WASHINGTON - Excerpts of the
internal draft report by the staff of the International Atomic Energy
Agency (IAEA) published online last week show that the report's claims
about Iranian work on a nuclear weapon is based almost entirely on
intelligence documents which have provoked a serious conflict within
Contrary to sensational
stories by the Associated Press and The New York Times, the excerpts on
the website of the Institute for Science and International Security
(ISIS) reveal that the IAEA's Safeguards Department, which wrote the
report, only has suspicions – not real evidence - that Iran has been
working on nuclear weapons in recent years.
newly published excerpts make it clear, moreover, that the so-called
"Alleged Studies" documents brought to the attention of the agency by
the United States five years ago are central to its assertion that Iran
had such a programme in 2002-03.
Whether those documents are
genuine or were fabricated has been the subject of a fierce struggle
behind the scenes for many months between two departments of the IAEA.
IAEA officials began calling for a clear statement by the agency that
it could not affirm the documents' authenticity after the agency
obtained hard evidence in early 2008 that a key document in the
collection had been fraudulently altered, as previously reported by
this writer. As journalist Mark Hibbs reported last week in Nucleonics
Week, opposition to relying on the intelligence documents has come not
only from outgoing Director General Mohamed ElBaradei but from the
Department of External Relations and Policy Coordination.
September 2008, however, the Safeguards Department, headed by Olli
Heinonen, has been pressing for publication of its draft report as an
annex to a regular agency report on Iran.
Heinonen leaked the
draft to Western governments last summer, and in September it was
leaked to the Associated Press and ISIS. That has generated sensational
headlines suggesting that Iran can already build a nuclear bomb.
draft report says the agency "assesses that Iran has sufficient
information to be able to design and produce a workable implosion
nuclear device". But other passages indicate the authors regard such
knowledge only as a possibility, based on suspicions rather than
It says the "necessary information was most
likely obtained from external sources and probably modified by Iran".
But it cites only the 15-page "uranium metal document" given by the A.
Q. Khan network to Iran when it purchased centrifuge designs in 1987.
on the information in the document," it says, "it is possible that Iran
has knowledge regarding the contents of a nuclear package."
IAEA "suspects" that the 15-page document was part of "larger package
that Iran may have obtained but which has not yet come to the Agency's
attention", according to the leaked excerpts.
But that document
only outlines procedural requirements for casting uranium into
hemispheres, not the technical specifications, as the IAEA report of
Nov. 18, 2005 noted. No evidence has ever surfaced to challenge the
Iranian explanation that Khan's agents threw in the document after a
deal had been reached on centrifuges in an effort to interest Iran in
buying the technology for casting uranium.
The IAEA affirmed that it has found no evidence that Iran ever acquired such technology.
only external "nuclear package" ever reported to have been provided to
Iran is a set of flawed technical designs for a "high-voltage block"
for a Russian-designed nuclear weapon, which was slipped under the door
of the Iranian mission in Vienna by a Russian scientist working for
CIA's Operation Merlin in February 2000.
claim in the draft report is that the IAEA "has information, known as
the Alleged Studies, that the Ministry of Defence of Iran has conducted
and may still be conducting a comprehensive programme aimed at the
development of a nuclear payload to be delivered using the Shahab 3
It does not explain how the "Alleged Studies",
which are documents on work done in 2002 and 2003, could have any
bearing on whether Iran is now conducting work on nuclear weapons.
the same language found in published IAEA reports, the draft suggests
that the Alleged Studies intelligence documents represent credible
evidence. "The information, which has been obtained from multiple
sources, is detailed in content and appears to be generally
consistent," it says.
But that characterisation of the
intelligence first shown to the IAEA by the United States in 2005 has
been contested by sceptics in the agency. A senior IAEA official
familiar with the documents suggested in an interview with IPS last
month that the claim of "multiple sources" may be misleading.
the existence of "intelligence sharing networks", the official said,
"one can't rule it out that one organisation got the intelligence and
shared it with others." That would explain the reference to "multiple
sources consistent over time", he said.
The initial U.S.
account, according to the official, was that the documents came from
the laptop computer of one of the Iranian participants in the alleged
nuclear weapons research programme. Later, however, that account was
"walked back", he said.
"There are holes in the story," said the official.
introduction by ISIS to the excerpts from the report, evidently based
on conversations with the IAEA personnel, confirms that the documents
did not come from Iran on a laptop computer, as U.S. officials had
claimed in the past. It suggests that the documents were smuggled out
of Iran as "electronic media" by the wife of an Iranian who had been
recruited by German intelligence and was later arrested.
new explanation is highly suspect, however, because an intelligence
agency would not confirm the identity of one of their agents, even if
he were arrested. Asked about the ISIS account, Paul Pillar, who was
national intelligence office for the Middle East when the "laptop
documents" surfaced, said it "sounds unusual".
report also argues that the information in the documents is credible,
because it "refers to known Iranian persons and institutions under both
the military and civil apparatuses, as well as to some degree to their
confirmed procurement activities".
But the senior IAEA official
cast doubt on that claim as well. The names of people working in the
relevant Iranian military and civilian organisations are readily
obtainable, he observed. "It's not difficult to cook up such a
document," the official told IPS.
The draft paper states that
the agency "does not believe that Iran has yet achieved the means of
integrating a nuclear payload into the Shahab 3 delivery system with
any confidence that it would work".
That statement hints at the
fact that the reentry vehicle studies were found to have serious
technical problems. The senior IAEA official told IPS that the Sandia
National Laboratories, which ran computer simulation analyses of the
plan, not only found that none of them would have worked, but had
expressed doubt that they were genuine.
The paper makes an
indirect reference to a plan for a bench-scale facility for uranium
conversion, but does not mention that it had several technical flaws,
as acknowledged by Heinonen in a February 2008 briefing for members.
do the draft report's conclusions deal with the fact, confirmed by the
senior IAEA official to IPS, that none of the intelligence documents
have any security markings, despite the fact they are purported to be
part of what presumably would have been Iran's most highly classified
*Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and
journalist specialising in U.S. 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.