Iranian defectors 'helped with US intelligence report'

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The Independent US

American intelligence agencies relied on information from as many as five high-ranking Iranian defectors to help reach its conclusion that Tehran had halted its nuclear weapons programme four years ago.

The Los Angeles Times revealed yesterday the existence of a secret, two-year-old CIA programme called the Brain Drain, in which Iranian officials have been encouraged to pass on information to US intelligence agencies in exchange for safe passage out of Iran.

It had been suggested that the 16 US intelligence agencies whose opinions formed the basis of last week's National Intelligence Estimate on Iran had relied in part on the defection of a former deputy defence minister. One possible candidate is Ali Reza Asgari, who disappeared during a visit to Turkey in February.But officials also told the paper that they had relied principally on other intelligence sources, notably intercepts of conversations between Iranian government officials and the seizure of a journal containing detailed notes on the country's decision to halt its weapons research.

The Brain Drain programme, said the intelligence officials who spoke to the newspaper, was also about plucking key scientists and military and political leaders out of the country. The CIA has adamantly denied involvement in Mr Asgari's disappearance.

For the first five years of his presidency, President George Bush had rolled back intelligence-gathering operations in Iran but ratcheted it up once drumbeats began sounding for a possible military strike.

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