Iran’s political turmoil has prompted a growing number of the country’s officials to defect or leak information to the West, creating a new flow of intelligence about its secretive nuclear programme, US officials said.
The gains have complicated work on a long-awaited assessment of Iran’s nuclear activities, a report that will represent the combined judgement of more than a dozen US spy agencies. The National Intelligence Estimate was due last fall but has been delayed twice amid efforts to incorporate information from sources who are still being vetted.
Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair said in a brief interview last week that the delay in the completion of the NIE “has to do with the information coming in and the pace of developments”.
Some of the most significant new material has come from informants, including scientists and others with access to Iran’s military programmes, who are motivated by antipathy toward the government and its suppression of the opposition movement after a disputed presidential election in June, said current and former officials in the US and Europe on condition of anonymity.
“There is a wealth of information-sharing going on, and it reflects enormous discontent among Iranian technocrats,” said a former US government official who until recently was privy to classified reports about intelligence-gathering inside Iran. “Among senior technocrats, whether in the nuclear programme or older technical fields or even banking, the morale is very low.”
In recent weeks, US officials have acknowledged that an Iranian nuclear scientist defected to the West in June. Shahram Amiri, 32, vanished while on a religious pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia and has provided spy agencies with details about sensitive programmes, including a long-hidden uranium-enrichment plant near the city of Qom, intelligence officials and Europe-based diplomats said.
Sources said there has been a spate of other recent defections by diplomatic and military officials, some of which have not been made public. Among the defectors was a top diplomat at the Iranian mission in Oslo, who said he was pressured to falsify election returns for Iranian nationals who had cast votes at the embassy.
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