In the dead of night, with torches that burned at least 3,600 degrees hot

July 15, 2018

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, revealing the Iranian nuclear documents to the world in April

 

 

“NO CIVIL OR MILITARY USE OTHER THAN MAKING NUCLEAR ARMS”

[Note by Tom Gross]

The Israeli intelligence agency the Mossad has, in a rare move, granted exclusive access to reporters from three newspapers, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, to view key documents taken earlier this year from a top secret Iranian nuclear weapons facility.

Below are the New York Times and Wall Street Journal articles, which will appear tomorrow in the papers’ print editions.

As the New York Times article says:

“The Iranian papers repeatedly mention a specific substance used for making neutron initiators: uranium deuteride. Experts say it has no civil or military use other than making nuclear arms, and is known to have been used for that purpose by China and Pakistan. The initiator appears to be one of the key technologies that A.Q. Khan, the Pakistani nuclear expert who ran a black market in atomic goods, sold to Iran, North Korea and other nations.”

 

The documents detailed the challenges of integrating a nuclear weapon into a warhead for the Shahab-3, an Iranian missile.

David Albright, a former inspector who runs the Institute for Science and International Security, told the New York Times that the documents contained “great information.”

 

SIX HOURS AND 29 MINUTES TO CUT THROUGH DOZENS OF GIANT SAFES

The New York Times adds:

“The Mossad agents moving in on a warehouse in a drab commercial district of Tehran knew exactly how much time they had to disable the alarms, break through two doors, cut through dozens of giant safes and get out of the city with a half-ton of secret materials: six hours and 29 minutes…

“Fewer than two dozen agents took part in the break-in. Fearing that some of them would be caught, the Israelis removed the materials on several different routes.”


ARTICLES

IN THE DARK OF NIGHT

How Israel, in Dark of Night, Torched Its Way to Iran’s Nuclear Secrets
By David E. Sanger and Ronen Bergman
New York Times
July 15, 2018 12:00 p.m. ET

TEL AVIV — The Mossad agents moving in on a warehouse in a drab commercial district of Tehran knew exactly how much time they had to disable the alarms, break through two doors, cut through dozens of giant safes and get out of the city with a half-ton of secret materials: six hours and 29 minutes.

The morning shift of Iranian guards would arrive around 7 a.m., a year of surveillance of the warehouse by the Israeli spy agency had revealed, and the agents were under orders to leave before 5 a.m. to have enough time to escape. Once the Iranian custodians arrived, it would be instantly clear that someone had stolen much of the country’s clandestine nuclear archive, documenting years of work on atomic weapons, warhead designs and production plans.

The agents arrived that night, Jan. 31, with torches that burned at least 3,600 degrees, hot enough, as they knew from intelligence collected during the planning of the operation, to cut through the 32 Iranian-made safes. But they left many untouched, going first for the ones containing the black binders, which contained the most critical designs. When time was up, they fled for the border, hauling 50,000 pages and 163 compact discs of memos, videos and plans.

In late April, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the results of the heist, after giving President Trump a private briefing at the White House. He said it was another reason Mr. Trump should abandon the 2015 nuclear deal, arguing that the documents proved Iranian deception and an intent to resume bomb production. A few days later, Mr. Trump followed through on his longstanding threat to pull out of the accord — a move that continues to strain relations between the United States and European allies.

Last week, at the invitation of the Israeli government, three reporters, including one from The New York Times, were shown key documents from the trove. Many confirmed what inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, in report after report, had suspected: Despite Iranian insistence that its program was for peaceful purposes, the country had worked in the past to systematically assemble everything it needed to produce atomic weapons.

“It’s quite good,” Robert Kelley, a nuclear engineer and former inspector for the agency, said in Vienna, after being shown some of the fruits of the document theft. “The papers show these guys were working on nuclear bombs.”

There is no way to independently confirm the authenticity of the documents, most of which were at least 15 years old, dating from the time when an effort called Project Amad was ordered halted and some of the nuclear work moved deeper under cover. The Israelis handpicked the documents shown to the reporters, meaning that exculpatory material could have been left out. They said some material had been withheld to avoid providing intelligence to others seeking to make weapons.

The Iranians have maintained that the entire trove is fraudulent — another elaborate scheme by the Israelis to get sanctions reimposed on the country. But American and British intelligence officials, after their own review, which included comparing the documents to some they had previously obtained from spies and defectors, said they believed it was genuine.

From what the Israelis showed to the reporters, who were also from The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, in a secure intelligence facility, a few things are clear.

The Iranian program to build a nuclear weapon was almost certainly larger, more sophisticated and better organized than most suspected in 2003, when Project Amad was declared ended, according to outside nuclear experts consulted by The Times. Iran had foreign help, though Israeli officials held back any documents indicating where it came from. Much was clearly from Pakistan, but officials said other foreign experts were also involved — though they may not have been working for their governments.

The documents detailed the challenges of integrating a nuclear weapon into a warhead for the Shahab-3, an Iranian missile. One document proposed sites for possible underground nuclear tests, and described plans to build an initial batch of five weapons. None were built, possibly because the Iranians feared being caught, or because a campaign by American and Israeli intelligence agencies to sabotage the effort, with cyberattacks and disclosures of key facilities, took its toll.

David Albright, a former inspector who runs the Institute for Science and International Security, said in an interview that the documents contained “great information.”

“Iran conducted many more high-explosive tests related to nuclear weapons development than previously known,” he told Congress last month.

But the archive also shows that after a burst of activity, a political mandate delivered at the end of 2003 slowed the program dramatically, just as American officials had concluded in a 2007 intelligence report.

Israel has long claimed that the program continued after 2003, and some documents show senior officials in the Iranian program — including two who were later assassinated, presumably by Israeli agents — debating how to split it into overt and covert elements.

One of the scientists warned that work on neutrons that create the chain reaction for a nuclear explosion must be hidden. “‘Neutrons’ research could not be considered ‘overt’ and needs to be concealed,” his notes read. “We cannot excuse such activities as defensive. Neutron activities are sensitive, and we have no explanation for them.” That caution, the documents show, came from Masoud Ali Mohammadi, an Iranian nuclear physicist at the University of Tehran, who was assassinated in January 2010.

Mr. Netanyahu argues that the trove proves that the 2015 agreement, with its sunset clauses allowing the Iranians to produce nuclear fuel again after 2030, was naïve. The fact that the Iranians went to such lengths to preserve what they had learned, and hid the archive’s contents from international inspectors in an undeclared site despite an agreement to reveal past research, is evidence of their future intent, he has said.

But the same material could also be interpreted as a strong argument for maintaining and extending the nuclear accord as long as possible. The deal deprived the Iranians of the nuclear fuel they would need to turn the designs into reality.

Former members of the Obama administration, who negotiated the deal, say the archive proves what they had suspected all along: that Iran had advanced fuel capability, warhead designs and a plan to build them rapidly. That was why they negotiated the accord, which forced the country to ship 97 percent of its nuclear fuel out of the country. Iran would never have agreed to a permanent ban, they said.

The warehouse the Israelis penetrated was put into use only after the 2015 accord was reached with the United States, European powers, Russia and China. That pact granted broad rights to the International Atomic Energy Agency to visit suspected nuclear sites, including on military bases.

So the Iranians, Israeli officials said in interviews, systematically went about collecting thousands of pages spread around the country documenting how to build a weapon, how to fit it on a missile and how to detonate it. They consolidated them at the warehouse, in a commercial district with no past relationship to the nuclear program, and far from the declared archives of the Ministry of Defense. There were no round-the-clock guards or anything else that would tip off neighbors, or spies, that something unusual was happening there.

What the Iranians did not know was that the Mossad was documenting the collection effort, filming the moves for two years, since the relocation began in February 2016. Last year, the spies began planning a heist that one senior Israeli intelligence official said bore a strong resemblance to George Clooney’s adventures in “Oceans 11.”

In most Mossad operations, spies aim to penetrate a facility and photograph or copy material without traces. But in this case, the Mossad chief, Yossi Cohen, ordered that the material be stolen outright. That would drastically shorten the time that the agents — some, if not all, of them Iranians — spent inside the building. But the Israelis wanted to be able to counter Iranian claims that the material was forged and offer it up for examination by international groups.

Clearly, the Israeli spies had inside help. They had learned which of the 32 safes held the most important information. They watched the habits of the workers. They studied the workings of the alarm system, so that it would appear to be working even though it would not alert anyone when the agents arrived around 10:30 p.m.

For all the cinematics of the raid, the immediate aftermath was absent much drama. There was no chase, said Israeli officials, who would not disclose whether the documents left by land, air or sea — though an escape from the coast, just a few hours’ drive from Tehran, appears the least risky.

Fewer than two dozen agents took part in the break-in. Fearing that some of them would be caught, the Israelis removed the materials on several different routes. At exactly 7 a.m., as the Mossad expected, a guard arrived and discovered that the doors and safes were broken. He sounded the alarm, and the Iranian authorities soon began a nationwide campaign to locate the burglars — an effort that, according to an Israeli official, included “tens of thousands of Iranian security and police personnel.”

The effort yielded nothing. And until Mr. Netanyahu’s speech, the Iranians never said a word in public about what had happened.

Among the most fascinating elements of the archive are pictures taken inside what were once key facilities in Iran, before the equipment was dismantled in anticipation of international inspections. One set of photos taken by the Iranians appears to show a giant metal chamber built to conduct high-explosive experiments, in a building at Parchin, a military base near Tehran.

Intelligence agencies had long suspected nuclear activity at the Parchin site, and Iran had refused to allow international inspectors in, saying that as a military base, it was off limits to inspectors and not part of any nuclear experiments.

By the time the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Yukiya Amano, was finally permitted to visit the site in 2015, it was empty, though the agency’s report indicated that it looked as if equipment had been removed. The photos indicate that is exactly what happened: They show a large chamber that nuclear experts say is tailor-made for the kind of experimental activity that the international inspectors were looking for.

It was part of a larger, previously known effort: Satellite photographs show that Parchin was so sanitized before the inspectors’ arrival that tons of soil in the area had been removed, to eliminate any traces of nuclear contamination.

The chamber appears to be part of neutron experiments that strongly point to an effort to build nuclear weapons. Nuclear explosions start when fast-moving particles known as neutrons split atoms of nuclear fuel in two, producing chain reactions that release more neutrons and enormous bursts of energy. At the core of an atom bomb, a device known as a neutron initiator — or sometimes a spark plug — creates the initial wave of speeding neutrons.

The Iranian papers repeatedly mention a specific substance used for making neutron initiators: uranium deuteride. Experts say it has no civil or military use other than making nuclear arms, and is known to have been used for that purpose by China and Pakistan. The initiator appears to be one of the key technologies that A.Q. Khan, the Pakistani nuclear expert who ran a black market in atomic goods, sold to Iran, North Korea and other nations.

(William J. Broad contributed reporting from New York.)

 

INSIDE ISRAEL’S RAID TO SEIZE NUCLEAR DOCUMENTS IN IRAN

Inside Israel’s Raid to Seize Nuclear Documents in Iran
Agents infiltrated Tehran warehouse, extracted trove including partial warhead designs, officials say
By Gerald F. Seib
The Wall Street Journal
July 15, 2018 12:00 p.m. ET

https://www.wsj.com/articles/inside-israels-raid-to-seize-nuclear-documents-in-iran-1531670401

TEL AVIV—Israeli agents covertly extracted documents detailing Iran’s nuclear program in a dramatic 6½-hour operation in Tehran in January, removing a trove of materials that included partial designs for a nuclear warhead, senior Israeli intelligence officials said.

The Israeli team secretly reached the warehouse holding the materials and broke in during a tight time window when it knew the building would be unguarded, the officials said. To avoid drawing attention to the nondescript facility, Iran hadn’t posted full-time guards, they said, but rather relied on alarm systems that the Israeli agents disabled.

The Israeli operation was first revealed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at an April press conference in which he declared that the stolen documents proved Iran had lied for years in claiming it didn’t have a nuclear-weapons program.

In a lengthy briefing at a security facility here last week, senior Israeli intelligence officials disclosed additional details about the operation. Those include specifics on how the documents were removed from Iran; the existence within the documents of the warhead designs, for which Israel said Iran got unspecified foreign assistance; the operation of a secret explosives-testing facility that international inspectors had long searched for in vain; and a scramble by Iranian officials to keep their nuclear program alive after international inspectors concluded it had been suspended.

It is impossible to verify Israel’s claims about the documents, which Iranian officials dismissed in April as an “orchestrated play” designed to turn the Trump administration against the agreement President Barack Obama and other world leaders negotiated to curb Iran’s nuclear activities. President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the accord in May.

Alireza Miryousefi, a minister-counselor at Iran’s U.N. mission,said in response to the new allegations: “Iran has always been clear that creating indiscriminate weapons of mass destruction is against what we stand for as a country and the notion that Iran would abandon any kind of sensitive information in some random warehouse in Tehran is laughably absurd. It’s almost as if they are trying to see what outlandish claims they can get a Western audience to believe.”

The Israeli assertions about the documents track, and often repeat, revelations and assumptions made previously by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The Israelis said that Mr. Trump was briefed on the materials in Washington early this year, and that the documents now have been shared with the IAEA.

The Israeli officials said the seeds for the operation were planted when they received intelligence in 2016 that Iran had decided to consolidate and then hide away documents detailing its past nuclear activities, in the wake of its agreement with the U.S. and five other world powers that stopped it uranium-enrichment activities. Israel tracked the movement of the documents until January 2017, when they were moved into the warehouse on the southern outskirts of Tehran, the officials said.

Israel then began planning to steal the trove, in an operation that one official likened to the casino heist in the movie “Ocean’s Eleven.” The officials worried along the way that Iran might again move them to avoid discovery.

Upon entering the warehouse, the Israeli agents found two large containers housing 32 safes, the officials said. Israel had intelligence steering the agents to focus their efforts on specific safes.

The officials declined to say precisely how the agents broke into the safes, or the route they then used to exit Iran. They said the stash is enormous, running to some 50,000 pages of printed material, plus 183 computer disks with additional files.

Israeli officials acknowledge that the documents are dated; much of the activity they allegedly chronicle occurred before 2003. That is when Iran disclosed and appeared to halt much of its known nuclear research in the wake of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and President George W. Bush’s designation of Iran as part of an “axis of evil,” which led to speculation Iran might be next on the American hit list.

Moreover, much of the activity the documents chronicle already was disclosed or suggested in IAEA reports in 2011 and 2015.

But Israeli officials contend that the documents are significant in two respects: They show that Iran’s weapons-related activities advanced further than previously realized, the officials asserted, and that they substantiate previous suspicions that Iran shifted some of those activities into new, disguised channels so they could continue well after 2003.

In particular, the Israeli intelligence officials showed documents indicating that Iranian nuclear experts, after shutting down a nuclear research program known by the code name AMAD in 2003, moved by early September of that year to shift many of its activities into the newly formed Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research.

Iranian nuclear scientists, two of whom later were assassinated under mysterious circumstances, are quoted in one document discussing the need to distinguish between “overt” nuclear research activities, which could continue because they could be shown to have peaceful purposes, and “covert” activities that had to be hidden because they could only be attributed to a nuclear-weapons program.

A series of other documents and photos purportedly involve one particularly sensitive Iranian facility, within a military complex known as Parchin, which the IAEA long suspected housed a firing chamber used to test explosives that could be used to ignite a nuclear explosion.

When the IAEA finally gained access to the facility in 2015, it found no such chamber, but said extensive demolition and refurbishing of the site had seriously undermined the agency’s ability to determine whether such a chamber had been there.

The new materials include more than a dozen photographs of what Israeli intelligence officials said was the explosives chamber at Parchin, as well as reports on experiments conducted there.

Israeli officials said they hope the disclosure of the new details will prompt the IAEA to demand new inspections of sites in Iran and draw out further explanations of the program’s parameters from Iranian officials.

 

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