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

  1. On “Nuclear Iran” Allegations: Nanodiamonds Ain’t Nuclear Bombs, Moon over Alabama, 7 November 2011 — Breaking the story.
  2. The IAEA Confirms My Nanodiamond Analysis, Moon over Alabama, 7 November 2011
  3. Recommended: IAEA’s ‘Soviet Nuclear Scientist’ Never Worked on Weapons“, Gareth Porter, IPS, 9 November 2011– A devastating article, which should be read in full.
  4. Important: Nuclear Arms Charge Against Iran Is No Slam Dunk“, Robert Kelley (Former IAEA Director), Bloomberg, 10 January 2012 — Valuable information.

Excerpt from the IPS article (#3):

The report of the IAEA published by a Washington think tank 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. …

(II)  Skeptical analysis of the IAEA report

(a)  Iran nuclear report: Why it may not be a game-changer after all“, Christian Science Monitor, 9 November 2011 — “The Iran nuclear report released yesterday by the UN nuclear watchdog agency sought to corroborate details provided by US intelligence in 2005. But some nuclear experts are unconvinced.”  Red emphasis added.  Opening:

The latest United Nations report on Iran’s nuclear program may not be the “game changer” it was billed to be, as some nuclear experts raise doubts about the quality of evidence – and point to lack of proof of current nuclear weapons work.

In a 14-page annex to its quarterly report on Iran released yesterday, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said new intelligence and other data gave it “serious concern” about the allegedly peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program. But the casus belli for military strikes that anti-Iran hawks in the US and Israel expected to gain from the IAEA report is far from clear-cut.

The report is based on more than 1,000 pages of information shared with the agency by US intelligence in 2005, one year after they were apparently spirited out of Iran on a laptop computer. But deep skepticism about the credibility of the documents remains – Iran has long insisted they are forgeries by hostile intelligence agencies – despite a concerted attempt by the IAEA to verify the data and dispel such doubt.

“It’s very thin, I thought there would be a lot more there,” says Robert Kelley, an American nuclear engineer and former IAEA inspector who was among the first to review the original data in 2005. “It’s certainly old news; it’s really quite stunning how little new information is in there.”

The IAEA supplemented the laptop information with data from 10 member states, interviews on three continents, and its own investigations in Iran, Libya, Pakistan, and Russia. The result “reinforces and tends to corroborate” the 2005 laptop data, the IAEA said, and pushes it “substantially beyond.” It now judges the information to be “overall, credible.” But experts aren’t so sure.

Prior to the report’s release, speculation mounted in Israel and Washington that new revelations might prompt military strikes to prevent Iran from acquiring a weapon. Instead, experts say, much of the information is years old, inconclusive – and perhaps not entirely real.

Most of the weapons-related work it details was shut down nearly a decade ago – in 2003 – the IAEA says, and less formal efforts that “may” continue do not bolster arguments that Iran is a nation racing to have the bomb. Iran “doesn’t seem to have the same North Korea-like obsession with developing nuclear weapons. That’s nowhere to be found in the [IAEA] evidence,” says Shannon Kile, head of the Nuclear Weapons Project at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

“Yes, Iran is making progress, they’ve covered the waterfront in terms of the main technical areas that you need to develop a nuclear weapon,” says Mr. Kile. “But there is no evidence they have a dedicated program under way. It’s not like they are driving toward nuclear weapons; it’s like they’re meandering toward capability.” …

The 2005 laptop documents focus on three areas: a so-called “green salt project” to provide a clandestine source of uranium; high-explosives testing; and reengineering a Shahab-3 missile to fit a nuclear warhead.

News reports at the time indicated deep skepticism, when some of the laptop contents were first shown to diplomats accredited to the IAEA. In many quarters, doubt still persists. Recognizing such skepticism, one portion of the IAEA report was devoted to addressing the credibility of the information. But Mr. Kelly, the former IAEA inspector who also served as a department director at the agency, remains unconvinced. “The first is the issue of forgeries. There is nothing to tell that those documents are real,” says Kelley, whose experience includes inspections from as far afield as Iraq and Libya, to South Africa in 1993.

“My sense when I went through the documents years ago was that there was possibly a lot of stuff in there that was genuine, [though] it was kind of junk,” says Kelly. “And there were a few rather high-quality things” like the green salt document: “That was two or three pages that wasn’t related to anything else in the package, it was on a different topic, and you just wondered, was this salted in there for someone to find?”

It would not be the first time that data was planted. He recalls 1993 and 1994, when the IAEA received “very complex forgeries” on Iraq that slowed down nuclear investigations there by a couple of years.

“Those documents had markings on them, and were designed to resemble Iraqi documents, but when we dug into them they were clearly forgeries,” adds Kelley. “They were designed by a couple of member states in that region, and provided to the Agency maliciously to slow things down.” In 2002, notes Kelley, the IAEA also dealt with “pretty bad” forgeries done by the Italians, on Iraq’s supposed nuclear links to Niger, that the CIA picked up and used for the Bush administration’s case for war in Iraq.

For Kelley the current Iran report is a “real mish-mash” that includes some “amateurish analysis.” Among several technical points, Kelley notes the report’s discussion of Iran’s “exploding bridge-wire detonators,” or EBWs. The IAEA report said it recognizes that “there exist non-nuclear applications, albeit few,” and point to a likely weapons connection for Iran. “The Agency is wrong. There are lots of applications for EBWs,” says Kelley. “To be wrong on this point, and then to try to misdirect opinion shows a bias towards their desired outcome. … That is unprofessional.”

(b)  Iran’s Nuclear Program and the Legal Mandate of the IAEA“, Daniel Joyner, (Prof Law, U of AL); Jurist (U Pittsburg School of Law), 9 November 2011 — Red emphasis added. Excerpt:

This report is legally problematic in a number of ways. Firstly and most fundamentally, the IAEA simply has no legal mandate to produce such a report on activities being carried on within an IAEA member state concerning items and technologies that may be related to the development of a nuclear explosive device, but that are not directly related to fissionable materials or associated facilities.

… There is no knowledge or technical ability related to nuclear weapons detailed in this report, and allegedly possessed by Iran, which other technologically advanced non-nuclear-weapon states like Japan or Germany do not possess. These are specialized bodies of knowledge and technical capabilities, to be sure, but they are well within the knowledge base and technical abilities of these advanced industrial states. … fortunately for Japan and Germany, and all other technologically and scientifically advanced non-nuclear-weapon states, knowledge about how to build a nuclear weapon — gained through scientific experiments, development of technological capability, or any other means including information sharing with other states — is not prohibited under international law, either in IAEA safeguards agreements or in the NPT itself.

… The IAEA, on the other hand {unlike the UN}, is not supposed to be a politicized body. It was established to be a purely technical body, tasked with independently verifying state compliance with agreements related to fissile materials accounting.

Nevertheless, its track record in devoting so much critical attention to Iran over the past 9 years, and not to other non-nuclear-weapon states who have for decades engaged in precisely the same production of knowledge and capabilities, through the same processes, has convinced both Iran and the other members of the Non-Aligned Movement (comprising the vast majority of states in the world) that the IAEA has thereby undermined its independence and objectivity as a technical monitoring and verification body. Instead, they believe, it has become a politicized instrument of the foreign policy goals of the US and other Western states. The agency’s overreaching in its new report is simply the most recent evidence of this fact.

(c)  The IAEA report: what does it really mean and will it lead to war with Iran?“, Julian Borger (Editor) , Global Security blog of The Guardian, 9 November 2011

There is something a little phoney about all the sound and fury. There is nothing in the report that was not previously known by the major powers.

… Furthermore, the bulk of the report is historical, referring to the years leading up to 2003. Its interpretation depends largely on whether you are a glass half-full or half-empty sort of person. On the one hand, the IAEA is confirming beyond reasonable doubt that there was a centralised, heavily funded, programme (codenamed Amad and run by a man called Mohsen Fahkrizadeh from his daintily titled “orchid office”). On the other hand, the report is also adamant that Amad was halted in 2003.

After that, the report offers evidence of lower-key computer modelling of nuclear detonations in a more diffuse, scattered manner, albeit by some of the same people. But the evidence for this is sketchier, and it is clear the UN inspectors are less confident about making assertions about the more recent period.

So again, its significance is somewhat in the eye of the beholder. However, it is clear that this is not a race to a bomb.  If anything, it is a tiptoeing, an ambling or (as Jeff Lewis at the Monterey Institute of International Studies puts it) a moseying towards weapons capability. The new, unpublished US national intelligence estimate, apparently takes this nuanced view.

The bottom line is it is not this report or the debate over weaponisation that is driving the current sense of urgency on the global stage. It is Iran’s accumulation of enriched uranium, which is the potential fuel for a nuclear arsenal.  … So Iran has the raw materials and the skills necessary to make a small arsenal, perhaps in a few months, if it decided to “break out”, which means leave the NPT and throw out the IAEA which is carefully monitoring its uranium stocks and its enrichment activities. But that would be a huge step to take.

(d)  The IAEA’s Yawner“, Paul R. Pillar (former National Intelligence Officer), The National Interest, 10 November 2011 — Excerpt:

The report on Iran that the International Atomic Energy Agency released this week had been awaited with bated breath, with much pre-spinning of the substance. But the breath was at least as much baited as bated. Despite references in the surge of report commentary about new evidence on this or that aspect of the subject, the report told us nothing of importance to policy on Iran that was not already well known. The voluminous commentary has consisted chiefly of people saying what they had intended to say on the topic all along, with the report being just the latest peg on which to hang such talk.

(III)  Excerpts from the new IAEA report

Reading the IAEA report confirms the skeptical analysis shown above.  While they express concerns about some aspects of Iran’s programs, they do confirm that overall Iran remains within the envelope of effective supervision — contradicting the exaggerated claims that the IAEA discovered major red flags justifying immediate military action.

Some of the IAEA concerns involve disputes about the nature of its authority.  Some involve areas clearly beyond their authority to supervise or restrict (eg, non-nuclear civilian technology).  Red emphasis added.

(B)  Facilities Declared under Iran’s Safeguards Agreement

(6)  Under its Safeguards Agreement, Iran has declared to the Agency 15 nuclear facilities and 9 locations outside facilities where nuclear material is customarily used (LOFs). Notwithstanding that certain of the activities being undertaken by Iran at some of the facilities are contrary to the relevant resolutions of the Board of Governors and the Security Council, as indicated below, the Agency continues to implement safeguards at these facilities and LOFs.

(C)  Enrichment Related Activities

(7)  Contrary to the relevant resolutions of the Board of Governors and the Security Council, Iran has not suspended its enrichment related activities in the following declared facilities, all of which are nevertheless under Agency safeguards

(D)  Reprocessing Activities

(28)  Pursuant to the relevant resolutions of the Board of Governors and the Security Council, Iran is obliged to suspend its reprocessing activities, including R&D. In a letter to the Agency dated 15 February 2008, Iran stated that it “does not have reprocessing activities”. In that context, the Agency has continued to monitor the use of hot cells at TRR and the Molybdenum, Iodine and Xenon Radioisotope Production (MIX) Facility. The Agency carried out an inspection and design information verification (DIV) at TRR on 15 October 2011, and a DIV at the MIX Facility on 16 October 2011. It is only with respect to TRR, the MIX Facility and the other facilities to which the Agency has access that the Agency can confirm that there are no ongoing reprocessing related activities in Iran.

(E)  Heavy Water Related Projects

(29)  Contrary to the relevant resolutions of the Board of Governors and the Security Council, Iran has not suspended work on all heavy water related projects, including the construction of the heavy water moderated research reactor, the Iran Nuclear Research Reactor (IR-40 Reactor), which is subject to Agency safeguards.

(30)  On 17 October 2011, the Agency carried out a DIV at the IR-40 Reactor at Arak and observed that construction of the facility was ongoing and the coolant heat exchangers had been installed. According to Iran, the operation of the IR-40 Reactor is planned to commence by the end of 2013.

(31)  Since its visit to the Heavy Water Production Plant (HWPP) on 17 August 2011, the Agency, in a letter to Iran dated 20 October 2011, requested further access to HWPP. The Agency has yet to receive a reply to that letter, and is again relying on satellite imagery to monitor the status of HWPP. Based on recent images, the HWPP appears to be in operation. To date, Iran has not provided the Agency access to the heavy water stored at the Uranium Conversion Facility (UCF) in order to take samples.

(F)  Uranium Conversion and Fuel Fabrication

(32)  Although it is obliged to suspend all enrichment related activities and heavy water related projects, Iran is conducting a number of activities at UCF and the Fuel Manufacturing Plant (FMP) at Esfahan which, as described below, are in contravention of those obligations, although both facilities are under Agency safeguards. …

(G)  Possible Military Dimensions

(38)  Previous reports by the Director General have identified outstanding issues related to possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear programme and actions required of Iran to resolve these. Since 2002, the Agency has become increasingly concerned about the possible existence in Iran of undisclosed nuclear related activities involving military related organizations, including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile, about which the Agency has regularly received new information. …

(42)  The information which serves as the basis for the Agency’s analysis and concerns, as identified in the Annex, is assessed by the Agency to be, overall, credible. The information comes from a wide variety of independent sources, including from a number of Member States, from the Agency’s own efforts and from information provided by Iran itself. It is consistent in terms of technical content, individuals and organizations involved, and time frames.

(43)  The information indicates that Iran has carried out the following activities that are relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device …

(44)  While some of the activities identified in the Annex have civilian as well as military applications, others are specific to nuclear weapons. 

(45)  The information indicates that prior to the end of 2003 the above activities took place under a structured programme. There are also indications that some activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device continued after 2003, and that some may still be ongoing.

(K)  Summary

(52)  While the Agency continues to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material at the nuclear facilities and LOFs declared by Iran under its Safeguards Agreement, as Iran is not providing the necessary cooperation, including by not implementing its Additional Protocol, the Agency is unable to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.

(53)  The Agency has serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear programme. After assessing carefully and critically the extensive information available to it, the Agency finds the information to be, overall, credible. The information indicates that Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device. The information also indicates that prior to the end of 2003, these activities took place under a structured programme, and that some activities may still be ongoing.

(54)  Given the concerns identified above, Iran is requested to engage substantively with the Agency without delay for the purpose of providing clarifications regarding possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear programme as identified in the Annex to this report.

(55)  The Agency is working with Iran with a view to resolving the discrepancy identified during the recent PIV at JHL.

(56)  The Director General urges Iran, as required in the binding resolutions of the Board of Governors and mandatory Security Council resolutions, to take steps towards the full implementation of its Safeguards Agreement and its other obligations, including: implementation of the provisions of its Additional Protocol; implementation of the modified Code 3.1 of the Subsidiary Arrangements General Part to its Safeguards Agreement; suspension of enrichment related activities; suspension of heavy water related activities; and, as referred to above, addressing the Agency’s serious concerns about possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear programme, in or order to establish international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme.

To see the other reports by the IAEA about Iran go here.

(IV)  Other posts in this series

  1. Is the War on Terror over (because there are no longer two sides)?, 3 September 2008 — Rumors of covert ops by us against Iran, including aid to terrorists
  2. Iran’s getting the bomb, or so we’re told. Can they fool us twice?, 16 January 2009
  3. Iran will have the bomb in 5 years (again), 2 January 2010 — Forecasts of an Iranian bomb really soon, going back to 1984
  4. About the escalating conflict with Iran (not *yet* open war), 4 January 2012
  5. Have Iran’s leaders vowed to destroy Israel?, 5 January 2012 — No, but it’s established as fact by repetition
  6. What do we know about Iran’s nuclear ambitions?, 6 January 2012 — US intelligence officials are clear:  not as much as the news media implies
  7. What does the IAEA know about Iran’s nuclear program?, 9 January 2012 — Their reports bear little resemblance to reports in the news media
  8. What happens when a nation gets nukes?  Sixty years of history suggests an answer., 10 January 2012
  9. What happens if Iran gets nukes? Not what we’ve been told., 11 January 2012
  10. Status report on the already-hot conflict with Iran – and the looming war, 12 January 2012
  11. Continuity and dysfunctionality in US foreign policy (lessons for our conflict with Iran), 13 January 2012 — Insights about today from Cold War strategist Colin Grey
  12. What the conflict with Iran teaches us about modern State-to-State war, 16 January 2012
  13. Has Iran won a round vs. the US-Israel?, 17 January 2012
  14. Is Killing Iranian Nuclear Scientists Terrorism?, 19 January 2012

(V)  Stratfor’s articles about Iran’s atomic projects

Free registration required.

  1. Iran, U.S.: The Intelligence Problem, 4 September 2009
  2. Iran: The Significance of a Second Site, 25 September 2009
  3. Iran Sanctions: An Introduction, 22 September 2009
  4. Iran Sanctions, Part 1: The Nuts and Bolts, 23 September 2009
  5. Iran Sanctions, Part 2: FSU Contingency Plans, 24 September 2009
  6. Iran Sanctions, Part 3: Preparing for the Worst, 25 September 2009

(VI)  Other resources about this topic on the FM website

For links to all posts about this topic see these FM Reference Page:

Posts about the war drums, beating for an attack by the US or Israel on Iran:

  1. 4GW at work in a community near you , 19 October 2007 — Propaganda warming us up for war with Iran.
  2. Will Israel commit suicide? More rumors of a strike at Iran , 22 December 2007
  3. Stratfor’s analysis of US reasons for invading and occupying Iraq , 4 March 2008
  4. Will we bomb Iran, now that Admiral Fallon is gone? , 17 March 2008
  5. More post-Fallon overheating: “6 signs the US may be headed for war in Iran” , 18 March 2008
  6. A militant America, ready for war with Iran , 6 May 2008
  7. Another step towards war with Iran?, 7 May 2008 — About Andrew Cockburn’s article in  Counterpunch.
  8. “War With Iran Might Be Closer Than You Think”, 13 May 2008 — About Philip Giraldi’s 9 May story in The American Conservative (see below).
  9. A new story about a possible war with Iran, 21 May 2008 — About the 20 May Jerusalem Post story, originally reported by Army Radio (see below).
  10. “As things look, Israel may well attack Iran soon”. 3 June 2008 — About the Fischer story in the 30 May Daily Star.
  11. “Attacking Iran, in order to stop its nuclear plans, will be unavoidable” . 8 June 2008  — War-talk by a former Defense Minster of Israel.
  12. Der Spiegel: “Israeli Ministers Mull Plans for Military Strike against Iran”. 17 June 2008 — Rumors in Der Spiegel of a strike by Israel on Iran.
  13. More rumors of a strike at Iran by Israel, 1 July 2008 — More rumors.
  14. Leaks about a possible strike at Iran (this is a hot issue), 7 July 2008 — About the effectiveness of a strike by Israel, and its consequences.
  15. The most expensive psy-war campaign – ever!, 13 July 2008
  16. Proposed legislation prepares the way for war with Iran!, 25 August 2008
  17. Psywar, a core skill of the US Military (used most often on us), 26 November 2008
  18. Another general advocating war with Iran, 18 August 2009
  19. Will Obama attack Iran?, 18 March 2010
  20. Hot news about a possible strike at Iran!, 3 July 2010
  21. The rumors about a US strike are proven wrong, again., 12 July 2010
  22. This is how a nation thoughtlessly slides into stupid wars, 25 July 2010
  23. America takes another step towards war with Iran, towards the dark side, 3 September 2010
  24. Warning of an imminent strike at Iran by Israel, 4 August 2010

10 thoughts on “What does the IAEA know about Iran’s nuclear program? Enough to start a war?”

  1. I think you need to be very careful about Gareth Porter’s and Moon of A’s (not entirely independent) claims.

    For those of us who know something about the Soviet nuclear complex, it’s obvious that there are big holes in Porter’s and b’s understanding of how that organization worked. It is simply not possible that Danilenko knew nothing about nuclear weapons design. Whether he shared his knowledge with Iran is another question, not easily answered. {See Nuclear Diner article}

    The question you pose in the title of this post is not easily answered either. The latest IAEA report is pretty clearcut and offers little new information. What Robert Kelley is questioning in the CSM article is the provenance of that information. It’s possible that Kelley has other sources for his information, but he may be making surmises in the same way that Olli Heinonen seems to be about the latest Iranian claims about production of a fuel element. Kelley doesn’t cite his sources, so we don’t know if he has additional information or if what he says is surmise.

    What Kelley is talking about is that a couple of years ago, the “laptop of death,” possibly not a laptop, was made available to the IAEA, probably by Israel and/or the United States. What the IAEA report seems to say is that they confirmed (some of?) that information in other ways, one of them interviews with Danilenko. It is customary for the IAEA not to be specific about such sources.

    So if Porter/b is wrong about how Chelyabinsk-70 worked, their claims collapse and the IAEA report stands, although with doubts that came long before these claims from Porter/b.

    Nothing that is in the IAEA report, however, conflicts with the US intelligence estimates or indicates that Iran is currently pursuing nuclear weapons. It does show, however, that Iran has been less than forthcoming about its nuclear work. Iran’s motivation for this is also unclear: it could indicate that Iran has something to hide or that it is making the same mistake that Saddam Hussein made.

    There’s just a lot we don’t know about the Iranian nuclear program.

    1. Thank you for this comment!

      “I think you need to be very careful about Gareth Porter’s and Moon of A’s (not entirely independent) claims.”

      I agree and would state that more broadly: we need to be very careful about everybody’s claims in this matter. These posts attempt to sort through the conflicting claims by showing several perspectives — and noting the widespread exaggeration and outlight lies about the reports from the IAEA and the US intel community.

      “There’s just a lot we don’t know about the Iranian nuclear program.”

      Agreed. Public data gives no basis for starting a war, IMO.

  2. Iran is the only country where every advance in their “secret” nuclear and missile programs is publicly announced. There is something wrong with this picture.

  3. I think that the only thing we know for sure about the Iranian nuclear program is that they do NOT have the bomb. If they had it, nobody would speak of attacking them (tha’t why I wish them good luck with their nuclear program).

  4. Bloomberg: Former IAEA official questions Iran evidence

    Nuclear Arms Charge Against Iran Is No Slam Dunk“, Robert Kelley (bio below), Bloomberg, 10 January 2012 — Excerpt:

    Given the high stakes, it’s valuable to take another look at the main source of the tension: Iran’s nuclear-weapons program. That this enterprise is active is widely considered a given in the U.S. In fact, the evidence, contained in a November report of the International Atomic Energy Agency, is sketchy. And the way the data have been presented produces a sickly sense of deja vu.

    I am speaking up about this now because, as a member of the IAEA’s Iraq Action Team in 2003, I learned firsthand how withholding the facts can lead to bloodshed. Having known the details then, though I was not allowed to speak, I feel a certain shared responsibility for the war that killed more than 4,000 Americans and more than 100,000 Iraqis. A private citizen today, I hope to help ensure the facts are clear before the U.S. takes further steps that could lead, intentionally or otherwise, to a new conflagration, this time in Iran.

    It’s accepted that Iran at one time had a nuclear-weapons program. The country’s enormous investment in a secret underground uranium-enrichment complex in the city of Natanz is essentially proof of clandestine intentions. The military plutonium-production reactor in Arak is yet another indicator.

    However, it must be remembered that in the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, U.S. agencies concluded that Iran halted its nuclear-arms program in 2003 under international pressure. It’s rare for intelligence officials to determine that they have sufficient evidence to say a program has ended, so their information presumably was very good. Similarly, until this year, the IAEA has consistently reported that it had no information suggesting Iran had a nuclear-weapons program after 2004.

    So the issue is not whether there is evidence of such a program, but whether there is evidence that it was restarted after being shut down in 2003.

    The Nov. 8, 2011, report of the IAEA, under the leadership of Director General Yukiya Amano, is long on the former and very short on the latter. In the 24-page document, intended for a restricted distribution but widely available on the Internet, all but three of the items that were offered as proof of a possible nuclear-arms program are either undated or refer to events before 2004. The agency spends about 96 percent of a 14- page annex reprising what was already known: that at one time there were military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear program.

    Three Indications

    What about the three indications that the arms project may have been reactivated?

    Two of the three are attributed only to two member states, so the sourcing is impossible to evaluate. In addition, their validity is called into question by the agency’s handling of the third piece of evidence.

    That evidence, according to the IAEA, tells us Iran embarked on a four-year program, starting around 2006, to validate the design of a device to produce a burst of neutrons that could initiate a fission chain reaction. Though I cannot say for sure what source the agency is relying on, I can say for certain that this project was earlier at the center of what appeared to be a misinformation campaign.

    In 2009, the IAEA received a two-page document, purporting to come from Iran, describing this same alleged work. Mohamed ElBaradei, who was then the agency’s director general, rejected the information because there was no chain of custody for the paper, no clear source, document markings, date of issue or anything else that could establish its authenticity. What’s more, the document contained style errors, suggesting the author was not a native Farsi speaker. It appeared to have been typed using an Arabic, rather than a Farsi, word-processing program. When ElBaradei put the document in the trash heap, the U.K.’s Times newspaper published it.

    This episode had suspicious similarities to a previous case that proved definitively to be a hoax. In 1995, the IAEA received several documents from the Sunday Times, a sister paper to the Times, purporting to show that Iraq had resumed its nuclear-weapons program in spite of all evidence to the contrary. The IAEA quickly determined that the documents were elaborate forgeries. There were mistakes in formatting the documents’ markings, classification and dates, and many errors in language and style indicated the author’s first language was something other than Arabic or Farsi. Inspections in Iraq later in 1995 confirmed incontrovertibly that there had been no reconstitution of the Iraqi nuclear program. …


    I should be clear: Iran deserves tough scrutiny. It claims to have given up its nuclear-weapons ambitions, yet repeatedly acts as if it has something to hide. I am a skeptic; I suspect the Iranians may have an ongoing weaponization program. And the uncertainty must be resolved.

    At the same time, we should not again be held hostage to forgeries and the spinning of data to make the worst case. If Iran is developing nuclear weapons, let it be proved through the analysis of current, solid information — not recycled, discredited data. If there is to be a war with Iran, let’s not have a repeat, afterward, of the anguished articles and books from officials who kept their misgivings to themselves. Let’s get all the facts on the table now.

    About Robert Kelley:

    A nuclear engineer, he was a director at the IAEA, where he worked for nine years. He gained his weapons expertise over 30 years at the University of California’s nuclear-weapons laboratories.

  5. Foreign Policy: Stop the Madness

    Stop the Madness“, Yousaf Butt (scientist), Foreign Policy, 19 January 2012 — “Despite all the hype, Iran’s nuclear program has yet to violate international law. It’s time to calm down, think, and above all halt the rush to war.”

    The real legal red line, specified in the IAEA’s “Comprehensive Safeguards Agreements,” is the diversion of nuclear materials to a weapons program. However, multiple experts and official reports have affirmed over the years that they have no evidence that any such program exists.

    For example Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate who spent more than a decade as the director of the IAEA, said that he had not “seen a shred of evidence” that Iran was pursuing the bomb. The latest IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear program also backs up this assessment, stating that Iran’s research program into nuclear weapons “was stopped rather abruptly pursuant to a ‘halt order’ instruction issued in late 2003.”

    Even U.S. officials have conceded that they have no proof that Iran is actively pursuing a nuclear bomb. Following the release of the classified National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) in 2011, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper confirmed in a Senate hearing that he has a “high level of confidence” that Iran “has not made a decision as of this point to restart its nuclear weapons program.” And earlier this month, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta weighed in: “Are they [Iranians] trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No. But we know that they’re trying to develop a nuclear capability. And that’s what concerns us.”

    There are many other explanations for Iran’s uranium enrichment program other than that the country is embarking on a mad dash for nuclear weapons.

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