Bibi, Albright (and Warrick) on Iran Nuke Report: “But Wait, There’s More!”

Because there hasn’t been an immediate, multinational hue and cry to bomb Iran over the leaked IAEA report, both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and David Albright, the designated point person for fomenting fears over Iran’s nuclear program in the United States, have been reduced to using their best Billy Mays voice to boom out “But wait, there’s more!”  Netanyahu’s blathering has been dutifully written down and published by Reuters while Albright has found a willing mouthpiece in the Washington Post’s Joby Warrick

Netanyahu told his cabinet yesterday that Iran is closer to getting the bomb than the IAEA report suggests.  Here is how Reuters reported his remarks:

Iran is closer to getting an (atomic) bomb than is thought,” Netanyahu said in remarks to cabinet ministers, quoted by an official from his office.

“Only things that could be proven were written (in the U.N. report), but in reality there are many other things that we see,” Netanyahu said, according to the official.

The Israeli leader did not specify what additional information he had about Iran’s nuclear program during his cabinet’s discussion on the report by the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released last week.

Yup, Netanyahu is telling us he knows more about Iran’s nuclear technology than the rest of the world knows, but he won’t give us details and he can’t prove it.  And, of course, it is important to believe everything Netanyahu says.

Meanwhile, in Washington, Joby Warrick saw fit this morning to devote an entire article to building the case that Vyacheslav Danilenko was transferring crucial nuclear technology to Iran rather than helping Iran to develop nanodiamond technology.  The accusations against Danilenko come almost exclusively from David Albright and a “report” on Danilenko prepared by Albright’s Insitute for Science and International Security.  Warrick does include one brief quotation from a former CIA Iran analyst on how analysts characterize the flow of information into potentially covert programs and a statement from Josh Pollack of Arms Control Wonk.  I will return to the Pollack quote below.

Now that Danilenko’s work on controlled high explosives detonations creating nanodiamonds has been put forward as a potentially peaceful use of the technology he was helping to develop in Iran, those who promote the view that Iran is working hard now to develop a nuclear weapon find it necessary to provide a stronger connection between Danilenko’s work and development of a bomb trigger device.  At the same time, Danilenko has responded to press inquiries with a direct “I am not a father of Iran’s nuclear program” and “I am not a nuclear physicist.”

First, Warrick paints a picture of desperation driving Danilenko to contact Iran:

When the Cold War ended, thousands of weapons scientists suddenly confronted a harsh choice: remain at the weapons institutes at drastically reduced wages or reinvent themselves for the post-Soviet, capitalist economy. For Danilenko, the choice was clear: His knowledge of explosively produced diamonds, called “ultra-dispersed diamonds” or “nanodiamonds,” was his ticket out of Chelyabinsk-70.

Danilenko moved to Ukraine, created a company, and searched for investors and partners throughout the West, including the United States. But he struggled as a businessman, and soon his European ventures were short of cash and at risk of collapsing.

In 1995, he decided to do what numerous other Russian weapons scientists before him had done: He contacted the Iranian Embassy to inquire about possible joint ventures, according to the ISIS report, which drew from IAEA documents and interviews.

Warrick then goes on to explain how Danilenko’s inquiry was answered by the head of the laboratory that the IAEA suspects as being the center of Iran’s work to develop a nuclear bomb.

The problem here, as it is with all efforts to understand both Danilenko’s earlier work with the Soviets and his subsequent work with Iran, is that “dual use” technology poses a particular challenge in that there are both civilian and military uses.  The precisely timed, spherical high explosive technology in which Danilenko specializes is a prime example of this sort of dual use technology.  Warrick makes an issue of Danilenko’s work being “highly classified”  by the Soviets, but because the technology can be used to trigger nuclear devices in missile warheads, it undoubtedly would have been classified in the US at that time, as well.

Getting back to Warrick’s quote from Josh Pollack of Arms Control Wonk, we see that it is in reference to a ” fiber-optic instrument that measures precisely when a shock wave arrives along thousands of different points along the surface of a sphere”.  Pollack’s quote is “This type of system appears suitable for testing a sphere of conventional explosives designed to compress the fissile core of a nuclear warhead” and Warrick also points out that “Such instruments have few, if any, applications outside nuclear warhead design”. Left unsaid, however, is that if one is using the controlled explosions to produce nanodiamonds, it seems the monitoring equipment would be just as useful.  Wouldn’t it be just as valid to state that the monitoring technology is “suitable for testing” nanodiamond production technology?  That makes one of the “few, if any applications outside nuclear warhead design” for the monitoring technology Danilenko’s known work in nanodiamond production.

In the end, it doesn’t seem that there is sufficient information yet to place Danilenko’s work along the continuum between completely civilian and completely military intentions.  And even if Danilenko’s work itself in Iran were completely civilian in its orientation, we don’t know the extent to which it has been funneled by Iran into a weapons program.  Albright seems eager for the world to conclude that there is indeed a military intent by the Iranians in developing this technology, but the evidence that has been presented so far is not sufficient for a concrete conclusion.

It should be pointed out once again that the explosive trigger device is used so that nuclear bombs can be reduced in size to fit on a missile warhead.  That makes the reports over the weekend of a blast that killed the Iranian head of its missile program very interesting in terms of both his death and the timing of it so close on the heels of the IAEA report.  From Reuters:

Iran buried Monday a senior military officer it called the “architect” of its missile defences, killed in a massive explosion at a Revolutionary Guards’ arms depot that authorities said was an accident.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei attended the ceremony for Brigadier General Hassan Moqaddam and the 16 other Revolutionary Guards who died in the explosion at their military base Saturday. The blast was so big it was felt in the capital Tehran, some 45 km (28 miles) away.


“Martyr Moqaddam was the main architect of the Revolutionary Guards’ canon and missile power and the founder of the deterrent power of our country,” Hossein Salami, the deputy head of the Revolutionary Guards, said in a eulogy at the funeral, state broadcaster IRIB reported.

The AP report on this incident, however, contains a very interesting aside:

An exiled Iranian dissident group, the Mujahedin-e Khalq or MEK, has claimed that the blast hit a missile base run by the Revolutionary guard rather than an ammunition depot.

Somehow, it is much easier to believe that Moqaddam would be at a missile base than that he would be at a random ammunition depot.  That leaves one to wonder if this blast was as “accidental” as the losses of the centrifuges that were taken out by the Stuxnet worm.



23 replies
  1. BoxTurtle says:

    I wish I could understand WHY Bibi is so intent on striking Iran. They can’t hope to do anymore than delay the project and not by very much. Maybe a few months delay, but certainly not a year.

    So you get another few months, then what? If anything, interest in sanctions is much less. You’re not going to get world to turn on Iran and you’re not going to stop any nuke program without changing the government and Revolutionary Guards.

    I suppose you could just have a once a month date to bomb something in Iran and try to keep the program supressed.

    Don’t underestimate the value of the Russian’s implosion technology. That’s the key to mounting a nuke on a rocket.

    Boxturtle (Hit Iran with everything we’ve got or deal fairly with them. No third alternative)

  2. What Constitution says:

    “or deal fairly with them”. What a concept. Talk about your alternate universe….


  3. Jim White says:

    Oh my! The NY Daily News goes all in on a CIA/Mossad explanation for the explosion (h/t George Mapp on Twitter), with bonus Duqu thrown in:

    Iranian officials revealed that one of the 17 men killed in a huge explosion at a munitions depot was a key Revolutionary Guard commander who headed Iran’s missile program. And the IRNA state news agency reported that scientists had discovered a new computer virus in their systems, a more sophisticated version of the Stuxnet worm deployed last year to foul up Iran’s centrifuges.

    Iran said the army base explosion was an accident and the new Duqu virus was contained. But Israeli newspapers and some U.S. experts said it appeared to be more from an ongoing secret operation by the CIA and Israel’s Mossad to eliminate Iran’s nuclear threat.

    The covert campaign encompasses a series of assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists since 2007 and a similar explosion at another Iranian missile base two years ago both widely attributed to the Mossad.

    “May there be more like it,” was all Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said when Army Radio asked about the new blast.

  4. hass says:

    India with NAM in slamming IAEA report on Iran
    Indian Express
    Fri Sep 17 2010, 04:07 hrs

    New Delhi –

    Distancing itself from IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano’s report on Iran and its pursuit of a nuclear programme, India today associated itself with a statement by the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) which criticised the language used in the IAEA chief’s report.

    “NAM notes with concern the possible implications of the continued departure from standard verification language in the summary of the report of the Director General,” said the statement which was read during the IAEA Board of Governors meeting on behalf of over 100 NAM member states, including India.

    Besides raising the issue of Israel’s nuclear activities and the IAEA investigation of Syria’s alleged nuclear site that was bombed by Israel in 2007, the NAM statement is sharply critical of Amano for accepting at face value Western intelligence information on Iran’s nuclear activities.

    While India has been part of all NAM statements in the past, this time it is quite strongly-worded and has raised concerns on procedures followed by the IAEA. New Delhi has maintained that Tehran has an “inalienable right” to use of atomic energy for peaceful purposes but needs to abide by “international rules and obligations”.

  5. BoxTurtle says:

    @Jim White: They may well be correct. The idea that the CIA and Mossad would work together to hinder the Iran program via killings and explosions is not at all far fetched.

    I’m not sure how dependent the program is on specific individuals, but I know if we’d lost Fermi or Oppenheimer during our development it would have set things back years.

    Boxturtle (And Obama never faces an enemy if he can attack from behind)

  6. BoxTurtle says:

    @Jim White: I don’t think anybody has the evidence yet to “verify” that Israel has nukes, never mind Iran. I’m not sure we’ve confirmed anybody to have nukes before they actually exploded one.

    It would be nice to have evidence, but we’e not going to get it. Certainly not from sources we can trust, at least.

    But if they aren’t making a bomb, I don’t think they’d have turned down the offer to ship all their nuke waste out of the country. That makes Nuclear power MUCH cheaper, they’d have had the cheapest power in the world.

    Boxturtle (Not sure if making a bomb matters, the Saudi’s want them smeared anyway)

  7. CorinneAM says:

    The AP report on this incident, however, contains a very interesting aside:

    An exiled Iranian dissident group, the Mujahedin-e Khalq or MEK, has claimed that the blast hit a missile base run by the Revolutionary guard rather than an ammunition depot.

    And how did AP get this unattributed quote?

    MEK doesn’t have the capacity inside Iran to do anything like this so it’s unclear why they’re mentioned in this story at all. Intelligence services in the Revolutionary Guard are too pervasive; this explosion is most likely the work of the CIA and Israel.

  8. BoxTurtle says:


    MEK doesn’t have the capacity inside Iran to do anything like this

    True. But MEK does seem to have good sources of information and frequently “corrects” the offical Iranian response.

    However, they most certainly are NOT unbiased reports, so whenever information comes from them you have to run it through your bullshit filter.

    Boxturtle (twice)

  9. host says:

    I have an Iranian co-worker, a naturalized U.S. citizen who returned last month after spending the month of Sept. in his Iranian hometown. His opinion is that the leadership in Iran has been posturing to attract an attack because their experience during the war with Iraq was that such events provide great opportunity to crush and then disappear all political opposition under the guise of national security in a time of war. I asked if he believed Iran would respond militarily and he replied that the forceful response will be directed entirely at people already residing in Iran.

  10. blowback says:

    @CorinneAM: It’s far more likely to be a genuine accident that the MEK is falsely claiming responsibility for. Same for the CIA/Mossad after all the only operations that the CIA seem to be able to run sucessfully these day are blowing up mostly innocent civilians with drones while Mossad are so useless that we have seen the Lebanese police (for FSM’s sake) rolling out Israeli spy networks in Lebanon and Mossad need twenty six people to assassinate one Palestinian and then see photos of these operatives spread around the world.

  11. Jim White says:

    @blowback: Um, the AP quote just has the MEK claiming that the blast was at a missile site instead of an ammunition depot, not that they were responsible for the blast.

    Edit: Oops, I now see that other media reports are actually suggesting a role for MEK in the explosion. I apologize.

  12. MadDog says:

    @Dan: That Guardian article references a Time article that has this anonymous statement:

    “…For Israeli readers, the coy implication is that their own government was behind Saturday’s massive blast just outside Tehran. It is an assumption a Western intelligence source insists is correct: the Mossad — the Israeli agency charged with covert operations — did it. “Don’t believe the Iranians that it was an accident,” the official tells TIME, adding that other sabotage is being planned to impede the Iranian ability to develop and deliver a nuclear weapon. “There are more bullets in the magazine,” the official says…”

  13. thatvisionthing says:

    Jim, the background to the Craig Murray story (#8, #11) is that he can’t get it published in the mainstream press and so asks that other sites pick it up. Any chance emptywheel could post it?

    Get Your Banned News Here
    by craig on Nov 14th in Uncategorized

    I am going to publish the very important article on the plot to attack Iran at noon GMT on this site. Other sites are welcome to republish it, and I would be grateful if each and every reader can do whatever is in their power to get it seen, be that reposting it yourself, sending it to an outlet, retweeting it, facebook messaging it, emailing a link or just telling your mates or family to look at it.

  14. juliyya says:

    BTW, the 10 governments who submitted so-called intelligence to the IAEA regarding the Iranian nuclear program are the U.S., Israel, the U.K, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Iraq, Qatar, Oman and the U.A.E.

  15. rugger9 says:

    Bibi has a government in trouble on many fronts, and he’s a hawk anyway. That’s why now.

    The waste issue you reminded us of is useful to remember. U-238 goes to Pu-239 in a simple n-gamma reaction and is done intentionally in breeder reactors [especially with heavy water]. It’s a sign about how trust can only go so far. In addition, I’d be looking at the Chinese and Russian governments, they’re mighty quiet about the prospect of a nuclear armed Iran on their doorstep. Why, unless they are moving this along to gain influence in the region?

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