IAEA Seems to Acknowledge Flaws in Intelligence

IAEA Seems to Acknowledge Flaws in Intelligence  IAEA Seems to Acknowledge Flaws in Intelligence

United Nations inspectors' reluctance to follow up a tip on Iran's nuclear program indicates their agency may be acknowledging the flaws in some of its intelligence, according to a former official.

More than three years after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) published reports of alleged high-explosive tests in the Marivan region, officials still have not taken up Iranian offers to visit the site.

"Marivan is a classic case of inexperienced analysts swallowing everything they are told," Robert Kelley, an ex-IAEA director, said in an interview with Bloomberg. "The IAEA's unwillingness to go to the site of one of their two stated unresolved concerns shows they have now recognized their mistake."

While Iran and the six major powers (the United States, France, Britain, Russia, China and Germany) try to strike an accord to end their 12-year nuclear stalemate, the Marivan case highlights the IAEA's difficulties as it faces growing questions about its intelligence. The agency is under international pressure because its verdict on Iran's nuclear program work may determine whether international sanctions against the country are lifted.

The IAEA's press office declined to comment on the doubts about Marivan and pointed to a December statement saying that Iran's offer to visit the site does not address the agency's concerns.

The 35-member IAEA board holds its quarterly meeting next week in Vienna, where diplomats will discuss Tehran's nuclear work. The agency said after a Feb. 24 meeting with Iran that it is looking to resolve its investigation "as soon as possible."

  Tough Spot  

"The IAEA is in a tough spot," said Jofi Joseph, a former White House official who worked on negotiations with Iran until 2013. "The weapons investigation went far beyond the IAEA's normal area of expertise."

Iran denies its nuclear program may have any military objectives, saying the work is solely for peaceful applications.

The US Central Intelligence Agency acknowledged in court filings last month that it had passed doctored blueprints for nuclear components through Iran's IAEA mission in February 2000. While the CIA said the operation was intended to bog down nuclear researchers with bad designs, diplomats have said the operation may also have been used to plant evidence against Iran.

The IAEA thoroughly assesses information it receives, the agency's press officer said last week in response to concerns raised by that revelation.

  Spy Data

The claims of explosives testing in Marivan stem from spy data provided to the IAEA by its member states. The documents suggested Iran had tested a special type of detonator which compresses fissile material for a nuclear explosion from about 2003, the agency alleged.

In 2008, Iran denied working with the explosives and said the document "was not understandable."

Marivan is an area in western Iran with no known strategic industries or important research institutes, making it unusual for IAEA inspectors to mention it, according to Kelley.

"If you look at the single mention of Marivan as the place that the most important alleged experiments were done you immediately smell a rat," said Kelley, who helped debunk forged Iraq documents that supposedly showed illegal procurement of aluminum tubes and uranium.