Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

November 7, 2011

The gathering Iranian nuclear storm

Filed under: Radiological & Nuclear Threats — by Arnold Bogis on November 7, 2011

This week the IAEA is expected to release a new report on Iran’s past work in developing nuclear warheads:

A Western diplomat who has seen drafts of the report said it will elaborate on secret intelligence collected since 2004 showing Iranian scientists struggling to overcome technical hurdles in designing and building nuclear warheads. The scientists’ studies include computer modeling of warhead design and field-testing the kinds of high-precision conventional explosives used to trigger a nuclear chain-reaction, said the diplomat, who insisted on anonymity to discuss the board’s internal deliberations. Some of the work continued after 2003, when Iran is believed to have halted its nuclear weapons research in response to international and domestic pressures, the official said.

There will be a lot of noise concerning this report, with calls for military action and concern expressed for the safety of our allies in the region.  The threat to the U.S. will likely be expressed through the scenario in which Iranian officials “hand off” a nuclear weapon to Hezbollah terrorists to be used against the homeland.

Putting aside questions of preemption and deterrence of nuclear armed states, I would like to list just a few points salient for homeland security:

  • The difficulty faced by Iran in producing nuclear weapons (assuming that or a virtual arsenal is their goal) should not be taken as evidence that it is a task too difficult for terrorists.  The nuclear aspirations of a state differ greatly from that of potential nuclear terrorists: a state desires an arsenal and not simply one (or, if they’re lucky, more) weapons; a state requires the ability to secure fissile material for multiple bombs, including the capability for enrichment or reprocessing, while this technology would be beyond the reach of non-state groups; a state’s weapon design would have to be generally of predictable yield and operate within particular design constraints, while a terrorist weapon would just have to have a good chance of working or even producing a fizzle to achieve much of the desired effect; and a state would want to fashion a small warhead deliverable by rudimentary ballistic missile or small aircraft, while terrorists could do with an  improvised device weighing a ton or more.


  • If Iran does develop a nuclear weapons capability, that does not automatically mean that Hezbollah or Hamas would have access.  A rudimentary nuclear arsenal would be highly valuable to a new nuclear state and it is considered unlikely that such prized “crown jewels” would be turned over to unreliable actors for deployment in situations not directly controlled by that state.  Instead, the greater danger in the connection between proliferation and nuclear terrorism is that the increased amount of bombs or simply fissile materials increases the potential for sympathetic insiders to facilitate transfer to wanna-be nuclear terrorists.  In other words, it is more likely that officials below those in charge of the nuclear weapon programs in Iran (or Pakistan) might be moved to share their access with terrorists against the wishes of their superiors and national leaders.

It is important to keep some perspective…nuclear terrorism remains a threat and a nuclear-armed Iran would be a very negative outcome for our national security, but this week’s news should not be taken as a sign that the sky is about to fall.

Update: As soon as I schedule this post, Washington Post reporter Joby Warrick publishes additional detail on what is contained in the IAEA report:

Intelligence provided to U.N. nuclear officials shows that Iran’s government has mastered the critical steps needed to build a nuclear weapon, receiving assistance from foreign scientists to overcome key technical hurdles, according to Western diplomats and nuclear experts briefed on the findings.

Documents and other records provide new details on the role played by a former Soviet weapons scientist who allegedly tutored Iranians over several years on building high-precision detonators of the kind used to trigger a nuclear chain reaction, the officials and experts said. Crucial technology linked to experts in Pakistan and North Korea also helped propel Iran to the threshold of nuclear capability, they added.

Interesting details, and I’m sure the actual report will contain even more, however nothing that yet radically changes the overall threat picture. While the names and other specifics were not previously public, this reporting seems to reinforce already existing perceptions about the nature of Iran’s nuclear work.  More worrisome would be Iran’s recent moves to shift its nuclear facilities to locations underground and the installation of advanced centrifuge equipment.

Update 2: The IAEA report can be found here: http://isis-online.org/uploads/isis-reports/documents/IAEA_Iran_8Nov2011.pdf


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Comment by William R. Cumming

November 7, 2011 @ 1:56 am

Well unless classified the official US NIE [national INTEL estimate] on Iranian nuclear capability not yet revised unofficially or unofficial. Its conclusions differ from the IAEA if I understand what it concluded.

Also this sentence in the post, the last:

“More worrisome would be Iran’s recent moves to shift its nuclear facilities to locations underground and the installation of advanced centrifuge equipment.”

The Iranians have been moving key installations underground since 1979 and the Iraq/Iranian war mostly with the help of German companies the world’s greatest at underground installations. I personally have been in GERMAN underground facilities now used by NATO that were never discovered, located, or even bombed by the Allies in WWII.

Guess that is why all those many bunker busters were shipped to Israel.

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 7, 2011 @ 7:00 am

Okay Phil a little risk analysis! The Iranian nuke threat compared to 20 square miles of floating radioactive debris arriving next year from Fukishima in the US? By the way some argue for land fall in Hawaiian Islands and some for the Alaskan current passing down through the Pacific North west of USA. Perhaps the Limnologists will be adding their skills to the voice of HS!

Comment by Alan Wolfe

November 7, 2011 @ 8:21 am

“In other words, it is more likely that officials below those in charge of the nuclear weapon programs in Iran (or Pakistan) might be moved to share their access with terrorists against the wishes of their superiors and national leaders.”

Yes, because in a case where the national leadership has a strong vested interest in retaining and developing its nuclear weapons capability, it will employ people whose loyalties are unclear and who can smuggle fissile material out of a high-security, underground facility. Because said leadership has no real concern about a nuclear terrorist incident being tracked back to its territory through nuclear forensics…

What’s wrong with this picture? Nuclear terrorism – where our deepest anxieties become conclusions for defense analyses and arms control advocates.

Comment by Donald Quixote

November 7, 2011 @ 11:55 am

This well expected development makes one wonder about the mid and long-term value of the Stuxnet worm. Will the possible blowback outweigh the impact of the worm and the well-deserved bragging rights that came with the successful attack by the unidentified nation(s)? Will the unintended consequences be the interruption or destruction of a portion of our fragile critical infrastructure and key resources in the future when lessons are learned by our adversaries? If an early snowstorm can so affect our electrical infrastructure, imagine the impact of the loss of numerous power plants in a region or the nation. We may be resilient (or hope to be), but we live in a rather fragile infrastructure world.


Comment by "The Brutes of Tehran"

November 8, 2011 @ 11:21 am

“The Brutes of Tehran” — Forthcoming Global conflict!

Breaking News: The US declares War on Tehran! After years of blood on their hands, the US stood up and has declared War on the regimne so willing to act out its dastardly acts and supply arms and ammunition and other with intent to kill your Americans serving aboradd against the Middle East luminaries…

Well folks, don’t worry, the present US administartion and the Congress have not a spec of leadership or statesmen qualities so instead as Iran prepares to cause far much worse unrest throughout the Middle East, in this Judeo-Christian beloved Republic, ne only has to look to Jesus Christ and his warnings of complacency (Matthew 24:36-39). “Watch therefore,”

We see the EU today led again by Germany and as impressive as it will evolve as a ten (10) nation state all dependent on Germany as we read in (Revelation 17 and 18), it will be a power of “iroon and miry clay” (Daniel 2:40-41).

Iran and 911 and an attack on US soil and US citizens!

Do you know that families of the victims of 911 have filed two notewoorthy lawsuits, one in May and anothyer in September against the Islamic Republic of Iran. Yes, indeed.

While the wavering administration and ineptness of a corrupt Coongress cannot and will not stand up to the “Brutes of Tehran” — the support by Tehran of the attack against this great nation by conveying intelligence and support of the attackers and helped the hijackers skirt US and Pakistan surveillance “by escorting them through Iranian borders without passport stamps.” My, my what a surprise!

Proff exists that Iran is waging direct war against our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq in arming and training insurgents and again, those we have “entrusted” to safeguard our Republic, well, the facts are many and for the most part, eyes look the othe way….

Watch Turkey and keep a weary eye on Egypt. The show has already begun and unfortunately no one here in the US is willing too truly stand tall and with courage to rid the world oof the evil doers who once again and not even 100 years since WWII, well, when we heard here on “Main Street USA” that the US government and Hillary Clinton have been meeting with the Taliban, well folks, another fulfillment of prophecy that this nation’s “strength would be spent in vain” (Leviticus 26:20).

The government in Libya, well folks, in just weeks the liberal democracy and secular moderate desguise has been stripped away and Abdel Hakim Belhaj, identified as an Islamic extremist w/known ties to al Qaeda will assure Libya of extreme Islamic fundamentalist control!

As calamity unfolds before us and Iran and its proxies are further allowed to destablize the entire Middle East and very interestingly, while Israel will be besieged by radical Islam, the Jewish state will secure much needed help from Germany who with its fast deployment forces will crush the rush towards Jerusalem, however Germany should never be trusted…and we see all this coming quickly as Cairo and Ankara will become more and more combative towards Israel and because of a paralyzed USA, Israel will have to turn to Europe for help only to be duped as well, yet the bloodshed and anguish for so, so many millions will bring back short memories to the millions and millions and millions of innocent killed not too long ago as a result of another political earthquake which will grip the world and pull their “Veil of Lucifer” to bound the world, a book I have just begun writing which utilizes Biblical scripture to tell the unfortunate future and demise of mankind once again as we saw in two other global conflicts.

God Bless us all!

Christopher Tingus
PO Box 1612
Harwich (Cape Cod), Massachusetts 02645 USA

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