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Parry writes: "The Times and most other major U.S. news outlets have refused to alter their boilerplate on Iran's nuclear ambitions (beyond slipping in the word 'capability'), even as a consensus has emerged among the intelligence agencies of the United States - and Israel - that Iran has NOT made a decision to build a nuclear weapon."

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta testifying before Congress, seated next to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey. (photo: Department of Defense)
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta testifying before Congress, seated next to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey. (photo: Department of Defense)

New Weasel Word on Iran Nukes

By Robert Parry, Consortium News

16 February 12


hat can one say when the Washington Post’s neoconservative editorial writers more correctly describe the U.S. and Israeli assessments on Iran’s nuclear program than does a news story in the New York Times? In a Wednesday morning surprise, a Washington Post editorial got the nuances, more or less, right in stating: “U.S. and Israeli officials share an assessment that, though Iran is building up nuclear capability, it has not taken decisive steps toward building a bomb.

You could still say the Post is hyping things a bit, skewing the wording in an anti-Iranian direction, but the sentence is essentially correct on where U.S. and Israeli intelligence judgments stand, that Iran has NOT made a decision to build a nuclear bomb.

But then there’s the New York Times. It continues to mislead its readers, albeit with a new weasel word inserted to avoid being accused of completely misstating the facts. In a news article on Wednesday, the Times reported that “the United States, Europe and Israel have all called [Iran’s nuclear] program a cover for Iranian efforts to develop nuclear weapons capability, an accusation that Iran denies.”

The key weasel word now is “capability,” which is a very elastic concept since any work on nuclear research for peaceful purposes, such as low-level enrichment of uranium, could theoretically be used toward a weapons “capability.” (The word also appeared in the Post editorial.)

There’s a parallel here to President George W. Bush’s statements about the Iraq War: Remember, after his promised Iraqi stockpiles of WMD didn’t materialize, Bush retreated to claims about WMD “programs,” i.e. the possibility that something might have occurred down the road, not that it actually had happened, was happening or was likely to happen. “Capability” is now filling a similar role.

So, instead of stating that U.S. and Israeli intelligence agencies concur that Iran’s leadership has NOT made a decision to go forward with a nuclear bomb, the Times creates a false impression that they have done so – by suggesting Iran is making progress toward a “nuclear weapons capability.”

If that wording leaves you with the notion that Iranian leaders have decided to press ahead in building a nuclear bomb (but are lying about their intent), you can be forgiven because that seems to be the misimpression the Times wants you to have. Indeed, even well-informed Americans have come away with precisely that misimpression.

And there’s another parallel to Bush’s case for war with Iraq, when he falsely implied that pre-invasion Iraq was allied with al-Qaeda, without actually saying precisely that. Any casual listener to Bush’s speeches would have made the implicit connection, which was what Bush clearly intended with his juxtaposition of words, but his defenders could still argue that he hadn’t exactly made the link explicit.

Now this sleight of hand is being done mostly by the U.S. news media, including the New York Times in its influential news columns. To state the obvious, employing misleading word constructions to confuse readers is an inappropriate technique for a responsible news organization.

Intelligence Assessments

The Times and most other major U.S. news outlets have refused to alter their boilerplate on Iran’s nuclear ambitions (beyond slipping in the word "capability"), even as a consensus has emerged among the intelligence agencies of the United States – and Israel – that Iran has NOT made a decision to build a nuclear weapon.

As ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern has noted, this intelligence judgment has even been expressed recently by high-profile figures in the defense establishments of the two countries – U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

In an article entitled “US/Israel: Iran NOT Building Nukes,” McGovern wrote: “You might think that you would have heard more about that, wouldn’t you? U.S. and Israel agree that Iran is NOT building a nuclear bomb. However, this joint assessment that Iran has NOT decided to build a nuclear bomb apparently represented too big a change in the accepted narrative for the Times and the rest of the FCM [Fawning Corporate Media] to process.”

McGovern cited an interview by Barak on Jan. 18 in which the Defense Minister was asked:

Question: Is it Israel’s judgment that Iran has not yet decided to turn its nuclear potential into weapons of mass destruction?

Barak: … confusion stems from the fact that people ask whether Iran is determined to break out from the control [inspection] regime right now … in an attempt to obtain nuclear weapons or an operable installation as quickly as possible. Apparently that is not the case. …

Question: How long will it take from the moment Iran decides to turn it into effective weapons until it has nuclear warheads?

Barak: I don’t know; one has to estimate. … Some say a year, others say 18 months. It doesn’t really matter. To do that, Iran would have to announce it is leaving the [UN International Atomic Energy Agency] inspection regime and stop responding to IAEA’s criticism, etc.

Why haven’t they [the Iranians] done that? Because they realize that … when it became clear to everyone that Iran was trying to acquire nuclear weapons, this would constitute definite proof that time is actually running out. This could generate either harsher sanctions or other action against them. They do not want that.

Question: Has the United States asked or demanded that the government inform the Americans in advance, should it decide on military action?

Barak: I don’t want to get into that. We have not made a decision to opt for that, we have not decided on a decision-making date. The whole thing is very far off. …

Question: You said the whole thing is “very far off.” Do you mean weeks, months, years?

Barak: I wouldn’t want to provide any estimates. It’s certainly not urgent. I don’t want to relate to it as though tomorrow it will happen.

Less Alarming Consensus

In a Jan. 19 article on Barak’s interview, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz summed up the Israeli view as follows: “The intelligence assessment … indicates that Iran has not yet decided whether to make a nuclear bomb.

“The Israeli view is that while Iran continues to improve its nuclear capabilities, it has not yet decided whether to translate these capabilities into a nuclear weapon – or, more specifically, a nuclear warhead mounted atop a missile. Nor is it clear when Iran might make such a decision.”

McGovern noted that Barak in the interview appeared to be identifying himself with the consistent assessment of the U.S. intelligence community since late 2007 that Iran has not made a decision to go forward with a nuclear bomb. The formal National Intelligence Estimate of November 2007 – a consensus of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies – stated:

“We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program; … Tehran’s decision to halt its nuclear weapons program suggests it is less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005.”

Despite complaints about the NIE from some American and Israeli war hawks, senior U.S. officials have continued to stand by it. Defense Secretary Panetta raised the topic himself in an appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Jan. 8.

Panetta said “the responsible thing to do right now is to keep putting diplomatic and economic pressure on them [the Iranians] … and to make sure that they do not make the decision to proceed with the development of a nuclear weapon.”

Panetta was making the implicit point that the Iranians had not made that decision, but just in case someone might miss his meaning, Panetta posed the direct question to himself: “Are they [the Iranians] trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No.”

Today, it appears that even the neocon editors of the Washington Post have been forced to accept this important distinction, grudging as that acknowledgement may have been. The New York Times, however, has simply inserted the new weasel word, “capability,” which could mean almost anything and which still misleads readers.

To its credit, perhaps, the Times did include another relevant fact near the end of its Wednesday article, noting that Israel is “a nuclear weapons state.” That’s a key fact in understanding why Iran might want a nuclear deterrent but is rarely cited by the Times in its background on the current crisis.

For further context, the Times also might want to add that Israel’s nuclear arsenal remains undeclared and that Israel – unlike Iran – has refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or to allow international inspectors into Israeli nuclear facilities. But such balance may be simply too much to expect from the Times.

For more on related topics, see Robert Parry's "Lost History," "Secrecy & Privilege" and "Neck Deep," now available in a three-book set for the discount price of only $29. For details, click here.

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, "Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush," was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at His two previous books, "Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq" and "Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth'" are also available there. your social media marketing partner


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+30 # Activista 2012-02-16 17:44
"Israel – unlike Iran – has refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferati on Treaty or to allow international inspectors into Israeli nuclear facilities"
NYT with it pro Israeli NEOCON WAR PROPAGANDA is the same as of any TOTALITARIAN state/regime in need of change. What entity is behind this paper?
-14 # stannadel 2012-02-17 04:46
"What entity is behind this paper?" Activista has as usual discovered an international Jewish conspiracy behind all evil. She is a walking update for the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
-8 # stannadel 2012-02-17 04:52
Fisk writes "That’s a key fact in understanding why Iran might want a nuclear deterrent." So much for his elaborate attempt to deny any Iranian nuclear weapons program, but he has his fall back alibi ready for the day when his denialism is proved false. Blaming it all on Israel is typical of him, but he ignores the fact that it was the US and not Israel that put Iran in the cross-hairs of the "axis of evil" and threatened a war to change the government there.
+3 # Activista 2012-02-17 12:19
" US ... put Iran in the cross-hairs of the "axis of evil" "
more like Bush NEOCONS controlled by AIPAC that is controlled by Israel?
If I had ""Israel –that refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferati on Treaty or to allow international inspectors into Israeli nuclear facilities" close I would be worry ...
Apartheid Israel is BLACKMAILING US/Europe into the economic sanctions(war) with daily threat of attack (implicitly nuclear) on Iran.
+5 # cordleycoit 2012-02-16 23:39
They lie our children die. How long we gonna let these fools kill us and whomever for a flat lie?
-27 # Robt Eagle 2012-02-17 00:37
Take a look at any map showing the Middle East. Look at how tiny Israel is compared to all the surrounding countries, and especially how small compared to Iran. Israel has made a paradise out of the desert through modern techniques and has defended itself agaist all invasions since its inception. It is simple jealousy of a people who have succeeded and flourished in a region of most who live in the 1600's. Israel has every right to protect itself. If Iran is even halfway to having the "capability" to making a nuclear weapon, then they have the fear and right to proactively protect itself as a nation. The US should assist in that protection as Israel has been a partner in so many ways to the US and western allies. Personally, I think we should use our own B2's for a safe way to destroy the Iranian nuclear facilities as soon as possible so the Iranians are out of business in the nuclear arena.
+14 # Glen 2012-02-17 09:16
Robt, it ain't the size of the country, it is the size and number of guns. Iran is a wonderful country, not at all living in the 1600s. You might want to research before you post.

Did you freak out when any of the other countries on the planet developed nukes that they have never used. Hell, Israel and the U.S. have used nukes and radiation quite a while. Ever look into the damage created by bunker busters? Thousands of innocent people have died due to those weapons. Check it out.
+5 # Activista 2012-02-17 12:23
"Israel has been a partner in so many ways to the US"
like killing/terrori zing World under CIA cover? Providing "intelligence" about yellow cake to Bush - pushing USA into the Iraq war?
+3 # RMDC 2012-02-18 07:40
I don't understand all the fuss. Israel is the problem in the middle east -- not Israel as a nation, but Israel's aggressive foreign policy. Everyone knows this. It is the same as the US. Most people on earth don't hate the US or Americans -- they hate America's imperialist foreign policies that constantly threaten, make war, bomb, sanction, bribe, infiltrate, murder, corrupt and generally destroy the chance of the world's 7 billion people to have a decent lives. If Amerikkka and Israel would back off and behave like genuine members of the world community, they would be loved by all. They have a lot to contribute to the world, but all they have been willing to give is bombs, bullets, and the worst fucking horrible threats and lies ever in human history.

You have to go back to Netanyahoo's Clean Break papers of the 1990s (written for him by American neo-cons). Those papers say very clearly that Israel must make a "clean break" with its past of trying to live at peace with its neighbors and must adopt a policy of dominating them militarily. Of course, the US will do most of the actual fighting. So since the 90s, we have seen regime change and massive destruction in some nations (Iraq, Libya) and most others are under active assault. Iran is the biggest target of the "Clean Break" strategy.

That's why people hate Israel. It is an aggressive military and fascist state. Zionism has been declared a racist ideology many time by UN congresses.
-17 # Jmac 2012-02-17 00:40
Funny how folks on here applaud the NYT and Washington post when it suits thier agenda but then cry foul and call it full of NEOCONS when it doesn't. Get your act together.
Why don't you spend more of your time writing your congressman why gas has gone up about 25 cents a gallon in the last week due to "speculation" oh yea that would involve doing something other than complaining on here.
+1 # Activista 2012-02-17 12:26
why gas has gone up about 25 cents a gallon in the last week due to "speculation" ?
Speculation on war - Iran, Syria - war that Israel is initiating (like Iraq).
+8 # Dion Giles 2012-02-17 05:06
As long as the racist, expansionist state of Israel exists, especially when it is in possession of large forces including a nuclear arsenal and when it has no more than a nod and a wink for those of its citizens who claim out loud that God promised them the land they have already seized by force and their neighbours' territory as well, then the Iranians would be blithering idiots not to stay ready to shift to a nuclear weapons programme the moment Israeli threats looked like being carried out as they were when Israel bombed Iraq.

Unlike Israel, Iran has shown no signs of expansionism. The only way for the international community to remove the nuclear threat over the Middle East is to dismantle the racist state of Israel. Failing that, the West can always make a deal with Iran such as nuclear transparency in return for CREDIBLE military guarantees against Israeli aggression.
+17 # Marjory Munson 2012-02-17 05:58
George W. Bush labeled Iraq/Iran/North Korea the Axis of Evil, then, under false pretense destroyed Iraq. Is it any wonder that Iran and North Korea might be a little apprehensive?
+6 # RLF 2012-02-17 06:17
This is not about Israel or Iran...this is about keeping the middle east in constant turmoil so that they can't organize and raise the price of oil like they did in the 70's. As long as they are all fighting, they don't mind undermining the other's interests.
+14 # walt 2012-02-17 07:00
Ah, it never ends!

The neocons of "the lobby" are hard at work to insure the US is once again used as we were in Iraq. The thinking is "Let the Yanks do the fighting for us!"

America needs to wake up and speak out! We are tired of fighting wars!
-4 # MidwestTom 2012-02-17 07:21
Vote for Ron Paul, the ONLY candidate to stop the coming war, which is being brought to us by the duel Israeli-America n citizens high up in our government and owning and running ALL of the major media outlets in this country.
+7 # Glen 2012-02-17 09:10
Midwest, we all hope a single individual on a white horse will come trotting in to save us all. Ron Paul is one man, who would be up against a brick wall of corporations, the military, Israel, war manufacturers, mercenaries, and an expanding map of U.S. military bases world wide. He would not be able to step in and end anything. No president could do that.
+6 # XXMD48 2012-02-17 09:18
Kuwait, Iraq and Iran have one common denominator: oil.
Not all Jewish people and Israelis share
Aipac's, Mr Netanyahu and likudniks sentiment about Iran.
Attacking sovereign country with armed forces or worse - nuclear weapons - based just on thousands times spread rumors that become the "truth" is simply wrong.
-7 # Fraenkel.1 2012-02-17 10:12
Supposing the US was a little country encircled by unfriendly dictatorships which teach their children to hate us and threaten to destroy us. Wouldn't we have the right to protect ourselves in any way?
Iran used to have a real civilization. They should go back to reviving it instead of spending their energies threatening the neighbors.
+3 # SBader 2012-02-17 16:29
threatening? Have you just arrived from space?
+4 # XXMD48 2012-02-17 18:01
To Mr fraenkel.1
"supposing the US was a little country encircled....."

Unfortunately this sounds exactly as so many times repeated lies putting Israel into a position of victim rather then human rights major violator. All attrocities commited over the decades by Israelis against Palestinians are presented by Israeli official media as a "defense". One can only hope that the time will come that Israeli political orientation will change and Israel and Palestinians will live as a two peaceful countries.
+5 # Ken Hall 2012-02-17 18:12
Israel has been killing its neighbors at a rate of about 5 to 1, and confiscating the land and all-important water resources of the indigenous people. So, who is it that has the security problem? To hold Israel to the standards of international law and Geneva Conventions, which it agreed to abide by when it joined the UN, is neither anti- semitic nor anti-Israel.
+6 # ericlipps 2012-02-17 11:59
Supposing the U.S. was a little country . . . bristling with nukes it imprisoned one of its own citizens for twenty years for revealing it had (when the rest of the world pretty much knew it already) and with a demonstrated record of land-grabbing? Supposing the U.S. also had at its beck and call the mightiest military power on the planet?

And, um--just why is it that Israel has a crash program to develop ICBMs when its acknlowledged foes are all within reach of much shorter-range weapons?
+1 # Activista 2012-02-17 12:39
"why is it that Israel has a crash program to develop ICBMs when its acknlowledged foes are all within reach of much shorter-range weapons?"
Israel foreign policy is based on black mail and terrorism (assassination of Iran scientists is example).
Forcing USA into the wars that make World more insecure. Like Alan Greenspan forcing WS into the Iraq invasion with "market does not like insecurity"?
+4 # reiverpacific 2012-02-17 12:49
Interesting fact is that there are almost as many "True or Pure (meaning "don't marry outside the faith or you're dead to the family")" Torah-based and intractable Jews in the US as there are in Israel (5,200,000± US vs 5,700,000± Israel) with the latter having one of the strongest lobbyist presences on the hill and even in the government itself.
Small wonder they feel grimly confident of the backing of the bloated US military Death-machine in support of their own smaller but still nuke-armed -200 warheads-ditto. They also have the best-trained murderers in the world in Mossad, who have been directly linked to and are arrogantly unapologetic for, the recent murder of a leading Iranian nuclear scientist.
I'm not a great admirer of the Iranian theocracy (A long-fermenting bit of direct blow-back for US/UK/BP interference in 1953) but despise LIKUD as much -and to me, seem to be thirsting to go to war with "all means at their disposal", something we'd all suffer for in the long and short runs.
I like Newt (wish he were mute) G's assertion that "Palestine is a manufactured country"! Actually, today's Israel is the result of the British "Mandate for Palestine" in 1947.
Look at a map of the east end of the Mediterranean in Caesar, Cleopatra and later, Hadrian's times -not a sign of Israel but Palestine is right there in it's ancient place: -and Israel has been cutting down their 1,000 year old olive trees; some "paradise in the desert (sic)"!
+3 # Dion Giles 2012-02-17 22:37
Rieverpacific suggests: Look at a map of the east end of the Mediterranean in Caesar, Cleopatra and later, Hadrian's times - not a sign of Israel but Palestine is right there in its ancient place: - and Israel has been cutting down their 1,000 year old olive trees; some "paradise in the desert (sic)"!

A valid suggestion. One could go further and look at maps drawn since 1947, showing dramatic Israeli expansion especially in the 1967 "six day" war of aggression against its neighbours who had not set a single foot inside Israel's (seized) territory. The countries in Israel's sights have good reason to look to their defences.
0 # Activista 2012-02-18 00:37
shrinking map of Palestine -
paid by American Taxpayer
+6 # Billsy 2012-02-17 13:35
Considering their lack of investigative insight into events leading up to our misguided invasion of Iraq, I don't think the NYT or Thomas Friedman have ANY credibility when it comes to middle east politics.
+6 # SBader 2012-02-17 16:23
Robt Eagle when saying '..Israel has made a paradise out of the desert through modern techniques and...' is ignoring the crux of the matter that most Israelis are Europeans, and that their wonderful efforts are carried out in a land acquired through the 19th century principle of "conquest", ( the proceeds of which were later transferred !! ??) FGS; and based on the equally outdated notion that "backward" people are savages, and may be treated with contempt.
The current paradigm, staged against an "Islamic" background is to revive those very principles of "might is right". The 20th century was Marxist aberation.
+4 # C. Winslow 2012-02-17 21:55
There is so much to say about Israel: its birth as an outcome of the European Enlightenment, its proportional election system that allows its most retrograde and incompetent citizens to lever the Knesset into policies that do not offer genuine reciprocity, its evolution from an inspired democratic vision to a near police state (majoritarian autocracy); and its vision, from Herzel on, for real selfhood and independence to dependence on the dole from the U.S. government and its Jewish and evangelical supporters. Zionism, which once was a visionary movement, is now entirely devoted to public relations. Israel's nuclear weapons may well attract some misguided opponent's missiles to the plane of Megiddo, and then we would have our own Christian crazies calling it Ar-Meggedon. For those who understand the technical elements of strategic theory, Israel cannot be nuclearly invulnerable; it can never possess 2nd strike capability (because of its size). Tragically, it must strike first. Very unstable nuclear equation. Now the focus is on Iran, but down the road it will be another country. Would that some important Israelis would consult Deutero-Isaiah and turn to genuine reciprocity as a step toward persuading Muslims to do the same, viz. the arbitrary concept in the Sunnah that any land once in the Ummah must someday be returned to it. I pray to God the one great gift he could bestow, the gift of secularism and, thus, some protection from the nonsense we get from clerics.
+2 # Activista 2012-02-18 00:47
Dr. Winslow ..
sad that any deeper analysis will not reach mass media. Would like to have your opinion on nuclear free Middle East.
And opinion who started 1967 war -
maps show great expansion of Israel -zero sum game.
0 # reiverpacific 2012-02-18 20:12
Quoting Activista:
Dr. Winslow ..
sad that any deeper analysis will not reach mass media. Would like to have your opinion on nuclear free Middle East.
And opinion who started 1967 war -
maps show great expansion of Israel -zero sum game.

How about an "America-free" Middle east? The other would possibly follow unless Israel's LIKUD's just fire and ask questions later.
Ah well, nice thought.
+1 # C. Winslow 2012-02-18 21:01
Unfortunately, "deeper analysis" involves getting a message to a public that is not conceptually able to deal with enough of the elements of the problem to do more than react to the most recent calamity. I can well understand why Ken, who labors under a car all day at Joe's Transmission, does not understand Middle East turmoil. Talk to Ken awhile and he is entirely at sea on the subject, much as I am when it comes to computers. I favor a nuclear free Middle East; I also favor the 1st or 2nd coming of the Messiah--or in his/her stead, the return of Mozart. I was in the 1967 War but learned little about it until a month after it ended, evacuation took some time. Israel preempted two hazards, (1)that the Russians would stoke the Syrians to force Nasser's hand and (2) that they wouldn't (with Hubert Humphrey forcing Israeli concessions in order to appease Nasser). Israel struck before Humphrey could get to Cairo. Of course, the Israelis were not unhappy with getting control over all of British Palestine and the Heights on the shoulder of Jabal ash-Shaikh. Controlling the whole of the Sinai was a strategic liability for the IDF. The conflict is probably best depicted as a very strong Prisoner' Dilemma, with each side defecting on every move. The negative-sum cell for the Arab (Palestinian) side offers it a larger loss than what the Israelis face. The U.S. pays some of these costs for both sides but gives more to the smaller Israeli deficit. Zero-sum psychologically .
0 # C. Winslow 2012-02-18 21:08
Winslow again. I should have written plain instead of "plane" in my initial comment. Also, concerning the zero-sum elements of the Israeli-Palesti nian conflict, one could say that the more that the decision makers see all transactions in strictly zero-sum terms, the stronger the dilemma in the PD conflict structure.
+1 # C. Winslow 2012-02-20 11:00
Dear Pacific, An "America-Free Middle East is a prospect so wonderful to dream about; it would save our taxpayers so much money that we could catch up to China in the area of mass transportation. The only way it could happen would be to create some sort of transnational rapid deployment force that would act in our stead. We are gradually evolving toward something of this sort, but it is not likely to be workable until my great grandchildren are getting their doctorates. I do hope that Israel's friends in this country can eventually be persuaded to oppose many of the crazy ideas that levers the Knesset's leadership into taking. But in all candor, Israel's vulnerability is palpable, and it will take several loci of power to alleviate its fire alarm situation--now and in the future.

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