Iran's Secret Nuclear Documents

| Spring 2019

In mid-January, a team of scholars from the Belfer Center’s Intelligence and Managing the Atom Projects traveled to Tel Aviv, Israel to examine samples of, and receive briefings on, an archive of documents related to Iran’s nuclear weapons program.  The large cache includes some 55,000 pages of documents and a further 55,000 files on CDs that included photos and videos.  A clandestine Israeli intelligence operation spirited the materials out of Iran in early 2018.

Although they represent only 20 percent of the documents collected and secretly stored by Iranian officials in a warehouse outside of Tehran, these materials permit a detailed examination of Iran’s nuclear activities in the period from 1999 to 2003, when Iranian authorities issued a “halt order” that curtailed the full-blown nuclear weapons program known as Project AMAD. 

In April 2018, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made public many of the key revelations and documents in the Iran nuclear archive.  Subsequently, the entire collection was shared with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United States, and other relevant governments, while additional governments and media were briefed on the contents. Some materials were made available to researchers and analysts, including Belfer Center scholars Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, Aaron Arnold, Matthew Bunn, Steven Miller, William Tobey, and Intelligence Project Coordinator Caitlin Chase. The group represented diverse views regarding Iran’s nuclear program and the Iran nuclear deal, but reached unanimous conclusions on the archive.

The documents that the Belfer group were shown confirm that senior Iranian officials had decided in the late 1990s to actually manufacture nuclear weapons and carry out an underground nuclear test; that Iran’s program to do so made more technical progress than had previously been understood; and that Iran had help from quite a number of foreign scientists, and access to several foreign nuclear weapon designs. The archive also leaves open a wide range of questions, including what plan, if any, Iran has had with respect to nuclear weapons in the nearly 16 years since Iran’s government ordered a halt to most of the program in late 2003. 

The Belfer team’s forthcoming report will explore both the conclusions that can be drawn and the mysteries that remain.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:

Tobey, William and Matthew Bunn. "Iran's Secret Nuclear Documents." Belfer Center Newsletter. Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School (Spring 2019). 

The Authors