Iran’s Soviet Bomb-Maker Who Wasn’t

In the new Iranian nuclear-bomb allegations, the most sensational charge was that a former Soviet nuclear weapons expert spent years tutoring Iranian scientists, but it turns out the Ukrainian was a specialist in commercial nanodiamonds, not A-bombs, reports Gareth Porter.

By Gareth Porter

The report of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) published by a Washington think tank Tuesday repeated the sensational claim previously reported by news media all over the world that a former Soviet nuclear weapons scientist had helped Iran construct a detonation system that could be used for a nuclear weapon.

But it turns out that the foreign expert, who is not named in the IAEA report but was identified in news reports as Vyacheslav Danilenko, is not a nuclear weapons scientist but one of the top specialists in the world in the production of nanodiamonds by explosives.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

In fact, Danilenko, a Ukrainian, has worked solely on nanodiamonds from the beginning of his research career and is considered one of the pioneers in the development of nanodiamond technology, as published scientific papers confirm. (Nanodiamonds have widespread commercial applications in manufacturing and in medicine.)

It now appears that the IAEA and David Albright, the director of the International Institute for Science and Security in Washington, who was the source of the news reports about Danilenko, never bothered to check the accuracy of the original claim by an unnamed “Member State” on which the IAEA based its assertion about his nuclear weapons background.

Albright gave a “private briefing” for “intelligence professionals” last week, in which he named Danilenko as the foreign expert who had been contracted by Iran’s Physics Research Centre in the mid-1990s and
identified him as a “former Soviet nuclear scientist,” according to a story by Joby Warrick of the Washington Post on Nov. 5. The Danilenko story then went worldwide. [For more on Albright, see Consortiumnews.com’s “An Iraq-WMD Replay on Iran.”]

The IAEA report says the agency has “strong indications” that Iran’s development of a “high explosions initiation system,” which it has described as an “implosion system” for a nuclear weapon, was “assisted
by the work of a foreign expert who was not only knowledgeable on these technologies, but who, a Member State has informed the Agency, worked for much of his career in the nuclear weapon program of the country of his origin.”

The report offers no other evidence of Danilenko’s involvement in the development of an initiation system.

The member state obviously learned that Danilenko had worked during the Soviet period at the All-Russian Scientific Research Institute of Technical Physics in Snezhinsk, Russia, which was well known for its work on development of nuclear warheads and simply assumed that he had been involved in that work.

However, further research would have revealed that Danilenko worked from the beginning of his career in a part of the Institute that specialized in the synthesis of diamonds. Danilenko wrote in an account of the early work in the field published in 2006 that he was among the scientists in the “gas dynamics group” at the Institute who were “the first to start studies on diamond synthesis in 1960.”

Danilenko’s recollections of the early period of his career are in a chapter of the book, Ultrananocrystalline Diamond: Synthesis, Properties and Applications edited by Olga A. Shenderova and Dieter M. Gruen, published in 2006.

Another chapter in the book covering the history of Russian patents related to nanodiamonds documents the fact that Danilenko’s centrt at the Institute developed key processes as early as 1963-66 that were later used at major “detonation nanodiamond” production centers.

Danilenko left the Institute in 1989 and joined the Institute of Materials Science Problems in Ukraine, according to the authors of that chapter.

Danilenko’s major accomplishment, according to the authors, has been the development of a large-scale technology for producing ultradispersed diamonds, a particular application of nanodiamonds. The technology, which was later implemented by the “ALIT” company in Zhitomir, Ukraine, is based on an explosion chamber 100 square meters in volume, which Danilenko designed.

Beginning in 1993, Danilenko was a principal in a company called “Nanogroup” which was established initially in the Ukraine but is now based in Prague. The company’s website boasts that it has “the strongest team of scientists” which had been involved in the “introduction of nanodiamonds in 1960 and the first commercial applications of nanodiamonds in 2000.”

The declared aim of the company is to supply worldwide demand for nanodiamonds.

Iran has an aggressive program to develop its nanotechnology sector, and it includes as one major focus nanodiamonds, as blogger Moon of Alabama has pointed out. That blog was the first source to call attention to Danilenko’s nanodiamond background.

Danilenko clearly explained that the purpose of his work in Iran was to help the development of a nanodiamond industry in the country.

The IAEA report states that the “foreign expert” was in Iran from 1996 to about 2002, “ostensibly to assist in the development of a facility and techniques for making ultra dispersed diamonds (UDDs) or nanodiamonds…” That wording suggests that nanodiamonds were merely a cover for his real purpose in Iran.

The report says the expert “also lectured on explosive physics and its applications”, without providing any further detail about what applications were involved.

The fact that the IAEA and Albright were made aware of Danilenko’s nanodiamond work in Iran before embracing the “former Soviet nuclear weapons specialist” story makes their failure to make any independent inquiry into his background even more revealing.

The tale of a Russian nuclear weapons scientist helping construct an “implosion system” for a nuclear weapon is the most recent iteration of a theme that the IAEA introduced in its May 2008 report, which
mentioned a five-page document describing experimentation with a “complex multipoint initiation system to detonate a substantial amount of high explosives in hemispherical geometry” and to monitor the
detonation.

Iran acknowledged using “exploding bridge wire” detonators such as those mentioned in that document for conventional military and civilian applications. But it denounced the document, along with the others in the “alleged studies” collection purporting to be from an Iranian nuclear weapons research program, as fakes.

Careful examination of the “alleged studies” documents has revealed inconsistencies and other anomalies that give evidence of fraud. But the IAEA, the United States and its allies in the IAEA continue to treat the documents as though there were no question about their authenticity.

The unnamed member state that informed the agency about Danilenko’s alleged experience as a Soviet nuclear weapons scientist is almost certainly Israel, which has been the source of virtually all the purported intelligence on Iranian work on nuclear weapons over the past decade.

(Israel is a United Nations “member” state, although it has refused to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and thus does not subject its secret nuclear weapons arsenal to IAEA supervision. Iran did sign the treaty and does grant IAEA inspectors some access to its nuclear-related facilities, which Iran insists are for peaceful purposes only.)

Israel has made no secret of its determination to influence world opinion on the Iranian nuclear program by disseminating information to governments and news media, including purported Iran government
documents. Israeli foreign ministry and intelligence officials told journalists Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins about the special unit of Mossad dedicated to that task at the very time the allegedly fraudulent documents were being produced.

In an interview in September 2008, Albright said Olli Heinonen, then deputy director for safeguards at the IAEA, had told him that a document from a member state had convinced him that the “alleged studies” documents were genuine. Albright said the state was “probably Israel.”

The Jerusalem Post’s Yaakov Katz reported Wednesday that Israeli intelligence agencies had “provided critical information used in the report,” the purpose of which was to “push through a new regime of
sanctions against Tehran….”

Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specializing in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the
Road to War in Vietnam,
was published in 2006. [This article was first published by Inter Press Service.]

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21 comments on “Iran’s Soviet Bomb-Maker Who Wasn’t

  1. How about a little link love for Moon of Alabama?

    Great work, Gareth, keep up the good fight.

    • Rababa Gorzono on said:

      Mark: Do you mean the Kurt Weill song from Mahagonny? What’s the application here? I’m sympathetic, but I can use some guidance. Thank ye.

  2. George Orwell must be turning over in his grave.

  3. As usual this website’s love of medieval theocratic regiemes puts their collective ostrich in the sand mentality ahead of common sense. You castigate Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East for protecting itself from annhilation by 200,000,000 hostile neighbors by and large sworn to its destruction. Forget about Iran’s mass hangings, subjugation of women and children, and other abuses. The evidence of Iran’s aquisition of nuclear weapons as a goal certainly is clear.

    • flat5, an increasing number of Americans are tiring of Israel manipulating us into fighting wars of your imagined necessity. Perhaps you recall the USS Liberty. During the 1973 war with Egypt unmarked Israeli warplanes and subs attacked the Liberty, killing roughly 73 of our sailors and injuring many others, knowing full well they were attacking an American vessel. The intent of using unmarked planes was to put the blame on Egypt and draw America into the war on Israel’s side. I forget the name of another “incident” in which Israeli operatives planted explosive devices in British and American offices in Cairo. An Egyptian guard discovered the plot before the detonations happened, but once again, Israel wanted the blame to fall of Egyptian radicals. Israel has a history of this sort of goading America to fight its wars. We have been ostriches all right, but we have been ostriches about Israel. Anyone that disagrees with Israel is automatically considered anti-Semitic, so I deny your charge of anti-Semitism in advance. That said, the current administration is embarked on a disastrous course for Israel, and America is too scared to tell you the truth. Perhaps you should acknowledge that the majority of Israelis believe “Bibi” is leading Israel down the wrong path and that the majority are not paranoid about Iran; it is mainly the leaders. I am for the preservation of Israel within the 1967 borders. Stop building settlements outside those borders, allow East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital, and a few other adjustments, i.e., agree to a two-state solution, and peace will have its best chance. If Israel persists on its current course, it is only a matter of time until it all comes down. The majority of Israelis know this. The majority of Israelis also know the time is coming when America will be too weak to support Israel, unless we make some drastic changes. I do not know if our hubris will permit our leaders to make those changes. Only time will tell.

      • Read the official transcripts re the USS Liberty. I’ve heard your b.s. for 40+ years. Go live in one of Israel’s medievalist enemies countries and then you’d realize reality.

        • Official transcripts by whom? I was not there of course, but I have read some of the accounts of those sailors that were involved. Do I believe them or you who was not there? Israelis forced one of you own pilots to recant his testimony on the subject. Facts are hard to accept when they do not fit your ideology. You have the last word.

          • go to wickopedia, click on footnote 5 which is a declassified US military document that shows miscommunication (Hebrew & English) was a major cause. BTHWY I’m an American citizen you jerk, serving in the US Army. You have to do some research into the facts, and the usual far left or far right way dictates the lazy way out by sweeping generalities rather than the reality of gray vs black/white answers.

          • Official documents have been whitewashed. And by the way, I knew you were an American; I did think you were Jewish. But that has little to do with anything. Google USS Liberty and get the story from the guys that were there plus a lot more. Miscommunication does not account for unmarked planes attacking a well marked US ship.

  4. The covert operation in Cairo was the Lavon Affair. I was mistaken on some of the details (that is what I get for relying solely on memory), but anyone can read about it at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lavon_Affair.

  5. Pingback: Déjà Vu Over Iran A-Bomb Charges | Consortiumnews

  6. charles sereno on said:

    Thank you Gareth. If only we could get David Albright to debate with you, that would be more fun than watching a GOP debate. (inadvertent error — “100 square meters in VOLUME”

  7. Pingback: Iran Nuke Report: Little New, Big Impact | Consortiumnews

  8. bobzz is just another conspiracy wingnut. The following BBC article is more evenhanded, and truth in so many situations is rather mundane.

    Why did Israel attack USS Liberty?
    By Raffi Berg
    BBC News
    For former US seaman Gary Brummett, the 40th anniversary of the 1967 Middle East war has stirred painful memories.

    As a 21-year-old third class petty officer, Mr Brummett was serving on board the USS Liberty off the coast of Egypt on 8 June, when, without warning, the vessel came under fire, first from fighter planes, then torpedo boats.

    The attack, which lasted at least 40 minutes, resulted in the deaths of 34 of Mr Brummett’s fellow crewmen, at least 170 injured and catastrophic damage to the ship.
    Alarmingly, the assault had been carried out not by enemy forces, but by the US’ closest regional ally, Israel.

    Israel insists it mistook the Liberty for a hostile Egyptian ship, the El Quseir, and numerous US and Israeli inquiries have concluded the attack was accidental.

    But for Mr Brummett and a growing body of conspiracy theorists, the authorities are guilty of a cover-up.

    “I have more trouble with it today than when it happened because I know more of the facts about what was going on,” said Mr Brummett.

    “There’s been an egregious wrong done here, there’s been an extreme number of lies told to the American people and the American people do not know the truth about what happened.”

    ‘Sitting duck’

    The attack on the Liberty – the gravest incident in the history of US-Israeli relations – has been a source of controversy for the past four decades.

    Claim and counter-claim as to what happened have been fought out in every corner of the media, with the advent of the internet helping to reinvigorate the debate.

    Israel’s supporters say the incident is merely being used as a tool by critics to malign the Jewish state, while accusers say the attack was a war crime which has never come to light.
    According to Israel, the incident was a tragic case of friendly fire occurring in the fog of war.

    It says it believed the ship had been bombarding Israeli forces fighting in the Sinai, and that its pilots did not see any US flags (survivors say there were three) on the vessel before they opened fire.

    Sceptics however claim the attack was premeditated and that the truth has been suppressed. The assertion of a cover-up was lent weight by a 2003 independent commission of inquiry which reported that the attack on the Liberty “remains the only serious naval incident that has never been thoroughly investigated by Congress”.

    Among the most popular theories as to why Israel would take such drastic action against its superpower ally is that the Liberty, a $40m state-of-the-art surveillance ship, was eavesdropping on an Israeli massacre of Egyptian prisoners of war.

    Israel strongly denies its troops executed Egyptian POWs, saying those who died in an incident at that time were 250 armed Palestinian fighters killed in action.

    Another is that the ship had learnt of secret Israeli plans to invade Syria’s Golan Heights two days later and had to be destroyed.

    ‘US collusion’ theory

    Perhaps the most sinister motive is that put forward by journalist Peter Hounam in his 2003 book “Operation Cyanide”.

    “ The attack on the Liberty was pre-planned, perhaps from at least a year beforehand ”
    Peter Hounam
    Mr Hounam claims secret elements within the US and Israeli governments colluded to bomb the ship and blame the attack on Egypt and their superpower ally, the Soviet Union, triggering massive retaliation which would ensure Israeli victory.
    “The attack on the Liberty was pre-planned, perhaps from at least a year beforehand,” Mr Hounam says.

    “The Liberty was sent into a very dangerous situation, where it was, in my view, placed in a position to be attacked.”

    Mr Hounam says the intention was to sink the ship and kill everyone on board, but as the Liberty remained afloat the plan was aborted and has been hushed up ever since.

    ‘Presidential order’

    Successive US and Israeli inquiries, and the declassification of thousands of pieces of information, have done little to dampen suspicions.

    One of the most powerful claims of a cover-up has come from retired US Navy lawyer Capt Ward Boston, counsel to the Navy Court of Inquiry into the incident conducted just days after the event.

    Capt Boston says the court’s original findings, which he signed, were changed afterwards by government lawyers.
    He also claims the president of the court, Rear Adm Isaac Kidd, told him he was ordered by US President Lyndon Johnson and Defence Secretary Robert McNamara to conclude the attack was a case of mistaken identity.

    However, Capt Boston’s version of events – and the notion that what happened was anything more than a tragic accident – are disputed by numerous academics and authors who have investigated the incident.

    “It was a series of blunders by both the United States and Israel that resulted in a terrible tragedy and nothing more,” says Jay Cristol, a federal judge and author of the book The Liberty Incident.

    “All the official reports came to the same conclusion.

    “Unfortunately there are a number of people who are on the other side of the Arab-Israeli conflict who think this is a way to attack the otherwise very strong relationship between the US and Israel, and they keep stirring the pot.

    ‘No evidence’

    It is a view with which historian Michael B Oren, a senior fellow at the Shalem Center, a Jerusalem academic research institute, concurs.

    “Many thousands of documents related to the Liberty have been declassified and in none of these documents will you find a scintilla of evidence to suggest any of these conspiracy theories are true,” he says.

    “ Why would the Israelis try to cover up one atrocity by committing another ”
    Michael B Oren
    Historian
    “The Golan one is the easiest to disprove because of where the Liberty was, not off the coast of Israel, but Egypt. Its listening devices weren’t that powerful that they could listen in on communications in Tel Aviv.
    “Moreover the Israelis were very upfront in telling the US that they planned to capture the Golan Heights and the Americans agreed to it.

    “Regarding a massacre of Egyptian POWs, there’s no evidence of that. And why would the Israelis try to cover up one atrocity by committing another?

    He says the attack has remained a source of controversy because “it has all the ingredients of a good spy scandal. It involves espionage and it involves the Israelis, who are forever a focus of conspiracy theories.

    “If I could prove the Liberty was attacked in a premeditated fashion, I would write it – it would be a great historical scoop – but the truth is far more mundane.”

    Story from BBC NEWS:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/middle_east/6690425.stm

    Published: 2007/06/08 11:19:19 GMT

    © BBC 2011

  9. flat5, love your diatribes. Take a look at: http://whatreallyhappened.com/WRHARTICLES/ussliberty.html. These are the Navy guys that were there. These were the guys that took the fire. It is not just one guy; it is a crew. And a Jewish pilot testified he knew it was an American ship. This is all I can offer. For me it is enough. Call it a wingnut conspiracy if you will, but I believe the guys that were there, including the Israeli pilot. You have the last word…make that page.

  10. Oh, forgive me, one last word I forgot. This is an illustration of Israel trying to steer America into fighting its wars. They want to go for Iran now even though the NIS has said Iran is not developing nuclear weapons. That report kept the Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld from going in. Would that they has waited to see that Iraq had not WMDs. Ok, now I’m done.

  11. You are a wingnut with Birkenstocks! Iran is a terrorist state responsible for funding and supplying weapons/munitions to terrorist groups in Lebanon, Gaza, and other areas. Now the biggest worry besides their nuclear aspirations is the acquisition of hand/shoulder held rocket launchers that during the Libyan civil war were given to Al-Queda in Niger, and Hamas in Gaza. Israel wisely is equiping their civilian aircraft with GPS anti missle systems. It’s too bad Medievalist Mideastern Theocratic “government” ass kissers don’t have the good sense. All you have to do is go back to Neville Chamerlain “Peace in our Time”

  12. Source: Hundreds of NK nuclear and missile experts working in Iran

    Hundreds of North Korean nuclear and missile experts have been collaborating with their Iranian counterparts in more than 10 locations across the Islamic state, a diplomatic source said Sunday.

    The revelation lends credence to long-held suspicions that North Korea was helping Iran with a secret nuclear and missile program.

    It also represents a new security challenge to the international community as it seeks to curb the nuclear ambitions of Pyongyang and Tehran, and thwart trading of nuclear and missile technology.

    North Korea has long been suspected of being behind nuclear and missile proliferation in Iran, Syria, Myanmar and Pakistan.

    “Hundreds of North Korean nuclear and missile engineers and scientists have been working at more than 10 sites (in Iran), including Natanz and Qom,” the source said, citing human intelligence he declined to identify for security reasons.

    The source would not allow the specific number of North Koreans to be published, citing the sensitivity of the intelligence, and would not give further details on the extent of the collaboration. The source spoke on condition of anonymity because of the delicate nature of the issue.

    Repeated attempts to contact the Iranian embassy in Seoul by telephone were unsuccessful.

    Natanz is home to a fuel enrichment plant and a pilot fuel enrichment plant, the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a report on Iran’s nuclear program published last week.

    North Korea — which conducted two nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009 — revealed a year ago that it is running a uranium enrichment facility. Highly enriched uranium can be used to make weapons, providing Pyongyang with a second way of building nuclear bombs in addition to its existing plutonium program.

    Both North Korea and Iran are under United Nations sanctions for their nuclear programs. The North has expressed interest in rejoining international disarmament talks it walked away from in 2009.

    The source’s information came days after the U.N. nuclear watchdog expressed “serious concerns” on possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear program.

    The IAEA said in its report that it believes the country “has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device” under a “structured program” until 2003, and “some activities may still be ongoing.”

    The source with access to intelligence on the years-long weapons collaboration between Pyongyang and Tehran said the North Koreans are visiting Iran via third countries and many of them are being rotated in every three to six months.

    The North Korean experts are from the country’s so-called Room 99, which is directly supervised by the North’s ruling Workers’ Party Munitions Industry Department. The room, which can be translated as office or bureau, is widely believed to be engaged in exports of weapons and military technology.

    South Korea’s top spy agency, the National Intelligence Service, said it could not confirm the North Korean-Iranian cooperation, citing intelligence matters.

    A senior South Korean official said Seoul is keeping a close eye on developments.

    “It’s not a matter that the government can officially confirm,” another government official said. That official added that nuclear cooperation between North Korea and Iran has not been confirmed, though the countries have cooperated on missiles. The two officials asked not to be identified, citing office policy.

    The Associated Press reported late last year that Mohammad Reza Heydari, a former Iranian diplomat in charge of airports who defected to the West earlier in 2010, said he saw many North Korean technicians repeatedly and discreetly travel to Iran between 2002 and 2007 to work on the country’s nuclear program.

    AP also reported that Saed Jalili, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, denied North Korean technicians visited his country to assist with nuclear weapons development, calling the defector’s claim “totally fabricated.”

    Arms exports have been one of the major sources of hard currency for the cash-strapped communist country.

    North Korea and Iran have been suspected of exchanging missile parts and technology, especially during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war.
    In 2006, Iran’s military commander publicly acknowledged that his country had obtained Scud-B and Scud-C missiles from North Korea during the war, but no longer needs Pyongyang’s assistance.

    North Korean leader Kim Jong-il said in his book published in 2005 that his country’s missile doctrine is peaceful in nature and poses no threat. (Yonhap)

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