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CIA Knew About Iran’s Secret Nuclear Plant Long Before Disclosure
This summer, as the Obama Administration prepared to confront Iran with proof of its undisclosed uranium-enrichment plant in Qum, CIA Director Leon Panetta ordered his staff to work with European intelligence agencies to compile a comprehensive presentation about the facility. Although the Iranians had taken great pains to keep the facility a secret, building it into a mountain 100 miles southwest from Tehran, the CIA had known about it for three years.
Panetta was told about Qum during the White House transition period in January. “This was presented at that time as something nobody knew about, a secret facility,” he told TIME in an exclusive interview. “It was built into a mountain; obviously that raised question marks.” Panetta said that after he was confirmed as the agency’s director, “we spent the next months trying to get better intel about what was going on there … and conducting covert operations into that area.” (See pictures of the world’s worst nuclear disasters.)
As part of that effort, the CIA worked with British and French intelligence, which had also been on the lookout for the secret plant. They knew there had to be one; once Iran’s primary enrichment plan in Natanz was revealed, in 2002, it was assumed that the Iranians would build a second one somewhere.