Right Web

Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

Iran Laptop Papers Show Wrong Warhead

Key evidence used to argue Iran had a covert nuclear weapons R&D program is found to depict a reentry vehicle design abandoned by Iranian officials.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Inter Press Service

The most important intelligence documents used to argue that Iran had a covert nuclear weapons research and development programme in 2003 – a set of technical drawings of efforts to fit what appears to be a nuclear payload into the reentry vehicle of Iran's medium-range ballistic missile, the Shahab-3 – turn out to have a fatal flaw: the drawings depict a reentry vehicle that had already been abandoned by the Iranian missile programme in favour of an improved model.

The reentry vehicle or warhead shown in the schematics had the familiar "dunce cap" shape of the original North Korean No Dong missile, an IPS investigation has confirmed. But when Iran had flight-tested a new missile in mid-2004, it did not have that "dunce cap" warhead but a new "triconic" or "baby bottle" shape, which was more aerodynamic than the one on the original Iranian missile.

The development of the new missile and warhead had already been under way for years by that time, according to the author of the most authoritative study of the Iranian missile programme.

The schematics are dated March and April 2003, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report of May 2008. But according to Mike Elleman, lead author of the study published by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) last May, Iran had been introducing the new warhead shape, along with other major innovations in the design of the medium-range missile, over a period of two to five years.

Elleman confirmed in an interview with IPS that the redesign of the reentry vehicle must have begun in 2002 at the latest.

The former head of the Safeguards Department of the IAEA, Olli Heinonen, who managed the IAEA investigation of the intelligence documents on Iran, confirmed in an interview with IPS that the schematics depicted in the documents were of the old No Dong Missile rather than the new missile that was tested in mid-2004.

Heinonen, now a senior fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, explained the anomaly of an outdated warhead being shown in the schematics by suggesting that the group which had done the schematics had no relationship with Iranian missile programme.

"It looks from that information that this group was working with this individual," Heinonen said, referring to the Dr. Mohsen Fakrizadeh, the man named in the documents as heading the research programme. "It was not working with the missile programme."

That explanation is contradicted, however, by the intelligence documents themselves. The IAEA describes what is purported to be a one-page letter from Fakhrizadeh to the Shahid Hemat Industrial Group dated Mar. 3, 2003 "seeking assistance with the prompt transfer of data" for the work on redesigning the reentry vehicle.

Shahid Hemat, which is part of the military's Defence Industries Organisation, had been involved in testing the engine for the Shahab-3 and in working in particular on aerodynamic properties and control systems for Iranian missiles, as had been reported in the U.S. news media.

Heinonen acknowledged in a subsequent interview that the programme portrayed in the intelligence documents in question would have had to rely on the Iranian missile programme to obtain basic data on the dimensions of the Shahab-3/No Dong missile.

Heinonen also argued in an interview that the engineers working for the purported covert nuclear weapons programme could have been ordered to redesign the older Shahab-3 model before the decision was made by the missile programme to switch to a newer model, and could not change the work plan once it was decided.

But the IISS study makes it clear that the development of the new missile had already begun by 2000 – well before the 2002 launching of the purported covert warhead redesign project identified in an excerpt of the draft study by the IAEA Safeguards Department leaked to the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) in October 2009.

The assumption that the Iranian military would have ordered an engineer to organise a project to redesign the warhead on its intermediate range ballistic missile to accommodate a nuclear payload but keep the project in the dark about its plans to replace the Shahab-3 with a completely new and improved model is implausible.

The shift to the new missile was driven by a very important consideration. The Shahab-3, purchased from North Korea in the early to mid-1990s, had a range of only 800 to 1,000 kilometres, depending on the weight of the payload, according to the IISS study. That meant that it was incapable of reaching Israel.

But the new missile, later named the Ghadr-1, could carry a payload of conventional high-explosives 1,500 to 1,600 km, bringing Israel within the reach of an Iranian missile for the first time.

The IISS study indicates that a foreign intelligence agency intending to fabricate technical drawings of a reentry vehicle could not have known that Iran had abandoned the Shahab-3 in favour of the more advanced Ghadr-1 until after mid-August 2004. The Aug. 11, 2004 test launch, according to the study, was the first indication to the outside world that a new missile with a triconic warhead had been developed.

Before that test, Elleman confirmed to IPS, "No information was available that they were modifying the warhead."

Even if the agency which fabricated the documents realised the mistake immediately, it would have been too late to create an entirely new set of documents based on the new warhead.

Those who had ordered the schematics for the Shahab-3 warhead drawn to implicate the Iranian military would have been misled by Iranian statements about the status of that missile. The IISS study recalls that Iran had said in early 2001 that the Shahab-3 had entered "serial production" and declared in July 2003 that it was "operational".

The IISS study observes, however, that the announcement came only after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, when Iran felt an urgent need to claim an operational missile capability. The study says it is "very dubious" that the missile was ever produced in significant numbers.

The missile reentry schematics in question were part of a collection of intelligence documents obtained by the U.S. government from an unknown source in 2004. Media stories in 2005 and 2006, based on briefings by U.S. officials, suggested that the documents had been stored on a laptop computer that had been purloined from an Iranian engineer who had participated in a covert nuclear weapons programme.

But that story about the origin of the documents has now been replaced by a new account, which was first published by the Washington-based ISIS in October 2009. ISIS suggested that the documents on the purported Iranian programme had not been provided to U.S. intelligence on a laptop at all.

The ISIS account indicated that the documents were collected by an Iranian spying for German intelligence – a story further elaborated by Der Spiegel in June 2010.

Heinonen told IPS he had made no effort to ascertain the actual origins of the documents. "The people providing such documents want to protect their sources," the former IAEA official said. "I would not want to get into that type of information."

Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam, was published in 2006.

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

Jon Lerner is a conservative political strategist and top adviser to US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley. He was a key figure in the “Never Trump” Campaign, which appears to have led to his being ousted as Vice President Mike Pence’s national security adviser.


Pamela Geller is a controversial anti-Islam activist who has founded several “hate groups” and likes to repeat debunked myths, including about the alleged existence of “no-go” Muslim zones in Europe.


Max Boot, neoconservative military historian at the Council on Foreign Relations, on Trump and Russia: “At every turn Trump is undercutting the ‘get tough on Russia’ message because he just can’t help himself, he just loves Putin too much.”


Although overlooked by President Trump for cabinet post, Gingrich has tried to shape affairs in the administration, including by conspiring with government officials to “purge the State Department of staffers they viewed as insufficiently loyal” to the president.


Former Sen Mark Kirk (R-IL) is an advisor for United Against Nuclear Iran. He is an outspoken advocate for aggressive action against Iran and a fierce defender of right-wing Israeli policies.


A military historian, Kimberly Kagan heads the Institute for the Study of War, where she has promoted the continuation of U.S. war in Afghanistan.


A “non-partisan” policy institute that purports to defend democracies from “militant Islamism,” the neoconservative Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) is an influential base of hawkish advocacy on Middle East policy.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Other than the cynical political interests in Moscow and Tehran, there is no conceivable rationale for wanting Bashar al-Assad to stay in power. But the simple fact is, he has won the war. And while Donald Trump has reveled in positive press coverage of the recent attacks on the country, it is clear that they were little more than a symbolic act.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The reality is that the Assad regime is winning the Syrian civil war, and this matters far less to U.S. interests than it does to that regime or its allies in Russia and Iran, who see Syria as their strongest and most consistent entrée into the Arab world. Those incontrovertible facts undermine any notion of using U.S. military force as leverage to gain a better deal for the Syrian people.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

An effective rhetorical tool to normalize military build-ups is to characterize spending increases “modernization.”


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The Pentagon has officially announced that that “long war” against terrorism is drawing to a close — even as many counterinsurgency conflicts  rage across the Greater Middle East — and a new long war has begun, a permanent campaign to contain China and Russia in Eurasia.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Revelations that data-consulting firm Cambridge Analytica used ill-gotten personal information from Facebook for the Trump campaign masks the more scandalous reality that the company is firmly ensconced in the U.S. military-industrial complex. It should come as no surprise then that the scandal has been linked to Erik Prince, co-founder of Blackwater.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

As the United States enters the second spring of the Trump era, it’s creeping ever closer to more war. McMaster and Mattis may have written the National Defense Strategy that over-hyped the threats on this planet, but Bolton and Pompeo will have the opportunity to address these inflated threats in the worst way possible: by force of arms.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

We meet Donald Trump in the media every hour of every day, which blots out much of the rest of the world and much of what’s meaningful in it.  Such largely unexamined, never-ending coverage of his doings represents a triumph of the first order both for him and for an American cult of personality.


RightWeb
share