Experts Concerned Iran Nuclear Progress Is Accelerating

The revelation of a vast secret nuclear site in Iran just as the world powers get ready for new talks with the Islamic Republic this week in Kazakhstan has caused great concern among top security experts in the United States that the regime might have already crossed the red line in its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Revealed satellite images clearly show the secret facilities at the site with entrances deep into the mountain, similar to the Fordow design that had the West worried because it was impervious to conventional air strikes.

"(The satellite images) suggest the possibility that Iran may in fact be further along in its nuclear weapons program than is generally assumed," said David Trachtenberg, who for 30 years served in the national security policy field and who, as principal deputy assistant secretary of defense, played a leadership role in nuclear forces and arms control policy. "It is clear they have gone to great lengths to bury and protect high-value assets at this site, which also complicates the possibility of direct military action and illustrates the risks of allowing years to pass while hoping diplomacy will work.

"An accelerating train is harder to slow and takes longer to stop. These images reinforce my concern that Iranian nuclear progress is accelerating. The more emphatically the U.S. declares its determination to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons state, the harder it may be to ensure that outcome."

In an exclusive March 20 report, I revealed the secret nuclear site, which, according to my source, a high-ranking intelligence officer in the regime's Ministry of Defense, consists of three facilities:

• The first is where the regime's scientists are enriching uranium to weapons grade. They already have enough plutonium for several bombs and are in the last stage of putting together a nuclear warhead. This site, built about 375 feet under a mountain, is called "Quds" for Jerusalem as they believe soon Israel will be destroyed and Jerusalem restored to Muslim rule.

• The second, which makes missile warheads, is dubbed "Marty Mughniyah" after the Hezbollah terrorist who, under the command of the regime, conducted multiple terrorist acts that killed hundreds of Americans and Israelis.

• The third facility is a vast site that houses over 380 missile depots and launching pads.

The regime's media, Golpanews, which is managed by Ayatollah Mohammad Mohammadi-Golpayegani, the head of the supreme leader's office, called the revelation of the secret site a "new claim by America." While neither confirming nor denying the existence of the site, he said that "The existence of the secret nuclear site, Quds, if correct, is nothing more than the situation with the Parchin site," which laid the groundwork for calling Quds a military site and therefore not accessible for inspection by the IAEA.

Fritz Ermarth, who served in the CIA and as chairman of the National Intelligence Council, reviewed satellite photos of the underground site. "(This) imagery strongly suggests that Iran is working on what we used to call an 'objective force.' That is the objective of a deployed force of nuclear weapons on mobile missiles, normally based in deep underground sites for survivability against even nuclear attack, capable of rapid deployment," he said.

"This open-source analysis by itself illustrates that Iran is very serious about building survivable facilities for its nuclear enterprise," said Dr. Peter Vincent Pry, the executive director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security, a congressional advisory board. Pry, who has served on the staffs of the Congressional Strategic Posture Commission, the House Armed Services Committee and in the CIA, also reviewed the imagery and information from the source and called for a congressional investigation.

"The location of the site amid an Iranian missile armory, protected by a vast array of defensive and offensive missiles, is consistent with the intelligence reporting that the site is for the final stages of nuclear weapons development," Pry said. "The complex appears to be the most heavily protected site in Iran."

The information by the source suggests that the site has a capacity of 8,000 centrifuges and currently has three operational chambers with 19 cascades of 170 to 174 centrifuges enriching uranium and that the regime as of three months ago had 76 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium stock at the site and 48 kilograms of over 40 percent enriched uranium.

The most significant information provided by the source is that the regime has succeeded in not only enriching to weapons grade but has converted the highly enriched uranium into metal, a key step in arming missiles. Moreover, the source said, successfully making a neutron reflector indicates the final stages for a nuclear weapons design that would be a two-stage, more sophisticated and much more powerful nuclear bomb.

Regime scientists are also working on a plutonium bomb as a second path to becoming nuclear-armed, the source said, and they have at this site 24 kilograms of plutonium, which is sufficient for several atomic bombs.

The scientists are in the last stage of putting together a nuclear warhead, he said, and the scientists in their design for a plutonium bomb are using polonium and beryllium, which would serve as the trigger for the bomb.

"Reza Kahlili (who revealed the Quds site) has provided the West with one of the most critical pieces of evidence of the Iranian government's drive to break out its nuclear development into a fully operational capability," said Maj. Gen. Thomas G. McInerney (Ret.). "All the red lines have been crossed. Beware America, Israel and the West, a nuclear Iran is here!"

It is quite clear based just on the newly revealed images that the Islamic regime, despite all threats and international sanctions, is determined to complete its nuclear bomb program, which it believes will make it untouchable and at which time it can expand its radical goals for the region and world with impunity.

It is also clear that the policies of negotiations and sanctions have failed and that absent a drastic change in dealing with the radicals who rule Iran, just as we saw with North Korea, the Islamic regime will also have nuclear bombs and the world will surely witness much more uncertain times.

Reza Kahlili is a pseudonym for a former CIA operative in Iran's Revolutionary Guards and author of the award-winning book A Time to Betray (Simon & Schuster, 2010). He serves on the Task Force on National and Homeland Security and the advisory board of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran (FDI).