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January 7, 2015 12:41 am

Did the CIA Fiddle With Population Statistics About Iran?

avatar by Daniel Pipes

The CIA may have fiddled with population statistics about Iran, questions Daniel Pipes. Photo: Danielpipes.org.

The World Factbook, described as “information on the history, people, government, economy, geography, communications, transportation, military, and transnational issues for 267 world entities,” is perhaps the most prominent unclassified publication of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and a major source of information.

Yet, a numerical discrepancy concerning the ethnic makeup of Iran prompted me three months ago, on October 5, 2014, to send the agency a letter (via its website):

Dear Sir or Madam:

I have looked at the World Factbook (WF) figures since 2000 on the question of ethnicity in Iran.

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From 2000 through January 2011, the WF uses one set of numbers, which indicate that 51 percent of the population is Persian; but then, in November 2011, it switches to a 61 percent figure for Persians, where it has remained ever since. This is ostensibly based, the WF says in the November 2011 entry, on a 2008 estimate.

In the space of 10 months, then, the Persians increased 10 percent, the Lur 4 percent, the Kurds 3 percent, the Turkmen & Baloch remained unchanged, the Arabs lost 1 percent, the Azeris 8 percent, and the Gilaki and Mazandarani vanished. “‹

One wonders (1) why it took 3 years to incorporate this estimate and (2) where such dramatically different percentages come from. Could you help me understand this change?

Yours sincerely,

Daniel Pipes
Middle East Forum

An automated reply quickly came back:

Thank you for contacting the CIA. Your question or comment has been successfully submitted. Your confirmation number is 5UGH8Y. Due to the large volume of inquiries we receive, we may not be able to respond to your e-mail.

By way of proof, here are screen shots from the WF over a period of years, starting with the 2000 edition:

The January 2011 edition:
The November 2011 edition:
The January 2013 edition:
The December 2013 edition:
The April 2014 edition:

Three months have now passed, long enough to conclude that the agency found my questions unworthy of its attention. Or, perhaps, it was embarrassed by the questions? The first answer suggests that the roughly $15 billion institution needed years to keep up with current information; the second implies that the Obama administration seeks to curry favor with Tehran by making the Persian element substantially larger than it should be, thereby hiding the extent to which the Islamic Republic of Iran is an empire, one in which the non-Persian elements are repressed by the dominant Persians.

If I am wrong, the CIA needs to explain itself.

This article was originally published by National Review Online.

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