The not-so-real ayatollah

David Albright’s credentials called into question

This blog has on several occasions called out David Albright’s high-profile reports on nuclear proliferation as being not alright. That they use facts to insinuate pre-determined conclusions, that they don’t have much by way of real analysis and that the timing of their release raises serious questions as to Mr Albright’s (and his principals’) real intentions. [See links to related posts below]

Now Mr Albright’s credentials have been questioned by Scott Ritter, a member of the international nuclear expert community, in a damning article on Truthdig (via Arms Control Wonk). Mr Albright, it turns out, is not much of a Non Proliferation Ayatollah at all

…David Albright has a track record of making half-baked analyses derived from questionable sources seem mainstream. He breathes false legitimacy into these factually challenged stories by cloaking himself in a résumé which is disingenuous in the extreme. Eventually, one must begin to question the motives of Albright and ISIS. No self-respecting think tank would allow itself to be used in such an egregious manner. The fact that ISIS is a creation of Albright himself, and as such operates as a mirror image of its founder and president, only underscores the concerns raised when an individual lacking in any demonstrable foundation of expertise has installed himself into the mainstream media in a manner that corrupts the public discourse and debate by propagating factually incorrect, illogical and misleading information.

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. [Truthdig]

Mr Ritter points out that far from being a UN weapons inspector, he was “an outsider with questions”, “an informed tourist”, a “bag-boy” and a “dilettante”. He goes on to say:

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.

Related Posts: Albright’s attempts cast doubts on India’s record on non-proliferation; and coming up with ‘revelations’ about Pakistan’s activities at convenient times.

3 thoughts on “The not-so-real ayatollah”

  1. Thank you.

    Time the credentials of some other self-proclaimed ‘India/South Asia’ experts is also called similarly lauded.

  2. Great article to expose these so called EXPERTS and TALKING HEADS these hired guns!
    I’ve read Sott Ritter’s article exposing David Albright and his “self promoted claimed expertee”. Albright is a mere opportunist whos expert opinion is lacking substance, experience and basic fundamental scientific knowledge on the very subject he claims to be an expert on……..

  3. Just FYI…

    Dr. Frank Von Hippel, professor of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, wrote this defense of David Albright (on Arms Control Wonk, link at bottom):

    A Nuclear Expert Who Is

    Scott Ritter’s attack on David Albright, “The Nuclear Expert Who Never Was,” suggests that only those who have spent years on the “inside” or have some other official credential are true experts. He is wrong.

    Ritter is correct that Albright’s expertise does not stem from either his participation in IAEA inspections or a PhD in nuclear physics. You can’t get the kind of expertise that Albright has developed that easily. Albright started to work on nuclear-proliferation issues as a researcher in Princeton University’s Program on Science and Global Security. He ultimately established his own NGO, the Institute on Science and International Security (ISIS).

    One measure of Albright’s expertise is the invaluable and authoritative book, Plutonium and Highly Enriched Uranium 1996: World Inventories Capabilities and Policies (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute and Oxford University Press, 1997). Albright was the lead author both alphabetically and in terms of his contributions. As an academic, I would be proud to be a co-author. Indeed, Albright’s two co-authors are senior professors at distinguished universities in the U.K. and Netherlands.

    Albright was not interested in an academic career, however. He decided that it was more important to inform the public debate over nonproliferation – initially through his excellent articles in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and then, as journalists began to beat their way to his door, directly through releases to the media.

    Albright pioneered the use of commercial satellite images to provide independent information on nuclear-related construction in countries of proliferation concern. The ISIS book, Solving the North Korean Nuclear Puzzle that he co-edited with Kevin O’Neill in 2000, is still the most authoritative published work on the subject.

    As Albright became more visible and trusted as an independent expert, insiders with important information began to come to him for help to get their story out. Some governmental experts who disagreed with the CIA claim that the aluminum tubes that Iraq was importing were for manufacturing centrifuges came to Albright, for example, at a critical time in the U.S. debate over Iraq’s supposedly resurgent nuclear-weapons program.

    Albright is also obviously well respected in the IAEA. He is always the first outsider I know to get a copy of the latest IAEA report on the results of its inspections in Iran. This gives him a chance to make a quick analysis to inform the media on the significance of the new findings. I am glad that the media has this alternative to whatever spin the Administration decides to apply.

    Albright’s role has its risks. In a confusing situation, he does not have the luxury of being able to sit on a result for months as is possible in academia. As a result, he has made some mistakes — as we all have. But there is no doubt that the communities of academics, NGOs and journalists who have come to depend upon his analyses are much better off with his guidance than we would be without it. Indeed, in 2006, the American Physical Society, the professional society of American physicists, gave Albright its Joseph A. Burton Forum Award. The citation was “For his tireless and productive efforts to slow the transfer of nuclear weapons technology. He brings a unique combination of deep understanding, objectivity, and effectiveness to this vexed area.”

    I don’t know what set Scott Ritter off but his attack on Albright, while incendiary, is almost completely without substance. There is virtually no discussion of specific issues where he believes Albright was mistaken. Ritter is way off base.

    Frank von Hippel, Professor of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University

    Co-chair International Panel on Fissile Materials

    Former Assistant Director for National Security, White House Office on Science and Technology Policy, 1993-94

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