Moody: Hey Hussein, lets see that open fist!
Defections are starting to scare the Iranian regime, with the rats scurrying to find the next possible leak in their vast nuclear weapons network. Stratfor is a global intelligence gathering organization that publishes daily intelligence briefings, here is their report on what’s happening inside Iran that is sending shock waves throughout the regime’s scientific and political community. KGS
The disappearance of three Iranian men with knowledge of Iran’s nuclear program — all of whom likely defected to the West — reveals a major Iranian vulnerability in its ongoing covert intelligence war with the United States. The information gleaned from these likely defections could result in a revised U.S. National Intelligence Estimate regarding Iran’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Oct. 21 that the United States is “directly and indirectly responsible” for the “abduction” of three Iranian nationals. Mottaki has ample reason to be concerned about the whereabouts of these particular Iranians. Whether they were abducted or they defected, the three men have all likely shared valuable information with the United States on Iran’s nuclear and military activities.
The first individual is Ali Reza Asghari, who served as Iran’s deputy defense minister under then-President Mohammed Khatami and as a general and commander in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in the 1980s and 1990s. He retired from the government two years ago, and while on an alleged business trip to Syria and then to Turkey, he checked into an Istanbul hotel February 2007. After two days, the Iranians lost track of him.
It remains unclear how long Asghari had been cooperating with the United States while still in Iran before he was extracted from Istanbul, but his information is believed to have played a major role in the U.S. intelligence community’s assessments of Iran’s nuclear weapons program. In particular, Asghari’s information allegedly influenced a December 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that stated that Iran had halted work on its nuclear weapons program in 2003 instead of 2005. Also, STRATFOR sources reported in 2007 that Asghari provided information on Syria’s attempts to develop a nuclear reactor with Iranian and North Korean assistance. That intelligence was reportedly utilized by Israel in a September 2007 air strike on the reactor site.
The second individual is Shahram Amiri, an Iranian nuclear physicist who reportedly works at the private Malek Ashtar University in Tehran, which is monitored closely by the IRGC. Amiri is likely to possess a gold mine of intelligence on Iran’s nuclear capabilities and would be eagerly sought after by U.S. and Israeli intelligence. According to Iranian media, Amiri disappeared on May 31 while performing a shortened Umrah Hajj in Saudi Arabia. Like Turkey, Saudi Arabia is an ally of the United States that could facilitate the extraction of a defector to the United States.
The third defector/abductee, who is known simply as Ardebili, is an Iranian businessman allegedly linked to the IRGC. Ardebili was reportedly in Georgia (another U.S. ally) to buy military equipment and was abducted there “a few weeks ago,” according to Iranian state media reports on Oct. 8.
Defections have played a significant role in the ongoing U.S. covert intelligence war with Iran. Iran not only has a large and powerful security apparatus to intimidate its citizenry, but it is also highly skilled in denial and deception techniques to conceal its nuclear activities. This makes it all the more difficult for an adversary like the United States or Israel to obtain information on a subject as critical and sensitive as the Iranian nuclear weapons program.
The Iranian government is demanding both publicly and privately that the United States return these Iranian nationals if it expects Tehran to cooperate in the nuclear negotiations. The likelihood of the United States handing over any of these individuals is low. In such delicate intelligence matters, it is the responsibility of the United States to keep the defector protected to best of its ability. Moreover, Iran would not benefit much from having these defectors back in their custody. Once they have been extracted and debriefed, the defector’s utility to both countries has been spent — the United States will already have extracted as much information as it can out of him or her, likely over the course of several months. The most Iran can gain from retrieving these defectors is a better understanding of the information the defector divulged and the ability to deliver punishment (most likely death for treason).
STRATFOR has been getting indications that the intelligence obtained from the more recent Iran defections could likely result in a revised NIE on Iran’s nuclear program. However, with diplomatic talks under way, an NIE accusing Iran of developing a nuclear weapons program could also result in significant political blowback in the negotiations. As this political battle plays out — and as the nuclear negotiations continue to stall in the public arena — Iran will fret about how the intelligence obtained from these valuable defectors will be put to use in Washington, both in diplomatic dealings and in military planning.