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David Albright Letter to the New York Times, November 13, 2005
by David Albright
November 13, 2005
Following is a copy of a Letter to the Editor sent to the New York Times:
To Whom it May Concern,
The November 13, 2005 New York Times article “Relying on Computer, US Seeks to Prove Iran’s Nuclear Aims” has a deep and misleading flaw. William J. Broad and David E. Sanger repeatedly characterize the contents of computer files as containing information about a nuclear warhead design when the information actually describes a reentry vehicle for a missile. This distinction is not minor, and Broad should understand the difference between the two objects, particularly when the information does not contain any words such as nuclear or nuclear warhead. The “black box” carried by the re-entry vehicle may appear to be a nuclear warhead, but the documents do not state what the warhead is. In addition, much of what Broad and Sanger report has been reported elsewhere, including the important information about “a sphere of detonators meant to ignite conventional explosives”(see Agence France Press article by Michael Adler on October 9, 2005). These earlier and more accurate articl es did not confuse a nuclear warhead with a reentry vehicle.
By replacing warhead with re-entry vehicle throughout the article, the reasons for a healthy skepticism would also become more understandable. For example, a key question becomes much more clear, namely whether this work was initiated by an Iranian missile team on its own, or whether this work was ordered by Iran’s political leadership as part of a concerted nuclear weapons effort? Another important question that is sidestepped by the misleading use of warhead in the article is whether Iran can build the relatively small nuclear warhead able to fit into the triconic re-entry vehicle apparent in photos of a 2004 flight test. Based on publicly available photos of the 2004 test launch, the nuclear warhead would require a diameter of about 600 millimeters. Achieving such a diameter would be challenging for Iran. For example, the diameter of the warhead in the design provided to Libya (and perhaps to Iran) by A.Q. Khan was about 900 millimeters. A legitimate question i s wheth er Iran could successfully build such a small nuclear warhead without outside help.
President of the Institute for Science and International Security