The Iran Nuclear Archive: Impressions and Implications

April 1, 2019

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear

Author: 

Aaron Arnold, Matthew Bunn, Caitlin Chase, Steven E. Miller, Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, and William H. Tobey

Publication: 

Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

On April 30, 2018, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed in a speech that Israel had succeeded in removing from Iran an enormous collection of material from an archive Iran had compiled related to Tehran’s nuclear program. Israeli officials estimate that they took approximately twenty percent of the entire archive. This trove included some 55,000 pages of documents and a further 55,000 files on CDs—files that included photos and videos in addition to documents. These materials permit a detailed examination of Iran’s nuclear activities in the period 1999 to 2003, when Iran issued a “halt order” that curtailed its full-blown weapons program (though as discussed below, some activities continued).

In January 2019, the authors traveled to Israel to receive a briefing on the archive from senior Israeli intelligence officials. The Israeli officials provided a detailed summary of their conclusions on the archive’s history, contents, and implications, which included showing copies of some archive documents and photographs along with a few original documents that Israeli officials believed to be critical to a broader understanding of the archive. Officials also provided us with copies of selected documents and photographs.

We did not have access to the entire archive. Nor did we have any authentication experts in our group. Moreover, many of the documents shown or provided to us are written in Farsi, and our group did not include Farsi speakers. For these reasons, we cannot validate the authenticity of the materials with certainty. Moreover, we cannot judge whether or not exculpatory information for some portions of the activities covered might exist within the archive. We do judge, however, that the scope and detail of the documents provided, and the degree to which they dovetail with publicly available records on Iran’s nuclear weapons program, make a convincing case that the archive is real, though reflective of a discrete period of time now more than a decade in the past. It is our understanding that the U.S. government and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), both of which have received full copies of what Israel acquired, have been going through their own painstaking processes of assessment and confirmation of authenticity.

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Read the full report at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.