David Albright is the president and founder of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), a non-proliferation think tank that focuses much of its attention on Iran.
A former inspector for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Albright has for years been regarded as an important nuclear proliferation expert, contributing to noted journals like the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and being dubbed the "news media's 'favorite' expert" on Iran's nuclear program.
More recently, however, Albright has appeared to embrace ideological factions associated with neoconservative think tanks like the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and he has been criticized for providing less-than-objective assessments of Iran's programs.
According to journalist Gareth Porter, Albright has "left a trail of evidence indicating that he has embraced the Iran alarmist line coming from the United States, Israel, and the IAEA, despite his knowledge that there were serious problems with the evidence on which it was based."
ISIS, which was founded by Albright in 1993, describes itself as a "non-profit, non-partisan institution" whose "primary focus is on stopping the spread of nuclear weapons and related technology to additional nations and to terrorists, bringing about greater transparency of nuclear activities worldwide, strengthening the international non-proliferation regime, and achieving deep cuts in nuclear arsenals."
ISIS often provides analyses of IAEA reports and publishes studies using satellite imagery of suspected proliferation sites. While the majority of the materials published by ISIS deal with Iran, it also produces assessments of other countries that tend to have poor relations with the United States, such as Myanmar and North Korea.
Albright often presents ISIS's analysis to think tanks and advocacy institutions, and at congressional hearings, where he is often introduced as "a leading nuclear and non-proliferation expert."
In September 2014, Albright participated in a panel discussion jointly hosted by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, the Bipartisan Policy Center, and the Foreign Policy Initiative. Other panelists at the event included noted Iran hawks Ray Takeyh, Olli Heinonen, and Mark Dubowitz.Albright used the occasion to press for congressional intervention in the on-going diplomacy between Iran and the P5+1, despite widespread concerns that such intervention would scuttle talks. Albright argued that "if there isn't a good deal" with Iran and the "administration vetoes congressional legislation and they win," it would be "very hard for Congress to recover as this strong force for sanctions in the world." He went on: "That—that—in a sense, that battle cannot be lost by Congress."
Most of Albright's recent work deals with the Iranian nuclear program and he is often quoted in the press on this issue. Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal, for instance, cited a November 2014 report by ISIS to argue Iran had "cheated" during the nuclear negotiations. "The latest confirmation of the obvious comes to us courtesy of a Nov. 17 report from David Albright and his team at the scrupulously nonpartisan Institute for Science and International Security," Stephens wrote.
Iran analyst Muhammad Sahimi has said of Albright's work: "He has played a leading role in inflaming the hysteria about Iran by his grand exaggerations, alarms over non-existing evidence, [and] creating something out of nothing."
Sahimi pointed to a May 2012 report published by ISIS, which suggested Iran was engaged in suspicious "activity" at a military site where nuclear experiments were allegedly carried out at. According to Sahimi, however, the site had previously been investigated by the IAEA. He reported: "Ultra-sensitive sensors that the IAEA inspectors have can detect one part in one million particles in a sample, and so no amount of washing would be even nearly enough to hide such particles. And even if this were possible, would the water not contaminate the soil outside the building, so that the IAEA inspectors could, again, easily detect the contaminants?"
Albright was previously a weapons inspector for the IAEA, and was the first non-governmental inspector of Iraq's alleged nuclear weapons programs in June 1996. He was criticized for supporting the "official line on WMD proliferation even though he had good reason to be skeptical of the intelligence case being pushed by powerful political forces."
According to Gareth Porter, Albright was aware of the "most notorious element in the intelligence dossier … the claim that Saddam had acquired aluminum tubes that could be used for gas centrifuges only" and viewed it as questionable. As Albright himself told the Guardian in October 2002: "There's a catfight going on about this right now. On one side you have most of the experts on gas centrifuges. On the other, you have one guy sitting in the CIA."
"With that knowledge," opined Porter, "a truly independent nongovernment expert would have insisted at the very least that the Bush administration's broader case involving WMD in Iraq be thoroughly investigated. But instead, Albright simply shifted his emphasis and pushed the Bush administration line that Saddam had biological and chemical weapons. In a CNN interview on October 5, 2002, he said the only question was "how Saddam would deliver them."