Confusion over an assessment of Irans nuclear program by the Rand Corporation in the past week perfectly illustrates the quagmire that anyone has to contend with when sifting through bias on media reports. When the Republican-leaning New York Post says history may well mark United States President Barack Obama as the leader who let Iran get the bomb - and so doomed the Middle East to a new Dark Age, it based its assertion on a report it attributed to Rand Corporation analyst Gregory Jones. Using the latest data from the International Atomic Energy Agency, he recently concluded that, if Irans centrifuges continue to produce enriched uranium at current capacity, the regime will have 90% of the 20 kilograms it needs to produce a nuclear weapon within two months - certainly by summers end, the Post said in an opinion piece. The Post report was at least an accurate reflection of Jones calculations in a report dated June 2, but inaccurately reported that it was published by the Rand Corporation, when it was in fact from the Non-proliferation Policy Education Center. Jones has written for Rand, but his last report for the non-profit policy and research think-tank was published in 2009. Yet the New York Post was not alone. A deluge of commentaries took it at face value that Rand was alleging with iron-clad certainty that Iran was two months away from making nuclear bombs. Media sources who attributed the report to Rand included Israels Ynetnews, the Daily Mail in the United Kingdom, the Weekly Standard and American Thinker, the latter under the headline, RAND Corp: Iran 8 weeks from the Bomb. The Rand Corporations own report, Irans Nuclear Future: Critical US Policy Choices, financed by the US Air Force and published on June 7, contained no such timetable and is about policy alternatives for the United States and urges greater engagement. The studys lead author Lynn E Davis, a senior political scientist at Rand, summed up the report in a statement saying, The challenge for the United States is to influence how the Iranian leadership pursues [national security] interests, for they could provide reasons for acquiring nuclear weapons. For all it is worth, the Rand report failed to mention that the US intelligence community has yet to revise its December 2009 finding that Iran as of early 2003 has stopped its nuclear weapon program. Nor does it mention that the IAEA despite its expressed concerns about the possible military dimension of Irans nuclear activities has repeatedly stated that after extensive inspections it has found no evidence of diversion of declared nuclear material. Close scrutiny of the study shows repeated references to considerable uncertainties regarding Irans nuclear program and, on page 14, it states categorically that Iran is likely in the near to medium term to strive to stay within the bounds of international norms and laws established by the NPT [nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty], while continuing with uranium enrichment and warhead experimentation. This is hardly an affirmation of an Iranian march toward nuclear weapons, unless the scope of outside inspections of Irans nuclear activities by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is considered irrelevant. The IAEAs surveillance cameras at Tehrans enrichment facility in Natanz can easily detect any diversion of nuclear material. A report by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh titled Iran And The Bomb - How Real is the Nuclear Threat? and published in the June 6 issue of The New Yorker magazine quotes former IAEA director general Mohammad ElBaradei as saying he didnt see a shred of evidence in 12 years in charge to suggest Iran is building nuclear-weapons facilities and using enriched materials. I dont believe Iran is a clear and present danger. All I see is the hype about the threat posed by Iran, ElBaradei, a likely candidate for future Egyptian president, told Hersh in the interview. An abstract of Hershs piece says: 'Theres a large body of evidence, however, including some of Americas most highly classified intelligence assessments, suggesting that the US could be in danger of repeating a mistake similar to the one made with Saddam Husseins Iraq eight years ago - allowing anxieties about the policies of a tyrannical regime to distort our estimates of the states military capacities and intentions. The two most recent National Intelligence Estimates (N.I.E.s) on Iranian nuclear progress have stated that there is no conclusive evidence that Iran has made any effort to build the bomb since 2003. 'Yet Iran is heavily invested in nuclear technology. In the past four years, it has tripled the number of centrifuges in operation at its main enrichment facility at Natanz, which is buried deep underground. 'International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors have expressed frustration with Irans level of cooperation, but have been unable to find any evidence suggesting that enriched uranium has been diverted to an illicit weapons program. Such frustration was in evidence on Monday when Yukiya Amano, ElBaradeis successor at the global nuclear watchdog, told the IAEA board the agency had acquired new information related to possible past or current undisclosed nuclear related activities that seem to point to the existence of possible military dimensions to Irans nuclear program. The disclosure of new information came as Iran announced it would enrich nuclear fuel at an underground facility whose function had been secret until 2009, boosting its production of enriched uranium in spite of UN sanctions over its refusal to halt the enrichment program, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. It is ironic, albeit understandable from the prism of the US Air Force, which is in competition with other branches of the US military and has a vested interest in promoting itself by getting ahead in the war-games, that the Rand report on Irans nuclear program pays scant attention to the actual program and, instead, focuses on various potential scenarios and the policy implications for the US, Israel, and Irans neighbors in Persian Gulf. Although maintaining that different future Iranian nuclear postures are possible, it nonetheless takes for granted Irans evolution of a nuclear weapons program that allegedly could be either virtual, ie fully developed short of building the actual bombs, or ambiguous or declared. The reason for the multiple authors collective certainty that Iran is acquiring a nuclear weapon capability is that Irans national security interest could be served by nuclear weapons. Not so, and in fact the Rand study itself provides several clues that contradict its abstract generalization on Irans national security interests, such as the implication of Irans Arab neighbors being spurred to emulate Iran and build their own bombs and thus hurl the oil region into a costly nuclear arms race, to US playing nuclear shield for the supposedly vulnerable Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states indefinitely, etc. As the authors concede, expanded US conventional activities could be counterproductive and heighten Iranian threat perception. In addition to a distorted understanding of Irans national security interests and priorities, the report also has a distorted view of how Irans neighbors view the Iranian nuclear threat, claiming that none of the Gulf Cooperation States (GCC) states support an approach that seeks to reduce the threat posed to Iran. In fact, the myth of a monolithic GCC bloc with a unified voice on Iran needs debunking, and following the reports own line of argument, the GCC states should logically support a more congenial security environment with reduced risks for Iran that could, in turn, keep Irans nuclear potential just that; potential rather than actual. Interestingly, the Rand reports release coincided with a Washington conference on the changing Middle East and future of US-Iran relations on Tuesday, featuring the former head of US Central Command, Admiral James Fallon, who told the audience that there was very little chance of any US and or Israeli strike on Iran and that the US and Iran should pursue the path of comprehensive dialogue and engagement in light of their shared concerns in the region. Unfortunately, instead of giving coverage to such voices of reason, the US media and others opted to give prominent and erroneous billing of alarming new information about Irans nuclear program; yet another example of Chomskyan manufacturing consent. Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Irans Foreign Policy