Tuesday, December 11

More NIE fallout: Iranian group claims Tehran's nuclear weapons program still operational

4:00 PM Update
So many news reports have appeared since the Wall Street Journal published their report today on the NCRI announcements that I'm having trouble keeping track of them.

Each report has some information not contained in the others. So I've culled 'unique' quotes from three of the later reports -- from AP, AFP and Fox -- and tacked them at the end of the excerpts I published earlier from the Wall Street Journal report.

One of several surprises in the Fox report relating to the NIE conclusions is that NCRI claims the Iranians did not shut down a nuke weapons site in 2003 because of international pressure but because they were caught red-handed by NCRI and wanted to stay a step ahead of the IAEA.

It's funny the way things work out; if NCRI had announced their intelligence two weeks ago, they would have gotten a yawn from most of the mainstream press with maybe the exception of Fox news. But the publication of the NIE conclusions has guaranteed that NCRI's announcements would draw attention from across the mainstream.
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One problem with using intelligence provided by Mujahedin e-Khalq (MEK) and their political wing, National Council for Resistance (NCRI) is that both groups are designated as terrorist organizations by the United States and the European Union. And yet the groups have provided accurate intelligence in some cases.

Now that intelligence used by the NIE is being reassessed in many quarters, I question the wisdom of President Bush's rush to publicly support the National Intelligence Estimate. Bush's political enemies have not been mollified by his generous words for the NIE. And if Bush and the NIE group are forced by new intelligence to recant -- the public can only take so much flip-flopping on intelligence matters.

So all things considered, it would have been wiser if Bush had been noncommittal in his public statements about the NIE -- at least until Israel could respond, and intelligence experts outside the NIE group could examine the report's key judgment on Iran's nuclear weapons program.

Here are key excerpts from today's Wall Street Journal report on the NCRI intelligence:
Group Says Iran Resumed Weapon Program
by MARC CHAMPION in Brussels and JAY SOLOMON in Washington
Wall Street Journal, December 11, 2007; Page A4

The Iranian opposition group that first exposed Iran's nuclear-fuel program said a U.S. intelligence analysis is correct that Tehran shut down its weaponization program in 2003, but claims that the program was relocated and restarted in 2004. [...]

A former U.S. intelligence official who works closely with the White House on Iran said that all the intelligence related to the NIE was being reassessed and that information coming from sources such as the NCRI would be included. "You have to take seriously what they say, but you also have to realize that they have gotten things wrong," the official said. [...]

The NCRI is the political wing of the Mujahedin e-Khalq [MEK], a group that still has as many as 4,000 members in a disarmed military camp just inside Iraq's border with Iran. The MEK has its roots as a Marxist-Islamist body that fought to overthrow the Shah and has been seeking to overthrow the current government since the mid-1980s. The U.S. and the European Union list both the NCRI and Mujahedin e-Khalq as terrorist organizations. The NCRI has had a mixed record in the accuracy of its claims concerning Iran's nuclear program.

U.S. intelligence officials have declined to comment on what role the NCRI or other Iranian dissident groups may have played in developing the new intelligence estimate. The NCRI first identified Iran's covert nuclear-fuel facilities in 2002, and the White House and State Department have credited the group with helping to expose the program. [...]

According to the NCRI, Iran's Supreme National Security Council decided to shut down its most important center for nuclear-weapons research in eastern Tehran, called Lavisan-Shian, in August 2003. [...]

But at the same meeting, the council decided to disperse pieces of the research to a number of locations around Iran, according to the NCRI. By the time international nuclear inspectors were allowed to get access to the Lavisan site, the buildings allegedly devoted to nuclear research had been torn down and the ground bulldozed. [...]

The NCRI, which claims to have intelligence sources inside Iran, said Lavisan was broken into 11 fields of research, including development of a nuclear trigger and of the technology to shape weapons-grade uranium into a warhead. [...]

"What the first part of the NIE says is right, that they halted their weaponization research in 2003," said Mohammad Mohaddessin, foreign-affairs chief for the NCRI. "But the second part, that they stopped until at least the middle of 2007, is wrong. They scattered the weaponization program to other locations and restarted in 2004."

Equipment was relocated first from Lavisan-Shian to another military compound in Tehran's Lavisan district, the Center for Readiness and Advanced Technology, Mr. Mohaddessin said. Two devices designed to measure radiation levels were moved to Malek-Ashtar University in Isfahan and to a defense ministry hospital in Tehran, he said. Other equipment was sent to other locations the NCRI hasn't been able to identify, he said.

"Their strategy was that if the IAEA found any one piece of this research program, it would be possible to justify it as civilian. But so long as it was all together, they wouldn't be able to," Mr.Mohaddessin said.

The NCRI said in a report on Iran's nuclear program in September 2005 that the Lavisan facility had been closed, setting back the regime's weaponization program by approximately one year. Mr. Mohaddessin said his group was certain no other Iranian nuclear facilities were closed in 2003.

A representative of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations nuclear watchdog in Vienna, declined to comment on the claims, but said the agency would consider seriously any NCRI information. A spokesman for the Iranian government couldn't be reached for comment.
Excerpts from three later reports:
(Associated Press)Four years ago, the [NCRI] group disclosed information about two hidden nuclear sites that helped uncover nearly two decades of covert Iranian atomic activity. But much of the information it has presented since then to back up claims that Iran has a secret weapons program has not been publicly verified.
Paragraph from AFP report on NCRI announcements:
In August 2002, [Alireza Jafarzadeh of NCRI] first reported the existence of secret Iranian nuclear sites at Natanz and Arak, prompting denunciations of Tehran by Washington and hurried inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
And excerpts from Fox News interview with Alireza Jafarzadeh.
WASHINGTON (Fox news)- Twenty-one commanders of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps are the top scientists running Iran's secret nuclear weapons program, says the man who exposed Iran's nuclear weapons program in 2002. [...]The scientists working on the alleged civilian nuclear centrifuge program are IGRC commanders, said Jafarzadeh, who was providing a list of names to the press on Tuesday. But their intention is not a nuclear energy source for civilians. [...]

"It's the IRGC that is basically controlling the whole thing, dominating the whole thing," Jafarzadeh told "They are running the show. They have a number of sites controlled by the IRGC that has been off-limits to the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) and inspectors, including a military university known as Imam Hossein University. ... That site has not been inspected. They have perhaps the most advanced nuclear research and development center in that university."

Jafarzadeh said the 2003 decision to stop the weaponization program, which was operating in Lavizan-Shian, a posh northeast district of Tehran, was not Iran's own. The site had been exposed by the opposition, the National Council of Resistance on Iran, in April 2003 after revelations of several other nuclear sites that could be portrayed as dual purpose facilities; Lavizan-Shian could not, he said.

"The regime knew that this is not the site that they can invite the IAEA ... this site was heavily involved in militarization of the program," Jafarzadeh said. "They were doing all kinds of activities that were not justifiable. So they decided before the IAEA gets in — and it usually takes four to six months before they can go through the process and get in — use the time and try to basically destroy this whole facility, and that's what they did."

Jafarzadeh said the Iranians razed the buildings, removed the soil, cut down the trees and allowed the IAEA to inspect the Lavizan-Shian site, which had been turned into a park by June 2004. He noted that the regime acted as if it had succumbed to municipal pressure to open a park with basketball and tennis courts and that is why the area had been flattened.

Jafarzadeh said that "in a way it's correct for the NIE to say that in late 2003 the weaponization of the program was stopped, and they said it was due to international pressure. But they failed to say that it restarted in 2004" in a location called Lavizan 2, he said.

Lavizan 2 "has never been inspected by the IAEA," Jafarzadeh added. [...]

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