New Revelations Tear Holes in Nuclear Trigger Story
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 programme.
for the Times has acknowledged that the two-page Persian language
document published by The Times last month was not a photocopy of the
original document but an expurgated and retyped version of the
A translation of a second Persian language document also
published by The Times, moreover, contradicts the claim by The Times
that it shows the "nuclear trigger" document was written within an
organisation run by an Iranian military scientist.
Former Central Intelligence Agency official Philip Giraldi has said
U.S. intelligence judges the "nuclear trigger" document to be a
forgery, as IPS reported last week. The IPS story also pointed out that
the document lacked both security markings and identification of either
the issuing organisation or the recipient.
The new revelations point to additional reasons why intelligence
analysts would have been suspicious of the "nuclear trigger" document.
On Dec. 14, The Times published what it explicitly represented
as a photocopy of a complete Persian language 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 Jan. 3 that the
Persian language document published by The Times 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 organisation run by Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.
A second document, also published in 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 organisation, and is dated the Persian
equivalent of Dec. 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 Centre for Preparedness at
the Institute of Applied Physics", which she identifies as "one of the
organization's 12 departments".
But the reference to a "Centre 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 Times.
The chart, which can be found on the website of the Institute for
Science and International Security, shows what are clearly two separate
organisations 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 Advance Technologies'
But George Maschke, a Persian language expert and former U.S.
military intelligence officer, provided IPS with a translation of the
list of the 12 recipients on the cover page document showing that it
includes a "Centre 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 organisation.
The English translation of the document shows that none of the
other five Centres and groups on the list of recipients is a plausible
candidate to run a neutron-related experimentation programme, either.
They include the chiefs of the Centre for Explosives and
Impact Technology, the Centre for Manufacturing and Industrial
Research, the Chemical and Metallurgical Groups of the Centre for
Advanced Materials Research and Technology, and the Centre 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
programmes, science, administration and human resources and audits and
The absence of any organisation with an obvious expertise in
atomic energy indicates Fakhrizadeh's Department of Development and
Deployment of Advanced Technology is not the locus of a clandestine
nuclear weapons programme.
The nuclear weapons programmes of Israel, India and Pakistan
prior to testing of an atomic bomb were all located within their
respective atomic energy commissions. That organisational 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
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 Centre" of the 1990s. It also asserts
that the same components were present in the alleged nuclear weapons
research programme that the mysterious cache of intelligence documents
now called the "alleged studies" documents portrayed as being under
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 programme
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
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
Iran insisted, however, that Fakhrizadeh had procured the technologies
in question for non-military uses by various components of the Imam
Hussein University, where he was a lecturer.
And after reviewing documentation submitted by Iran and
verifying some of its assertions by inspection on the spot, the IAEA
concluded in its Feb. 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
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.