More doubts over Iran's 'nuclear trigger'
By Gareth Porter
WASHINGTON - New revelations about two documents leaked to The Times of London
to show that Iran is working on a "nuclear trigger" mechanism have further
undermined the credibility of the document the newspaper had presented as
evidence of a continuing Iranian nuclear-weapons program.
A columnist for The Times has acknowledged that the two-page Farsi document
published by the newspaper last month was not a photocopy but an expurgated and
retyped version of the original document.
A translation of a second Farsi document also published by The Times, moreover,
contradicts the newspaper’s claim that it shows
the "nuclear trigger" document was written within an organization run by an
Iranian military scientist.
Former Central Intelligence Agency official Philip Giraldi has said US
intelligence judges the "nuclear trigger" document to be a forgery. Inter Press
Service (IPS) has written that the document lacked both security markings and
identification of either the issuing organization or the recipient.
The new revelations point to additional reasons intelligence analysts would
have been suspicious of the document.
On December 14, The Times published what it explicitly represented as a
photocopy of a complete Farsi document showing Iranian plans for testing a
neutron initiator, a triggering device for a nuclear weapon, along with an
But in response to a reader who noted the absence of crucial information from
the document, including security markings, Oliver Kamm, an online columnist for
The Times, admitted on Sunday that the Farsi document published by the paper
was "a retyped version of the relevant parts of that original document".
Kamm wrote that the original document had "contained a lot of classified
information" and was not published "because of the danger that it would alert
Iranian authorities to the source of the leak".
In offering the explanation of the intelligence agency that leaked the document
to The Times, Kamm was also damaging the credibility of the document. A
document that had been both edited and retyped could obviously have been
doctored by adding material on a neutron initiator.
The reason for such editing could not have been to excise "classified
information", because, if the document were genuine, the Iranian government
would already have the information.
Furthermore, there would have been ways of avoiding disclosure of the source of
the leak that would not have required the release of an expurgated version of
the document. The number of the copy of the document could have been blacked
out, for example.
The Times claimed in a separate story that the "nuclear trigger" document was
written within the military technology development organization run by Iranian
scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.
A second document, also published in the Persian language by The Times, shows
Fakhrizadeh's signature under the title "chief, Department of Development and
Deployment of Advanced Technology", and includes a list of 12 "recipients"
within that organization, and is dated the Persian equivalent of December 29,
2005, on the Western calendar, according to an English translation obtained by
The Times reporter, Catherine Philp, wrote that the neutron-initiator document
"was drawn up within the Center for Preparedness at the Institute of Applied
Physics", which she identified as "one of the organization's 12 departments".
But the reference to a "Center for Preparedness at the Institute of Applied
Physics" is an obvious misreading of a chart given to The Times by the
intelligence agency but not published by the newspaper.
The chart, which can be found on the website of the Institute for Science and
International Security, shows what are clearly two separate organizations
relating to neutronics - a "Center for Preparedness" and an "Institute of
Applied Physics" - under what the intelligence agency translated as the "Field
for Expansion of Advanced Technologies' Deployment".
But George Maschke, a Persian-language expert and former US military
intelligence officer, provided IPS with a translation of the list of the 12
recipients on the cover page of the document showing that it includes a "Center
for Preparedness and New Defense Technology" but not an "Institute of Applied
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reports have referred to the
Institute of Applied Physics as a stand-alone institution rather than part of
The English translation of the document shows that none of the other five
centers and groups on the list of recipients is a plausible candidate to run a
neutron-related experimentation program, either.
They include the chiefs of the Center for Explosives and Impact Technology, the
Center for Manufacturing and Industrial Research, the Chemical and
Metallurgical Groups of the Center for Advanced Materials Research and
Technology, and the Center for New Aerospace Research and Design.
Contrary to The Times’ story, moreover, the other five recipients on the list
of 12 are not heads of "departments" but deputies to the director for various
cross-cutting themes: finance and budget, plans and programs, science,
administration and human resources and audits and legal affairs.
The absence of any organization with obvious expertise in atomic energy
indicates that Fakhrizadeh's Department of Development and Deployment of
Advanced Technology is not the locus of any clandestine nuclear-weapons program
- if there is one.
The nuclear-weapons programs of Israel, India and Pakistan before testing of an
atomic bomb were all within their respective atomic energy commissions. That
organizational pattern reflects the fact that scientific expertise in nuclear
physics and the different stages through which uranium must pass before being
converted into a weapon is located overwhelmingly in the national atomic
The Times story claimed a consensus among "Western intelligence agencies" that
Fakhrizadeh's "Advanced Technology Development and Deployment Department" has
inherited the same components as were present in the "Physics Research Center"
of the 1990s. It also asserts that the same components were present in the
alleged nuclear-weapons research program that the mysterious cache of
intelligence documents now called the "alleged studies" documents portrayed as
being under Fakhrizadeh's control.
Those claims were taken from the chart given to The Times by the unidentified
But the idea that Fakhrizadeh has been in charge of a covert nuclear-weapons
project can be traced directly to the fact that he helped procure or sought to
procure dual-use items when he was head of the Physics Resource Center in the
late 1980s and early 1990s. The items included vacuum equipment, magnets, a
balancing machine, and a mass spectrometer, all of which might be used either
in a nuclear program or for non-nuclear and non-military purposes.
The IAEA suggested in reports beginning in 2004 that Fakhrizadeh's interest in
these dual-use items indicated a possible role in Iran's nuclear program.
That same year, someone concocted a collection of documents - later dubbed "the
alleged studies" documents - showing a purported Iranian nuclear-weapons
project, based on the premise that Fakhrizadeh was its chief.
Iran insisted, however, that Fakhrizadeh had procured the technologies in
question for non-military uses by various components of Imam Hussein
University, where he was a lecturer.
After reviewing documentation submitted by Iran and verifying some of its
assertions by inspection on the spot, the IAEA concluded in its February 22,
2008, report that Iran's explanation for Fakhrizadeh's role in obtaining the
items had been truthful after all.
But instead of questioning the authenticity of the "alleged studies" documents,
IAEA deputy director for safeguards Olli Heinonen highlighted Fakhrizadeh's
role in Iran's alleged nuclear-weapons work in a briefing for member states
just three days after the publication of that correction.
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.