Professor Graham Allison of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government earns full marks for prescience about Iran's covert nuclear site.
As long ago as 2006, he was warning in an article for a Yale on-line publication that the West's focus should not only be on Iran's known nuclear operations but on potential covert sites as well. Allison said Iran was much more likely to be carrying out work relevant for nuclear weapons capacity at a location beyond the reach of the monitors of the International Atomic Energy Agency than under their noses.
Today, President Obama and the leaders of Britain and France announced at a summit in Pittsburgh that Iran had informed the IAEA this week of a previously undisclosed nuclear site, about 100 miles southwest of Tehran. The underground site is said to be a second nuclear enrichment facility, with about 3,000 centrifuges installed but not yet operational. Iran's primary enrichment site, which is well-known to the IAEA and monitored by its inspectors, is at Natanz, south of Tehran. Another known nuclear research site is at Isfahan, farther south. Iran insists that its nuclear program is purely peaceful, aimed at producing nuclear energy.
News reports today say US intelligence has known of Iran's secret site for several years. Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, responded that Iran was under no obligation to disclose all its nuclear facilities, an interpretation that other nations immediately challenged. As Obama put it, "Iran is breaking rules that all nations must follow."
Allison, the former dean of the Kennedy School and an expert on nuclear weapons policy and nuclear terrorism, was assistant secretary of defense early in the Clinton Administration, focusing on nuclear issues and US relations with the forrmer Soviet Union. He now heads the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Kennedy School.
His 2006 column for YaleGlobal online, entitled "How Good is American Intelligence on Iran?", pointed to the risk of covert programs beyond the monitors' reach.
"The dog that hasn’t barked is Iran’s covert programs for acquiring nuclear weapons," Allison wrote. He cited four “known unknowns,” to use former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's language, that "lie at the heart of judgments about the threat posed by Iran." The first of those: "Is success in Iran’s overt effort a necessary condition for success in its covert programs? President Bush and his European colleagues operate on the assumption that it is. Otherwise their operational objective – a moratorium on research activities at Isfahan and Natanz – would be beside the point."
Allison said that focusing too heavily on Natanz and Isfahan risked giving Iran the impression that it could move ahead elsewhere with impunity.
In a follow-up column in June this year for the Washington Post, Allison was more colorful. He said Iran had moved far along in its development of nuclear technology. "The brute fact is that Iran has crossed a threshold that is painful to acknowledge but impossible to ignore: It has lost its nuclear virginity."
Even more vividly, Allison suggested that the obsessive focus on Natanz and other known sites was akin to "the drunk looking for his car keys under the lamppost, even though he knows he dropped them a hundred yards away, because that is where the light is."
About this blog
About James F. SmithJim Smith came home to his native Boston in 2002 to become the Boston Globe's foreign editor after spending 22 years abroad. He was previously based in Buenos Aires and Mexico City for the LA Times, and in Johannesburg, Tokyo and The Hague for the AP. In 2007 he became the Globe's national political editor, coordinating presidential campaign coverage. He is a Yale graduate, and has an MBA. He is married to Maxine Hart and has two sons, Matthew and Daniel.
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