U.S. Officials Found Clues
Revealing Iran Nuclear Site
Washington DC. September 28, 2009. Seven years ago, when Iran revealed
the existence of its first secret uranium enrichment site at Natanz,
U.S. intelligence agencies had a hunch it wouldn't be Iran's last
attempt to illicitly produce fuel that might one day power a nuclear
So the agencies started looking and, several years ago, hit pay dirt,
literally: It pinpointed a second site hidden inside a mountain near
Qom, a Shi'ite holy city and a religious nerve center of the Iranian
regime, according to U.S. officials.
There were multiple streams of intelligence that proved fruitful, but
one clear sign produced by spy satellites was the telltale digging of
underground facilities, said a senior U.S. intelligence official. That
official and other administration officials spoke on condition of
anonymity to discuss the sensitive information.
U.S., British and French intelligence agencies had been sitting on their
evolving intelligence for several years, waiting for construction at the
site to progress far enough to prove Iran intended to use it for illegal
weapons work. In recent months, Obama administration officials said,
equipment had been moved into the new site, making the case against Iran
The underground facility, a cluster of 3,000 connected centrifuges, was
within a few months of being completed when Iran made the surprise
disclosure of the site on Monday to the International Atomic Energy
Agency, the nuclear watchdog.
A senior administration official said Saturday that Tehran made the
disclosure because it learned the site had been discovered.
The Iranians' disclosure triggered a fast-moving chain of events,
leading to a series of secret intelligence briefings about the
enrichment site last week by U.S. officials to Russian and Chinese
leaders in New York, the IAEA in Vienna and congressional leaders in
The administration had intended to confront the Iranians about the
secret site later this year, but Tehran's sudden disclosure forced their
hand. Now the administration hopes to use the new site as leverage to
win a commitment from Iran to abandon its nuclear program or face severe
new economic sanctions.
Diplomacy and economic pressure are the intended way ahead. Defense
Secretary Robert Gates said Sunday that a military strike against Iran's
nuclear infrastructure would be ineffectual, delaying Iran's program by
one to three years at most.
"This is part of a pattern of deception and lies on the part of the
Iranians from the very beginning with respect to their nuclear program.
So it's no wonder that world leaders think that they have ulterior
motives, that they have a plan to go forward with nuclear weapons.
Otherwise, why would they do all this in such a deceptive manner?" Gates
said Sunday in an interview on ABC's "This Week."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Sunday that Iran has until
Thursday to agree to inspections and voluntarily halt its hidden nuclear
program, or the United States and its allies will seek crippling
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.,
said Sunday that Tehran's intention to produce weapons-grade uranium in
the Qom facility has not yet been proven, but the indications are
Clinton spoke on CBS' "Face the Nation." Feinstein appeared on "Fox News
U.S. officials said the site was secret and guarded by elite Iranian
troops. And there are too few centrifuges to play a meaningful role in
Iran's civilian energy program.
However, there are enough centrifuges to refine a small amount of
uranium suitable for a warhead, according to U.S. intelligence and
President Barack Obama and his senior aides began moving quickly to deal
with Iran's disclosure on Tuesday night in New York as they readied for
the United Nations General Assembly meeting and sessions with world
Obama and the U.S. officials debated into the night over what
intelligence they could share with the IAEA and other U.S. allies, as
well as China and Russia. The two superpowers wield considerable
influence over Iran, and their support would be needed to win U.N.
Security Council sanctions. China, particularly, supplies Iran with
equipment and technology for its oil and gas industry.
Obama personally informed Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on
Wednesday. Lower-level American and Russian officials discussed the
matter throughout the day Thursday. White House officials told their
Chinese counterparts on Wednesday.
Also Wednesday, IAEA officials in New York were briefed about the site,
followed by a detailed briefing delivered in Vienna on Thursday
At the same time, White House officials began briefing House and Senate
leaders and key committee members.
The United States, France and United Kingdom went public with their
intelligence on the Iranian site on Friday.
Iran maintains the Qom facility is an experimental site for its civilian
nuclear program. Iran is bound by an IAEA agreement to disclose new
nuclear sites when construction begins. But Iran declared in March 2007
that it rejected that IAEA requirement.
Iran says its new site is meant to produce uranium refined to contain 5
percent of the radioactive isotope U-235, well below the 90 percent
needed to fuel a warhead.
The centrifuges at the original Iranian site at Natanz produce about two
kilograms a day of low-enriched uranium suitable for fueling a civilian
nuclear reactor. Iran has accumulated about 1,400 kilograms of
Depending on the design, a warhead needs 12 to 25 kilograms of highly
enriched uranium, but U.S. intelligence has reported that Iran has not
yet produced any highly enriched uranium.
The U.S. government continues to stand by its judgment from 2007 that
Iran could have a nuclear bomb within one to five years.