Jun 07, 2023
Jun 07, 2023
Robert Kelley was interviewed by EIR’s Michele Steinberg on Feb. 29, 2012, the day that Iran presented an important communication—a Modality Plan—to the IAEA. The interview follows.
The ‘Modality Plan’
When a country goes to war, as the U.S. did in 2003 with disastrous results, there should be some lessons learned on the table. It would appear there are no lessons learned being used in the current hysteria. The most important is peer review. The accusations leveled against Iraq in the nuclear area in 2003 were largely from the mouth of one single low-level analyst in the U.S. He got far outside his competence and made accusations that were shredded in peer reviews by far more competent people, yet his view bubbled to the top because the peers were muzzled and his scary message was more welcome in high circles. The November 2011 IAEA Board Report [on Iran] looks like déjà vu. . . . I think the Board of Governors should demand an investigation of the report and an independent review, line by line, of where that information was coming from, and why it was spun so heavily to one side. — Robert Kelley, former IAEA Chief Inspector
EIR: Just this morning, Iran said it required the International Atomic Energy Agency to sign something called a “Modality Plan” for continuing inspections, especially of the Parch in site [a military complex—ed.], following the last visit by IAEA inspectors. Can you explain the significance of this, especially because of the heated atmosphere against Iran following the IAEA’s Feb. 24 report? [1. The Feb. 24 IAEA report states, “The Agency continues to have serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear program,” without presenting any new evidence. Another section of the report affirms once again that all the nuclear sites being inspected and filmed round-the-clock, are secure, that there is no diversion of nuclear materials, and there is no evidence that other sites exist.]
Kelley: Well, I haven’t seen the Modality in question, but I think it’s an extremely wise thing to do on Iran’s part. Iran has allowed access to some of their sites in the past, and nobody knows what sites the IAEA asked to go to; they don’t know what they were looking for, and they don’t know what they found. If the IAEA is granted access, both sides must agree to disclose where they went, what they were looking for, and what they found. Otherwise, it is lose-lose for Iran. If IAEA finds nothing and keeps quiet, Iran loses. If IAEA finds something and it implicates Iran, Iran loses.
IAEA has already visited Parchin twice, in 2005, I believe. They did not say where they went, what they were looking for, and what they found, or didn’t find. Iran is the sole loser in this example and they are smart to have agreed upon terms in advance.
EIR: As you said, the Parchin site has been inspected previously; could you analyze this last visit by the IAEA that led to the Feb. 24 report? Was Iran ambushed in a way, in making the Parchin visit an immediate issue? The refusal to allow the February visit to Parchin has certainly been used in the Israeli Cabinet, and in the U.S. Congress, as evidence of Iran’s non-compliance
Kelley: The first thing to look at about Parchin is that it’s a huge site; I would guess conservatively, about 1,000 buildings. So back in 2005, when the IAEA was given the right, I think, to go to five buildings on the first trip, and five buildings on the second trip, they got to choose the buildings they wanted to go to, and they didn’t find anything, apparently.
That’s the reason for the Modality: that is, the IAEA should have said where they went, and what they were looking for, and what they didn’t find. The IAEA was looking, I think, in the wrong part of the Parchin site.
Again, it’s maybe 24 square miles, 1,000 buildings, and the building that’s recently been called to their attention is several miles away from where they were looking the first time. So now they’re saying we know exactly the building we want to go to and we think we know what was going on there—let us go. And I think the Iranians are saying, “We’ll let you go there, but after you’ve been, you have to tell the world what you actually found.”
Lessons Not Learned
EIR: You were at the IAEA prior to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and it turns out that the weapons of mass destruction—which had been the subject of many horrifying statements by Tony Blair, Condoleezza Rice, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush—didn’t exist. We’re still there, with thousands of Americans killed, tens of thousands injured, 167,000 Iraqi civilians killed according to one UN report. What have we learned from that, about the IAEA process?
Kelley: What we learned back in 2002 and 2003, when we were in the run-up to the war, was that peer review was very important, that expert review is very important, and that the analysis should not be left to one person, or to a very small group of people. That’s what happened that year.
What have we learned since then? Absolutely nothing.
The same thing is going on again. A very small group of people, if not down to individuals, are doing analysis and putting forth their opinions, and those opinions are not being checked.
In 2003, for example, an analyst at the CIA was in-YouTube insisting that certain aluminum tubes would be used in gas centrifuges. He had a very limited experience of his own in the government; but in Washington, it was seen as a very large experience, and his views were given a lot of exposure. As it turned out, there were genuine experts in the Department of Energy in particular, who refuted his arguments at every point, and showed why he was provably and actually wrong. And those peer reviews actually never made it to the attention of the decision-makers in the Administration, or they chose to ignore them. I think the same thing’s going on now.
EIR: It seems like there’s a game going on, where Iran cannot pin down the accusations against her—especially unpublished information from individual countries. It seems as if the IAEA would be in a position to contradict unfounded information that is coming from various countries, but it does not. And then, in the U.S. intelligence services, they can cherry-pick information from the IAEA. And I’ve never seen a director of the IAEA, while he was director; contradict any of the statements coming out of various capitals. Is the director aware of these misstatements, and what could be done about it?
Kelley: In a way, you have it a little bit backwards, because the intelligence agencies are not cherry-picking from the IAEA report, because they’re the source of the IAEA report. The IAEA is very competent in going and looking at nuclear materials, and making measurements of how much uranium is in the drum, or what enrichment material is coming out of the centrifuge—that’s what they do.
They don’t know anything about weapons, they don’t have a mission to look at weapons, they don’t have a mandate to look at weapons. People who think that the IAEA is a weapons watchdog are just terribly, terribly mistaken.
So when the IAEA gets a job like this, and begins to analyze it, they very quickly get out of their depth, and you begin to see a lot of conclusions and analysis coming out of the IAEA that are just not supported by the facts.
Furthermore, none of this information is developed by the IAEA themselves. They’re being given information by several member states apparently, and they’re just taking that information and parroting it back to us. If you read the IAEA’s Board of Governors’ report, they’re not saying that they’ve “concluded” these things, “analyzed” these things or whatever; they’re saying that, “we have been told that. . . . It is said that. . . .A member state tells us that an Iranian went to this conference.”
This is not information that they’re developing themselves. So, you really can’t say that the member states are cherry-picking from the IAEA; they’re actually just setting the IAEA up as a sounding board and cherry-picking themselves.
EIR: But with the authority of a UN agency behind it.
Kelley: You know, IAEA is not a United Nations organization. It’s independent of the UN. They report findings and violations of the treaty to the UN. Just a small point, but it’s important.
The Niger Yellow-Cake Caper
EIR: Going back to the case of Iraq. Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei exposed the forgery of the Niger yellow cake to the United Nations Security Council. I asked you, why did it take so long to expose that forgery? I think there were two steps to that: The United States never exposed that forgery, and yet, talked about the Niger yellow cake for months. But then, my recollection is on that there was a dramatic statement by Dr. ElBaradei exposing that these were forgeries.
Kelley: He said they were “not authentic,” which is what I have criticized him for: for not being more forceful.
EIR: Okay. Tell me what was going on. When did the IAEA get the documents? Had the U.S. dragged its heels on providing them? Tell us the whole story.
Kelley: Clearly, the U.S. dragged their heels. The U.S. was making public statements about uranium from Africa—I believe it was a very important citation in the President’s [George W. Bush’s] speech that he gave in Ohio, I think it was in that Fall, and came out in a number of places. And the IAEA kept asking to see those documents and see that evidence. That evidence didn’t come until February of2003. The documents were given to us in Vienna on the same day they were given to the leader of the IAEA Iraq team in New York. He flew back that night, and the next day, he began working on them, because he was a native French speaker, and an experienced analyst, and he was the best person to look at information that largely was in French.
And in about three hours, he was able to determine major flaws in the documents that showed that they were forgeries: There were things like grammar; dates had been whited out on a genuine memo and changed; typefaces varied within the document where you could see that the document had been modified; and people who had signed things allegedly, were dead when they signed them.
So it was very, very clear that the documents were forgeries. And it took about, I would say, three hours of hard work to prove that. So, the U.S. had the documents for months, and when they turned them over to the IAEA, the problem got solved very quickly.
I believe some people in the press who originally got those documents in Rome, came to the same conclusion very quickly as well.
EIR: And yet, for months the Niger documents were used as a critical piece of evidence. Do you think something like this is going on now in Iran? I’ve heard reports of a stolen laptop. It’s hard to follow the accusations and counter-accusations, but in your view, are there forgeries or falsifications going on regarding Iran that are being taken as true?
Kelley: I think it’s very possible. You mentioned the laptop computer. That’s the basis for a huge amount of information that was given to the IAEA years ago, and I think the U.S. intelligence community has concluded that the laptop computer, or whatever that digital file was, may be largely correct, largely real information.
But, the U.S. intelligence community also concluded that Iran stopped its weaponization program back in 2003, which is consistent with the so-called laptop. Where the forgery issue becomes a concern, if you go through the IAEA November report, they’ve numbered the paragraphs, so you can go through paragraph by paragraph, and make tables, and you can see lots of things. And one of the things that I looked for was how many of the paragraphs concern information that the weaponization program is still continuing in Iran. Out of62 paragraphs, 2 paragraphs suggest that the program is continuing. If you look at those two paragraphs, one of them, you can’t tell—because they don’t give you enough information to know—if it’s true or false. They just make a statement that someone has told them that the program’s continuing.
But the other paragraph that refers to this has information that was published in the Times of London in the Fall of 2009, and that information looks very suspicious. It apparently has grammatical and word problems, as did documents given to the IAEA in the past that were shown to be forgeries. And Mohamed ElBaradei says in his memoirs, the IAEA got that information from Israel in the Fall of 2009, and decided they couldn’t use it because the information wasn’t sourced; they couldn’t tell where it came from, and it looked very questionable.
So ElBaradei rejected the information on good grounds. He was a careful lawyer, who said, “I’m not going to use information that I can’t vet.” And yet, it turns up in November of 2011 as being one of the two arguments that Iran is continuing the weaponization program.
The lack of curiosity, the lack of initiative on the part of the IAEA: To say, information that ElBaradei rejected, and now we‘re using it, is just amazing. You couldn’t get away with that in academia; you couldn’t get away with that in the intelligence community, saying that, “Well, here’s information that somebody says was no good,” and then turn around and use it.
And not at least say, “I’ve resurrected this information because now I know it is good.” They don’t do that. They hide the fact that this information was rejected once before. It throws the credibility of the whole report into question.
Tension in the Board of Governors
EIR: Is there a format, where the UNSC members, who can be pretty aggressive at times, can do that type of questioning?
Kelley: This report was not generated specifically for the Security Council; it’s generated for the Board of Governors of the IAEA. And it’s the Board of Governors, I think, who should sit down and say, “Where did this report come from?”
I think the Board of Governors should demand an investigation of the report and an independent review, line by line, of where that information was coming from, and why it was spun so heavily to one side.
EIR: Is the Board of Governors the same as the membership of the IAEA?
Kelley: The Board of Governors is 35 states, which are chosen on a very complicated formula that came up way back in the 1950s, and in each geographic region of the world, there are several “nuclear-have” states that will always be on the Board of Governors, like the U.S., or the U.K., or France, and then other states are chosen on a rotating basis to be part of it.
But the Board of Governors represents the whole world, and to some extent in recent years—it used to operate on consensus—now it’s kind of divided into the developed states and the Non-Aligned Movement, so you see a lot of tension on the Board now. I think the formula is such that Russia and China are always there.
The Board is reconstituted every year, and you’ll see maybe 20 countries that are always on it, because of this formula, and then others rotate in and out.
EIR: The Times of London is [owned by Rupert Murdoch’s] News Corp., that is under legal investigation for tapping phones and other illegal activities. So, you’re saying that the Times of London received this leaked document that was the same that had been rejected by Dr. ElBaradei?
Kelley: I get the story in bits and pieces, but it would appear that a government gave the document to the IAEA, and ElBaradei said, “Thank you, [but] I don’t trust this.” That government then took a version of the document to London and found a newspaper that would publish it. And that happened to be the Times. It was 2009, just about the time that ElBaradei finished his final term as director general. So, he rejected it, and I read somewhere, that about 14 days later, the information appeared in the press.
EIR: The whole question of countries giving information such as the allegations that appear in the November report—and this has happened before—where the country does not have to give the underlying evidence, seems to be a problem. National security, understood.
But it is troubling that even the member countries and Board of Governors are not allowed to see the actual original information given. Correct?
Kelley: Like any statement of that kind, it varies from time to time. This thing we mentioned about the Times of London, in ElBaradei’s memoir, he says that he was told by the government that gave it to him, that he could show it to Iran. In other cases, a government will give something, but say you absolutely can’t show this to the aggrieved party. Well, that makes a difference, of course.
What you’d expect the IAEA to do in a case like that, is to say, okay, you’ve given me the information; I’ll try to verify it by independent means. If they verify it by independent means, then the party that gave it to them is vindicated. If they can’t verify it by independent means, then, if the party won’t agree to have the information disseminated or further analyzed, I think the IAEA is within their rights to say, “Well, we really can’t use that.”
For example, in 1991-92, at the end of the first Gulf War, a number of countries were providing the IAEA with very detailed information about where to look for Iraq’s nuclear program. And IAEA went to those places and found Iraq’s nuclear program. So, it wasn’t too much of an issue, because the information was genuine enough to lead people to the place they needed to go.
If, in later years, you get information and you can’t verify it, and you can’t go to those places, then the job certainly gets harder. It doesn’t mean that the information that people are giving you is wrong, that it’s not accurate, but if you can’t prove it, then, given that you‘re working in a very legal environment, you have to decide how far can you push it.
EIR: Could you elaborate on your view that the U.S. is the source of the Annex information [section of the report reflecting information from sources other than direct IAEA inspections and verification—ed.] in the 2011 November report? Secondly, there are two terms that confuse people: “Alleged Studies” and “Possible Military Dimensions”—PMDs. PMDs have been used in some debates, including important debates in the U.S. Congress, to mean “WMD” [weapons of mass destruction] and Alleged Studies becomes, “evidence of.” What do these terms really mean, and where do they come from?
Kelley: Right. These terms are probably not defined in any legal book or anyplace like that. But the term Alleged Studies comes from the information that the U.S. provided to the IAEA, some eight years ago, and that’s the laptop computer you referred to. So, supposedly, the U.S. either got a laptop computer or maybe it was a DVD, but it had a lot of digital files on it, both text and other things, and that information was given to the IAEA, many, many years ago. And that’s called the Alleged Studies.
So, it’s not a surprise that there’s nothing since2003 in that package, since it’s old news. . . . That’s when they got it.
“Possible Military Dimensions” or PMDs is the IAEA sitting down and saying, “Well, a lot of people have told us that Iran has a nuclear weapons program. What are its ‘possible military dimensions’? ” And that is a reasonable thing for the IAEA to be asking; after all, they are a verification agency that is trying to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. And so, they would like to know, is this big enrichment enterprise that we see at the Qoms centrifuge plant, for example, for weapons? So, they’re looking at the dimensions, the possible dimensions, of this unknown program. That in itself is a reasonable thing to do. When they get out of their technical depth, then you start to see a problem.
It would not be unreasonable for the IAEA to do this and then trip over some information, or find some information on their own that proved the point. If there is an Iranian program and they find it, so be it. That would be a good thing for them to do.
EIR: But, going back to the Modality question: If they go a specific site and they don’t find anything, the IAEA might not say that they didn’t find anything. So that again brings Iraq back to mind: We had satellite photos—this site, that site. I think some neo-conservatives, and others who wanted a war with Iraq, assumed that Iraq would never agree to letting inspectors back in. So it was safe to claim anything, based on satellite photos; but when inspectors went to those sites, they saw nothing related to WMD, including when they did tests of the soil, and other things that don’t appear to the naked eye. Has that happened in regard to Iran, where some of the PMDs have been checked out, but they’re being required to be checked out again and again?
Kelley: You’re looking at two very different situations. I was the chief analyst for Iraq back in 2002 and 2003, and we had a whole list of places where we thought something was happening. When we were let back into the country, we said to the Iraqis, we want to go to these places, and check these things. The Iraqis were incredibly cooperative, but the political correctness out there says, “Ah no, Iraq impeded the inspectors,” etc., etc.
That’s an absolute lie from people who weren’t there. The Iraqis knew that this was their last chance to prevent a war, and every time I asked them to do something, they said, “Now, or later?” You know, “Let’s do it. Let’s get it done. You want to talk to that person; you’ll talk to them today. You want to go to this place, we’ll take you now.”
And we went to all those places and there was nothing. Now in the case of Iran, maybe they do have something to hide. It’s a very different problem you’re looking at, a lot of suspicious things, satellite photographs, as you mentioned. And you say, well, there might be something there.
I think Iran is in a position of answering questions; particularly, they’re answering questions about things they know aren’t true, and they’re having a very hard time proving they’re not true. Or, maybe in other cases, they’re hiding something, and we can’t tell. But it’s a very different situation from Iraq, where we knew there was nothing.
The Modality issue is important because the IAEA is throwing accusations around like crazy! You know, “This place is doing this, and this place is doing that, and there’s this big cylinder,” and yet, if they find out something isn’t true, they just go silent.
And look, Iran is going to be saying in this case, “If you’re going to accuse us of doing something, and we’re going to answer your questions, then you are going to have to say, you asked us this question; we gave you this answer; and it’s satisfactory.”
This actually happened, about three or four years ago. They came up with something called the “Agreed Work Plan,” and one of the things about the AWP, was that the IAEA had, say, half a dozen allegations of things that they said Iran was doing. And they worked through it with Iran, and at the end of the AWP, the IAEA had crossed off everything on the plan, and said, “Okay, we investigated that.”
EIR: Part of the Agreed Work Plan was a 117-page document that Foreign Minister [Ali Akbar] Salehi of Iran mentioned, prior to the November 2011 report coming out, and he said that Iran had already answered the questions in the 117 pages, and yet the IAEA doesn’t seem to want to accept this. I was hoping to actually have a copy of the report, and according to the Press Office of the IAEA, this is not available to the public, to the press, and it was not even clear to me whether the member countries of the IAEA have seen it. It seems like an important document that could be analyzed and vetted by professionals, peer reviewed, and so forth, so it is not left to this murky, foggy process.
Kelley: Well, I’m with you on this one. In fact, I’ve never seen that report, and I really would like to see it, because I think it would be extremely interesting. I would think that the Iranians would find it extremely useful, from their point of view, to release it. Somebody told me once, I think they did, but I guess it just never saw the light of day or got circulated. And I was wondering the same thing in the last few days. Apparently Iran gave the IAEA a letter as part of these so-called failed negotiations and said, “This is the next step.”
I would think Iran would be the one who would want to release that information. And so here, I am very critical of the Iranians. If they are really writing such reports, and they really stand behind them, they should be releasing them to a wider audience, so that their position versus the IAEA’s would be clearer. I commented to you earlier that the Iranian Ambassador, if you see him in a social event or something, will criticize the IAEA’s inspections at Parchin; to you, one on one, he will make negative comments about it. But they don’t seem to go out of their way to make those comments more public. Clearly they are already public. He is making them in a public place, but they are really lousy at PR, is what I guess I am saying.
No Abatement in the Drive for War
EIR: That said, I have two further questions. The one is the question of the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate. In 2007, when the NIE declassified version was released, there was such a strong response from the public, from the press, etc., that it kind of stopped the drive for war cold.
EIR: Nothing like that has happened with the 2010 NIE—there is no declassified version, but from the little bits and pieces that have been commented about, the reports that have been given to authorized Members of Congress, it really reaffirms the 2007 finding that the weapons program was stopped, and this is backed up by statements of [Director of National Intelligence] Gen. James Clapper, [Defense Secretary Leon] Panetta, and so forth to the Congress.
Kelley: Just in the last few days.
EIR: Yet there is no abatement in the drive for war as we are going into a major political meeting in the United States, the American-Israel Public Affairs Council, AIPAC. I monitor the press every day for talk of the military option in Iran, and I can’t get through all the articles in a day, including maps, descriptions of nuclear submarines coming from Britain, and aircraft from Israel, and so forth. So the war talk is very, very much on.
So the NIE II from 2010 seems to be buried. But also the IAEA report—two IAEA reports—have gone a long way to building that feeding frenzy. Was there an end run to maybe some channels that got that information outside of the U.S.? I am sure there are source reports that say “Iran has this,” or “Iran has that,” and other agencies contradicted it, and so they went to someone who wouldn’t contradict it. Is that feasible to you?
Kelley: Very much.
EIR: That someone being the IAEA?
Kelley: Right. Well, you made reference in an earlier part of this interview to the fact that the U.S. government gave the Niger documents to the IAEA. That was an end run at the time, because there was a debate within the government about whether the Niger documents were genuine, and the group that thought the Niger documents weren’t genuine used the IAEA to get the word out. So there’s a precedent for that. Give it to somebody who is outside the government, and let them talk.
Certainly, what you see right now is that there must be two groups within the U.S. government. There is a very visible one that publishes the NIE; there is the Secretary of Defense who says he does not think the program is active today—I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but you’ve seen what he says: They haven’t made the decision to go forward, or something like that.
And then you have somebody who is pumping up the IAEA to be much more activist—and I am searching for words here—but to be active and to be polarized, get the word out that they want to get out. So there is something going on, and there is an end run in the IAEA; in this case, it’s being used as a mouthpiece. I think the IAEA under ElBaradei would not have done that. I think the IAEA under Blix definitely wouldn’t have done that.
They would have tried to behave in a more neutral fashion, and I think they would have used the good judgment that Blix and ElBaradei used in saying, we are lawyers and we want our evidence to be strong and to be public. . . . And Blix said the same thing on Capitol Hill last week, when we were with him, that you have to be very careful about information, that we can vet it.
EIR: The point of the authenticity and importance of the IAEA’s accepting or rejecting information could be a matter of life and death. So is there a precedent for something you mentioned earlier, which I think is extremely important: a Board of Governors’ investigation of how the reports were put together? And how likely is that to happen?
Kelley: I am not aware of any precedent to that. The Board of Governors is usually not terribly activist about things like that. Is it likely? It is certainly not going to be generated by any of the Western states that I am most familiar with. The Non-Aligned Movement is becoming stronger and stronger on the Board. Maybe they would press for something like that.
Transparency Needed on Both Sides
EIR: What do you think would be a viable war avoidance outcome to the P5+1 [UN Security Council Permanent Five plus Germany] talks with Iran, provided they are not derailed by some of the tensions coming off of the IAEA report?
Kelley: I am a nuclear engineer, not a political scientist. It seems to me that many good voices are speaking out on all sides. Blix, for example, is saying we need good faith negotiations with the Iranians; there needs to be some kind of reward for good behavior; there needs to be more transparency and openness, there should be talks, where if Iran says we agree to do something in a verifiable way, the West would say, “Okay, then we agree to back off” on some demand we are making, or some sanction, for example. That to me is a very important thing.
Another is, I think Iran really should benefit from what went on in Iraq. The Iraqis learned to be very transparent, and the Iraqis said, if you have any reasonable request, we will deal with it. If they are not doing anything in Parchin, they should conclude this Modality and should say, “Let’s write down the terms of what you are going to do. We really, really want to do this; we know that you are not going to find anything, but when you get done, you’ll tell people what you didn’t find, and you’ll drop this issue, and say this issue is dead and cold and buried.”
So, a little bit more openness on both sides. The IAEA should be taking more information to Iran and showing it to them directly. We proved the forgeries in Iraq were forgeries by letting the Iraqis help us to take them apart. And we took them apart and they said, “Look at this and this and this,” and it could be independently verified they were forgeries.
And finally, I think the IAEA needs to be more transparent with the public. They need to put out information that can be checked by peers and by others out there and can be resolved in a collegial fashion, which is not happening right now. Certainly, I have criticized some of the things in the IAEA report, and the response is just stonewall silence. They are just hoping these objections will go away. And if I’m wrong, I should also be held accountable if I say this information doesn’t look real to me, and they say, “Well it is, because—.”
EIR: Thank you Robert. If there is an investigation that comes about I think many of the issues that you raised in detail provide some very good outlines for the investigation, not just by the IAEA but by the United Nations, by the United States government. I think commissions should take place before wars, not after.
Kelley: Yes, I think I certainly would agree with that.
More by : Michele Steinberg