Iran Has Nuke Warheads! Not

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 agents.

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."

Sound familiar?

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 business.

The Board of Governors meets again next week.

Author: Gordon Prather

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.