Leaked Iran paper exposes IAEA rift
By Gareth Porter
WASHINGTON - Excerpts of the internal draft report by the staff of the
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) published online last week show that
the report's claims about Iranian work on a nuclear weapon is based almost
entirely on intelligence documents which have provoked a serious conflict
within the agency.
Contrary to sensational stories by the Associated Press and The New York Times,
the excerpts on the website of the Institute for Science and International
Security (ISIS) reveal that the IAEA's Safeguards Department, which wrote the
report, only has suspicions - not real evidence - that Iran has been working on
nuclear weapons in recent years.
The newly published excerpts make it clear, moreover, that the so-called
"Alleged Studies" documents brought to the attention of the agency by the
United States five years ago are central to its assertion that Iran had such a
program in 2002-03.
Whether those documents are genuine or were fabricated has been the subject of
a fierce struggle behind the scenes for many months between two departments of
Some IAEA officials began calling for a clear statement by the agency that it
could not affirm the documents' authenticity after the agency obtained hard
evidence in early 2008 that a key document in the collection had been
fraudulently altered, as previously reported by this writer.
As journalist Mark Hibbs reported last week in Nucleonics Week, opposition to
relying on the intelligence documents has come not only from outgoing IAEA
director general Mohamed ElBaradei but from the Department of External
Relations and Policy Coordination.
Since September 2008, however, the Safeguards Department, headed by Olli
Heinonen, has been pressing for publication of its draft report as an annex to
a regular agency report on Iran.
Heinonen leaked the draft to Western governments last summer, and in September
it was leaked to the Associated Press and ISIS. That has generated sensational
headlines suggesting that Iran can already build a nuclear bomb.
The draft report says the agency "assesses that Iran has sufficient information
to be able to design and produce a workable implosion nuclear device". But
other passages indicate the authors regard such knowledge only as a
possibility, based on suspicions rather than concrete evidence.
It says the "necessary information was most likely obtained from external
sources and probably modified by Iran". But it cites only the 15-page "uranium
metal document" given by the Abdul Qadeer Khan network to Iran when it
purchased centrifuge designs in 1987.
"Based on the information in the document," it says, "it is possible that Iran
has knowledge regarding the contents of a nuclear package."
The IAEA "suspects" that the 15-page document was part of "larger package that
Iran may have obtained but which has not yet come to the agency's attention",
according to the leaked excerpts.
But that document only outlines procedural requirements for casting uranium
into hemispheres, not the technical specifications, as the IAEA report of
November 18, 2005, noted. No evidence has ever surfaced to challenge the
Iranian explanation that Khan's agents threw in the document after a deal had
been reached on centrifuges in an effort to interest Iran in buying the
technology for casting uranium.
The IAEA affirmed that it has found no evidence that Iran ever acquired such
The only external "nuclear package" ever reported to have been provided to Iran
is a set of flawed technical designs for a "high-voltage block" for a
Russian-designed nuclear weapon, which was slipped under the door of the
Iranian mission in Vienna by a Russian scientist working for CIA's Operation
Merlin in February 2000.
Another far-reaching claim in the draft report is that the IAEA "has
information, known as the Alleged Studies, that the Ministry of Defense of Iran
has conducted and may still be conducting a comprehensive program aimed at the
development of a nuclear payload to be delivered using the Shahab 3 missile
It does not explain how the "Alleged Studies", which are documents on work done
in 2002 and 2003, could have any bearing on whether Iran is now conducting work
on nuclear weapons.
Using the same language found in published IAEA reports, the draft suggests
that the Alleged Studies intelligence documents represent credible evidence.
"The information, which has been obtained from multiple sources, is detailed in
content and appears to be generally consistent," it says.
But that characterization of the intelligence first shown to the IAEA by the
United States in 2005 has been contested by sceptics in the agency. A senior
IAEA official familiar with the documents suggested in an interview with Inter
Press Service (IPS) last month that the claim of "multiple sources" may be
Given the existence of "intelligence sharing networks", the official said, "one
can't rule it out that one organization got the intelligence and shared it with
others". That would explain the reference to "multiple sources consistent over
time", he said.
The initial US account, according to the official, was that the documents came
from the laptop computer of one of the Iranian participants in the alleged
nuclear weapons research program. Later, however, that account was "walked
back", he said.
"There are holes in the story," said the official.
The introduction by ISIS to the excerpts from the report, evidently based on
conversations with the IAEA personnel, confirms that the documents did not come
from Iran on a laptop computer, as US officials had claimed in the past. It
suggests that the documents were smuggled out of Iran as "electronic media" by
the wife of an Iranian who had been recruited by German intelligence and was
That new explanation is highly suspect, however, because an intelligence agency
would not confirm the identity of one of their agents, even if he were
arrested. Asked about the ISIS account, Paul Pillar, who was national
intelligence office for the Middle East when the "laptop documents" surfaced,
said it "sounds unusual".
The draft report also argues that the information in the documents is credible,
because it "refers to known Iranian persons and institutions under both the
military and civil apparatuses, as well as to some degree to their confirmed
But the senior IAEA official cast doubt on that claim as well. The names of
people working in the relevant Iranian military and civilian organizations are
readily obtainable, he observed. "It's not difficult to cook up such a
document," the official told IPS.
The draft paper states that the agency "does not believe that Iran has yet
achieved the means of integrating a nuclear payload into the Shahab 3 delivery
system with any confidence that it would work".
That statement hints at the fact that the re-entry vehicle studies were found
to have serious technical problems. The senior IAEA official told IPS that the
Sandia National Laboratories, which ran computer simulation analyses of the
plan, not only found that none of them would have worked, but had expressed
doubt that they were genuine.
The paper makes an indirect reference to a plan for a bench-scale facility for
uranium conversion, but does not mention that it had several technical flaws,
as acknowledged by Heinonen in a February 2008 briefing for members.
Nor do the draft report's conclusions deal with the fact, confirmed by the
senior IAEA official to IPS, that none of the intelligence documents have any
security markings, despite the fact they are purported to be part of what
presumably would have been Iran's most highly classified program.
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.