IAEA Conceals Evidence Iran Documents Were Forged

WASHINGTON, (IPS) — The International Atomic Energy Agency says its present objective regarding Iran is to try to determine whether the intelligence documents purportedly showing a covert Iranian nuclear weapons programme from 2001 to 2003 are authentic or not. The problem, according to its reports, is that Iran refuses to help clarify the issue.

But the IAEA has refused to acknowledge publicly significant evidence brought to its attention by Iran that the documents were fabricated, and has made little, if any, effort to test the authenticity of the intelligence documents or to question officials of the governments holding them, IPS has learned.

The agency has strongly suggested in its published reports that the documentation it is supposed to be investigating is credible, because it “appears to have been derived from multiple sources over different periods of time, is detailed in content and appears to be generally consistent”.

IAEA Safeguard Department chief Olli Heinonen signaled his de facto acceptance of the “alleged studies” documents when he presented an organisational chart of the purported secret nuclear weapons project based on the documents at a February 2008 “technical briefing” for member states.

Meanwhile, the IAEA has portrayed Iran as failing to respond adequately to the “substance” of the documents, asserting that it has focused only on their “style and format of presentation”.

In fact, however, Iran has submitted serious evidence that the documents are fraudulent. Iran’s permanent representative to the United Nations in Vienna, Ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh, told IPS in an interview he had pointed out to a team of IAEA officials in a meeting on the documents in Tehran in spring 2008 that none of the supposedly top secret military documents had any security markings of any kind, and that purported letters from defence ministry officials lacked Iranian government seals.

Soltanieh recalled that he had made the same point “many times” in meetings of the Board of Governors since then. “No one ever challenged me,” said the ambassador.

The IAEA has never publicly acknowledged the problem of lack of security markings or official seals in the documents, omitting mention of the Iranian complaint on that issue from its reports. Its May 26, 2008 report said only that Iran had “stated, inter alia, that the documents were not complete and that their structure varied”.

But a senior official of the agency familiar with the Iran investigation, who spoke with IPS on condition that he would not be identified, confirmed that Soltanieh had indeed pointed out the lack of any security classification markings, and that he had been correct in doing so.

The “alleged studies” documents include purported correspondence between the overall “project leader” in Iran’s Defence Ministry and project heads on what would have been among the regime’s most sensitive military secrets.

Even though the official conceded that the lack of security markings could be considered damaging to the credibility of the documents, he defended the agency’s refusal to acknowledge the issue.

“It’s not a killer argument,” said the official.

The official suggested that the states that had provided the documents might claim that they had taken the markings out before passing them on to the IAEA. It is not clear, however, why an intelligence agency would want to remove from the documents markings that would be important in proving their authenticity.

“We don’t know whether the original letters were marked confidential or not,” he said, indicating that the IAEA had not questioned the United States and other states contributing documents on the absence of the confidential markings.

The IAEA’s apparent lack of concern about the absence of security markings and seals on the documents contrasts sharply with the IAEA’s investigation of the Niger uranium documents cited by the George W. Bush administration as justification for invading Iraq in 2002-2003.

In the Niger case, the agency concluded that the documents were fabricated based on a comparison of the “form, format, contents and signature” of the documents with other relevant correspondence, according to IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei’s Mar. 7, 2003 statement to the U.N. Security Council.

Iran has also provided the IAEA with evidence that the handwritten notes on a May 2003 letter, which supposedly link a private Iranian contractor to the “alleged studies”, were forged by an outside agency. The letter was from an engineering firm to the private company Kimia Maadan, which other documents in the collection identify as responsible for part of the alleged covert nuclear weapons programme called the “green salt project”.

The letter itself has nothing to do with any “green salt” project, but handwritten notes on the copy of the letter given to the IAEA by an unidentified government referred to individuals who are named in other intelligence documents as participants in the “alleged studies”, according to the latest IAEA report.

But the original letter, which Iran has provided to the IAEA, has no handwritten notes on it. Amb. Soltanieh recalled that he showed that original letter to an IAEA team led by the deputy director of IAEA’s Safeguards Department, Herman Nackaerts, in Tehran Jan. 22-23, 2008.

He said the IAEA team was able to compare the original document with the copy that they had been given as part of the alleged studies documents and that Nakaerts declared that his team accepted the authenticity of the original they were shown.

The IAEA confirmed in its Aug. 28, 2009 report that it had been given access to the original letter. But the report suggested that the existence of the original letter supports the authenticity of the alleged studies documents, because it “demonstrates a direct link between the relevant documentation and Iran”.

That argument appears to have deliberately conflated the original letter, which the agency admits has nothing to do with the alleged studies, and the copy with the allegedly incriminating handwritten notes on it.

The senior official sought to discredit the original letter by suggesting that the Iranians might have “whited out the handwritten notes”. But the official then offered an alternative theory, asserting that there were two original letters, one of which was kept by the sender, and that the handwritten notes had been found on the second original.

But the IAEA could have checked with the engineering firm that sent the letter to ascertain whether a second original exists and whether the Iranian government had obtained the letter from it.

The senior IAEA official gave no indication that the IAEA had done so.

Iranian officials have also claimed other inaccuracies in the documents, involving technical flaws and names of individuals who they say do not exist.

The IAEA has not referred in its reports to any specific efforts to subject the “alleged studies” documents to forensic tests or to get data about such tests from governments holding the documents.

The senior IAEA official recalled that Washington Post reporter Dafna Linzer had written that the documents had been sent to three different labs, and that two had said they were credible, whereas the third had expressed doubt about their authenticity.

But Linzer’s February 2006 story reported only that the Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico had run computer simulations on the studies of a Shahab-3 reentry vehicle — which suggested that they were aimed at accommodating a nuclear weapon — and had concluded that none of the plans would have worked.

Contacted by phone last week, Linzer, now a senior reporter for the public interest journalism organisation Pro Publica, told IPS she had never reported that two other labs ran tests on the documents.

Linzer expressed doubt that any other national labs would have had the capabilities to do the kind of tests carried out at Sandia labs.

When asked if the IAEA had sought to obtain the Sandia simulation results, the official refused to comment, except to say, “Our people follow up.”

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and historian and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for Journalism. His latest book, with John Kiriakou, is The CIA Insider’s Guide to the Iran Crisis: From CIA Coup to the Brink of War. Read other articles by Gareth.

4 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. dino said on September 15th, 2009 at 11:33am #

    The peak of insolence:in the same day when a human rights affiliated to UN published a report which states that Israel had committed war crime in the Gaza massacre and crimes against humanity and recommended that the culprits have to be submitted to Haga tribunal,Ron Lauder publishes an appeal to all countries and to UN to boycott …Ahmadinejad.
    To be sure that a great circus against Ahmadinejad will follow with the participation of clowns like Bibi,Sarko,Berlo etc.

  2. Mulga Mumblebrain said on September 17th, 2009 at 12:54am #

    So yet another UN agency has been corrupted by Yankee pressure. The more things change…When the Zionazis have had their way, and Purim is celebrated with another bloodbath, this one the Big One, in Haman’s homeland, the alleged ancestral home of the ‘Amalekites’, what next for the world’s not so secret controlling force? Pakistan? Saudi Arabia? Egypt? Who knows, but we can be sure that unless someone stands up to these savages, then the bloodlust will never be slaked. All it needs is one little peace treaty, a real Palestinian state with real rights, in the West Bank and Gaza. But Israel resolutely refuses, as it has for one hundred years. The gigantic arrogance, the absolute refusal to be subject to the rules of an international community it detests as its inferior and the relentless sadism and cruelty allied to undying mendacity and hysterical bellicosity-has there ever been the like of it?

  3. bozhidar balkas vancouver said on September 17th, 2009 at 5:22am #

    United Nations are no more; instead, we have united present and former empires. Once russian empire joins them, chinese wld surely be dismembered or wld have to join the Union.
    Actually, we’ve never had united nations; we’ve always had disunited nations; with each land looking after numero uno.
    The only honest country was switzerland, which to this day shuns the charade.
    Why join a mafioso org, composed of nothing but gangsters who think exactly like a biker, street, or cosa nostra gang? But, gangsters wld; precisely because they are crooks. tnx

  4. mary said on September 18th, 2009 at 10:47am #

    Eventually Israel are challenged by the IAEA on their stockpile. Where is that brave man Mordechai Vanunu? Still under house arrest no doubt.

    Nuclear watchdog voices ‘concern’ at Israel

    VIENNA — The UN atomic watchdog’s 150 member countries expressed concern Friday about Israel’s nuclear capabilities and called on the Jewish state to foreswear atomic weapons.

    Israel is widely considered to be the Middle East’s sole if undeclared nuclear power.

    At the International Atomic Energy Agency’s general conference here, Arab states tabled a symbolic, non-binding resolution expressing “concern about the Israeli nuclear capabilities and (calling upon) Israel to accede to the NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) and place all its nuclear facilities under comprehensive IAEA safeguards.”

    Initially, Western states tried to stop the resolution from going to a vote, arguing it would be counterproductive to single out Israel, particularly after a resolution had been passed the day before calling on all states in the Middle East to foreswear nuclear weapons.

    But the adjournment motion was defeated and voting went ahead, with a total 49 countries in favour, 45 against and 16 abstentions.

    It is the first time since 1991 that such a resolution has been adopted.

    The Israeli delegation said it “deplored” the resolution and would “not cooperate” with it.

    Its sole aim was to “reinforce political hostilities and division lines in the Middle East region,” said the deputy chief of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, David Danieli.

    Israel’s arch-enemy Iran had spoken in favour of the resolution, describing Israel’s nuclear capabilities as “a potential threat to the peace and security of the world.”

    It also undermined the integrity and credibility of the non-proliferation regime and the NPT, argued Tehran’s ambassador to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh.

    After the vote, Soltanieh described the resolution as “very good news and a triumph for the oppressed nation of Palestine”.