Sunday, March 05, 2006

CIA used A-bomb plan as bait

U.S. gave flawed design to Iran: Author
Goal to derail or delay Tehran's work

Toronto Star
Mar. 4, 2006. 07:57 AM

Iran and EU officials failed yesterday to resolve a standoff over Iran's nuclear work before a United Nations atomic watchdog meeting Monday that may lead to Security Council action. In his book, State of War, James Risen includes the startling claim that the U.S. actually handed Tehran the blueprints for an atomic bomb in 2000. The CIA scheme was to introduce intentional flaws in the design plans that would delay or derail Iranian work. The following excerpt shows the poorly conceived plan and its easily identified flaws.

Risen is the reporter who revealed a secret domestic U.S. wiretapping surveillance program exists in the United States.

The Russian stood out like a poor eastern cousin on Vienna's jeweled cityscape.

He was a nuclear engineer who had defected to the United States years earlier and quietly settled in America. He went through the CIA's defector resettlement program and endured long debriefings in which CIA experts and scientists from the national laboratories tried to drain him of everything he knew about the status of Russia's nuclear weapons program. Like many other Russian defectors before him, his tiresome complaints about money and status had gained him a reputation within the CIA of being difficult to manage. But he was too valuable for the CIA to toss away...

So despite their disputes, the CIA had arranged for the Russian to become an American citizen and had kept him on the payroll, to the tune of $5,000 (U.S.) a month. It really did seem like easy money, with few strings attached. Life was good. He was happy to be on the CIA gravy train.

Until now. The CIA was placing him on the front lines of a plan that seemed to be completely at odds with the interests of the United States, and it had taken a lot of persuading by his CIA case officer to convince him to go through with what appeared to be a rogue operation.

The code name for this operation was MERLIN...

The Russian's assignment from the CIA was to pose as an unemployed and greedy scientist who was willing to sell his soul — and the secrets of the atomic bomb — to the highest bidder. By hook or by crook, the CIA told him, he was to get the nuclear blueprints to the Iranians. They would quickly recognize their value and rush them back to their superiors in Tehran.

The plan had been laid out for the defector during a CIA-financed trip to San Francisco, where he had meetings with CIA officers and nuclear experts mixed in with leisurely wine-tasting trips to Sonoma County. In a luxurious San Francisco hotel room, a senior CIA official involved in the operation walked the Russian through the details of the plan. He brought in experts from one of the national laboratories to go over the blueprints that he was supposed to give the Iranians.

The senior CIA officer could see that the Russian was nervous, and so he tried to downplay the significance of what they were asking him to do. He told the Russian that the CIA was mounting the operation simply to find out where the Iranians are with their nuclear program. This was just an intelligence-gathering effort, the CIA officer said, not an illegal attempt to give Iran the bomb.

At the case officer's urging, the Russian started sending messages to Iranian scientists, scholars, and even Iranian diplomats stationed at the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) in Vienna.

As he mingled with scientists and other academics, the Russian picked up business cards and email addresses. The Russian began to email his new contacts, sending intriguing messages explaining that he wanted to talk with them about his ability to provide materials of interest to Iran. Finally, at one conference, he hit pay dirt when he met a physics professor visiting from Tehran.

The Russian followed up his chance encounter with emails to the scientist back at his university in Iran. The Russian explained that he had information that was extremely important, and he wanted to make an offer. After some delays, the Iranian finally responded, with a wary message, asking what he had in mind. That was enough for the CIA. Now the Russian could tell Iranian officials in Vienna that he had been in touch with a respected scientist in Tehran before he showed up on their doorstep. The CIA had discovered that a high-ranking Iranian official would be travelling to Vienna and visiting the Iranian mission to the IAEA, and so the agency decided to take the next step and send the Russian to Vienna at the same time. It was hoped that he could make contact with either the Iranian ambassador to the IAEA or the visitor from Tehran.

The CIA sent him to Vienna without any backup...

Only a handful of CIA officers knew of the existence of MERLIN.

Better to let the Russian get lost and fumble his way around town than tell more officers about the operation.

He could not stop thinking about his trip to San Francisco, when he had studied the blueprints the CIA had given him. Within minutes of being handed the designs, he had identified a flaw. "This isn't right," he told the CIA officers gathered around the hotel room.

"There is something wrong." His comments prompted stony looks, but no straight answers from the CIA men in the room... After their trip to San Francisco, the case officer handed the Russian a sealed envelope with the nuclear blueprints inside. The Russian was told not to open the envelope under any circumstances. He was to follow the CIA's instructions to find the Iranians and give them the envelope with the documents inside. Keep it simple, and get out of Vienna safe and alive, the Russian was told. But the defector was more worried than ever about what kind of game the CIA was getting him into. And he had his own ideas about how he might play that game.

In Vienna, the Russian went over his options one more time and made a decision. He unsealed the envelope with the nuclear blueprints and included a personal letter of his own to the Iranians. No matter what the CIA told him, he was going to hedge his bets. There was obviously something wrong with these blueprints — so he decided to mention that fact to the Iranians in a letter. They would certainly find flaws for themselves, and if he didn't tell them first, they would never want to deal with him again...

The Russian slid his letter in with the blueprints and resealed the envelope.

After his day of floundering around Vienna, the Russian returned to his hotel, near the city's large Stadtpark. He did a computer search and found the right street address for the Iranian mission. His courage bolstered, he decided he would go back and finish the job in the morning.

He found 19 Heinstrasse...

The only proof that this was the right place was a mail directory, with three rows of tenants' names on the wall beside the building's front door. Amid the list of Austrian tenants, there was one simple line: PM/Iran." The Iranians clearly didn't want publicity.

The Russian slipped through the front door, and hurriedly shoved his envelope through the inner door slot at the Iranian office. The Russian fled the mission without being seen. He was deeply relieved that he had finally made the handoff without ever having to come face to face with a real live Iranian. He flew back to the U.S. without being detected by either Austrian security or, more important, by Iranian intelligence...

Just days after the Russian dropped off his package at the Iranian mission, the NSA (National Security Agency) reported that an Iranian official in Vienna abruptly changed his schedule and suddenly made airline reservations and flew home to Iran. The odds were that the nuclear blueprints were now in Tehran.

From STATE OF WAR by James Risen. Copyright © 2006 by James Risen. Reprinted by permission of Free Press, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc., NY.

0 Comments:

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home