The International Atomic Energy Agency has admitted that some of the material in the now-infamous "secret annex" about Iran's nuclear program exists, but claims it wasn't verifiable enough to release, according to the organization's Washington representative.
The classified information, which was collected as part of the IAEA's annual volume on Iran but never made the final cut, claims to prove that Iran "has sufficient information to be able to design and produce a workable implosion nuclear device," according to reports.
The Institute for Science and International Security, a Washington research organization headed by former weapons inspector David Albright, published excerpts of the omitted section, which included claims that the agency believed Iran was working on placing nuclear warheads on its Shahab-3 missile.
Andrew Semmel, the IAEA's man in DC, told a group of congressional staffers Monday that he pressed IAEA leadership for answers on the "secret annex" at the general conference in Vienna last month.
"What they're telling me is that of course there's background material ... that you have to produce a report and that report can't include everything that's been collected and surmised, so the report itself is a distillation of all that background information."
IAEA leaders decided they weren't confident in the authenticity of the information contained in the extra document, and they couldn't verify what that research had found.
"They say there is no 'secret annex' but there is 'background information', however you want to characterize that," Semmel said.
"I likened it to the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran. That report too, does not include everything that was collected on background," said Semmel, "It's akin to that."
He alluded to reports that different parts of the IAEA bureaucracy have been at odds with each other about how to publicly present the collected information in Iran, but declined to get into specifics.
Some very specific reporting points to a long-running dispute between the IAEA's Department of Safeguards (which advocates a harder line) and its Department of External Relations and Policy Coordination (which is more skeptical).
Outgoing IAEA chief Mohamed Elbaradei, who will come to Washington later this month, is apparently in the risk-averse camp.
National Security Advisor Jim Jones spoke this weekend about the IAEA's secret information file.
"Whether they know how to do it or not is a matter of some conjecture, but what we are watching is what is their intent and we have been worried about that intent," he said.
But even the question of Iran's intent is clearly disputed at the top levels of the Obama administration.
Semmel also told his Capitol Hill audience that the IAEA's planned Oct. 25 visit to the newly revealed Qom facility was probably too late to catch Iran in any nefarious acts.
"One has to be somewhat suspicious. It gives three weeks for the Iranians to clean up anything they might want to hide," he said, "They've been known to do this in the past, whitewashing and so forth."
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.