Jeffrey LewisIs the Laptop of Death Bogus?

Turns out some IAEA officials think the purloined laptop that the US has been shopping as evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program is a fake, at least in part because all the files are in English.

The laptop’s contents have been extensively detailed in the press (see: Linzer, Sanger, and Shannon) and briefed to the IAEA.

Now, Julian Borger casts a little doubt in The Guardian on what we’ve come to call “the laptop of death” here at ACW:

One particularly contentious issue concerned records of plans to build a nuclear warhead, which the CIA said it found on a stolen laptop computer supplied by an informant inside Iran. In July 2005, US intelligence officials showed printed versions of the material to IAEA officials, who judged it to be sufficiently specific to confront Iran.

Tehran rejected the material as forgeries and there are still reservations about its authenticity in the IAEA, according to officials with knowledge of the internal debate inside the agency.

“First of all, if you have a clandestine programme, you don’t put it on laptops which can walk away,” one official said. “The data is all in English which may be reasonable for some of the technical matters, but at some point you’d have thought there would be at least some notes in Farsi. So there is some doubt over the provenance of the computer.”

I’ve said it once and I will say it again: The United States is going to look fantastically stupid if the laptop story turns out to be bogus.

Borger also cites informed sources in Vienna claiming “most of the tip-offs about supposed secret weapons sites … US intelligence agencies have led to dead ends when investigated by IAEA inspectors …”

Still no word on whether the Iranian nuclear program is Mac or PC.


  1. Tim (History)

    “if you have a clandestine programme, you don’t put it on laptops”

    Whoever said this doesn’t know what they are talking about. Laptops are commonly used for sensitive information, because they can easily be stored in safes when not in use. This reduces the risk of someone slipping custom hardware into your computer, which is a risk if you use removable harddrives.

  2. Mike (History)

    Any chance it has the Los Alamos thumbdrive attached?

  3. spacemanafrica

    The documents recieved by Libya from the A. Q. Khan network and subsequently turned over in the same Pakistani shopping bags they were delivered in were almost all in english.

    It would also help to know more about this laptop. It could have been for just about any purpose from acting as simply a good container with which to smuggle these documents out of Iran to a working group laptop that should have slept under lock and key to a CIA plant. Someone should make a note to file a FOIA in a decade or two.

  4. Rwendland (History)

    A LA Times article also points out the laptop had “two pages describing research on uranium tetrafluoride”, but Iran already produces tons of uranium tetrafluoride monitored by the IAEA. Iran claims this research report is “nonsense”:,0,4451045.story?page=1&coll=la-home-headlines