The hostile rivalry between the ideological and pragmatic camps in the Iranian regime, which dominates Iran's political scene, recently came to a head over the security breaches at Iran's nuclear facilities in light of several acts of sabotage that occurred there in the recent months. Since securing Iran's nuclear facilities is the responsibility of various security and intelligence apparatuses subordinate to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), criticism of these apparatuses' performance is limited and implicit. Instead, criticism has been directed at the pragmatic Rohani government and elements associated with it. In its April 16, 2021 editorial, the Masregh News website, which is affiliated with the IRGC, blamed the explosion that had occurred that month at the Natanz nuclear facility, which put advanced centrifuges out of commission, on Vice President Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran's Atomic Energy Agency, accusing him of neglecting or even deliberately sabotaging the defense of Iran's nuclear facilities.
The editorial accuses Salehi, as well as outgoing Iranian president Hassan Rohani and his government, of pursuing a deficient foreign and nuclear policy characterized by rhetorical efforts to downplay the results of the repeated attacks on Iran's nuclear facilities and convey that no real harm had been done. It also claims that, as head of the Atomic Energy Organization, Salehi allowed the infiltration of Iran's nuclear facilities by enemy agents and thus exposed them to sabotage. Salehi, it says, did not heed the warnings of Iranian experts who could have prevented this, but rather fired them, while at the same time cementing his relations with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) thus exposing Iran's nuclear scientists to danger. During the nuclear negotiations, the article claims, Salehi also expressed loyalty to Ernest Moniz, secretary of energy in the Obama administration, who had been his teacher at MIT and was a member of the U.S. negotiation team. (See August 2015 MEMRI report for statements by Salehi in which he boasts that Moniz was appointed to the American negotiation team at his request).
Ali Akbar Salehi (Source: Mashregh News, April 16, 2021)
It should be noted that Hamed Fakhrizadeh, the son of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the architect of the Iranian nuclear program, also implicitly held the Rohani government responsible for the security breach that had allowed the assassination of his father in late November 2020. In a press conference several days before Iran's recent presidential election, in which he expressed his support for presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi, Hamed Fakhrizadeh said: "I myself voted for Raisi in the previous elections, and if the people had elected him last time, perhaps [my father Mohsen] Fakhrizadeh would have been able to vote this year. According to statements by Supreme National Security Committee Secretary-General Ali Shamkhani, Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi, and other relevant elements, there was negligence on the part of the relevant organizations and institutions in the context of his assassination. As a consequence, the desperate attempts of the fake Zionist regime and the global arrogance [the U.S.] against this scientist, who had been on [their] terrorist lists for over 20 years, were successful."
In response to the Mashregh article, Salehi and the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization stated that that accusing government officials of responsibility for attacks on the nuclear facilities was unprecedented, and that Mashregh had in fact taken the side of Iran's enemies that are trying to harm it and impede its nuclear progress. He noted that the state's security and intelligence apparatuses are the ones responsible for the security of Iran's nuclear facilities, thus implicitly hitting back at the ideological camp, which has exclusive control over these apparatuses.
More explicit and blunt in his criticism of the security apparatuses was Iranian former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who slammed these apparatuses for monitoring and wiretapping political activists and ordinary citizens, including himself, instead of focusing their resources and efforts on securing the nuclear facilities.
The following are translated excerpts from the Mashregh editorial which blamed the Rohani government and Atomic Energy Organization head Salehi for the security breaches at Iran's nuclear facilities, from Salehi's response to these accusations, and from the statements by former president Ahmadinejad about the security apparatuses' failure to prevent the sabotage of Iran's nuclear facilities.
Mashregh News: There Are "Serious Doubt On The Entire 'Operating System' Of The Atomic Energy Organization's Administration… Salehi] Raised His Voice And Shouted, The Veins In His Neck Throbbing, And Pledged [His Confidence In] The Glorious [Benefits Of The Agreement]. He Had Apparently Found Common Ground In The Negotiations With His 'Former Master,' Ernest Moniz!"
"Following the second large explosion at the Natanz nuclear facility in less than a year, the media line taken by [Atomic Energy Organization head] Ali Akbar Salehi, in full coordination with [Foreign Minister Javad] Zarif, is to imply, 'no big deal that it exploded, we'll build a better [nuclear facility], and in any case, our motivation will [only] increase'!
"It is obvious that 'speech therapy' and rhetorical efforts to 'normalize' [the situation] have been the general policy of the Rohani government in the last eight years, especially when it came to our 'foreign policy' and 'nuclear policy.' The Rohani government's 'spokespersons' and 'speakers' have always tried to justify their 'failures' and 'mishaps' by [adopting] a strategy of 'offense is the best defense,' namely by attacking their critics [in the ideological camp] and calling them 'illiterates,' 'backward,' doomsayers,' 'destructive,' 'cavemen,' etc.…
"Today, just like in the past, Salehi refuses to address the heart of the matter, namely the severe [security] breach – [which is the second] in under a year, no less, and comes at a time when the nuclear law [passed by] the Majlis, [which restricts cooperation with the IAEA inspectors], gives the regime [tools] to deal with the thuggish and greedy Americans – although the Rohani government is shabby and unserious in its implementation of this [law].
"On the evening of April 12, 2021, Alireza Zakani, representative of Qom [in the Majlis] and head of the Parliamentary Research Center, appeared on the Jahan Ara [television] show and made some very important comments on the nuclear program, the nuclear agreement and the state of the nuclear industry under the Hassan Rohani government. One of the most shocking points he made reflected the condition of strategic state affairs, especially in the areas of security and the nuclear industry. Zakani said that the Atomic Energy Organization sent a component of the Natanz enrichment mechanism for repair outside [the country], and the repaired component came back with some 300 pounds of explosives planted inside it and the organization's security apparatus never noticed! This 300-pound bomb is what exploded last July and destroyed some of the sheds that house the assembly-line of the next-generation centrifuges."
For Zakani's criticism of Iran's inadequate security, see April 12, 2021 MEMRI clip:
The article states further: "In other words, according to Zakani, the Atomic Energy Organization, headed by Salehi, made two gross errors. First, for almost two decades, the dominant order [i.e., the U.S. and the West] has [invested] all its efforts in completely destroying our nuclear industry. Barak Obama explicitly stated that, if he could, he would not leave a single screw of Iran's nuclear industry [intact]. Yet the officials of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization sent a crucial component of our nuclear enrichment facility outside the country [for repair]. As the popular saying goes, we let the cat guard the cream! Second, when it returned, this component was packed with 300 pounds [of explosives] – that is 137 kg – that the organization's security and technical apparatuses failed to detect!
"If Zakani's claim is correct, this level of incompetence and ignorance turn this 'failure' into 'culpability.'
"Of course, for someone [like Salehi] – who, during the nuclear negotiations, boasted about studying [at MIT] under [then energy secretary] Ernest Moniz, the U.S. [official] in charge of the technical aspect of the negotiations, and who expressed pleasure and satisfaction at engaging with the American side, as was apparent in each one of the photos published [in the media] – optimism about the enemy's [intensions] has become a habit.
"In the 9th Majlis, responding to [Majlis] members who expressed concern about the suspension of [Iran's] nuclear industry under the nuclear agreement, [Salehi] raised his voice and shouted, the veins in his neck throbbing, and pledged [his confidence in] the glorious [benefits of the agreement]. He had apparently found common ground and rapport with his 'former master,' Ernest Moniz during the negotiations!
The Natanz nuclear facility (Source: Tehran Times, Iran, April 14, 2021)
"In a December 21, 2020 interview with the Entekhab website, [Salehi] made some remarks that worried the technicians at the time. He said: 'We make so much use of the technological cooperation with the [International Atomic Energy] Agency. Several workshops are held every year. Our engineers and experts visit the agency several times a year, in different countries. The IAEA prepared the ground [for this], so that [the Iranians] could train and serve.' In other words, according to Salehi, our nuclear scientists and experts are not only familiar to the den of spies that is the IAEA, they are even sent there for training.
"He also declared that he rejects [the claim] that the IAEA inspectors are spies. [He said]: 'The [claim that] the IAEA demanded to interview the martyr [Mohsen] Fakhrizadeh is a lie. If you have documents [to prove this], do publish them. I do not accept the claim that the agency inspectors are spies. Expel them [from the country]? You cannot run a country that way. We cannot deny ourselves connections with the world. We make so much use of the technological cooperation with the agency. It's impossible to handle international affairs in this manner, [by] leaving every [forum and saying] that everything we want must be done, while rejecting everything [the U.S. and the West] wants.'
"But on Monday, April 12, , Hossein Abniki, head of the Atomic Energy Organization's development and information technology center under the 10th government, and a friend of the martyr Ahmadi Roshan [a nuclear scientist assassinated in 2011], gave an interview… to the news website 598.ir, in which he mentioned Salehi's [dismissal of Atomic Energy Organization employees] in the first weeks after his appointment as head of this organization in 2013. This goes a long way towards explaining the dramatic rise in enemy attacks on the nuclear facilities. In the years 2009–2013, before the associates of the martyr Ahmadi Roshan were dismissed from the Atomic Energy Organization, the acts of sabotage and the cyber-attacks against Iran's nuclear industry were completely ineffective and work was progressing very well. In this period, the [Iranians] efficiently identified the weaknesses of the Iranian nuclear industry, and [this industry] avoided selling [and buying] parts and gear that can be manipulated, as well as cyber-attacks, etc.
"Abniki recalled: 'In 2013, when the [Iranian] government changed and Salehi returned to the Atomic Energy Organization [as its head], the associates and colleagues of the martyr Ahmadi Roshan were expelled. We said [to Salehi] at the time that it would be better to retain these dear people in the Iranian nuclear industry and benefit from their experience, but unfortunately this did not happen.' He concluded: 'Naturally, when you dismiss the key forces [among your personnel that protect you] against Western sabotage, you are actually preparing for destruction.' One of our prominent scientists during the heyday of the nuclear industry in the 2000s, the former head of the Natanz and Fordo [facilities], was [so] angry with Salehi in the first weeks after his return to the Atomic [Energy] Organization that he completely resigned from the nuclear industry and today he manufactures water- and sewage[-treatment] equipment in his factory. The elite team that purged the Natanz facility of the most complex [computer] virus, Stuxnet, was expelled from the Atomic Energy [Organization] after being personally dealt with by Salehi. The Atomic Energy Organization's cyber protection headquarters was almost paralyzed. When all this happens, our highly sensitive nuclear industry facilities [obviously] become vulnerable.
"Clearly, any security staff trained in the basics of neutralizing [threats] should have found those 300 pounds of explosives [planted in the Natanz facility] as part of its job. [The fact] that the Natanz security staff failed to find an explosive charge this size casts serious doubt on the entire 'operating system' of the Atomic Energy Organization's administration."
Atomic Energy Organization Responds To Mashregh Website's Criticism Of Salehi: The Website " Aligned Itself With The Enemies' Media And Political Strategy By Highlighting The Incident" Of The Natanz Explosion
On May 6, 2021, the Atomic Energy Organization and Salehi issued their response to the severe allegations made by the Mashregh website. The response stated that holding government officials responsible for assassinations and terror against Iran's nuclear industry was an unprecedented act, and that, by highlighting these assassinations and terror, the website had taken the side of Iran's enemies who wish to harm it. The response also noted that the Iranian regime's numerous security and intelligence apparatuses are responsible for thwarting attempts by hostile elements to infiltrate the Atomic Energy Organization and the Iranian nuclear industry, and complained that the media associated with the ideological camp refused to acknowledge the organization's accomplishments.
The response stated: "The enemy, [whose claims] are imaginative as usual, did not [actually] deliver a significant blow to the great progress of Iran's nuclear industry. But Mashregh News aligned itself with the enemies' political strategy and with their media by highlighting the incident [of the Natanz explosion].
"Since the beginning of the Islamic Revolution, the enemy has used various kinds of terror to deal with the progress of the [Iranian] state and undermine the morale of the people and officials, and this is a well-known method… But in none of these periods did political factions within the country blame the assassinations, blows and plots of the enemies on domestic [elements]…
"Iran's Atomic Energy Organization is a scientific, technological and research body which acts to maintain and develop [Iran's nuclear] industry in accordance with the supreme documents of Iran's sacred [regime] and the approved policy and programs. Maintaining and defending [the nuclear industry] is the role of the state's security apparatuses, including the intelligence ministry, the police and other state security institutions. There are also legal figures, private companies and contractors who collaborate with the organization on certain jobs or projects. Before starting their activity they are investigated by the relevant intelligence agencies, and [only] after being approved through the relevant channels are they [allowed to] collaborate with the organization.
"But another aspect of the matter is the existence of sworn enemies, including the Zionist regime, several countries in the region and certain internal agents who have sold out [to the enemies], and this has unfortunately led to a number of terror incidents [against our] nuclear [facilities]. These issues were not mentioned in the Mashregh article, [whose criticism] went so far as [to suggest that] sabotage occurred only in the [Atomic Energy] Organization, when [the fact is that] the sworn enemies of the Islamic Revolution do not spare efforts to target [all of] the achievements of the [Iranian] regime.
"The security agencies must [indeed] bring their methods, knowledge and expertise up to date, and they are taking and will take the necessary and suitable measures [to do this]. But the media… with the help of some evil and politically-motivated people, wants to detract from the high standing of the government officials by publicizing and inflating the limited damage caused by the enemies to the [nuclear] industry, [an industry] that is a source of honor and pride and part of Iran's strategic might, with hundreds of steadily growing accomplishments – and this is unprecedented in the history of post-revolutionary [Iran]. How is it that this media never sees the efforts of the Atomic [Energy] Organization's directors, scientists and experts in localizing the nuclear industry, [facilitating] strategic and economic successes, and seizing the nuclear rights of the Iranian nation from the West and the great nuclear powers? For example, the development of the Natanz [centrifuge] assembly building, which took over four years, was not covered by these media even though the organization [provided it with] this information, while the explosion at that building was prominently covered, in a way that encourages the enemies of Islamic Iran…"
Former Iranian President Ahmadinejad: " Mr. Security Gang, You And Your Security Organization Should Install Cameras In Natanz To Prevent People From Coming, Blowing It Up, And Causing Our People $10 Billion Worth Of Damage "
Harsh criticism against Iran's security and intelligence apparatuses was recently voiced bv Iran's former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In an interview he posted to Twitter on May 29, 2021, Ahmadinejad complained that the regime's security and intelligence apparatuses place political activists and citizens, including himself, under surveillance and wiretap them, when they should be focusing on thwarting the sabotage of Iran's nuclear facilities that causes billions in damages. He accused these security forces of betraying their country. The following are excerpts from the interview:
Ahmadinejad: "Do you know how much our country is spending on wiretapping people? They wiretap ordinary people, political activists. Where in our laws does it say that the intelligence organizations should monitor political activists? They wiretap people against the law. They place guards... Why did they install cameras at the entrance to my home?"
Interviewer: "They want to protect you so that nobody harms you."
Ahmadinejad: "That security gang is mixing up the threats. Mr. Security Gang, you and your security organization should install cameras in Natanz to prevent people from coming, blowing it up, and causing our people $10 billion worth of damage. You should install your cameras in Turquzabad, that they won't come and take the genuine [nuclear] documents of our country. You should install the cameras in our space organization, so that they won't drill a hole through the roof and take our country's documents. You are protecting me? My life is out in the open. I even laughed with them and said to them: Give me the camera. I will put it on myself and broadcast to you online. You people are betraying our country."
To see excerpts from the interview on MEMRI TV, click below.