Nuclear Inspection Agency Demands Transparency from Others, but Not Itself
Some Documents Accessible in U.S. and British Archives Are Locked up in Agency’s Vienna Headquarters
Never Before Published Document Describes IAEA 1996 Transparency Proposal (See Sidebar)
Washington, D.C. April 24, 2015 – The nuclear inspection agency that is central to the current Iran negotiations is flunking international transparency norms, according to a report posted today by Freedominfo.org and the National Security Archive’s Nuclear Vault. Key documents about International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) proceedings, found in various national archives and private collections but closed at Agency headquarters in Vienna, are included in today’s posting.
The investigation found that an important transparency policy document (see sidebar) is itself secret, since the IAEA Board of Governors has never officially announced or disclosed its 1996 decision to release its documents after two years – a decision honored more in the breach than in the observance.
In today’s posting, Toby McIntosh and William Burr of the National Security Archive discuss and analyze the IAEA’s failure to create an effective disclosure policy. Despite the Agency’s 1996 decision, essential records such as minutes of the Board of Governor’s meetings have remained closed even from the 1950s when the Agency was created. Moreover, critically important parts of the Agency’s historical archives in Vienna are out of bounds to researchers, creating major obstacles for historians and social scientists attempting to tell the story of this vital organization.
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The IAEA’s Lack of Transparency
By Toby McIntosh and William Burr
Several facts serve as metaphors to describe the lack of transparency at the International Atomic Energy Agency.
One telling fact is that a key transparency policy document is itself a secret. The Board of Governors has never officially announced, or disclosed, its 1996 decision to release its documents after two years. Also symbolizing IAEA opacity, and greatly frustrating researchers, is an IAEA rule that limits visits to the Vienna headquarters archives room to only five days a month.
The secret disclosure policy and the unwelcome mat are just two indicators of this important agency’s failings in the area of transparency. But the most significant transparency gap is that the IAEA has no comprehensive policy on disclosing information. There is no formal system to request records, nor are there public procedures or standards for declassifying very old records.
FreedomInfo.org/Nuclear Vault in late November 2014 began asking the IAEA if it has a disclosure policy, and to describe it, but no answers have been provided. In late March 2015, an official said: “Your query has been passed on to a committee that deals with decisions regarding what past documents issued by the Board of Governors are to be made public. It also deals with the issue of document disclosure policy.”
Some thwarted researchers have learned to successfully circumvent the IAEA`s closed archives by going to the archives of IAEA member governments.
Transparency at the agency has declined in recent years, according to some.
“The IAEA has never been very transparent and it seems that in the last four years the transparency that existed has declined,” said Tariq Rauf, former Head of Verification and Security Policy Coordination at the IAEA and the Director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s Arms Control and Non-proliferation Programme.
One example was the 2014 closure of a major IAEA-sponsored conference. Another backward step was the disappearance of a list of Technical Cooperation projects from the website sometime around 2010.
Andreas Persbo, Director of Vertic, lamented declining transparency at a March 24, 2015, symposium in Washington on “The Politics of Safeguards,” sponsored by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. (Vertic is a London-based independent, not-for-profit non-governmental organization working on “building trust through verification.”) Persbo told the audience:
I’ve been going to general conferences now for 10 years, as a nongovernmental representative, and I’ve seen it go from an organisation with remarkable transparency to an organisation that is increasingly closing its doors. And it relates not only to access to documentation information but also access to meetings. Something that once was ingrained in the Vienna spirit, and it is today no longer there, sadly.
Since its creation in the mid-1950s, the IAEA has played an increasingly central role in nuclear energy policy around the world. While one of the Agency’s major purposes has been to promote the civilian use of nuclear power, it has received great prominence from its role in supporting the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT): by maintaining safeguards to ensure that member states do not use civilian facilities for military purposes and by using its investigative powers to determine whether member states have created facilities that are inconsistent with the NPT’s objectives. The IAEA’s major role in the Iraq crisis and the current controversy over Iran are well known, but the Agency’s safeguards monitoring activities had their start decades ago, in the 1960s and 1970s, when the construction of the nuclear nonproliferation system was underway.
“Transparency is an elusive commodity in international nuclear affairs,” wrote Mark Hibbs on June 9, 2014, in the blog Arms Control Wonk. “Routinely cited as a universal virtue and not without a certain sanctimoniousness, this aspiration is sacrificed time and time again on the altar of political expediency,” commented Hibbs, a Berlin-based senior associate in the Nuclear Policy Program of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Transparency Gaps Seen
The transparency gaps do more than irritate journalists and academics, according to former officials and close observers of the agency.
Oversight of IAEA performance is inhibited by a lack of information, say experts.
No one disputes that the nuclear subject matter at times requires confidentiality for sensitive materials. But by not disclosing less sensitive findings in agency reports and policymaking documents, the IAEA inhibits both informed debate and compliance, some critics said. By not telling its story, the agency undermines itself, argue some supporters of the agency. One former official said, for example, that it would be valuable if the Agency would disclose information about the successful Iraq verification undertaking.
The agency’s secrecy has deep historical roots. Observers and Agency officials say the limits on transparency stem from the sensitive subject matter involved. Deference is given to member nations’ concerns about the confidentiality of their nuclear installations and their own roles in policy discussions. “The members rule, and they don’t want a lot of information that you would think you’d want available, shared,” according to Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Washington-based Non-proliferation Policy Education Center.
“It would be helpful if there were a bit more candor,” he said, recalling being shown a nonpublic report that indicated how frequently observation cameras in one country were out of commission.
According to Anna M. Weichselbraun, a University of Chicago scholar, “I don’t want to say it [the records policy] is to hide the things they do poorly.” But, she continued, “I think they are very afraid of criticism.” She believes that “the agency does incredible work that is not recognized because of a lack of transparency.”
Weichselbraun sees a strong “public interest in having the records derestricted” and she recently argued for more openness in an article published by the Nuclear Proliferation International History Project at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington, D.C.
A PhD candidate at the Department of Anthropology at the University of Chicago, Weichselbraun was imbedded in the Agency as an intern in the Safeguards Division while she worked on her dissertation, “Regulating the Nuclear: The Semiotic Production of Technical Independence at the International Atomic Energy Agency,” using “rigorous linguistic anthropological analyses of the actors’ interactional, ritual, and documentary practices.”
The debate about improving safeguards has been marked by “the tone of suspicion and distrust directed at the secretariat, triggered by perceived lack of transparency,” Laura Rockwood, a former IAEA lawyer, wrote August 28, 2014, in Arms Control Today. She is a senior research fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
She recommended “education and communication,” saying:
The biggest challenges to effective safeguards and their further evolution are not technical. They are a lack of knowledge about the history of safeguards and a misrepresentation of the history that capitalizes on that lack of knowledge. It is possible to correct the former and to limit the impact of the latter through education and communication by raising the level of knowledge about safeguards and the history of their evolution. It is incumbent on all parties to understand what has already been achieved in strengthening safeguards so that it is not necessary to reinvent those achievements.
Another researcher who makes the case for more IAEA transparency is Cindy Vestergaard, a Senior Researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies, who has been studying “the front end of the fuel cycle” — the steps of mining and milling, conversion, enrichment and fabrication of uranium.
Some of the IAEA’s requirements in this area are spelled out in a nonpublic series of Policy Papers, particularly papers numbered 18 and 21. These policy papers, prepared by IAEA staff, detail adjustments to verification requirements regarding uranium production and were made in response to technological changes. There may be Agency policy papers on other topics that could be of interest to outside experts and researchers.
Vestergaard is not alone among researchers who have obtained these papers unofficially and a top Canadian official has even quoted them in print. Although they do not contain information the disclosure of which would be harmful, they are not available on the IAEA website.
Not making these Policy Papers public impedes research and public discussion of policy, in this case about the chosen starting points for verification. As Vestergaard put it:
“It doesn’t make sense, if this is the starting point that is being clarified, why is it not being made available.”
Board Policy Not Followed
Efforts to follow the workings of the IAEA’s most important policy-making body, the Board of Governors, are inhibited by closed meetings and a dearth of documents.
The 61 foundational rules guiding the operations of the Board, which meets five times a year, discuss related topics — internal circulation of agendas and documents, and the preparation of meeting summaries — but there is no section on disclosure of such information.
In 1996, however, the 22-member Board decided that “most Board documents should be derestricted after two years and could then be made available upon request,” in the words of an agency official.
Inexplicably there is no publicly available record of the 1996 meeting, nor a written statement of the policy.
As a result there is no clarity about what Board documents should be released. The word “most” lacks definition.
Despite the secret decision, in the ensuing 19 years the Board has released very few documents.
One exception has been the release of reports about Iran’s compliance with so-called safeguard inspections. The most recent such report, released March 4, 2015, had been leaked to the media weeks earlier. It is called “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and relevant provisions of Security Council resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran.” The February 19, 2015, report was later derestricted “at the request of a Member State during the Board meeting,” according to an IAEA official. Other such reports on Iran have been posted online.
IAEA observers believe more safeguards implementation reports [SIR] should be released. At the March Carnegie forum, former IAEA official Rockwood said, “The secretariat has, over the years, made numerous proposals to the Board that it release the SIR. I personally think it should be done.”
Even Board records more than 30 years old have yet to be derestricted, and so are unavailable to the public.
“As these records have all been digitized for internal use, they could easily be made accessible to the public on the IAEA’s website through a dedicated portal with search features,” recommended Weichselbraun.
Persons with experience at the IAEA attributed the Board’s lack of compliance with its own policy to several factors, including:
- A tendency in the IAEA Secretariat to err on the side of caution,
- Lack of staff resources,
- Concerns that the technical nature of the Agency’s work will not be correctly understood, and
- The ability of member states to ask the IAEA to keep confidential information about their country.
There are no publicly available minutes for Board meetings. At the outset of the latest meeting, which began March 2, 2015, the Director General’s statement was released and he held a press conference. At the conclusion of the meetings a press release summarizes the decisions. (See March 5, 2015, release.)
Special Meeting Closed
In late 2014, the IAEA closed a major symposium that traditionally had been open.
The four-day Symposium on International Safeguards in Vienna in October was attended by more than 700 international experts, but was closed to the press and the public. The papers presented, on topics such as “Challenges in Spent Fuel Verification ,” were later made public.
Access was restricted so that participants would not be “inhibited” during discussion, spokeswoman Gill Tudor said in an e-mail to Bloomberg News. Only the opening and closing ceremonies were open.
Key Committee Sessions Closed
The annual IAEA policymaking gathering, the General Conference, which meets for a week, operates partially open and partially closed.
The Conference plenary sessions are public, but the real work is done in the closed session of the Committee of the Whole, which debates proposed resolutions at greater length, often making amendments.
Detailed summaries of the meetings of the Committee of the Whole are prepared. There were eight such summaries of the 2014 sessions.
The initial draft resolutions are not posted, however. Nor are the revised versions circulated during the Committee’s deliberations. Such modified documents were referenced in one 2014 summary:
69. The representative of AUSTRIA introduced a new version of the relevant draft resolution, GC(58)/COM.5/L.2/Rev.2, which had been prepared in the course of informal consultations.
The summaries are dry, but quite detailed. Compared to the minutes of meetings put out by most other international agencies they are exceptionally detailed. For example:
11. The representative of PAKISTAN reiterated his proposal to delete paragraph 7 (formerly paragraph 6). Failing that, his delegation supported the addition to paragraph 24 proposed by the representative of India. If paragraph 7 was retained, his delegation would be obliged to call for a vote thereon when the draft resolution was considered by the Plenary.
The plenary body, the General Conference (GC), considers the resolutions forwarded by the Committee of the Whole. Summaries (two in 2014) of the General Conference sessions are prepared.
For example, the minutes of the 58th General Conference Plenary session on Sept. 26, 2014, indicated a discussion and a vote was held about paragraph 7 of GC(58)/COM.5/L.2/Rev.4. The resolution was not available to the public at the time, or in the weeks immediately following. This document and several others were requested by FreedomInfo.org/Nuclear Vault in mid-December 2014. In mid-January 2015, an IAEA official from the public information office located and transmitted them.
The Director General’s National Security Report 2014 is another example of apparently slow public release. It is now available, on the records page for the 2014 GC, held in September, but it is dated July 22. There is no indication on the IAEA website that it was made public in July when distributed to members.
Archives Access Limited
The IAEA’s historical archives consist of some 5,574 linear meters of records — in a variety of media formats. But the Agency has no policy governing how long sensitive records should stay closed or when restrictions should be dropped.
“There is no regular, systematic review and declassification procedure in place,” according to Weichselbraun. “Individual requests for declassification or derestriction in the past have shown that there is a lack of transparency on which records remain classified and for what reasons.”
Researchers can have access to historical records, those over 30 years old, as long as they are not classified. Access to records that are less than 30 years old requires the consent of the Agency’s Director and the consent of the government about which the report was written.
One researcher was given a stack of documents, but without being told that others in the same series had been exempted from release.
The absence of a procedure for the declassification of classified historical records means, for example, that the records of the Safeguards Department, which has administered Agency safeguards at nuclear facilities worldwide since the 1960s, are off limits to researchers. So are the internal records of Board of Governors meetings; as noted, they are closed in Vienna, but meeting records are available in other archives.
For historians of nuclear nonproliferation policy, the records of the Safeguards Department are especially important because the safeguards system has been central to the Agency’s role in supporting the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty since the 1970s. While safeguards records can include commercial secrets (e.g. relating to the design of nuclear reactors) which complicates opening up the archival records, it is an insufficient reason for keeping all of them closed.
Further inhibiting research is the lack of “finding aids,” commonly produced by archivists to orient and guide researchers, Weichselbraun pointed out. “In addition, researchers should be able to submit requests for ad hoc declassification reviews that can be tracked. An ad hoc review process should follow a systematic procedure with a timeline of expected outcome, as well as provide justification.” She also said the agency should move from a 30-year restriction period to the 20-year period used in many other international organizations.
And there is the lack of physical access for those who make it to the small records room in Vienna, which has four tables and room for about half a dozen researchers, but which is rarely visited. The Archives also has no virtual presence, not even being mentioned on the IAEA website.
The IAEA limits individual researcher visits to five consecutive days per month. “This is an unreasonably short period for serious scholarly inquiry,” wrote Weichselbraun.
Inadequate resources are provided to the IAEA Archives and staffing needs improvement, she said, commenting that “the persistent shortcomings in providing information about the Archives’ holdings and rules of access raise questions about the Agency’s commitment to transparency.”
The restrictive Archive practices have been a source of frustration to historians.
Jacob Hamblin, an Associate Professor of History at Oregon State University, is one such annoyed scholar, who described his views in a May 2014 article in which he tells of being approached by another historian jealous that he had found some IAEA documents from non-IAEA sources.
“[H]istory is key to making informed contemporary decisions,” Hamblin wrote. “Fortunately some of this documentation is available, scattered in national archives and private collections throughout the world,” he said. “But you won’t find it at the IAEA in Vienna.”
“The IAEA claims it is obliged to withhold documents until all of the countries mentioned in them agree to declassification. In practice, this guarantees permanent secrecy.” Reflecting on the agency’s role, he observed that it “is uncomfortable with historical facts about the quality of its workmanship.”
Working Around Restrictions
Investigators like Hamblin have learned that a good way to get IAEA records is by seeking them in the archives of member governments.
For example, records of Board of Governors meetings from 1958 can be found in the National Archives of both the United States and the United Kingdom, two of the Agency’s members.
The documents of the Board and its committees are distributed to all Member States, to the United Nations, to some of the specialized agencies within the UN system and to certain intergovernmental organizations. They are considered “restricted,” an IAEA official wrote, adding “(but the Agency is of course not in control of how the recipients treat the documents they receive).”
A sampling of the documents found in the records of the US National Archives shows a variety of available documents. (See more detail below.)
Roots of Information Sharing
Information sharing among IAEA members has its origins in the founding document of the Agency.
The exchange of information among members and from members to the IAEA is discussed in Article VIII of the 1957 Statute of the IAEA. The dissemination of that information appears to be encouraged: “The Agency shall assemble and make available in an accessible form the information made available to itâ€¦.” This is interpreted, however, to mean sharing among the members.
That goal was acknowledged by an IAEA staff member who wrote to FreedomInfo.org/Nuclear Vault:
Article VIII of the statute refers to sharing information about peaceful uses of nuclear energy. One way this is applied is through the IAEA International Nuclear Information System, one of the most successful and comprehensive information systems on the peaceful uses of nuclear science and technology.
A hint of the sensitivity surrounding transparency can be seen in the minutes of a 2010 Committee of the Whole meeting about “Strengthening of the Agency’s technical cooperation activities.”
A representative of the Czech Republic recommended adding the words “as well as the transparency,” so that a section of the policy would read “to continuously improve the effectiveness and efficiency as well as the transparency of the TC programme in accordance with the needs of Member States in all areas of concern.”
The next section of the minutes says:
12. The representative of the PHILIPPINES said that she had doubts about the suggested addition of the words “as well as the transparency”. A call for improved transparency of the TC programme might be taken to imply a lack of faith in the management of Agency technical cooperation projects.
The outcome of the discussion is unclear in the minutes, and a search to find the ultimate document (GC(54)/COM.5/L.11) on the IAEA website was unsuccessful.
When “transparency” appears in IAEA documents, which is fairly rare judging by a search of the IAEA site, it usually refers to communications among members, as it does in this paragraph of a 2010 document, titled “STRATEGY FOR THE TECHNICAL COOPERATION PROGRAMME IN THE EUROPE REGION.”
Transparency: Transparency between Member States and the IAEA and with partners in general in the management of the TCP will promote a sense of common purpose and trust, leading to smooth and effective delivery of the programme. A key element in transparency is good communication.
A LongTerm Strategic Plan (2012-2023) prepared by the Department of Safeguards, includes a section on Communication.
Communication Goal: To increase knowledge of, confidence in and support for IAEA verification among Member States, other stakeholders and the public. The openness and quality of the IAEA’s communications on safeguards and verification matters is of key importance to its Member States and other stakeholders. Their knowledge of safeguards and how they are implemented must be enhanced. It is also important to ensure that the public understands the IAEA’s verification mission. At the same time, the security of safeguards information is of paramount concern. To this end, the Department will:
- Report safeguards conclusions and provide Member States with other information on safeguards and verification matters in a transparent and timely manner;
- Keep Member States and other stakeholders informed of the objectives, processes and measures involved in safeguards implementation and how safeguards implementation is being further developed;
- Keep stakeholders informed of changing proliferation challenges and their impact on safeguards;
- Communicate the IAEA’s global nuclear verification mission to the public; and
- Maintain an appropriate balance between the security and availability of information, further improve physical and information security and enhance the Department’s security culture.
Notwithstanding the references to “increasing knowledge” among the public of IAEA verification systems and keeping “stakeholders informed,” the Agency’s record in implementing these goals leans far too close to nondisclosure.
An Historical Coda
Forty years ago, officials with U.S. government agencies saw the IAEA’s lack of transparency as a problem, especially after India’s May 1974 “peaceful nuclear explosion,” which made many in the general public wonder about the effectiveness of the Agency’s safeguards (even though India’s CIRUS reactor was outside the system). A draft message prepared in September 1974 by staffers at the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission discussed the “need for the Agency to deal in a forth-right way with the concerns” about the lack of publicly available information on safeguards.
As an example, the AEC draft suggested that the Agency could “contribute to a sense of assurance” about the effectiveness of safeguards by “providing detailed data on what is actually done at specific facilities,” while still protecting the proprietary information and commercial secrets of the members.
A message from the U.S. Mission to the IAEA in December 1975 also addressed this problem: the Mission had been “actively pursuing with the IAEA Inspectorate the possibility of obtaining detailed information for the purpose of increasing public knowledge of actions and findings of the IAEA in implementing its safeguards.” The Mission reported that it would be working with the Inspectorate to “encourage the earliest and most effective results,” but it appears that those discussions made no headway.
IAEA Documents Found in National Archives
The following examples illustrate two things: that IAEA documents that are not available in Vienna can sometimes be found in overseas archives and they can usefully shed light on how the Agency operates and how its officials have thought about its role over the years.
Document 1: Board of Governors, International Atomic Energy Agency, “Official Record of the Thirty-Ninth Meeting,” 17 January 1958
Source: The National Archives (United Kingdom), Records of Foreign and Commonwealth Office, FO 371 135484 (copy courtesy of Elisabeth R
Ã¶ hrlich, University of Vienna)
This is an example of an early meeting record of the Agency’s Board of Governors. As the Agency was only months old, discussion focused on organizationalissues, specifically whether to establish a scientific advisory council, and the development of a fellowship and training program which became a core Agency activity over the years. This record is unavailable at the Agency’s Vienna archives because Board of Governors meeting records are closed.
Document 2: Inter-Office Memorandum, Ben Sanders to A.D. McKnight, Inspector General, “Safeguard Tasks Under Non-Proliferation,” 20 February 1967, Confidential
Source: National Archives (College Park, MD). Record Group 84, Records of Foreign Service Posts, Records of U.S. Mission to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Classified and Unclassified Subject Files, 1962-1972, box 5, Def 18-6 Nonproliferation (NPT) (January-March 1967)
Diverse agency information and documents show up in the U.S. National Archives. One such item is a report on safeguards for an NPT. In early 1967, when it was evident that some sort of treaty was in the works, Benjamin Sanders, a career official in the safeguards division, wanted the Agency to be ready. In a report to inspector general Alan McKnight, Sanders estimated what it would take to safeguard the known nuclear facilities of the prospective signatories to a Treaty. Using projections through 1969, he calculated the numbers of facilities in non-nuclear states that would require inspection and how many inspectors would be needed to monitor them. According to the calculations, by 1969, the non-weapons states, including Euratom members, would have 120 reactors along with 24 reprocessing and fuel fabrication plants. To inspect all nuclear facilities in the non-weapons states, including Euratom, the Agency would need 75 inspectors by 1969, some of whom would be resident, living in or near countries with more extensive safeguards requirements. Arguing that “early action” was essential, Sanders wanted the Agency to be ready by 1969; even if a treaty was finalized in 1967, agreements would have to be negotiated, and staff would have to be recruited. “By then the nuclear effort of the countries involved will have proliferated enormously and the urgency of applying [effective] safeguards will be immense.”
Access to documents like this would not be possible at the Agency archives in Vienna.
Document 3: Board of Governors, International Atomic Energy Agency, “Official Record of the Four Hundred and Thirteenth Meeting,” 12 June 1969
Source: National Archives (College Park, MD). Record Group 84, Records of Foreign Service Posts, Records of U.S. Mission to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Board of Governors Meetings, 1961-1972, box 3, IAEA 3 Board of Governors Meeting June 1969
This record of a Board of Governors Meeting recorded several substantive developments and decisions: the reappointment of Sigvard Eklund as Director General (he served the Agency from 1961 to 1981), the possible creation of a special Agency fund of enriched uranium to assist the power reactor programs of non-nuclear weapons states, and the potential role of the Agency in the use of nuclear explosions for peaceful purposes (PNE). The last topic produced some amusing banter; discussing the Agency’s report on the matter, the Italian delegate Carlo Salvetti took exception to the assumption that the Agency would necessarily play a central role in helping states “benefit” from PNEs. “The tone of paragraph 13(b) of the draft report was somewhat reminiscent of the fairy-tale in which the stepmother used to ask the mirror: “Mirror, mirror on the wall. Who is fairest one of all?” The Agency, however, was taking its fairness for granted without even consulting the mirror. The Agency might well become the prettiest girl in the world of peaceful nuclear explosions; it was somewhat early to say that it was already.” The U.S. Representative Henry D. Smyth, author of the Manhattan Project’s Smyth Report, “pointed out that the Agency only wished to enter the beauty contest.”
Document 4: U.S. Embassy Taiwan telegram 8253, “IAEA Inspection of ROC Nuclear Facilities,” 15 December 1976, Confidential
Source: National Archives (College Park), Record Group (RG) 59, Department of State Records, Access to Archival Databases, 1976 State Department telegrams.
The IAEA had expelled Taiwan from membership in 1971, in favor of the People’s Republic of China. The organization nevertheless had safeguards agreements with Taiwan, including a trilateral Taiwan-U.S.-IAEA agreement, which it continued to enforce. In 1972, the IAEA had begun to inspect nuclear facilities in Taiwan, with strong U.S. support because Washington had been concerned about Taiwan’s nuclear ambitions.
This document reproduces the text of the Agency’s interim report of its inspection in July 1975. The information in the document is complex and highly technical in nature but what comes across clearly is that the Agency deployed visual monitoring systems at the Taiwan Research Reactor to ensure that nothing untoward happened (e.g., removal of spent fuel for surreptitious reprocessing into plutonium). The monitoring system originally consisted of cameras, but technical problems led the Agency to replace them with a closed circuit TV system which, according to the inspection report, was “operating very successfully.” With the failure of the cameras the Agency needed to conduct “extensive” gamma radiation measurements of the spent or “irradiated” fuel to ensure that it had been used as the reactor operators claimed and not, for example, in a way that would maximize plutonium production. Other installations were inspected, such as a reprocessing laboratory which could be used to produce plutonium from spent fuel but which was too small “for serious production scale reprocessing.”
The next year IAEA inspectors would detect irregular activities at the Taiwan Research Reactor; led to questions about the 1976 inspection and eventually to the closing of the facility.
Toby McIntosh is Editor of FreedomInfo.org , published by the National Security Archive. William Burr is Senior Analyst at the National Security Archive, where he directs the Archive’s nuclear history documentation project. See the Archive’s Nuclear Vault resources page.
For more information, contact:
Toby McIntosh or William Burr at 202 / 994-7000 or email@example.com
These materials are reproduced from http://www.nsarchive.org with the permission of the National Security Archive
The United Nations’ nuclear monitoring body says Iran is complying with the terms of an interim nuclear agreement struck between the Islamic Republic and six world powers late last year.
In its monthly report released on Thursday, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Tehran has diluted half of its uranium earlier enriched to the 20-percent purity to a lower grade to power reactors.
The other half of the stockpile is to be converted into a form that would be relatively difficult to be reconverted to the 20 percent level.
On Wednesday, IAEA head Yukiya Amano said, “I can tell you, these measures [by Iran] are being implemented as planned.”
Iran and the six world powers – the United States, France, Britain, Russia, China and Germany – sealed an interim deal in Geneva on November 24, 2013 to pave the way for the full resolution of the decade-old dispute with Iran over the country’s nuclear energy program. The deal came into force on January 20.
Under the Geneva deal, dubbed the Joint Plan of Action, the six countries have undertaken to provide Iran with some sanctions relief in exchange for the Islamic Republic agreeing to limit certain aspects of its nuclear activities during a six-month period.
Iran and the six powers are scheduled to resume expert-level talks on Tehran’s nuclear energy program in New York May 5-9.
The negotiations will be held ahead of a fresh round of high-level nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 group, scheduled to begin in the Austrian capital, Vienna, on May 13.
Tehran and the six countries wrapped up their latest round of high-level nuclear talks in Vienna on April 9.
United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Carmen Oritz
A brief news story posted by Reuters at 3pm on Friday afternoon reported that Sihai Cheng, a Chinese national is facing criminal charges brought by the U.S. government for allegedly having conspired to export “pressure transducers,” sensors that translate the application of pressure into electrical signals, to Iran in violation with sanctions that restrict trade of scientific equipment and technology to that country.
Cheng was arrested at Heathrow airport two months ago and the indictment was brought by Boston field offices of the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Commerce, and the Department of Justice’s Massachusetts District Attorney.
Following the publication of the Reuters report, the news traveled fast with outlets like Bloomberg News, AFP, Telegraph, and BBC all picking it up, and inevitably tying the news to the ongoing international nuclear negotiations taking place between six world powers and Iran.
Pressure transducers have myriad industrial and scientific uses; their use in the translating pressurized gas in centrifuges to an analog electrical signal is but one of these applications. A statement released by the U.S. Attorney’s office declares, “Pressure transducers can be used in gas centrifuges to enrich uranium and produce weapons-grade uranium.”
Unmentioned is the fact that, not only can transducers be used for thousands of other reasons, but also that Iran’s enrichment of uranium is legal, Iran’s enrichment facilities are under strict IAEA monitoring and inspection, and Iran has never even been accused of enriching uranium to weapons-grade levels. It’s like arresting someone over trading light bulbs, which can be used in automobiles, which can be used to run people over.
The prosecution of people accused of breaching the aggressive U.S.-led sanctions regime is nothing new; just last month, Mohammad Reza Nazemzadeh, a prolific and respected medical research scientist in Michigan was inexplicably indicted for trying to send a refurbished coil for an MRI machine to a hospital in Iran. However, certain language used in press reports to describe the indictment of Cheng – in bold below – is curious.
Reuters reported that Cheng had “supplied thousands of parts that have nuclear applications to Eyvaz, a company involved in Iran’s nuclear weapons program, in violation of U.S. sanctions on Iran, federal prosecutors said.”
Bloomberg News used the same formulation:
From November 2005 to 2012, Cheng allegedly supplied thousands of parts that have nuclear applications to Eyvaz, an Iranian company involved in the development and procurement of parts for Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
“Iran’s nuclear weapons program.” Read that again. “Iran’s nuclear weapons program.” The ubiquity of this phrase in the press and political speechifying belies the fact that Iran does not actually have a nuclear weapons program and is thus, not only deliberately deceiving, but patently false.
It should now go without saying that, for years now, the United States intelligence community and its allies have long assessed that Iran is not and never has been in possession of nuclear weapons, is not building nuclear weapons, and its leadership has not made any decision to build nuclear weapons. Iran’s uranium enrichment program is fully safeguarded by the IAEA and no nuclear material has ever been diverted to a military program. Iranian officials have consistently maintained they will never pursue such weapons on religious, strategic, political, moral and legal grounds.
This assessment has been reaffirmed year after year by the U.S. Director of Intelligence James Clapper, most recently in mid-February before the Senate Armed Services Committee. The intelligence has maintained for nearly seven years a high level of confidence that Iran has no nuclear weapons program.
Nevertheless, this phraseology goes frequently unchallenged in the mainstream media – despite repeated appeals by ombudsmen and public editors for more careful and measured writing by their reporters.
The reports of the Cheng case, however, are a bit more revealing. The specific claim referencing an Iranian “nuclear weapons program” did not originate with the Reuters wire service or Bloomberg‘s own cribbed report. In fact, the phrase in its entirety came from the U.S. Attorney’s own press release about the indictment, which was posted Friday by the “Boston Press Release Service,” and has still (as of this writing) not appeared on the website for the U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts.
That the offending phrase – “Iran’s nuclear weapons program” – was literally copied-and-pasted directly from a government statement by professional reporters for major news outlets, without a shred of skepticism, scrutiny or fact-checking, is sadly par for the course in a media landscape wherein the press simply parrot the government line as a matter of policy.
“The indictment alleges that between in or about November 2005 and 2012, Cheng supplied thousands of parts that have nuclear applications, including U.S. origin goods, to Eyvaz, an Iranian company involved in the development and procurement of parts for Iran’s nuclear weapons program,” the release reads.
The government prosecutor responsible for the indictment is Massachusetts’ U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, who herself has a sordid history of overly-aggressive prosecution, in one case leading to the suicide of computer programmer and online activist Aaron Swartz in January 2013.
In this indictment, Ortiz has thus made an assumption about Iranian actions and intentions that directly contradicts the consensus of 16 American intelligence agencies. Furthermore, the prosecution itself is part of the Obama administration’s own economic war on Iran.
Just two weeks after Iran and the P5+1 signed their Joint Plan of Action in late November 2013, the U.S. State and Treasury Departments specifically named Eyvaz Technic Manufacturing Company among companies targeted “for evading international sanctions against Iran and for providing support for Iran’s nuclear program.”
The recent indictment and accompanying press release present a clear indication that the decades-long disinformation campaign about Iran’s nuclear program is far more powerful and sustaining than facts and evidence. And that’s bad news when the propaganda comes straight from the Department of Justice.
It would be hard to find a more stark demonstration of how differently the IAEA and Western governments, led by the United States, have treated Iran and its nuclear program, as compared to other NPT NNWS who are under essentially the same legal obligations, than in the following couple of developments within the last week.
The first is a presentation given by Robert Einhorn, a recently retired senior US official, who many see as a close confidant of the administration, in which he floated a “trial balloon” of a possible comprehensive agreement between Iran and the P5+1. Among the elements of such a deal, Einhorn proposed the following:
Convert the underground uranium enrichment plant at Fordow into a research and development facility for testing more advanced centrifuges and conducting other nuclear research. Centrifuges there now would be removed to monitored storage.
Modify a heavy-water reactor under construction at Arak to greatly reduce its production of plutonium — another potential bomb fuel — by converting it into a light water reactor, fueling it with enriched uranium or reducing its power level. “Fueling the reactor with enriched uranium would make it more capable of producing medical isotopes than the original” planned facility, Einhorn writes.
Require even more stringent monitoring of the Iranian program than dictated by the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, including “more frequent and wider access by International Atomic Energy Agency personnel, more extensive installation of surveillance and containment equipment and greater use of remote, real-time monitoring.”
Set up procedures to ensure that any questions about Iranian compliance are “investigated and resolved expeditiously.”
So, under Einhorn’s plan, Iran would get to keep a limited capacity to enrich uranium, but only at a limited number of agreed facilities, not to include the ones that could not be easily bombed if necessary by Israel or the U.S. Iran would also have to scrap plans for building a reactor at Arak that might produce some plutonium, but only if Iran built a separate reprocessing facility that it has no plans to build.
Now, juxtapose that development with the news this past week that Japan has agreed to repatriate some of the weapons grade plutonium contained in its massive stockpile of already separated plutonium, to the US, although according to this report:
The joint statement released at the summit by Washington and Tokyo did not specify how much nuclear material was being repatriated. According to a 10-year-old U.S. report on the Tokai research facility, roughly 1,210 pounds of bomb-ready uranium and 730 pounds of separated plutonium existed at the site, the Center for Public Integrity reported on Tuesday.
Though nonproliferation supporters commended the announcement on the coming withdrawal of fissile material from Tokai, the amount of plutonium held at the facility represents less than one percent of Japan’s worldwide stockpile and just 3.5 percent of the total amount held domestically. Those figures also do not take into account the 8 tons of plutonium the country could begin producing annually at its mixed-oxide fuel fabrication plant at Rokkasho, which is still under construction.
See any differences in treatment?
The world’s news media have long accepted without question the charge that Iran had for many years used its civilian nuclear program as a cover for a nuclear weapons program. That narrative has rested on intelligence documents and reports that were accepted as credible by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The IAEA in turn has been treated in the news media as a non-political authority without any axe to grind.
But, as I document in detail in Manufactured Crisis, the intelligence documents at the heart of this narrative were fabrications created by the state with most obvious interest in promoting such a narrative—Israel. The origin of the false intelligence was the ambition of the neoconservatives in the Bush administration and their Israeli ally to carry out regime change in Iran, which they believed would require the use of force, though not with large-scale ground troop as in Iraq. They also believed that the only way to justify such a war would be to build a case that Iran was threatening to obtain nuclear weapons of mass destruction.
Against the backdrop of a political strategy for Iran, on which Undersecretary of State John Bolton was coordinating with Israel in 2003-04, a large cache of documents from a Iranian nuclear weapons research program came into the possession of Germany’s intelligence agency, the BND, late in the summer of 2004. They included computer modeling of a series of efforts to integrate what appeared to be a nuclear weapon into the Shahab-3 Iranian missile, and experiments with high explosives that could be used to detonate a nuclear weapon. Someone leaked to David Sanger of the New York Times that those documents had come from the laptop computer of an Iranian scientist involved in the alleged program who later feared that he had been discovered and managed to get the computer out through his wife. U.S. officials told senior IAEA officials that they feared the “third party” that had brought out the documents was now dead, according to former Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei.
But that was a crudely constructed cover story to hide the real source of the documents. In fact, the German intelligence agency, BND got those documents from a member of the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK), the Iranian terrorist organization that had become a client of Israel. The MEK member was a sometime source for the agency, but senior BND officials regarded the source as “doubtful,” according to former senior German official Karsten Voigt, who told me the whole story of his November 2004 conversation with his BND contacts on the record a year ago.
The senior BND officials had contacted Voigt, who was then coordinator of North-American relations for the foreign office, immediately after Secretary of State Colin Powell had made comments to reporters about “information” that Iran was “working hard” to combine a ballistic missile with “a weapon.” The BND officials were alarmed that the Bush administration was intending to make a case for war against Iran based on those doubtful documents.
The sequence of events presented a remarkable series of parallels with the Bush administration’s exploitation of the BND source codenamed “Curveball” to make the case for war against Iraq less than two years earlier. That Iraqi refugee in Germany—who turned out to be the brother of a senior official of Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraqi National Council—had told tales of Iraqi mobile bioweapons labs to the BND, which had passed them on to the CIA. But BND officers had eventually begun to doubt his stories. When George Tenet had asked BND chief August Hanning in December 2002 whether the United States could use the information publicly, Hanning had written a personal note to warn him that the United States should not rely on the information without further confirmation. Colin Powell had nevertheless used the very information about which Hanning had warned as the centerpiece of the case for war in Iraq. Now Powell was going public with another claim about WMD intelligence from another dubious source to make what sounded like the beginning of a case for war against another adversary of the United States.
Voigt believed the senior BND officials wanted him to issue another warning to the United States not to rely on these documents, and a few days later, he did give such a warning in public, in a coded fashion. In an article in the Wall Street Journal Voigt was reported to have said the information to which Powell had referred had come from “an Iranian dissident group” and that the United States and Europe should not “let their Iran policy be influenced by single-source headlines.”
The BND officials were not the only ones who had questions about those documents. Some U.S. intelligence analysts wondered why the purported nuclear weapons research project documents only included material about alleged high explosives experiments, a missile reentry vehicle and the design of another uranium conversion facility totally different from the one Iran had adopted after years of research, development and testing. Why, they wondered was there nothing about weapons design? And why was the work on the missile reentry vehicle amateurish – or, as David Albright put it to this writer in a September 2008 interview, “so primitive”? Why was the design for a bench-scale conversion process marred by such fundamental flaws that the IAEA’s Olli Heinonen had to acknowledge in a February 2008 briefing that it had “technical inconsistencies.”
The documents also exhibited anomalies that were direct indicators of fraud. The most dramatic was the fact that the studies modeling the missile reentry vehicle were based on the initial Shahab-3 missile, which the Iranian missile program is known to have begun to replace with an improved model as early as 2000 – two years before those modeling studies were said to have been started in mid-2002. The redesign of the reentry vehicle, which was a key to improved design, would have been far advanced by then, according to Michael Elleman of International Institute for Strategic Studies, who was the main author of an authoritative study of the Iranian ballistic missile program. The shape of the new reentry vehicle, first revealed to the world when the new missile was flight tested in August 2004, bore no resemblance to the old one portrayed in the documents. The authors of the documents had obviously been unaware of that complete redesign of the reentry vehicle, meaning that they could not have part of an Iranian Defense Ministry-sponsored program.
The creators of the collection of documents were clever enough to build them around an authentic document that could be verified as real and thereby lend credibility to a collection that otherwise lacked any evidence of authenticity. But the document was not from inside the Iranian government but a letter from a high tech company to an Iranian engineering firm. It would have been relatively easy for Mossad, which carries out constant surveillance of high tech companies, to acquire that document. The document was then used to provide evidence of connections between different parts of the alleged project that was otherwise absent: anonymous handwriting on it referred to the reentry vehicle study. Those touches reveal creators who were eager to maximize the political effect of the document and apparently not worried that they would be too obvious.
The daring of the venture as well as the fact that the actual document around which it was built would have been a routine discovery for Mossad leave little room for doubt about the Israeli origins of the collection.
The plan had been to have the IAEA focus entirely on what ElBaradei was calling the “alleged studies” once the “Work Program” negotiated with Iran on the various other issues the Agency had raised since 2004 was completed. But then came the National Intelligence Estimate of November 2007, which concluded that Iran had stopped the work on nuclear weapons that the intelligence community had been certain it had been doing for years in 2003. That estimate all but eliminated the case for the use of force, so it created a serious problem for Israel.
The Israelis responded quickly, however, coming up with an entirely new series of intelligence documents and reports in 2008 and 2009 showing that Iranian nuclear weapons research and development program was far more advanced than previously believed. Those documents were transmitted to the IAEA directly by Israel, according to ElBaradei’s memoirs, but the IAEA never disclosed that highly salient fact.
The first document arrived as early as April 2008, and the IAEA’s Safeguards Department immediately mentioned it in the May 2008 IAEA report. It was a Farsi-language report on experiments with high explosives that was obviously intended to suggest the initiation of a hemispherical charge for an implosion nuclear weapon.
The very next IAEA report in September 2008 announced that the experiment “may have involved the assistance of foreign expertise.” That was obviously a reference to a scholarly paper on a methodology for measuring intervals between explosions using fiber optic cables co-authored in 1992 by Ukrainian scientist Vyacheslav Danilenko, who had worked in Iran from 1999 to 2005. The IAEA thus swallowed the implausible Israeli claim that a spy had obtained a top secret Iranian document on nuclear weapon-related experiments that just happened to involve the same methodology about which Danilenko had published.
The far more plausible sequence of events was that Mossad had discovered Danilenko’s work in Iran in a routine investigation of foreign personnel in the country and soon found out that he had worked at the Soviet nuclear weapons complex at Chelyabinsk and had published on a method for measuring explosive internals. Those discoveries would have inspired the idea of secret Iran document describing high explosives experiments that would include a measurement technique that would implicate Danilenko—who would be portrayed as a Soviet nuclear weapons specialist—in the alleged Iran nuclear weapons program.
Further supporting that explanation for the appearance of the document is the fact that the most sensational intelligence claim in the November 2011 IAEA report involves yet another Danilenko publication. The IAEA said it had “information” that Iran had built a high explosives containment chamber in 2000 “in which to conduct hydrodynamic experiments”, which it defines as tests to “simulate the first stages of a nuclear explosion”, at its Parchin military facility. And it cited a publication by the same “foreign expert”—i.e., Danilenko—as allowing it to “confirm the date of construction of the cylinder and some of its design features (such as its dimensions).”
That Danilenko publication, however, was actually on the design of an explosives chamber for the production of nanodiamonds. The drawing of the chamber accompanying the article, moreover, displays features, such as air and water systems for cooling the tank immediately before and after the explosion, that would have made it unusable for the purpose of testing nuclear weapons designs. Despite having worked in a Soviet nuclear weapons complex for many years, Danilenko had worked from the beginning of his career on explosive synthesis of nanodiamonds, which involved no knowledge of nuclear weapons or of methods for testing them. (The first American to discover nanodiamonds synthesis, Dr. Ray Grenier, who had also worked for many years in Los Alamos National Laboratory, the top U.S. nuclear weapons complex, told me that he himself had never worked on anything directly connected with nuclear weapons, and that all of his work on nanodiamonds synthesis had been unclassified.)
The IAEA never produced any confirming evidence for the tale of the bomb test chamber at Parchin provided by Israel. Former IAEA chief inspector in Iraq Robert Kelley, who had also been project leader for nuclear intelligence at Los Alamos national laboratory and head of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Remote Sensing Laboratory, immediately pointed out that the IAEA description of the alleged explosive containment chamber and its intended purpose made no sense technically. Kelley observed that the capacity of the alleged chamber to contain 70 kilograms of high explosives reported by the IAEA would have been as “far too small” for the kind of hydrodynamic nuclear tests the report claimed as its purpose. Kelley and three other intelligence experts on photo interpretation also pointed out that the satellite photos of the site at Parchin indicate that it displays none of the characteristics that would be associated with a high explosives testing site.
And Iran’s behavior in regard to the site in Parchin contradicts the notion that it needed to hide evidence of nuclear testing there. Iran allowed the IAEA to pick any five sites in one of the four quadrants of Parchin to visit and take environmental samples in February 2005 and then did the same thing again in November 2005. And the IAEA reported in February 2012 that it had obtained the complete run of satellite photos of the site from February 2005 to February 2012 and found that there was no evidence of any significant activity at the site for the entire seven years.
The tainted intelligence underlying the charges of a covert Iranian nuclear weapons program is now one of the major issues in the nuclear negotiations with Iran. The introduction of the demand that Iran must satisfy the IAEA indicates either that the Obama administration believes completely in the official nuclear narrative and is dangerously overconfident about its bargaining position or that the administration has been assured by IAEA director general Yukiya Amano that he will do what is necessary to reach agreement with Iran on the issue of “possible military dimensions” of the nuclear program. In either case, the fate of the false intelligence and the fate of the nuclear talks are now deeply intertwined.
Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and historian who writes on U.S. national security issues. His latest book Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare, was published in February by Just World Books.
If you take politicians and the mainstream media seriously, you believe that Iran wants a nuclear weapon and has relentlessly engaged in covert efforts to build one. Even if you are aware that Iran signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and is subject to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections, you may believe that those who run the Islamic Republic have cleverly found ways to construct a nuclear-weapons industry almost undetected. Therefore, you may conclude, Democratic and Republican administrations have been justified in pressuring Iran to come clean and give up its “nuclear program.”
But you would be wrong.
Anyone naturally skeptical about such foreign-policy alarms has by now found solid alternative reporting that debunks the official narrative about the alleged Iranian threat. Much of that reporting has come from Gareth Porter, the journalist and historian associated with Inter Press Service. Porter has done us the favor of collecting the fruits of his dogged investigative journalism into a single comprehensive and accessible volume, Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.
A grain of truth can be found at the core of the official story. Iranian officials did indeed engage in secret activities to achieve a nuclear capability. But it was a capability aimed at generating electricity and medical treatments, not hydrogen bombs.
Porter opens his book by explaining why Iran used secretive rather than open methods. Recall that before the 1979 Islamic revolution, Iran was ruled by an autocratic monarch, the shah. The shah’s power had been eclipsed in the early 1950s by a democratically elected parliament. Then, in 1953, America’s Eisenhower administration sent the CIA in to foment civil discord in order to drive the elected prime minister, Mohammad Mossadegh, from office and restore the shah’s power.
During his reign, the shah, a close ally of the United States and Israel, started building a nuclear-power industry — with America’s blessing. Iran’s Bushehr reactor was 80 percent complete when the shah was overthrown.
When Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini became Iran’s supreme leader in 1979, he cancelled completion of the reactor and stopped related projects. But “two years later, the government reversed the decision to strip the [Atomic Energy Organization of Iran] of its budget and staff, largely because the severe electricity shortages that marked the first two years of the revolutionary era persuaded policymakers that there might be a role for nuclear power reactors after all,” Porter writes.
The new regime’s goals were “extremely modest compared with those of the shah,” Porter adds, consisting of one power plant and fuel purchased from France. Take note: the Iranian government did not aspire to enrich uranium, which is the big scare issue these days.
Iran brought the IAEA into its planning process, Porter writes, and an agency official, after conducting a survey of facilities, “recommended that the IAEA provide ‘expert services’ in eight different fields.” Porter notes that the IAEA official said nothing about an Iranian request for help in enriching uranium, “reflecting the fact that Iran was still hoping to get enriched uranium from the French company, Eurodif.”
Had things continued along this path, Iran today would have had a transparent civilian nuclear industry, under the NPT safeguard, fueled by enriched uranium purchased from France or elsewhere. No one would be talking about Iranian centrifuges and nuclear weapons. What happened?
The Reagan administration happened.
Continuing the U.S. hostility toward the Islamic Republic begun by the Carter administration, and siding with Iraq when Saddam Hussein’s military attacked Iran, the Reagan administration imposed “a series of interventions … to prevent international assistance of any kind to the Iranian nuclear program.” Not only did President Reagan block American firms from helping the Iranians; he also pressured American allies to participate in the embargo. This was in clear violation of the NPT, which recognizes the “right” of participating states to acquire nuclear technology for civilian purposes.
No wonder Iran turned to covert channels, most particularly A.Q. Khan, the Pakistani who “was selling nuclear secrets surreptitiously.” This would have been the time for Iran to buy weapons-related technology — however, Porter writes, “there is no indication that [Khan’s Iranian contact] exhibited any interest in the technology for making a bomb.”
This is indeed a manufactured crisis.
Progress in Iran Nuclear Talks Depends on the Israeli Government Coming Clean on its Nuclear Disinformation Campaigns
One of the sticking points in the on-going Iran nuclear negotiations is the fate of the so-called “Possible Military Dimensions” (aka “Alleged Studies”) file. This is a compendium of allegations against Iran’s nuclear program – largely gathered by third-party intelligence agencies – that the IAEA would like Iran to respond to. Not only are the allegations largely outside the IAEA legal authority and expertise (because they do not directly deal with nuclear material diversion), but Iran has not been allowed to see much of this secret evidence that is being used against it. Such a process is, of course, not consistent with normal Western legal practice. Iran has responded to what little it has been shown of the PMD file by saying that the evidence thus far shown is fabricated.
Though this Iranian response is often cast as Iran “not cooperating with the IAEA” (or “refusing to discuss the matter”), another possibility must be considered: that Iran is correct. That is, that at least some the evidence has indeed been cooked-up by an adversarial Intelligence service (or by an agent recruited by such an Intelligence service).
A wonderful new book by Gudrun Harrer on the IAEA inspections in Iraq sheds some light on which countries could be involved in fabricating and planting such fake nuclear “evidence”. On p. 185 of the book, it is confirmed that Israel provided the IAEA with false information on Laser Isotope Separation activities in Iraq. The reference for this information is the author’s interview with David Albright of ISIS (see at this insert the relevant scanned pages from the book):
Israel has, of course, long been suspected of being behind some of the forged and suspect evidence against Iran: the neutron initiators, AP graphs, etc., but until now it was hard to definitely pin the blame on that country. Thanks to David Albright at ISIS, we now know that Israel has been guilty of planting disinformation with the IAEA in the past.
The German intelligence agency has also discredited much of the secret evidence against Iran.
Having myself analyzed some of what is (evidently) in this PMD file – with Dr. Ferenc Dalnoki-Veress of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies – I can say that the evidence is certainly of poor quality and/or an amateurish forgery. It does not look like anything a state-level research scientist would produce. There are large and conspicuous mathematical and physical errors in the material.
Similarly, Robert Kelley has assessed that at least some of the evidence purporting to show weaponization research work continuing past 2004 is less than compelling:
[The] evidence, according to the IAEA, tells us Iran embarked on a four-year program, starting around 2006, to validate the design of a device to produce a burst of neutrons that could initiate a fission chain reaction. Though I cannot say for sure what source the agency is relying on, I can say for certain that this project was earlier at the center of what appeared to be a misinformation campaign…. Mohamed ElBaradei, who was then the agency’s director general, rejected the information because there was no chain of custody for the paper, no clear source, document markings, date of issue or anything else that could establish its authenticity…
David Albright’s confirmation of Israeli nuclear disinformation goes hand-in-glove with statements from former IAEA director, and Nobel Prize winner, Mohammed ElBaradei. In his biography, ElBaradei says that the documents that the IAEA had about the alleged neutron initiators in Iran circa 2008 were given to the Agency by Israel. He further states that Israel gave him permission to show the evidence to Iran.
So the question is, why has the IAEA not cooperated with Iran in evaluating material like they did with Iraq circa 1995, in the incident mentioned by Harrer?
Iran could be genuinely helpful if they were allowed to see the original evidence and comment on it. When the IAEA worked with Iraq to evaluate documents, the Iraqis helpfully pointed out mistakes that the IAEA could independently confirm. Isn’t that the example we would like to see with Iran?
Being charged with secret evidence also goes against every notion of Western justice. The IAEA either needs to drop the PMD file, or amend their procedures.
Unfortunately, it is quite likely that the Israeli government is once again carrying out nuclear disinformation, possibly in collaboration with the MEK, an Iranian terrorist – in some nations, formerly terrorist – organization opposed to the current Iranian regime.
Over the past weekend, it was also confirmed that Israel masterminded the assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists. These assassinations, too, perhaps were carried out with local MEK collaboration. If the Israeli government is capable of assassinating civilian Iranian scientists, would fabricating nuclear intel on Iran trouble their consciences? Presumably not. Especially as they have done it in the past, according to David Albright at ISIS.
Before further pursuing Iran on the PMD file – which may contain substantial forged evidence – it would make sense to ask Israel to come clean about any fabricated intelligence it may have planted with the IAEA. It is quite possible that some of the PMD file is not fake. Israel’s assistance and cooperation in identifying what is fake and what is not would be most helpful. If David Albright of ISIS has further insight into this – as he did in the Iraqi case – his involvement would also, of course, be very welcome.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to give credibility to hyperbolic Israeli statements about Iran’s underhandedness in pursuing its nuclear program, when Israel itself has been underhanded in pursuing clandestine disinformation campaigns against NPT states, while itself remaining resolutely outside the NPT.
There are several points for the IAEA to consider in light of these recent developments:
1. Should the IAEA reject all evidence from Israel against Iran and other adversarial states now?
2. Should the IAEA, generally, not accept intelligence from non-NPT states?
3. The IAEA should show Iran any evidence it wants an Iranian response on. Anything less is not consistent with Western notions of justice. Furthermore such cooperation could unveil the origin of any possible forgeries in the PMD file.
4. The IAEA and the US should ask Israel to come clean on any fabricated “evidence” it may have inserted into the PMD file.
5. As I have suggested previously, it would be best to simply drop the PMD file as it relates to decade old unauthenticated allegations of possible research. It is not even clear that what is in the PMD file – even if true – would be a violation of the NPT or the safeguards agreement.
6. If the IAEA really wants to pursue the content of the PMD in a legal way they can initiate special inspections or undertake arbitration as provided for in the CSA. The IAEA does not even have the technical expertise in-house to undertake investigations of missiles, warheads etc. which are mentioned in the PMD file.
7. Since Iran is now in compliance with its safeguards agreement, Iran’s nuclear file – currently hung-up in the Security Council – should return to the IAEA. The referral to the Security Council was unorthodox and politicized to begin with, and there is no rationale for Iran’s nuclear file to remain there post-2008. (Footnote 38 of the latest IAEA report on Iran makes clear that the remaining issues are not IAEA safeguards issues but extraneous UNSC ones).
8. This also means that the UNSC nuclear-related sanctions on Iran should now be dropped. In fact, they ought to have been dropped in 2008.
David Albright must be commended for his helpful insight into fabricated Israeli intelligence in Iraq, and hopefully can assist in tracking down similar disinformation in the case of Iran.
Relatedly, we must thank him and ISIS also for showing the international community expensive satellite pictures of Parchin, in which one can see that west of the paving activity, the site is untouched, and so the IAEA could get environmental samples there (if they even needed those). This undercuts ISIS’ own conclusion that the site has been magically “sanitized” by paving. Normally, of course, the IAEA would take such swipe samples from within the buildings where any suspect U naturally collects: in the corners and at the places where the walls meet the floor.
The technical weaknesses in ISIS’ and IAEA’s approach to Parchin were previously commented on.
The IAEA’s technically unsound obsession with environmental sampling at Parchin may also mean they are confusing the site at Marivan (where open-air implosion tests may have taken place) with the site at Parchin (where implosions in a chamber are alleged).
From the May 2008 Board report, referring to the Marivan site:
A.2. High Explosives Testing
Document 3: Five page document in English describing experimentation undertaken with a complex multipoint initiation system to detonate a substantial amount of high explosive in hemispherical geometry and to monitor the development of the detonation wave in that high explosive using a considerable number of diagnostic probes.
And the alleged weapons’ studies annex Nov 2011:
43. Information provided to the Agency by the same Member State referred to in the previous paragraph describes the multipoint initiation concept referred to above as being used by Iran in at least one large scale experiment in 2003 to initiate a high explosive charge in the form of a hemispherical shell. [……] Further information provided to the Agency by the same Member State indicates that the large scale high explosive experiments were conducted by Iran in the region of Marivan.
So what is the point of carrying out environmental sampling at Parchin (where chamber experiments are alleged) and not at Marivan where open-air experiments were allegedly done? Is the IAEA – and ISIS – confused between Marivan and Parchin?
The IAEA’s unprofessionalism in vetting the content of the PMD file, and in the obsession over Parchin (which the IAEA visited twice already) vs. Marivan smacks of an agenda to target Iran rather than any sound technical analysis. It is likely to blow up the Iran nuclear deal for no good reason. Iran has cooperated with the IAEA on the PMD file by saying that the material it was shown was fabricated – this may be true. Now Israel should also cooperate and come clean about what forged material – or material from compromised sources like “Curveball” – may be within this file. David Albright, with his past knowledge and evident expertise in fabricated Israeli intelligence should also step up to the plate.
And, certainly, Iran should be shown any evidence it is being asked to answer to by the IAEA. The Agency should also spend about half an hour and check whether the site it is interested in for environmental sampling is Marivan or Parchin. Environmental sampling at Parchin makes little sense. At Parchin, swipes would be taken from within the buildings since chamber-based implosions are alleged. While it is at it, the IAEA should also review the technical basis of their conclusions on Syria.
It is hard to take the Agency seriously when it persists in being blatantly unprofessional.
Dr Jim Walsh, a research associate at MIT, has an excellent suggestion about what to do with Iran’s “PMD” file – as paraphrased by Mark Hibbs: “If the nuclear activities were in the past, I don’t care. It’s dead, and it’s regretful, but let’s do a deal with Iran that moves forward.”
But before we do that, the IAEA should ask Israel to come clean about its potential role in fabricating some of the “evidence” within the PMD file.
Dr. Yousaf Butt, a nuclear physicist, is Director of the Emerging Technologies Program at the Cultural Intelligence Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting fact-based cultural awareness among individuals, institutions, and governments. The views expressed here are his own.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has rejected Israel’s demand to release an alleged report about the Iranian nuclear energy work, saying there is no report that may indicate any diversion in Tehran’s program.
“The IAEA has not prepared any report containing new information relating to possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program,” spokeswoman Gill Tudor said on Friday.
The remarks came after Israel demanded that the UN nuclear watchdog agency go public with all information it has regarding the Iranian nuclear energy work.
The demand was made following a Thursday report by Reuters alleging that the agency had held off an update over the Iranian nuclear energy program last year due to concerns that it may undermine nuclear talks with Tehran.
“The agency’s reports on Iran to its Board of Governors are factual and impartial. Their content is not influenced by political considerations,” Tudor added.
Iran has repeatedly emphasized that its nuclear energy program is meant for civilian purposes.
Officials in Tehran have already called on the IAEA to come clean on anything it has regarding the suspicions over the diversion of the Iranian nuclear energy program.
However, the agency has so far found no diversion in Iran’s nuclear program to publicize it.
Iran is in talks with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council — Russia, China, France, the UK and the US — plus Germany to fully resolve the decade-old dispute over the Tehran’s nuclear energy program.
The two sides inked an interim nuclear deal in Geneva, Switzerland, on November 24, 2013. The Geneva deal took effect on January 20. The two sides are now in pursuit of a final comprehensive deal.
Israel’s allegations against Iran come as the Tel Aviv regime, which is widely believed to be the only possessor of nuclear arms in the Middle East, reportedly maintains between 200 and 400 atomic warheads.
Furthermore, the Israeli regime has never allowed any inspection of its nuclear facilities and continues to defy international calls to join the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The Barack Obama administration has demanded that Iran resolve “past and present concerns” about the “possible military dimensions” of its nuclear program as a condition for signing a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Tehran.
Administration officials have suggested that Iran must satisfy the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) regarding the allegations in the agency’s report that it has had a covert nuclear weapons program in the past.
But the record of negotiations between Iran and the IAEA shows Tehran has been ready for the past two years to provide detailed responses to all the charges of an Iranian nuclear weapons work, and that the problem has been the refusal of the IAEA to share with Iran the documentary evidence on which those allegations have been based.
The real obstacle to providing those documents, however, has long been a U.S. policy of refusing to share the documents on the assumption that Iran must confess to having had a weaponization program.
The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation, Ali Akbar Salehi, declared February 12, “The authenticity of each allegation should be proven first, then the person who submitted it to the agency should give us the genuine document. When we are assured of the authenticity, then we can talk to the agency.”
Neither the IAEA nor the Obama administration has responded publicly to Salehi’s statement. In response to a query from IPS, the spokesperson for the National Security Council, Bernadette Meehan, said the NSC officials would have no comment on the Iranian demand for access to the documents.
The spokesperson for IAEA Director Yukiya Amano did not answer a request from IPS Thursday for the agency’s comment.
But a draft text of an agreement being negotiated between the IAEA and Iran dated February 20, 2012, shows that the only difference between the two sides on resolving issues about allegations of Iranian nuclear weapons work was Iran’s demand to have the documents on which the allegations are based.
The draft text, which was later published on the website of the Arms Control Association, reflects Iran’s deletions and additions to the original IAEA proposal. It calls for Iran to provide a “conclusive technical assessment” of a set of six “topics”, which included 12 distinct charges in the report in a particular order that the IAEA desired.
Iran and the IAEA agreed that Iran would provide a “conclusive technical assessment” on a list of 10 issues in a particular order. The only topics that Iran proposed to delete from the list were “management structure” and “Procurement activities”, which did not involve charges of specifically nuclear weapons work.
The two sides had agreed in the draft that the IAEA would provide a “detailed explanation of its concerns”. But they had failed to agree on provision of documents to Iran by the IAEA. The IAEA had proposed language that the agency would provide Iran with the relevant documents only “where appropriate”. Iran was insisting on deletion of that qualifying phrase from the draft.
The first priority on the list of topics to which both sides had agreed in the draft was “Parchin” – referring to the claim of intelligence from an unnamed state that Iran had installed a large cylinder at the Parchin military reservation.
A November 2011 IAEA report suggested the cylinder was intended for testing nuclear weapons designs and had been built with the assistance of a “foreign expert”. Iran also agreed to respond in detail on the issue of the “foreign expert”, who has been identified as Vyacheslav Danilenko, a Ukrainian specialist on nanodiamonds.
The evidence associated with that claim and others published in the 2011 report shows that they were based on intelligence reports and documents given to the IAEA by Israel in 2008-09. Former IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei referred to a series of documents provided by Israel in his 2012 memoirs.
Iran also agreed to respond in detail to allegations that Iran had sought to integrate a nuclear weapon into the reentry vehicle of the Shahab-3 missile, and that it had developed high explosives as a “detonator” for a nuclear weapon.
Both alleged activities had been depicted or described in documents reported in the U.S. news media in 2005-06 as having come from a covert Iranian nuclear weapons program.
Those documents, about whose authenticity ElBaradei and other senior IAEA officials have publicly expressed serious doubts, have now been revealed as having been given to Western intelligence by an anti-regime Iranian terrorist organization.
Former senior German foreign office official Karsten Voigt revealed in an interview last year for a newly published book by this writer that senior officials of the German intelligence agency BND had told him in November 2004 that the BND had gotten the entire collection of documents from a member of the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK) who had been one of their sources, and that they did not consider the source to be reliable.
The MEK, considered by the United States and European states as a terrorist organization, had been used by Saddam Hussein’s regime to support the war against Iran and by Israel to issue intelligence and propaganda that Mossad did not want attributed to it.
ElBaradei, who retired from the IAEA in November 2009, had declared repeatedly that sharing the documents was necessary to ensure “due process” in resolving the issue, but the United States had prevented him from doing so.
In his final statement to the Board of Governors on September 7, 2009 he appealed to “those who provided the information related to the alleged weaponization studies to share with Iran as much information as possible.”
A former IAEA official, who asked not to be identified, told IPS that the United States had allowed only a very limited number of documents to be shown to Iran in the form of Power Point slides projected on a screen.
A May 2008 IAEA report described a number of documents purported to be from the Iranian weapons program but said that the IAEA “was not in possession of the documents and was therefore unfortunately unable to make them available to Iran.”
Around 100 pages of documents were given by the United States to the agency to share with Iran, the former official said, but none of the documents described in the report were among them.
The U.S. policy of denying Iranian access to the documents continued during the Obama administration, as shown by a U.S. diplomatic cable from Vienna dated April 29, 2009 and released by WikiLeaks. At a P5+1 technical meeting, both U.S. and IAEA officials were quoted as implying that the objective of the policy was to press Iran to confess to the activities portrayed in the papers.
U.S. officials said that a failure by Iran to “disclose any past weaponization-related work” would “suggest Iran wishes to hide and pursue its past work, perhaps to keep a future weapons option”.
IAEA Safeguards Chief Olli Heinonen made it clear that no copies of the relevant documents charging Iran with weaponization would be provided to Iran and complained that Iran had continued to claim that the documents were fabricated.
In its report of November 14, 2013, the IAEA said it had received more information – presumably from Israel – that “corroborates the analysis” in its 2011 report.
The past unwillingness of the Obama administration to entertain the possibility that the documents provided by the MEK were fabricated or to allow Iran the opportunity to prove that through close analysis of the documents, and the IAEA’s continued commitment to the weaponization information it has published suggest that the issue of past claims will be just as contentious as the technical issues to be negotiated, if not more so.
Gareth Porter, an investigative historian and journalist specializing in U.S. national security policy, received the UK-based Gellhorn Prize for journalism for 2011 for articles on the U.S. war in Afghanistan. His new book “Manufactured Crisis: the Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare”, was published Feb. 14.
I’m seeing a false narrative being constructed by the media around the Iran nuclear talks which, as usual, will become repeated so often that it becomes ‘true’ by virtue of repetition, as is the case usually with most of the conventional wisdom about Iran.
According to this false narrative, Iran was engaged in nuclear “weapons-related” research which was stopped in 2003, mostly, and this was the cause of the confusion all along and the reason why the US thought Iran was making nukes and not negotiating with Iran.
And now Iran has to ‘come clean’ about this past research which misled the US into thinking that Iran had a nuclear weapons program, causing the US to impose sanctions on Iran, which then led to Iran ‘giving in’ to the sanctions and accepting talks whose ‘goal’ is to reduce or eliminate Iran’s nuclear program.
This is of course a PR spin that was invented by someone. It has the benefit of providing a nice little story line in which everyone comes out not a bad guy, and we can all just put it down to a case of miscommunication — like some sort of TV sitcom episode.
But that’s not what happened at all.
The only question is why they’re pushing this spin in the media. An optimist would say that the US side is pushing this narrative in order to portray its eventual agreement with Iran as some sort of victory, and the Iranian side may allow this face-saving move by the US if only to remove sanctions. BUT, i’m not an optimist. I think that just as the entire nuclear issue was always a red herring and distraction, just as ‘WMDs in Iraq’ was always just a pretext for an entirely different policy, I think that the presumption should be that the talks too are just pretextual and a tactic.
But we’ll see.
Anyway, everything in that narrative that the media is trying to cook and feed average Americans is complete baloney, and I could type out a book to debunk it. So just for example about the claim that Iran was involved in ‘nuke-related’ research: When the 2003 NIE came out saying that Iran had stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003, the IAEA, whilst welcoming that conclusion, also pointed out that they had no evidence of a nuclear weapons program prior to 2003 either and NOTHING has changed since then, except that the IAEA head Elbaradei was replaced by US puppet Amano, who had sworn loyalty to the US and then started trying to give credence to the “Alleged studies” claims by renaming them ‘possible military dimensions’ and then issuing the ‘secret annex’ as part of the IAEA’s 2011 report that the previous IAEA head had dismissed as unverified claims. And to date NONE of the the claims have ever been verified, aside from anonymous claims of additional supporting information which no one has seen.
And that’s just one problem with this narrative. I could go on and on.
The point is, watch out for these false narratives and ‘conventional wisdom’ and don’t just ignore these claims in analysis pieces or reportage that proceed on such assumptions.
Aside from tha,t “nuclear related” research per se does not have to be reported by Iran to the IAEA anyway.
With the publication of Gareth Porter’s book about the history of Iran’s nuclear program entitled appropriately “Manufactured Conflict” and the up-coming publication of Daniel Joyner’s book which touches on the legalities of Iran’s nuclear program, I pretty much have nothing to write about these days but I have been enjoying the mess that we see in the media as the Gatekeepers of Opinion scamble to re-tune their messages:
The current meme they’re trying to sell is that the negoatiations are the result of a shift of policy by Iran, which was itself the result of the sanctions — rather than conceeding that the sole item which had stifled negotiations for years until now was the US insistence that Iran first abandon enrichment before engaging in negotiations about abandoning the rest of the nuclear program, and that the sanctions did not force Iran to the negotiating table but in fact prevented a resolution that could have been reached years ago in accordance with Iran’s multiple compromise offers.
For example, according to the Washington Post,
“But Khamenei has approved a less combative approach to the West, especially in negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program. That is fueling hope here that Iran can win a lifting of tough international sanctions, the root of its economic woes”
Nonsense. Whatever Ahmadinejad’s faults, it was he that went before the UNGC and re-announced Iran’s long-standing offer to suspend 20% enrichment — the subject of the much lauded agreement reached recently with the Rouhani government. In fact Iran had been offering to place additional, non-legally required limitations on its nuclear program for YEARS but was consistently snubbed by the US which continued to insist that Iran has to first abandon enrichment before any talks could happen.
Don’t let them re-write the history to suit themselves.
Oh and Carnegie Endowment head Jessica Matthews is back to writing fiction about Iran’s nuclear program. It makes for quite entertaining reading as a purely fictional account of history, in which for example the Iranians,
“For more than fifteen years, intelligence and on-the-ground inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) revealed nuclear facilities, imports of nuclear technology, and research that had no civilian use.”
Actually the IAEA has repeatedly and consistently stated that it has never found any evidence of non-civilian nuclear program in Iran.
And in fact IAEA officials complained that US intelligence failed to back up the allegations.
According to Jessica Matthews’ :
“There is no formal, legal “right” to enrichment or any other nuclear activity.”
Yes, world. The 14 nations that enrich uranium today do so by virtue of the fact that God gave them special permission to do so, or was it Jessica Matthews? — and did not give that permission to Iran. Sorry Iran, you don’t have the same sovereign rights as other nations.
But I won’t go into a fib-by-fib analysis here.
Anyway, even after the Obama administration finally gave up on the “zero enrichment” precondition to talks, they tried to claim that the ultimate agenda of the talks was still Iran abandoning enrichment — though this has been looking less and less likely too. AIPAC and Nuttyyahoo are left flopping in the wind nonetheless.
For its part, the New York Times has been trying its hardest to try to blow some life into the carcass of the “alleged studies” claims, first by promoting the “Polonium studies” nonsense that the IAEA itself said was resolved to Iran’s credit years ago, and now by failing to mention that the “neutron initiator” claims involving the bridgewire detonators which are the subject of today’s news, were dismissed by the IAEA as frauds according to IAEA Director ElBaradei’s book, which apparently none of the journalists bothered to read — Oh yeah, lets not forget that the Israelis accused Elbaradei of being an “Iranian agent” and a “despicable person” for that.
When Western intelligence agencies began in the early 1990s to intercept telexes from an Iranian university to foreign high technology firms, intelligence analysts believed they saw the first signs of military involvement in Iran’s nuclear programme. That suspicion led to U.S. intelligence assessments over the next decade that Iran was secretly pursuing nuclear weapons.
The supposed evidence of military efforts to procure uranium enrichment equipment shown in the telexes was also the main premise of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s investigation of Iran’s nuclear programme from 2003 through 2007.
But the interpretation of the intercepted telexes on which later assessments were based turned out to have been a fundamental error. The analysts, eager to find evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons programme, had wrongly assumed that the combination of interest in technologies that could be used in a nuclear programme and the apparent role of a military-related institution meant that the military was behind the procurement requests.
In 2007-08, Iran provided hard evidence that the technologies had actually been sought by university teachers and researchers.
The intercepted telexes that set in train the series of U.S. intelligence assessments that Iran was working on nuclear weapons were sent from Sharif University of Technology in Tehran beginning in late 1990 and continued through 1992. The dates of the telexes, their specific procurement requests and the telex number of PHRC were all revealed in a February 2012 paper by David Albright, the executive director of the Institute for Science and International Security, and two co-authors.
The telexes that interested intelligence agencies following them all pertained to dual-use technologies, meaning that they were consistent with work on uranium conversion and enrichment but could also be used for non-nuclear applications.
But what raised acute suspicions on the part of intelligence analysts was the fact that those procurement requests bore the telex number of the Physics Research Center (PHRC), which was known to have contracts with the Iranian military.
U.S., British, German and Israeli foreign intelligence agencies were sharing raw intelligence on Iranian efforts to procure technology for its nuclear programme, according to published sources. The telexes included requests for “high-vacuum” equipment, “ring” magnets, a balancing machine and cylinders of fluorine gas, all of which were viewed as useful for a programme of uranium conversion and enrichment.
The Schenck balancing machine ordered in late 1990 or early 1991 provoked interest among proliferation analysts, because it could be used to balance the rotor assembly parts on the P1 centrifuge for uranium enrichment. The “ring” magnets sought by the university were believed to be appropriate for centrifuge production.
The request for 45 cylinders of fluorine gas was considered suspicious, because fluorine is combined with uranium to produce uranium hexafluoride, the form of uranium that is used for enrichment.
The first indirect allusion to evidence from the telexes in the news came in late 1992, when an official of the George H. W. Bush administration told The Washington Post that the administration had pushed for a complete cutoff of all nuclear-related technology to Iran, because of what was called “a suspicious procurement pattern”.
Then the Iranian efforts to obtain those specific technologies from major foreign suppliers were reported, without mentioning the intercepted telexes, in a Public Broadcasting System “Frontline” documentary called “Iran and the Bomb” broadcast in April 1993, which portrayed them as clear indications of an Iranian nuclear weapons programme.
The producer of the documentary, Herbert Krosney, described the Iranian procurement efforts in similar terms in his book “Deadly Business” published the same year.
In 1996, President Bill Clinton’s CIA Director John Deutch declared, “A wide variety of data indicate that Tehran has assigned civilian and military organisations to support the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons.”
For the next decade, the CIA’s non-proliferation specialists continued to rely on their analysis of the telexes to buttress their assessment that Iran was developing nuclear weapons. The top-secret 2001 National Intelligence Estimate bore the title “Iran Nuclear Weapons Program: Multifaceted and Poised to Succeed, but When?”
Former IAEA Deputy Director General for Safeguards Olli Heinonen recalled in a May 2012 article that the IAEA had obtained a “set of procurement information about the PHRC” – an obvious reference to the collection of telexes – which led him to launch an investigation in 2004 of what the IAEA later called the “Procurement activities by the former Head of PHRC”.
But after an August 2007 agreement between Iran and IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei on a timetable for the resolution of “all remaining issues”, Iran provided full information on all the procurement issues the IAEA had raised.
That information revealed that the former PHRC head, Sayyed Abbas Shahmoradi-Zavareh, who had been a professor at Sharif University at the time, had been asked by several faculty departments to help procure equipment or material for teaching and research.
Iran produced voluminous evidence to support its explanation for each of the procurement efforts the IAEA had questioned. It showed that the high vacuum equipment had been requested by the Physics Department for student experiments in evaporation and vacuum techniques for producing thin coatings by providing instruction manuals on the experiments, internal communications and even the shipping documents on the procurement.
The Physics Department had also requested the magnets for students to carry out “Lenz-Faraday experiments”, according to the evidence provided, including the instruction manuals, the original requests for funding and the invoice for cash sales from the supplier. The balancing machine was for the Mechanical Engineering Department, as was supported by similar documentation turned over to the IAEA. IAEA inspectors had also found that the machine was indeed located at the department.
The 45 cylinders of fluorine that Shahmoradi-Zavareh had tried to procure had been requested by the Office of Industrial Relations for research on the chemical stability of polymeric vessels, as shown by the original request letter and communications between the former PHRC head and the president of the university.
The IAEA report on February 2008 recorded the detailed documentation provided by Iran on each of the issues, none of which was challenged by the IAEA. The report declared the issue “no longer outstanding at this stage”, despite U.S. pressure on ElBaradei to avoid closing that or any other issue in the work programme, as reported in diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks.
The IAEA report showed that the primary intelligence basis for the U.S. charge of an Iranian nuclear weapons programme for more than a decade had been erroneous.
That dramatic development in the Iran nuclear story went unnoticed in news media reporting on the IAEA report, however. By then the U.S. government, the IAEA and the news media had raised other evidence that was more dramatic – a set of documents supposedly purloined from an Iran laptop computer associated with an alleged covert Iranian nuclear weapons programme from 2001 to 2003. And the November 2007 NIE had concluded that Iran had been running such a programme but had halted it in 2003.
Despite the clear acceptance of the Iranian explanation by the IAEA, David Albright of ISIS has continued to argue that the telexes support suspicions that Iran’s Defence Ministry was involved in the nuclear programme.
In his February 2012 paper, Albright discusses the procurement requests documented in the telexes as though the IAEA investigation had been left without any resolution. Albright makes no reference to the detailed documentation provided by Iran in each case or to the IAEA’s determination that the issue was “no longer outstanding”.
Ten days later, the Washington Post published a news article reflecting Albright’s claim that the telexes proved that the PHRC had been guiding Iran’s secret uranium enrichment programme during the 1990s. The writer was evidently unaware that the February 2008 IAEA report had provided convincing evidence that the intelligence analyst’s interpretations had been fundamentally wrong.