A year ago, Colin Powell then secretary of
state told reporters about new, scary intelligence on Iran. Something about
Iran having a "nuke-capable" ballistic missile that could threaten "our
allies." Several "U.S. officials" immediately said Powell shouldn't
have said anything; the intelligence was too sensitive.
The New York Times reported last week that senior "intelligence
officials" had as a secret part of a campaign to increase international
pressure on Iran briefed International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General
Mohamed ElBaradei and senior staff in mid-July on some of the sensitive intelligence
they had gleaned from a "stolen Iranian laptop computer."
They flashed on a screen and spread over a conference table selections from
more than a thousand pages of Iranian computer simulations and accounts of experiments.
They presented them as the strongest evidence yet that, despite Iran's insistence
that its nuclear program is peaceful, they must have developed nukes light enough
and compact enough to fit atop its Shahab missile, which can reach Israel and
other countries in the Middle East.
However, "sources close to the IAEA" said what they had been briefed
on appeared to be aerodynamic design work for a ballistic missile reentry vehicle,
which certainly couldn't contain a nuke if the Iranians didn't have any.
Furthermore, according to David Albright, a sometime consultant to the IAEA,
who has actually had access to the "stolen Iranian laptop," the information
on it is all about reentry vehicles and "does not contain words such 'nuclear'
and 'nuclear warhead.'"
During the Iran-Iraq war in the late 1980s, each side launched 300 to 400 Scud
ballistic missiles at each other's cities.
The Scud is a liquid-fueled single-stage missile. The warhead remains attached
to the missile throughout flight.
On reentering the atmosphere, the entire missile frequently tumbles end over
end, breaking up into several pieces.
Very, very inaccurate.
During the Iran-Iraq war, both sides had chem-bio warfare agents and actually
used chemical agents against each other on the battlefield. But perhaps
because of the inaccuracy none of the Scuds carried chem-bio warfare
Since then the Iranians have been attempting to develop in conjunction
with North Korea a super-Scud ballistic missile wherein the warhead
potted into a cone-shaped "reentry" vehicle for protection from the
intense heat and shock of reentry into the atmosphere detaches from the
missile in flight.
A properly designed reentry vehicle can deliver a warhead with great accuracy.
Now, the IAEA has two missions: (a) to facilitate the international transfer
of nuclear-related technologies and materials, and (b) to ensure insofar
as is possible that "source and special nuclear materials"
are not used in furtherance of some military purpose.
Here's what the Iranian Safeguards Agreement actually says:
"The government of Iran undertakes, pursuant to paragraph 1 of Article
III of the Treaty, to accept safeguards, in accordance with the terms of this
agreement, on all source or special fissionable material in all peaceful nuclear
activities within its territory, under its jurisdiction, or carried out under
its control anywhere, for the exclusive purpose of verifying that such material
is not diverted to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices."
In verifying compliance, ElBaradei says his agency is bound to "follow
due process, which means I need to establish the veracity, consistency, and
authenticity of any intelligence, and share it with the country of concern."
The "documents" we had purporting to show that Niger had agreed to
sell up to 500 tons of yellowcake from its IAEA safeguarded mines to Iraq? The
"documents" that ElBaradei attempted to get copies of for months and
months? The "documents" that ElBaradei concluded were clumsy forgeries
within hours of obtaining them?
The "documents" that Bush and Cheney used to justify the preemptive
invasion of Iraq?
And here we go again.
Even though ElBaradei wouldn't budge, we bullied, blackmailed and/or intimidated
a majority of the IAEA Board of Governors into voting for a resolution in its
last meeting finding an "absence of confidence that Iran's nuclear program
is exclusively for peaceful purposes," giving rise to "questions that
are within the competence of the Security Council, as the organ bearing the
main responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security."
Now, maybe Iran's development and testing of a ballistic missile capable of
carrying a thousand-pound warhead a thousand miles or so does constitute a threat
to "international peace and security." But it's none of the IAEA Board's
The Board of Governors meets again next week.