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Were Fake Documents Planted to Encourage an Attack on Iran?

Documents at the center of the case against Iran show telltale signs of fraud.

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The laptop documents had depicted the wrong re-entry vehicle being redesigned.

When I asked Heinonen, now a senior fellow at Harvard University's Belfer Center, why Iran's purported secret nuclear weapons research program would redesign the warhead of a missile that the Iranian military had already decided to replace with an improved model, he suggested that the group that had done the schematics had no relationship with the Iranian missile program. "It looks from that information that this group was working with this individual," said Heinonen, referring to Dr. Mohsen Fakrizadeh, the man named in the documents as heading the research program. "It was not working with the missile program."

Heinonen's claim that the covert nuclear weapon program had no link to the regular missile program is not supported by the intelligence documents themselves. The IAEA describes what is purported to be a one-page letter from Fakrizadeh to the Shahid Hemat Industrial Group dated March 3, 2003, "seeking assistance with the prompt transfer of data" for the work on redesigning the re- entry vehicle.

Shahid Hemat, which is part of the Iranian military's Defense Industries Organization, was involved in testing the engine for the Shahab-3 and, in particular, in working on aerodynamic properties and control systems for Iranian missiles, all of which were reported in the US news media. "Project 11" was the code name given to the purported re-entry vehicle project.

Heinonen also suggested that the program's engineers could have been ordered to redesign the older Shahab-3 model before the decision was made by the missile program to switch to a newer model and that it couldn't change its work plan once it was decided.

However, according to Mike Elleman, lead author of the most authoritative study of the Iranian missile program thus far, published by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) last May, Iran introduced the major innovations in the design of the medium-range missile, including a longer, lighter airframe and the new warhead shape, over a period of two to five years. Elleman, told me in an interview that the redesign of the re-entry vehicle must have begun in 2002 at the latest.

The schematics on the laptop documents' redesigned warhead were dated March-April 2003, according to the IAEA report of May 2008.

Heinonen's explanation assumes that the Iranian military ordered an engineer to organize a project to redesign the warhead on its intermediate-range ballistic missile to accommodate a nuclear payload, but kept the project in the dark about its plans to replace the Shahab-3 with a completely new and improved model.

That assumption appears wholly implausible, because the reason for the shift to the new missile, according to the IISS study, was that the Shahab-3, purchased from North Korea in the early to mid-1990s, had a range of only 800 to 1,000 km, depending on the weight of the payload. Thus, it was incapable of reaching Israel. The new missile, later named the Ghadr-1, could carry a payload of conventional high-explosives 1,500 to 1,600 kilometers, bringing Israel within the reach of an Iranian missile for the first time.

The missile warhead anomaly is a particularly telling sign of fraud, because someone intending to fabricate such technical drawings of a re-entry vehicle could not have known that Iran had abandoned the Shahab-3 in favor of the more advanced Ghadr-1 until after mid-August 2004. As the IISS study points out, the August 11, 2004, test launch was the first indication to the outside world that a new missile with a triconic warhead had been developed. Before that test, Elleman told me, "No information was available that they were modifying the warhead."

 
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