CIA used A-bomb plan as bait
U.S. gave flawed design to Iran: Author
By James Risen
Star" -- -- Iran and EU officials failed yesterday
to resolve a standoff over Iran's nuclear work before a United
Nations atomic watchdog meeting Monday that may lead to Security
Council action. In his book, State of War, James Risen includes the
startling claim that the U.S. actually handed Tehran the blueprints
for an atomic bomb in 2000. The CIA scheme was to introduce
intentional flaws in the design plans that would delay or derail
Iranian work. The following excerpt shows the poorly conceived plan
and its easily identified flaws.
Risen is the reporter who revealed a secret domestic U.S.
wiretapping surveillance program exists in the United States.
The Russian stood out like a poor eastern cousin on Vienna's jeweled
He was a nuclear engineer who had defected to the United States
years earlier and quietly settled in America. He went through the
CIA's defector resettlement program and endured long debriefings in
which CIA experts and scientists from the national laboratories
tried to drain him of everything he knew about the status of
Russia's nuclear weapons program. Like many other Russian defectors
before him, his tiresome complaints about money and status had
gained him a reputation within the CIA of being difficult to manage.
But he was too valuable for the CIA to toss away...
So despite their disputes, the CIA had arranged for the Russian to
become an American citizen and had kept him on the payroll, to the
tune of $5,000 (U.S.) a month. It really did seem like easy money,
with few strings attached. Life was good. He was happy to be on the
CIA gravy train.
Until now. The CIA was placing him on the front lines of a plan that
seemed to be completely at odds with the interests of the United
States, and it had taken a lot of persuading by his CIA case officer
to convince him to go through with what appeared to be a rogue
The code name for this operation was MERLIN...
The Russian's assignment from the CIA was to pose as an unemployed
and greedy scientist who was willing to sell his soul — and the
secrets of the atomic bomb — to the highest bidder. By hook or by
crook, the CIA told him, he was to get the nuclear blueprints to the
Iranians. They would quickly recognize their value and rush them
back to their superiors in Tehran.
The plan had been laid out for the defector during a CIA-financed
trip to San Francisco, where he had meetings with CIA officers and
nuclear experts mixed in with leisurely wine-tasting trips to Sonoma
County. In a luxurious San Francisco hotel room, a senior CIA
official involved in the operation walked the Russian through the
details of the plan. He brought in experts from one of the national
laboratories to go over the blueprints that he was supposed to give
The senior CIA officer could see that the Russian was nervous, and
so he tried to downplay the significance of what they were asking
him to do. He told the Russian that the CIA was mounting the
operation simply to find out where the Iranians are with their
nuclear program. This was just an intelligence-gathering effort, the
CIA officer said, not an illegal attempt to give Iran the bomb.
At the case officer's urging, the Russian started sending messages
to Iranian scientists, scholars, and even Iranian diplomats
stationed at the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) in
As he mingled with scientists and other academics, the Russian
picked up business cards and email addresses. The Russian began to
email his new contacts, sending intriguing messages explaining that
he wanted to talk with them about his ability to provide materials
of interest to Iran. Finally, at one conference, he hit pay dirt
when he met a physics professor visiting from Tehran.
The Russian followed up his chance encounter with emails to the
scientist back at his university in Iran. The Russian explained that
he had information that was extremely important, and he wanted to
make an offer. After some delays, the Iranian finally responded,
with a wary message, asking what he had in mind. That was enough for
the CIA. Now the Russian could tell Iranian officials in Vienna that
he had been in touch with a respected scientist in Tehran before he
showed up on their doorstep. The CIA had discovered that a
high-ranking Iranian official would be travelling to Vienna and
visiting the Iranian mission to the IAEA, and so the agency decided
to take the next step and send the Russian to Vienna at the same
time. It was hoped that he could make contact with either the
Iranian ambassador to the IAEA or the visitor from Tehran.
The CIA sent him to Vienna without any backup...
Only a handful of CIA officers knew of the existence of MERLIN.
Better to let the Russian get lost and fumble his way around town
than tell more officers about the operation.
He could not stop thinking about his trip to San Francisco, when he
had studied the blueprints the CIA had given him. Within minutes of
being handed the designs, he had identified a flaw. "This isn't
right," he told the CIA officers gathered around the hotel room.
"There is something wrong." His comments prompted stony looks, but
no straight answers from the CIA men in the room... After their trip
to San Francisco, the case officer handed the Russian a sealed
envelope with the nuclear blueprints inside. The Russian was told
not to open the envelope under any circumstances. He was to follow
the CIA's instructions to find the Iranians and give them the
envelope with the documents inside. Keep it simple, and get out of
Vienna safe and alive, the Russian was told. But the defector was
more worried than ever about what kind of game the CIA was getting
him into. And he had his own ideas about how he might play that
In Vienna, the Russian went over his options one more time and made
a decision. He unsealed the envelope with the nuclear blueprints and
included a personal letter of his own to the Iranians. No matter
what the CIA told him, he was going to hedge his bets. There was
obviously something wrong with these blueprints — so he decided to
mention that fact to the Iranians in a letter. They would certainly
find flaws for themselves, and if he didn't tell them first, they
would never want to deal with him again...
The Russian slid his letter in with the blueprints and resealed the
After his day of floundering around Vienna, the Russian returned to
his hotel, near the city's large Stadtpark. He did a computer search
and found the right street address for the Iranian mission. His
courage bolstered, he decided he would go back and finish the job in
He found 19 Heinstrasse...
The only proof that this was the right place was a mail directory,
with three rows of tenants' names on the wall beside the building's
front door. Amid the list of Austrian tenants, there was one simple
line: PM/Iran." The Iranians clearly didn't want publicity.
The Russian slipped through the front door, and hurriedly shoved his
envelope through the inner door slot at the Iranian office. The
Russian fled the mission without being seen. He was deeply relieved
that he had finally made the handoff without ever having to come
face to face with a real live Iranian. He flew back to the U.S.
without being detected by either Austrian security or, more
important, by Iranian intelligence...
Just days after the Russian dropped off his package at the Iranian
mission, the NSA (National Security Agency) reported that an Iranian
official in Vienna abruptly changed his schedule and suddenly made
airline reservations and flew home to Iran. The odds were that the
nuclear blueprints were now in Tehran.
From STATE OF WAR by James Risen. Copyright © 2006 by James Risen.
Reprinted by permission of Free Press, a Division of Simon &
Schuster, Inc., NY.
Copyright Toronto Star Newspapers Limited
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