'CIA sting against Iran's nuclear program could prompt IAEA reassessment'

The US spy agency sought to lead Iranian nuclear scientists astray by giving phony designs of atomic components to Tehran’s diplomatic representatives to the IAEA in Austria, according to Bloomberg.

February 20, 2015 22:39
3 minute read.
People are silhouetted as they pose with laptops in front of a screen projected with the CIA emblem

People are silhouetted as they pose with laptops in front of a screen projected with binary code and a Central Inteligence Agency (CIA) emblem. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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The Central Intelligence Agency secretly gave Iran doctored blueprints for nuclear weapon components 15 years ago, a revelation that could prompt the International Atomic Energy Agency to reassess its findings regarding the Islamic Republic’s covert nuclear program, Bloomberg News reported on Friday.

The US spy agency sought to lead Iranian nuclear scientists astray by giving phony designs of atomic components to Tehran’s diplomatic representatives to the IAEA in Austria, according to Bloomberg.

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The CIA plan was revealed in a court case involving Jeffrey Sterling, an operative who was convicted of leaking classified information about the agency’s operations against Iran.

Sterling was convicted of providing information to a journalist that served as the basis for a book about Operation Merlin, a covert plan initiated by the Clinton administration whose goal was to delay Iran’s nuclear program by feeding Iranian scientists flawed design components.

“The goal is to plant this substantial piece of deception information on the Iranian nuclear-weapons program, sending them down blind alleys, wasting their time and money,” according to a CIA cable dated May 1997 that was submitted to the court.

According to Bloomberg, this latest development could be significant since the IAEA relies on older information provided by intelligence agencies, some of which work for governments that may seek to pursue an agenda against Iran.

Bloomberg quoted two Western diplomats who said that these latest revelations could compel UN nuclear investigators to reassess their earlier findings regarding Iran’s atomic program.

Earlier on Friday, the IAEA released a report indicating that Iran has refrained from expanding tests of more efficient models of a machine used to refine uranium under a nuclear agreement with six world powers.

The finding appears to allay concerns that the Islamic Republic might be violating the accord.

Tehran's development of advanced centrifuges is sensitive because, if successful, it could enable it to produce potential nuclear bomb material at a rate several times that of the decades-old version of the machine now in use.

An interim accord in 2013 between Iran and the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia stipulated Tehran could continue its "current enrichment R&D (research and development) practices," implying they should not be stepped up.

But a UN nuclear agency report in November said Iran had been feeding one of several new models under development, the so-called IR-5 centrifuge, with uranium gas, prompting a debate among analysts on whether this may have been a violation.

A confidential document by the IAEA, distributed among its member states on Thursday and obtained by Reuters, showed the IR-5 had been disconnected.

"The disconnection reflects Iran addressing concerns about its enrichment (of uranium)," said the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), which closely tracks Iran's nuclear program.

"The disconnection provides additional confidence that Iran is abiding by its commitments under the Joint Plan of Action," it said, referring to the 2013 agreement. Still, Iran has stalled the UN inquiry in other areas.

International talks are resuming in Geneva on Friday with the aim of narrowing remaining gaps in negotiations to end Iran's 12-year standoff with the six powers.

The deal sought by the powers would have Iran accept limits to its uranium enrichment capacity and open up to unfettered IAEA inspections to help ensure it could not put its nuclear program to developing bombs. They also want Iran to resolve all IAEA questions to build trust in its nuclear aspirations.

In return, Iran would see a lifting of international trade and financial sanctions that hobbled its oil-based economy.

The IAEA document about the UN inquiry, which has run parallel to the big power talks, was issued to IAEA member states only weeks before a deadline in late March for a framework agreement between Iran and the powers. They have set themselves a deadline for a final deal at the end of June.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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