NEWS AND ANALYSIS:
Israel’s intelligence coup in obtaining tens of thousands of documents on the Iranian nuclear weapons program sheds new light on Tehran’s secret arms program.
An Israeli government PowerPoint briefing on the documents showed Iran moved the files in 2017 to a secret warehouse in an industrial area of southern Tehran called Shorabad. Inside the warehouse were numerous safes protecting some 55,000 pages of documents in binders, and 183 CDs containing 50,000 more digital files.
An Israeli official told reporters the daring operation by Mossad agents to steal the documents was carried out on Jan. 31, and included Iranians discovering the break-in as it was happening. The Iranians flew a drone aircraft into Israeli airspace 11 days after the document raid, possibly in response to the operation.
The document cache was so large, Israeli agents were unable to bring all the files out. The storage facility and the materials in it were among the Tehran government’s most closely guarded secrets and Iranian authorities were alarmed that warehouse was discovered and sacked.
The documents reveal Iran’s nuclear arms program was called “Project Amad” and operated from 1999 to 2003.
An Iranian presentation in Farsi revealed in the Israeli presentation said that the goal of Project Amad was to “design, produce and test” nuclear weapons. Under the plan, the Iranians were to build five warheads with yields of 10 kilotons that would be designed “for integration on a missile.”
As part of the plan, the Iranians worked on an underground testing program, a simulation project, a warhead project and a centrifuge enrichment project.
The five key elements of the program included nuclear weapons design; developing nuclear cores; building an implosion system; preparing for underground tests; and integrating warheads on missiles. The missiles that would carry the warheads included an expanding range of systems, including the 620-mile-range Shahab-3, the 1,000-mile-range Ghadr 1H and the 1,200-mile-range Ghadr 1F.
One document shows the nuclear arms plan was ordered by Iran’s senior leaders, including then-Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani, who directed that the program be divided into a covert plan and an overt, or dual-use, civilian-military program.
After the formal end of the program in 2003, the director of Project Amad, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, stated in one document that the general aim was to announce the closure of the project and continue “special activities” under the cover of scientific development work.
The cover name for the covert nuclear program was the Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research, set up in 2011, and known by the acronym SPND. The Defense Ministry-based organization was headed by Project Amad’s Mr. Fakhrizadeh. It was sanctioned by the State Department in 2014 for nuclear weapons research.
The documents also show Iran continued secret work on building a plant at Fordow, an underground fuel-enrichment facility, after Project Amad ended.
The Israeli presentation included documents showing that Iran deceived the International Atomic Energy Agency in its final report on Iran’s past and present nuclear program that was required as part of the 2015 nuclear deal. The documents show that — contrary to Iran’s denial to the IAEA of a coordinate arms program and denying the existence of Project Amad — Iran in fact carried out a coordinated nuclear weapons programs.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said this week the documents obtained by the Israelis from Iran were “authentic.” He called the documents that are being reviewed by U.S. intelligence agencies an “arsenal of knowledge.”
“It’s not just in the minds of people whom they have. It’s the actual calculations that they’ve done, the blueprints, the measurements,” he said.
The Pentagon’s latest nuclear posture review said the Iran nuclear deal has constrained Tehran’s arms program, “many of the agreement’s restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program will end by 2031.”
“In addition, Iran retains the technological capability and much of the capacity necessary to develop a nuclear weapon within one year of a decision to do so,” the posture review said.
House bill readies for space war
The fiscal 2019 defense authorization bill calls for the Pentagon to set up a new military force for space and to develop plans for space warfare.
The House Armed Services subcommittee on strategic forces has adopted language in the bill that would require the Air Force to increase the number and quality of space warfare personnel.
Also, the subcommittee wants the Air Force to create a new numbered force “responsible for carrying out space warfighting operations.” And the panel also wants the Pentagon to set up a new multi-service subcommand within the Strategic Command to be called the Space Command.
The new command’s mission would be “carrying out joint space warfighting operations.”
The command would be headed by a four-star general or admiral who would be charged with ensuring the combat readiness of space forces.
The commander will develop strategy, doctrine and tactics for space warfare.
The bill also calls for the Pentagon to submit a space warfighting readiness plan. The plan would identified tasks for fighting a conflict in space, and what equipment, training and personnel would be needed.
President Trump said on Tuesday that the military is considering creation of a new service he called the “Space Force.”
“We’re getting very big in space, both militarily and for other reasons, and we are seriously thinking of the Space Force,” Mr. Trump said.
Space warfare is a new focus in both the Pentagon and in Congress over the past year. However, no details are known about future space weapons — a sensitive issue in the past dominated by arms control advocates opposed to developing and deploying space weapons.
The driving force behind the space warfare concerns is the activities of both China and Russia in space warfighting. Both states are developing space weaponry that includes anti-satellite missiles, lasers and electronic jammers for use against satellites, small maneuvering satellites to attack other satellites and cyber weapons.
The U.S. military has not deployed anti-satellite weapons. However, the Air Force once tested an anti-satellites missile in the 1980s, and the Navy has anti-missile interceptors capable of shooting down satellites.
China’s Cartoon Crackdown
First, the Chinese propaganda department banned online images of Winnie the Pooh over concerns Chinese critics were using the image to criticize President Xi Jinping.
A more recent crackdown by government censors has banned the British cartoon figure Peppa Pig, who has become a favorite of China’s preschool children. Apparently, the communist government sees the pink porcine character as “a negative influence” that undermines Beijing’s ruling ideology of Marxism-Leninism with Chinese characteristics.
China’s Douyin, a video-sharing app, took steps to censor over 30,000 videos that contained the word “Peppa Pig” last weekend, the Communist Party newspaper Global Times reported.
The propaganda organ said Peppa Pig has been adopted by social “slackers” called “shehuren” who the newspaper said are “people who run counter to the mainstream value and are usually poorly educated with no stable job” and “the antithesis of the young generation the Party tries to cultivate.
“After Peppa Pig started to take on this subversive hue and subsequently go viral, some experts said the popularity of the cartoon demonstrates the social psychology of hunting for novelty and spoofing, which could potentially hamper positive societal morale,” Global Times said.
• Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz.