U.S. Using Iran Inspections to Tweak Targeting in Event of “Military Option”

In an act of blatant bad faith, the United States used IAEA inspections of Iran to improve its targeting capability should it ever decide to attack Iran. Pictured: Chief nuclear negotiators U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. (Photo: Yahoo News)

In an act of blatant bad faith, the United States used IAEA inspections of Iran to improve its targeting capability should it ever decide to attack Iran. Pictured: Chief nuclear negotiators U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. (Photo: Yahoo News)

On July 17, perhaps unintentionally, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest revealed America’s dirty secret about the JCPOA, more commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal.

The military option would remain on the table, but the fact is, that military option would be enhanced because we’d been spending the intervening number of years gathering significantly more detail about Iran’s nuclear program. So when it comes to the targeting decisions that would be made by military officials either in Israel or the United States, those targeting decisions would be significantly informed, and our capabilities improved, based on the knowledge that has been gained in the intervening years through this inspections regime.

It’s startling to hear the White House sounding this hawkish on the heels of the Iran nuclear deal. It’s obviously bending over backwards to assure Republicans that, in the event of violations it dubs serious, the United States is still willing to attack Iran’s nuclear sites. True, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini panders to his hard right, as well. But, lurking in Earnest’s statement is a revelation that rubs one of the sorest spots in U.S.-Iran relations and, as well, is probably illegal under international law. To wit:

… based on the knowledge that has been gained in the intervening years through this inspections regime.

Did Earnest think — or just not care — that Iran wouldn’t notice? Bear in mind that Iran’s main stated rationale for opposing IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) inspections of military facilities is to keep characteristics of its national security that had nothing to do with its alleged development of nuclear weapons to itself, which is perfectly legal. Actually, what Earnest said is doubly inflammatory:

First, we may not have gained access to your military secrets, but we know enough about your nuclear program to know your vulnerabilities.

Second, and maybe even worse, we essentially used the IAEA to spy on you.

The second — a nightmare of Iran’s come true — is not Iranian paranoia. The United States has not only used United Nations inspections to its own ends before, but admitted it. As early as 1999, reported Tim Weiner for the New York Times at the time:

United States officials said today that American spies had worked undercover on teams of United Nations arms inspectors ferreting out secret Iraqi weapons programs.

Iraq has long condemned the inspectors as tools of American intelligence. In October it issued a statement saying it would never cooperate with United Nations teams riddled with ”American spies and agents.”

How did Iran react to Earnest’s statement? The IAEA issued what it calls an Information Circular reporting that it received a letter addressed to Director General Yukiya Amano, dated July 25, from Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, Reza Najafi, which began with the first quote above. (Thanks to nuclear physicist Yousaf Butt of BASIC [British American Security Information Council] for bringing the letter and information circular to our attention.)

Najafi begins by pointing out the obvious:

The threat or use of force under any circumstances except in self-defense is a violation of the fundamental principles of international law and the Charter of the United Nations.


These statements amount to a material breach of the commitments just undertaken by all JCPOA participants that:

Requests for access pursuant to provisions of this JCPOA will be made in good faith, with due observance of the sovereign rights of Iran, and kept to the minimum necessary to effectively implement the verification responsibilities under this JCPOA.

As alluded to above, Najafi wrote:

In line with normal international safeguards practice, such requests will not be aimed at interfering with Iranian military or other national security activities.

Additionally, this statement jeopardizes the role of the IAEA under the JCPOA which provides that, “in implementing this procedure as well as other transparency measures, the IAEA will be requested to take every precaution to protect commercial, technological and industrial secrets as well as other confidential information coming to its knowledge.” Furthermore, the statement and the information it is referring to, can only be gained in grave contravention of the principle of confidentiality regarding all information related to the implementation of safeguards.

Najafi continues:

Recalling the past instances, in which highly confidential information provided by the Islamic Republic of Iran to the Agency inspectors had been leaked, posing a grave threat to the national security of Iran, and also bearing in mind the assassination of several Iranian nuclear scientists and sabotage incidents in the Iranian nuclear facilities, it is absolutely essential and imperative for the Agency to take immediate and urgent action to reject such flagrant abuses which undermine the credibility of the Agency, cause irreparable damage to its impartiality and impede its work in general and with regard to its activities in Iran in particular.

Tough to argue with that. Meanwhile, speaking of leaks, Butt also alerted us to this WikiLeaks cable from 2011 in which then-IAEA Deputy Director General for Safeguards Olli Heinonen reaffirmed to U.S. Ambassador Glyn Davies, permanent representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations Office in Vienna  “the IAEA’s long-term willingness to participate with the U.S. in a joint effort to maintain a database of global signatures of uranium yellowcake (and other forms of uranium).”

You may be wondering what’s wrong with that. But the summary of the cable brings this post full circle (emphasis added):

Finally, Heinonen reaffirmed his previous request to treat with discretion the knowledge of the close U.S.-IAEA collaboration on this database, given that the Agency is providing the USG with information on the origins of samples that it would not share with other member states.

Meanwhile, Heinonen has a history of using misleading statements to subvert a nuclear deal with Iran. On July 28 at Truthout, Gareth Porter provided us with some examples, which include this:

In testimony before the House Financial Services Committee last week, Heinonen claimed such a cleanup of an Iranian site to frustrate IAEA inspection had occurred in 2003 and had “left no traces to be detected through environmental sampling.”

But the one documented case of Iranian efforts to defeat environmental sampling through cleanup of a site, which did occur in 2003, contradicts that claim as well. It involved an effort by Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization to remove all traces of the introduction of uranium hexafluoride (UF6) into centrifuges at Kalaye Electric Company by putting in a new floor and painting the walls. And contrary to Heinonen’s claim that the cleanup left nothing that could be detected by environmental sampling, the IAEA did detect the uranium particles. The IAEA’s laboratory was capable of identifying uranium down to one trillionth of a gram.

If Heinonen wasn’t aware of the capabilities of the IAEA lab, his authority as an “expert witness” becomes questionable. If he was, he’s a liar.