U.S. intelligence agencies are convinced that Iran is working to build nuclear weapons in secret based on a confidential report produced last week by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and on information from a former Iranian opposition figure.
Administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the intelligence on the Iranian nuclear program is circumstantial, but includes information on the country’s missile program and work on a nuclear payload-sized warhead for the Shahab-3 missile.
“In terms of Iran’s pattern of behavior, it’s a very clear picture that they are hiding and deceiving the world about their nuclear-arms program by claiming it is for peaceful purposes,” one official said. “They have clearly lied, and they keep getting caught in one lie after another.”
Documents from an Iranian laptop computer obtained from an Iranian source in 2004 are at the center of the intelligence case for Iran’s nuclear-arms program.
The intelligence shows that from 2001 to 2003, Iran was working to configure the Shahab-3, a 620-mile-range mobile missile, to deliver a warhead that has all the physical characteristics of a nuclear warhead, in terms of its size and shape.
The documents show details about development work on nuclear weapons and design problems, but not all the papers are considered authentic.
However, the material reveals that the Iranians are involved in actual development work and not theoretical design.
“It proves that there is something more than a physics program, but it doesn’t prove that there are weapons already,” one official said.
Officials familiar with the intelligence said the data is different from that nuclear weapons information that Iran obtained from the covert supply network headed by Pakistani Abdul Qadeer Khan. The network supplied uranium-enrichment technology to Libya, Iran and North Korea, and documents uncovered as part of the network in Libya included Chinese-language reports on how to make a small warhead that could be carried on a missile.
Intelligence agencies have not been able to determine whether the warhead documents were supplied to Iran and North Korea, but officials suspect that they were part of the package of goods and technology offered as part of the Khan network.
Eight secret Iranian nuclear-related facilities have been revealed since 2002, including the military uranium facility at Natanz, uranium-enrichment plants at Lashkar Abad and Tehran and a uranium-processing plant in Ardekan.
An IAEA report dated Nov. 18 and presented to the governing body in Vienna, Austria, stated that Iran disclosed in October and November additional documents on its uranium-enrichment equipment supplied by the Khan network.
Among the documents was material from the 1970s and 1980s showing that Iran, through the Khan network, obtained plans on how to fashion enriched uranium into pits for nuclear warheads.
Alireza Jafarzadeh, a former spokesman for the National Council of Resistance of Iran, said at a press conference Monday that he has identified a large-scale Iranian military program to develop nuclear-capable missiles hidden in tunnels in a region known as Khojir. The network, built with extensive help from North Korea, spans an area of about 4 miles by 12 miles southeast of Tehran and includes facilities at Parchin, Hamsin and Towchal.
The group has presented reliable information in the past on Iran’s nuclear activities based on its dissident sources in Iran.
“The significance of this is that now the Hemmat Missile Industries and the regime has the ability to produce missiles, to combine it with the nuclear program and fit a nuclear warhead to it and also carry out the whole operation underground — all within the very same vicinity around them,” Mr. Jafarzadeh said. “This is something they didn’t have before.”
Gregory L. Schulte, U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, said that the facts show Iran has a long record of lying, covering up and withholding data on its nuclear program and that the program is linked to the Iranian military.
He said Iran lacks deposits of natural uranium for fueling even a small-scale program to produce electrical power.
“The deposits are sufficient, however, to enrich into weapons-grade material for a sizable stockpile of nuclear weapons,” Mr. Schulte said. “This is not the sign of a peaceful program.”