New revelations about two documents leaked to The Times of London to show that Iran is working on a “nuclear trigger” mechanism have further undermined the credibility of the document the newspaper had presented as evidence of a continuing Iranian nuclear weapons programme.
A columnist for the Times has acknowledged that the two-page Persian language document published by The Times last month was not a photocopy of the original document but an expurgated and retyped version of the original.
A translation of a second Persian language document also published by The Times, moreover, contradicts the claim by The Times that it shows the “nuclear trigger” document was written within an organisation run by an Iranian military scientist.
Former Central Intelligence Agency official Philip Giraldi has said U.S. intelligence judges the “nuclear trigger” document to be a forgery, as IPS reported last week. The IPS story also pointed out that the document lacked both security markings and identification of either the issuing organisation or the recipient.
The new revelations point to additional reasons why intelligence analysts would have been suspicious of the “nuclear trigger” document.
On Dec. 14, The Times published what it explicitly represented as a photocopy of a complete Persian language document showing Iranian plans for testing a neutron initiator, a triggering device for a nuclear weapon, along with an English language translation.
But in response to a reader who noted the absence of crucial information from the document, including security markings, Oliver Kamm, an online columnist for The Times, admitted Jan. 3 that the Persian language document published by The Times was “a retyped version of the relevant parts of that original document”.
Kamm wrote that the original document had “contained a lot of classified information” and was not published “because of the danger that it would alert Iranian authorities to the source of the leak”.
In offering the explanation of the intelligence agency that leaked the document to The Times, Kamm was also damaging the credibility of the document. A document that had been both edited and retyped could obviously have been doctored by adding material on a neutron initiator.
The reason for such editing could not have been to excise “classified information”, because, if the document were genuine, the Iranian government would already have the information.
Furthermore there would have been ways of avoiding disclosure of the source of the leak that would not have required the release of an expurgated version of the document. The number of the copy of the document could have been blacked out, for example.
The Times claimed in a separate story that the “nuclear trigger” document was written within the military technology development organisation run by Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.
A second document, also published in Persian language by The Times, shows Fakhrizadeh’s signature under the title, “Chief, Department of Development and Deployment of Advanced Technology”, and includes a list of 12 “recipients” within that organisation, and is dated the Persian equivalent of Dec. 29, 2005 on the Western calendar, according to an English translation obtained by IPS.
The Times reporter, Catherine Philp, wrote that the neutron initiator document “was drawn up within the Centre for Preparedness at the Institute of Applied Physics”, which she identifies as “one of the organization’s 12 departments”.
But the reference to a “Centre for Preparedness at the Institute of Applied Physics” is an obvious misreading of a chart given to The Times by the intelligence agency but not published by The Times.
The chart, which can be found on the website of the Institute for Science and International Security, shows what are clearly two separate organisations relating to neutronics – a “Center for Preparedness” and an “Institute of Applied Physics” – under what the intelligence agency translated as the “Field for Expansion of Advance Technologies’ Deployment”.
But George Maschke, a Persian language expert and former U.S. military intelligence officer, provided IPS with a translation of the list of the 12 recipients on the cover page document showing that it includes a “Centre for Preparedness and New Defense Technology” but not an “Institute of Applied Physics”.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reports have referred to the Institute of Applied Physics as a stand-alone institution rather than part of Fakhrizadeh’s organisation.
The English translation of the document shows that none of the other five Centres and groups on the list of recipients is a plausible candidate to run a neutron-related experimentation programme, either.
They include the chiefs of the Centre for Explosives and Impact Technology, the Centre for Manufacturing and Industrial Research, the Chemical and Metallurgical Groups of the Centre for Advanced Materials Research and Technology, and the Centre for New Aerospace Research and Design.
Contrary to The Times story, moreover, the other five recipients on the list of 12 are not heads of “departments” but deputies to the director for various cross-cutting themes: finance and budget, plans and programmes, science, administration and human resources and audits and legal affairs.
The absence of any organisation with an obvious expertise in atomic energy indicates Fakhrizadeh’s Department of Development and Deployment of Advanced Technology is not the locus of a clandestine nuclear weapons programme.
The nuclear weapons programmes of Israel, India and Pakistan prior to testing of an atomic bomb were all located within their respective atomic energy commissions. That organisational pattern reflects the fact that scientific expertise in nuclear physics and the different stages through which uranium must pass before being converted into a weapon is located overwhelmingly in the national atomic commissions.
The Times story claimed a consensus among “Western intelligence agencies” that Fakhrizadeh’s “Advanced Technology Development and Deployment Department” has inherited the same components as were present in the “Physics Research Centre” of the 1990s. It also asserts that the same components were present in the alleged nuclear weapons research programme that the mysterious cache of intelligence documents now called the “alleged studies” documents portrayed as being under Fakhrizadeh’s control.
Those claims were taken from the chart given to The Times by the unidentified intelligence agency.
But the idea that Fakhrizadeh has been in charge of a covert nuclear weapons project can be traced directly to the fact that he helped procure or sought to procure dual-use items when he was head of the Physics Resource Center in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The items included vacuum equipment, magnets, a balancing machine, and a mass spectrometer, all of which might be used either in a nuclear programme or for non-nuclear and non-military purposes.
The IAEA suggested in reports beginning in 2004 that Fakhrizadeh’s interest in these dual-use items indicated a possible role in Iran’s nuclear programme.
That same year someone concocted a collection of documents – later dubbed “the alleged studies” documents – showing a purported Iranian nuclear weapons project, based on the premise that Fakhrizadeh was its chief.
Iran insisted, however, that Fakhrizadeh had procured the technologies in question for non-military uses by various components of the Imam Hussein University, where he was a lecturer.
And after reviewing documentation submitted by Iran and verifying some of its assertions by inspection on the spot, the IAEA concluded in its Feb. 22, 2008 report that Iran’s explanation for Fakhrizadeh’s role in obtaining the items had been truthful after all.
But instead of questioning the authenticity of the “alleged studies” documents, IAEA Deputy Director for Safeguards Olli Heinonen highlighted Fakhrizadeh’s role in Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons work in a briefing for member states just three days after the publication of that correction.
Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, “Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam“, was published in 2006.