Crucial Iran nuclear evidence 'covered up'
By Gareth Porter
WASHINGTON - The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says its present
objective regarding Iran is to try to determine whether the intelligence
documents purportedly showing a covert Iranian nuclear weapons program from
2001 to 2003 are authentic or not. The problem, according to its reports, is
that Iran refuses to help clarify the issue.
But the IAEA has refused to acknowledge publicly significant evidence brought
to its attention by Iran that the documents were fabricated, and has made
little, if any, effort to test the authenticity of the intelligence documents
or to question officials of the governments holding them, Inter Press Service
(IPS) has learned.
The agency has strongly suggested in its published reports that
the documentation it is supposed to be investigating is credible, because it
"appears to have been derived from multiple sources over different periods of
time, is detailed in content and appears to be generally consistent".
IAEA Safeguard Department chief Olli Heinonen signaled his de facto acceptance
of the "alleged studies" documents when he presented an organizational chart of
the purported secret nuclear weapons project based on the documents at a
February 2008 "technical briefing" for member states.
Meanwhile, the IAEA has portrayed Iran as failing to respond adequately to the
"substance" of the documents, asserting that it has focused only on their
"style and format of presentation".
In fact, however, Iran has submitted serious evidence that the documents are
fraudulent. Iran's permanent representative to the United Nations in Vienna,
Ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh, told IPS. He said he had pointed out to a team
of IAEA officials in a meeting on the documents in Tehran in early 2008 that
none of the supposedly top-secret military documents had any security markings
of any kind, and that purported letters from Defense Ministry officials lacked
Iranian government seals.
Soltanieh recalled that he had made the same point "many times" in meetings of
the Board of Governors since then. "No one ever challenged me," said the
The IAEA has never publicly acknowledged the problem of lack of security
markings or official seals in the documents, omitting mention of the Iranian
complaint on that issue from its reports. Its May 2008 report said only that
Iran had "stated, inter alia, that the documents were not complete and
that their structure varied".
But a senior official of the agency familiar with the Iran investigation, who
spoke with IPS on condition that he would not be identified, confirmed that
Soltanieh had indeed pointed out the lack of any security classification
markings, and that he had been correct in doing so.
The "alleged studies" documents include purported correspondence between the
overall "project leader" in Iran's Defense Ministry and project heads on what
would have been among the regime's most sensitive military secrets. Even though
the official conceded that the lack of security markings could be considered
damaging to the credibility of the documents, he defended the agency's refusal
to acknowledge the issue.
"It's not a killer argument," said the official.
The official suggested that the states that had provided the documents might
claim that they had taken the markings out before passing them on to the IAEA.
It is not clear, however, why an intelligence agency would want to remove from
the documents markings that would be important in proving their authenticity.
"We don't know whether the original letters were marked confidential or not,"
he said, indicating that the IAEA had not questioned the United States and
other states contributing documents on the absence of the confidential
The IAEA's apparent lack of concern about the absence of security markings and
seals on the documents contrasts sharply with the IAEA's investigation of the
Niger uranium documents cited by the George W Bush administration as
justification for invading Iraq in 2002-2003.
In the Niger case, the agency concluded that the documents were fabricated
based on a comparison of the "form, format, contents and signature" of the
documents with other relevant correspondence, according to IAEA director
general Mohamed ElBaradei's March 7, 2003, statement to the United Nations
Iran has also provided the IAEA with evidence that the handwritten notes on a
May 2003 letter, which supposedly link a private Iranian contractor to the
"alleged studies", were forged by an outside agency. The letter was from an
engineering firm to the private company Kimia Maadan, which other documents in
the collection identify as responsible for part of the alleged covert nuclear
weapons program called the "green salt project".
The letter itself has nothing to do with any "green salt" project, but
handwritten notes on the copy of the letter given to the IAEA by an
unidentified government referred to individuals who are named in other
intelligence documents as participants in the "alleged studies", according to
the latest IAEA report.
But the original letter, which Iran has provided to the IAEA, has no
handwritten notes on it. Ambassador Soltanieh recalled that he showed that
original letter to an IAEA team led by the deputy director of IAEA's Safeguards
Department, Herman Nackaerts, in Tehran from January 22 to 23, 2008.
He said the IAEA team was able to compare the original document with the copy
that they had been given as part of the alleged studies documents and that
Nackaerts declared that his team accepted the authenticity of the original they
The IAEA confirmed in its August 28, 2009, report that it had been given access
to the original letter. But the report suggested that the existence of the
original letter supported the authenticity of the alleged studies documents,
because it "demonstrates a direct link between the relevant documentation and
That argument appears to have deliberately conflated the original letter, which
the agency admits has nothing to do with the alleged studies, and the copy with
the allegedly incriminating handwritten notes on it.
The senior official sought to discredit the original letter by suggesting that
the Iranians might have "whited out the handwritten notes". But the official
then offered an alternative theory, asserting that there were two original
letters, one of which was kept by the sender, and that the handwritten notes
had been found on the second original.
But the IAEA could have checked with the engineering firm that sent the letter
to ascertain whether a second original existed and whether the Iranian
government had obtained the letter from it.
The senior IAEA official gave no indication that the IAEA had done so.
Iranian officials have also claimed other inaccuracies in the documents,
involving technical flaws and names of individuals who they say do not exist.
The IAEA has not referred in its reports to any specific efforts to subject the
"alleged studies" documents to forensic tests or to get data about such tests
from governments holding the documents.
The senior IAEA official recalled that Washington Post reporter Dafna Linzer
had written that the documents had been sent to three different labs, and that
two had said they were credible, whereas the third had expressed doubt about
But Linzer's February 2006 story reported only that the Sandia National
Laboratories in New Mexico had run computer simulations on the studies of a
Shahab-3 re-entry vehicle - which suggested that they were aimed at
accommodating a nuclear weapon - and had concluded that none of the plans would
Contacted by phone last week, Linzer, now a senior reporter for the public
interest journalism organization Pro Publica, told IPS she had never reported
that two other labs ran tests on the documents.
Linzer expressed doubt that any other national labs would have had the
capabilities to do the kind of tests carried out at Sandia labs.
When asked if the IAEA had sought to obtain the Sandia simulation results, the
official refused to comment, except to say, "Our people follow up."
Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specializing
in US national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book,
Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam, was
published in 2006.