CIA’s Nuclear-Bomb Sting Said to Spur Review in Iran Arms Case
by Jonathan Tirone, February 20, 2015
(Bloomberg) — Details of a 15-year-old Central Intelligence Agency sting emerging from a court case in the U.S. may prompt United Nations monitors to reassess some evidence related to Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons work, two western diplomats said.
International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors in Vienna will probably review intelligence they received about Iran as a result of the revelations, said the two diplomats who are familiar with the IAEA’s Iran file and asked not to be named because the details are confidential. The CIA passed doctored blueprints for nuclear-weapon components to Iran in February 2000, trial documents have shown.
“This story suggests a possibility that hostile intelligence agencies could decide to plant a ‘smoking gun’ in Iran for the IAEA to find,” said Peter Jenkins, the U.K.’s former envoy to the Vienna-based agency. “That looks like a big problem.”
The UN agency is charged with deciding whether the Iranian government has been trying to develop nuclear weapons and its ruling may determine whether international sanctions against the country are lifted. While Iranian officials have consistently accused the IAEA of basing its case on forged documents, the agency has never acknowledged receiving tampered evidence.
A spokesman for the IAEA said the agency carries out a thorough assessment of the information it receives. The CIA didn’t immediately respond to e-mail and telephone requests for comment.
The CIA documents were filed as evidence to an Alexandria, Virginia court on Jan. 14 for the trial of Jeffrey Sterling, who was convicted of leaking classified information about operations against Iran. Sterling worked on a CIA project aimed at misleading Iranian scientists by feeding modified designs for nuclear-weapons components to the country’s IAEA mission in Austria.
“The goal is to plant this substantial piece of deception information on the Iranian nuclear-weapons program, sending them down blind alleys, wasting their time and money,” according to a May 1997 cable submitted to the court.
The project remains relevant because elements of the IAEA’s suspicions about Iran rest on older information provided by intelligence agencies.
IAEA inspectors don’t only rely on spy data, according to one of the diplomats, who pointed to the agency’s assessment of Iran’s Parchin Military complex, where the country is alleged to have tested high explosives. Satellite imagery analysis and open-source data also play roles, the person said.
Iran probably stopped pursuing a nuclear bomb in 2003, according to the most recently published U.S. National Intelligence Estimate, the consensus of 16 intelligence agencies including the CIA. Still, suspicions linger. The IAEA reported Thursday that its 12-year probe of Iran has stalled.
“While the Agency continues to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material” inspectors cannot “conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities,” the IAEA said in its quarterly report.
The CIA sting shows the kind of tactics that the U.S. and its allies have used against Iran, according to Dan Joyner, a law professor at the University of Alabama.
“The falsification of nuclear-related documents is a very real part of such states’ efforts to frustrate Iran’s nuclear program,” said Joyner, who has written extensively on nuclear proliferation risks. “This revelation highlights the dangers of reliance by the IAEA upon evidence concerning Iran provided to it by third party states whose political agendas are antithetical to Iran.”
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