Overall Credible

Update below.

A smoking gun is a smoking gun. No smoking gun is no. The latest Iran report by IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano presented, in a so-called Annex, a lot of information about Iran’s nuclear program that we knew already; a lot of speculation which has been rejected by Iran as fabricated disinformation; recjected by most of those who usually scrutinize the Iranian case as not really credible; even rejected by former IAEA DG Mohamed ElBaradei as too vague. It presents time and time again vague hints on “a” or “the” Member State (presumably the U.S.) which seems constantly providing intelligence about Iran to the Agency.

Amazingly, it also seems to contain a canard. The unnamed Russian nuclear weapons scientist who allegedly provided Iran with sensitive detonation technology is Vyacheslav Danilenko and not a nuclear weapons scientist.  It was David Albright himself, Director of the Institute for Science and Security (ISIS), who had mentioned Danilenko in a briefing of arms control experts a couple of days before Amano published his report.

What the whole exercise is actually worth may be found in paragraph 16, Amano’s conclusion about the credibility of his lengthy story he was going to tell.

“16. As indicated above, the information consolidated and presented in this Annex comes from a wide variety of independent sources, including from a number of Member States, from the Agency’s own efforts and from information provided by Iran itself. It is overall consistent in terms of technical content, individuals and organizations involved and time frames. Based on these considerations, and in light of the Agency’s general knowledge of the Iranian nuclear programme and its historical evolution, the Agency finds the information (…) to be, overall, credible.” (Emphasis added.)

Amano should have contemplated the tiny word “overall” more carefully and possible a bit longer. His own credibility might have been lost in a minute.

Under C.3. Nuclear material acquisition he writes,

“29. Information made available to the Agency by a Member State, which the Agency has been able to examine directly [sic!], indicates that Iran made progress with experimentation aimed at the recovery of uranium from fluoride compounds (using lead oxide as a surrogate material to avoid the possibility of uncontrolled contamination occurring in the workplace).”

Not being a chemist, I understand that they conducted experiments to recover (metallic) uranium from its hexafluoride by simulating recovery of (metallic) lead by using lead oxide. I also understand that, while the former would probably be under IAEA safeguard regulations the latter is definitely not. A similar line of evidence is presented in the C.5. Detonator development chapter.

“39. In 2008, Iran told the Agency that it had developed EBW [“exploding bridgewire detonators”] for civil and conventional military applications and had achieved a simultaneity of about one microsecond when firing two to three detonators together [reference to GOV/2008/15, para. 20], and provided the Agency with a copy of a paper relating to EBW development work presented by two Iranian researchers at a conference  held in Iran in 2005. A similar paper was published by the two researchers at an international conference later in 2005 [according to Amano, “the authors of the paper have affiliations to Malek Ashtar University and the Air Defence Industries Group of Tehran]. Both papers indicate that suitable high voltage firing equipment had been acquired or developed by Iran. Also in 2008, Iran told the Agency that, before the period 2002-2004, it had already achieved EBW technology. Iran also provided the Agency with a short undated document in Farsi, understood to be the specifications of a detonator development programme, and a document from a foreign source showing an example of a civilian application in which detonators are fired simultaneously. However, Iran has not explained to the Agency its own need or application for such detonators.”

So, the message seems to be that Iranians are no choirboys. Why should the Iranian scientists publish their results at a national (and later even at an international) conference if it was about illicit experiments?

“40. The Agency recognizes that there exist non-nuclear applications, albeit few, for detonators like EBWs, and of equipment suitable for firing multiple detonators with a high level of simultaneity. Notwithstanding, given theit possible application in a nuclear explosive device, and the fact that there are limited civilian and conventional military applications for such technology, Iran’s development of such detonators and equipment is a matter of concern, …”

“… particularly in connection with the possible use of the multipoint initiation system referred to below,” referring to C.6. Initiation of high explosived and associated experiments. Para 43 deals with “at least one large scale experiment in 2003 to initiate a high explosive charge in the form of a hemispherical shell.” According to a “Member State” the large scale explosive experiments (sic!) were conducted by Iran in the region of Marivan. Para 45 provides evidence (or rather not) “from two Member States that, after 2003, Iran engaged in experimental research involving a scaled down version of the hemisperical initiation system and high explosive charge referred to in paragraph 43 above, albeit in connection with non-nuclear applications.”

“This work, together with other studies made known to the Agency in which the same initiation system is used in cylinfical geometry, could also be relevant to improving and optimizating the multipoint initiation design concept relevant to nuclear application.”

Then, in para 44, the Agency’s opinion of a nuclear scientis is described who had allegedly helped Iran in founding its nuclear weapon program.

“44. The Agency has strong indications that the development by Iran of the high explosives initiation system, and its development of the high speed diagnostic configurations used to monitor related experiments, were assisted by the work of a foreign expert who was not only knowledgeable in these technologies, but who, a Member State has informed the Agency, worked for much of his career with this technology in the nuclear weapon programme of the country of his origin. The Agency has reviewed publications by this foreign expert and has met with him. The Agency has been able to verify through three separate routes, including the expert himself, that this person was in Iran from about 1996 to about 2002, ostensibly to assist Iran in the development of a facility and techniques for making ultra-dispersed diamonds (“UDDs or “nanodiamonds”), where he also lectured on explosion physics and its applications.”

Well, Danilenko, who has not “been working in the nuclear weapon programme of the country of his origin” might well have been lecturing in Iran before 2002 about nanotechnologies. Iranian scientists themselves seem to have developed quite some expertise in the meantime. Amano’s line of arguments is about the possible dual application, civilian and nuclear, of plenty of technologies the U.S. and much of the West are trying to prevent Iran from mastering by, well, sanctions.

Vagueness in the report goes on, for example in Para 50, where Amano describes that Iran has possibly conducted high explosive tests in the early 2000s, “possibly in association with nuclear material, at the Parchin military complex” which inspectors of the Agency visited twice in 2005. However, “the Agency’s visits did not uncover anything of relevance.” So why does Amano want to inform us about it?  Well,

“51. Hydrodynamic experiments such as those described above, which involve high explosives in conjunction with nuclear material or nuclear material surrogates (sic!), are strong indicators of possible weapon development. In addition, the use of surrogate material, and/or confinement provided by a chamber of the type indicated above [a large containment vessel in Parchin described in Para 49], could be used to prevent contamination of the site with nuclear material. It remains for Iran to explain the rationale behind these activities.”

I suppose, the Iranians will beg to differ. Amano had visited the White House on 28 October, probably seeking a green light before publishing his report. After having published the “Annex”, he will hardly be able to add something in the near future. He has shot his wad. As Nima Shirazi has put it, he might not be aware that “it ain’t be cool being no jive turkey so close to Thanksgiving.” David Albright is remarkably quiet right now. At the time of writing this, he has not posted the second part of his analysis of Amano’s report (about the Annex) at ISIS’s webpage. Part one can be found here.

Update November 14, 2011. David Albright’s 2nd part of his analysis of the IAEA report (together with Paul Brannan, Mark Gorwitz and Andrea Stricker) has now been published and can be found here.

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