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EXCLUSIVE: Iran’s Black Market Nuclear Warheads Are an Open Secret

They continue to restrain Western military action

Saturday 22 October 2011, by Matthew J. Nasuti (Former U.S. Air Force Captain)


On March 21, 2008, this author was among a group of Foreign Service officers and diplomats who received a briefing at the State Department on Iran. The Department’s Middle East expert, under questioning by this author, told the group that it was “common knowledge” in the region that Iran had acquired tactical nuclear weapons from one or more of the former Soviet Republics. Using the vague term “common knowledge” allowed the expert to discuss the information in an unclassified presentation. This disclosure was consistent with reports that have been circulating for years. On April 9, 1988, the Jerusalem Post reported that Iran had acquired four tactical nuclear weapons from Kazakhstan. The Post cited Iranian documents obtained by the Israeli government and authenticated by U.S. Congressional investigators. In March 1992, “The Arms Control Reporter” published an article confirming that Iran had acquired four nuclear warheads from Russia. A May 1992, report in “The European” claimed that Iran had acquired two nuclear warheads from the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan. These reports were all generally confirmed in a 2002 interview given by General Yuri Baluyevsky, then Russia’s Deputy Chief of Staff. A report in the Cleveland Jewish News, dated January 27, 2006, reported that there were 20 sites in Iran in which dispersed tactical nuclear warheads were being stored. Finally there was a report that Iran had acquired four 152mm nuclear artillery shells from Kazakhstan that were shipped to Iran through Bulgaria.

The State Department’s 2008, admission that Iran was already a nuclear power was raised by this author in open e-mails and other communications with State Department legal advisor Stephen Townley. He would neither comment on the admission nor did he raise any claim that the information was classified. This author then notified the State Department’s Inspector General that the Secretary of State was making public statements and official statements to Congress regarding Iran that were not correct, but Deputy General Counsel Karen Ouzts told this author that her office would not investigate the allegations, giving no explanation for ignoring potential criminal offenses.

On July 26, 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appeared on the NBC news show “Meet the Press” and stated that the U.S. will not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. This follows her April 22, 2009, testimony to Congress that Iran will never obtain a nuclear weapon and vowed that the U.S. would employ “crippling sanctions” to prevent that. She was to make similar statements in 2010 and 2011. It needs to be determined if Secretary Clinton intentionally misled Congress and the American public.

The question of whether any State Department officials have ever misled Congress about this matter is currently the subject of two investigations by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC). The OSC has assigned case numbers of MA-12-0180 and DI-12-0250 to its separate inquiries.

A further element of corroboration is that the possession of tactical nuclear weapons by Iran suddenly makes sense out of some inexplicable Western efforts to-date in the region. For example:

1. Israel does not need 400 nuclear warheads to defend itself against non-nuclear neighbors.

2. Israel does not need its Arrow-2 and the U.S. Patriot (PAC-3) anti-missile systems simply to deal with some Iranian missiles such as the Shahab-4. Even if they were loaded with chemical agents, the risk to Israel is minimal. This author served as a Captain with the U.S. Air Force’s 487th Tactical (Nuclear) Missile Wing and he was trained in chemical warfare. Chemical dispersion by ballistic missile is difficult and clumsy and more of a nuisance than a weapon of mass destruction. These very expensive anti-missile systems make sense only if the threat is from existing nuclear warheads.

3. The United States does not need to maintain between 60 and 90 B-61 nuclear gravity bombs at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey unless there is a localized nuclear threat.

4. The United States and some of its European allies have been promoting a very costly ballistic missile shield for Europe, even at the risk of antagonizing Russia. The vehemence of this expensive effort only makes sense if the threat is current and real, and if it is a nuclear threat.

5. Finally, the United States and Israel have all but ruled out air strikes on Iranian nuclear targets, which only makes sense if Iran has the ability to respond with tactical warheads. For Iran, giving such warheads to terrorists or having its own special operations forces covertly use the warheads would leave no Iranian fingerprints because the radiation signature from any detonation on a Western target would merely reveal that they were Soviet warheads, which would not implicate Iran. Without credible and hard evidence of Iranian involvement, a nuclear counterstrike on Iran would not be possible. The question is whether Iran has been blackmailing the West for decades with these warheads.

The actual number of tactical nuclear weapons manufactured by the former Soviet Union is stunning. Rough estimates have it producing 4300 nuclear missile and air dropped warheads, 2000 nuclear artillery and mortar rounds. 1500 nuclear torpedoes and other Naval ordinance, and 14,000 nuclear land mines. That does not include specially designed Spetznaz warheads. Many of the tactical weapons were dispersed in Soviet republics which underwent revolutions when the Soviet Union broke up. In January 2006, the prestigious Washington, D.C.-based Council on Foreign Relations, in a background paper entitled: “Loose Nukes,” rejected the above estimates and stated that the Soviet Union had even more nuclear warheads. Its estimate was 27,000. The reality is that no one in the West knows for sure how many tactical and strategic warheads were produced or where they are today.

President Obama’s National Security Advisor reportedly has a list of lost or missing nuclear warheads from both U.S. and Soviet stockpiles (the U.S. reportedly has lost at least 11 warheads). Thomas E. Donilon should be pressed to reveal the total number of warheads that are not unaccounted for. The number is likely to be shocking.

On May 13, 2009, Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller sent a cable to the U.S. State Department in which she recounted a briefing that Egypt’s Ambassador to the United Nations Maged Abdelaziz, gave to her and other officials during meetings on May 5th and 7th. Abdelaziz stated that Egypt had been offered nuclear weapons after the breakup of the Soviet Union but had declined them. Under questioning Ambassador Abdelaziz stated that he had personal knowledge of this as a result of his being in Moscow. The cable was reported by the Guardian newspaper on December 19, 2010, in its story: “Egypt Turned Down Nuclear Weapons After Collapse of the Soviet Union.”

On March 22, 2004, Fox News reported on Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir’s interview with al-Qaeda’s No. 2, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri. Dr. Zawahiri told Mir that so-called suitcase nuclear weapons (each weighing 50-80 kilograms) were available on the black market in central Asia for anyone with $30 million. He stated that al-Qaeda had sent representatives to Tashkent, Uzbekistan and to one other regional country (allegedly Kazakhstan) and had purchased several.

Western news reporters need to pose carefully phrased questions to Secretary Clinton and to State Department, Pentagon and White House spokespersons in order to eliminate any wiggle room. They also need to insist on yes or no answers. One suggestion question is:

“Does the United States have any intelligence that suggests that Iran ever acquired any type of nuclear warhead?”

The answer has to be “Yes” and then the inquiry can continue forward regarding the specificity and reliability of the intelligence information.

There has been much criticism from Republicans in the United States regarding President Obama’s policy of reconciliation with Iran. If all the facts be known, that policy may be a reasonable one. If Iran does possess nuclear weapons, then those proponents who recklessly advocate preemptive air strikes on Iran and the commencement of a new war are acting irresponsibly. A nuclear conflict should not be risked solely so that politicians can score points with fringe elements of their political base.

Part of the problem is that there is deliberate short-term memory within the U.S. Government regarding Iran. Some of the facts regarding Iran’s nuclear program are never discussed in the West as they are uncomfortable reminders of Western mischief. One such basic question is:

“How did Iran’s nuclear programs begin?”

The answer is that in 1975, Shah Reza Pahlavi signed a multi-billion dollar deal with a German joint venture company to construct two nuclear reactors outside of Bushehr, Iran. Then in 1977, in meetings between representatives of the Shah and President Jimmy Carter, the U.S. Government endorsed Iran’s pursuit of nuclear technology. It did so even though the Shah had no civilian need for nuclear power at the time. The American motivation was money. The Shah proposed to purchase four nuclear reactors from the United States, specifically from Westinghouse. There were no reported Israeli objections to the Westinghouse sale. While that specific deal was never finalized the Shah continued his construction at Bushehr, Iran. Its two reactors were later completed by the Islamic Republic of Iran.

In conclusion, the Iranians know they have tactical nuclear warheads, as do Western governments. Everyone else is being kept in the dark. Secrecy in this instance is counterproductive. The world’s policy regarding Iran needs to be formulated, but only after a full discussion of all the facts, options and risks. That is what democracy is supposed to be all about. The world community also needs to engage in an open debate about the true scope and perils of black market nuclear warheads. Finally, the citizens of those nations that are potential targets for these weapons need to be better prepared for the consequences of their possible use.

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