Behind the smoke: Gareth Porter and the Iranian nuclear story
Iran’s nuclear program has been a subject of obsession for Western governments and media agencies for decades, as far back as the final years of Western-backed Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi’s reign. But over the course of the last decade, the subject has reached new hysterical heights, propelled by mainstream media coverage mired with distortion and misinformation. Enter: Gareth Porter.
Porter, 71 years old, is a man of many trades. He is a historian, an author, a policy analyst, and of late, has made a name for himself as a successful investigative journalist.
He began his career in journalism during the US war on Vietnam, serving as the Saigon Bureau Chief for the Dispatch News Service International from 1970-71. He then decided to leave journalism for decades, working in a variety of jobs as an anti-war activist, a university teacher, and sustainable development environment work.
It was after another American war at the dawn of the 21st century, this time against Afghanistan and Iraq, that Porter found himself back into the journalistic fold, mainly writing for the InterPress Service.
“It was only from the year 2000 I started writing this book on Vietnam, how the Americans went to war there. It was such an eye-opener. I realized that the problem of America’s wanton wars was not the problem of a president gone wrong or starting from the wrong values or ideas. It was a systemic problem that the war state was the real problem. That has shaped my political consciousness and my scholarship in journalism ever since then,” Porter told Al-Akhbar.
While working on the book, titled “Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam”, which was eventually published in 2005, Porter started to write investigative journalistic articles, the first of which was on how Iraqi Kurdish groups were stealing and forging parliamentary elections at the time.
“That’s what started me on the road of becoming an investigative journalist. I never imagined it would happen but it just developed really quickly,” he said with a light laugh.
Porter started covering the Iranian nuclear issue in 2006; at first, he said, he had believed the overall narrative produced by various agencies.
One key evidence used in the allegations by the West of Iran’s attempts to militarize its nuclear program is the more than one thousand pages of documents that were supposedly acquired from the laptop of an Iranian nuclear scientist by intelligence agencies. They are known informally as the “Laptop Documents.”
But when Porter decided to examine the evidence presented against Iran, he began to discover certain anomalies.
“I went back to look at the recent history of the Iran nuclear issue, and that is when I came across a Wall Street Journal article quoting a German foreign office official, Karsten Voigt, saying this very intriguing thing: ‘Don’t rely on these documents because they came from an Iranian dissident group’ – meaning Mujihedin-E-Khalq (MEK).”
“It pushed me in the direction of questioning the narrative. As time went by I saw more and more of the pieces that didn’t fit the puzzle, particularly about these Laptop Documents,” he added.
In late 2007, Porter met with a German source in Washington DC, and asked him about the Wall Street Journal article. The German source confirmed Voigt’s statement, and thus cemented Porter’s belief that there was more to the story. He began working full-time examining the various evidence and raging debates over Iran’s nuclear program.
Many of his articles, however, have never garnered the attention of the mainstream press and traditional policy institutions within the US.
“The feedback was very weak. The biggest problem, of course, is that the news media and political elite in the US are very powerful, don’t need to respond to information and analysis that contradicts their narratives,” Porter said in regards to the reasons behind this general disinterest in his reports.
Nevertheless, his work in uncovering propaganda and unveiling uncomfortable truths about the problematic narratives regarding Iran’s nuclear program earned him the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism, an annual award given by the London-based Frontline Club that celebrates courageous and ground-breaking journalism.
“The single biggest factor driving the elite’s obsession over Iran as a threat and as an enemy is that the basic premise was laid down early at the end of the Cold War,” Porter explained in terms of the reasons behind the American and European honing in on the Islamic republic.
“That the US must take a hand in constraining and preventing Iran from extending its power. It became a fundamental premise of post-Cold War US policy. It fit the interests of the national security state and the Israeli lobby together. Once that happened, and pretty quickly during the Clinton Administration, successive governments naturally followed the general lines set down.”
“Even Obama, just in the early days of office, had the NSA and Israelis come in and tell him about their plans for a cyberwar against Iran. Here he is, a guy who is allegedly planning to enter serious diplomatic engagement with Iran, was essentially conspiring with the Israelis to carry out cyberwarfare. He was going to be the first president to wage cyberwar against another country. That’s very serious,” Porter further remarked.
Overall, Porter mused, the biggest obstacles to any attempt to work out a deal with Iran and end a consideration of military action comes down to Israel.
“Even if there was a settlement of the issue that led to détente between the US and Iran, both of which I’m skeptical about, that would not change the Israeli point of view – which is they have to possess nuclear weapons to maintain superiority over every other country in the Middle East,” he said.
Porter has authored a new book entitled “Manufactured Crisis: The Secret History of the Iranian Nuclear Scare,” which recounts his journalistic work on the allegations about Iran’s nuclear program by the Americans and Israelis since 2006, and discusses in greater detail the numerous evidences and counter-evidences at play.
He recently presented a round table discussion on the topic and his book at the Issam Fares Institute (IFI) building within the American University of Beirut campus on June 9.
Below is the video of the entire talk, and subsequent discussion between Porter and the audience, posted on YouTube by IFI: