Were Fake Documents Planted to Encourage an Attack on Iran?
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Israeli officials also went to extraordinary lengths to publicize the story of covert Iranian experiments on a key component of a nuclear weapon, which was one of messages the intelligence documents conveyed. As a result of satellite intelligence brought to the attention of the IAEA in 2004 by Undersecretary of State John Bolton, the IAEA requested two separate investigations at the main Iran military research center at Parchin. The investigations, in January 2005 and November 2005, were aimed at examining the charge that Iran was using facilities at Parchin to test high explosives used in the detonation of a nuclear weapon. In each investigation, the IAEA investigators were allowed complete freedom to search and take environmental samples at any five buildings in the complex and their surroundings. But they failed to find any evidence of any Iranian nuclear weapons-related experiments.
At that point, Israeli intelligence came up with a new story. Hersh reported that, earlier in 2006, Mossad had given the CIA an intelligence report - purportedly from one of its agents inside Iran - claiming that the Iranian military had been "testing trigger mechanisms" for a nuclear weapon. The experiment supposedly involved simulating a nuclear explosion without using any nuclear material, so that it could not be detected by the IAEA. But there were no specifics on which to base an IAEA investigation - no test site specified and no diagrams - and CIA officials told Hersh they could not learn anything more about the identity of the alleged Israeli agent.
The CIA evidently did not regard the Israeli claim as credible, because the intelligence community issued a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) in late 2007, which said that Iran had ended all work on nuclear weapons in 2003 and had not restarted it. Israel expressed dismay at the US intelligence estimate, but Israeli officials admitted that the official position that Iran was still working actively on a nuclear weapon was based on an assumption rather than any hard evidence.
Israel encountered yet another problem in its effort to promote the covert Iranian nuclear weapon narrative. The IAEA analysts doubted that Iran would be able to develop a nuclear weapon small enough to fit into the missile it had tested in 2004 without foreign assistance, as David Albright, former IAEA contract officer and director of the Institute for Science and International Security, wrote in a letter to The New York Times in November 2005.
Sometime between February and May, however, yet another purported Iranian document conveniently materialized that addressed the problem of the US NIE and the "small bomb" issue noted by Albright. The document was a long, Farsi-language report purporting to be about the testing of a system to detonate high explosives in hemispherical arrangement. Based on the new document, the IAEA safeguard department concluded that the "implosion system" on which it assumed Iran was working "could be contained within a payload container believed to be small enough to fit into the re-entry body chamber of the Shahab-3 missile."
The document was given to the IAEA by a "Member State," which was not identified in the leaked excerpts from an unpublished IAEA report describing it. But Albright, who knows Heinonen well, told me in a September 2008 interview, that the state in question was "probably Israel."
The day before the Reuters and Associated Press stories attacking ElBaradei over his refusal to publish the report appeared in August 2009, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported that Israel "has been striving to pressure the IAEA through friendly nations and have it release the censored annex." The operation was being handled by the director general of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission and the Foreign Ministry, according to the report. The Israeli objective, Haaretz reported, was to "prove that the Iranian effort to develop nuclear weapons is continuing, contrary to the claims that Tehran stopped its nuclear program in 2003."