Tag Archives: atomic weapons

What does the IAEA know about Iran’s nuclear program? Enough to start a war?

Summary:  What do we know about Iran’s program to build atomic weapons?  For decades Americans have been subjected to saturation bombing by misinformation and outright lies about Iran.  However the information from our intelligence agencies has painted a more accurate picture, if we choose to see it.  Seventh in a series; at the end are links to the other chapters.  Chapters one and two examined the history of warnings about Iran’s nukes (coming really soon), going back to 1984.

Some words to consider before the shooting starts:

“Are they {Iran} trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No.”
— SecDef Leon Panetta interviewed on “Face the Nation“, CBS, 8 January 2012

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
— John 8:32


Let’s not repeat the same mistake we made in Iraq. Before we go to war on the basis of the IAEA’s conclusions, we should know what they said — and see the analysis of outside experts.  The IAEA report is broadly similar to the conclusions of US intelligence (discussed in the previous post).

  1. News articles poking holes in the IAEA’s conclusions
  2. Skeptical analysis of the IAEA report
  3. Excerpts from the latest IAEA report
  4. Other posts in this series
  5. Articles by Stratfor about Iran’s nuclear program
  6. Other posts about Iran

(I)  News articles poking holes in the IAEA’s conclusions

The evidence is strong that the new IAEA report has little new information, does not make the incendiary allegations attributed to it, and  is weakly sourced.

(a)  Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and relevant provisions of Security Council resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran, IAEA, 8 November 2011

(b)  Leaks about one of the two major sources of outside data the IAEA used:

Excerpt from the second article:

When the Cold War abruptly ended in 1991, Vyacheslav Danilenko was a Soviet weapons scientist in need of a new line of work. At 57, he had three decades of experience inside a top-secret nuclear facility and one marketable skill: the ability to make objects blow up with nanosecond precision. Danilenko struggled to become a businessman, traveling through Europe and even to the United States to promote an idea for using explosives to create synthetic diamonds. Finally, he turned to Iran, a country that could fully appreciate the bombmaker’s special mix of experience and talents.

(c)  The IAEA’s narrative starts to crumble
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What do we know about Iran’s nuclear ambitions?

Summary:  What do we know about Iran’s program to build atomic weapons?  For decades Americans have been subjected to saturation bombing by misinformation and outright lies about Iran.  The information from our intelligence agencies has painted a more accurate picture, if we choose to see it.  Sixth in a series; at the end are links to the other chapters.


The situation is clear, if we would only make the effort to see what our national eyes tells us.

  1. The 2007 National Intelligence Estimate about Iran
  2. The new National Intelligence Estimate about Iran
  3. Another perspective on the new NIE
  4. Other posts in this series
  5. Other articles and resources about Iran’s nuclear program
  6. Other posts about Iran and US intelligence resources

(1)  The 2007 National Intelligence Estimate about Iran

National Intelligence Estimate Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities, November 2007  — Despite the hysterical criticism following its release, so far its conclusions have proven correct.

Key Judgements

(A)  We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program; we also assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons. We judge with high confidence that the halt, and Tehran’s announcement of its decision to suspend its declared uranium enrichment program and sign an Additional Protocol to its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Safeguards Agreement, was directed primarily in response to increasing international scrutiny and pressure resulting from exposure of Iran’s previously undeclared nuclear work.

(B)  We continue to assess with low confidence that Iran probably has imported at least some weapons-usable fissile material, but still judge with moderate-to-high confidence it has not obtained enough for a nuclear weapon. We cannot rule out that Iran has acquired from abroad — or will acquire in the future — a nuclear weapon or enough fissile material for a weapon. Barring such acquisitions, if Iran wants to have nuclear weapons it would need to produce sufficient amounts of fissile material indigenously — which we judge with high confidence it has not yet done.

(C)  We assess centrifuge enrichment is how Iran probably could first produce enough fissile material for a weapon, if it decides to do so. Iran resumed its declared centrifuge enrichment activities in January 2006, despite the continued halt in the nuclear weapons program. Iran made significant progress in 2007 installing centrifuges at Natanz, but we judge with moderate confidence it still faces significant technical problems operating them.

(D)  Iranian entities are continuing to develop a range of technical capabilities that could be applied to producing nuclear weapons, if a decision is made to do so. For example, Iran’s civilian uranium enrichment program is continuing. We also assess with high confidence that since fall 2003, Iran has been conducting research and development projects with commercial and conventional military applications — some of which would also be of limited use for nuclear weapons.

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What will the world’s tyrants learn from the Libyan War? Get nukes.

Summary:  Events in Iraq and Libya show the two-tier nature of the 21st century geopolitical system.  First tier nations are those with nuclear weapons, or are so large or powerful as to be almost immune from conventional attack.  Everybody else must ally with a great power, or avoid angering them.  As the march of technology makes nukes (and other WMDs) ever easier to use, we can look forward to the next Axis of Evil being far more dangerous.  They’ll devote whatever resources necessary to retain their sovereignty.

From Libya’s Lessons for North Korea, Jeffrey Lewis (Director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program, Monterey Institute of International Studies; bio here), Arms Control Wonk, 21 March 2011:

Hey, remember when Bush Administration officials tried to convince Kim Jong Il that he could get the same denuclearization deal Bush gave Qadhafi? Yeah, the last couple of days might explain why Kim didn’t think it was such a great idea.

From the Korean Central News Agency of the DPRK, 22 March 2011:

A spokesman for the DPRK Foreign Ministry gave the following answer to a question raised by KCNA Tuesday as regards the U.S. military attack on Libya:

… The present Libyan crisis teaches the international community a serious lesson. It was fully exposed before the world that “Libya′s nuclear dismantlement” much touted by the U.S. in the past turned out to be a mode of aggression whereby the latter coaxed the former with such sweet words as “guarantee of security” and “improvement of relations” to disarm itself and then swallowed it up by force.

It proved once again the truth of history that peace can be preserved only when one builds up one′s own strength as long as high-handed and arbitrary practices go on in the world. The DPRK was quite just when it took the path of Songun and the military capacity for self-defence built up in this course serves as a very valuable deterrent for averting a war and defending peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.

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This is how a nation thoughtlessly slides into stupid wars

Summary:  Week after week.  Month after month.  Year after year our national security hawks warn that Iran will have the bomb soon.  advocate war with Iran.   Eventually real experts tire of rebuttals, and the public becomes acclimated to the pending war.  Then, without debate or rational thought, we start a war. This was how Europe slid into WWI.  This was how we slid into Vietnam.  Perhaps this is how we’ll slide into war with Iran.

Today’s soothing warnings that we’ll attack Iran.  How odd that America has found it necessary to attack so many nations during the past century or so.

From the transcript of CNN’s State of the Union, 25 July 2010:

CANDY CROWLEY: Joining me now is Michael Hayden, a retired four-star general in the United States Air Force, former director of the CIA and currently a principal with the Chertoff Group, a security firm in Washington, D.C. … When you left the CIA about two years ago, you said the two biggest problems facing your successor would be the Iranian nuke program and the drug smuggling and the violence from Mexico. Would you change either one of those?

HAYDEN: No, no. To be accurate, counterterrorism was job one. Beyond counterterrorism, I would put counterproliferation as job two. And within counterproliferation, it is inarguably Iran. …

CROWLEY: Do you think, though, there is any answer? Iran doesn’t seem to be paying much attention to the sanctions. As far as we know, they are still trying to get nuclear capability. If it should, is there any alternative to taking out their facilities?

HAYDEN: It seems inexorable, doesn’t it? We engage. They continue to move forward. We vote for sanctions. They continue to move forward. We try to deter, to dissuade. They continue to move forward.

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Conservatives oppose the new START treaty, as they opposed even the earlier version negotiated by Ronald Reagan

Summary:  About conservatives opposition to arms control treaties, including those that ended radioactive poisoning of the atmosphere and won the Cold War.

Mitt Romeny (“Obama’s worst foreign-policy mistake“, op-ed in the Washington Post) and the Heritage Foundation (“Stop START Now“)  have joined the conservative chorus denouncing the new START treaty.  It’s all lies and misrepresentations, as befits a political movement making the big lie its primary tactic — and implacable opposition to Obama (irrespective of the national interest) its only objective.

So experts must do the yeoman’s work of line-by-line refutations, as Fred Kagan does to Romeny’s rant in “Mitt Romney’s dumb critique of Obama’s New START nuke treaty“, Slate.  (Disclosure:  I voted for Romney in the 2008 Presidential primary)  And Gary Schaub Jr and James Forsyth Jr do more generally in “An Arsenal We Can All Live With“, op-ed in the New York Times.  But a quick look at history puts the conservatives’ complaints in a clearer context.

They opposed the 1963 Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, stopping open-air nuclear testing — which was rapidly polluting the biosphere.  Even after a full-court press by Kennedy, 19 Senators voted against it.   To get an idea of the results if the conservatives had won, read the National Institute of Health’s pages about exposure to radioactive Iodine-131 from fallout.  However that’s long ago.  Let’s look at the arms control efforts of the Right’s hero, Ronald Reagan.

On 8 December 1987, at Reagan’s third summit with Mikhail Gorbachev, they signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (Wikipedia).  This marked the beginning of the end to the cold war, a major step to lifting the threat of global annihilation that had existed for 3 decades.   How did conservatives react to this bold step by their leader?  To cite two of the tsunami of criticism:

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Let’s seal the Gulf oil well by using atomic weapons!

Summary:  Now that BP’s third and fourth attempts appear to have failed (the “top kill” and “junk shots”), discussion turns to darker methods of sealing the Deepwater Horizon well.  Most of our journalists and Internet experts get the story wrong.  Often grossly so.  But the truth is available, for people who exercise care when selecting their sources of information.  This is another post about the Deepwater Horizon disaster, which vividly illustrates America’s dysfunctional OODA loop — increasingly contaminated by ignorance and hysteria.  At the end are links to previous chapters of this saga.

Update:   for a  status report on the disaster see “Top kill fails“, Upstream Online, 23:00 GMT, 29 May 2010 — BP will try attempt other solutions, but the best hope are the new wells being drilled.  They will take several months to complete.

At the end of the post is the accurate information.  The story begins with  “Nuke that slick“, Julia Ioffe, True/Slant, 4 May 2010 — Excerpt:

Komsomoloskaya Pravda, the best-selling Russian daily, reports that in Soviet times such leaks were plugged with controlled nuclear blasts underground. The idea is simple, KP writes: “the underground explosion moves the rock, presses on it, and, in essence, squeezes the well’s channel.”

Yes! It’s so simple, in fact, that the Soviet Union, a major oil exporter, used this method five times to deal with petrocalamities. The first happened in Uzbekistan, on September 30, 1966 with a blast 1.5 times the strength of the Hiroshima bomb and at a depth of 1.5 kilometers. KP also notes that subterranean nuclear blasts were used as much as 169 times in the Soviet Union to accomplish fairly mundane tasks like creating underground storage spaces for gas or building canals.

This quickly propagated through the Internet.

  1. Very inaccurate:  Matthew Simmons interview on Bloomberg, 28 May 2010 — Send in the cavalry with nukes!
  2. Inaccurate:  “Nuke the Oil Spill“, Christopher Brownfield (former nuclear submarine officer, an Iraq veteran, and a visiting scholar on nuclear policy at Columbia U), Daily Beast, 16 May 2010
  3. Accurate data, misleading context:  CNN Newsroom, 14 May 2010 — “{H}ere’s an idea. It worked before. The soviets had this kind of problem more than once. Their solution, nukes. That’s right. They use a limited nuclear explosion to basically blow the well shut. End of story.”
  4. Excellent reporting:  “Why don’t we just drop a nuclear bomb on the Gulf oil spill?“, Christian Science Monitor, 13 May 2010 — “The Russians have used nuclear bombs at least five times to try to seal off gas well fires, and it usually worked.”

From the CSM article (red emphasis added):

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Stratfor discusses the Jihadist WMD Threat

Is this threat understated?  Or overstated?  

The Jihadist CBRN Threat” — chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons.

By Scott Stewart, Stratfor, 10 February 2010 — This report is republished with permission of STRATFOR.

In an interview aired Feb. 7 on CNN, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she considers weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the hands of an international terrorist group to be the largest threat faced by the United States today, even bigger than the threat posed by a nuclear-armed Iran. “The biggest nightmare that many of us have is that one of these terrorist member organizations within this syndicate of terror will get their hands on a weapon of mass destruction,” Clinton said. In referring to the al Qaeda network, Clinton noted that it is “unfortunately a very committed, clever, diabolical group of terrorists who are always looking for weaknesses and openings.”

Clinton’s comments came on the heels of a presentation by U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. In his Annual Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community on Feb. 2, Blair noted that, although counterterrorism actions have dealt a significant blow to al Qaeda’s near-term efforts to develop a sophisticated chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) attack capability, the U.S. intelligence community judges that the group is still intent on acquiring the capability. Blair also stated the obvious when he said that if al Qaeda were able to develop CBRN weapons and had the operatives to use them it would do so.

All this talk about al Qaeda and WMD has caused a number of STRATFOR clients, readers and even friends and family members to ask for our assessment of this very worrisome issue. So, we thought it would be an opportune time to update our readers on the topic.

Realities Shaping the Playing Field

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