Were Fake Documents Planted to Encourage an Attack on Iran?
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Behind the scenes, a conflict was about to boil over between Heinonen and then IAEA Director General Mohammed ElBaradei, who was skeptical about the authenticity of the laptop documents and refused to give them any official IAEA endorsement. In late 2008, Heinonen began pushing ElBaradei to approve publication of his department's favorable assessment of the intelligence documents, which concluded that Iran had done research and development on nuclear weapons components and speculated that it was continuing to do so.
But ElBaradei refused to do so and in August 2009, diplomats from the UK, France and Germany, who were supporting Heinonen's view of the documents, leaked to Reuters and The Associated Press that, for nearly a year, ElBaradei had been suppressing "credible" evidence of Iran's covert work on nuclear weapons.
ElBaradei responded to those political pressures to publish the safeguards department speculative study in an interview with The Hindu on October 1, 2009, in which he declared, "The IAEA is not making any judgment at all whether Iran even had weaponisation studies before because there is a major question of authenticity of the documents."
Evidence of Israel's Role
The origin of the laptop documents may never be proven conclusively, but the accumulated evidence points to Israel as the source. As early as 1995, the head of the Israel Defense Forces' military intelligence research and assessment division, Yaakov Amidror, tried unsuccessfully to persuade his American counterparts that Iran was planning to "go nuclear." By 2003-2004, Mossad's reporting on the Iranian nuclear program was viewed by high-ranking CIA officials as an effort to pressure the Bush administration into considering military action against Iran's nuclear sites, according to Israeli sources cited by a pro-Israeli news service.
In the summer of 2003, Israel's international intelligence agency, Mossad, had established an aggressive program aimed at exerting influence on the Iran nuclear issue by leaking alleged intelligence to governments and the news media, as Israeli officials acknowledged to journalists Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins. According to the book, "The Nuclear Jihadist," as part of the program, Mossad sometimes passed on purported Iranian documents supposedly obtained by Israeli spies inside Iran.
German sources have suggested that the intelligence documents were conveyed to the US government, directly or indirectly, by a group that had been collaborating closely with Mossad. Soon after Secretary of State Colin Powell made the existence of the laptop documents public in November 2004, Karsten Voight, the coordinator of German-American cooperation in the German Foreign Ministry, was quoted in The Wall Street Journal as saying that they had been transferred by an Iranian "dissident group." A second German source familiar with the case was even more explicit. "I can assure you," the source told me in 2007, "that the documents came from the Iranian resistance organization." That was a reference to the Mujahideen-E-Khalq (MEK), also known as the People's Mujahideen of Iran, the armed Iranian exile group designated as a terrorist organization by the US State Department.
The National Council of Resistance in Iran (NCRI), the political arm of the MEK, was generally credited by the news media with having revealed the existence of the Iranian nuclear facilities at Natanz and Arak in an August 2002 press conference in Washington, DC. Later, however, IAEA, Israeli and Iranian dissident sources all said that the NCRI had gotten the intelligence on the sites from Mossad.
An IAEA official told Seymour Hersh that the Israelis were behind the revelation of the sites and two journalists from Der Spiegel reported the same thing. So did an adviser to an Iranian monarchist group, speaking to a writer for The New Yorker. That episode was not isolated, but was part of a broader pattern of Israeli cooperation with the MEK in providing intelligence intended to influence the CIA and the IAEA. Israeli authors Melman and Javadanfar, who claimed to have good sources in Mossad, wrote in their 2007 book that Israeli intelligence had "laundered" intelligence to the IAEA by providing it to Iranian opposition groups, especially the NCRI.