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Were Iranian nuclear documents fabricated?

By Gareth Porter | Last updated: Sep 25, 2009 - 11:41:12 AM

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Graphic: MGN Online
The IAEA's apparent lack of concern about the absence of security markings and seals on the documents contrasts sharply with the IAEA's investigation of the Niger uranium documents cited by the George W. Bush administration as justification for invading Iraq in 2002-2003.
WASHINGTON (IPS/GIN) - The International Atomic Energy Agency says its present objective regarding Iran is to try to determine whether the intelligence documents, purportedly showing a covert Iranian nuclear weapons program from 2001 to 2003, are authentic or not. The problem, according to its reports, is that Iran refuses to help clarify the issue.

But the IAEA has refused to acknowledge publicly significant evidence brought to its attention by Iran that the documents were fabricated, and has made little, if any, effort to test the authenticity of the intelligence documents or to question officials of the governments holding them, IPS has learned.

The agency has strongly suggested in its published reports that the documentation it is supposed to be investigating is credible, because it “appears to have been derived from multiple sources over different periods of time, is detailed in content and appears to be generally consistent.”

IAEA Safeguard Department chief Olli Heinonen signaled his de facto acceptance of the “alleged studies” documents when he presented an organizational chart of the purported secret nuclear weapons project based on the documents at a February 2008 “technical briefing” for member states.

Meanwhile, the IAEA has portrayed Iran as failing to respond adequately to the “substance” of the documents, asserting that it has focused only on their “style and format of presentation.”

In fact, however, Iran has submitted serious evidence that the documents are fraudulent. Iran's permanent representative to the United Nations in Vienna, Ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh, told IPS in an interview he had pointed out to a team of IAEA officials in a meeting on the documents in Tehran in spring 2008 that none of the supposedly top secret military documents had any security markings of any kind, and that purported letters from defense ministry officials lacked Iranian government seals.

Amb. Soltanieh recalled that he had made the same point “many times” in meetings of the Board of Governors since then. “No one ever challenged me,” said the ambassador.

The IAEA has never publicly acknowledged the problem of lack of security markings or official seals in the documents, omitting mention of the Iranian complaint on that issue from its reports. Its May 26, 2008 report said only that Iran had “stated, inter alia, that the documents were not complete and that their structure varied.”

But a senior official of the agency familiar with the Iran investigation, who spoke with IPS on condition that he would not be identified, confirmed that Amb. Soltanieh had indeed pointed out the lack of any security classification markings, and that he had been correct in doing so.

The “alleged studies” documents include purported correspondence between the overall “project leader” in Iran's Defense Ministry and project heads on what would have been among the regime's most sensitive military secrets.

Even though the official conceded that the lack of security markings could be considered damaging to the credibility of the documents, he defended the agency's refusal to acknowledge the issue.

“It's not a killer argument,” said the official.

The official suggested that the states that had provided the documents might claim that they had taken the markings out before passing them on to the IAEA. It is not clear, however, why an intelligence agency would want to remove from the documents markings that would be important in proving their authenticity.

“We don't know whether the original letters were marked confidential or not,” he said, indicating that the IAEA had not questioned the United States and other states contributing documents on the absence of the confidential markings.

The IAEA's apparent lack of concern about the absence of security markings and seals on the documents contrasts sharply with the IAEA's investigation of the Niger uranium documents cited by the George W. Bush administration as justification for invading Iraq in 2002-2003.

In the Niger case, the agency concluded that the documents were fabricated based on a comparison of the “form, format, contents and signature” of the documents with other relevant correspondence, according to IAEA Director General Mohamed El Baradei's March 7, 2003 statement to the UN Security Council.

Iran has also provided the IAEA with evidence that the handwritten notes on a May 2003 letter, which supposedly link a private Iranian contractor to the “alleged studies,” were forged by an outside agency. The letter was from an engineering firm to the private company Kimia Maadan, which other documents in the collection identify as responsible for part of the alleged covert nuclear weapons program called the “green salt project.”

Iranian officials have also claimed other inaccuracies in the documents, involving technical flaws and names of individuals who they say do not exist.

The IAEA has not referred in its reports to any specific efforts to subject the “alleged studies” documents to forensic tests or to get data about such tests from governments holding the documents.

The senior IAEA official recalled that Washington Post reporter Dafna Linzer had written that the documents had been sent to three different labs, and that two had said they were credible, whereas the third had expressed doubt about their authenticity.

But Linzer's February 2006 story reported only that the Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico had run computer simulations on the studies of a Shahab-3 reentry vehicle—which suggested that they were aimed at accommodating a nuclear weapon—and had concluded that none of the plans would have worked.

Contacted by phone, Ms. Linzer, now a senior reporter for the public interest journalism organization Pro Publica, told IPS she had never reported that two other labs ran tests on the documents.

Ms. Linzer expressed doubt that any other national labs would have had the capabilities to do the kind of tests carried out at Sandia labs.

When asked if the IAEA had sought to obtain the Sandia simulation results, the official refused to comment, except to say, “Our people follow up.”

Related news:

Iran discloses new enrichment plant (Al Jazeera, 09-25-2009)

Nuke Agency rejects 'baseless' report of Iran weapons program (FCN, 09-22-2009)

World community backs Iran's nuclear program (FCN, 09-14-2008)

Nuclear hypocrisy in Iran’s treatment (FCN, 03-12-2006)

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