Defense Intelligence Agency History Confuses Iraq and Iran

03.26.08 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

Updated below

In a memorable TV interview with former Secretary of State James Baker, prankster “Ali G” (Sasha Baron Cohen) wondered about the possibility of confusing “Iran” and “Iraq.”

“Do you think it would be a good idea if one of them changed their name to make it very different sounding from the other one?” he asked Secretary Baker.

“Ain’t there a real danger that someone give like a message over the radio to one of them fighter pilots whatever saying bomb ‘Ira…’ and the geezer don’t hear it properly and bomb Iran rather than Iraq?”

“No danger,” Secretary Baker gamely replied.

In an official history (pdf), however, the Defense Intelligence Agency really has confused Iran and Iraq.

Among the “world crises” that transpired during the 1980s, the DIA history cites “an Israeli F-16 raid to destroy an Iranian nuclear reactor.” See “Defense Intelligence Agency: A Brief History” at page 14. (The document, originally published on the DIA web site here, has now been replaced. See update below.)

But there never was an Israeli attack on an Iranian nuclear reactor.

Rather, “The description appears to match Israel’s raid on Iraq’s [Osirak] nuclear reactor” in 1981, observed Gideon Remez, an Israeli scholar who is co-author of the recent book Foxbats Over Dimona (Yale, 2007).

“Today’s preoccupation with Iran’s nuclear program seems to have been projected onto the events of 27 years ago,” Mr. Remez suggested this week in an email message to DIA public affairs.

“If that is indeed the case, I’d recommend a correction,” he wrote.

Update: The DIA webmaster acknowledged the error in an email message to Gideon Remez today:

Thank you for your inquiry. You are correct that the historical fact is wrong. We did not realize it until you pointed it out. We are taking steps to correct it.

In fact, the document on the DIA website has already been modified and corrected. The uncorrected original is still available here.