Frank Von Hippel posted a comment in defense of David Albright which emphasizes the most important point — that the most important credential is one’s work. And by that standard, David is invaluable.
The comment is buried on the website where the original article was posted. Here is the full text:
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
To put it another way, if you could pick one person to have on an desert island while you worked out a technical problem relating to nonproliferation, would you pick David Albright or Scott Ritter?
I pick Albright.