An Iranian dissident group with a track record of revealing secret sites involved in Iran’s nuclear program on Thursday offered more information – this time, on industrial facilities where it says the Iranian regime is producing parts for the centrifuges used in its uranium enrichment program.
Flanked by poster boards with aerial photos of the alleged sites northwest of Tehran, two members of the National Council of Resistance of Iran told a Washington audience that the two sites have produced as many as 100,000 centrifuges under the direction of Iran’s Defense Ministry.
“The number of centrifuges is way beyond the needs of Tehran for its already-declared sites,” said Alireza Jafarzadeh, a prominent Iranian dissident who is known for revealing the Natanz nuclear site in 2002.
For several years, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has noted Iran’s growing numbers of centrifuges – the machines used to produce low- and highly-enriched uranium – but has been stymied in its efforts to ascertain where and how the centrifuges were produced.
Iran has insisted it is under no obligations to divulge that information. Tehran also maintains that the Iran nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
Mr. Jafarzadeh and Soona Samsami, an Iranian women’s rights activist, said the two sites are located at what they called the TABA industrial site outside the city of Karaj and a site called Shafizadeh outside Qazvin. The two sites, Jafarzadeh said, are closely managed by the Defense Ministry – a fact he said should serve as a “red flag” to the IAEA and others trying to determine if Iran’s nuclear program is aimed at military applications.
As in the past, the information was provided by members of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI, or MEK) who have infiltrated the Iranian nuclear program, according to the two Washington dissidents.
And also as in the past, the dissidents used the opportunity of a press conference to lobby for MEK’s removal from the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations.
MEK supporters were not successful in efforts to persuade the Bush administration to delist the group, and they’ve so far failed with the Obama administration as well.
Raymond Tanter, a former national security official in the Reagan White House and a longtime supporter of the MEK, says US intelligence agencies “missed” the so-called Arab spring because they were too focused on official groups rather than on those that “are not permitted.” A similar scenario is playing out in Iran, he says, with intelligence officials ignoring the groups that have the best inside information, particularly on Iran’s nuclear program.
With the international community paying heightened attention to other parts of the Middle East, the Iranian government is trying to further its own political and security aims, says Mr. Tanter, a visiting professor at Georgetown University in Washington. “The Iranian regime is seeking to fly under the radar while it continues more activities for enriching uranium,” he says.
Jafarzadeh and Ms. Samsami provided detailed information concerning what centrifuge parts are produced where. The information also includes the names of Iranian military officers and others involved in managing the TABA and Shafizadeh sites, some of whom are already named in United Nations Security Council resolutions for their involvement in the Iranian nuclear program.
The information divulged at the press conference was turned over to US officials earlier, they said.
Jafarzadeh offered some colorful detail of the operations at the two sites. He said the informants claim that employees traveling between sites with production documents have their briefcases handcuffed to them so they cannot become separated. All phone calls at the facilities are closely monitored, while electronic devices and personal computers are not allowed, he says – making the removal of any information extremely difficult.
Coincidentally or not, the Iranian dissidents are expecting a new State Department ruling on the MEK’s terrorist listing within a few weeks. The MEK was listed as a terrorist organization under the Clinton administration, with the urging of the Iranian government at the time and based on information that members of the group were involved in killing American citizens.
But Tanter claims the MEK has not been involved in any “military activity” for a decade.