Comment: How did Iran know US planned to reveal nuclear facility?

Barack Obama

Barack Obama

The question may be confusing at first, but it makes perfect sense, considering the series of events. Late last week the US put together a secret plan to reveal to the world that Iran has built a previously undeclared nuclear facility to enrich uranium. However, on the morning of September 25, that is, just hours before US President Barack Obama made the revelation, Iran pre-emptied him with a formal letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency, in which it volunteered the information that it has built a facility inside a mountain near the city of Qum. Now, we know that US and other Western intelligence agencies have known about the existence of that nuclear facility for many years. However, from an intelligence point of view, the revelation of the site is secondary to the issue of how Iran came to know about the US President’s plan to reveal its existence.

So, how did Tehran know that the US was planning to spill the beans? Is there a mole working for Iran inside some Western intelligence agency? Well, probably, but that’s not necessarily the only possible explanation for Iran’s pre-emption. Could it be that CIA officials tipped off the Iranians to spoil Obama’s party, in an attempt to score points against the President, who insists in holding a formal investigation into CIA torture practices? This is too far-fetched, as willingly revealing classified US intelligence to foreign agents amounts to outright treason.

One likely scenario is that the Iranians sensed Obama would reveal the existence of the plant after the White House announced that the President would soon make a “major public intelligence disclosure that it had not planned to make”. Another, even more likely, scenario, in my opinion, is that Washington used its knowledge of the Qum plant as a card in back-channel negotiations with Tehran, which we know have been taking place for quite some time now. The negotiations must have come to a dead end, which must have signified to the Iranians that US officials would soon go public with the information. Yet another, third, scenario, is a combination of the back-channel talks and the White House announcement that followed their failure.

Whatever the case, the US government’s decision to reveal its knowledge of the secret Iranian plant raises the stakes prior to the meeting between US and Iranian officials on October 1, the first direct talks between the two countries in 30 years.

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Expert news and commentary on intelligence, espionage, spies and spying, by Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis and Ian Allen.

One Response to Comment: How did Iran know US planned to reveal nuclear facility?

  1. Fred Furtek says:

    If indeed there was a “leak”, one would have to be more concerned that communications encryption codes might have been compromised or that some Internet email server has been raided. My guess would be that either the Chinese or Russians would have a motive for passing the results of any intercept on to the Iranians.

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