Last April 30, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave a speech before the world in which he announced, “Tonight, we are going to reveal new and conclusive proof of the secret nuclear weapons program that Iran has been hiding for years from the international community in its secret atomic archive … We’ve shared this material with the United States, and the United States can vouch for its authenticity. We will also share it with other countries, and we’ll share it with the International Atomic Energy Agency.”
It only took three days before Israel-hating CNN started mocking Netanayahu with a story that had this headline: “What did Netanyahu reveal about Iran’s nuclear program? Nothing new, experts say.”
It turns out that CNN might want to shut up; according to a report Institute for Science and International Security written by David Albright, Sarah Burkhard, Olli Heinonen, and Frank Pabian, Israel indeed had plenty of new information about the duplicitous actions of Iran and the real secrets it is keeping as it pursues a nuclear arsenal. The team is highly credible; Heinonen is a former Deputy Director General of the IAEA and head of its Department of Safeguards; Pabian served in the 1990s as a United Nations Nuclear Chief Inspector in Iraq for the IAEA.
In their report, the team found reams of information that destroy CNN’s argument that Netanyahu had nothing new to report, and it revolves around Iran’s Parchin site, which was involved before 2004 in high-explosive testing related to the development of nuclear weapons. The report states:
The new information, mainly in the form of Iranian documents and photos, is from an archive seized by Israel in Tehran, a fact that was publicly revealed on April 30, 2018 by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He reported that this archive shows that in 2003 Iran was operating a nuclear weapons program, codenamed AMAD Plan, which aimed to build five nuclear weapons and prepare an underground nuclear test site, if a political decision was made to test.3 The Parchin site was a key part of that nuclear weapons research and development effort.
Iran’s stark aim, in violation of its commitments under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and contrary to its signing of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), is in contrast to the finding by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in December 2015 that Iran’s nuclear weapons activities had not gone beyond feasibility and simple scientific studies.4
This new information not only affirms our previous assessments about Parchin, but further expands our understanding of the activities and goals at this site. It necessitates calling for more action by the IAEA and the Joint Commission, which administers the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) …
The IAEA concluded in December 2015:
A range of activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device were conducted in Iran prior to the end of 2003 as a coordinated effort, and some activities took place after 2003. The Agency also assesses that these activities did not advance beyond feasibility and scientific studies, and the acquisition of certain relevant technical competences and capabilities. The Agency has no credible indications of activities in Iran relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device after 2009.5
However, Iran did not provide all the answers requested by the IAEA. In addition, IAEA access, inter alia, at Parchin was limited to one building only, and the IAEA detected some uranium particles in samples taken (where the sampling was actually conducted by Iranian technicians outside of normal IAEA environmental sampling protocols). Subsequent IAEA reports do not indicate that, after December 2015, the IAEA made any additional visits to this military site or associated sites of concern or tried to find reasons for the presence of the uranium found in samples. It is also important to note that the IAEA did not find that Iran’s explanations for the use of the Taleghan 1 building match the IAEA’s findings on the ground. Again, Iran did not address all the questions the IAEA had raised about this site.
Moreover, the 2015 IAEA assessment is at odds with information in the archives revealed by Prime Minister Netanyahu, and potentially with new discoveries revealed by the Prime Minister on September 27, 2018 about equipment and material being present in a Tehran warehouse is related to Iran’s nuclear weapons effort. None of the IAEA safeguards and JCPOA-related reports reflects whether the IAEA has, at a minimum, asked for clarifications from Iran about any of these allegations in writing, which is a well-established IAEA practice when such concerns have emerged. For example, the IAEA quickly sent a letter to Iran following allegations by the Iranian opposition group National Council of Resistance of Iran in August 2002 about a secret nuclear site near Natanz, an allegation that turned out to be true. There were also no IAEA statements about the new archive allegations in the official IAEA Board of Governors meetings, two of which were held in June and September, after the Prime Minister’s April announcement.
In a section titled, “New Information Seized by Israel,” the report states:
As revealed by Israel, an archive of nuclear weapons-related documentation seized from Tehran contained some 55,000 pages, and another 55,000 files on 183 CDs, or a half ton of material inside vaults, containing vital information about Iran’s past nuclear weapons-related effort, in particular the work of the AMAD program, which was Iran’s most developed nuclear weapons effort. Iran halted the bulk of this program’s structured work on nuclear weapons by about 2004 and restructured it to better evade detection by the IAEA and Western intelligence, while continuing to covertly make progress and retain expertise. At the time, Hassan Rouhani was the country’s national security advisor to the Supreme Leader and reportedly had great concern about this program’s imminent discovery, which he believed would have led to harsh international sanctions and possibly even military action by the United States and its allies.
Despite the apparent halt, according to senior Israeli officials, the documents in the seized archive show that the nuclear weapons effort carried on in a more research-oriented fashion afterwards, aimed at the elimination of scientific and engineering bottlenecks in developing nuclear weapons and increasing know-how and the maintenance of the expertise about them. For example, a separate document in the archives shows that work continued under “Project 110,” which focused on developing the nuclear warhead in the AMAD program, among other goals.8 However, to better hide the project, the work was divided into two parts—a covert part with a secret structure and goals, and an overt program centered at universities. Some of the work that was being done at Parchin, in particular work related to neutron sources used to initiate a nuclear explosion, appears to have been pursued subsequently under these new structures.
The report adds;
The new information from the Iranian nuclear archive conclusively shows that the Parchin site did house high explosive chambers capable for use in nuclear weapons research and development. The additional evidence specifically mentions explosions and radioactivity at the Parchin site, and this information far more vividly establishes Iran’s nuclear weapons-related activities there.
The nuclear archive shows that Iran conducted at Parchin more high explosive tests related to nuclear weapons development than previously thought. This work appears to have involved more than what the IAEA called feasibility and scientific studies, or the acquisition of certain relevant technical competences and capabilities, as the IAEA asserted in its December 2015 report.
The report chastises the IAEA:
Given the length of this controversy, Iran’s obvious deceptions about its activities at this site, the advanced level of nuclear weapons development work done there, and the challenges posed by the site’s legacy, the Board of Governors bears its share of the responsibility for the lack of adequate inspection of this site and the failure to fold new information into the IAEA’s broader challenge of ensuring that Iran’s nuclear program is actually peaceful.