Jeffrey LewisMore Pabian on Iran, Syria

Frank Pabian sends along a response to the comments on his presentation.

Regarding the comments posted so far regarding my Youtube briefing, first, I would first like to thank all the commenters for their questions and comments on the various aspects of the presentation.

However, I must also say that I’m surprised and sorry to learn the following:

1. That I’ve been labeled a Hawk, and,
2. That due to a small error on my part in verbally describing slide #90, that I would have provided anyone the basis for determining that the credibility of the entire briefing is therefore in doubt. (This is most unfortunate given that the presentation lasted one hour and incorporates over 110+ slides).

Although I have never thought of myself as hawk (given that I consider violence of any kind, either at the individual or national level, to be abhorrent; and given that I have not, and will not, ever advocate unprovoked military action by anyone at any time) perhaps a metaphorical ornithological review is in order. A hawk (or an eagle?) has the ability to see far off and focus in on what is important, in this case the developments that suggest a growing threat of nuclear weapons proliferation. If one chooses to ignore or dismiss such information, I don’t think that he or she should be considered a dove, but rather an ostrich (or a pigeon?).

Regarding the US Executive Oder #13224 labeling the NCRI as a terrorist group…It was made in December 2002. However, that in no way inhibited the IAEA from following up on NCRI leads long after that (and there should be no doubt that the IAEA achieved much success as a result). So, as Josh later said, it is a non sequitur as to whether NCRI information has any value or not, or whether or not it is worthy of follow-up by anyone concerned with international security.

(The proof is in the pudding, regardless of who made it)

Regarding Rwendland’s other comment that takes issue with my slide #90 showing the various examples of Magnox reactors. I would like to respond by saying that the slide #90 was correct as originally created and as viewed standing alone, as it was only meant to provide examples of how knowledgeable bloggers (i.e, on ArmsControlWonk) were correct in drawing attention to known Magnox reactors as a basis for comparison with Al Kibar long BEFORE the ODNI audiovisual presentation in April 2008. I did nonetheless mis-speak in saying that that central image was a cutaway model of a Calder Hall reactor when it was in fact (as Rwendland accurately points out) a view of the much larger, but still Magnox, reactor at Oldbury (and I’m actually not aware of such views being available with respect to the Calder Hall reactors). As a result, and in order to avoid any similar confusion in the future, I have now updated that slide as enclosed. Rwendland is also correct to point out that the heat exchangers in the Oldbury design are internal as opposed to external at both Calder Hall and Yongbyon (and al-Kibar)… this can be seen on either side of the core in the Oldbury cut-away model. Rwendland is also correct to point out that the Oldbury reactors employ a pre-stressed concrete pressure vessel as opposed to steel containment vessel used at Calder Hall (and evidently at Yongbyon, and as was shown by the ODNI in the ground photos of Al Kibar).

I’ve included two additional slides that show both reactor types as they now appear on Google Earth. However, please note that the four cooling towers (one for each of four Calder Hall reactors) visible in the Google Earth image, have since been demolished by controlled demolition (akin to the one at Yongbyon) and the reactors decommissioned as of last year.

Both of the Oldbury Magnox power reactors were similarly slated for decommissioning this year, but that was recently postponed as the Oldbury #2 reactor will continue to provide electricity through at least 2009.

These slides also provide refutation to [the] questioning the authenticity of the ground image of a Calder Hall reactor in Slide #90. A quick comparison with the overhead view on Google Earth shows that it was indeed a ground view of Calder Hall (Reactor #2).

Again, thanks to all who have commented (and have yet to comment), as I see this is the beauty and true value of Blogs and Wikis…They provide a forum in which to correct, clarify, and elucidate on myriad topics in a way not otherwise possible, with the end result being that everyone is better informed.



  1. Smith (History)

    The presentation was elucidating and interesting; I especially enjoyed the reactor dressed as a Byzantine fortress.

  2. Yossi (History)

    Dear Dr. Pabian,

    * In previous blogs our Dr. Lewis argued that the USIC knew beforehand about Natanz (and other facilities NCRI discovered) and guessed that they tipped NCRI. No wonder NCRI are such a good source on Iranian matters…

    * A well-known expert on doctoring digital images has determined that BoE construction photo is a fake. Just to remind you, this is the USIC released blue tinted image of “Al-Kibar” at an early stage of construction (about 2002), just before the boxification. Would you follow on this point and include it in your excellent presentation?

    * I don’t see any discussion on IAEA accusation that countries with commercial satellite image services are withholding evidence critical to the investigation of the Syrian case. Isn’t it strange that countries that are friendly to the US are refusing to help verify the validity of USIC claims? See, for example, IAEA Spokesperson here at ACW and a Reuters item

  3. Jeffrey Lewis (History)


    I don’t see any evidence supporting the hypothesis that the blue-tinted construction photo is faked.


  4. Yossi (History)


    An Israeli expert on doctoring digital images has checked the “construction photo” and determined (my translation):

    There is no doubt the image was “refurbished”. I made a larger file and in spite of the low quality I can tell you the windows on the left don’t exist and all the upper part of the posts was built in Photoshop and don’t exist in reality. It seems the image was extracted from a video or even from a cellular camera.

    There are clear signs that the photo was digitally processed:

    1. The two windows in the second from the left window column are totally black unlike the other windows. Their edges look too sharp and the angles divert from 90 degrees.

    2. The large vertical rods at the front of the building merge with the massive super-structure and other surfaces although they are different and well separated objects. It seems the shadowing is just wrong.

    3. The sky color is too uniform?

    The photo’s main problematic points:

    1. The photo shows 9 (or more) large vertical rods (having square cross section?). Some of these rods had survived the air strike. The rods are probably very heavy but it seems they just stand on the roof and in locations strange from an engineering point of view, e.g. not above internal walls or corners. They just seem to have insufficient support unless they pierce rooms in the middle and go to the bottom of the building.

    2. The vertical rods are arranged in a rectangular grid and carry some kind of lightweight sun screen. It seems that the grid is incomplete and misses some rods required by symmetry.

  5. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    “Digitally processed” is not the same as “faked.”

    I digitally process pictures all the time without faking them.


  6. Yossi (History)


    Deleting the insides of the two windows could be unimportant, maybe they just wanted to hide someone looking out. It’s a proof of “processing” but not of “faking”.

    Adding the “curtain rods” is however “faking”. They wanted to push the boxification idea, that a Yongbyon like building was camouflaged into a box. This is a clear attempt to manipulate the viewers and is thus “faking”.

  7. Josh

    Just to be clear, I haven’t questioned the authenticity of any images in connection with Frank Pabian’s briefing, the IC briefing, or otherwise. I might have phrased a previous comment awkwardly; suggesting that any picture was inauthentic was not the intended point.

  8. Andy (History)


    I don’t get it. On one hand you insist the curtain “rods” (which are really support columns for the roof) were faked in the ground photo, but in your second comment you say that some of them survived the strike. How did faked columns survive the strike?

    Your evidence for “faking” the columns in the photo doesn’t appear to be based on anything of substance. And you only need to take a look at this photo to see confirming evidence that “boxification” was likely the reality (photo from the Moon of Alabama blog.):

    Here you can see the interior of the structure through the large opening in the upper portion. The upper half of the structure is completely empty and the columns are visible. There’s even one sitting atop the header over the big opening. Normally, placing a load-bearing column above a header is a poor engineering practice, but here it doesn’t matter much: The only load this and the other columns support is a lightweight roof. Were the upper half of the structure intended for actual use, the construction would be quite different and more substantial to carry the larger loads. Not to mention they probably would have installed windows.

    And you can see from the post-strike images that the entire upper, boxified, half of the building was blown away (allowing one to see the supposedly faked columns), yet most of the lower-half non-boxified portion is intact. This is completely consistent with the upper half of the structure being nothing more than a roof and facade and the lower half being substantive construction. When ordnance hits a building, one typically does not see such a huge disparity in the damage on a clear plane between separate floors or stories of buildings. In this case the disparity is striking and indicative of the completely different construction methods between the upper and lower parts of the building. The entire upper portion is gone, yet the Syrians had to cut holes in the lower “roof” to allow access for cranes! For reference, this is typical bomb damage to buildings. Notice the difference? You can also google up images of the some of the targets hit in Belgrade during the Kosovo war for comparison.

    Even if one believes that one picture is faked, the evidence from the battle damage and the other images make a compelling case for boxification.

    Finally, a small point. The “lightweight sun screen” is scaffolding. If you look closely, you can see ladders and such between the various platforms. This kind of scaffolding is pretty common in the Middle East.

  9. Yossi

    Andy, thanks for the excellent critic!

    You seem to acknowledge that the “construction photo” may be a fake and retreats to a second defense line:

    Even if one believes that one picture is faked, the evidence from the battle damage and the other images make a compelling case for boxification.

    As a confirmed skeptic I’m not so sure the case for boxification is “compelling” but before we go into this let me list some relevant points:

    * The fake photo is only one issue in the Dreamer analysis, there are serious counter-indications to BoE being a nuclear reactor. Fighting only those issues you can’t evade is not fair.

    * Even one fake photo may have serious implications on the credibility of the USIC presentation, suppose other things are fake as well? Faking a photo is not a legitimate way to illustrate a point.

    The USIC tried hard, to the point of misleading, to persuade us that Syria camouflaged BoE but didn’t convince Dreamer. Note that the “NK/Syria nuclear admins photo” that the USIC had ample time for verifying was immediately debunked by Bolton himself. Also that the “core top” and “pressure vessel” photos were not examined yet by an expert.

    * The “construction photo” fake is so low quality that it was probably not produced in the CIA labs. This returns us to the theory of the USIC falling for a fraud, e.g. by a NK defector who conned the Israelis. In such case all the confidential evidence is suspect.

    * The nice image you have included is not a real ground photo but a very realistic virtual model apparently produced by the USIC and possibly based on real ground photos. How do we know this? the main clue is another image in its series with the electric cable running into BoE absolutely straight, contrary to satellite imagery and engineering practice.

    As a virtual model it has credibility similar to its raw materials or less. Since the only ground photo we have seen (ignoring the “pressure vessel” photo that shows a tiny area) is the “construction photo” that has no credibility at all I would suggest we ignore the image you included until further study.

    * the boxification theory assumes a Yongbyon like building was constructed and boxed between May 26, 2001 and September 5, 2002. This is a relatively short time for such a construction assisted by primitive scaffolding and it could be further narrowed if we had the money to buy satellite images. According to a Syrian officer quoted by Seymour Hersh this time window shrinks to 8.28 months, a really short period in Middle East practice.

    Anyway, proving or disproving boxification can only serve to debate whether the Syrians tried to hide BoE or not. This seems secondary to the question if BoE was nuclear.

    * You said:

    ??I don’t get it. On one hand you insist the curtain “rods” (which are really support columns for the roof) were faked in the ground photo, but in your second comment you say that some of them survived the strike. How did faked columns survive the strike? ??

    Good point! The post-strike UAV images do show “rods” (I can’t find a good term for these) protruding from the wreckage but this is not necessarily proof for boxification, they could be normal construction reinforcements(?). I should have said “assuming these two sets of rods are the same” or something to this effect. Thanks for correcting my sloppiness!

  10. Yossi


    * Sorry, my sloppy mind needs a lot of time to reconstruct its own thought patterns. The non-existent “rods” surviving the strike were a logical device to enhance a “reductio ad absurdum” argument written long time ago. Assuming the “rods” in the construction photo were real, then attempting to identify them with the massive “rods” that survived the strike, thus getting an enhanced contradiction between non-existence and massivity.

    Anyway, the real issue is whether the USIC has faked evidence not if Syria boxified a Yongbyon-like building. A possible boxification of BoE doesn’t give the USIC license to use fake photos unless stating explicitly they are only illustrations and doesn’t prove much by itself. Faking photos, on the other hand, proves much by itself, also withholding crucial evidence from the IAEA.

    * You are probably aware that no one seems to take seriously the USIC claims on this subject, not even the US administration. Except for the IAEA who is bound to examine this and is too polite to say it’s bogus no political act followed the USIC revelations.

  11. Yale Simkin (History)

    Frank Pabian may wish to update the slide with one of these images of scale models and diagrams of Calder Hall:

    An excellent semi-technical article from 1956 on Calder hall is here.

  12. Yossi (History)

    Yale, your expertise have been missed here. This tech article on inspecting the early English Magnox reactors provides more interesting info.

  13. Allen Thomson (History)

    Yossi said,

    > doesn’t give the USIC license to use fake photos unless stating explicitly they are only illustrations

    There I semi-agree. The April presentation really should have specified where digital techniques were used to highlight features in real photography or fill in features only inferred.

    Overall, I’ll have to say that the presentation was not very professional, no matter what the underlying purpose(s). Very perplexing.