The George W. Bush administration has long pushed
the "laptop documents" 1,000 pages of technical documents supposedly
from a stolen Iranian laptop as hard evidence of Iranian intentions to
build a nuclear weapon. Now charges based on those documents pose the only remaining
obstacles to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) declaring that Iran
has resolved all unanswered questions about its nuclear program.
But those documents have long been regarded with great suspicion by US and
foreign analysts. German officials have identified the source of the laptop
documents in November 2004 as the Mujahideen e Khalq (MEK), which along with
its political arm, the National Council of Resistance in Iran (NCRI), is listed
by the US State Department as a terrorist organization.
There are some indications, moreover, that the MEK obtained the documents not
from an Iranian source but from Israel's Mossad.
In its latest report on Iran, circulated Feb. 22, the IAEA, under strong pressure
from the Bush administration, included descriptions of plans for a facility
to produce "green salt," technical specifications for high explosives
testing and the schematic layout of a missile reentry vehicle that appears capable
of holding a nuclear weapon. Iran has been asked to provide full explanations
for these alleged activities.
Tehran has denounced the documents on which the charges are based as fabrications
provided by the MEK, and has demanded copies of the documents to analyze, but
the United States had refused to do so.
The Iranian assertion is supported by statements by German officials. A few
days after then-Secretary of State Colin Powell announced the laptop documents,
Karsten Voight, the coordinator for German-American relations in the German
Foreign Ministry, was reported by the Wall Street Journal Nov. 22, 2004
as saying that the information had been provided by "an Iranian dissident
A German official familiar with the issue confirmed to this writer that the
NCRI had been the source of the laptop documents. "I can assure you that
the documents came from the Iranian resistance organization.," the source
The Germans have been deeply involved in intelligence collection and analysis
regarding the Iranian nuclear program. According to a story by Washington
Post reporter Dafna Linzer soon after the laptop documents were first mentioned
publicly by Powell in late 2004, US officials said they had been stolen from
an Iranian whom German intelligence had been trying to recruit, and had been
given to intelligence officials of an unnamed country in Turkey.
The German account of the origins of the laptop documents contradicts the insistence
by unnamed US intelligence officials who insisted to journalists William J.
Broad and David Sanger in November 2005 that the laptop documents did not come
from any Iranian resistance groups.
Despite the fact that it was listed as a terrorist organization., the MEK was
a favorite of neoconservatives in the Pentagon, who were proposing in 2003-2004
to use it as part of a policy to destabilize Iran. The United States is known
to have used intelligence from the MEK on Iranian military questions for years.
It was considered a credible source of intelligence on the Iranian nuclear program.
after 2002, mainly because of its identification of the facility in Natanz as
a nuclear site.
The German source said he did not know whether the documents were authentic
or not. However, CIA analysts, and European and IAEA officials who were given
access to the laptop documents in 2005 were very skeptical about their authenticity.
The Guardian's Julian Borger last February quoted an IAEA official as
saying there is "doubt over the provenance of the computer."
A senior European diplomat who had examined the documents was quoted by the
New York Times in November 2005 as saying, "I can fabricate that
data. It looks beautiful, but is open to doubt."
Scott Ritter, the former US military intelligence officer who was chief United
Nations weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998, noted in an interview that
the CIA has the capability test the authenticity of laptop documents through
forensic tests that would reveal when different versions of different documents
The fact that the agency could not rule out the possibility of fabrication,
according to Ritter, indicates that it had either chosen not to do such tests
or that the tests had revealed fraud.
Despite its having been credited with the Natanz intelligence coup in 2002,
the overall record of the MEK on the Iranian nuclear program has been very poor.
The CIA continued to submit intelligence from the Iranian group about alleged
Iranian nuclear weapons-related work to the IAEA over the next five years, without
identifying the source.
But that intelligence turned out to be unreliable. A senior IAEA official told
the Los Angeles Times in February 2007 that, since 2002, "pretty
much all the intelligence that has come to us has proved to be wrong."
Former State Department deputy intelligence director for the Near East and
South Asia Wayne White doubts that the MEK has actually had the contacts within
the Iranian bureaucracy and scientific community necessary to come up with intelligence
such as Natanz and the laptop documents. "I find it very hard to believe
that supporters of the MEK haven't been thoroughly rooted out of the Iranian
bureaucracy," says White. "I think they are without key sources in
the Iranian government."
In her February 2006 report on the laptop documents, the Post's Linzer
said CIA analysts had originally speculated that a "third country, such
as Israel, had fabricated the evidence." They eventually "discounted
that theory," she wrote, without explaining why.
Since 2002, new information has emerged indicating that the MEK did not obtain
the 2002 data on Natanz itself but received it from the Israeli intelligence
agency Mossad. Yossi Melman and Meier Javadanfar, who co-authored a book on
the Iranian nuclear program last year, write that they were told by "very
senior Israeli Intelligence officials" in late 2006 that Israeli intelligence
had known about Natanz for a full year before the Iranian group's press conference.
They explained that they had chosen not to reveal it to the public "because
of safety concerns for the sources that provided the information."
Shahriar Ahy, an adviser to monarchist leader Reza Pahlavi, told journalist
Connie Bruck that the detailed information on Natanz had not come from MEK but
from "a friendly government, and it had come to more than one opposition
group, not only the mujahideen."
Bruck wrote in the New Yorker on Mar. 16, 2006 that when he was asked
if the "friendly government" was Israel, Ahy smiled and said, "The
friendly government did not want to be the source of it, publicly. If the friendly
government gives it to the US publicly, then it would be received differently.
Better to come from an opposition group."
Israel has maintained a relationship with the MEK since the late 1990s, according
to Bruck, including assistance to the organization. in beaming broadcasts by
the NCRI from Paris into Iran. An Israeli diplomat confirmed that Israel had
found the MEK "useful," Bruck reported, but the official declined
(Inter Press Service)