Mar 10, 2014
The Nuclear Expert Who Never Was
Posted on Jun 26, 2008
By Scott Ritter
In the November/December 1995 issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Albright wrote an article, co-authored with Robert Kelley, titled “Has Iraq come clean at last?” I know Bob Kelley. In August 1992, it was Kelley, then deputy to Action Team leader Maurizio Zifferero, who helped me and other UNSCOM inspectors gain access to the Iraqi documents under IAEA control. Kelley was, and is, a great safeguards inspector, and among his many accomplishments is his leading role in directing the IAEA’s investigation into South Africa’s unilaterally dismantled nuclear weapons program in the mid-1990s. Bob Kelley had served as David Albright’s “in” at the IAEA since 1992, when he started providing Albright with access to some of the IAEA’s information on Iraq’s nuclear program. The decision to jointly author an article on Iraq was a big step toward legitimizing what had been, up until that time, an informal relationship.
The joint article with Kelley gave Albright a legitimacy within the IAEA, to the extent that there were no objections when Kelley recommended inviting Albright to participate in a surge of inspections. It was during the aftermath of the defection of Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law, Hussein Kamal, in August 1995, and the subsequent turning over of a massive quantity of previously hidden documents, including those pertaining to nuclear issues. These activities served as the framework around which Albright and Kelley wrote their article. The June 1996 inspection Albright participated in was his one and only foray into Iraq as a weapons inspector. He was not a chief inspector, nor a deputy chief inspector, nor an operations officer. He was a minor member of the team, Bob Kelley’s bag boy, who for the most part was there to observe. In a round-table discussion with Iraqi nuclear scientists, attended by all of the inspectors, Albright was able to ask a few questions, not from the standpoint of an IAEA expert, but more as an informed tourist.
I was in Iraq at the time, spearheading the very controversial UNSCOM 150 inspection, which found our team barred from entering several sensitive sites in and around Baghdad. On the few occasions when I was able to spend some down time at the U.N. headquarters on Canal Street, I would catch up with the status of the other inspections taking place in Iraq at the same time, including the one Albright was attached to. From all accounts, his lone stint as an inspector was at best unremarkable. He was a dilettante in every sense of the word, a Walter Mitty-like character in a world of genuine U.N. inspectors. There was recognition among most involved that bringing an outsider such as David Albright into the inspection process was a mistake. Not only did he lack any experience in the nuclear weapons field (being an outsider with only secondhand insight into limited aspects of the Iraqi program), he had no credibility with the Iraqi nuclear scientists, and his questions, void of any connectivity with the considerable record of interaction between the IAEA and Iraq, were not taken seriously by either side. Albright left Iraq in June 1996, and was never again invited back.
This is the reality of the relationship between Albright and the IAEA, and the singular event in his life which he uses as the justification for prominently promoting himself as a “former U.N. inspector.” While not outright fraud, Albright’s self-promoted relationship with the IAEA, and his status as a “former U.N. inspector,” is at best disingenuous, all the more so since he exploits this misleading biographical data in his ongoing effort to insert himself into the public eye as a nuclear weapons expert, a title not supported by anything in his life experience.
At best, Albright is an observer of things nuclear. But to associate his sub-par physics pedigree with genuine nuclear weapons-related work is, like his self-promotion as a “former U.N. weapons inspector,” disingenuous in the extreme. His lack of any advanced educational training as a nuclear physicist, combined with his dearth of practical experience with things nuclear, is further exacerbated by his astounding assumption of the title Doctor. In 2007 Albright received an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Wright State University. This honorary award is a recognition that should never be belittled, but it in no way elevates Albright to the status of one who has undergone the formal educational training and has actually earned a doctorate, especially in the demanding field of nuclear physics. While I cannot find any evidence of Albright promoting his honorary title in a manner that indicates direct fraud on his part (i.e., falsely claiming to be a Ph.D. in physics), there are far too many instances where he is referred to by those who interview him as being both “Dr. Albright” and a “physicist” that the uninformed reader might be misled into believing that the two were somehow connected.
Albright has spent the past decade building a solid reputation as an analyst of nuclear issues. One only need look at the impressive work he and ISIS have done on the issue of North Korea to understand the potential he brings to the table as an outside observer on nuclear matters. Informed interest, combined with sustained access to critical personalities on both sides of an issue, makes for insights and opinions that contribute in a positive manner to the overall public discourse. No one who is interested in facilitating informed debate, discussion and dialogue about issues such as those facing us in North Korea, Iran and elsewhere can deny the value Albright brings to the table. That his insight into these matters should be shared with members of the media is likewise something that should be encouraged.
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