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The Nuclear Expert Who Never Was
Posted on Jun 26, 2008
By Scott Ritter
But an analyst must be viewed in the proper perspective, and this begins by correctly defining who and what one is. David Albright is not a former U.N. weapons inspector, but rather an accidental tourist. To call oneself a weapons inspector suggests that one participated in the totality of the inspection process, and as such can converse readily, based on firsthand experience, about the total spectrum of issues that entails. Albright, based on his flimsy résumé in this regard, is not capable of such, and therefore should stop referring to himself in this manner, and encourage the media to do the same. Likewise, all reference to Albright as “Dr. Albright” should be eliminated, as should any reference which places the words physicist and nuclear in proximity. Let his work be judged on its own merit, and not camouflaged behind misleading perceptions created through false advertising.
In that he never has designed or worked in a nuclear reactor, never has designed or worked on nuclear weapons, in fact never has done anything of a practical, hands-on nature in the nuclear field, to call Albright an expert is a disservice to the term and, again, misleading in the extreme. It is not a sin to merely be informed, or to possess a specialty. But informed specialists are a dime a dozen. There is a reason mainstream media do not turn to bloggers when seeking out expert opinion. And yet, when they turn to “Dr. Albright, former U.N. weapons inspector,” they are getting little more than a well-funded, well-connected blogger. If one takes a closer look at the ISIS Report published by Albright on June 16 and widely quoted in the press since then, one will realize that there simply isn’t any substance to the allegations. Albright’s sole source seems to be a single, unnamed IAEA official, bringing to mind Bob Kelley and his role in facilitating Albright’s “access” to the IAEA in the 1990s. The remainder of the report comprises information already available to the general public, or sheer speculation.
This is, of course, the problem when someone who is not an expert on a given subject attempts to portray himself as just that. Lacking in the foundation of knowledge and experience which generally is expected of a genuine expert, the false “expert” commits error after error, not only of the factual sort but also in judgment. Had Albright in fact been a true nuclear expert, especially one fortified with firsthand experience as a former U.N. weapons inspector, he would not have had any association with Khidir Hamza, the disgraced Iraqi defector who claimed to have firsthand knowledge of Saddam Hussein’s nuclear program. A true nuclear expert would have recognized the technical impossibilities and inconsistencies in Hamza’s fabrications. And a genuine former U.N. weapons inspector would have known that Hamza had been fingered as a fraud by the IAEA and UNSCOM. David Albright instead employed Hamza as an analyst with ISIS from 1997 until 1999.
Albright likewise facilitated the story of former Iraqi nuclear scientist Mahdi Obeidi being told to the world. As a “former U.N. weapons inspector,” Albright had a passing knowledge of Obeidi; the Iraqi was among the scientists that the IAEA team Albright served on questioned in June 1996 (Albright himself claims to have personally questioned Obeidi). Albright helped sell Obeidi’s story about buried uranium centrifuge parts to the media, even though a true nuclear expert would have known that what Obeidi claims to have hidden possessed absolutely no value in the field of nuclear enrichment, and any former U.N. weapons inspector worth his or her salt would have recognized the inconsistencies and improbabilities in the Obeidi story.
David Albright has a history of being used by those who seek to gain media attention for their respective claims. In addition to the Hamza and Obeidi fiascos, Albright and his organization, ISIS, have served as the conduit for other agencies gaining publicity about the alleged Iranian nuclear weapons program, the alleged Syrian nuclear reactor, and most recently the alleged Swiss computer containing sensitive nuclear design information. On each occasion, Albright is fed sensitive information from a third party, and then packages it in a manner that is consumable by the media. The media, engrossed with Albright’s misleading résumé (“former U.N. weapons inspector,” “Doctor,” “physicist” and “nuclear expert”), give Albright a full hearing, during which time the particulars the third-party source wanted made public are broadcast or printed for all the world to see. More often than not, it turns out that the core of the story pushed by Albright is, in fact, wrong.
While Iran did indeed possess uranium enrichment capability at Natanz and a heavy water plant (under construction) at Arak (as reported by Albright thanks to information provided by the Iranian opposition group MEK, most probably with the help of Israeli intelligence), Albright’s wild speculation about weapons-grade plutonium and highly enriched uranium proved to be wrong. There was indeed a building in Syria that was bombed by Israel. But Albright’s expert opinion, derived from his interpretation of photographs, consists of nothing more than simplistic observation (“The tall building in the image may house a reactor under construction and the pump station along the river may have been intended to supply cooling water to the reactor”) combined with unfocused questions that assumed much, but were in fact based on little (“How far along was the reactor construction project when it was bombed? What was the extent of nuclear assistance from North Korea? Which reactor components did Syria obtain from North Korea or elsewhere, and where are they now?”). And, most recently, we have Albright commenting about the contents of a computer he hasn’t even laid eyes on, though he feels confident enough to raise the specter of global nuclear catastrophe (“How will authorities learn if Iran, North Korea, or even terrorists bought these designs?” Albright asks when referring to the contents of the Swiss computer).
Nowhere in his résumé does Albright cite any formal training as a photographic interpreter; in any case, one would have to have an intimate knowledge of nuclear facilities in order to know what one was looking at when examining an aerial image. A genuine nuclear weapons expert would have been able to discern the technical faults in the logic of the stories being peddled by Albright. And a genuine former U.N. weapons inspector, well versed in preparing airtight investigations based upon verified intelligence information, would have balked at the shabby nature of the evidence provided. Again, because Albright is neither, he and ISIS play the role of patsy, the middleman peddling misinformation to a media too lazy to conduct their own due diligence before running with a story.
Albright, operating under the guise of his creation, ISIS, has a track record of inserting hype and speculation about matters of great sensitivity in a manner which skews the debate toward the worst-case scenario. Over time Albright often moderates his position, but the original sensationalism still remains, serving the purpose of imprinting a negative image in the psyche of public opinion. This must stop. It is high time the mainstream media began dealing with David Albright for what he is (a third-rate reporter and analyst), and what he isn’t (a former U.N. weapons inspector, doctor, nuclear physicist or nuclear expert). It is time for David Albright, the accidental inspector, to exit stage right. Issues pertaining to nuclear weapons and their potential proliferation are simply too serious to be handled by amateurs and dilettantes.
Scott Ritter was a U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998.
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