Sham Aluminum Tubes Undercut Claims of Damage in the Jeffrey Sterling Case

jeffrey-sterlingAs the New York Times reported Sunday morning, from 2008 to 2012, an Iranian referred to as Individual A and a middleman named Nicholas Kaiga attempted to buy high quality aluminum tubes considered a dual use item under export restrictions from a supplier in Schaumberg, IL. After they received the tubes in 2012, however, they discovered the tubes were of a lesser quality.

Investigators uncovered an Iranian businessman’s scheme to buy specialty aluminum tubing, a type the United States bans for export to Iran because it can be used in centrifuges that enrich uranium, the exact machines at the center of negotiations entering a crucial phase in Switzerland this week.

Rather than halt the shipment, court documents reveal, American agents switched the aluminum tubes for ones of an inferior grade. If installed in Iran’s giant underground production centers, they would have shredded apart, destroying the centrifuges as they revved up to supersonic speed.

In the complaint justifying Kaiga’s arrest for sanctions violations, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent called these tubes “sham” tubes.

Not only had the US government inserted an informant into this purchase process to collect evidence that Kaiga was deliberately thwarting export controls, but it had arranged with the supplier (who started cooperating with the US government very early on) to provide tubes that would be unusable for what the government apparently suspected was their ultimate use, nuclear centrifuges.

That means that two years after James Risen revealed that CIA had attempted to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program in 2000, Iran walked into another sabotage attempt by the US government.

That suggests that all the dire claims made by a parade of government witnesses in the Jeffrey Sterling trial — that by having exposed US attempted sabotage of Iran’s nuclear program by leaking to James Risen, Sterling would make it impossible to sabotage them in the future — were alarmist.

That’s not surprising, mind you. Sabotage has been a mainstay of spying for years. Exposing the use of sabotage didn’t alert the Iranians to anything they didn’t already know: that spies use sabotage.

Rather, it’s just yet another indication that DOJ overstated claims of damage to the jury.

About Marcy Wheeler

Investigative journalist Marcy Wheeler writes the "Right to Know" column for ExposeFacts. She is best known for providing in-depth analysis of legal documents related to "war on terrorism" programs and civil liberties. Wheeler blogs at emptywheel.net and publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon and the Progressive. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit: How the Bush Administration Used the Media to Sell the Iraq War and Out a Spy. Wheeler won the 2009 Hillman Award for blog journalism.