Adding to Jeffrey’s “post”:http://www.armscontrolwonk.com/1274/ncri-did-not-discover-natanz…
Annoyed for similar reasons, I pointed out “a while back”:http://www.armscontrolwonk.com/517/exiles-and-iran-intel that the NCRI on its own doesn’t appear to have produced a whole lot of actionable intelligence on Iran.
To an extent, though, I guess one can excuse people for thinking differently. After all, The Decider himself “said in March 2004”:http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2005/03/20050316-3.html that Iran’s nuclear program “became discovered, not because of their compliance with the IAEA or NPT, but because a dissident group pointed it out to the world…”
Anyway, it’s worth noting an additional item in the Hibbs article that Jeffrey cites: the IAEA didn’t seem to know much about what was in the buildings at Natanz.
The IAEA was concerned about reasserting its rights to return to the Natanz site, one official said, because the information available suggests that ”it will be a number of years at least” before an enrichment plant could be operable there, and before what appear to be buildings built for hosting cascade halls for centrifuge uranium enrichment would be filled with machines. The construction of a heavy water plant at Arak is said to be somewhat farther along.
The IAEA in February ”must get inside the buildings at Natanz,” one Vienna official said. But because there is a possibility they are empty, he asserted ElBaradei is taking a certain political risk in going there, regardless of whether Iran has told the IAEA it can return to Natanz. ”What will he or can he say to the world after he has seen it?” the Vienna official asked.
This jibes with some reporting I did at the time. I wrote “in this _ACT_ piece”:http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2003_04/iran_apr03.asp that
bq. IAEA officials were â€œtaken abackâ€ by the advanced state of an Iranian gas centrifuge uranium-enrichment facility at a complex at Natanz during a February visit, according to a U.S. State Department official interviewed March 20 .
This seems to make sense – the US IC may have provided some procurement data to the IAEA and told them about the structures in question. But it’s entirely possible that the US didn’t know how far the Iranians had gotten – or at least didn’t bother to voice their concerns to the IAEA.
One other relevant item… Hassan Rowhani, formerly Iranâ€™s lead nuclear negotiator, talked about Western countries’ discovery of Iran’s enrichment program in a “2004 speech:”:http://www.armscontrolwonk.com/file_download/30
bq. With regard to Natanz and how it was discovered, there were a number of things. The monafeqin [NCRI/MeK] also played a role here. They collected information through different channels. First, they had comings and goings in the area of Natanz and found out that something was going on there. They even got close to this area (the same area where Dr… [as published] pointed out that they wanted to build a silo to store wheat). They went there, taken pictures, and collected information. They also obtained information from some individuals via the telephone. Thus, unfortunately, information was exposed. In addition, one or two employees at the [Iranian] Atomic Energy Agency were spies for other countries. That is to say, they had taken pictures at the digging site and during the subsequent stages of construction. They [the West] collected information thorough various channels, including by satellite, and one of those channels was the monafeqin.
The problem with NCRI and other dissendent groups is that youâ€™ll never get any intelligence from them that doesnâ€™t somehow support their objectives. We saw this with Curveball and the Iraqi dissident movement and even Kuwaitiâ€™s after Iraqâ€™s invasion. Remember the baby incubators?
Dissident groups often advertise they have unique access to sources inside a country, and sometimes they actually do, but they information they provide must always be viewed with a great degree of skepticism.
It seems rather surprising that the US were not aware of how far the Iranians had gotten, however as you mentioned, this certainly is a possibility. Having said this, isnâ€™t this justification then, that it is high-time the IAEA acquired a more independent means of verification and safeguards, rather than relying (and waiting) on information from its member states?
Is this the same NCRI that the US state department has designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization?