Where is the digital chain of custody?
by Muhammad Sahimi
In August 2002, the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK), an armed
Iranian opposition group listed by the State Department as a terrorist
organization but supported by the neoconservatives within and without the
Pentagon, provided the first concrete evidence of the existence of Iran's
uranium enrichment facility in Natanz. In February
Since then, Iran's nuclear facilities and program have undergone the most intrusive and time-consuming inspections in the history of the IAEA, including from October 2003-February 2006, when Iran voluntarily implemented the provisions of the Additional Protocol of its Safeguards (SG) Agreement with the IAEA, which it had signed but not ratified.
Despite the intrusive
inspections and intense propaganda, which consisted mostly of lies,
Receives nuclear materials and/or technology without declaring them to the IAEA, and Carries out secret experiments with its declared or undeclared nuclear materials.
In February 2003
In October 2003
Between 1988 and 1993
In addition, there were
certain other contentious issues between
and current administration of
of certain equipment, with potential nuclear applications, and their use by
researchers at Sharif University of Technology, one of
of nuclear contamination at a physics research laboratory in Lavisan-Shian near
The procurement activities of the former head of the same physics research laboratory. The IAEA was concerned that he had been used as a cover for clandestine nuclear activities.
So, though it may seem that
Regarding the contamination
issue, which the neocons and the Israel Lobby had
declared as the missing "smoking gun," the IAEA environmental
sampling and tests confirmed Iran's explanation that they had been brought into
the country by the imported centrifuge parts. The IAEA declared that its
analysis "tends, on balance, to support
Documents From the Stolen Laptop
Given the February 2008
report, it would have been reasonable to expect that
It has been a pattern that
each time the IAEA declares its satisfaction with
After declaring its satisfaction with all the above issues and non-issues, Olli Heinonen, the IAEA's deputy director general of safeguards – a man who has a reputation inconsistent with impartiality and objectivity – presented a briefing to the Board of Governors in Vienna in which he presented a dark view of Iran's nuclear program under the guise of "Agency Evaluation," as if his employer had not just declared its satisfaction with the resolution of many issues that, up until then, had been considered "crucial" and "critical." In fact, there are persistent rumors about tension between Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, the IAEA's director-general, and his SG experts.
Heinonen spoke about three supposedly secret projects: Project 5 for converting UO2 to "green salt" (so named due to its color and smell) or uranium tetrafluoride (UF4), an intermediate compound in the conversion of uranium ore to gaseous UF6; Projects 110 and 111 for the design of device and re-entry vehicle for a missile; and Project 3.12 for testing high-power explosives. They were supposedly led by Dr.
What was the source of the
new "information" and "data" that Heinonen
was talking about? A laptop that had been purportedly stolen in Iran, taken out
of the country, and made available to Western intelligence agencies in Turkey.
But the existence of the
laptop has been known since 2004. The first time there was any indirect
reference to it was on Nov. 17, 2004, when, in a conversation with reporters,
then-U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell briefly referred to "new,
missile-related" intelligence on
Shortly thereafter, articles
were published in the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and the New
York Times about the laptop they claimed contained the "smoking gun"
My own information indicates that, because the MEK is completely discredited in Iran, Israel's first preference was for the laptop to be publicized by Iran's monarchist opposition groups (which are supported by Iranian Jews in the U.S. and Europe), but that they had refused to go along (some of the most senior statesmen among the Iranian monarchists actually support Iran's nuclear program).
In July 2005, the Bush
administration began exerting pressure on the United Nations to take action
Most experts have cast doubt on the authenticity of the laptop's documents. A senior European diplomat was quoted by the New York Times' William J. Broad and David E. Sanger in a Nov. 13, 2005, article as saying, "I can fabricate that data. It looks beautiful, but is open to doubt." Another European official said, "Yeah, so what? How do you know what you're shown on a slide is true, given past experience?"
A senior intelligence
official was quoted as saying, "It's easy to fall into the trap of
thinking that beautiful pictures represent reality, but that may not be the
Commenting on the New York
Times article, David Albright of the Institute for Science and International
Aside from the above experts' opinions, there are many reasons to believe that the documents are not authentic.
Anyone with even rudimentary knowledge of how the Iranian political establishment works knows that often even the most harmless documents are classified as "top secret." Yet none of the documents had been designated as such.
If the documents include exchanges between various officials, then anyone with even elementary knowledge of the workings of the Iranian bureaucracy knows that, once a document is received by some official, he writes (in Persian) in the margins in his own hand "received," and signs and dates it. Do the documents have such notes?
Why would the documents name the projects' leader, Dr. Fakhrizadeh?
Why would such sensitive documents be put on a laptop? Even then, why was the laptop not at a secure place with very tight control, given the degree of secrecy that the Iranian government applies to all of its affairs?
If the documents were
authentic, then, given that some time after the laptop had been stolen, the
Iranian officials knew that they would be confronted with the documents, they should have been able to prepare reasonable
and plausible explanations for the documents. After all, as noticed above,
Some of the documents
describe and discuss issues that can be found in the open literature. Some
others have to do with
Therefore, it would be easy to copy such documents, or create some based on the available information.
Even if some of the
documents are authentic, how do we know that, for example, they are not just
If the documents contain
such devastating information, why did the
The contention is that the laptop was stolen by a member of the MEK.
However, it is practically
impossible for the MEK to be able to penetrate the Iranian government at such a
sensitive level. After the MEK started its armed opposition to the Islamic
Republic in June 1981 and assassinated many top government officials, its
member were ruthlessly eliminated from all levels of
Digital Chain of Custody
Although very difficult, if not impossible, one might argue that one can find plausible answers to the above questions. However, one crucial piece of information about the laptop and its contents can shed definitive light on the authenticity of the documents. This is the documents' digital chain of custody, which has not been discussed or mentioned. It is defined as "An account documenting data at a particular place and time." It is a technique by which one can trace back electronically stored documents on a computer to their original source – the electronic source from which they were copied, or when and how the documents were uploaded electronically, etc. If done in a forensically sound manner, it will generate a digital fingerprint.
Then, a credible forensic test can reveal when or how different versions of the documents were created.
Therefore, it should not be
difficult to analyze the digital chain of custody of the laptop's documents, in
order to better understand their original source. That would settle at once the
question of the documents' authenticity.
has said repeatedly that the IAEA is bound to "follow due process, which
means I need to establish the veracity, consistency, and authenticity of any
intelligence, and share it with the country of concern." But once again,