This film was, however, screened on February 26, 2008, in the fourth-floor conference room of Building C at the Vienna headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) overlooking the Danube. The host of the screening was Finnish nuclear physicist Olli Heinonen, the IAEA's deputy director general and head of its inspection department, officially called the Department of Safeguards. In attendance were representatives of the 35 member states that constitute the organization's board of governors. It was one of the most important meetings ever held by the IAEA.
In the seven years prior to the gathering, Heinonen visited Iran many times as part of his inspections on behalf of the agency. Iranian intelligence agents followed his every move, hoping to catch him doing something that could either embarrass him or be used for blackmail purposes. They offered him bribes, but the stern-faced Finnish nuclear scientist never took the bait.
Heinonen even laid out his own money for the clock with a Farsi inscription that now adorns one of the walls in his office. He found it in one of the warehouses of the Kalaye Electric Company, in the southern outskirts of Tehran. The Iranians were adamant that Kalaye produced only electronic watches and clocks, although the IAEA discovered that it clandestinely manufactures centrifuges for uranium enrichment. These centrifuges are being used today in Iran's nuclear program, both at the uranium-enrichment facility in Natanz and at the recently discovered plant in Qom.
A dedicated official, esteemed by agency colleagues for his integrity, Heinonen is known to oppose the conciliatory approach toward Iran that has for years been the policy of IAEA director general Mohamed ElBaradei, who will be leaving his post at the end of the year. Heinonen managed to recruit his boss' agreement to invite the representatives of the board of governors' member states to the briefing on that wintry Vienna day. The purpose: a briefing on the suspected "military aspects" of Iran's nuclear program, which Tehran claims is intended only for peaceful purposes.
The video depicted a room made of stone. At the center stood a Perspex mock-up - equipped with a flashing red light - of a ball-shaped bomb resting in the metallic, gold-plated cone of a missile warhead. In the most important scene in the film, the computer simulation shows the launched warhead reentering the atmosphere and exploding 600 meters above the earth's surface. According to experts, this is the ideal altitude for detonating a nuclear bomb in order to generate the maximum degree of destruction on the ground.
At the briefing, Heinonen noted that the type of warhead represented by the model could fit an Iranian Shahab missile.
Thus, with the soundtrack of "Chariots of Fire" in the background, the participants in Vienna had the impression they were viewing a PR marketing film produced to advance the sales of some corporation. Some present thought it was a training film intended to demonstrate to senior Iranian officials - either members of the country's political or religious echelons, or the top brass of its Revolutionary Guard - that Tehran had reached an advanced stage in its nuclear program.
In addition to the video, Heinonen displayed documents in Farsi, which he said dated back to July 2003-January 2004, and which included a number of sketches. Both the film and sketches showed a machine that can produce light-weight aluminum warheads.
Heinonen was very cautious, emphasizing there was no evidence proving that what they had seen was necessarily a mock-up of a nuclear warhead; it could have been a conventional one. Nonetheless, his listeners were stunned. It was clear to most of them that it was likely a nuclear device.
As one of those who was present explained to Haaretz: "If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it must be a duck." That is, one can assume the Iranians have conducted research and calculations for weaponization - how to assemble a nuclear device - as part of a secret military nuclear program alongside their civilian one.
At the briefing, Heinonen told participants that he and other IAEA officials had asked the Iranians for an explanation of the video - specifically, about the warhead, its simulated reentry into the earth's atmosphere, the detonation of its nuclear payload at an altitude of 600 meters, the ball-like mechanism and so on. However, as befitting their usual tactics, the Iranians delayed their response, and then argued that the materials - the footage, photos and sketches - were a total fabrication, produced by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency or Israel's Mossad, or perhaps by both of them together. According to the Iranians, the forgery was intended to frame them, to present Iran as a country engaged in developing nuclear weapons, and thus operating in blatant violation of international conventions.
The Iranians' next move was to admit half-heartedly that the video was authentic, but that it depicted a computer simulation of a reentry vehicle of a conventional warhead - not a nuclear one.
Three years prior to the Vienna gathering, reports leaked to the media and also published by Haaretz already claimed that Iran was involved in secret research for weaponization purposes. The reports were based on secret documents that had reached the IAEA. This data, according to the reports, had been concealed in a laptop smuggled out of Iran, ostensibly by a scientist who had been a part of his country's nuclear program, and who handed the computer over to the German intelligence service, the BND.
Recently, however, a new version of events has surfaced. David Albright, a physicist who serves as president of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) in Washington, D.C., wrote that the data was smuggled out as "electronic media" and not via a laptop. A former IAEA inspector, Albright is considered to have very good relations with the agency as well as with American intelligence. In recent years, ISIS has beat even the media in publicizing on its Web site information about the nuclear programs of Iran and Syria. Indeed, Albright was the first to publish aerial photos of the nuclear site at Qom.
Albright explained last month that the scientist who smuggled out the secret data was indeed an agent for German intelligence, who suspected Iran's security services had discovered his espionage activities. For that reason, he gave his wife the "electronic media," including the video, and instructed her to go to Turkey and hand it over to American diplomats there. A short while afterward, reported Albright, the scientist-agent vanished without a trace: Apparently, he was arrested by Iranian intelligence and executed for treason.
When it reached the United States, the data was sent to the Sandia National Laboratories to verify whether it was authentic and whether the simulation of the detonation of a nuclear device had, in fact, been carried out. Subsequently, probably in 2005, the information was transmitted in censored format to the IAEA. However, after examination, the organization's experts could not determine definitively whether it was genuine.
Nonetheless, the data convinced the IAEA's board of governors that Iran had indeed reneged on its obligations, and the agency decided to submit a report on the matter to the UN Security Council. In 2006, that body imposed sanctions on Iran for breaching its safeguards agreements and called upon it to suspend its uranium-enrichment activities. However, because of the internal dispute within the IAEA, the Vienna briefing was held only two years later.
Heinonen and his team compiled a 67-page report and asked ElBaradei to include it as an appendix to one of the IAEA's seasonal reports on Iran. However, on this issue, ElBaradei gained the upper hand: Convinced that there was no evidence of an Iranian military program, he refused to append the internal report and even asked that the fact of its very existence be concealed.
A few weeks ago, Haaretz revealed the very existence of the appendix. However, the bitter truth is that such information cannot change the reality on the ground. Iran continues to enrich uranium while claiming that it has no military nuclear program. Russia and China insist on opposing harsh sanctions on Iran. Israeli spokespersons have hinted at, or even threatened, a military operation against Iran, but they prefer it be carried out by the United States. The United States and the European Union oppose the use of force and find themselves isolated in their attempts to deal with Tehran's nuclear challenge. This week, the IAEA said it had no comment when asked by Haaretz about the information presented at the Vienna briefing.