Intelligence Agencies Claim Iranian Nuclear Weapons Program

Der Spiegel is reporting that the Bundesnachrichtendienst, Germany’s intelligence agency (BND), believes that Iran is about a year from testing a nuclear weapon:

As far as Iran is concerned, it is closer to being able to carry out a nuclear explosion than was previously thought. That is the opinion of Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, the BND. It’s a view shared by the relevant Israeli intelligence agencies — the Mossad and Israel’s military intelligence agency. According to their estimates, Iran could be in a position to carry out a nuclear bomb test — similar to those that North Korea recently carried out — within a period of approximately one year.

“According to the current assessment of the Mossad and Israeli military intelligence, Iran has solved all the technical problems associated with the assembly and operation of the centrifuges,” Israeli intelligence expert Ronen Bergman told SPIEGEL ONLINE. “It can produce low-enriched uranium and is theoretically capable of producing highly enriched uranium.” Highly enriched uranium is required to build a nuclear bomb.

If Iran continues at the current pace, “it could have enough highly enriched uranium for a test bomb by mid-2010,” says Bergman, the author of the 2008 book “The Secret War with Iran.”

The BND, whose information is likely to have come in part from the Israelis, takes a similar view of the situation. “The BND estimates that Iran, under ideal conditions, would be in the position to produce a nuclear test bomb under laboratory conditions within a period of less than five years,” a BND spokesman told SPIEGEL ONLINE. But the BND makes an important caveat: “That would still be a long way from a nuclear bomb or a weapons system.”

It’s somewhat difficult to determine whether this is one intelligence estimate or two. The Wall Street Journal is reporting on the same story:

The Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, has amassed evidence of a sophisticated Iranian nuclear weapons program that continued beyond 2003. This usually classified information comes courtesy of Germany’s highest state-security court. In a 30-page legal opinion on March 26 and a May 27 press release in a case about possible illegal trading with Iran, a special national security panel of the Federal Supreme Court in Karlsruhe cites from a May 2008 BND report, saying the agency “showed comprehensively” that “development work on nuclear weapons can be observed in Iran even after 2003.”

According to the judges, the BND supplemented its findings on August 28, 2008, showing “the development of a new missile launcher and the similarities between Iran’s acquisition efforts and those of countries with already known nuclear weapons programs, such as Pakistan and North Korea.”

The article goes on to condemn the 2007 U. S. NIE that found that Iran had suspended its program in 2003 in no uncertain terms:

The court’s decision and the BND’s reports raise the question of how, or why, U.S. intelligence officials could have come to the conclusion that Iran suspended its program in 2003. German intelligence officials wonder themselves. BND sources have told me that they have shared their findings and documentation with their U.S. colleagues ahead of the 2007 NIE report — as is customary between these two allies. It appears the Americans have simply ignored this evidence despite repeated warnings from the BND. This suggests not so much a failure of U.S. intelligence but its sabotage.

The politicized 2007 NIE report undermined the Bush Administration’s efforts to rally international support for tough action against Iran. The world’s best hope is that the Obama Administration is not being fed the same false sense of security.

In the light of this report it’s becoming increasingly difficult to hold that Iran isn’t developing nuclear weapons.

I find this story very interesting in the light of several other stories that have come out in recent months including North Korea’s recent missile test, Russia’s repeated statements of its lack of ability to influence Iran to abandon its nuclear development program, even yesterday’s report of a cure for radiation sickness. For one thing, apparently the BND is thinking along lines similar to those I’ve suggested. It may be more appropriate to consider the North Korean and Iranian development programs together rather than in isolation.

A dangerous world is becoming even more dangerous quickly.

Above Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad tours Natanz nuclear enrichment facility.

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Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.

Comments

  1. A dangerous world is becoming even more dangerous quickly.

    I don’t think so. I think the world is just as dangerous today as it was three months ago, or three years ago, or thirty years ago. Except of course that our leadership is unwilling to take on the hard, but necessary tasks of dealing with these problems, unlike, say, thirty years ago.

    Maybe you’re right after all, though for slightly different reasons.

  2. Alex Knapp says:

    Except of course that our leadership is unwilling to take on the hard, but necessary tasks of dealing with these problems, unlike, say, thirty years ago.

    What did “our leadership” do in 1979 that was “hard, but necessary” to stem the tide of nuclear weapons that was so succesful?

  3. […] afternoon I’ve published two foreign policy-related posts at Outside the Beltway: Intelligence Agencies Claim Iranian Nuclear Weapons Program and Jittery About […]

  4. Davebo says:

    I think a good start would be to require any country that receives US foreign aide to sign and ratify the NPT.

    But we all know why that won’t happen.

  5. An Interested Party says:

    Except of course that our leadership is unwilling to take on the hard, but necessary tasks of dealing with these problems…

    Such as?

  6. Dave Schuler says:

    I’m not as sanguine about the effectiveness of the NPT as you are, Davebo. It hasn’t been terribly effective in preventing proliferation.

    It doesn’t help that nearly all of the major power signatories including the United States are in violation of their obligations under the treaty.

  7. Brett says:

    It may be more appropriate to consider the North Korean and Iranian development programs together rather than in isolation.

    Hasn’t that always been the case? If I recall correctly, either North Korea and Iran got their nuclear technology from A.Q.Khan in Pakistan, or the Norks got it from him and then sold it to the Iranians. One of the two – I can’t remember which.

    That’s not to mention that they’ve sold missile parts to each other, so it’s not a stretch to imagine the sale of other bits of technology.

  8. Alex, I am thinking more broadly in the sense of realizing that we have enemies and acting accordingly. No one had any doubts about who Ronald Reagan thought the enemies of the United States were and that he was willing to stand up with them. As I recall, that led to the Berlin Wall collapsing, the Soviet Union disintegrating, Libya ceasing to cause quite so much trouble, and a general sense of don’t screw around with the US in Central America, though that could just be a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. Then, of course, there was Osirak too, but best not to go there I suppose.

    Our current leadership has a substantially weaker negotiating position in mind, whether we are discussing North Korea, Iran, or even Honduras.

  9. An Interested Party says:

    Ahh, we’ve entered the sacred shrine of St. Ronnie I…funny thing about Reagan, though…along with all the bellicose rhetoric and arms buildup, he actually negotiated with the Soviets…you know, that surrender monkey technique that is so often ridiculed these days in certain quarters…it’s amazing that it was ok for Reagan to negotiate with the Soviets, who had enough nuclear firepower to blow up the world several times over, but, apparently, it is out of bounds to negotiate, or to even talk of negotiating, with various two bit dictatorships…funny how that works…

    …and a general sense of don’t screw around with the US in Central America…

    Yes, especially with funds supplied to Central American rebels which were obtained through shady deals done with the Iranians…best not to go there too, I suppose…

  10. An Intersted Party, thanks for playing the free association game, special leftist hobby horse edition. Is that all you have to contribute?

    So no snappy comments about Osirak?

  11. An Intersted Party, thanks for playing the free association game, special leftist hobby horse edition. Is that all you have to contribute?

    So no snappy comments about Osirak?

  12. Bueller?

  13. Bueller?

  14. Alex Knapp says:

    Charles,

    Alex, I am thinking more broadly in the sense of realizing that we have enemies and acting accordingly. No one had any doubts about who Ronald Reagan thought the enemies of the United States were and that he was willing to stand up with them.

    Yes, in many ways he did stand up with them. Giving arms to Iran in exchange for hostages; selling arms to Iraq in order to fight Iran; training death squads in Central America in support of ruthless authoritarians…

    Then, of course, there was Osirak too, but best not to go there I suppose.

    If Osirak was so successful, then why the did the United States have to invade Iraq to stop Hussein from acquiring nuclear weapons?

    Oh wait.

    Crap.

  15. Alex, a pretty disappointing response. I don’t like everything Reagan did either, but you seem to be unable to acknowledge that he did anything good and instead resort to a litany of McGuffins to avoid the point.

    As for Osirak, are you claiming that it didn’t stop, or at least significantly inhibit Iraq’s nuclear ambitions? You asked for an example of something thirty years ago (ok twenty-eight years ago) that helped stem the spread of nuclear weapons and I gave you one. Rather than acknowledge this simple fact you have to turn it into a hobby horse referendum on not the first Iraq War but the liberation of Iraq, or the second Iraq War, if you prefer. FWIW, WMD is a little more inclusive than just nuclear weapons. You don’t have to believe me, but you can ask the survivors of Halabja if you think Saddam didn’t have any WMD or wasn’t willing to use it.

    But you are trying to have it both ways. Either Iraq’s nuclear ambition was stopped or even you have to admit that there was a legitimate reason for the liberation of Iraq, or the second Iraq War, if you prefer. Or pay no heed to consistency and reasonableness.

    Are good faith arguments even possible in these forums?

  16. Alex Knapp says:

    Charles,

    I bring up Reagan’s mistakes because they are legion. Yes, Reagan did some thing right. But in many cases, he provided arms and support to countries that stand against everything America stands for to no apparent success.

    I bring up the second Iraq War because it was fought, ostensibly, to stop Iraq’s nuclear, chemical and biological weapons program. Except that after the invasion, it turns out that there was no nuclear, chemical, or biogical weapons program to stop.

    So while the Israeli’s claim that Osirak stopped Iraq’s nuclear program, what evidence do we have that it was there to begin with? I know that there are claims that Iran damaged it, Israel crippled it and we destroyed it, so there’s no way to know now. Absent evidence, how do we know it accomplished anything?

  17. An Interested Party says:

    Is that all you have to contribute?

    Sorry to interrupt the Reagan hero worship, but I was just telling you in a snarky way what Alex told you in a nicer fashion…that for all the praises you’re singing of Reagan, his administration did a lot of bad things…and the point still stands that one of the best things he did was to actually negotiate with the Soviets…but, of course, when the Obama Administration talks about doing the same thing with rogue regimes, we get the same tired knee-jerk reactions from all the usual suspects…are good faith arguments possible indeed…

    So no snappy comments about Osirak?

    Sure thing! Despite the delusional fantasies of the necocons, there is no response similar to Osirak that will stop Iran’s nuclear program…

  18. Steve Hynd says:

    Dismissing facts and data by labelling them “McGuffins”, but without showing why such a lebel would apply, is not an argument, it’s a smokescreen.

  19. Steve Hynd says:

    Dave,

    The “evidence’ offered by the BND may have been little more than conjecture, and certainly could not be dispositive on the question of whether Iran was putting nuclear weapons work on the shelf. What you are forgetting is that the CIA and other intelligence agencies were working with direct, primary source evidence on that precise question –evidence to which no other intel agency had access.

    The Spiegel article quotes the BND position as “less than 5 years” for Iran to be able to test and longer for a deployable weapon…again, and as always, starting from the day Iran kicks out the IAEA inspectors and begins HEU production. The WSJ piece is little more than an op-ed based upon the Spiegel one.

    Until that eventful day, what we have is Iran developing the capacity for a weapon, not an actual weapon. (A dozen nations have that capacity already but haven’t gone on to develop nukes.) That’s perfectly in accord with Mohammed elBaradei’s stated opinion – that what Iran is seeking is a “virtual deterrent” rather than an actual one.

    Oh, and did you note how the Spiegel piece admits most of the BND’s intel comes from Mossad? That’s why the BND intel ended up on the NIE cutting room floor – it was too derivative. The BND material is suspect in that Mossad is not an unbiased filter. It’s also worth noting that Schirra has a long track record of anti-Iranian reporting as well as guest speaker gigs at far-right pro-Zionist conferences and so might well have motive to further twist the material in his reporting.

    Five years from the day they kick the inspectors out, if they ever do, is not worth the WSJ piece’s hyperventilation. Nor does it prove Iran
    is actively working for a weapon rather than a weapons-building capability. The 2007 NIE is still intact.

    Regards, Steve