Kim Jong-unIran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Please click here to access the full report of allegations by the National Council of Resistance of Iran:

Because of  Cooperation between Iranian regime and North Korea in the nuclear field, nuclear warhead and ballistic missiles

Unsettling Report on Iran and North Korea 

By Carol Giacomo, The New York Times 

May 28, 2015

As the clock ticks down to a June 30 deadline for a nuclear deal with Iran, the news has emerged that North Korean nuclear and missile experts may (I emphasize may because I have seen no confirmation) have visited a military site near Tehran last month.

If the report from an Iranian resistance group via Reuters is true, the timing could hardly be worse, at least optically. This is a moment when Iran needs to be doing its best to prove its good intentions to the international community, not flaunting ties to a country with an active nuclear weapons program and a record of threatening behavior.

The nuclear agreement being negotiated between Iran and the major powers – the United States, China, Britain, France, Russia and Germany – is already highly controversial and powerful hardline enemies in Iran, the United States, Israel and elsewhere are working to derail it. If Iran’s top leaders really want a deal, which would lift international sanctions in return for curbs on their nuclear program, it is counter-productive to give the opponents more ammunition that could thwart that goal.

There are reasons to doubt the report. The Iranian embassy in Paris has already repudiated it. It was based on information from the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which has spent years working to undermine the Iranian republic. Although the group’s disclosure in 2002 about Iran’s uranium enrichment plant at Natanz was accurate, its track record overall has been spotty.

But even if the report is true, what does hosting North Korean experts say about Iran? It has been known for quite a while that representatives of Iran and North Korea frequently meet and have had dealings on ballistic missiles, which would not be covered by the nuclear deal. In February, a report from the United States intelligence community noted, as intelligence officials have in the past, North Korea’s “export of ballistic missiles and associated materials to several countries, including Iran and Syria.”

And while Iran and North Korea both were customers of A.Q. Khan, the disgraced mastermind of Pakistan’s nuclear program, an American official told me Thursday that the United States government has seen nothing to suggest Iran is cooperating with North Korea on nuclear weapons.

Such cooperation would belie Tehran’s insistence that it is not pursuing a nuclear weapon and would necessarily blow up any nuclear agreement. But even if a nuclear deal is reached, the major powers will need to watch vigilantly to make sure that Iran doesn’t switch from developing the technology that could enable it to produce a bomb to buying one from North Korea.

28 May 2015

State Department Briefing

Exchange on NCRI revelation

May 28, 2015

Watch the Video Clip About this Exchange

 Matthew Lee (AP): On Iran. Have you seen this new report from the Iranian opposition about Iran-North Korea nuclear cooperation? And whether you have or not, can you – well, if you have, can you speak to it? And if you – well, if you haven’t, I’ll —

MR RATHKE: Let me answer that one and then you can follow up. So we have seen these claims, and we take any such reports seriously. If I can perhaps anticipate one part of your follow-up, we’re examining the report but we don’t have any information at this time that would lead us to believe that these allegations impact our ongoing negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program.

QUESTION: If the allegations are correct, how could that not impact the negotiations?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, we – these allegations – we’re taking them seriously, we’re examining them. I don’t have a stamp to put on them and say whether we’re we able to verify them or not. We don’t – we have not been able to verify them thus far. We’re examining the report and —

QUESTION: This isn’t the first – this isn’t the first time there have been allegations.

MR RATHKE: That’s true. This group has made —

Liz Labott (CNN): No, but others have also said that Iran – there is a significant amount of cooperation between the two. So are you saying that you have no reason to believe that there is such cooperation, or these particular allegations are unfounded?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not saying that they’re unfounded. I’m just saying we don’t have – we’re examining these allegations. They’re serious. I’m not able to verify them.

LIZ Labott (CNN): So if you haven’t – if you’re not able to substantiate whether they’re true or not, how do you know if they’ll impact the negotiations? I mean, if they’re true, feasibly that would impact your negotiations.

MR RATHKE: Well, based on the information that we have at this time, which is the way I would put it.

LEE (AP): If you say, as – that the allegations are serious, why wouldn’t – is this something that’s not going to come up in the negotiations?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to speak to what’s going to come up in the room. But again, serious allegations and we’re looking at them seriously.

QUESTION: Well, let’s put it this way: cutting off Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon is a subject that comes up in negotiations, is it not?

MR RATHKE: Certainly.

QUESTION: Okay. So is sanctions relief, is it not?


Arshad Mohammed (Reuters): Okay. So you’ve just said two things that are involved in the negotiations. You’ve also said that on the sidelines of the negotiations, the fate or the status of the Americans being held or missing comes up.

MR RATHKE: Yes. Right, that is the case.

QUESTION: Why can’t you say whether allegations of Iran’s – of Iranian cooperation or work with North Korea would come up as part of the negotiations?

MR RATHKE: Well, let me take a step back. First, with respect to North Korea, we continue to work with the international community to exercise vigilance over their proliferation activities worldwide. This is the subject of numerous UN Security Council resolutions. They prohibit the transfer to or from the DPRK of goods, technology, of any assistance related to nuclear ballistic missile or other weapons of mass destruction. You’re familiar with all this, but there is of course a very elaborate international framework, including UN Security Council resolutions, as well as unilateral actions, to address the DPRK’s nuclear and missile programs.

And in the same way, any cooperation with Iran on proliferation-sensitive nuclear or ballistic activities would also violate relevant UN Security Council resolutions on Iran, including resolution 1929. So you’ve got UN Security Council resolutions that apply to Iran and to North Korea, and so we follow these extremely closely, but I don’t have more to say on these specific allegations, which we are examining.

QUESTION: Okay. But if it’s a violation, and we’ll take – it’s quite apart from the North – the sanctions on North Korea, you are not negotiating with North Korea at the moment; you have, but you’re not now. You are negotiating with Iran. Iran is in violation of numerous UN Security Council resolutions dating back years and years and years – still – even though they’re complying with the JPOA —


QUESTION: — even though you say they’re complying with the JPOA. So why – is bringing Iran into compliance with all relevant Security Council – all the Security Council resolutions, is that not a goal of the negotiations here?

MR RATHKE: Well, the nuclear talks are focused on the nuclear-related issues.

QUESTION: So they can satisfy —

MR RATHKE: So there are other Security Council resolutions that also apply to Iran, and those continue and they will not be affected by it.

QUESTION: So as part of these negotiations, you could reach an agreement with the Iranians – could – without them addressing the nuclear cooperation with North Korea. Is that correct?

MR RATHKE: Well, again —

QUESTION: Allegations of nuclear cooperation.

MR RATHKE: Again, we are focused on shutting down the pathways to a nuclear weapon. I’m not going to get into the details or to preview how exactly we address these in the negotiating room.

Lee (AP): Why didn’t you raise the allegations in the negotiating room since one means to ascertain whether or not the Iranians have any or have had any nuclear cooperation with the North Koreans would be to ask them?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not ruling it in or out. I’m just saying I’m not going to prejudge what 

LEE (AP) : But why would you – why wouldn’t you? How could you not raise it? I mean, if you’re trying to figure out if they’re doing it, how do you not ask them?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, we have a variety of ways of trying to verify allegations, especially serious ones. So I don’t have more to say on this than that.


QUESTION: Can I just – it’s my understanding – and I just want to make sure that this is still correct or that it is correct —

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — that the United States – this Administration, previous administrations, have expressed concern and have talked about intelligence suggesting that there is cooperation between Iran and North Korea on ballistic missiles. And the – although you are aware of reports like this one that came out overnight about nuclear cooperation, there isn’t any evidence so far. You haven’t seen any sign that these allegations, while serious, are actually true. Is it still correct that the Administration believes that there is ballistic missile cooperation, but not necessarily nuclear cooperation, between the two?

MR RATHKE: I don’t really have more to say than we have said. We’ve – there’s an international framework of Security Council resolutions dealing with both countries. We take any allegations of cooperation seriously.

QUESTION: And then just tangentially, there is a report – this doesn’t have to do with Iran – but about significantly increased activity at a North Korean missile – rocket launching site. Have you seen this? Do you know anything about it?

MR RATHKE: I haven’t seen that. I’m not familiar with that one.

QUESTION: Stay on North Korea?

Former White House staffer Raymond Tanter discusses latest events in DPRK

5 de enero 2015On January 3 2015, Professor Raymond Tanter was on CCTV America. Discussing about the latest events in DPRK.

The United States said its new round of sanctions against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is just the opening salvo in its response to an unprecedented cyberattack on Sony. Yet there may be little else the U.S. can do to further isolate a country that already has few friends in the world.

Even the latest sanctions, handed down by President Barack Obama in an executive order, may not sting quite as badly as U.S. would have hoped. After all, the DPRK is already under a strict sanctions regime imposed by the U.S. over the North’s nuclear program.

The new round of sanctions unveiled Friday hit three organizations closely tied to the North’s defense apparatus, plus 10 individuals who work for those groups or for the DPRK’s government directly. Any assets they have in the U.S. will be frozen, and they’ll be barred from using the U.S. financial system.

But all three groups were already on the U.S. sanctions list, and officials couldn’t say whether any of the 10 individuals even have assets in the U.S. to freeze.

Still, American officials portrayed the move as a swift and decisive response to DPRK behavior they said had gone far over the line. Never before has the U.S. imposed sanctions on another nation in direct retaliation for a cyberattack on an American company.

“The order is not targeted at the people of North Korea, but rather is aimed at the government of North Korea and its activities that threaten the United States and others,” Obama wrote in a letter to House and Senate leaders.

To watch the complete interview please go to:

Delaying or Preventing a Nuclear-Armed Iran

Professor Raymond Tanter

Paper Presented to the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT)
Twelfth World Summit on Counter-Terrorism, Herzliya, Israel 10-13 September 2012

Paper Delivered to DACOR (formerly Diplomats and Consular Officers Retired)

An Organization of Foreign Affairs Professionals

Bacon House Foundation Annual Conference, 28 September 2012, Washington DC

Scenarios for the World Order in the 21st Century

Panel on Authoritarianism & the End of the First Nuclear Era:

The Cases of Pakistan, Iran, & North Korea



In discussing how to delay or prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, consider the political system of the Iranian regime and its proliferation activities. The main argument is that because of the central role of ideology in the authoritarian nature of the Islamic Republic of Iran, traditional means of influence based on national interests have little prospect of success. Hence, there needs to be increased attention paid to bringing about regime change from within to avoid a choice between bombing Iran or living with a nuclear-armed Iran.

Given the revolutionary religious ideology of an authoritarian Iran, it is instructive to compare it with other states that have little or no freedom but have achieved nuclear weapons status, such as Pakistan and North Korea. Neither Islamabad nor Pyongyang is religion the ideology of the state. Although the official name of Pakistan is the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and religion plays an increasing role in its culture and domestic politics, religion is not as dominant in Islamabad as in Tehran. As a result, it is more likely that Pakistan and North Korea would be subject to bargaining about national interest than Iran.

Freedom in the World 2012, published by Freedom House, applies one of three broad designations to states and territories: Free; Partly Free; and Not Free, based largely on respect for political rights and civil liberties. Pakistan is in the group of Partly Free, trending toward less freedom because of blasphemy laws and an increase in official attempts to censor internet-based content. Iran is in the Not Free category, trending toward even less freedom, due to imposition of stark restrictions on nongovernmental organizations and prosecution of an increasing number of civic leaders.

Of the 48 countries designated as Not Free, nine have the lowest possible rating for both political rights and civil liberties. North Korea is a one- party regime that received the dubious distinction of being in the Worst of the Worst category. Despite being in the Not Free category, Pyongyang is more capable of striking a deal based on national interest negotiations than is Tehran.

At issue is the connection among freedom, proliferation, and deterrence, other factors being equal, which they are not. Assume an early version of democratic peace theory holds; then the fewer the political rights and civil liberties within a country, the more likely the regime will be aggressive in its international relations and hence the more dangerous it would be with nuclear weapons.

But in the context of stable deterrence, e.g., during the Cold War, the nature of the political system is less relevant because of national interest calculations. If ideology trumps interest, as in the case of the Islamic Republic of Iran, however, the nature of the political system is even more important in the hands of Iranian Islamists with nuclear weapons. And if the political system is unstable, as is the case of Pakistan, nuclear arms might fall into the hands of Islamists less likely to be deterred by a nuclear-armed India.

So, Pakistan and Iran may be more dangerous than North Korea—Islamabad because of the prospects for regime change from within that allows Islamists to seize the weapons and Tehran because its ideology is more important than interests, it is less deterrable, and potential for internal regime change are slim because dissidents are so divided and not empowered by outside forces.

What Makes Teheran Tick

Raymond Tanter and
Thomas McInerney,
What Makes Tehran Tick, Iran Policy Committee, Washington DC, 2006

Figure 1 demonstrates that Iran perceives threats to pan-Islamism and the Islamic Revolution with greater intensity than threats to its national interests. These include regional hegemony in the Persian Gulf, establishment of a sphere of influence around Iran, and prevention of a renewed threat from Iraq. While ideological imperatives and national interest considerations may be pursued at the same time, assume for the moment they can be separated enough to determine their relative impact on Iranian decisionmaking. In this respect, a primary conclusion of the Iran Policy Committee (IPC) book from which Figures 1-3 derive, What Makes Tehran Tick, is that Tehran is more motivated by its Islamist ideology than by its national interests.

As one analyst states:

Iran’s leadership clings to policies derived largely from [Ayatollah] Khomeini’s ideological vision even when such policies are detrimental to the country’s other stated national interests and even when a sizable portion of the ruling elite rejects them.

In other words, Iran’s revolutionary elite reinforces the regime’s ideological nature by adopting confrontation as a modus operandi. In this respect, “The Islamic Republic is different from its revolutionary counterparts in that the ideology of its state is its religion.” To maintain the ideological character of the Islamic Republic, Khomeini ordered the execution of political prisoners during 1988, as a litmus test of fealty to revolutionary ideals.

For the first decade of clerical rule, Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri was anointed as the successor of Khomeini, founder and leader of the regime. In March 1989, however, Khomeini dismissed Montazeri because of his protest against the massacre of members of the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) and the other opponents of the clerical rule. About 30,000 political prisoners were executed in a very short period.

In view of this discussion of the domestic situation in Iran, consider how its ideology relates to Israel and the America. The regime seeks the destruction of countries, as well as the Sunni “apostate” countries in the Middle East. Consequently, there is very little about which to negotiate with Iran, and a regional realignment that isolates Tehran has a much greater chance of success on its nuclear file than an engagement strategy that seeks to negotiate national interest trade-offs. Now consider how Iran’s authoritarian and ideological nature relates to its hostility toward Israel and the United States as well as its perception of threat from them.

Fig. 2 and 3

Islamist Ideology Trumps Interests

The Islamic Republic of Iran is a prime-time example of an authoritarian state run by ideologically-determined clerics. The Iranian regime’s desire to destroy Israel arises mainly from incompatibility of values more than perceived economic or military threats. In this regard, consider the Figures 2 and 3 above.

During 2006, an Iran Policy Committee research team of Farsi and English speakers collected over 2,400 statements for the period 1979-2005. These statements came from the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (available in microfiche and via World News Connection) and BBC Worldwide Monitoring (via Lexis-Nexis). Search parameters were “Iran and United States” and “Iran and Israel.” The team searched for three two-week periods each year surrounding specific dates: Embassy Takeover Day (4 November), Jerusalem Day (the last Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan), and May Day (1 May). The team sorted the collected statements according to perception of threat and expression of hostility.

Figure 2 shows that out of a universe of Iranian expression of hostility statements, 36% (515) were directed at Israel and 64% (919) were directed at the United States. By contrast, Iran seems to perceive very little threat from Israel. The number of perception of threat statements referring to the United States remained relatively constant (938), but only 137 statements (13% of total) assessed a threat from Israel (Figure 3).

Figure 3 indicates that Iran perceives little direct threat from Israel, but Tehran nonetheless is extremely hostile toward Israel. Indeed, the number of Iranian statements reflecting perceived threat from Israel was so low that there were not enough to conduct a reliable statistical analysis of their intensity over time. The near absence from the Iranian leadership of perception of threat statements about Israel strengthens the argument that Iran’s expressed hostility toward Israel reflects ideological rhetoric rather than any genuine sense of threat emanating from Israel.

The regime’s hostility toward Israel derives its momentum from Iran’s existential engagement in an ideological two-front war: the war for leadership of the international Islamic revival and the war against the West. The fact that Tehran perceives no direct threat from Israel, however, does not mean its hostility should be discounted.

Because the unelected clerical rulers of Iran lack popular legitimacy, they claim the legitimacy of God, terming their principal opposition that rejects the ruling order, “Mohareb,” or “Enemies of God.” Velayat-e faqih, or rule by the jurisprudent, is the Islamic Republic’s ruling principle. The Faqih is an Islamic legal expert who also exerts worldly power. The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, considers himself as the Faqih.

In addition to the Supreme Leader, unelected regime institutions include the Guardian Council, which is the most influential body; it consists of six theologians appointed by the Supreme Leader and six jurists nominated by the judiciary and approved by parliament. It has the authority to vet and ban candidates from standing for elections to parliament, presidency, and Assembly of Experts. The latter appoints the Supreme Leader, monitors his performance, and in principle, could remove him if deemed incapable of carrying out his duties.

At the summit for the 120-member Non-Aligned Movement convened in Iran on 30 August 2012, the Supreme Leader invoked the authority of the cloth to say that Tehran considers nuclear, chemical, and similar weapons “a great and unforgivable sin.” This declaration is in contrasts to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report (also of 30 August 2012): It stated that the IAEA is unable to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran; therefore the Agency is not able to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is for peaceful purposes.

Based in part on the IAEA report, the Permanent Five Members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5+1) proposed to the IAEA Board of Governors a 13 September 2012 Resolution on Iran; The Board passed the Resolution, which stated that Iran “continues to defy” requirements and obligations of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and the IAEA.

A Triangle of Influence on Iran

In view of the authoritarian nature of the Iranian regime and uncertainties about whether it is engaged in prohibited nuclear activities, one of the most pressing issues of the day is how to delay or even prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. Figure 4 contains three legs of a triangle of options to influence Iran—threats, sanctions, and negotiations. Covert action and clandestine activities conducted by intelligence services undergird the triangle.

Threat of Military action is at the apex, an option of last resort when the other legs fail; although that threat remains on the table, military action per se is not one of the current legs of the triangle because it has yet to occur.

Also at the apex is regime change from within, which is only partly under the influence of external players. In the context of American military force used to change regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is little support for an externally-driven regime change strategy to delay or prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. With Tehran’s suppression of street protests after the 2009 Iranian elections, there is scant expectation that regime change from within is viable.  Also, critics counter that the regime change clock ticks slower than Iran’s nuclear progress or Israel’s closing window of opportunity for a successful attack on Tehran’s uranium enrichment, detonator research, and missile sites. But unless internal regime change is on the table, its clock cannot begin to tick.

A first step toward regime change from within was to remove the U.S. terrorist tag from the main opposition organizations that reject clerical rule in Iran, the National Council of Resistance of Iran and its largest unit, the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), which the Department of State did during September 2012.

A second step would be to persuade dissident organizations to work together for political change in Iran, despite their prior and current enmity toward each other. It is in the infamous tradition of revolutionary moments for there to be hostility among resistance groups that jockey for power as they envision regime change.

A third step is to continue applying each tool of the triangle under the assumption that together they constitute collective action short of war, yet do not preclude use of force or pursuit of a regime change at the end of the day. Such combined efforts by the international community might eventually destabilize the regime and pave the way for democratic change in Iran.

At the base of the triangle are covert action and clandestine activities conducted by intelligence services. They also collect and share invaluable intelligence on Iran’s nuclear progress, degree to which sanctions are working, and whether diplomacy is likely to persuade Iran to comply with international demands to cease enriching uranium, place a cap on level of enrichment, and remove all enriched uranium from Iranian territory; abstain from weaponization, and refrain from marrying highly enriched uranium with a trigger mechanism and missile delivery system.

Despite use of these tools of influence by the major powers, Tehran continues on a seemingly unstoppable path to become a nuclear-armed state. Although there is little publicly available evidence to indicate the Iranian regime has made a strategic decision to produce an actual nuclear weapon, it has taken preliminary steps to do so.

Fig. 4 - The Triangle of Influence on Iran

Intelligence underlies the triangle of influence on Iran. Without public acknowledgement, nation states like Israel and the United States benefit from nonstate, independent sources of information based on other methods of human collection, e.g., “lead intelligence,” to compare with that derived via other means. Without facilitating such collection, Jerusalem and Washington have gained insights on Iranian nuclear facilities from the NCRI and its largest unit, the MEK, which operates clandestinely within Iran to collect sensitive intelligence.


The last round of senior-level negotiations between Iran and the major powers failed in Moscow on 19 June; lower-level talks on 26 June between a senior EU envoy and Iran’s deputy nuclear negotiator to restart higher negotiations also failed.

In a meeting in Istanbul on 18 September, Saeed Jalili, Iran’s lead negotiator in talks with the major powers, called negotiations with European Union foreign policy head, Catherine Ashton, “constructive and helpful,” although the meeting did not produce any breakthroughs or even an announcement of follow-on discussions.

Despite threats of military force and additional sanctions as drivers, negotiators have deadlocked over issues like opening up Iran’s Parchin underground munitions testing facility. The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) reports private satellite imagery from 25 July 2012 of what appears to be sanitization and earth displacement activity at Parchin.

It appears as if Tehran is hiding evidence from International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors. IAEA and ISIS reports of November 2011 and August 2012, respectively, raised the issue of whether the Parchin site has been used for testing high explosives for nuclear arms. If it were true, then the regime would be cheating like it did for almost two decades until the NCRI exposed its double-dealing in a series of revelations beginning in 2002.


Although sanctions alone are not likely to reverse Tehran’s quest for nuclear capability or the bomb, they have been useful in creating an alignment against the Islamic Republic. Sanctions make sense, moreover, if they remove the economic base for manufacturing a nuclear weapon or are followed by military action when sanctions no longer seem to be removing that base before Iran acquires nuclear capability or weapon.

Consider the state of play for U.S. sanctions against Iran. During the first week of August, the U.S. House voted 421-6 in favor of the Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Human Rights Act of 2012 to deprive Iran of revenue from energy production and shipping, its largest export sectors. The Senate passed the bill on a voice vote, and the measure went to President Obama for signature. The legislation punishes financial institutions, insurance companies, and shippers that help Iran sell its oil and closes loopholes that permitted Tehran to evade present sanctions. Despite such sanctions, there is evidence in recent international money-transfer investigations that Chinese banks may have flouted United States sanctions against Iran.

The president had already issued an Executive Order on 30 July that expands upon sanctions in the National Defense Authorization Act to make sanctionable knowingly conducting or facilitating significant transactions with a private or public foreign financial institution or other entity for the purchase or acquisition of Iranian oil.

Covert Actions

Sanctions combined with covert actions and clandestine activities also pressure Iran. In 2009, The New York Times reported that President Obama gave the order to speed up a wave of cyberattacks against Iran one whose existence had been exposed just three years before. But, “Tehran sensed his vulnerability, resumed enriching uranium at an underground site at Natanz, one whose existence had been exposed just three years before.”

16 sep 2002 Natanz

But The Washington Post correctly credited, “An exiled opposition group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, [which] first publicly revealed the existence of Iran’s much larger uranium facility at Natanz in 2002.”

Additional aspects of covert action are attacks on Iranian nuclear scientists. Although Tehran incredibly blames Jerusalem as working with the largest unit within the NCRI, the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), a book by two journalists, Yossi Melman and Dan Raviv, Spies Against Armageddon, more plausibly suggests the assassinations are “blue and white,” conducted by Israeli agents from start to finish. Jerusalem, however, neither confirms nor denies whether it collaborates with the MEK but benefits from the regime’s uncertainty regarding such a potential alignment. There are even unsubstantiated rumors that Jerusalem supplied intelligence to the MEK to make its 2002 revelations, among others.

Other illustrations of covert action are assaults against Iranian installations short of war. Iran’s senior atomic energy official revealed on 17 September 2012 that a month earlier there were separate explosions, which he ascribed to sabotage. They targeted power supplies leading to Iran’s two main uranium enrichment facilities, including an underground site that is the most invulnerable to bombing.

Clandestine Activities and Intelligence

Clandestine activities (passive information collection conducted in secret), aided by the Iranian opposition, would create a toxic mix to make the Iranian regime concerned that its nuclear program has been so penetrated by foreign intelligence services and dissidents that it would not be able to conduct a secret breakout without getting caught.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned on 16 September 2012 that Iran would have enough enriched uranium in six to seven months. He said that by mid-2013, Tehran would be 90 percent of the way toward enough enriched uranium for a bomb. It is unclear, however, whether the Netanyahu statement derives from a formal intelligence estimate by Israel’s professionals.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak had already introduced the much-debated notion of Tehran’s “immunity threshold,” a concept that begs for enhanced intelligence collection. Created by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Intelligence Corps, the Iranian zone of invulnerability refers to the regime’s hardening and hiding critical parts of its nuclear program in sites basically secure from external military attack.

Barak stated on CNN during April, “There is no difference in the assessment of intelligence” between Jerusalem and Washington; despite or perhaps because of such apparent consensus, there is a need for an independent source of information based on other methods of human collection, e.g., “lead intelligence” from the Iranian resistance.

But until September 2012, the NCRI and MEK were designated on the U.S. terrorist list, which the U.S. Federal judiciary increasingly saw as illegal; similarly, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey of the George W. Bush administration wrote in the Foreword to Terror Tagging of an Iranian Dissident Organization how the designation was both unwarranted and unwise. And even President Bush credited the NCRI with revelations that led to inspections of and sanctions against Iran.

The ill-advised designation diverted MEK resources from undermining the regime internally and collecting intelligence to struggling with consequences of designation. Although constrained, the resistance has still made blockbuster revelations that helped make the case for against Iran, according to an assessment by a scholar at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies wrote, “The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) revelations about Iran’s secret nuclear program did prove to be the trigger point in inviting the IAEA into Tehran for inspections…” And such inspections led to negotiations between Iran and the major powers.

Iranian Nuclear Installations

Iranian Nuclear Installations

As discussed above, during August 2002, NCRI intelligence exposed a secret nuclear facility near the City of Natanz. An independent think tank, the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), confirmed the revelation, identified the site as a uranium enrichment facility, and released imagery of Natanz in December 2002.

NCRI intelligence was the source of several other critical revelations, including:

August 2002, a heavy water production facility at Arak

ISIS stated, “The existence of this facility was first revealed publicly by the Iranian opposition group, National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), in August 2002. ISIS then located the site in commercial satellite imagery after a wide-area search. By United Nations Security Council resolution 1737 (2006), Iran was to suspend all work on heavy water related projects.”

Arak Installation

A nuclear facility at Lavizan-Shian

Again working independently from the NCRI, the ISIS wrote: “This site first came to public attention in May 2003 when the Iranian opposition group, National Council for Resistance of Iran, announced…the site.”

Lavizan-Shian 1

August 2004, laser enrichment facility at the Center for Readiness and New Defense Technology (known as Lavizan 2), built with equipment removed from the Lavizan-Shian site, kept off limits to international inspectors since its revelation by the NCRI.

Lavizan-Shiam 2

ISIS obtained imagery of the site located in Tehran from August 2003; it showed large buildings inside a secure perimeter. In imagery taken on March 2004, the buildings have been removed. Further clearing can be seen in imagery from May 2004. The site’s dismantlement raises serious concerns because it is the type of measure Iran might take if it were trying to defeat environmental sampling capabilities of the IAEA.

In December 2005, intelligence of National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) revealed a nuclear site near the city of Qum: Tunneling activity in the mountains was initiated in 2000 to construct an underground nuclear facility; the Western allies publicly acknowledged the Qum site in September 2009.

Qum 2

Left image:DigitalGlobe image of the Qum site in June 2007. Construction materials may be seen adjacent to tunnel entrances and at construction staging areas. Right image: Image from DigitalGlobe of the Qum site in January 2009. There is much more construction and excavation activity two years later.

NCRI intelligence revealed, during September 2009, two additional sites in and near Tehran, where the Iranian regime may be working on detonators for nuclear warheads, one of the points in dispute between the IAEA and Tehran and in the nuclear negotiations.

Prompted by such publicity, the Iranian regime admitted in September of that year existence of a uranium enrichment facility about 20 miles north of Qum. And by January 2012, Iran stated it had begun enrichment at the heavily fortified site—the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant.

One aspect of validation concerns how there has been subsequent follow-on of revelations in which the NCRI also played a role. With respect to the Fordow facility, built beneath a mountain outside Qum, the IAEA report of August 2012 focuses on Fordow and Parchin, two facilities publicly identified in NCRI intelligence revelations before they became part of the mainstream public narratives about Iran. Again working independently of the NCRI, an ISIS report of September 2004 suggested Parchin was a suspect nuclear site, which complements revelations of the NCRI a year later.


Left image:Satellite image of Iran’s Fordow enrichment facility near the city of Qum, 27 September 2009. Right image: Image from DigitalGlobe of the same site. There is much more construction and excavation activity, 15 August 2012

Regarding the validity of Iranian resistance revelations, Dr. Frank Pabian, Senior Nonproliferation Analyst at the U.S. Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, stated, ‘They’re [the NCRI] right 90 percent of the time. That doesn’t mean they’re perfect, but 90 percent is a pretty good record.” Even if the NCRI and MEK did not have such an impressive track record, nonstate intelligence from resistance sources is at least of value as a “lead” to compare with State-derived information using other sources and methods.

From Authoritarianism toward a Free Iran

First, it was and is in the interest of both Jerusalem and Washington that the State Department removed the NCRI and the MEK from the Department’s terrorist list in September 2012, as a first step to embrace and thus empower the Iranian resistance that rejects clerical rule in Tehran and augment collection of intelligence about Iran. Now that the terror tag has been removed, collection of dissident information as lead intelligence can accelerate and complement that of western services to bolster talks and sanctions regarding Iran. Removal of the terrorist label enhances collection of intelligence because resources used by the resistance to get off the terrorist list will be available again for intelligence collection and dissemination.

Second, facilitating resettlement of Iranian members of the MEK who remain in Iraq would help energize the organization’s intelligence capacity against Iran, and the worldwide pro-Israel community has a chance to become active in such a cause via its contacts in western parliaments.

Third, because sanctions and talks are failing to change the trajectory of the Iranian regime to become a nuclear-weapons capable state, now is the time to enhance the quality of intelligence about Iran by empowering efforts of dissident organizations that reject clerical rule and have a demonstrated capacity for collecting and distributing intelligence about Iranian nuclear progress—the National Council of Resistance and Iran and its largest unit, the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq.

Finally as freedom replaces authoritarianism in Iran, whether it has nuclear weapons or not would be of less consequence than it is now. And as an ideologically-driven Iranian regime transitions to a more secular democracy, the nuclear issue would be less of a threat to global and regional international security.


Professor Raymond Tanter is former member of the senior staff at the U.S. National Security Council, 1981-82; former representative of the U.S. Secretary of Defense to arms control talks in Europe, 1983-84; President of the Washington-based Iran Policy Committee since 2005; and Professor Emeritus at The University of Michigan since 1999.