The overseas Iranian community numbers more than three million – nearly a million in the US and half a million in West Europe, the rest scattered. Many Iranian expatriates regularly visit their families in the home country, providing the US, other Western countries and the Islamic regime itself with a ready recruitment pool for spies, informers and double agents.
Among them are exiled Iranian opposition politicians, some of whom maintain close clandestine ties with political, military, intelligence, ethnic, financial and academic figures in Tehran.
Some no doubt acted as “humint” sources for US intelligence agencies, 16 of which produced the National Intelligence Estimate released Dec. 3.
Their services as informants for under-the-surface happenings in Iran and the rate of progress of its nuclear activities would have been in high demand with American, European and Israeli secret services from around 2002, when Iran began developing its nuclear weapons projects.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Iranian sources canvassed reactions in Iranian expatriate circles to the latest American intelligence estimate, and its downgrading of the state of Iran’s military nuclear program as suspended from 2003.
The most common reactions were shock and amazement. Some overseas Iranians opined that in a year or two – or five – when Iran declares itself a nuclear power, the US intelligence estimate will be exposed as having fallen for one of the biggest intelligence sting operations in recent years.
Every Iranian expatriate questioned agreed that Tehran had managed to dupe the Americans with bogus intelligence about its clandestine weapons industry. The general view was that double agents had been transmitting false data for years.
Double agents feed Washington trumped-up data
According to these sources, as far back as the 1980s, during Hashemi Rafsanjani‘s presidency, a group of nuclear experts, some of them living in the US in the guise of exiled physicists, was assigned with gumming up the works of US secret agencies by a tissue of falsehoods on Iran’s rate of progress in nuclear research.
Over the years, these agents volunteered firsthand secrets on the subject. They won sympathy by explaining that, as good patriots, they were anxious to save their country from getting into trouble with the international community and exposing itself to the ultimate calamity of a military attack.
Iran for its part bid for American trust by a series of trumped-up tales. The mysterious death in January 2007 was announced in Tehran of one of its top nuclear scientists, Ardeshir Hassanpour, professor at Shiraz University, apparently from a leaking gas heater. Hassanpour had directed the center for nuclear electromagnetic studies which he founded in 2005. He also co-founded the atomic research center in Isfahan.
His death was exploited by the Iranian government to plant the impression that the dead scientist had been a spy who was deservedly executed by Iranian intelligence for betraying sensitive atomic secrets to the Americans.
In another case, the Iranians fabricated the trial and imprisonment of a second nuclear scientist who was “caught” passing secrets to the United States. The truth was that he was entrusted by Iranian intelligence with planting false information with the Americans.
This scientist is in fact at large and working at his old job under a false identity.
Members of the Iranian expatriate community questioned by DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources were bluntly dismissive of the US intelligence estimate, in particular its failure to address key issues:
1. In a gesture to allay Western suspicions and display “transparency”, Iran in November handed over to the international watchdog diagrams showing how to mold uranium into warhead form, claiming it was part of an old batch of documents which arrived “unsolicited” from the Palestinian nuclear black marketer A. Q. Khan and never put to use.
2. In 2005, a laptop computer owned by an Iranian official mysteriously found its way from Iran to American intelligence. The pages downloaded from this computer provided US intelligence with its strongest evidence that Iran was lying and making good progress in building a nuclear weapon.
Working hard to build a nuclear warhead for ballistic missiles
According to some expatriate sources, the laptop was planted by Iranian intelligence. It contained a large amount of false data to deceive the Americans, admixed with some authentic material for verisimilitude.
3. Like Iran’s missile industry, the Revolutionary Guards control its nuclear program, the production units of which are concealed in vast military compounds in the vicinity of Tehran and other big towns. These installations are closed to foreigners and unauthorized visitors. Information about what goes on there is closely compartmented and therefore very little has filtered through to the West.
4. The various departments of the IRGC ordnance section have been working day and night in recent years to build a nuclear warhead. They have built models but never brought them to testing stage. The main impediment is the mechanism and fuse for bringing the bomb to a chain reaction. But Iranian scientists are not worried; if they cannot manage on their own, they can always buy fuses on the black market, or obtain the necessary diagrams and instructions for home production.
5. Nuclear watchdog inspectors have been consistently denied access to production facilities at two key nuclear plants: Lavizan in northeastern Tehran and Parchin in the southeast district of the capital. They were admitted to unused halls, but no further.
An accident last year at Lavizan caused a radioactive leak. UN inspectors requested permission to assess it, but the Iranians kept putting them off. Meanwhile, they managed to raze the entire plant, level all the buildings and destroy the surrounding trees. The site was decontaminated and all evidence of the activity there was eradicated.
6. Iran is building ballistic missiles with a range of 2,000 km, has achieved a new missile with a range of 2,500 and is working on a 5,000-km weapon. No one believes that this massively costly enterprise is designed to shoot conventional weapons at Israel and European cities.
7. Most expat interlocutors questioned by DEBKA-Net-Weekly referred to an Iranian nuclear scientist called Farah-Zadeh Mahabadi as one of the stars of Iran’s weapons program. The IAEA’s requests to interview the man with all the answers for clearing up unresolved issues stretching back years are consistently turned down.