Intelligence operatives in the US and its allied nations have sold Iran flawed technological components in an attempt to sabotage the country's nuclear enrichment program, CBS News revealed Wednesday evening.
In January 2007, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Agency, Vice-President Gholamreza Aghazadeh, said after an explosion at the Natanz nuclear facility (the first Iranian plant to attempt enrichment) that some of the equipment had been "manipulated."
The explosion destroyed 50 of the plant's centrifuges.
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Other evidence has indicated that sabotage was the reason for some of the technical problems Iran has encountered in its enrichment enterprise. Sources told CBS intelligence agencies have altered technical data, making it "useless."
"Industrial sabotage is a way to stop the program, without military action, without fingerprints on the operation, and really, it is ideal, if it works," says Mark Fitzpatrick, the former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Non-Proliferation and now Senior Fellow in Non-Proliferation at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
According to CBS, the fact that Iran purchases the requisite information and equipment on the black market, rather than legally, places it at risk for industrial sabotage. Some prohibited components, the report said, had been shipped to Iran in diplomatic bags by Iranian agents in Frankfurt.
Analysts say that while Iran has established front companies in various Gulf nations to handle the purchase of nuclear enrichment components, the country still needs some European-made parts - either because of their quality, or because it need parts that are compatible with European-manufactured equipment.
Fitzpatrick said that it was impossible to know if, and to what extent, Iran - described as "highly suspicious" - has discovered any industrial sabotage.
"Any technical problems that Iran experiences in its program, some of which were the result of its own speed-up effort, Iran may attribute to foreign espionage," he said.