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Iran ‘hoodwinked’ CIA over nuclear plans

by Tim Ship­man, Philip Sher­well and Car­olynne Wheel­er


British spy chiefs have grave doubts that Iran has moth­balled its nuclear weapons pro­gramme, as a US intel­li­gence report claimed last week, and believe the CIA has been hood­winked by Teheran.

Iran ‘hood­winked’ CIA over nuclear plans
Ana­lysts believe that Iran­ian staff, know­ing their phones were tapped, delib­er­ate­ly gave mis­in­for­ma­tion

The tim­ing of the CIA report has also pro­voked fury in the British Gov­ern­ment, where offi­cials believe it has under­mined efforts to impose tough new sanc­tions on Iran and made an Israeli attack on its nuclear facil­i­ties more like­ly.

The secu­ri­ty ser­vices in Lon­don want con­crete evi­dence to allay con­cerns that the Islam­ic state has fed dis­in­for­ma­tion to the CIA.

The report used new evi­dence — includ­ing human sources, wire­less inter­cepts and evi­dence from an Iran­ian defec­tor — to con­clude that Teheran sus­pend­ed the bomb-mak­ing side of its nuclear pro­gramme in 2003. But British intel­li­gence is con­cerned that US spy chiefs were so deter­mined to avoid giv­ing Pres­i­dent Bush a rea­son to go to war — as their reports on Sad­dam Hus­sein’s weapons pro­grammes did in Iraq — that they got it wrong this time.

A senior British offi­cial deliv­ered a with­er­ing assess­ment of US intel­li­gence-gath­er­ing abil­i­ties in the Mid­dle East and revealed that British spies shared the con­cerns of Israeli defence chiefs that Iran was still pur­su­ing nuclear weapons.

The source said British ana­lysts believed that Iran­ian nuclear staff, know­ing their phones were tapped, delib­er­ate­ly gave mis­in­for­ma­tion. “We are scep­ti­cal. We want to know what the basis of it is, where did it come from? Was it on the basis of the defec­tor? Was it on the basis of the inter­cept mate­r­i­al? They say things on the phone because they know we are up on the phones. They say black is white. They will say any­thing to throw us off.

“It’s not as if the Amer­i­can intel­li­gence agen­cies are regard­ed as bril­liant per­form­ers in that region. They got bad­ly burned over Iraq.”

A US intel­li­gence source has revealed that some Amer­i­can spies share the con­cerns of the British and the Israelis. “Many mid­dle- rank­ing CIA vet­er­ans believe Iran is still com­mit­ted to pro­duc­ing nuclear weapons and are con­cerned that the agency lost a num­ber of its best sources in Iran in 2004,” the offi­cial said.

The For­eign Office is study­ing a new text of a third Unit­ed Nations Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil res­o­lu­tion that would impose tough trav­el bans on regime fig­ures and penalise banks that do busi­ness with Iran.

But diplo­mats say the chances of win­ning Chi­nese and Russ­ian sup­port for the move are in freefall. A West­ern diplo­mat said: “It’s cre­at­ed a lot of dif­fi­cul­ties because of the tim­ing, just as we were about to go for a third res­o­lu­tion.”

Bruce Rei­del, who spent 25 years on the Mid­dle East desks at the CIA and the Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil, said: “By going pub­lic they have embar­rassed our friends, par­tic­u­lar­ly the British and the Israelis. They have giv­en our foes insights into our most secret intel­li­gence and tak­en most of the options off the table.”

Ephraim Sneh, until recent­ly Israel’s deputy min­is­ter of defence, warned that mil­i­tary action would be the only option if the world com­mu­ni­ty did not insti­tute robust sanc­tions. “No one can rule out with high con­fi­dence that some­where in Iran, 70 times the size of Israel, there is one lab work­ing on the weapons pro­gramme,” Mr Sneh told The Sun­day Tele­graph.

“[Mil­i­tary action] is not a desired option; it is a last resort. That’s why sanc­tions are so impor­tant. We have to urge the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty to be seri­ous about sanc­tions and to take nec­es­sary mea­sures to defend the civil­ian pop­u­la­tion.”


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