into our sphere of political influence; now it’s becoming a military expansion. So, within a short period of time, we will have a new—well, we have a new Cold War, but here’s the difference. The last Cold War, the military confrontation was in Berlin, far from Russia. Now it will be, if they go ahead with this NATO decision, right plunk on Russia’s borders. Russia will then leave the historic nuclear agreement that Reagan and Gorbachev signed in 1987 to abolish short-range nuclear missiles. It was the first time nuclear—a category of nuclear weapons had ever been abolished. Where are, by the way, the nuclear abolitionists today? Where is the grassroots movement, you know, FREEZE, SANE? Where have these people gone to? Because we’re looking at a new nuclear arms race. Russia moves these intermediate missiles now to protect its own borders, as the West comes toward Russia. And the tripwire for using these weapons is enormous.

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Iraqi Birth Defects Worse than Hiroshima

The United States may be finished dropping bombs on Iraq, but Iraqi bodies will be dealing with the consequences for generations to come in the form of birth defects, mysterious illnesses and skyrocketing cancer rates.

Al Jazeera’s Dahr Jamail reports that contamination from U.S. weapons, particularly Depleted Uranium (DU) munitions, has led to an Iraqi health crisis of epic proportions. “[C]hildren being born with two heads, children born with only one eye, multiple tumours, disfiguring facial and body deformities, and complex nervous system problems,” are just some of the congenital birth defects being linked to military-related pollution.
In certain Iraqi cities, the health consequences are significantly worse than those seen in the aftermath of the atomic bombing of Japan at the end of WWII.
The highest rates are in the city of Fallujah, which underwent two massive US bombing campaigns in 2004. Though the U.S. initially denied it, officials later admitted using white phosphorous. In addition, U.S. and British forces unleashed an estimated 2,000 tons of depleted uranium ammunitions in populated Iraqi cities in 2003.

DU, a chemically toxic heavy metal produced in nuclear waste, is used in weapons due to its ability to pierce through armor. That’s why the US and UK were among a handful of nations (France and Israel) who in December refused to sign an international agreement to limit its use, insisting DU is not harmful, science be damned. Meanwhile, the Pentagon’s refusal to release details about where DU munitions were fired has made it difficult to clean up.
Today, 14.7 percent of Fallujah’s babies are born with a birth defect, 14 times the documented rate in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Fallujah’s babies have also experienced heart defects 13 times the European rate and nervous system defects 33 times that of Europe. That comes on top of a 12-fold rise in childhood cancer rates since 2004. Furthermore, the male-to-female birth ratio is now 86 boys for every 100 girls, indicating genetic damage that affects males more than females.
(On a side note, these pictures are rather sanitized compared to other even more difficult to look at images. See here if you can bear it.)

If Fallujah is the Iraqi Hiroshima, then Basra is its Nagasaki.
According to a study published in the Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, a professional journal based in the southwestern German city of Heidelberg, there was a sevenfold increase in the number of birth defects in Basra between 1994 and 2003.
According to the Heidelberg study, the concentration of lead in the milk teeth of sick children from Basra was almost three times as high as comparable values in areas where there was no fighting.
In addition, never before has such a high rate of neural tube defects (“open back”) been recorded in babies as in Basra, and the rate continues to rise. According to the study, the number of hydrocephalus (“water on the brain”) cases among new-borns is six times as high in Basra as it is in the United States.
This isn’t isolated to Fallujah and Basra. The overall Iraqi cancer rate has also skyrocketed:
Official Iraqi government statistics show that, prior to the outbreak of the First Gulf War in 1991, the rate of cancer cases in Iraq was 40 out of 100,000 people. By 1995, it had increased to 800 out of 100,000 people, and, by 2005, it had doubled to at least 1,600 out of 100,000 people. Current estimates show the increasing trend continuing.
As Grist’s Susie Cagle points out, “That’s potentially a more than 4,000 percent increase in the cancer rate, making it more than 500 percent higher than the cancer rate in the U.S.
Dr. Mozghan Savabieasfahani, an environmental toxicologist based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, told Jamail that “These observations collectively suggest an extraordinary public health emergency in Iraq. Such a crisis requires urgent multifaceted international action to prevent further damage to public health.”
Instead, the international community, including the nation most responsible for the health crisis (hint: it starts with a “U” and ends with an “S”), is mostly ignoring the problem.
To make matters worse, Iraq’s healthcare system, which was once the envy of the region, is virtually nonexistent due to the mass exodus of Iraq’s medical doctors since 2003. According to recent estimates, there are currently fewer than 100 psychiatrists and 20,0000 physicians serving a population of 31 million Iraqis.
Dahr Jamail was on Democracy Now this morning discussing the horrific effects of military-related pollution in Iraq:

Beyond the Propaganda: The Real Reason Why the U.S. and Israel Do Not Want a Nuclear Iran

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By Brandon Turbeville, ActivistPost

As the war drums beat faster and louder for an aggressive assault against Iran amidst the shock and horror at the mere thought of Iran gaining an unproven and currently unfeasible nuclear weapon, there remains the occasional kernel of truth that manages to slip through the firewall of the mainstream media.

For instance, in an article published on October 2 in the Guardian entitled, “The true reason US fears Iranian nukes: they can deter US attacks,” Glenn Greenwald points out the fact that the main concern is not necessarily that Iran may be able to attack the United States or its allies (meaning Israel) with a nuclear bomb, but simply the fact that if Iran were to obtain such a weapon, it would be able to resist U.S. dominance and aggression more effectively.

Although clearly not the sole reason for a Western attack on Iran, Greenwald is correct to point out that destroying the ability of Iran to resist American assault is indeed part of the overarching agenda. Thus, soon after introducing the thesis of the article, Greenwald asks an important question.

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Iran may launch pre-emptive strike on israel, conflict could grow into WWIII – senior commander

An Israeli missile is launched from the Iron Dome missile system in the city of Ashdod. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)

An Iranian military official has warned that military conflict between Iran and israel could “turn into World War III.” He added that if israel “is putting the final touches on attacking Iran,” a preemptive strike against Tel Aviv would ensue.

israel “cannot imagine” the force of Iran’s response if Tel Aviv attacks it, Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh told Iran’s Arabic-language television network. “It will sustain heavy damage and that will be a prelude to its obliteration,” he said.

Hajizadeh added that Iran does not see this happening at the moment because he does not believe that israel will conduct an attack without its strongest ally – the United States.

If America does decide to back an israeli plan to strike Iran, Hejizadeh insists Tehran will retaliate against both Tel Aviv and Washington. Continue reading

X marks the spot: Spy ring and warships encircle Iran

The X-band radars that the United States has installed in Israel’s Negev desert (AFP Photo/David Buimovitch)

The Pentagon is quickly tightening its ring of forces around Iran. As a recent report reveals a radar belt around the Persian country is almost complete, the biggest ever naval drills, involving up to 20 nations, are to take place in the Gulf waters.

The US military have asked for $12.2 million from Congress to build an AN/TPY-2 type radar station in Qatar. The construction is due be finished by the end of this month, The Wall Street Journal reports, quoting US officials.

Similar radars, commonly known as X-band, are also located in Turkey and Israel’s desert of Negev. The detector in Qatar would complete the backbone of a system designed to protect Israel and Europe from Iranian ballistic missiles, say the WSJ sources. The shield would pinpoint missile launches from the north, west and south of the Persian country.

There are also ambitions to deploy a THAAD (the army’s first Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) missile-interceptor system to the region in the coming months. This independent detector may be hosted by the United Arab Emirates and, as the project sponsors say, together with X-Band will provide “an extra layer of defense.” Continue reading

Terrorist Group Puts Out Propaganda Report Claiming Iranian Secretly Advancing Nuclear Weapons Program

By Madison Ruppert, End Of Lie for The Intel Hub

The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) – the political arm of the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK or MKO) often known as the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (PMOI), a terrorist organization trained by the United States and the Israeli Mossad to carry out assassinations and other covert operations in Iran – has put out another propaganda report dealing with the Iranian nuclear program.

In their latest report, which a top U.S. nuclear expert already said should be treated with great skepticism according to Haaretz, claims that there are 60 scientists and engineers currently playing a role in the alleged Iranian nuclear weapons program.

Of course, in reality, the United States Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has confirmed that Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons on multiple occasions. Similarly, the United States intelligence community does not have any evidence indicating that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons.

Even the Israeli military chief Benny Gantz shares this position, making the claims from the NCRI highly suspicious at best.

The NCRI’s track record is far from one which would inspire confidence in the accuracy of their claims.

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‘Mossad, MKO killed Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, Iranian scientist’

The Israeli spy agency, Mossad, and the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO) terrorist group are the main perpetrators of the recent terrorist attack against an Iranian scientist, an American blogger quotes an Israeli source as saying

American journalist Richard Silverstein said the assassination of Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, a senior official at Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility, brings to mind the terrorist acts committed against other Iranian scientists in recent years.

Unknown individuals attached a sticky bomb to Ahmadi Roshan’s car and detonated it on Wednesday.

Ahmadi Roshan was a Sharif University of Technology chemical engineering graduate and served as marketing deputy of Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility.

On November 29, 2010, unidentified terrorists slapped adhesive bombs onto the vehicles of Iranian university professors Majid Shahriari and Fereydoun Abbasi and detonated them.

Professor Shahriari was killed immediately, but Dr. Abbasi, the current director of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, and his wife sustained minor injuries and were rushed to a hospital.

On December 2, 2010, the Iranian Intelligence Ministry announced that the Israeli Mossad, the American CIA, and the British MI6 all played a role in those attacks.

Professor Masoud Ali-Mohammadi, another scholar at Tehran University, was assassinated by a booby-trapped motorbike in the Iranian capital in January 2010.

The bombing took place near the professor’s home in northern Tehran.

Source : Press TV

Russian Deputy FM says no military components exist in Iran’s nuclear program

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Iran’s nuclear program does not have any military component, Russian Deputy FM Sergei Ryabkov said, RIA Novosti reported.

“We hold reliable information that no data exist on the military components of Iran’s nuclear program. There’s no proof for existence of such components in the nuclear program,” Ryabkov said.

He added that “it is necessary to clarify the doubtful milestones through negotiations, and in this regard, Iran should cooperate with the IAEA.”

Threat to impose additional sanctions against Tehran began to appear after a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Iran’s nuclear program, which stated that Iran has worked over developing nuclear weapons, and such activities may still continue.

The United States and several Western countries suspect Iran of developing nuclear weapons under the coverage of peaceful nuclear energy program. Tehran denies the charges, saying its nuclear program is aimed at meeting the country’s electricity needs.

(Source: Trend)

Phony, Fabricated IAEA Report On Iran Released

By Stephen Lendman

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Previous articles said US intelligence assessments through March 2011 (the latest one) found no evidence of Iranian nuclear weapons development.

During his December 1, 1997 – November 30, 2009 tenure as IAEA director general, Mohamed ElBaradei concurred. He carefully avoided anti-Iranian rhetoric and baseless charges.

As a result, Washington and Western allies replaced him with Yukiya Amano, known to be more amenable to their interests. Six ballots and heavy pressure eliminated South Africa’s Abdul Samad Minty.

Under his tenure since December 1, 2009, IAEA became a Western tool, providing conjecture, dubious intelligence, and fabricated allegations about an alleged Iranian nuclear weapons program. Despite no evidence proving one, Amano’s report claims otherwise.

On November 8, New York Times writers David Sanger and William Broad headlined, “UN Finds Signs of Work by Iran Toward Nuclear Device,” saying:

“United Nations weapons inspectors released a trove of new evidence Tuesday that they say makes a ‘credible’ case that ‘Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear device,’ and that the project may still be under way.”

Based on forged, otherwise suspect, long ago discredited, discounted, or nonexistent documents, IAEA’s report lacks credibility. Moreover, nothing new was revealed. Material from 2004 and earlier was manipulated to look current. It’s not!

Based on identical information, US intelligence and ElBaradei produced completely opposite conclusions. Now they’re politicized, fraudulently hyped, and regurgitated by major media liars, political Washington, Israeli hard-liners, and supportive Western leaders.

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