By Mark Wachtler
August 24, 2014. San Francisco. (ONN) If you live in America, you probably haven’t heard of Operation Merlin, even though it’s now 14 years old. But President Obama and AG Eric Holder are about to put a NY Times reporter in prison for trying to tell the American people. Since the story’s out, you should probably know - the CIA accidentally gave Iran the blueprints to build their own nuclear bombs. And the Agency has spent the past 14 years terrorizing its own agents and the one journalist who broke the story in a desperate effort to keep the American people and the world from finding out.
NY Times reporter James Risen is about to go to prison for refusing to reveal the CIA whistleblower. Image courtesy of Meet the Press.
Thanks to America’s iron curtain of censorship, chances are you won’t be hearing about this story from any Wall Street owned new outlets. And for the record, we at Whiteout Press don’t know what to be more shocked at - the fact that the CIA gave Iran nuclear bomb blueprints 14 years ago or the fact that we just found out about it last week! Once again, the American people can thank The Guardian newspaper in the UK for telling them the truth about their own government, something American media corporations stopped doing decades ago.
This story begins in the late 1990’s during the Clinton administration. Syria, Iraq, Iran, North Korea and a handful of other countries were desperately trying to develop nuclear weapons. Israeli bombs and missiles destroyed the Syrian and Iraqi attempts. But North Korea and Iran were too closed off and intelligence about their programs was too elusive. So the CIA came up with its own secret operation to thwart Iran’s nuclear bomb program, or at least set it back a decade.
In early 2000, working out of CIA facilities in San Francisco, field agents, supervisors, agency nuclear experts and one little-known Russian nuclear scientist were brought together to go over a secret operation approved by President Clinton. The Russian had been a seldom-used CIA asset being paid $5,000 per month ever since he defected from Russia a few years earlier. Now, he couldn’t believe what his employer was ordering him to do. He was to take blueprints for a nuclear bomb and deliver them to Iranian scientists while they were traveling in Europe.
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The Russian scientist immediately noticed something that was supposed to be a secret - the design on the blueprints had a glaring mistake. The reluctant Russian CIA operative had just discovered what the Agency had insisted wouldn’t be detected by anyone, not even the Russian nuclear expert, and certainly not the Iranian nuclear experts. With low level agents quietly asking if the operation should be terminated, high level CIA bosses ordered everyone to continue as planned.
Delivering the blueprints to the Iranians
The report from the Guardian describes how, ‘The CIA had given him the nuclear blueprints and then sent him to Vienna to sell them - or simply give them - to the Iranian representatives to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). With the Russian doing its bidding, the CIA appeared to be about to help Iran leapfrog one of the last remaining engineering hurdles blocking its path to a nuclear weapon.’
According to a CIA whistleblower, and detailed in the 2006 book ‘State of War’ written by NY Times journalist James Risen, the CIA agent assigned to handle their Russian nuclear scientist was already experiencing some regret, wondering if he would be the one called before a Congressional inquiry as the individual who handed nuclear bomb blueprints over to Iran. As fate and the Bush and Obama administrations would have it, the agent had nothing to worry about. It’s the whistleblower and NY Times reporter that have been arrested for espionage for exposing the horrifying secret.
The Guardian details how the Russian CIA agent sat in Vienna, with nuclear bomb blueprints and afraid for his life. He feared the glaring error on the design was so obvious, the Iranians would be sure to see it too. And he feared they would kidnap, torture and execute him for trying to sell them faulty blueprints. So the Russian nuclear scientist did what nobody in the CIA ever thought he’d do. He opened the top secret package his handlers ordered him not to open and he inserted his own hand-written note warning the Iranians about the error he knew they’d see anyway. His hope was that instead of seeing him as a threat, they would now see him as an honest business partner, and maybe not kill him.
As it turned out, the Russian was so terrified of being taken by the Iranians, that when he went to the Vienna office where the Iranian scientists were working, he simply left the package inside their door without interacting with anyone. The CIA assumed his mission had been accomplished when NSA personnel in Austria sent word back to Washington that the top Iranian nuclear scientist had abruptly cancelled all his plans in Vienna and was immediately returning to Tehran.
Biggest screw-up in CIA history, and it’s not this one
How did Operation Merlin turn out? Was it a success? Did the Iranians ever find the flaw in the blueprints? The US intelligence community has no idea because not long after the CIA used the Russian defector to hand-deliver the blueprints to Iran, the most deadly and costly CIA mistake in known history occurred.
Since the advent of modern, covert communications equipment, the CIA has been communicating with its secret agents via small encrypted transmitters and receivers. Communication specialists working out of CIA headquarters in the US routinely exchange secret, coded messages with agents in countries all over the world. But on this fateful day, the CIA employee working the Iran desk accidentally sent the wrong file to one of the Agency’s secret agents in Tehran. This file contained the entire list of secret CIA agents working inside Iran at the time. The Iranian recipient, thought to be a paid CIA operative, was actually a double-agent who was really working for the Iranian intelligence service.
Readers may remember an episode in 2004 when Iranian officials announced they had discovered dozens of American CIA agents working inside Iran. The Iranians gloated that they had been taken into custody and executed. Bush administration officials dismissed the announcement as untrue Iranian propaganda. But soon thereafter, Israeli officials confirmed they had lost Mossad agents in Iran and feared they were dead. Even worse, both countries’ intelligence apparatuses were panicking over what additional intelligence had been divulged by their agents while being tortured by their Iranian counterparts.
The Guardian report describes how US intelligence officials still refuse to come to terms with the events that took place, both with the bomb blueprints and with accidentally turning over the agent list to the Iranians.
‘Mistake piled on mistake,’ the account reads, ‘As the CIA later learned, the Iranian who received the download was a double agent. The agent quickly turned the data over to Iranian security officials, and it enabled them to "roll up" the CIA's network throughout Iran. CIA sources say that several of the Iranian agents were arrested and jailed, while the fates of some of the others is still unknown. This espionage disaster, of course, was not reported. It left the CIA virtually blind in Iran, unable to provide any significant intelligence on one of the most critical issues facing the US - whether Tehran was about to go nuclear.’
Journalist exhausts all legal defenses over Espionage charge
NY Times journalist James Risen was contacted at this time by a whistleblower inside the CIA that participated in Operation Merlin. Risen passed the information he was given to his bosses at the paper, but they refused to break the Washington-imposed black-out. So James Risen published the information himself in the book he authored in 2006 titled, ‘State of War’. Once the book came out, the NY Times finally published the story too, after sitting on it for over a year.
Last week, a follow-up report from The Guardian detailed how James Risen is now on the verge of going to prison for refusing to name the CIA whistleblower who exposed the botched Operation Merlin. With the US Supreme Court refusing to intervene on his behalf and on behalf of freedom of the press, nothing stands in the way of President Obama and AG Eric Holder’s prosecuting Risen under the Espionage Act for publishing his book ‘State of War’, which won the Pulitzer Prize.
Just last week, Risen’s supporters delivered 100,000 petition signatures to the US Justice Department asking Eric Holder to drop the charges of Espionage against James Risen. For his part, Risen doesn’t mince words when asked about his ordeal and how half of America still erroneously believes that President Obama is a good man. “It’s hypocritical,” Risen says, “A lot of people still think this is some kind of game or signal or spin. They don’t want to believe that Obama wants to crack down on the press and whistleblowers. But he does. He’s the greatest enemy to press freedom in a generation.”