Iran Nuke Laptop Data Came
from Terror Group
By Gareth Porter
WASHINGTON, Feb 29 (IPS) - The George W. Bush administration has
long pushed the "laptop documents" -- 1,000 pages of technical
documents supposedly from a stolen Iranian laptop -- as hard
evidence of Iranian intentions to build a nuclear weapon. Now
charges based on those documents pose the only remaining
obstacles to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
declaring that Iran has resolved all unanswered questions about
its nuclear programme.
But those documents have long been regarded with great suspicion
by U.S. and foreign analysts. German officials have identified
the source of the laptop documents in November 2004 as the
Mujahideen e Khalq (MEK), which along with its political arm,
the National Council of Resistance in Iran (NCRI), is listed by
the U.S. State Department as a terrorist organisation.
There are some indications, moreover, that the MEK obtained the
documents not from an Iranian source but from Israel's Mossad.
In its latest report on Iran, circulated Feb. 22, the IAEA,
under strong pressure from the Bush administration, included
descriptions of plans for a facility to produce "green salt",
technical specifications for high explosives testing and the
schematic layout of a missile reentry vehicle that appears
capable of holding a nuclear weapon. Iran has been asked to
provide full explanations for these alleged activities.
Tehran has denounced the documents on which the charges are
based as fabrications provided by the MEK, and has demanded
copies of the documents to analyse, but the United States had
refused to do so.
The Iranian assertion is supported by statements by German
officials. A few days after then Secretary of State Colin Powell
announced the laptop documents, Karsten Voight, the coordinator
for German-American relations in the German Foreign Ministry,
was reported by the Wall Street Journal Nov. 22, 2004 as saying
that the information had been provided by "an Iranian dissident
A German official familiar with the issue confirmed to this
writer that the NCRI had been the source of the laptop
documents. "I can assure you that the documents came from the
Iranian resistance organisation," the source said.
The Germans have been deeply involved in intelligence collection
and analysis regarding the Iranian nuclear programme. According
to a story by Washington Post reporter Dafna Linzer soon after
the laptop documents were first mentioned publicly by Powell in
late 2004, U.S. officials said they had been stolen from an
Iranian whom German intelligence had been trying to recruit, and
had been given to intelligence officials of an unnamed country
The German account of the origins of the laptop documents
contradicts the insistence by unnamed U.S. intelligence
officials who insisted to journalists William J. Broad and David
Sanger in November 2005 that the laptop documents did not come
from any Iranian resistance groups.
Despite the fact that it was listed as a terrorist organisation,
the MEK was a favourite of neoconservatives in the Pentagon, who
were proposing in 2003-2004 to use it as part of a policy to
destabilise Iran. The United States is known to have used
intelligence from the MEK on Iranian military questions for
years. It was considered a credible source of intelligence on
the Iranian nuclear programme after 2002, mainly because of its
identification of the facility in Natanz as a nuclear site.
The German source said he did not know whether the documents
were authentic or not. However, CIA analysts, and European and
IAEA officials who were given access to the laptop documents in
2005 were very sceptical about their authenticity.
The Guardian's Julian Borger last February quoted an IAEA
official as saying there is "doubt over the provenance of the
A senior European diplomat who had examined the documents was
quoted by the New York Times in November 2005 as saying, "I can
fabricate that data. It looks beautiful, but is open to doubt."
Scott Ritter, the former U.S. military intelligence officer who
was chief United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to
1998, noted in an interview that the CIA has the capability test
the authenticity of laptop documents through forensic tests that
would reveal when different versions of different documents were
The fact that the agency could not rule out the possibility of
fabrication, according to Ritter, indicates that it had either
chosen not to do such tests or that the tests had revealed
Despite its having been credited with the Natanz intelligence
coup in 2002, the overall record of the MEK on the Iranian
nuclear programme has been very poor. The CIA continued to
submit intelligence from the Iranian group about alleged Iranian
nuclear weapons-related work to the IAEA over the next five
years, without identifying the source.
But that intelligence turned out to be unreliable. A senior IAEA
official told the Los Angeles Times in February 2007 that, since
2002, "pretty much all the intelligence that has come to us has
proved to be wrong."
Former State Department deputy intelligence director for the
Near East and South Asia Wayne White doubts that the MEK has
actually had the contacts within the Iranian bureaucracy and
scientific community necessary to come up with intelligence such
as Natanz and the laptop documents. "I find it very hard to
believe that supporters of the MEK haven't been thoroughly
rooted out of the Iranian bureaucracy," says White. "I think
they are without key sources in the Iranian government."
In her February 2006 report on the laptop documents, the Post's
Linzer said CIA analysts had originally speculated that a "third
country, such as Israel, had fabricated the evidence". They
eventually "discounted that theory", she wrote, without
Since 2002, new information has emerged indicating that the MEK
did not obtain the 2002 data on Natanz itself but received it
from the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad. Yossi Melman and
Meier Javadanfar, who co-authored a book on the Iranian nuclear
programme last year, write that they were told by "very senior
Israeli Intelligence officials" in late 2006 that Israeli
intelligence had known about Natanz for a full year before the
Iranian group's press conference. They explained that they had
chosen not to reveal it to the public "because of safety
concerns for the sources that provided the information".
Shahriar Ahy, an adviser to monarchist leader Reza Pahlavi, told
journalist Connie Bruck that the detailed information on Natanz
had not come from MEK but from "a friendly government, and it
had come to more than one opposition group, not only the
Bruck wrote in the New Yorker on Mar, 16, 2006 that when he was
asked if the "friendly government" was Israel, Ahy smiled and
said, "The friendly government did not want to be the source of
it, publicly. If the friendly government gives it to the U.S.
publicly, then it would be received differently. Better to come
from an opposition group."
Israel has maintained a relationship with the MEK since the late
1990s, according to Bruck, including assistance to the
organisation in beaming broadcasts by the NCRI from Paris into
Iran. An Israeli diplomat confirmed that Israel had found the
MEK "useful", Bruck reported, but the official declined to
*Gareth Porter is an historian and national security policy
analyst. The paperback edition of his latest book, "Perils of
Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam",
was published in 2006.
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