Monday, February 14, 2005

US uses spy planes to intimidate Iran
US uses spy planes to intimidate Iran
By Dafna Linzer
February 14, 2005

The Bush Administration has been flying surveillance drones over Iran for nearly a year to seek evidence of nuclear weapons programs and detect weaknesses in air defences.

The small, pilotless aircraft enter Iranian airspace from US bases in Iraq and use radar, video, still photography and air filters designed to pick up traces of nuclear activity to gather information not obtainable by satellites, three US officials with detailed knowledge of the secret effort said.

Aerial espionage is standard in military preparations for an air attack and is also employed as a tool for intimidation.

The Iranian Government has formally protested against the illegal incursions.

The drones set off a national newspaper frenzy in December over whether the country was being visited by UFOs.

The manoeuvres have been conducted as the Bush Administration sharpens its anti-Iran rhetoric and US intelligence agencies search for information to support President George Bush's claim that Tehran is trying to build nuclear weapons.

Mr Bush's senior advisers, including the Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, and the Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, said last week that a US attack on Iran is not imminent but the option remains available.

The London Sunday Telegraph reported yesterday that Pakistan had admitted for the first time that A.Q. Khan, the rogue nuclear scientist under house arrest in Islamabad, passed secrets and equipment to Iranian officials and is now considered the "brain" behind the program that has put Tehran on the brink of acquiring nuclear weapons.

A Pakistani investigation revealed that Khan, a hero in Pakistan as the "Father of the Bomb", and his associates sold nuclear codes, materials, components and plans that left his "signature" at the core of the Iranian nuclear program.

The admission came during private talks in Brussels at the end of last month between European Union officials and senior ministers from Pakistan and India. The EU officials were told that co-operation between Tehran and Khan, 68, and associates from his Khan Research Laboratories began in the mid-1990s and included more than a dozen meetings over several years.

Iran yesterday said it would not give up plans to build a heavy-water reactor which can be used to make nuclear weapons material, in exchange for a light-water research reactor proposed by the Europeans.

"We welcome such proposals but we will not under any circumstances replace our heavy-water research reactor," a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

EU negotiators in talks with Iran over its nuclear activities have offered to send a mission to help Tehran obtain a light-water research reactor in what would be the first concrete move towards rewarding Tehran for abandoning uranium enrichment.

Dozens of CIA informants inside Iran were executed or imprisoned in the late 1980s or early '90s after their secret communications with the US spy agency were uncovered, former CIA officials said.

As many as 50 Iranians on the CIA's payroll were "rolled up" in the failed operation, they said.