The Three-fer

(Minor editing for presentation. 12:30 pm Eastern – promoted by ek hornbeck)

It’s only been three years since the New York Times publicly apologized for promoting Bush Administration fairy tales about Iraqi WMD, and still the Grey Lady continues to carry heavy water for the Bush Administration, this time regurgitating Neocon lies claims that the target of the Israeli bombing strike in Syria was a nuclear facility.

WASHINGTON, Oct. 13 – Israel’s air attack on Syria last month was directed against a site that Israeli and American intelligence analysts judged was a partly constructed nuclear reactor, apparently modeled on one North Korea has used to create its stockpile of nuclear weapons fuel, according to American and foreign officials with access to the intelligence reports.

Many details remain unclear, most notably how much progress the Syrians had made in construction before the Israelis struck, the role of any assistance provided by North Korea, and whether the Syrians could make a plausible case that the reactor was intended to produce electricity. In Washington and Israel, information about the raid has been wrapped in extraordinary secrecy and restricted to just a handful of officials, while the Israeli press has been prohibited from publishing information about the attack.

See how easy it is to make a news story seem credible?  Just quote some unnamed Administration officials with access to reports they can’t otherwise talk about, and Voila!

Instant nukes, ready for framing!

Of course, you might expect professional (or at least competent) journalists to make some attempt to corroborate these bombastic reports, especially considering the Times’ embarrassing track record when it comes to the topic of WMD in Middle Eastern countries. Right?


Happily embracing a propagandist fiction that the veracity of anonymous ‘American and foreign (read Israeli) officials’ is unimpeachable (ahem), trusting Times’ reporters apparently feel no need to provide even a single, independent source to back up the Bush Administration’s claim that the Syrians were breaking ground on a nuclear facility at Deir ez-ZorNot one.

Fool me once….

Yet even as the stenographer’s pool at the Times continues to pass off mere dictation of BushCo bunker fantasies as honest reporting, serious analysts in the real world remain convinced the target was NOT a nuclear facility.

Last week I blogged Laura Rozen’s report that the real target of the Israeli raid was a shipment of SCUD missile parts from North Korea.

Dair el Zor(sic) houses a huge underground base where the Syrian army stores the long and medium-range missiles it mostly buys from Iran and North Korea. The attack by the Israeli air force coincided with the arrival of a stock of parts for Syria’s 200 Scud B and 60 Scud C weapons.

The story goes that the US Navy was unable to interdict the missile shipment in Moroccan waters, so the Israelis waited until the parts arrived at their final destination in Syria before taking them out.

Dr. Jeffrey Lewis at Arms Control Wonk (think Juan Cole for the nuclear set) calls Syrian nuclear claims silly. Professor Lewis also believes the Israeli strike targeted missile parts, and quotes strategic analyst Chris Nelson:

In fact, as our headline, above, notes, we have absolutely solid information that the Israeli bombing raid on Syria was aimed at…and took out…missiles and/or weapons parts. Period.

All the stories being floated about Israeli intelligence sources hinting that it was a North Korean/Syrian nuclear weapons project, or site, are BS, albeit of varying motivation.

What remains under some debate is whether the missiles/parts can be 100% ascribed to N. Korea. Most unclassified evidence … points at Pyongyang.

Dr Lewis further points out that a 2004 Directorate of National Intelligence (DNI) WMD report (PDF) is consistent with a North Korean missile shipment.

From the DNI report:

Syria-an NPT signatory with full-scope IAEA safeguards-has nuclear research facilities at Dayr Al Hajar and Dubaya. In 2004 Syria continued to develop civilian nuclear capabilities, including uranium extraction technology and hot cell facilities, which may also be potentially applicable to a weapons program. Pakistani investigators in late January 2004 said they had “confirmation” of an IAEA allegation that A.Q. Khan offered nuclear technology and hardware to Syria, according to Pakistani press, and we are concerned that expertise or technology could have been transferred. We continue to monitor Syrian nuclear intentions with concern.

Ballistic Missile.
During 2004, Damascus continued to seek help from abroad to establish a solid-propellant rocket motor development and production capability. Syria’s liquid-propellant missile program continued to depend on essential foreign equipment and assistance-primarily from North Korean entities. Damascus also continued to manufacture liquid-propellant Scud missiles. In addition, Syria was developing longer-range missile programs, such as a Scud D and possibly other variants, with assistance from North Korea and Iran.

Basically, the DNI report not only confirms an ongoing arms relationship between North Korea and Syria for missiles and parts, but also suggests that if the Syrians were actually interested in acquiring nukes, the most likely supplier would be Pakistan, not North Korea.  (I’d also point out that the Syrian nuclear facilities identified in the DNI report are hundreds of kilometers from the site of the Israeli attack.)

Finally, the highly respected SIPRI has a nice overview on the history and extent of Syrian nuclear development, which states:

Syria possesses what appears to be a nascent nuclear programme and limited nuclear infrastructure. Though this country has been mentioned as a potential nuclear proliferation risk, there is little evidence that it has ever had serious nuclear weapons ambitions.

Here’s another question. Why on earth would North Korea start developing a nuclear relationship with Syria now, especially when North Korea is in the process dismantling its own nuclear program?

[T]alks produced the February 13 accord under which impoverished, food-short North Korea is to dismantle its nuclear programs and jettison its weapons in return for economic assistance, security guarantees and diplomatic relations with the United States.

North Korea shut down its main plutonium-producing reactor at Yongbyon in July and received 50,000 tons of fuel oil from South Korea.

The answer is, of course, that North Korea has absolutely no reason whatsoever to jeopardize its nuclear dismantlement deal with the major powers just to sell nuclear materials to pariah state Syria. 

There are, however, those in the Administration who would very much like to use a bogus charge of North Korean proliferation to torpedo the dismantlement deal (from the Times article):

Behind closed doors, however, Vice President Dick Cheney and other hawkish members of the administration have made the case that the same intelligence that prompted Israel to attack should lead the United States to reconsider delicate negotiations with North Korea over ending its nuclear program, as well as America’s diplomatic strategy toward Syria, which has been invited to join Middle East peace talks in Annapolis, Md., next month.>

Basically, what we have is a Neo Con Nuclear Three-fer: take out the missiles, discredit the Syrians, and sabotage Korean nuclear dismantlement, all in one shameless disinformation campaign reminiscent of Judy Miller at her worst.

Now that’s what I call renewing your Times’ Home Delivery service….

(x-posted at Hoot at the Dark and Big Orange).

Hat tip to Magnifico.

Major overnight rewrite as well as a title change to avoid unintentionally copying this article at HuffPo.  It seems I’m not the first to notice the resurrection of some very bad journalistic habits at the New York Times.


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  1. I learned from Billmon.

  2. Looks better your way.

    • on October 14, 2007 at 21:30

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