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Report: Iran obtained UN docs to cheat nuke weapons inspections

IAEA (IAEA Imagebank/Flickr)
May 26, 2022

Iranian intelligence officials gained access to the United Nations’ chief nuclear inspection agency and used insider knowledge to help hide Iran’s nuclear weapons program for nearly two decades, according to The Wall Street Journal’s new report on Wednesday.

Sources familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal that documents Iran obtained from the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and corresponding Iranian records showed Iranian officials gained insights on how to deceive the international inspectors, admitting to some nuclear developments that were already known while concealing others.

The Wall Street Journal said it received many documents from intelligence officials from a Middle Eastern country opposed to Iran’s nuclear program. Middle East intelligence officials told the Wall Street Journal that some of the IAEA documents circulated among the Iranian military officials, nuclear program officials and other Iranian government officials from 2004 to 2006. The documents indicated the IAEA was investigating claims Iran had worked on nuclear weapons.

Israeli intelligence officials seized more than 100,000 documents and files from an Iranian archive in 2018. Those documents included troves of IAEA documents, along with notes handwritten in Persian, appearing to show Iranian intelligence commentary about the information the nuclear inspection agency possessed. Some documents reportedly indicated Iranian officials crediting “intelligence methods” for providing them access to the IAEA documents.

The IAEA declined a Wall Street Journal request for comment, but a former official within the agency reportedly confirmed the authenticity of the purported IAEA documents.

David Albright, a former U.S. weapons inspector who is now president of the Institute for Science and International Security, told the Wall Street Journal, “Iran could design answers that admit to what the IAEA already knows, give away information that it will likely discover on its own, and at the same time better hide what the IAEA does not yet know that Iran wants to keep that way.”

Albright said Iran’s access to IAEA documents “represents a serious breach of IAEA internal security.” 

One record reportedly shows an Iranian official asking Mohsen Fakhrizadeh — who was widely considered the chief of Iran’s nuclear program and a proponent of nuclear weapons development before he was assassinated in November of 2020 — how to come up with a plausible “scenario” to explain to the IAEA why a civilian company that Iran claimed was working on an Iranian uranium mine had changed its corporate-registration records. According to Middle East intelligence officials, this effort to explain away the company’s registration information was done to claim work done at the uranium mine prior to May of 2003 was for Iran’s civilian nuclear energy program rather than Iran’s military.

Records indicated Iran’s intelligence service circulated an internal IAEA report to senior Iranian officials on May 19, 2004, to help them better anticipate how the agency would conduct an inspection scheduled for three days later at Iran’s Arak heavy-water production facility. The IAEA document included satellite images of the Arak site and a list of 18 questions IAEA inspectors planned to ask.

The Iranian officials went on to claim they were building a heavy-water reactor at Arak for medical and research purposes. Heavy water reactors produce plutonium as a byproduct, which can be used in nuclear weapons.

Another document detailed efforts Iran took to keep IAEA inspectors from finding a container with radiation monitoring equipment. The record showed the Iranian side claimed it had sold the container and could not track it down.

Iran reportedly obtained another IAEA document, detailing insection plans and questions inspectors would ask about Iran’s so-called Green Salt project. The IAEA was concerned the project was part of an effort to covertly produce nuclear fuel.

At a Wednesday Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley addressed questions from Sen. Todd Young (R-IN) about the Wall Street Journal’s reporting.

“Senator, did Iran lie? Of course,” Malley said. “Did Iran have a covert nuclear program? Absolutely.”

Malley, who has been overseeing the Biden administration’s efforts to bring the U.S. and Iran back into compliance with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal said prospects for a return to the deal are “tenuous at best,” CNN reported. Malley still said it is in the U.S. national interest to try to restart the 2015 deal.