I’m confused by David Sanger, the New York Times correspondent and author of the important new book on Obama’s covert war policy. Sanger is a complete insider and sometimes sounds like more of a columnist than an investigative reporter. He hung out with Senator Dianne Feinstein at the Aspen Institute. He characterizes Iran as a “direct threat” to U.S. national security in an assumptive manner, as if we should accept this at face value. He was a speaker at the neoconservative Foundation for the Defense of Democracies just two years ago.
I heard Sanger on Leonard Lopate’s show on WNYC last week and was struck by two critical vaguenesses in his claims.
1. On Stuxnet, the American-Israeli worm that attacked the Iranian nuclear program, Sanger is very vague about how much damage it caused. He talks excitedly about “rubble” created by the virus that was brought to the White House. “The program was operating away inside these computer systems in Natanz…. wiping out a certain group of centrifuges deep under ground,” he enthuses.
But as Sanger himself concedes, no one knows if Stuxnet did much damage. “It did work?” Lopate asks (at about 15:00)
It slowed the program. Now there is debate, there’s a very vibrant debate about how long. And many say in the CIA and elsewehre, I think their internal estimate is 18 monthes to two years. Others say it was shorter. The fact of the matter is you’ll never know…
As Rehmat Qadir reported on our site a year back, Sanger’s work at the Times relied on data from international agencies that contradicts his enthusiasm about “wiping out” centrifuges.
“[The Times],” Qadir said, “has excluded the likelihood that the Stuxnet operation was a failed or only minimally-successful experiment that did next to nothing in terms of setting back Iran’s nuclear program, as demonstrated by Stuxnet’s inconsequential effect on the production of low-enriched uranium– an effect documented in the graph below from the very report that The New York Times cites as the authoritative record for the timeline it puts forward, but a graph it failed to report to readers.”
2. Lopate asked Sanger “how many other [covert military] operations” the U.S. has going around the world. And Sanger spoke with great sweep.
“If you look around the world– certainly in Pakistan, certainly in Yemen, certainly in Somalia– this book describes the sort of low level of conflict with Iran. You have to presume that there is a similar kind of operation though probably not as intense with North Korea. It’s a pretty good list right there. that is an effort to just sort of beat back what the US perceives as its greatest, most urgent threats.”
If the U.S. is conducting a covert war with North Korea of nearly the intensity of the one it is conducting against Iran, why isn’t that in the news? Why isn’t the Times uncovering that with anything like the vigor it has put into exposing Saddam’s fearsome weapons of mass destruction, and now Iran’s ambitions? Is North Korea really a great and urgent threat to our national security? Is Iran? Don’t count on Sanger to open up these questions to any real scrutiny.
And yes, this is a story about the Israel lobby. If North Korea is a real threat to us, and we’re conducting secret hostilities against it, you’d think it would be a big story. The governing factor here is that Iran is thought to threaten Israel.