Iran Already Sanitizing Nuclear
Site, Intel Warns
By Eli Lake and Josh Rogin
August 5, 2015
intelligence community has informed Congress of evidence that Iran was
sanitizing its suspected nuclear military site at Parchin, in broad daylight,
days after agreeing to a nuclear deal with world powers.
lawmakers in both parties, the evidence calls into question Iran’s intention
to fully account for the possible military dimensions of its current and past
nuclear development. The International Atomic Energy Agency and Iran have a side
agreement meant to resolve past suspicions about the Parchin site, and
lawmakers' concerns about it has already become a flashpoint because they do not
have access to its text.
officials and lawmakers who have seen the new evidence, which is still
classified, told us that satellite imagery picked up by U.S. government assets
in mid- and late July showed that Iran had moved bulldozers and other heavy
machinery to the Parchin site and that the U.S. intelligence community concluded
with high confidence that the Iranian government was working to clean up the
site ahead of planned inspections by the IAEA.
intelligence community shared its findings with lawmakers and some Congressional
staff late last week, four people who have seen the evidence told us. The Office
of the Director of National Intelligence briefed lawmakers about the evidence
Monday, three U.S. senators said.
familiar with it,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr told us
Tuesday. “I think it’s up to the administration to draw their conclusions.
Hopefully this is something they will speak on, since it is in many ways
verified by commercial imagery. And their actions seem to be against the grain
of the agreement.”
Iran’s activities at Parchin complicate the work of the IAEA inspectors who
are set to examine the site in the coming months. IAEA's director general,
Yukiya Amano, was in Washington on Wednesday to brief lawmakers behind closed
doors about the side agreements.
certainly not going to see the site that existed. Whether that’s a site that
can be determined what it did, only the technical experts can do that,” Burr
said. “I think it’s a huge concern.”
intelligence official, when asked about the satellite imagery, told us the IAEA
was also familiar with what he called "sanitization efforts" since the
deal was reached in Vienna, but that the U.S. government and its allies had
confidence that the IAEA had the technical means to detect past nuclear work
administration official explained that this was in part because any trace
amounts of enriched uranium could not be fully removed between now and Oct.
15, the deadline for Iran to grant access and answer remaining questions from
the IAEA about Parchin.
Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker told us Tuesday that while Iran’s
activity at Parchin last month isn’t technically a violation of the agreement
it signed with the U.S. and other powers, it does call into question Iran’s
intention to be forthright about the possible military dimensions of its nuclear
briefing was troubling to me … some of the things that are happening,
especially happening in such a blatant way," he said. "Iran is going
to know that we know.” He added the new information gave him "a lot of
concerns" about Iran coming clean on military dimensions of its nuclear
the overall nuclear agreement, sanctions relief for Iran can come only after the
IAEA and Iran resolve their outstanding concerns about possible military
dimensions of past and current work. But the agreement does not specify how the
issue must be resolved, only that it be resolved to the IAEA’s satisfaction.
lawmakers, including Democrats, are concerned that Iran will be able to collect
its own soil samples at Parchin with only limited supervision, a practice
several lawmakers have compared to giving suspected drug users the benefit of
the doubt to submit specimens unsupervised. Iran’s sanitization of the site
further complicates that verification.
Senator Chris Coons, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, told us
Tuesday that this area is part of why he is undecided on supporting the Iran
concerns about the vigorous efforts by Iran to sanitize Parchin,” he said.
“I’ve gotten some reassurance about how difficult it is for them to
effectively conceal what we know to have been their illicit nuclear weapons
Coons said he
was most concerned about the integrity of the IAEA inspection process going
forward and not as concerned about figuring out what happened in the site in the
past: “We know what the Iranians did at Parchin.”
Albright, the president of the Institute for Science and International Security,
obtained a commercially available image of the Parchin site taken by satellites
on July 26 that shows renewed activity at the Parchin site. He told us there are
two new large vehicles, alterations ongoing to roofs of two of the buildings and
new structures near two of the buildings.
“You have to
worry that this could be an attempt by Iran to defeat the sampling, that it’s
Iran’s last-ditch effort to eradicate evidence there,” he said. “The day
is coming when they are going to have to let the IAEA into Parchin, so they may
be desperate to finish sanitizing the site.”
outside of Tehran, first came to the attention of the international community in
2004 when news reports surfaced that it was being used to test explosives for a
A 2007 U.S.
National Intelligence Assessment concluded that Iran halted this kind of work in
2003. Between 2005 and today, Iran has allowed IAEA inspectors access to Parchin
-- a vast complex with dozens of buildings -- on only five occasions. In
2012, Abright’s group reported
on satellite imagery that it said showed efforts to clean up evidence of an
explosives testing chamber there.
Ed Royce, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said
that Amano had told him in recent conversations that the IAEA had
"thousands of pages of documentations on tests to weaponize a nuclear
device." Royce added, "For a long time, they have been altering
The IAEA has
documented this as well. The agency's report
from May 29 this year said there was satellite imagery of vehicles,
equipment and "probable construction materials" at Parchin. The report
said, "The activities that have taken place at this location since February
2012 are likely to have undermined the Agency’s ability to conduct effective
State John Kerry has said that the U.S. government has “absolute
knowledge” about what Iran has done in the past. Ahead of the vote on the
agreement next month, many lawmakers don't share Kerry's confidence. Iran would
seem to have its doubts as well, since it's still trying to cover its tracks.