Jeffrey LewisSafeguards v. EXPO

Well, I guess Mark Hibbs isn’t going to be getting a building pass to the VIC.

That VIC, of course, is the Vienna International Center, home to the IAEA. Hibbs has a long piece on the vicious infighting within the IAEA over whether to release information collected by the IAEA documenting alleged weaponization activities by Iran (“Iran plant disclosure may prompt IAEA to focus on weapons data,” Nucleonics Week 50:39, October 1, 2009, pp 1, 12-14).

Although the proximate cause of the fight is one or more of three documents drafted by the Department of Safeguards and disputed by Department of External Relations and Policy Coordination (EXPO), Hibbs details how this particular fight is the culmination of a series of disputes that reflect the profound differences in background, mission and temperament:

In the interest of leadership continuity, some delegates to the IAEA General Conference held last month said that IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei, who leaves the IAEA at the end of November, should raise the Iran weaponization allegations at the November board meeting before he is succeeded by Yukiya Amano, a Japanese diplomat. “If ElBaradei takes the initiative on this it will be easier for Amano to manage it afterwards,” one delegate said.

During preparations by the IAEA and the board for a routine board meeting held last month, sources close to the IAEA said that senior officials in two departments, responsible for verification and diplomacy, respectively, had strongly disagreed over whether data obtained by the IAEA concerning alleged nuclear weaponization activities by Iran is authentic. That disagreement, the sources suggested, prevented the IAEA secretariat from reporting the allegations in detail to the board in September.


Officials at the Department of External Relations and Policy Coordination, or Expo, which is the diplomatic arm of the agency, have raised concerns that evidence may be faked, as Iran has charged.

Both IAEA departments are routinely involved in collective decision making about what the IAEA reports on a quarterly basis to the board of governors about an ongoing investigation into Iran’s nuclear program. That probe was prompted in 2003 by IAEA findings that Iran had repeatedly failed to disclose nuclear activities.

In recent years the two departments have differed about how to handle sensitive allegations that member states have been engaged in activities that would constitute safeguards violations. According to officials from IAEA board member states, these cases included South Korea (NW, 2 Dec. ’04, 12) and, last year, Syria. After the US and Israel in 2008 claimed that Syria had built an undeclared reactor, Expo officials argued that the IAEA had no mandate to request a special inspection in Syria; officials in other departments disagreed (NW, 9 Oct. ’08, 4).

Since 2003, when the IAEA determined that evidence brought forth by the US suggesting Iraq had resumed nuclear weapons work was fabricated, officials at Expo and at the Office of the Director General have been wary that the US has tried to manipulate the IAEA during its investigation of Iran, according to officials from IAEA states.

Golly, the IAEA can’t enjoy having its linens washed in public.

Safeguards v. EXPO is a little like the Beatles or the Stones, Blur or Oasis, and — where I grew up — Cubs or Cardinals. (For the record: Beatles, Blur, Cubs.) The two bodies are represented by two, um, strong-willed figures: Olli Heinonen, a Finn, and Tariq Rauf, a Pakistani-born Canadian.

On the other hand, this is more serious than normal, healthy sparring. Internal dissension is the predictable result of suppressing information that deeply divides the Agency between Safeguards and EXPO. Having a Director-General with one foot out the door — note that Hibbs reports ElBaradei isn’t back in Vienna until October 5 — doesn’t help, either.

Long knives and leaks

The ongoing war between Safeguards and EXPO is quite nasty. You remember the allegations that Tariq Rauf was a Russian spy? I don’t place any credence in such allegations. I am uncomfortable even mentioning them because they seem so obviously intended to slander by those who bring them up. But the fact is, when you hear cracks about someone being handled from Moscow Centre, you know the long knives are out.

Nasty internal fights also produce lots of leaks.

After the initial rounds of reports by Reuters Louis Charboneau and AP’s George Jahn that a report on Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons experiments “has been sitting in a drawer” at the IAEA “for close to a year,” the IAEA issued a strongly worded rebuttal.

Not long after, a “Vienna-based diplomatic source close to the IAEAtold
Gareth Porter that the “documents … have not met [ElBaradei’s] rigorous standards of evidence.”

Golly, I wonder which side that might be.

Now, someone has provided Hibbs “some information” on the document in question. Some very, very specific information:

Earlier this month, Platts was provided some information given by IAEA states to the agency on Iran’s alleged R&D activities. If the information is authentic, it would imply that since the mid-1980s and until a few years ago, Iran’s civilian nuclear energy development program, including its uranium enrichment program, has at times been linked with organizations and individuals in Iran involved in carrying out nuclear weaponization studies, experiments, and procurement work.

The information obtained by the IAEA establishes a chronology of both alleged military and civilian nuclear activities and procurement beginning in 1984 until the middle of this decade. The information is specific to locations, organizations, and individuals in Iran. Some data investigated by the IAEA suggests that Iran’s top political leadership was apprised of certain activities and that some activities that would be appropriate for a nuclear weapons research program appear to have coincided with acute concern about external military threats faced by Iran. The data also appears consistent with US intelligence conclusions that by about 2003, Iran had shelved nuclear weapons-related activities.

Platts has agreed not to reveal any details of these allegations. The evidence is included in two official IAEA confidential documents compiled by the Department of Safeguards. The data was derived from numerous sources, including information that the IAEA obtained on its own in Iran and that some officials believe to be authentic, according to sources. Sources close to the matter said last month that the IAEA’s information on alleged weaponization activities goes beyond data previously obtained by US intelligence from a laptop computer in Iran and thereafter provided to the IAEA. The authenticity and significance of the laptop data has been widely debated, both inside and outside the IAEA, sources said.

Golli, I wonder which side that might be.


  1. Tom F (History)

    I wonder how long the internal divides will take to repair once El Baradei leaves.

    Or even if they’re in fact repairable at all which would bode ill for the IAEA’s ability to conduct it’s job.

  2. blowback (History)

    And this is supposed to be news?

    Already, there are reports of internal fissures within the agency with respect to Iran, reflected in the fact that some agency inspectors boycotted the last presentation by ElBaradei’s deputy, Olli Heinonen, regarding the evidence on Iran’s “alleged studies”. Heinonen has displayed an uncanny propensity to adopt at face value any tidbit of disinformation on Iran and, as a result, it would be nothing short of a national security risk for Iran to comply with the IAEA’s unreasonable demand cited above.

    From The Asia Times of a year ago.

  3. archjr (History)

    The article in the Asia Times was as wrong last year as it is now, and those who continue to deny outright Iran’s alleged weapons program do so with as little information as those who are convinced there’s a smoking bomb factory under every tree or mountain. You can only prove a negative using math I never understood, but this has not kept the inspectorate from trying, to their credit, based on the paltry and conflicting barrage of “reliable” information from Iran and elsewhere. The Agency loses either way, since those who are convinced of absolute truth attack them mercilessly for not reaching the same conclusion.

    DDG Heinonen is one of the most cautious and diligent people I ever met, and the men and women who work for him share his independence of thought and action, for the most part. This in spite of the political puffery and shenanigans that pervade the Agency at all levels, courtesy of member states with an axe to grind. My work at the Agency was one of the worst bureaucratic nightmares I ever had, but I got to do it with some of the best and brightest people I ever met.

    Internal fissures within the Agency are nothing new; they have existed from preparatory talks to create it to the present day. EXPO’s mission and responsibilities differ from safeguards in important ways, and there has always been a (mostly friendly) tension between them, now exacerbated by the surfeit of heat and lack of light sometimes found on these and other pages over Iran in particular.

  4. Don Williams (History)

    1) The New York Times put out a highly misleading article yesterday titled “Report Says Iran Has Data to Make Bomb”. That sounds highly alarming to the average American reader —who doesn’t know that info on making a simple U235 gun bomb has been out there for decades.

    2) At the same time, the NY Times article is so vague that it can’t be challenged on the facts. Because there are none.

    3) At the very end of the two page article, the Times acknowledges that it is probably being manipulated into supporting a political fight within IAEA (see Jeffrey’s explanation above ) but then goes alone with the scam anyway.

    4) The whole purpose of tossing this football up in the air evidently being to let the usual suspects (cough Lindsey Graham cough) pound the table over the need to get tough and have the US Congress set aside an Iran Week to address this undefined but very ominious threat.

    5) I am all for swatting Iran if the intel shows that it is necessary — but shouldn’t the press force the leakers and politicans to submit some hard information before letting them do their little Kabuki dances?

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