US Iran intelligence 'is
Julian Borger in Vienna
02/22/07 "Guardian" -- -- Much of the intelligence on
Iran's nuclear facilities provided to UN inspectors by
US spy agencies has turned out to be unfounded,
diplomatic sources in Vienna said today.
The claims, reminiscent of the intelligence fiasco
surrounding the Iraq war, coincided with a sharp
increase in international tension as the International
Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that Iran was
defying a UN security council ultimatum to freeze its
That report, delivered to the security council by the
IAEA director general, Mohammed ElBaradei, sets the
stage for a fierce international debate on the
imposition of stricter sanctions on Iran and raises the
possibility that the US could resort to military action
against Iranian nuclear sites.
At the heart of the debate are accusations - spearheaded
by the US - that Iran is secretly trying to develop
However, most of the tip-offs about supposed secret
weapons sites provided by the CIA and other US
intelligence agencies have led to dead ends when
investigated by IAEA inspectors, according to informed
sources in Vienna.
"Most of it has turned out to be incorrect," a diplomat
at the IAEA with detailed knowledge of the agency's
"They gave us a paper with a list of sites. [The
inspectors] did some follow-up, they went to some
military sites, but there was no sign of [banned
"Now [the inspectors] don't go in blindly. Only if it
passes a credibility test."
One particularly contentious issue was records of plans
to build a nuclear warhead, which the CIA said it found
on a stolen laptop computer supplied by an informant
In July 2005, US intelligence officials showed printed
versions of the material to IAEA officials, who judged
it to be sufficiently specific to confront Iran.
Tehran rejected the material as forged, and there are
still reservations within the IAEA about its
authenticity, according to officials with knowledge of
the internal debate in the agency.
"First of all, if you have a clandestine programme, you
don't put it on laptops which can walk away," one
official said. "The data is all in English which may be
reasonable for some of the technical matters, but at
some point you'd have thought there would be at least
some notes in Farsi. So there is some doubt over the
provenance of the computer."
IAEA officials do not comment on intelligence passed to
the watchdog agency by foreign governments, saying all
such assistance is confidential.
A western counter-proliferation official accepted that
intelligence on Iran had sometimes been patchy, but
argued that the essential point was Tehran's failure to
live up to its obligations under the non-proliferation
"I take on board on what they're saying, but the bottom
line is that for nearly 20 years [the Iranians] were
violating safeguards agreements," the official said.
"There is a confidence deficit here about the regime's
That deficit will be deepened by yesterday's IAEA
report, which concluded bluntly that "Iran has not
suspended its enrichment related activities", in
defiance of a December UN ultimatum to stop.
The report noted that Iran had continued with the
operation of a pilot enrichment plant.
Furthermore, the report said Iran had informed the
agency of its plan to install 18 arrays, or cascades, of
164 centrifuges in an underground plant by May - a total
of nearly 3,000.
At the moment, Iran's centrifuges are being used to make
low enriched uranium, but if they were switched to
making highly enriched, weapons grade uranium they could
produce enough for a bomb in less than a year.
Mr ElBaradei's report said that Iran had so far not
agreed to the IAEA installing remote monitoring devices
in the enrichment plant to keep constant tabs on what
the Iranians were doing with them.
Furthermore, the IAEA still has a string of questions
about the Iranian programme that remain unanswered.
Until they are, the agency will not give Iran a clear
bill of health.
One of the "outstanding issues" listed in yesterday's
report involves a 15-page document that appears to have
been handed to IAEA inspectors by mistake with a batch
of unrelated paperwork in October 2005.
That document roughly describes how to make hemispheres
of enriched uranium, for which the only known use is in
nuclear warheads. Iran has yet to present a satisfactory
explanation of how and why it has the document.
"The issue here is the Iranians have not addressed
outstanding issues, and we are still uncertain about the
scope and intent of the programme," a senior UN official
said last night.
"We cannot ensure the correctness and completeness of
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