Robert Kelley: Latest IAEA report recycles old intelligence and is meant to bolster hard liners
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. On November 17 and 18 in Vienna, the governing board of the International Atomic Energy Agency will be meeting to consider a new report by the agency which strongly suggests there is a weapons program, nuclear weapons program ongoing in Iran. It’s expected the United States will push for a condemnation of this program and use this as fodder to have tougher sanctions against Iran at the United Nations. The question is: in this–is this new report new? Is there anything in it that actually changes the current thinking about just the state of the Iranian nuclear program? Now joining us to deconstruct the new report is Robert Kelley. Robert is a nuclear engineer who carried out IAEA inspections in different countries throughout the world, including Iraq. He worked at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in the United States. He’s currently a senior research fellow at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. And he joins us from Vienna. Thanks for joining us, Robert.
ROBERT KELLEY, NUCLEAR ENGINEER, FORMER IAEA INSPECTOR: Good to see you.
JAY: So, first of all, the debate about the Iranian program seems to fall more or less into two camps. One camp says they’re seeking knowledge, but there’s no evidence–and, again, there’s a demand by this camp for actual evidence, rather than just sort of speculation–there’s no evidence of a active weapons program. The other camp which one hears from, certainly led by Israel, but you hear from the American administration, but maybe not its intelligence agencies, says that in fact there is an active program and that this report proves it. So my question to you to start with: is there anything new in this report? Have they actually proved such a thing?
KELLEY: Well, there’s very little new in the report. I was really quite surprised. It was a week’s worth of hype before the report came out. There were many leaks of details that were going to be in the report, notably a couple [incompr.] And then when the report came out, it was really watered down. So we know that a lot of people in the Washington area and around the world were benefiting from leaks of information. They had lots more detail than was in this report. And yet the report itself didn’t bring it out. Because the report is numbered, I went through and looked paragraph by paragraph at the technical pages, and if you look paragraph by paragraph, the majority of things that are mentioned have been mentioned in the press, in news articles, have been debated, going back as far as 2004. So I’m reluctant to say there’s very much new. I found a few new things, and they’re interesting, but there wasn’t much there.
JAY: But one of the things that’s being suggested in the press and by, you know, people speaking on behalf of Israel and the United States, they’re suggesting that maybe it’s not all that new, but that the former head of the IAEA, ElBaradei, was spinning this information sort of in Iran’s favor, and that the new head, Amano, essentially is more telling the truth. I mean, what do you make of that?
KELLEY: Well, if you want to say somebody’s spinning it, I would say that you could argue that either of them was spinning it. The current tack on this is extremely hardline and fairly inappropriate for a UN agency. If I go back to what I’ve been doing, in 2001, 2002 we knew that the drums were beating for war in Iraq, we knew it was probably going to happen, but we took all of the information we had, we analyzed it very, very carefully, we were very thorough, and we put in front of the world that there was no program there prior to the war. And, course, we were ignored and there was a war. But we were at least trying to get the truth out and lean toward the side of peace. The current report is bolstering hardliners by taking information that’s very old that could very well relate to a program that existed that has been canceled, and feeding it as raw meat to people who want to move forward. Look at the last Republican debate.
JAY: Now, some of this what’s supposed to be new or at least supposed to be the smoking gun relates to this computer that the United States has. And it’s kind of eerie, because they had something similar at the time of Iraq. Do these–are these two situations comparable?
KELLEY: Well, the information in the case of Iraq, there were some forgeries regarding Niger. They were very little low quality, amateurish forgeries that were easy to break in a matter of a few hours. We never understood why the US didn’t succeed in doing that. The other information that they had on aluminum tubes was procurement information. It really didn’t have anything to do with something as specific as this laptop. I would hasten to add that–for those of us in the public, anyway–we don’t really know what this source is. Is it a laptop? Is it a DVD? How did it get out of the country? The press has kind of made a story up, and we don’t know how good that story is. We certainly know that there is a digital file, because we see videos coming off of that file, but we don’t know if it’s a laptop or what it is.
JAY: So if you go into the kind of argument here that the American national intelligence estimate that came out a couple of years ago said that there was an active program pre-2003, but there’s no evidence of an active program that they could verify after 2003. Now, this new IAEA report, one of the things it talks about is this Ukrainian scientist, and that he, they say, was somehow, because of his expertise in explosives, I think, or triggering explosives for nanodiamonds that could be applied to nuclear weapons, this is sort of the proof that there was a program pre-2003, although I–in asking you of your opinion of that piece of this, I’m not sure how relevant it is, seeing it’s all pre-2003 anyway. But what is the story of this scientist?
KELLEY: Well, Paul, if I can take the two things that you mentioned, I would say I was a skeptic in 2007 when the national intelligence came out and said everything has stopped. That’s not the kind of conclusion that it’s easy to draw, that something has stopped, that there’s no evidence for it. You may see that the portion you were watching has stopped, but how do you know? It seems like the latest IAEA report is adding a lot of credibility to the NIE and to the second NIE that the program was there in the past, but it seemed to have stopped, because IAEA’s not adding much new to the pile. If you look at the Russian scientist whose name has been leaked–not by the IAEA, so I’m not going to use it here–he’s been known to people in the press and elsewhere for maybe three or four years. So people have been looking at him. They knew about him, and they knew that he was involved with nanodiamonds. But we also know that he published papers with key nuclear weapons scientists at the laboratory where he used to work. There’s not much question he knows a lot about nuclear weapons and diagnosing them. The thing that’s strange is that he was working with these nanodiamonds, so you use explosions inside a sealed container. And there’s a really simple reason you do that: if you’re making diamonds, you want to find them afterwards. These are just industrial diamonds for grinding, things like that. So you do those experiments in a chamber. And somehow the IAEA has connected him to a little chamber, and then maybe to a great big chamber that was installed way back in 2000, so it had to have been designed, probably, in 1998. And then the IAEA says that this container will hold 70 kilograms of explosive blast. But they haven’t done their sums. They didn’t stop and say, well, the bomb, we know how big the bomb is. It was published on the web today. It was published in The Post last week. There’s far more explosive in that bomb than could be contained by this container. So what is it these people are trying to tell us? And, finally, you have to be crazy to do hydrodynamic experiments in a container. There’s no reason to do it. They’re done outdoors. They’re done on firing tables. Iran has plenty of desert. If they wanted to do this, they’d do it outdoors. So we’ve been led by the nose to believe that this container is important when in fact it’s not important at all. It’s highly misleading. And that kind of new information in this report is very distressing.
JAY: So is there anything in this report that justifies all the hullabaloo? Headlines throughout the world, IAEA comes out, more or less says there’s a weapons program is the way the press spun it, and certainly at the levels of the Israeli and American government you’re hearing it that way.
KELLEY: Well, I agree with your assessment. The press has spun it. I don’t think that the IAEA was quite that bad, but they weren’t very careful when putting out a report in the week or two weeks when the drums were beating in Tel Aviv saying that there was thought of bombing Iran. And they put out a report that should have been much more carefully vetted, should have been much more, shall we say, carefully thought out, and that should have been much more technically correct, because when you read this report, you say, there are so many things in it that are just plain wrong that it doesn’t justify anything.
JAY: Now, President Obama and his administration, almost from day one of this administration, has acted as if there never was a national intelligence estimate of his own American intelligence agencies saying there wasn’t, as far as they knew, this program, and continues. Wouldn’t–shouldn’t there be another, a new national intelligence estimate that says, okay, we got it wrong, there is program? Otherwise, how does one explain what President Obama’s saying?
KELLEY: Well, it is a major disconnect. You think the intelligence community is there to give you the very best possible assessment. They work for him, they work for the executive branch. And so if what they’re saying is what they believe, and other people are saying for political reasons [incompr] we don’t agree with this, I think you have to go with the professionals. And in this case the professionals have said twice now they think there was a program, there’s no question about there was a program, but that program ended around 2004. And one of the problems with the IAEA is that they got this great cache of information from the US consisting of thousand of pages, according to their own writing, and that cache of information, they got it around 2004. So they really don’t have much new since 2004. So it may be just a coincidence that their report implies that the program ended in 2004, just ’cause they don’t know anything new.
JAY: Now, you’ve worked at the IAEA. Who’s analyzing this data? How did they come to a report like this, which people like you and many people in the field have been very critical of?
KELLEY: Well, they have a very small team of people. They’re paranoid about leaks because the agency leaks very badly. So they hold it down to a very small team. I would guess on the weaponization you’re talking about two or three people who are working the problem. They don’t have the kind of peer review that you have in the intelligence agency. You don’t have people with broad military background looking at things. So you find things like–in the report, it says that exploding bridge wires are used in nuclear business and not much else. Well, that’s absolutely false, and they’re used in lots of other applications, both military and civil. And you just don’t have people with enough breadth of experience to really get it right.
JAY: This issue of the EBWs, this was a fairly important point in the report, that they could really only be used for nuclear weapons, and you’re saying that’s not true. That’s quite significant, is it not?
KELLEY: Well, certainly. Single EBW’s are used in all kinds of military applications and civil applications. One of the main uses is in the oil fields for perforating pipes [incompr.] shape charges. It doesn’t require the same kind of precision that a nuclear weapon does. But there are other military applications that come close. So you have a country that’s one of the largest oil pumpers in the world. You would expect them to be using EBWs and shape charges. You expect them to be modeling them. There are no surprises that they’re doing the modeling and development that they’re doing. EBWs are a commercial item made in the world by commercial companies, largely–many of them in the US.
JAY: So as you survey all the possible data that is available to you, and based on your years of experience inspecting and knowing the ins and outs of the nuclear weapons field, what would be your assessment in terms of what is or is not going on in Iran?
KELLEY: As I said, I used to be a skeptic. I used to think there was a program there. There’s no question that they built this huge network to make uranium and plutonium to make bombs. That seems to be clear. But in an engineering world, there can be long lead times, and it may be that that program to some extent is–just has momentum for–from the time before they decided to quit, if they did. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a nuclear program in Iran today. I just don’t think this report can get you there. The report doesn’t give you enough information. The information’s not correct. And so the report is not the means to the end. I would trust the national intelligence estimate before I trust this.
JAY: So is there any–so there’s no sense there’s some imminent threat, as you hear especially from the Israeli government, who–apparently there’s a fierce debate going on in Israel now whether they should actually launch an attack on Iran or not.
KELLEY: Well, I’m not into whether people should launch an attack or not. I’m saying this report doesn’t really take you there. The report doesn’t tell you what’s happening. It only tells you what happened a long time ago. And some of the things that are in the report now that are sort of represented as current events are of some kind of questionable heritage. You know, we’ve had to deal with forgeries before. We had some very sophisticated forgeries in the Iraq case back in 1994-95 that were obviously produced by countries in the Middle East to try to slow down the IAEA’s progress on clearing the Iraq file. So I think we’re pretty familiar that people will go to a lot of trouble to try to make a document that looks real. I’m not saying these documents aren’t real, but I’m surprised at the lack of continuity and the lack of corporate knowledge that the IAEA had ten years ago, knowing how people lie to them and how–to what extremes they’ll go. And now you don’t see any skepticism, you don’t see anyone saying, well, we remember what happened to us ten years ago and twenty years ago with forgeries. It’s now–they’re–just seem to be accepting it as if they’re genuine.
JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Robert.
KELLEY: Okay. Nice to be here.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
End of Transcript
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