Friday Puzzler

Guest Puzzler: Why’s Iran So Terrible at Lying?

By Taylor Marvin

The Iranian government regularly trumpets its technical achievements. This in and of itself is unsurprising, because states are always conscious of the inherent propaganda value of impressive advancements in military or civilian technology. For isolated autocracies like Iran, this propaganda is particularly valuable. However, there’s one problem: Iran’s celebrated “achievements” are usually amateurish fakes. In 2008 an Iranian government photograph of a missile barrage was revealed to partially be a clumsy photoshop cut-and-paste job. Last week the Iranian announcement that it successfully launched a monkey into space was undercut by the obvious fact that the monkey that entered the spacecraft was not the same monkey paraded to the press afterwards. Similarly, Iran’s recently self-proclaimed “stealth fighter” is a bizarrely unprofessional fiberglass mockup too small to fit its pilot.

Via David Cenciotti.

Image via David Cenciotti.

Given the level of mockery these draw, it’s difficult to argue that the Iranian government’s international prestige would be worse if it refrained from faking the technical achievements it is unable to actually accomplish.

So the question is: why do Iranian leaders continue to pursue such unconvincing propaganda campaigns, and why are they so amateurish? Who are their intended audiences?


  • I propose it is some sort of calculus: Iran’s leaders don’t want to risk preemptive/preventive military strikes. At the same time, they want to uphold aggressive rhetoric and they have to show to the groups backing the regime, that they are trying really hard (the rocket programme for example is considered an issue of national prestige).

  • […] Last week we asked why Iran does such an amateurish job faking technological and military accomplishments. This is a story we can’t seem to stay on top of: not only is Iran’s recently unveiled F-313 “stealth fighter” a fiberglass mockup, this week Iran released a badly-Photoshopped image of the aircraft in flight over an obvious stock-image background. Again, this fake was quickly detected by international audiences. […]

  • […] This January the Iranian government announced that it had successfully launched a monkey into space and returned it safely. The announcement became comical when, even to the untrained eye, it was obvious that the monkeys photographed before and after the flight were not one and the same (the Iranian government maintains that the discrepancy was due to a mistaken photo release). Equally laughable was Iran’s recent release of clearly Photoshopped pictures of a new “stealth” fighter jet — a model that critics claimed was undersized and seemingly made of fiberglass. While Iran’s technological leaps would be cause for concern if they were legitimate, they have been nothing more than elementary hoaxes. […]

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