Smoking Gun Revelations Hidden Within The NIE "Intelligence Revelations"

Insight Magazine

December 5, 2007

The Bush administration has received intelligence that Iran has acquired nuclear weapons from the former Soviet Union.

Intelligence sources said an assessment presented to the White House asserted that Tehran has received at least six plutonium-based nuclear weapons. The assessment said the Iranians were taught by former Soviet scientists how to maintain such weapons via a plutonium processing plant.

"Iran has more than one bomb in the basement," said an intelligence source. "But once somebody in authority says that, we have a political and military crisis that we are not ready for."

The sources said the administration has consistently sought to steer the debate away from whether Iran obtained nuclear weapons. They said in classified briefings to Congress the administration has hinted at the acquisition of Iranian nuclear weapons.

The sources said Iran's plutonium-based weapons are more powerful than those assembled from enriched uranium. They said the plutonium bombs require a smaller warhead to be fitted onto medium and intermediate range ballistic missiles.

The plutonium bombs have been maintained by Iran with assistance from North Korea. Over the last five years, the sources said, Iran has acquired indigenous capability to maintain plutonium bombs.

Iran was believed to have received its first nuclear weapon after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1992. The first suggestion of Iranian nuclear acquisition was contained in an assessment by the House Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare in the early 1990s.

In 2004, Iran launched a Shihab-3 ballistic missile with a North Korean-designed nuclear warhead casing. The casing was said to have been empty but meant to determine the aerodynamics of a nuclear warhead.

Over the last two years, the sources said, Iran has assembled a secret reprocessing plant to maintain plutonium bombs. They said Iran has a research reactor that could produce enough plutonium to assemble one nuclear weapon per year.

The sources said President Bush was warned as early as 2005 that North Korea transferred components and technology to assemble a plutonium-based nuclear warhead for the Shihab-3. They said the components were designed in Pakistan and enabled Iran to assemble several nuclear warheads. In October 2007, the administration briefed several senior House and Senate members on nuclear cooperation between Iran and Syria. The intelligence community raised the prospect that Iran helped build a plutonium reprocessing plant in northeastern Syria that would be used to fire nuclear missiles toward Israel and U.S. military bases in Iraq. The Syrian plant was destroyed by an Israel Air Force strike on Sept. 6.

"If the Israeli airstrike last month is related to covert nuclear collaboration involving Syria and either North Korea, Iran or other rogue states, this may or may not be an issue that can be easily addressed by negotiations alone," Rep. Peter Hoekstra and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen wrote in the Wall Street Journal on Oct. 20. "It is certain, however, that such a serious international security issue will not stay secret forever."

Hoekstra, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, and Ros-Lehtinen, a senior member of the House International Relations Committee, said the administration has ignored numerous letters from Congress for a briefing to all members on the Israeli air strike. The two Republicans said Congress must know of the Syrian nuclear program and its ties with Iran and North Korea. Under law, members of Congress cannot discuss classified briefings.

"They have not briefed me on what went on in northern Syria," said House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence Chairwoman Rep. Jane Harman. "I've had some conversations with Peter [Hoekstra], but he's not free to reveal classified information even to me, although I have the clearances. That's just how the thing works."

Intelligence sources said the Syrian facility destroyed by Israel contained several kilograms of plutonium supplied by or through Iran. Syria has refused the International Atomic Energy Agency access to the site after the Israeli bombing. Instead, Syria sought to bury the rubble.

Anthony Cordesman, a former Defense Department strategist and senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, envisioned that Iran could acquire an arsenal of up to 30 nuclear warheads as early as 2010. Cordesman said each nuclear weapon would be no more than 100 kilotons, which could cause casualties at a radius of 13 kilometers.

"Rational actors do not fight nuclear wars, but history is not written about rational actors behaving in a rational manner," said Cordesman.

The National Intelligence Estimate released on Monday paints a radically different picture. It concludes that Tehran stopped work on its nuclear weapons development program in 2003. The new assessment by American intelligence agencies also said that Iran’s program remains on hold, contradicting an assessment two years earlier which said that Tehran was pushing tirelessly to build a nuclear bomb.

The National Intelligence Estimate represents the consensus view of all 16 American spy agencies, led by the CIA. The 2007 NIE says that Iran is probably keeping its options open with respect to attaining a weapon, but that U.S. intelligence agencies "do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons."