[home][about][contact] [getting involved] [Educational][Academic] [Media Watch][Views]
MI6 'claims to have foiled Iran nuclear weapons bid' - Daily Telegraph report
Everyone knows that the RAF won the Second World War on its own. What we didn't know until now was that our men and women at MI6 also won the secret war with Iran without any help from Johnny Foreigner. But we have been put straight by a Daily Telegraph story today in which John Sawers, the MI6 boss, otherwise known as 'C', is said to claim just that.
Sir John said that without MI6's work dealing with the threat, "you'd have Iran as a nuclear weapons state in 2008 rather than still being two years away in 2012 [sic]."
[UPDATE: The original paraphased quote in the magazine Civil Service World, which reported the event, says: "Iranian nuclear development has been significantly delayed by the international community: in 2003, Iran was believed to be five years away from having the bomb; but nearly a decade later, they're still thought to have two years to go. However, Sawers warned that it's not clear how much longer Iran can be delayed." Civil Service World is a well-respected publication and that sounds a far more rational claim. The Telegraph seems to have used that paragraph to manufacture their own, more headline-grabbing, quote above.]
Sawers apparently made this claim at a gathering of 100 senior civil servants in London last week for an event called Civil Service Live. There is no tape or transcript of the event but those I have talked to who were there claim the report misrepresented what he said. [UPDATE: I have since learned that there was a recording and that MI6 asked for it to be deleted. Now told by Whitehall officials that "acoustics were really bad"!] Hopefully for the sake of British intelligence this is true, because the claim would be rubbish for two big reasons.
First of all, the US, the UK, the IAEA and most western intelligence agencies do not believe that the Iranian leadership has made the political decision to make a bomb. Even the Mossad - according to its former deputy director, Ilan Mizrahi, who was in London recently - concurred with that assessment. The outliers here are the French, who sometimes take a more hawkish view, and sometimes not. So as far as we know, Iran would not have had nuclear weapons in 2008 no matter what the Secret Intelligence Service did or didn't do. Nor will they have them in 2012 or 2014, or whenever, without making that decision.
Secondly, the British have hardly been out there on their own trying to sabotage the Iranian nuclear programme. The CIA and the Mossad are also in the game, as are the Germans, the French, the Turks, the Polish, the Russians etc. The new book by Yossi Melman and Dan Raviv, Spies Against Armageddon, has a good section on all this joint international activity. Each agency is rather torn between the desire to stay secret and the human need for recognition. Consequently, both American and Israeli spooks are now claiming to have thought up the Stuxnet computer worm. Melman says it was first created by Israel's eavesdropping/code-breaking agency, Unit 8200.
However, even the Israelis are not claiming to stopped Iran's nuclear project on their own, pointing to the importance of international intelligence cooperation. Incidentally, according to Melman, the Mossad are particularly complimentary in this regard about MI6 and its ability to recruit agents in Iran and elsewhere. But nobody is saying 007 smashed up the Iranian baddies' underground headquarters on his own, even with the help of a winsome female sidekick, (see above).
Whitehall sources who have heard Sawers speak on the subject insist he would not have made such an outlandish claim. They say the point he was trying to make at Civil Service Live was that without the combined work of western intelligence agencies Iran would have been closer, earlier, to the capacity to make a bomb.
That may be true. What is certain is that the secret war, with all the sabotage, counter-smuggling work and the assassinations of civilian nuclear scientists - exclusively the work of Mossad according to Spies Against Armageddon - has failed to stop the Iran uranium enrichment programme, which continues to expand, much to the chagrin of Israel, the US and the UK among others. After all, if James Bond had pulled it off, we wouldn't be in the mess we are now.