The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the impartial international body in charge of enforcing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and supposedly trustworthy source on Iran’s nuclear program, may have been badly compromised through planted intelligence in an effort to bolster unfounded arguments that Iran is doing work towards a nuclear weapon. The latest evidence to that effect came on November 27, when the Associated Press (AP) published an “exclusive” titled, “Graph Suggests Iran Working On Bomb,” by George Jahn. The article was the latest in a series of highly misleading stories from the Vienna-based reporter concerning Iran’s nuclear enrichment program, and the suspicious information published within is indicative of much of the flimsy intelligence mustered against Iran at the IAEA.
Claiming to have obtained proof that “Iranian scientists have run computer simulations for a nuclear weapon,” Jahn admitted that the diagram “was leaked by officials from a country critical of Iran’s atomic program to bolster their arguments that Iran’s nuclear program must be halted before it produces a weapon,” on the “condition that they and their country not be named.”
Devoid of any official markings or even a date, the crude diagram is supposedly one of several used as evidence for a controversial November 2011 IAEA report that raised multiple questions, but fell short of direct accusations, about possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear program. The diagram, as well as the bulk of the other intelligence referenced in that report, were not obtained directly by the IAEA itself but admittedly received via other agency “member states.”
According to AP, the graph displays “a bell curve — with variables of time in micro-seconds, and power and energy both in kilotons — the traditional measurement of the energy output, and hence the destructive power of nuclear weapons.” As Nima Shirazi of Columbia University’s Gulf/2000 Project points out however, “[it] shows nothing more than a probability density function, that is, an abstract visual aid depicting the theoretical behavior of a random variable to take on any given value.” Such normal distribution curves can be plotted with nearly any data set and are not specific to nuclear physics at all.
The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists—the premier non-technical trade journal of nuclear policy discussion—concurs, adding that “even if authentic, it would not qualify as proof of a nuclear weapons program. Besides the issue of authenticity, the diagram features quite a massive error, which is unlikely to have been made by research scientists working at a national level.” It details the error, remarking upon the graph’s two curves:
[O]ne that plots the energy versus time, and another that plots the power output versus time, presumably from a fission device. But these two curves do not correspond: If the energy curve is correct, then the peak power should be much lower — around 300 million (3×108) kt per second, instead of the currently stated 17 trillion (1.7 x1013) kt per second. As is, the diagram features a nearly million-fold error.The Bulletin goes on to conclude, “This diagram does nothing more than indicate either slipshod analysis or an amateurish hoax.”
Many in the United States point to the IAEA’s 2011 report—in which this “slipshod” graph is alluded to—as the latest evidence of Iranian duplicity regarding its nuclear program, although the IAEA to this day cannot account for any uranium diversion from civilian facilities, and it confirms that Iran has complied with all of its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Safeguards Agreement. A 2011 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) agrees, restating earlier conclusions by America’s intelligence community that Iran had a nascent nuclear weapons program briefly from 2002-2003, which was then shut down.
A History of Reliance
As mentioned above, the November 2011 IAEA report relies on intelligence provided by various “member states.” From George Jahn’s descriptions, this most recent graph published by AP is referred to only in section C.8 of the IAEA report (paragraph 52) as follows [emphasis mine]:
Information provided to the Agency by two Member States relating to modelling studies alleged to have been conducted in 2008 and 2009 by Iran is of particular concern… According to that information, the studies involved the modelling of spherical geometries, consisting of components of the core of an HEU [highly enriched uranium, CS] nuclear device subjected to shock compression, for their neutronic behaviour at high density, and a determination of the subsequent nuclear explosive yield. The information also identifies models said to have been used in those studies and the results of these calculations, which the Agency has seen.This isn’t the first time George Jahn has regurgitated dubious claims from diplomats critical of Iran. On September 11 of this year a nearly identical “exclusive” was published by AP (save for the scary diagram) under Mr. Jahn’s byline, despite the fact that all the information contained within came from the November 2011 report, issued nearly a year prior. The article asserted that new “intelligence shows that Iran has advanced its work on calculating the destructive power of an atomic warhead through a series of computer models that it ran sometime within the past three years.” Might this most-recent graph, ridiculed by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists as a “hoax,” be a sample of that intelligence?
In yet another “exclusive” on May 13, Jahn cited a drawing (yes, drawing)—provided by “an official” from “an IAEA member country that is severely critical of Iran’s assertions that its nuclear activities are peaceful” as proof of the existence of “an explosives containment chamber of the type needed for nuclear arms-related tests.” The drawing “shows a chamber of the type needed for nuclear arms-related tests,” according to the AP’s caption, and was “provided to [AP] by an official…who said it proves the structure exists.” This accusation was also detailed in the IAEA report released six months earlier.