Jeffrey LewisNCRI Still Didn't Discover Natanz

I hope readers are enjoying having James and Andy around — with Iran on the front burner and Jane knee-deep in textbooks and problems sets, I figured I could use the help.

Among other things, this frees me up to focus on my pet peeves — if one can one have multiple pet peeves.

Former DNI John Negroponte made an offhand remark to PBS about the role of opposition groups in blowing the cover on Iran’s then-clandestine facilities at Natanz and Arak:

… Iran had previously concealed its enrichment activities, only made them public once they had been revealed by sources inside of Iran who are opposed to the regime.

(Keep in mind, Negroponte wasn’t DNI at the time of the revelation — he became DNI in April 2005.)

Anyway, NCRI put out a press release declaring that Negroponte: Iran’s Uranium enrichment first revealed by Iranian Resistance.

Well, not quite. I repeat, as I have before, that:

  • In December 2002, Mark Hibbs reported that the US intelligence community, based on imagery and procurement data, had suspected that Iran was building a clandestine uranium enrichment plant in Natanz and a heavy water production facility in Arak for about a year.
  • Hibbs also reported that six months earlier, in mid 2002, the US briefed the IAEA on the intelligence, providing “precise geographical coordinates of the sites.”
  • When NCRI held its press conference a few weeks later, in August 2002, they misidentified the purpose of the Natanz facility as a fuel production plant.
  • In December 2002, Corey Hinderstein, then with the Institute for Science and International Secruity, was the first person to publicly identify Natanz as a gas centrifuge facility.

You can look it up.


  1. Corey Hinderstein

    Thanks for the props, Jeff. It bugs me every time I see it. They were close, and NCRI’s info led me to Natanz, but they did not identify it correctly.

    Credit should go also to David Albright, since after I found the site on satellite photos we worked together to ID it as a centrifuge plant.

  2. AHM (History)

    ElBaradei verified that the IAEA had known since June 2002 in December 2002 (presumably due to the US intel briefing).

    See Dareini, Ali Akbar. 2002. Iran to invite U.N. atomic experts to visit two nuclear plants.
    Associated Press, December 14.

  3. John Bragg (History)

    As a paranoid hawk, I’m really happy to hear that our spooks discovered the Natanz facility.

    That said, it was still the MEK terrorists who made it public.

    If the US had a secret X-bomb program which Russian intelligence knew about, and Lyndon Larouche held a press conference and came up with evidence of the X-bomb program, it would be true to say that “The X-bomb was secret until revealed by Larouche”

    (Apologies if this is a double post.)

  4. hass (History)

    Oh, and Iran invited the IAEA inspectors to visit Iran’s uranium mines in 1993. Gee, what do you suppose they were were doing mining uranium . . . paperweights? Doorstops? Fishing sinkers? What sort of a “hidden” enrichment program announces itself on Iranian radio as early as 1982, when the discovery of uranium and plans for enrichment were discussed with Iran’s Atomic Energy Agency director?

  5. hass (History)

    The overlooked fact is that Iran informed the IAEA of its UCF in 2000, and Iran’s plans to obtain enrichment capability were known for decades before then (The French had a contract to build at Isfahan before the revolution) Iran informed the IAEA of its plans to build the facilities when the Chinese pulled out of their agreement under US pressure in 1996. Iran’s enrichment plans were not a secret, ever.

    (Correspondent) Had we notified the agency of our UCF activities? ———-
    (Dr Sa’idi) Yes, in the year 2000, during the digging operation for the UCF project in Esfahan, Mr ElBaradei visited the site and there we officially told Mr ElBaradei we were planning to establish the UCF factory in this place that the Chinese were supposed to build, but didn’t. In fact, we informed the Agency about the project nine months prior to the date that the safeguard agreement required us to announce this facility to the agency.
    There is also another point that I should tell you about the UCF project. In the contract we had concluded with the Chinese for building the UCF project, they were supposed to complete the project and transfer it to us within 11 years, from 1372 to 1383 (1993 to 2004). But once we started the work ourselves, we gave the operational rules and procedural instructions to the workgroups in late 1379 (early 2001) and we began to put the project into operation in late 1382 (early 2004). The operational phases were completely done in Khordad 1383 (May-June 2004) and the inauguration of this project was in Shahrivar 1383 (August-September 2004). In other words, the entire work took about four years in total. Here I should point out the caring management of Engineer Aqazadeh, as well as the competent management of Dr Qannadi, the organization’s deputy for fuel production, who was one of the pillars of research on the UCF project.

    SOURCE: Dr Sa’idi Views Technical History of Iran’s Nuclear Activities Since 1970
    Interview with Dr Mohammad Sa’idi, the Atomic Energy Organization’s Deputy for Planning and International Affairs
    KEYHAN Wednesday, April 27, 2005 T12:20:58Z
    FBIS Translated Text