Ex-IAEA Chief Warns on Using Unverified Intel to Pressure Iran

by Gareth Porter

In a critique of the handling of the Iran file by the International Atomic Energy Agency, former IAEA Director General Han Blix has called for greater skepticism about the intelligence documents and reports alleging Iranian nuclear weapons work and warned that they may be used to put diplomatic pressure on Tehran.

In an interview with this writer in his Stockholm apartment late last month, Blix, who headed the IAEA from 1981 to 1997, also criticized the language repeated by the IAEA under its current director general, Yukiya Amano, suggesting that Iran is still under suspicion of undeclared nuclear activity.

Blix, who clashed with US officials when he was head of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq from 2000 to 2003, said he has long been skeptical of intelligence that has been used to accuse Iraq and Iran of having active nuclear-weapons programs. “I’ve often said you have as much disinformation as information” on alleged weaponization efforts in those countries, Blix said.


Former IAEA Director General Hans Blix. Credit: Mikael Sjöberg

Referring to the allegations of past Iranian nuclear weapons research that have been published in IAEA reports, Blix said, “Something that worries me is that these accusations that come from foreign intelligence agencies can be utilized by states to keep Iran under suspicion.”

Such allegations, according to Blix, “can be employed as a tactic to keep the state in a suspect light—to keep Iran on the run.” The IAEA, he said, “should be cautious and not allow itself to be drawn into such a tactic.”

Blix warned that compromising the independence of the IAEA by pushing it to embrace unverified intelligence was not in the true interests of those providing the intelligence.

The IAEA Member States providing the intelligence papers to the IAEA “have a long-term interest in an international service that seeks to be independent,” said Blix. “In the Security Council they can pursue their own interest, but the [IAEA] dossier has to be as objective as possible.”

In 2005, the George W. Bush administration gave the IAEA a large cache of documents purporting to derive from a covert Iranian nuclear weapons research and development program from 2001 to 2003. Israel provided a series of documents and intelligence reports on alleged Iranian nuclear weapons work in 2008 and 2009.

Blix’s successor as IAEA director general, Mohamed ElBaradei, recalled in his 2011 memoirs having doubts about the authenticity of both sets of intelligence documents. ElBaradei resisted pressure from the United States and its European allies in 2009 to publish an “annex” to a regular IAEA report based on those unverified documents.

But Amano agreed to do so, and the annex on “possible military dimensions” of the Iranian nuclear program was published in November 2011. During the current negotiations with Iran, the P5+1 (US, UK, Russia, China, France plus Germany) has taken the position that Iran must explain the intelligence documents and reports described in the annex.

The provenance of the largest part of the intelligence documents—the so-called “laptop documents”—was an unresolved question for years after they were first reported in 2004 and 2005. But former senior German foreign office official Karsten Voigt confirmed in 2013 that the Iranian exile opposition group, the Mujahedeen E-Khalq (MEK), gave the original set of documents to the German intelligence service (BND) in 2004. The MEK has been reported by Seymour Hersh, Connie Bruck, and a popular history of the Mossad’s covert operations to have been a client of Israel’s foreign intelligence agency, the Mossad, serving to “launder” intelligence that Mossad did not want to have attributed to Israel.

Blix has been joined by two other former senior IAEA officials in criticizing the agency for its uncritical presentation of the intelligence documents cited in the November 2011 annex. Robert Kelley, the head of the Iraq team under both Blix and ElBaradei, and Tariq Rauf, the former head of the Agency’s Verification and Security Policy Coordination Office, have written that the annex employed “exaggeration, innuendo and careful choice of words” in presenting intelligence information from an unidentified Member State of the IAEA on the alleged cylinder at the Parchin military facility.

Blix said he is “critical” of the IAEA for the boilerplate language used in its reports on Iran that the Agency is “not in a position to provide credible assurances about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities….”

Blix added that it is “erroneous” to suggest that the IAEA would be able to provide such assurances if Iran or any other state were more cooperative. As head of UNMOVIC, Blix recalled, “I was always clear that there could always be small things in a big geographical area that can be hidden, and you can never guarantee completely that there are no undeclared activities.”

“In Iraq we didn’t maintain there was nothing,” he said. “We said we had made 700 inspections at 500 sites and we had not seen anything.”

Blix emphasized that he was not questioning the importance of maximizing inspections, or of Iran’s ratification of the Additional Protocol. “I think the more inspections you can perform the smaller the residue of uncertainty,” he said.

Gareth Porter

Gareth Porter, an investigative journalist and historian specializing in U.S. "national security" policy and was the recipient of the Gellhorn Prize for journalism in 2012. His latest book, Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare, was published by Just World Books in 2014.



  1. The time has come for the change that’s needed, before it slips away. If the past administrators wrote of the annex that the present administrator added, was an exaggeration, especially from an unnamed source, then unless that unnamed source is identified, along with the proof of said information, then it should be stricken along with the administrator being relieved of his position. Credibility is on the line here, for if the IAEA, or else the whole exercise if nothing more than a farce.IMHO

  2. Norman, the point that you make is very important, because these dubious reports by the IAEA could result in devastating wars being fought on the basis of faulty intelligence. This is why it is very important that the Security Council or some other organization studies the behavior of the IAEA and the change of tone and stance by the current director general and if there is some irregularity the current director general has to be replaced in order to ensure the credibility of the organization. This is also important in view of the leaked WikiLeak documents that show that the current director general is far from independent.

  3. Iran has been and continues to yelling and screaming that some of the claims made by IAEA and presented by Mr. Amano are based on false reports for the past 10 years. During his time Mr. Blix was attempting to correct for some of the inaccuracies but the grand masters wouldn’t allow him to do it. Eventually he was forced out of his job by the grand masters as result of his persistence. Now IAEA institution has gone beyond lack of credibility! During Mr. Amano leadership the institution has become so corrupted to a point that its agenda is being dictated by those grand masters who are contributing the most money into the IAEA! Of course and I’m certain, that Mr. Amano likes his job and he has to justify his position somehow! The time has come for the UN general assembly to force Mr. Amano out!

  4. No surprise here: Just a brief look at the way Mr. Amano was elected to the chair of directorship and the promises he made before election is sufficient to prove his bias. Unless proven otherwise IAEA is in the pocket of the parties against any deal !
    Please see;

  5. The IAEA charter does not answer to the UN Security Council, it answers to the General assembly and it is time that the General Assembly took back the running of the IAEA from the Security Council, furthermore it should only accept intelligence from both verifiable sources and members of the IAEA and NPT treaty, the irony of it all to accept evidence from Israel a country that refuses to be party to the NPT and to allow IAEA inspections, and that has a vested interest in not allowing Iran any part of the nuclear cycle including power generation! Israel, if you want to make comment about Iran’s Nuclear capabilities become a member of the IAEA and sign the NPT, then you can do what Iran already does, allow inspectors to look at their Nuclear sites!

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