Iran In Brief

INR’s Flawed Assumptions?

INR’s Flawed Assumptions? photo

August 12, 2009

The Federation of American Scientists posted this week a series of Qs and As obtained via a FOIA request that the group made of answers submitted for the record by Dennis Blair, Director of National Intelligence.  The questions were taken during Blair’s February 12, 2009 testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee in April 2009 and were answered by the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research.  Many of them concern Afghanistan, Pakistan, al Qaeda and the war on terror.  Question nine, however, asks in relevant part “What did you mean by Iran being ‘technically capable of producing’ (sufficient quantities of HEU for a bomb by 2013)?”  And, “Has Iran not already mastered the technology to be able to produce HEU for a nuclear weapon if it chooses to do so?”

The answer states that “INR shares the Intelligence Community’s (IC’s) assessment that Iran probably would use military-run covert facilities rather than declared nuclear sites to produce HEU.  Outfitting a covert enrichment infrastructure could take years” (emphasis added).  The answer also adds that the IC has no evidence that Iran has made the decision to produce HEU and that it is unlikely to take such a decision so long as international scrutiny and pressure persist.

This answer strikes ISIS as being remarkably short on substance and long on assumptions.  We happen to agree that Iran is more likely to pursue a covert route to HEU production and have said so here.  But it is not clear at all why it would take Iran so long to build and equip a covert enrichment facility.  After all, between January 2006 and January 2008, Iran went from operating a single cascade of 164 centrifuges to 18 cascades consisting of just under 3,000 centrifuges.

It is also important to understand that the IAEA has not had access to Iranian workshops and factories for centrifuge production since late 2005 when Iran stopped voluntarily adhering to the Additional Protocol.  It is simply unknown how many centrifuges Iran has been producing in the last four years.  Perhaps INR explains the basis for its conclusions further in classified testimony.  Based on its answers in this document however, we are not reassured that the INR 2013 timetable reflects the full range of possibilities.

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