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How Many 'Loose Geeks' Like the 'Foreign Expert' Who Helped Iran's Nuclear Program Are Out There?


"Bribery happens. Corruption is rampant. Mistakes happen.”

Yesterday, the United Nation's International Atomic Energy Agency released a report about Iran's nuclear weapons program that officials hoped would present a clearer picture if Iran was making nuclear weapons.

In this Feb. 2007 photo, an Iranian technician walks through the Uranium Conversion Facility. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

According to the Associated Press, with the report the agency seems to be suggesting that Iran is using the cover of a peaceful nuclear program to produce atomic weaponry. The 13-page annex to the IAEA's regularly scheduled report on Iran included evidence that suggests the Islamic republic is working on the clandestine procurement of equipment and designs to make nuclear arms.

"While some of the activities identified in the annex have civilian as well as military applications, others are specific to nuclear weapons," the report said.

But the report refers obliquely to “a foreign expert” who worked “in the nuclear weapon programme of the country of his origin.” That expert, whom the IAEA interviewed, helped Iran from 1996 to 2002 research a kind of “high explosives initiation system” used in nuclear devices. And it's this "foreign expert" what Wired hones in on coming right out to say who it apparently is:

Congratulations, Vyacheslav Danilenko: You’re infamous. Danilenko, a former Soviet weapons scientist, was reportedly found by the International Atomic Energy Agency to have tutored the Iranians “on building high-precision detonators of the kind used to trigger a nuclear chain reaction.”


While that isn’t a smoking gun, it makes it harder for the Iranians to maintain their cover story that their nuclear research is designed strictly to meet their civilian energy needs. “The Agency is unable to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran,” the IAEA report reads, “and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.”

What Wired wants to call attention to is that there could be many "foreign experts" who are " ripe for hiring by rogue states or terrorist groups." It reports that after the fall of the Soviet Union, an aid program was established to make sure knowledge of Russian nuclear scientists had as well as the materials to make nukes were secure. Wired states that while this program worked well there are some like Danilenko:

Danilenko is an outlier among Russian scientists. But other so-called Loose Geeks — very, very different ones from the Russians — have emerged. And no one knows precisely how many of them there are. Consensus estimates run alarmingly high.


Most of those scientists aren’t going to be contacted by a rogue state or a terrorist group. The vast majority of those who actually are will probably say no. But then there are scientists with nuclear know-how in chaotic countries like Libya and Iraq. And it’s not exactly the greatest economic climate for nuclear physicists.

“The problem is the economy sucks,” Toma continues. “People aren’t getting paid a lot. Bribery happens. Corruption is rampant. Mistakes happen.” Boom: a nuclear version of Walter White from Breaking Bad.

Wired notes that no one knows how large the "loose geek" problem is, but that this U.N. report will at least call attention to it.

In other news for the report itself, it cited preparatory work for a nuclear weapons test, and development of a nuclear payload for Iran's Shahab 3 intermediate range missile -- a weapon that can reach Israel. Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said there was a government directive not to comment until Israel has studied the findings in depth. A day before the U.N. report was released Israel‘s defense minister warned of a possible Israeli military strike against Iran’s nuclear program and rejected suggestions the Jewish state would be devastated by an Iranian counterattack.

Iran's official IRNA news agency dismissed the U.N. findings, accusing IAEA chief Yukiya Amano of including "worthless comments and pictures provided by the intelligence services." In Vienna, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's chief IAEA delegate, called the report "unbalanced, unprofessional and prepared with political motivation and political pressure by the United States."

Watch the AP report with Ahmadinejad's response to the report:

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The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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