'Soviet nuclear scientist' a rough diamond
By Gareth Porter
WASHINGTON - The report of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
published by a Washington think-tank on Tuesday repeated the sensational claim
previously reported by news media all over the world that a former Soviet
nuclear weapons scientist had helped Iran construct a detonation system that
could be used for a nuclear weapon.
But it turns out that the foreign expert, who is not named in the IAEA report
but was identified in news reports as Vyacheslav Danilenko, is not a nuclear
weapons scientist but one of the top specialists in the world in the production
of nanodiamonds by explosives.
In fact, Danilenko, a Ukrainian, has worked solely on nanodiamonds from the
beginning of his research career and is
considered one of the pioneers in the development of nanodiamond technology, as
published scientific papers confirm.
It now appears that the IAEA and David Albright, the director of the
International Institute for Science and Security in Washington, who was the
source of the news reports about Danilenko, never bothered to check the
accuracy of the original claim by an unnamed "Member State" on which the IAEA
based its assertion about his nuclear weapons background.
Albright gave a "private briefing" for "intelligence professionals" last week,
in which he named Danilenko as the foreign expert who had been contracted by
Iran's Physics Research Center in the mid-1990s and identified him as a "former
Soviet nuclear scientist", according to a story by Joby Warrick of the
Washington Post on November 5.
The Danilenko story then went worldwide.
The IAEA report says the agency has "strong indications" that Iran's
development of a "high explosions initiation system", which it has described as
an "implosion system" for a nuclear weapon, was "assisted by the work of a
foreign expert who was not only knowledgeable on these technologies, but who, a
Member State has informed the Agency, worked for much of his career in the
nuclear weapons program of the country of his origin."
The report offers no other evidence of Danilenko's involvement in the
development of an initiation system.
The member state obviously learned that Danilenko had worked during the Soviet
period at the All-Russian Scientific Research Institute of Technical Physics in
Snezhinsk, Russia, which was well known for its work on development of nuclear
warheads and simply assumed that he had been involved in that work.
However, further research would have revealed that Danilenko worked from the
beginning of his career in a part of the Institute that specialized in the
synthesis of diamonds. Danilenko wrote in an account of the early work in the
field published in 2006 that he was among the scientists in the "gas dynamics
group" at the Institute who were "the first to start studies on diamond
synthesis in 1960".
Danilenko's recollections of the early period of his career are in a chapter of
the book, Ultrananocrystalline Diamond: Synthesis, Properties and Applications
edited by Olga A Shenderova and Dieter M Gruen, published in 2006.
Another chapter in the book covering the history of Russian patents related to
nanodiamonds documents the fact that Danilenko's center at the Institute
developed key processes as early as 1963-1966 that were later used at major
"detonation nanodiamond" production centers.
Danilenko left the Institute in 1989 and joined the Institute of Materials
Science Problems in Ukraine, according to the authors of that chapter.
Danilenko's major accomplishment, according to the authors, has been the
development of a large-scale technology for producing ultradispersed diamonds,
a particular application of nanodiamonds. The technology, which was later
implemented by the ALIT company in Zhitomir, Ukraine, is based on an explosion
chamber 100 square meters in volume, which Danilenko designed.
Beginning in 1993, Danilenko was a principal in a company called Nanogroup
which was established initially in Ukraine but is now based in Prague. The
company's website boasts that it has "the strongest team of scientists" which
had been involved in the "introduction of nanodiamonds in 1960 and the first
commercial applications of nanodiamonds in 2000".
The declared aim of the company is to supply worldwide demand for nanodiamonds.
Iran has an aggressive program to develop its nanotechnology sector, and it
includes as one major focus nanodiamonds, as blogger Moon of Alabama has
pointed out. That blog was the first source to call attention to Danilenko's
Danilenko clearly explained that the purpose of his work in Iran was to help
the development of a nanodiamond industry in the country.
The report states that the "foreign expert" was in Iran from 1996 to about
2002, "ostensibly to assist in the development of a facility and techniques for
making ultra dispersed diamonds (UDDs) or nanodiamonds". That wording suggests
that nanodiamonds were merely a cover for his real purpose in Iran.
The report says the expert "also lectured on explosive physics and its
applications", without providing any further detail about what applications
The fact that the IAEA and Albright were made aware of Danilenko's nanodiamond
work in Iran before embracing the "former Soviet nuclear weapons specialist"
story makes their failure to make any independent inquiry into his background
even more revealing.
The tale of a Russian nuclear weapons scientist helping construct an "implosion
system" for a nuclear weapon is the most recent iteration of a theme that the
IAEA introduced in its May 2008 report, which mentioned a five-page document
describing experimentation with a "complex multipoint initiation system to
detonate a substantial amount of high explosives in hemispherical geometry" and
to monitor the detonation.
Iran acknowledged using "exploding bridge wire" detonators such as those
mentioned in that document for conventional military and civilian applications.
But it denounced the document, along with the others in the "alleged studies"
collection purporting to be from an Iranian nuclear weapons research program,
Careful examination of the "alleged studies" documents has revealed
inconsistencies and other anomalies that give evidence of fraud. But the IAEA,
the United States and its allies in the IAEA continue to treat the documents as
though there were no question about their authenticity.
The unnamed member state that informed the agency about Danilenko's alleged
experience as a Soviet nuclear weapons scientist is almost certainly Israel,
which has been the source of virtually all the purported intelligence on
Iranian work on nuclear weapons over the past decade.
Israel has made no secret of its determination to influence world opinion on
the Iranian nuclear program by disseminating information to governments and
news media, including purported Iran government documents. Israeli Foreign
Ministry and intelligence officials told journalists Douglas Frantz and
Catherine Collins about the special unit of Mossad dedicated to that task at
the very time the fraudulent documents were being produced.
In an interview in September 2008, Albright said Olli Heinonen, then deputy
director for safeguards at the IAEA, had told him that a document from a member
state had convinced him that the "alleged studies" documents were genuine.
Albright said the state was "probably Israel".
The Jerusalem Post's Yaakov Katz reported on Wednesday that Israeli
intelligence agencies had "provided critical information used in the report",
the purpose of which was to "push through a new regime of sanctions against
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.