1/04/2006

KRT Wire | 01/04/2006 | Book alleges CIA inadvertently gave Iran formula for nuclear bomb

NEW YORK - The CIA may have handed Iran the formula for building a nuclear bomb in a clumsy covert operation involving a double-crossing Russian agent, a new book charges.

The blueprint that was funneled to Tehran contained an error that was meant to derail the Islamic state's efforts at building a nuclear arsenal.

But the built-in flaw was so transparent the Russian engineer doing the CIA's dirty work spotted it immediately - and even offered to help Iran fix it.

The stunning account is one of the revelations in the new book "State of War," which details how the CIA repeatedly bungled its dealings with Iran.

The nuclear snafu happened in February 2000 when the CIA enlisted the Russian defector to supply misinformation to Iran as part of a program code-named Merlin.

He was given plans for a "firing set" for a Russian-designed bomb - the trigger for a chain reaction that Iran needed to build its own nukes.

As ordered, he got the documents to a high-ranking Iranian official visiting Tehran's mission to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna.

But in a renegade act, he included a letter red-flagging the flaw in the instructions and offering to help Iran overcome it - for a price, the book says.

Author James Risen called the escapade "one of the most reckless operations in the modern history of the CIA, one that may have helped put nuclear weapons in the hands of a charter member of what President George W. Bush called `the axis of evil.'"

Risen, who exposed the Bush administration's controversial domestic eavesdropping program, also chronicles how a simple mistake destroyed the agency's network in Iran.

In 2004, an officer accidentally sent a computerized message to an Iranian agent that revealed the identities of virtually every spy inside the country.

The Iranian who got the message was a double agent and turned over the information to security officials in Tehran, and many of the CIA operatives were arrested and jailed.

The previous year, the book says, the United States missed an opportunity to seize top al-Qaida henchmen, including Osama bin Laden's son, from Iran.

In exchange, Tehran wanted the United States to hand over members of the Mujahedin-e Khalq, a terrorist organization based in Baghdad. Some of the group's members were detained after the American invasion of Iraq.

The White House was bullish on the swap, but hard-liners at the Pentagon put the kibosh on any deal, the book claims.

KRT Wire | 01/04/2006 | Book alleges CIA inadvertently gave Iran formula for nuclear bomb

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