Posted by: theoptimisticconservative | September 10, 2010

Another Day, Another Iranian Underground Facility

It’s been a big 48 hours.  An Iranian dissident group has provided new information about a suspect facility nestled in the mountains northwest of Tehran, near the city of Qazvin.  The People’s Mujahedeen Organization of Iran (PMOI) says it has information from sources in Iran that the facility, referred to by authorities as “311,” is supervised by a Mr. Mohsen Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi, an individual who is under UN sanctions for his suspected work on Iran’s nuclear weapons program.  PMOI describes it as an underground facility for uranium enrichment.  The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), a long-time source of initial information on Iran’s nuclear programs, says the facility is run by Iran’s Ministry of Defense, and that construction on the underground facility in question began in 2005.  (Oddly, Washington Post didn’t report these particular details, although Haaretz did.)

The Western media note correctly that not all information from Iranian dissident groups has panned out, although it’s also fair to say that we can’t be sure exactly how much of their information has been accurate, because we haven’t had the access needed for decisive validation.  The original NCRI/PMOI intelligence on the uranium enrichment facility at Natanz, for example – now declared, and subject to IAEA inspection – was demonstrated to be valid.  Other information, on underground facilities reportedly dug on the southern outskirts of Tehran, has not been proven, but substantial elements of it have not been disproven either.

Qazvin facility

The new information has a good chance of being valid, however.  Iran has had a military installation in Qazvin, and military-controlled facilities located in proximity to it, for years.  Qazvin was suspected since the late 1980s of hosting a dual-use chemical plant and chemical weapons facility.  (The chemical plant definitely existed and was run with a series of foreign partners, India being the last one.  The dual-use purpose of the plant – for weaponizable toxins as well as pesticides – was assessed by Western intelligence.)  A major earthquake in 2002 – in the aftermath of which the Revolutionary Guard reportedly rushed troops to the Qazvin site – put the chemical plant out of commission.

Iran has already indicated the intention to build 10 new uranium enrichment facilities, and of course was “called” last fall on the one being constructed in secret at the Qom Fordo site.  The Iranians have been allowed to handle IAEA inspections and compliance on a largely uncooperative basis – and they have pressed their advantage on that repeatedly.  Their pattern to date justifies urgent suspicion and investigation when any new information is advanced.

What’s troubling, therefore, is the very dismissive attitude with which US officials and subject-matter experts have addressed this report.  Of course US analysts have not missed the tunneling activity at Qazvin.  But the Defense Department’s position – “We’ve seen the tunneling, but we don’t have information that this is a nuclear-related facility” – is disingenuous.  Now you do have such information, guys.  Check it out – and don’t look sleepy and uninterested doing it.

The Institute for Science and International Security says no more than that, in its 9 September “analysis” of the PMOI report.  ISIS basically takes a few more words than the DOD spokesman did to say the same thing: knew about the tunneling, don’t know about a nuclear program connection.  Hey, not everything from PMOI pans out.  I respect ISIS’ efforts, and refer to them often, but in this case, the dismissive tone is unjustified.  To its credit, ISIS does argue for an IAEA inspection of the Qazvin site.

We will see if IAEA is pressed by Western governments to do anything about this information.  But if the lassitude of the US response is an indicator, I’m not holding my breath.  This is really inexcusable, however.  Iran does dig a lot.  Iran is not so wealthy and multifarious, however, that she could build 10 new uranium enrichment facilities and not be putting them in some of the underground installations we already know she’s digging out. It’s not just bad leadership to speak dismissively of this new report, it’s execrable analysis.  If Iran is going to expand her uranium enrichment capability, we should look first where she’s already tunneling.  That’s axiomatic.

If we knew for sure the Qazvin site wasn’t to be used for nuclear-related activities, the DOD spokesman would have said more than merely that we have no information.  He could easily have said, without getting specific, that US analysts have another assessment:  that we have reason to believe the PMOI report is wrong.  He didn’t say that, although there would have been good reason to give that assurance, and there’s none to withhold it.

However you slice it, this amounts to unjustifiable fecklessness.  When even our rhetoric is this disjointed and lackadaisical, Iran has little reason to take us seriously.  Whatever else it is, it’s not a good way to reassure Israel, and the Arabs who fear a nuclear-armed Iran, that we’re taking the problem seriously.

Cross-posted at Hot Air.


  1. Nice job.

  2. “But if the lassitude of the US response is an indicator, I’m not holding my breath. This is really inexcusable, however.”

    no it’s not. keep breathing.

    “However you slice it, this amounts to unjustifiable fecklessness.”

    WHAT amounts to fecklessness? You don’t have a glimmer as to whether this amounts to anything, what our actual governmental analysts think about the report or the dig, or how we may be planning to deal with it.

    You’ve got a single-source report, without any substantiation, about what’s now an attempted hole in the ground and nothing else.

    How the heck do you think that …”If we knew for sure the Qazvin site wasn’t to be used for nuclear-related activities” at this point?

    It’s nice to note that something is going on, and makes for an interesting post.
    The rest of your speculation isn’t based on anything remotely factual, is it?

  3. You’re wrong, fuster. You have substantially more than a single-source report. You have a reason for urgency and a reason to take the report seriously. It’s actually you who are looking at a single data point: the fact that PMOI has sometimes been unreliable.

    The bidding:

    Site with known association to the IRGC.

    Site that hosted a chemical plant the IRGC was interested in, and that US intelligence suspected fed a chemical weapons facility before 2002.

    Site with the above connections, with extensive tunneling going on during a period when Iran has said she plans to construct 10 new uranium-enrichment facilities.

    Iran’s history of developing nuclear sites in secret.

    Grave concern, based on worst-case intelligence analyses, that Iran could be able to detonate a bomb as early as 12 months from now. Knowledge that Iran already has enough LEU for 3 warheads.

    Israel and the Arab world expressing concern often and with increasing urgency. Israel preparing a military plan to conduct strikes on Iran that would be destabilizing and require a US reaction.

    UN sanctions on Iran, imposed to get Iran to comply with all NPT protocols, answer all questions transparently about intel on her nuclear weapons program, and open all her suspect sites to intrusive inspections to demonstrate her NPT-compliant intetions.

    Now add:

    Data point from one intel source, which has reported both reliably and unreliably in the past, that a uranium enrichment facility is being developed at the suspiciously-connected site with the extensive tunneling.

    The actual situation — as opposed to the single data point of PMOI’s reporting history — indicates both taking the new report seriously, and addressing it in public with strategic concerns (like our allies’ alarms and potential response) in mind. The Obama administration has given no evidence of doing either.

    • opticon, you’ve added the background info on Iran and enrichment, not a single thing more to single-sourced unsubstantiated report from the not-always- reliable group.

      there are indeed reasons to take the SITUATION seriously, and taking things seriously includes acting seriously, not rashly and in an alarmist manner.
      we can not afford another instance of crying “the sky is falling” if we’re undertaking the process of herding the diversely-interested nations of the world into pressuring Iran about enrichment.

      we’ve got to present pure fact, not a thousand holes in the ground.

      serious people don’t cry “feckless” when they’re factless.
      keep your powder dry, D.

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