People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 09

March 03, 2013


How not to do Journalism:

Iran Ring Magnets, a Chennai Trader & a Chinese Website


Prabir Purkayastha


THE Times of India has recently (February 17, 2013) carried in its front page a report that ISIS – “global watchdog” – has linked a Chennai based company, an Iranian company and a Chinese commercial website in trying to procure ring magnets for centrifuges in Iran. There are three major problems with the story. The ring magnets of the type that ISIS claims  Iran is trying to smuggle from China or India is widely used in various devices; nor does the dimensions – contrary to ISS claims – match the IR-1centrifuge requirement. The second is that ISIS is not a globally recognised institution but is a virtual one man show of David Albright. After floating scary Iraq stories, he has now become the main purveyor of dubious claims about Iran. The third is that so-called attempt of smuggling contraband nuclear equipment is nothing but an innocuous electronic enquiry in 2011 on a commercial Chinese web site, set-up for facilitating contacts between suppliers and buyers.


The Chennai firm – Ferrito Plastronics – is a small one trading in various electrical parts and it would be very surprising indeed if it becomes a conduit in breaching Iran sanctions. But an attempt to ratchet up the war hysteria in the US on Iran can have serious commercial consequences for this company. Very often what stays in public minds is not that this claim was a completely unfounded one, but this company was complicit in some dubious deals. And Ferrito, sitting here, has very little recourse to legal action against ISIS and David Albright.


It is not surprising that Times of India should have fallen prey to ISIS stories. Washington Post was the first major media outlet to carry this story, followed by others. Since David Albright is quoted with all seriousness by western media, lazy journalism that has now become the norm in India would be unlikely to research such claims any further.


First, the ferrite core ring magnets for the Iran centrifuge story. The ISIS story claims that they have verified that the ring magnets have the same dimension as those required by the IR-1 centrifuges. IR-1 centrifuges are used for enrichment of uranium, the bone of contention between the western powers and Iran. However, by their own admission, the tolerances are of a half-per cent, while the tolerances would have to be less than 1/10th of that to allow for it to work in a centrifuge. Simply put, such dimensional tolerances are not possible if equipment has to be mounted on shafts as they have to be in the IR-1 centrifuge. This makes clear that these ring magnets are required for non-contact type applications, probably acoustics. In any case, contrary to ISIS claims, the barium-strontium ferrite core ring magnets are quite common and have wide applications in various industries including, for example, common loudspeakers.


The second is how legitimate is ISIS as an institution and how credible is its sole expert David Albright? ISIS was set up by David Albright and has emerged over time as the voice of the war lobby -- earlier on Iraq and now on Iran. It has repeatedly been found to have hyped IAEA reports, leaked intelligence reports from Israel and the US sources and has been caught out a number of times in manufacturing “scare stories”. It is also the source of many of the “Iran is using Parchin to test the bomb” stories.


David Albright claims to be a former weapons inspector and a physicist. The media routinely calls him Dr Albright and a physicist, implying that he has a Ph.D. in physics. In fact, as a physicist, Albright never worked in any research facility let alone a nuclear one, and his doctorate is an honorary one from Wright State University. His stint as a weapons inspector was about one year in Iraq with the IAEA, an experience which has now been hyped to make him out as a major expert on nuclear weapons.


This does not mean that Albright does not have the right to talk or write about nuclear issues. But his authority on the subject is very much like any of us – any of us with a modicum of English and arithmetic, can become an “expert” using the Internet. In his case, he is very well connected.  The Israeli and the US intelligence agencies routinely use him and his institute as a conduit for planting scare stories on Iran in the media. Incidentally, Albright has dual citizenship – he is also an Israeli citizen and owns a condominium in Haifa.


His main claim to fame is using satellite imagery for “deducing” proliferation activity. This has been the basis of his claims on Parchin. Unfortunately for him, people who have re-examined his claims have concluded that it has very little substance. And this includes people who are basically quite sympathetic to him. 


The third is the so-called illegal procurement attempt. An Iranian company -- Jahan Tech Rooyan Pars Co. in Shiraz – sent an enquiry in late 2011 to a Chinese website called This site is a large internet portal allowing international buyers and sellers to meet. Its task is to collate enquiries and match it to suppliers. That is exactly what the portal did. It had the information of Ferrito Plastronics as its owner had visited a Chinese trade show and dropped his card there. As any portal would do, it matched the information and showed the two together – that if Jahan wanted such supplies, a possible supplier would be Ferrito. Nothing clandestine, nothing surreptitious; just straightforward doing what such sites are expected to do.


Why this should be seen as sanction busting and why the Chinese and Indian governments should warn these entities as ISIS is asking, defies any logic.


This entire story would be a non-story if the Washington Post or Times of India had conducted any serious examination of the facts. In the case of Washington Post, it is very much a part of “let us bomb Iran” lobby in the US; for the Times of India, a juicy headline; for the unfortunate Ferrito Plastronics, quite possibly a death sentence.