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    Middle East
     Jan 7, 2010
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 English-language translation.

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 IPS.

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 Physics".

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reports have referred to the Institute of Applied Physics as a stand-alone institution rather than part of Fakhrizadeh's organization.

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 commissions.

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 intelligence agency.

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.

(Inter Press Service)

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(Dec 24, '09)



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