When an explosion nearly razed Iran’s long-range missile research facility in 2011 — and killed the military scientist who ran it — many Western intelligence analysts viewed it as devastating to Tehran’s technological ambitions.
Since then, there has been little indication of Iranian work on a missile that could reach significantly beyond the Middle East, and Iranian leaders have said they do not intend to build one.
So, this spring, when a team of California-based weapons researchers reviewed new Iranian state TV programs glorifying the military scientist, they expected a history lesson with, at most, new details on a long-dormant program.
Instead, they stumbled on a series of clues that led them to a startling conclusion: Shortly before his death, the scientist, Gen. Hassan Tehrani Moghaddam, oversaw the development of a secret, second facility in the remote Iranian desert that, they say, is operating to this day.
For weeks, the researchers picked through satellite photos of the facility. They found, they say, that work on the site now appears to focus on advanced rocket engines and rocket fuel, and is often conducted under cover of night.
It is possible that the facility is developing only medium-range missiles, which Iran already possesses, or perhaps an unusually sophisticated space program.
But an analysis of structures and ground markings at the facility strongly suggests, though does not prove, that it is developing the technology for long-range missiles, the researchers say.
Such a program would not violate the international deal intended to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, or any other formal agreement. Still, if completed, it could threaten Europe and potentially the United States. And if Iran is found to be conducting long-range missile work, that would increase tensions between Tehran and the United States.
Five outside experts who independently reviewed the findings agreed that there was compelling evidence that Iran is developing long-range missile technology.
“The investigation highlights some potentially disturbing developments,” said Michael Elleman, a missile expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies who reviewed the material. The evidence was circumstantial, he said, but it could show preliminary steps “for developing an ICBM five to 10 years down the road, should Tehran wish to do so.”
Asked about the conclusions drawn by the weapons researchers, Alireza Miryousefi, the press officer at Iran’s United Nations mission, said in emailed statement that “we do not comment on military matters.”
The Shahrud Facility
The researchers, based at the nonpartisan Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, Calif., came across the Iranian facility shortly after a young research fellow, Fabian Hinz, proposed studying a flurry of recent Iranian state media material on General Moghaddam. He wanted to see if it contained clues as to how far Iran’s missile program had progressed before the general’s death.
But offhand comments from General Moghaddam’s colleagues and family members in the Iranian media seemed to imply that his work had quietly continued, the researchers say.
Mr. Hinz also found a big hint as to where the work was taking place. In a 2017 post by an Iranian journalists association, he saw an undated photo of General Moghaddam alongside a top lieutenant and a box marked “Shahrud.”
That name caught Mr. Hinz’s attention.
Shahrud, named for a town 40 kilometers away, was the site of a single missile test-launch in 2013. It had been considered dormant ever since and, when viewed by satellite, appeared disused.
Was there more than met the eye?
Poring over years of satellite imagery, the researchers noticed something: The number of buildings, they say, had slowly increased over time.
They also spotted a detail that would stand out only to an obsessive follower of General Moghaddam’s career: The buildings were painted a striking aquamarine.
General Moghaddam, known as eccentric and strong willed, had ordered his first facility, the one that was destroyed, painted that color. Now the same color appeared 300 miles away on a cluster of nondescript buildings in the desert.
On its own, this proved little, but it led the researchers to look more closely. Once they did, they saw more than just suspicious paint.
Many military technologies can be developed, at least in early stages, indoors. Ballistics labs, wind tunnels and enrichment facilities can be hidden in buildings or underground.
Missiles are an exception. Their engines must be fitted into stands and test-fired — hazardous work that is typically done outdoors. And engine tests, when conducted in desert landscapes like those around Shahrud, can burn ground scars, shaped like candle flames, into the terrain.
The researchers, piecing through satellite photos of the area around Shahrud, found, in a crater a few kilometers away, what they say were two telltale ground scars. They were larger than those at General Moghaddam’s publicly known facility.
The scars were recent. One appeared in 2016, the other in June 2017.
The researchers scrutinized the test stands. Such structures typically weigh between four and six times the thrust of the engine being tested. And they are concrete, allowing their weight to be inferred from their dimensions.
The researchers say Shahrud’s 2017 test used a stand estimated to be 370 tons, suggesting the engine powered between 62 and 93 tons of thrust — enough for an intercontinental ballistic missile. Two as-yet-unused test stands are even larger.
There were other hints. Shahrud appears to house three pits of the sort used for casting or curing rocket components, the researchers say. One pit, at 5.5 meters in diameter, is far larger than those used for Iran’s medium-range missiles.
Obama didnt negotiate with Iran about nuclear weaponry, he funded it.
Well, the Iranians said they wouldn’t do it, so this is probably wrong.
Trump ditched the Obama nuclear deal with Iran without having a clue what he would replace it with. There will be negative consequences, and Trump will own them.
He doesn’t have a clue about North Korea, either. That’s a more complex situation than Iran has ever been.
It was a terrible deal for everyone but the Iranians (and those the Iranians bribed to accept the deal). I don’t think any of the missiles they are working on can carry a nuclear power plant or research center. They must need the missiles for something else.
True, Trump does not know how to concede defeat to weak foreign powers as well as Obama could.
@Deplorable Me: Replace it bwahahaha, what was there before…sanctions, sanctions that slowed their ability to develop weapons that will be aimed at Gregs house. Obama and other bribed EU officials beg to give Iran every wish and add a cherry on top. Fund their terrorism and nuclear program.
@kitt: Obama did it, so no matter how bad it was (so bad Obama was ashamed and afraid to present it to Congress for ratification) but whatever Trump does, no matter how good and sensible, is bad. I have my Greg Translator on.
@Deplorable Me: You really need to download and listen to Wretched Madcow for a few hours to have a proper translator.(it isnt worth the 100% chance of brain damage)
@kitt: Will that make me believe Hillary only deleted emails that were about yoga and weddings? That or a lobotomy ought to do it.
@Deplorable Me, #4:
At the point the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was finalized—July 14, 2015—Iran was thought to be only months away from assembling a nuclear weapon. Nearly 3 years later they haven’t done so, and an no longer have the necessary supply of weapon-grade enriched uranium on hand to build one. Their path to a plutonium bomb went away with the verified destruction of the core of the Arak reactor. That’s what we got out of the deal.
What do you expect to get out of Trump kicking it all to bits because it was an Obama accomplishment?
This was a stupid, utterly pointless move, with regard to Iran. It was also stupid with regard to North Korea, which will have rightly observed that any promises we make in return for concessions won’t be worth squat. Bolton underlined that conclusion with his moronic suggestion that our dealings with North Korea should follow the Libya model—just in case the already paranoid Kim Jong-un didn’t get the message.
He will keep his nukes.
@Greg: The reports about them getting rid of the enriched uranium who verified that, is it being kept where Iran refuses to allow inspections? Was it the Russians that verified that? You think Syria used chemical weapons that was a Russian deal too wasn’t it.
Hey they are allowing lawsuit for MK Ultra victims but I thought that was just a conspiracy theory.
Verification was done by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
April 26, 2018 — Mattis says Iran nuclear deal includes ‘robust’ verification
Not that Trump gave a doodly damn about what his own Secretary of Defense concluded. Because he—with his vast personal knowledge of real estate deals, bogus university scams, beauty pageants, reality television hosting and such—knows better.
Trump blasts Iran deal as ‘insane’ and ‘ridiculous’ as Macron looks on
Is there a trigger word MSNBC uses to have you believe everything they say?
Is Herman Munster Rachels biological father?
What nukes? Supposedly they don’t have them and it will take months to have one. However, according to Iran, they can have one much faster than than, even though they complied with the weak and unenforceable mandates of this crappy deal.
Not much of an accomplishment. Allowing Iran a month to prepare any area to be inspected and allowing them self-inspection privileges? Had he known how to make any type of a deal, he could have made one Congress would approve and secure as a treaty instead of a handshake deal among liars. You feel that just because Obama blessed it, it belongs on a pedestal to be worshiped. I don’t.
Yeah, probably not the best example since even though Khadaffi had honored and followed the deal (made from a position of strength, not desperation) Un was probably disturbed by how Obama and Hillary had him deposed and murdered.
For instance, Trump just announced he is telling Un to go pound sand. Unless he is willing to drop the violent rhetoric and come to the table in good faith, he can continue to watch his people starve and be isolated.
@Greg: We ended the agreement because Iran violated it. Fact.
Trumps endeavors are diverse, so if you need to cherry-pick the bad ones while ignoring the good ones, you know you’ve lost that argument.
Obama was elected and lauded while having very thin experience and no successes.
Failure is part of success. You can’t have one without the other.
Accomplishments for Trump:
1. ACA – effectively countered and destroyed.
2. Paris Climate Deal meant to weaken America – Pulled out.
3. Jobs and Economy – Up and Up. Guess all that experience Trump has in growing wealth (which you ignored) is coming in handy now.
4. Iran “deal” – ’nuff said.
5. Healing partisan divide by being Moderate – Gun control and Planned Parenthood questioned and supported, logically, though the media ignores it when Trump actually supports liberal values.
Overall, best president of the 21st Century.
Perhaps you should direct those comments to Defense Secretary James N. Mattis rather than to me, since it was Mattis who concluded that the nuclear agreement’s verification has actually been quite robust. There were some undeniably positive results from the agreement, which have now been unilaterally abandoned in favor of nothing at all.
Inspection of Iran’s military installations wasn’t part of the nuclear agreement, nor should anyone expect a sovereign nation to willingly agree to such protocol. We certainly wouldn’t. A national leader who succumbed to foreign pressure and agreed to such a demand wouldn’t remain a national leader for very long.
@Nathan Blue, #14:
There’s a rather large bowl of cherries to cherry-pick from. It’s not just sexual assault accusations, beauty pageant scandals, hush money, and bogus university scams. How many trusting people got left holding an empty bag in the failures of Trump Taj Mahal, Trump Plaza, Trump Hotels and Casino Resorts, and Trump Entertainment Resorts? Donald Trump has a history of abandoning each crash site personally unscathed, and hurrying on with his lawyers to the next scheme. Which really wouldn’t bother me so much, as I can easily steer clear of such things. But then he was entrusted with the fate of the entire nation, and suddenly the fate of everything I’ve ever cared about is in this guy’s hands.
When you’re talking about the fate of the nation, failure isn’t an acceptable part of the routine. Nations can’t casually declare bankruptcy and bounce right back. For any average person, the terrible consequences of a total economic meltdown are of a generational nature. In any war, some people don’t survive to recover. With the powers now under human control, civilization might not survive to recover.
I think these concerns are entirely legitimate. When you aren’t blinded by Trump’s persona and pitches, you find yourself looking at some very worrisome details.
Yet you not only continue to defend the failures, one after another, of the Obama administration, but wanted a proven failure (as Secretary of State) for the next administration.
Trump, meanwhile, is succeeding, in spite of the myriad of false accusations you sore loser whiners can throw at him.
@Greg:You know dearie I dont care who makes a stupid comment or is totally wrong, I dont repeat it like a parrot.
Now what would you suggest, Isreal proved they were cheating, lets give them a billion or so more? Why yes that would be the democrat way double down on the most moronic ideas ever.
West Hollywood having a 40% uptick in STDs soooo https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/onpolitics/2018/05/22/stormy-daniels-receive-key-california-city/635364002/ Friggin brilliant!
I fixed it for you.
@Deplorable Me, #17:
Trump and his supporters are so obsessed with Obama and Clinton that they’ll kick apart anything they’ve been credited with, just to be able to point to the wreckage and proclaim it proof of failure. Unfortunately, as with the piecemeal sabotage of the Affordable Care Act, the dumping of the Iran nuclear agreement, and the abandonment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, they never seem to have anything in the way of replacements. Attitude counts for nothing.
What has Trump succeeded at? Well, he succeeded in getting elected, though that might not have happened without an assist from Vladimir Putin. There’s the fiscally irresponsible high-end cash grab masquerading as tax reform—permanent for the wealthiest, such as himself, but temporary for everyone else. That has been a success, provided the trillion-a-year deficits are disregarded. On a related note, he has succeeded in taking credit for an economic recovery that was already well underway. That tax reform thing did the trick. He’s put control of the nation’s regulatory agencies in the hands of people connected with the special interests they were created to regulate. He has derailed DACA, holding those it protects hostage to his demands for a $21.6 billion border wall, while blaming Congress for a failure on immigration policy when they already came up with a bipartisan compromise he said he would veto. (He’s now repeating that strategy.) He got Kim Jong-un to briefly pretend he might change his stance. We did get some nice photographs as a result. Meanwhile, tensions in the Middle East have risen. He’s convinced half of the nation that the media is the source of all lies, that our own intelligence community can’t be trusted, and that the Department of Justice and FBI are involved in a conspiracy against him.
Have I missed anything?
‘Very Perplexed’: International Confusion, Concern After Trump Cancels Summit
TRUMP is obsessed. Oh, I guess that’s why he has been spying on them. Oh… wait.
You know, if you actually believed that you would be furious that Obama KNEW Russia had plans to interfere in the election but did absolutely nothing to stop it. But, you don’t so you aren’t.
Trump is defeating ISIS instead of encouraging them. Trump is getting other Muslim countries to contribute to the war on terror. He has gotten NATO members to contribute their share. He is getting trade concessions out of those who are used to routinely screwing us. He has brought unprecedented pressure upon N. Korea and caused them to ask for talks. He continues to play hardball with them instead of throwing concessions at them just to get them to agree to any deal. This goes on and on. Obama paid Iran billions of dollars for the privilege of accepting their terms.
Yeah, Obama had it timed perfectly to go into effect just as soon as Trump took office. Brilliant. One wonders why Obama didn’t repair the economy during the 8 years he controlled it?
DACA has been determined to be unconstitutional, was going to end anyway and was beyond Obama’s authority. Your Democrats are making it die a lingering death by refusing to accept compromises on immigration reform or secure the border.
Fueled by the billions Obama gave the #1 sponsor of terrorism and Obama’s disastrous foreign policy which gave birth to ISIS, which Trump is destroying.
You left out how Obama has all but destroyed public faith in the FBI, DOJ and IC.
@Deplorable Me, #20:
March 2018 was the 90th consecutive month of job growth. Donald Trump has been in office a bit short of 17 months.
Are you capable of doing simple arithmetic? Or is the part about drawing a simple logical conclusion the problem?
Job growth for Trump’s first year in office was lower than Obama’s final year in office.
Maybe we should compare what happened with the stock market?