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February 11, 2006

Smoking Laptop


by Gordon Prather

Since February, 2003, Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei and his inspectors at the International Atomic Energy Agency have been conducting intrusive investigations into Iran’s Safeguarded nuclear programs.

Since December, 2003, Iran has been voluntarily adhering to an (as yet) unratified Additional Protocol to its Safeguards Agreement.

Furthermore, Iran has searched for and provided ElBaradei documentation of its past procurement activities for nuclear programs, going back two decades. Documentation that Iran had been under no obligation to provide the IAEA at the time, much less obligated to preserve for later inspection.

In effect, for more than two years Iran has been attempting to comply with a retroactive Additional Protocol.

Nevertheless, a year ago, ElBaradei publicly announced that – although he had found no indication that (a) there were any undeclared "source or special nuclear materials" in Iran nor that (b) "source or special nuclear materials" were being or had ever been "used in furtherance of a military purpose" – he still had "concerns" that Iran had been unwilling to address.

ElBaradei still had concerns?

Perhaps it was time (in mid-July) for senior intelligence officials to brief ElBaradei and senior staff on some of the sensitive "intelligence" they had gleaned from a "stolen Iranian laptop computer."

However, ElBaradei didn’t buy their intelligence. "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.

Bummer!

Unless "source or special nuclear materials" had been "used in furtherance of a military purpose" it was none of ElBaradei’s beeswax.

So, surprise, surprise.

Last week Dafna Linzer "revealed" that the smoking-laptop had, indeed, contained evidence that was ElBaradei’s beeswax.

According to Linzer;

"In the spring of 2001, a small design firm opened shop on the outskirts of Tehran to begin work for what appears to have been its only client – the Iranian Republican Guard. Over the next two years, the staff at Kimeya Madon completed a set of technical drawings for a small uranium-conversion facility, according to four officials who reviewed the documents.

"Several sources with firsthand knowledge of the original documents said the facility, if constructed, would give Iran additional capabilities to produce a substance known as UF4, or "green salt," an intermediate product in the conversion of uranium to a gas. Further refined in a large-scale enrichment plant, such as the one Iran says it intends to build for its energy program, the material could become usable for the core of a bomb."

According to Linzer, the CIA has had the smoking-gun laptop for twenty months, but it was not until last December that the CIA provided the IAEA the "intelligence" about the Green Salt Project and its alleged link to the Iranian Republican Guards.

Whereupon President Bush immediately called for an emergency meeting of the IAEA Board to consider an "update brief," [.pdf] dated January 31, 2006, prepared by ElBaradei’s deputy for safeguards, which included – among other things – these paragraphs about the Green Salt Project:

"On 5 December 2005, the Agency reiterated its request for a meeting to discuss information that had been made available to the Agency about alleged undeclared studies, known as the Green Salt Project, concerning the conversion of uranium dioxide into UF4 ("green salt"), as well as tests related to high explosives and the design of a missile re-entry vehicle, all of which could have a military nuclear dimension and which appear to have administrative interconnections.

"In the course of the meeting, which took place on 27 January 2006, the Agency presented for Iran’s review a copy of a process flow diagram related to bench scale conversion and communications related to the project.

"Iran reiterated that all national nuclear projects are conducted by the AEOI, that the allegations were baseless and that it would provide further clarifications later."

The Iranians were first confronted with the alleged Green Salt Project on January 27, and the IAEA Board issued its resolution [.pdf] on February 4.

The resolution did not "refer" Iran’s nuclear program to the Security Council for possible action, nor did it contain any mention of a military UF4 project.

Why not? Perhaps, because the just-in-time discovery on the Iranian laptop of a link between the IRG and UF4 production doesn’t pass the smell test.

Obviously – much too obviously – someone wanted the IAEA Board to be able to charge that Iran had used "source or special nuclear material in furtherance of a military purpose."


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Physicist James Gordon Prather has served as a policy implementing official for national security-related technical matters in the Federal Energy Agency, the Energy Research and Development Administration, the Department of Energy, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Department of the Army. Dr. Prather also served as legislative assistant for national security affairs to U.S. Sen. Henry Bellmon, R-Okla. -- ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and member of the Senate Energy Committee and Appropriations Committee. Dr. Prather had earlier worked as a nuclear weapons physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico.

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