Satellite images show suspicious activity at Iran top-secret military base

New satellite images of Iran's top-secret military base at Parchin show evidence that they may have been trying to hide past nuclear activity and could be constructing another facility inside a nearby mountain.

The Daily Beast has a report by Stratfor that suggests that Iran may be violating the nuclear agreement recently signed with the West.

Forecasting site Stratfor.com says the images published Monday show Iran building a tunnel into a heavily guarded mountain complex inside the Parchin facility, some 20 miles southeast of Tehran, while also working to erase signs of alleged high-explosive testing at another area on the site.

“We’re not saying they’re cheating on the nuclear deal,” Stratfor analyst Sim Tack told The Daily Beast. “The images show Iran was going through the motions to hide what it’s done before, and it is still…developing facilities that the IAEA may or may not have access to,” Tack said, referring to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The progression of satellite images tracking construction at Parchin from 2012 to 2015 show how Iran’s leaders apparently worked to keep regime hardliners happy by moving forward with weapons programs, even as the leadership worked to erase signs of an illegal nuclear weapons program, Tack said.

The satellite images appear to show new paving around the building that was alleged to be a test site for high-energy explosive charges used to detonate a nuclear weapon. Comparing satellite images from 2010 to one taken this year, Tack points out that the area has been paved, and plants and trees surrounding it removed and the soil scraped—all steps one would take to hide the radioactive fallout of nuclear weapons testing.

The IAEA sent a team to inspect the site last fall, one of the final steps up to the adoption of a deal that will give the country tens of billions of dollars in sanctions relief.

“In September, IAEA Director General [Yukiya] Amano visited the inside of the suspected explosives test chamber building, and found it had been emptied,” said Andy Weber, former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Defense Programs. He added that in his opinion, Stratfor’s analysis “tracked well with the photos.”

While the destruction of that controversial building has been reported before, Tack said the publication of images of the near-simultaneous construction of the tunnel entrance to another part of the complex is new.

When inspectors visited Parchin late last year, they were handed soil samples by Iranian authorities.  They were not allowed to take their own samples.  And you can bet they weren't allowed to investigate where that tunnel is going – even if they knew about it.

This story reveals some of the many flaws in the inspections regime negotiated by the IAEA and Iran.  Satellite imagery gives us only a tantalizing glimpse into what the Iranians are up to.  They can't read minds or see through rock.  Inspectors need unfettered access to any suspicious site and an explanation for any suspicious activity.

But by the time the agency's request to inspect the sites was approved by Iran, chances are good any evidence of cheating would have been scrubbed.  And that's if Iran even granted permission.  Tehran has stated categorically that Parchin is off limits to inspectors because of its use as a military research facility. 

The president's claim that the inspections regime is "unprecedented" is ludicrous, given what we know today.

New satellite images of Iran's top-secret military base at Parchin show evidence that they may have been trying to hide past nuclear activity and could be constructing another facility inside a nearby mountain.

The Daily Beast has a report by Stratfor that suggests that Iran may be violating the nuclear agreement recently signed with the West.

Forecasting site Stratfor.com says the images published Monday show Iran building a tunnel into a heavily guarded mountain complex inside the Parchin facility, some 20 miles southeast of Tehran, while also working to erase signs of alleged high-explosive testing at another area on the site.

“We’re not saying they’re cheating on the nuclear deal,” Stratfor analyst Sim Tack told The Daily Beast. “The images show Iran was going through the motions to hide what it’s done before, and it is still…developing facilities that the IAEA may or may not have access to,” Tack said, referring to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The progression of satellite images tracking construction at Parchin from 2012 to 2015 show how Iran’s leaders apparently worked to keep regime hardliners happy by moving forward with weapons programs, even as the leadership worked to erase signs of an illegal nuclear weapons program, Tack said.

The satellite images appear to show new paving around the building that was alleged to be a test site for high-energy explosive charges used to detonate a nuclear weapon. Comparing satellite images from 2010 to one taken this year, Tack points out that the area has been paved, and plants and trees surrounding it removed and the soil scraped—all steps one would take to hide the radioactive fallout of nuclear weapons testing.

The IAEA sent a team to inspect the site last fall, one of the final steps up to the adoption of a deal that will give the country tens of billions of dollars in sanctions relief.

“In September, IAEA Director General [Yukiya] Amano visited the inside of the suspected explosives test chamber building, and found it had been emptied,” said Andy Weber, former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Defense Programs. He added that in his opinion, Stratfor’s analysis “tracked well with the photos.”

While the destruction of that controversial building has been reported before, Tack said the publication of images of the near-simultaneous construction of the tunnel entrance to another part of the complex is new.

When inspectors visited Parchin late last year, they were handed soil samples by Iranian authorities.  They were not allowed to take their own samples.  And you can bet they weren't allowed to investigate where that tunnel is going – even if they knew about it.

This story reveals some of the many flaws in the inspections regime negotiated by the IAEA and Iran.  Satellite imagery gives us only a tantalizing glimpse into what the Iranians are up to.  They can't read minds or see through rock.  Inspectors need unfettered access to any suspicious site and an explanation for any suspicious activity.

But by the time the agency's request to inspect the sites was approved by Iran, chances are good any evidence of cheating would have been scrubbed.  And that's if Iran even granted permission.  Tehran has stated categorically that Parchin is off limits to inspectors because of its use as a military research facility. 

The president's claim that the inspections regime is "unprecedented" is ludicrous, given what we know today.