The Deal: The story of the Iran nuclear deal; how it came together, how it fell apart, and what that means for the rest of us.

Logo for The Deal Podcast showing a tree and a mushroom cloud

Hosted by Dr. Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.

WHAT IS THE DEAL?

The story of the Iran nuclear deal; how it came together, how it fell apart, and what that means for the rest of us. Hosted by Dr. Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.

Season 2, Episode 5: The Worst Case Scenario (Almost)

The invasion of Iraq led Jeffrey Lewis to make the spread of nuclear weapons the focus of his professional life. The ensuing carnage made clear that solving these problems with force only makes things worse. We can do better than this, right?


I’m Jeffrey Lewis and you’re listening to The Deal. 
This podcast series started with an interview with my friend Corey Hinderstein who was the first person to publicly identify Iran’s uranium enrichment plant at Natanz, starting the very public nuclear crisis that has stretched for almost twenty years. 
Back then, Corey was a precocious, but very junior, researcher at a think tank. And I was just a graduate student. 
But this is one of those moments in history that shapes the rest of your life. For me, as a graduate student, I stood by helplessly watching the United States use the threat of an Iraqi nuclear weapon to justify the invasion of Iraq — the biggest foreign policy disaster of my lifetime and something that has shaped everything for me since. 
The invasion of Iraq led me to make the spread of nuclear weapons the focus of my professional life. And the ensuing carnage made clear that solving these problems with force only makes things worse. 
Back then, like I said, I was a graduate student. The only people who listened to me were my friends. And, well, they sometimes got a little bored too. Today? I write books and articles, do news interviews and make podcasts like the one you are listening to. And I’ll be damned if I stand by helplessly watching the US repeat the mistakes of Iraq in its neighbor next door, Iran. 
Now, a lot of people opposed to the Iran nuclear deal deny they want to invade Iran. But whenever there is a diplomatic solution on the table, they seem to find all its faults. But they don’t scrutinize violence the same way. They don’t ask about what might go wrong. 
And that what we’re going to talk about today. 
Dan: Hi, my name is Dan Lamothe. I’m a staff writer with the Washington Post. I’ve covered the US military for a couple of different publications since 2008. 
Jeffrey: In January 2020 Dan covered a missile attack that some consider to be the greatest military crisis of the Trump administration. 
Maybe you remember it?
Archival: This an NBC News Special Report… 
Iran fired about a dozen ballistic missiles at an American airbase at Ain Al Asad in Iraq. For a moment, it looked like the two countries were headed toward an all-out war. After a spate of headlines, it washed through the news cycle. 
But Dan wasn’t ready to let it go. He turned back to the story a year later. 
Dan: I always wonder with these sorts of stories, you know, and you just do diligence, I’ll reach out and you never know what the answer is going to be. Some people really want to talk about a day like this. Some people never want to talk about it ever again. In this case, I was struck by the number of people who came, you know, a single a single email, a single voice message, whatever, and responded pretty quickly and and seemed pretty grateful to have a platform to tell their story, 
Jeffrey: If you are just finding The Deal, Season 1 tells the story of the Iran nuclear deal — how Obama reached a legacy diplomatic achievement and how Trump tore it up. 
I am a professor who studies proliferation — that’s just a fancy way of saying the spread of nuclear weapons . For me, the Iran nuclear deal was a pretty big deal — a sign that we can still do big things together, that we can work with other countries to use diplomacy to solve our problems, rather than war. Shows what I know. 
When Trump pulled out of the nuclear deal it didn’t just piss off twitter and empower Iran. It also fundamentally shifted the American approach away from diplomacy and toward a strategy with three prongs: pressure, pressure and more pressure. 
But now… Joe Biden is in charge. And in season 2 of The Deal we’ve been exploring his options when it comes to Iran and its nuclear program. What have we done before, and how can that inform what we do next? This is our final episode: “The Worst Case Scenario. Almost.” 
Jeffrey: Let’s go back in time. To the end of the “before” times. Those last days and weeks before the pandemic. 
Archival / A SARS-like virus has reached the United States… 
Jeffrey: Even though the world was about to change dramatically, it was business as usual between the United States and Iran. Things were heating up and pressure was building, like a kettle on a stove, about to whistle.
Dan: The United States, under the Trump administration had pulled out of the nuclear deal that the Obama administration had signed. In they had also ramped up sanctions on Iran. Iran responded with a series of various kinds of attacks, just things that like kind of to show their displeasure. 
Jeffrey: Trump didn’t just kill the deal with Iran, he also instituted a strategy called “maximum pressure” designed to break the Iranian regime. Iran, obviously, was not thrilled with this approach. A lot of the tension played out in Iraq, where the two countries are fighting through proxies for control of the country. 
As a result, all throughout 2019, militia supported by Iran were launching pretty regular rocket attacks on US forces in Iraq. While that’s not great, rocket and mortar attacks are actually pretty par for the course in a war-zone. 
Dan: it can be an annoyance more than anything else. 
Jeffrey: An annoyance. Except when it’s not. 
Jeffrey VO: On December 27, 2019, one of those rocket attacks killed a man named Nawres Hamid, an American civilian working as an interpreter on a US military base in Iraq. He was 33 and had 2 kids. 
Hamid’s death is a turning point. Because the Trump Administration decided to retaliate. Archival: Breaking news from the Middle East… 
Jeffrey restate/summarize: In January 2020, the US launched a drone strike on several vehicles just outside the Baghdad airport. One of those vehicle was carrying an Iranian General: Qasem Soleimani. Soleimani was the head of something called the Quds Force — which are sort of Iran’s special forces operating abroad. He was very famous. Some people even thought he might be Iran’s next president. 
At one level, Soleimani is the person ultimately responsible for the rocket attack that killed Nowres Hamid. But he’s pretty high-up. Killing him is an escalation. 
Jeffrey: Trump couldn’t let the killing of Hamid go. Iran couldn’t let the killing of Solemani go either. 
Dan: It seemed pretty clear, Iran wasn’t gonna just let that lie.
Jeffrey VO: Kettle. Whistling. 
Act II: The Attack 
Dan: al-Asad air base is in western Iraq is in Anbar Province. 
Jeffrey: …and Anbar Province is smack dab in the middle of the Iraqi desert. On any given day, over 1000 people lived at the airbase. For them, this was home. 
Dan: If you were to drive around the base, you’d see helicopters, you’d see mechanics at work on aircraft, you’d see people going to the gym, you’d see people going to the chow hall. It’s kind of you do your job, and then you, you know, you take some time off, you watch some TV,] it’s that sort of feel. 
Dan: I saw [al-Asad] it as a as an appealing target for them in a couple ways. One is it is it was a known large US base. So it’s got some got some symbolism in that regard. 
Dan: It’s a place that people who have followed the war have talked about for years on and off. They weren’t striking some random remote location that had a handful of troops. This is a major American position in Iraq. 
Jeffrey VO: And, most importantly, it is a major base for US drones. Drones including the ones that killed Qassem Soleimani. 
Dan: All the reporting I’ve done talking to people who were there that day. There had been sort of this unsettled sense for what might come. Once the word reached Al Assad, they were pretty certain that was going to be a target at some point in the coming hours. 
The United States started scrambling to protect as many people as they could 
Dan: I heard a lot of them tell me that they had, they had just gone to dinner. And then sort of after dinner and things change very, very abruptly, they were called into unexpected meetings and, you know, given orders to do various things that seemed pretty striking, you know, go get your armor, go get your gas masks. 
And then some of them were sent out, you know, literally, you’re getting on an aircraft in the next hour. 
You had a lot of people rushing out, you know, I mean I heard I’ve heard stories of people, you know, scrambling to find a seat on an aircraft. In one case i heard about the Ospreys. Those are aircraft that sort of have a hybrid, helicopter airplane look, they often will hold maybe maybe a couple dozen people in the back. They were stuffing 40 and 50 hit into the back of that aircraft.
Dan 18:28 
like they’re using everything they can, they’re literally doing back of the envelope calculations to say, what’s the weight limit on this aircraft, and let’s fill it as much as we can. 
the underlying piece of that is, if you’re sent out in that sort of scenario, you’re sent out with little notice, but you’re also leaving with the sense that depending on how bad this is, you might be coming back to identify your friends. 
Dan 19:42 
Iran’s decision to use ballistic missiles, you know, these 30-40 foot long missiles with carrying, you know, in excess of 1000 pounds of explosives… 
Dan 19:42 
Every time one of those hits, it can leave these massive, you know, 20-30 foot craters, just that towering inferno. Not to mention that the massive concussion on any explosion that size, you know, that’s something that’s absolutely crippling for the people nearby. 
They wanted to protect the base, you know they couldn’t leave the base outright. 
Music 
Music 
Dan 18:40 
For those who were left behind, you know, they they, they prepared as best they could, they had their armor, they had their gas masks in many cases. And what kind of shelter they had actually varied a great deal based on where they were on base in which unit they were in. Some of them 
were in these large hardened buildings that probably could withstand a lot. Maybe not a direct hit, but… could withstand a lot. Other people were in sort of open air shelters that would have been appropriate for smaller explosions like a rocket, but you know, you like there’s just no way you’re gonna be able to survive that kind of thing if the missile lands too close. 
Dan 21:06 
I think that was something that, that I didn’t have a full appreciation of, until I started talking to people who survived. 
This is a situation where, people kind of made peace, you know, they they were they were praying, they were writing letters, you know, they were, they were calling loved ones in the moments they had. 
People sent home sort of last messages to their children. “If I don’t make it” kind of feel to those messages.
And then there’s this sinking dread, where, you know, you know, it’s probably coming tonight, and … you’ve got an hour. You got a half hour. 
And then at some point, you hear over an intercom, “Incoming. Incoming.” And then you’ve got a matter of minutes or less. 
DURING THE ATTACK 
Dan 20:15 
The the missiles started landing after 1am. 
They came sort of sporadically landing, you know, four or five, six at a time for for a while. Some of the individuals were actually knocked out not once, but multiple times. Then afterward, once you start coming to, you know, that just the symptoms that go with it kind of things mean that there were people who had horrendous ears ringing there were there was vomiting. There were people that pretty pretty well knocked flat on their back for a while. 
Dan 24:45 
And I think in terms of when did the missile Stop. I mean, it was a couple hours, in terms of when did they know for certain they were safe. A lot of them told me that they weren’t not they, even when day break occurred, you know, five 6am they were still very leery of, of leaving those shelters. You know, and and then when you actually emerged slowly, just seeing your home, literally your home at this point, you’ve been there for months, in many cases, just absolutely devastated. 
Act III: The Aftermath 
Beat 
Dan 25:36 
An interview that sticks with me the most i think is a member of the Minnesota National Guard, major Allen Johnson. And he, you know, he was a medical professional on the base. His clinic was blown up. He was knocked out multiple times. And then all of a sudden, it’s like, Okay, well, you got to treat all these people who have concussions. Meanwhile, you yourself are not well, 
Dan 28:13 
talking to a major Johnson so he’s one of the individuals who has to take care of others based on being a medical professional on base. He himself described this like out that this this sense
of like, you know, exhaustion, you’re you’re working in a makeshift clinic because yours is gone. You’re literally having to clean up things on the ground to find stuff you need. 
Dan 28:40 
And then you know, finally after a couple days as help arrived, you know, and it kind of came in waves but he finally had some some backup on the medical side. And somebody came across him and notices his the flag on his uniform was all wrong. Which is not something that somebody who’s been in the military for years, whatever screw up, but in this case, he was just not quite right. And he too was evacuated at that point. 
Beat 
Beat 
Beat 
Jeffrey: Things at the base were frightening and chaotic. But from Washington, they looked different. 
Dan: The Trump administration in Washington, the initial reports, they got said, nobody’s dead. And there are no serious injuries. 
Jeffrey: While no one was dead, there were casualties. Pretty soon, it was clear that there were lots and lots of serious injuries. 
Dan: Dealing with TBIs, they they’re, they’re unpredictable, and the symptoms don’t always show up right away. 
Dan: You’re dealing with the the human brain and all of its Marvels but also all you know, it’s a very sensitive, you know, system. 
Jeffrey: Traumatic brain injuries are no joke. But still, even with our modern medical understanding and lots of coverage from sports, it can be very hard to get some people to take concussions seriously. 
Archival: Trump: “I heard that they had headaches. And a couple of other things. But I would say and I can report it is not very serious.” 
Dan: oh, they’re just headaches 
Jeffrey: That’s the message the American people got from the President about Ayn al-Asad. All is well. Just some headaches.
Beat 
Beat 
Beat 
WHAT DOES IT MEAN? (BIG IDEAS
Jeffrey: This was a cycle of revenge killings [that started with the death of an innocent man?]. And Trump had made clear that if even one more American were killed, he would retaliate again. So Administration officials, struggling to keep things from getting out of hand, had good reasons to try to minimize the damage. And by some miracle, no one was killed. Even so, the two countries were still at the cusp of war. Did we just get lucky? 
Dan: We’ve, at the Washington Post heard out senior US officials who said that it is their belief, it could not have been an accident. 
Dan: I’ve heard out other officials that see a lot more luck involved. You know, and this is relatively senior people. I mean, General Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, came out in the aftermath of this attack. And he certainly sounded like he thought they were trying to kill people. 
Jeffrey: For what it’s worth, the Iranians announced that the missiles had killed lots of American soldiers. They didn’t seem worried about it. 
Dan:I got the sense over and over again, this whole thing felt very arbitrary to them the people on the ground. That that luck, above all, played a role and people just walking away from this thinking “I can’t believe I survived.” 
Beat 
Beat 
Jeffrey: But not everyone was lucky. Because things did get of hand. The violence did spill over. 
That morning, as American soldiers were picking up the pieces at Ain Al Assad, a civilian airliner took off from the airport outside of Tehran carrying 176 people to Kiev in Ukraine. 
Almost immediately, an Iranian missile crew, on alert waiting for the US retaliation, made a terrible, terrible mistake — and shot it down. They had mistaken the plane for a cruise missile. 
The cycle of violence had claimed another 176 people — innocent men, women, children — all of whom died as the plane hit the ground.
Dan: they had no involvement in the attack, they had no connection whatsoever to any of these events. And a couple 100 people dying as a result Iran had to own that. 
Dan: it did seem to maybe have a de escalatory effect, in that people kind of eased off their guns for a few days afterward. 
JEFFREY: It was a ghastly error. And a cruel blow to families who had nothing whatsoever to do with the nuclear weapons program in Iran or fighting in Iraq. 
Beat 
Beat 
Trump crowed about his victory, killing an Iranian general at the cost of, what he called, a few headaches. And the Iranians, consumed with grief and anger, weren’t in a mood to argue with him. The crisis stalled and then, as the pandemic hit, everyone moved on. 
Dan: There is a sense that it has already been forgotten by the average American, that when it happened, and nobody did die, it’s easy to kind of just wipe off the news broadcasts, wipe off the front page and move on. 
Dan: But when you make a decision in a situation room somewhere. There are regular people with regular families and children and children and everything else that have to deal with the consequences. 
[ALT: Dan 40:46 
It’s a story about people dealing with trauma, above all else, it’s about having to deal with somebody else’s decisions. 
Dan 40:53 
And what that might mean for your family and your body.] 
Beat 
Jeffrey VO: Because This was not some textbook case of coercive diplomacy. It was a fiasco. The United States and Iran basically engaged in a series of revenge killings, stumbling arm-in-arm right up to the brink of a full-scale war. They avoided it only by one miraculous stroke of dumb luck, followed by the terrible loss of 176 innocent people. 
The situation could easily have spiraled into a full-scale warl. As it was, it spilled over. An interpreter killed, a general assassinated, hundred of servicemen and women wounded, and finally an airliner full of dead people. And we call this lucky.
It’s a warning — it’s a warning about what happens when we can’t find ways to solve our problems with diplomacy. All these people are dead and injured, but nothing is different. We didn’t solve anything. 
At the beginning of this season, I introduced you to Roger Fisher who wondered “why are we like this.” I don’t know that we got any closer to answering that question. I am not sure it does have an answer. But I do know this: We can do better, right?
 

Season 2, Episode 4: Stuxnet

Everyone always asks, “what about Stuxnet?” Yeah? What about it?


Jeffrey: It’s the one thing everyone asks about Season 1 of The Deal: What about Stuxnet? 
Yeah, what about it? 
I’ve always thought Stuxnet was a sideshow. But a lot of people disagree. So, here we go. 
Beat / music 
Beat / music 
Stuxnet is a computer virus unleashed by the US and Israel against the Iranian nuclear program about a decade ago. Ultimately Stuxnet destroyed about 1000 centrifuges that were enriching uranium at Natanz. 
Just to remind you. Uranium is a mineral — you mine it right out of the ground. It is also basically harmless in that form. If you want to make a bomb, or fuel for most nuclear power plants, you need to enrich it. In the very first episode of season 1 Corey Hinderstein compared this process of enriching uranium to your morning cup of coffee: 
<<Hinderstein: Low enriched uranium is like really weak coffee. / But as you enrich uranium, you’re making the coffee stronger and stronger by basically removing the water, removing the less interesting part of the uranium. And so what you want to be left with is that really sludgy café cubano..>
Jeffrey:This is where centrifuges come in. You turn the uranium into a gas, put it in a centrifuge. And then spin the fuck out of it. 
Jeffrey: It’s the exact same principle as a washing machine or salad spinner. But a centrifuge for uranium enrichment, spins much, much faster. The centrifuges Iran was using do about sixty-three thousand (63,000) rpms. What that means is that the edge of the centrifuge is spinning at about the speed of sound.
Jeffrey: This is a very delicate operation and it relies on specialized computer software to control the centrifuges, to make sure they are spinning at exactly the right speed. Stuxnet? Stuxnet attacked that software. 
Kim: So so the virus / it’s essentially a digital weapon. 
Jeffrey: This is Kim Zetter. she wrote the book on Stuxnet. It’s called Countdown to Zero-Day. 
Kim: You’re talking about a digital weapon, as opposed to a kinetic weapon, you know… //…so the, the computer security world hadn’t really dealt with any of that before. 
Beat - to digest 
Beat - to digest 
Beat - to digest 
Jeffrey: So, What you do, if your enemy is building a nuclear bomb? Maybe you want to bomb them or invade? It’s the mid-2000s though — the US has already invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, So the military is a little busy. Maybe you could talk to your enemy? Although this is the Islamic 
Republic of Iran — and no one is in a talking mood. [at this point, we don’t negotiate with evil, we defeat it.] 
Maybe there’s something in between? Well, we can try sanctions, But the US is doing that already— there are lots and lots of sanctions. Is there anything else? 
Something that isn’t starting another war but isn’t negotiating either? 
½ beat 
Jeffrey: Well, we could let a computer do the dirty work. What could go wrong! 
Beat - theme music 
Beat - theme music 
Jeffrey: I’m Jeffrey Lewis and you’re listening to The Deal. If you are new here, Season 1 tells the story of the Iran nuclear deal. Now, we’re bringing our story into the present, exploring President Joe Biden’s options when it comes to Iran and its nuclear program. This is episode 4: Stuxnet: You happy now? 
Music post and out. 
Act 1. 
A site is perceived to be secure, then revealed to be insecure 
Jeffrey: Iran’s nuclear enrichment plant at Natanz has to be one of the most heavily watched places on earth. There is a constant stream of inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency visiting the facility to safeguard it, cameras inside watching when inspectors aren’t present, and satellites passing overhead, taking pictures. 
And then there are other kinds of eyes — eyes belonging to people who might want to slip in and plant a bomb. The Iranians take a lot of care to try to keep those people out. 
Getting inside Natanz, without permission, isn’t impossible. But it is very, very hard. And there is another way. You could find a zero day. 
Kim: A zero day / is a vulnerability in software that is unknown to the maker of the software, and therefore is not fixed or patched. And it’s called zero day because they don’t know about, or the vendor doesn’t know about it yet, they’ve had zero days to actually address it and fix it. And as long as it’s unknown and unfixed, that means that hackers who do know about it then can exploit it. 
Jeffrey VO: Inside an enrichment plant, there is usually a big open space where centrifuges spin happily at the speed of sound. The people operating the plant sit in a control room, in front of computers. The software that spins the centrifuges provides real time monitoring on how its all going. 
Jeffrey VO: The centrifuges need to spin at exactly the right speed. Too slow and they don’t separate the uranium properly.Too fast, and they crash with enough force to disintegrate. So it’s a delicate operation overseen by a pretty sophisticated computer control system. And you don’t want anyone messing with it. 
Kim TAPE [11:01] the zero day exploit is kind of a crowbar that a thief uses to break into our house, / there’s the vulnerability in that window, because there’s a little crack in there that he could slip the crowbar in, pry open that window, and then jump into the house. And that’s really what an exploit does, it sort of pries open that software, a little hole in the software in order to gain entry onto the closed system. And then they have sort of the run of the house inside the system
Music 
Music 
Act 2: A Clever System 
Jeffrey VO: Stuxnet famously exploited four different “zero days” at the Natanz plant. 
We don’t know exactly how Stuxnet got into Natanz. It could have been as easy as an unwitting employee taking a thumb drive out of an infected computer and putting it in one of the computers there. However it got there, it was designed to replicate itself. 
Kim 24:10 
So Stuxnet would look for Windows systems to infect. And then when it found it was on a Windows system that was also connected in an industrial environment, then it would unleash its payload. 
Beat 
Kim: And that payload would then get deposited onto something called a PLC or programmable logic controller. 
PLC is another computer that controls the equipment 
it can control a turbine at a power plant, it can control you know systems for releasing chemicals into water at a water treatment plant. And in this particular case, the PLC was controlling centrifuges that were spinning / hexafluoride gas for enriching uranium. 
Kim 25:00 
The PLC is controlling how fast these these centrifuges are spinning. Stuxnet would sit on that PLC silently for about two weeks. 
½ Beat 
And it would collect the normal operation of that PLC.
So would collect data stating that the PLC is spinning the centrifuges at a certain speed, it would, it would record the temperature of the centrifuges, the pressure inside the centrifuges, all this under normal operation, it would record that data and it would store it for two weeks. And at the end of two weeks, that’s when Stuxnet would begin its sabotage. It would increase the spinning of the centrifuges. Or it would decrease the spinning of a centrifuge. 
½ Beat 
And during that period, when it was increasing the spinning or decreasing the spinning, it would take that data that is stored during the first two weeks about the normal operation of the centrifuges. And it would feed that false data back to the plant workers who are monitoring the centrifuges. 
So they would see that the spinning is normal speed, they would see that the temperature is normal, that the pressure is all normal. And they wouldn’t see any of the sabotage that’s going on. 
½ Beat 
JEFFREY VO:I dont know if you’ve seen Ocean’s 11 but in that movie George Clooney loops the surveillance video in the bank vault so that the casino security thugs think that everything’s normal. can just slink on in and do the heist. In the case of Stuxnet, the bank vault is the room with the centrifuges, and the heist is Stuxnet doing its dirty work. Making everything look normal while the centrifuges actually spin out of control. 
Kim: So Stuxnet would do it sabotage, and then it would sort of go back to normal operations after a brief period sabotage. 
JEFFREY: Stuxnet took advantage of the fact the Iranians were new at all of this. It was designed to interfere with Iran’s centrifuges in such a subtle way that the Iranians would think *they* had done something wrong and waste lots and lots of time trying to figure out why everything looked correct but the output was wrong. It was pretty epic trolling. 
Kim: The idea of Stuxnet was not to destroy, you know, 1000s of centrifuges outright, because that would have been very suspicious. The idea was to cause sort of incremental damage and effects over time. 
Jeffrey VO: But Stuxnet wasn’t quite as discreet as the programmers initially intended. There were a couple of versions created by the United States and Israel. 
Kim 33:00 
.. We believe it was the Israelis got a little overzealous with the spreading mechanism. … 
So now, it’s not just infecting systems in the Iranian facility. It’s spreading outside of that facility. It’s spreading a cost across Iran, to other computer systems. And then it’s spreading outside of Iran, to Australia to Malaysia to London, and, and then it starts causing problems in some systems in Iran. 
Act III 
We are proud of ourselves but we are idiots. 
Once the Stuxnet was loose in the wild, it was just a matter of time before researchers figured out what it was and who made it. This became a huge news story In late 2010. 
Brief archival montage 
The President of Iran at the time, Mahmoud Ahmadinijad, announced that Natanz had been hacked. And US officials no-commented the story with barely disguised glee. 
½ Beat 
GARY: I’M GLAD TO HEAR THAT THEY’RE HAVING PROBLEMS WITH THEIR SUBTERFUGE MACHINES
This is Gary Samore. He was President Obama’s top White House official for nuclear issues and someone I really respect. 
● Gary continues briefly. 
Jeffrey VO: Computer malware was, in one sense, the perfect weapon for DC’s chattering class. You don’t have the stain from negotiating with evil on you. And you don’t have bloodstains, either. 
Kim 1:07:25 
A lot of people who might, you know, be opposed, if you would be opposed to actually attacking Iran, or killing a nuclear scientists, they would prefer this instead. A lot of people can argue it’s. It’s better than killing a nuclear scientist.
Jeffrey VO: Stuxnet was supposed to be classified, but it was way too good a story to keep secret. In short order, there were a series of leaks about the program, with anonymous Obama administration officials taking credit. One of those leaks cost a senior official his security clearance and might have landed him in prison had Obama not pardoned him. 
Here’s the funny thing, though. 
“I think Iran has some very significant limitations… 
Mumbling drone of the press conference, a blip again of Gary 
Jeffrey VO: By the time that Stuxnet broke into the press. It was over. At the very same time Gary Samore is talking about problems Iran is having, the Iranians had already taken everything apart at Natanz, scrubbed the malware from the system and put it back together again. They were already back up and running, enriching uranium. 
Jeffrey VO: You can look it up. The IAEA publishes, every few months, exactly how many centrifuges Iran is operating and how much low enriched uranium it has. Reading these reports is like, my job. So, I went back and looked at the data to see if I could find when when Stuxnet hit the Iranians. 
Jeffrey VO: If I showed you a bar graph of the number of centrifuges and amounts of enriched uranium, you can see exactly when the Iranians figure it out — but you have to squint. 
Beat 
Beat 
Beat 
Jeffrey VO: Before the Iranians knew about Stuxnet, Iran had assembled a little more than 8000 centrifuges. 
Jeffrey VO: Then, in late 2009, that number drops by about a 1,000. Either those centrifuges crashed, or the Iranians took them apart as they figured out something was going on. Iran never never stopped accumulating enriched uranium. 
Jeffrey VO: Within a few months [call it six] the Iranians were back up and running. By the time the Iran nuclear deal was signed, about 5 years later, Iran had almost 20,000 centrifuges.
Jeffrey VO: So here’s the final tally. Stuxnet knocked out about a 1,000 centrifuges for about six months. The Iran nuclear deal removed 15,000 thousand centrifuges for ten years. 
Beat - let it sink in 
Jeffrey VO: Millions of dollars and thousands of hours went into this program to buy six months. 
Jeffrey VO: Sure we didn’t kill anybody but what did we do with those 6 months? Did we solve the problem? Or 6 months later were we in exactly the same spot except now we have a digital arms race? 
Jeffrey VO: We have taken a problem we did not know how to fix and, for an extra six months created a whole other problem we have no idea how to fix. 
KIM: you’re talking about a digital weapon, as opposed to a kinetic weapon, You know, you can drop a bomb on someone, and that can’t pick up the pieces of that bomb and reconstitute it and send it to you. But when you drop a digital weapon inside a computer, what you’re doing is you’re providing the blueprint for that attack to the victim, and the victim can reverse engineer that code, and figure out how this works, and then devise their own code to send back at you. 
Kim 51:12 
we’ve seen cases where like the 911 call system goes down. And they say it’s a software glitch, or if it’s an overloaded system. Well, we also have examples where hackers have intentionally gone out to the 911. system. I mean, anytime there’s sort of a blackout that’s at least for people in the security community. That’s always the first thought: Was this was this a software glitch? Was this a mechanical failure? Was this actually the electric grid going down? Or was this intentional? 
Kim 1:00:53 
the irony that this attack was designed to, you know, halt proliferation in one sense. And at the same time, it unleashed a whole new new kind of power in warfare, at the same time, and a power that is even much more much harder to control. 
Beat 
Beat
Jeffrey VO: A lot of people complained that some parts of the Iran nuclear deal ended after only ten years. Most of those people also got really excited about the six months that Stuxnet delayed the Iranians. 
Jeffrey VO: Roger Fisher was right. “We love the confrontational approach.” 
Jeffrey VO: When it comes to confrontation we will take nearlky any success as evidence that we’re doing the right thing. So Stuxnet worked for six months? Great, do it every six months! 
Jeffrey VO: But if we’re not talking about confrontation and nothing is ever good enough. 
Jeffrey VO: It’s kinda funny that the people who said the Iran nuclear deal was the worst deal even also complained that it didn’t last long enough. It’s like the old joke: The food at this restaurant is terrible. And such small portions. 
+beat 
Human folly is pretty amusing — until things get out of control and the missiles start flying. That’s next time on, The Deal. 
The Deal is produced by me, Jeffrey Lewis along with Erin Davis, Juliette Luini and Nicki Stein. Our original score is by Hannis Brown who also mixes the episodes. 
Special thanks to the Jessica Varnum and the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey and Middlebury College. 
Subscribe to The Deal on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. I’m Jeffrey Lewis. Thanks for listening.
 

Season 2, Episode 3: Safeguards

The IAEA is sort of like a beach club. You don’t HAVE to join. But there are perks if you do. 

Intro: Cherenkov glow 
Jeffrey: The world of nuclear technology is plagued with myths and tropes. One myth, is that all nuclear technology is terrible and used to make bombs. It’s not. It can be used to treat cancer and save lives. Another myth is that the President needs a second vote to order the use of nuclear weapons. Nope. A third? That radioactive material emits a green glow. Actually..? It’s blue. 
Sandra: Now, this is what you might have seen in The Simpsons and everyone talks about it kind of being green and so on. And I actually get to see the real thing. 
Jeffrey: This will come as a shock to no one but Homer Simpson’s glowing green nuclear fragment is not a scientifically accurate representation of nuclear fuel. Right now, around the world, there are used nuclear fuel rods cooling in concrete ponds. They glow. But it’s blue. It’s called a Cherenkov glow. 
Sandra: Actually, it looks like a big swimming pool because water is one of the best shields for for radiation. And the heat that comes off that gives off this special light. 
Jeffrey: This is Sandra Munoz. She’s a nuclear inspector with the International Atomic Energy Agency. 
Sandra: I am senior inspector in what we call division of operations “C” which is responsible largely for for Europe, Ukraine, Russia and so on. 
Jeffrey: And part of her job is to visit nuclear reactors and bask in the Cherenkov glow. She arrives at a site, climbs up a ladder and walks out over a bridge above something called a “spent fuel pond” - more like a swimming pool than a pond, filled with water where used nuclear fuel is cools down after being burned in a nuclear reactor. The water shields her from the radiation so it’s… basically safe. Still, Sandra gets suited up in protective gear before she walks out over the pool. 
Sandra: I remember the first few times I found that really just like, how many people around the world can can do that? 
Jeffrey: Every job has it’s perks…
 
Jeffrey: Sandra is an inspector. She’s not taking a tour. She’s looking into the pool for a reason. 
Sandra: With the Chernkov, you can only see that when you’re directly, vertically above it. If you move slightly to the side, you will not see it. So this is how we can distinguish if someone’s, for example, put what we call a dummy fuel and just try to put a glowing light. If we see it when we move left and right, then we know it’s not it’s not real nuclear material. 
Jeffrey: Sandra’s job is to verify that countries comply with international safeguards to keep their nuclear activities peaceful. To make sure that no nuclear material is being diverted to make weapons. So, as an inspector, she verifies that the used fuel is where they say it is, not at some secret location being turned into a bomb. 
And Like any good detective, Sandra and other inspectors have to pay attention to the details. Because her mission, and the mission of the IAEA, is about as heavy and important as it gets: to make sure that nuclear energy programs aren’t misused to build bombs. 
And that brings me to one more myth: That inspectors are somehow easy to fool. I heard that a lot in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. And I heard it again during the debate over the Iran nuclear deal. 
If we held inspections and action-movie style violence to the same standard, we’d see that inspections do way more to stop the spread of nuclear weapons than assassinations or sabotage. But we don’t. Which is a shame, because inspections are, in their own understated way, really freaking cool. 
Sandra: I get a bit excited about safeguards (laughs). Sometimes I can just go on and on if you don’t stop me, but I will do my best to stay on point. 
Jeffrey: I’m Jeffrey Lewis and you’re listening to The Deal. If you are just finding us, Season 1 tells the story of the Iran nuclear deal. You don’t have to listen to Season 1 to follow season 2. But it helps. Now, we’re bringing our story into the present, exploring President Joe Biden’s options when it comes to Iran and its nuclear program. 
This is Episode 3: Safeguards 
ACT I IAEA 
Jeffrey: In the early 1950s, the world looked at nuclear technology with a mix of fear and hope. The shock and devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were very real. But so was the dream of using nuclear power for cheap, clean energy.
 
Sandra: The Atoms for Peace, yeah, that Eisenhower’s speech… 
Archival: Eisenhower Atoms for Peace excerpt 
Jeffrey: And so, the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA was formed. The IAEA’s mission was to promote the peaceful use of nuclear technology, while also safeguarding the atom. Over time, the world has worked out a basic bargain — countries can develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, but they also have to accept IAEA safeguards. 
It’s kinda like a beach club, where membership is voluntary but there are major perks if you join. And like a beach club, there are different membership packages. The most basic package is called a comprehensive safeguards agreement. 
Sandra: It’s basically saying to the international community, “I have made an undertaking to use all my nuclear material for peaceful uses, and I’m happy to demonstrate that by concluding this agreement with the IAEA and they can come in check that we’re not doing anything that contravenes our obligations” And then they can independently, because remember, the IAEA is of is an independent technical body. So they can independently assure the international community that, “I am meeting my obligations.” 
Jeffrey: The sort of motto for comprehensive safeguards is “declare and compare.” 
Sandra: So that means once they’ve concluded an agreement with us, they will say, “OK, here is a list of all of the material that I have in my country.” And we, as the agency say thank you very much, will take your declaration. We’re going to check and verify ourselves to make sure everything is there. And then we compare the declaration with our results, our verification results. So “declare and compare.” 
What our job is, is to make sure that all of the nuclear material and facilities are used only for peaceful purposes. And we we are a verification body. So we basically just need to check in, make sure everything is as it was reported to us. And we can raise a signal when we see something that isn’t. 
Jeffrey: A safeguards agreement like this only works if the country declares everything to the IAEA. Which, you know, if you have something to hide, like say, a secret underground enrichment facility in Natanz… they may not tell the IAEA about. 
Sandra: The states say, yes, here’s what we have, but we also need to check that there isn’t something else in the state that should have been included on that list. Now, we have various different ways of doing that as well. 
Jeffrey: So there is another package — a sort of add-on. It’s a protocol that is in addition to the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement.
 
Sandra: It’s a it’s protocol additional to the comprehensive safeguards 
agreement. So that gives us wider access, more information and different tools to to to utilize. 
Jeffrey: This package is called, creatively, the Additional Protocol. 
And making all this work is the Department of Safeguards. The inspectors in the Department of Safeguards make up about 200 of the IAEA’s 2000 employees. Their job is to maintain these safeguards over time, one inspection after another, slowly building confidence that each country’s nuclear activities remain purely peaceful. 
Sandra: For me, it’s something that’s slow, steady, well considered. Technically based and something that we can’t just do one day and forget about it forever, so it has to be consistent and long term. 
Act II A Day in the Life 
Jeffrey: An inspector’s job involves traveling to nuclear facilities around the world. And being a globe-trotting nuclear inspector mostly involves three things: paperwork, packing and jetlag. 
Sandra: [00:20:32] we have our schedulers and our travel unit that will book our flights and so on. Do you have enough money, you have hotel reservations, you have your medicines and medicines in case you get sick, because, you know, we travel all around the world and you your body’s reacting different ways to different to food because obviously we have to eat. 
Jeffrey: It’s pretty relatable but Sandra’s packing is a little different than yours and mine. 
Sandra: And you need to make sure you have the right equipment and that gets a little bit more serious. 
Jeffrey: Inspectors don’t just randomly stroll around. They are subjecting a nuclear facility to a highly organized form of scrutiny. And that involves lots of gear. 
Sandra: We have a lot of portable equipment, some we can take on in our luggage with us and we ship it, some we can hand carry. So there’s the equipment for detecting the different types of material. And those come in a number of different sizes and some are enormous and heavy and are not portable. So if we need to use something like that, we need to make sure that our. There are relevant division can make sure it’s shipped well enough in advance, and if it’s a permanent installation, of course, we make sure that we have that set up and installed and tested and ready to go before we actually need to use it for verification of nuclear material.
 
Jeffrey: Once inspectors arrive, with all their equipment, radiation suits and so on, its time to get to work. 
Sandra: There’s no specific routine, it depends on the facility. So I’ll pick a very simple example, maybe just a power reactor… 
Sandra: Most of the times, we’re starting at the facility early, something like 7:00 or 8:00 o’clock. And we’re greeted there by the the operator, who knows we’re coming if it’s a scheduled inspection. Prior to going, if one of the activities we’re going to conduct is what we call environmental swipe sampling, what we will do at the hotel before we leave is do what we call a “pre-kit.” So we take a swipe sample of of ourselves, our clothes, our shoes. And then that’s a comparison just to make sure that if we do detect something on the swipe sample that we might take at the facility, that if it happens to have come from us, then we know it’s from there or hopefully to rule out the possibility that that’s happened. So that’s what we would do at the hotel. 
Then we’ll sit down with the the representative, our our counterparts from the state authority, as well as the operator. And we go through a list of activities that we want to conduct in the day just to make sure everyone’s on the same page and that we can schedule our time accordingly. Now, most of times what we’ll do is we will do a comparison of things that have been declared to us. 
So let’s say, for example, the end of last month, they sent us the list of material they had. If we’ve gone two weeks later, we’ll just say, OK, what’s changed in the two weeks? And then we make sure all the numbers balance. So it’s really just accounting basic accounting. More to more than basic accounting. But the principle is somewhat 
Then depending on the material that’s there, we will have a set of activities that we need to conduct to make sure that the quantity is correct, but also that the material, the type of material is also correct. 
So we call this item counting and identification. 
Jeffrey VO: You’ll notice that Sandra is very careful not to mention specific facilities or even countries. That’s because the IAEA has to protect the confidential information of each state being inspected. They take that obligation very, very seriously. One of the biggest complaints in Washington from the press and experts is that the IAEA doesn’t leak like governments. Like, that’s a bad thing? So, all we know is that at the moment, she works for Division C which is responsible for safeguards in Europe, the Russian Federation and Central Asia. 
She deals with a lot of confidential information because a lot of safeguards is basically accounting. 
Sandra: So in the case of a power reactor, we might start with the fresh fuel storage. They’ll take us there. We can count and make sure let’s say, for example, is 60 fresh fuel
 
assemblies. We check them and then also we count them. They’re all there. We do some tag checking because they will have I.D. numbers. But then we also need to make sure that, oh, well, if you’re telling me this is fresh fuel, it should have uranium at a particular enrichment. I’m just going to check that now. Now, we don’t check all of them because that would take forever. But we have a certain sampling plans that we so the calculation is done here. We have special methods. We have special groups that, um, can can check their air sampling plants are correct. And that’s all internally here. 
At the end we’ll have a debriefing meeting if the state authority and the operator to make sure we’ve done everything we need to do. Then we bring our results back and send statements to the state, to say, “this is what we found.” 
Yeah! So that’s pretty much, probably grossly over-simplified (laughs), but I hope it’s level enough to get the basic understanding. 
Jeffrey: The word “inspection” sounds very adversarial. But access is, at the end of the day, based on consent. There is no world government that forces a state to accept inspections. The IAEA has to be firm, and also fair. It’s a delicate, difficult and ultimately impressive feat that they pull off every day. 
Sandra: For me, just to be part of a bigger picture of nonproliferation is is really remarkable because of course and all of my colleagues have a sincere commitment to that. 
Act III Iran 
Jeffrey VO: When the Iran nuclear crisis started, Iran had the basic membership package — a comprehensive safeguards agreement. What the Iran nuclear deal did was create a special package just for Iran — in addition to the normal safeguards agreement, Iran also opted for the Additional Protocol plus a bunch of extra safeguards that are much more elaborate than any other IAEA member. 
The Department of Safeguards is divided into four divisions that cover the whole world. 
C, where Sandra works, covers Europe, Russia, and Central Asia. A covers East Asia and Pacific, and B pretty much the rest of the world. 
But Iran has its very own office. That’s because, after the Iran nuclear deal, there is so much safeguards work that has to be done. 
The safeguards in the Iran nuclear deal were such an improvement that a lot of experts, like myself, wrote papers arguing that other countries should adopt them too. Officials from countries in Europe and Japan, though, all said the same thing: No way, the safeguards in the Iran nuclear deal are far too intrusive for us.
 
The Obama Administration sold the Iran nuclear deal by talking about how much longer it would take Iran to build a bomb under the deal — more than a year, instead of just a few months or weeks. But I never thought that that was the most important part. Instead, it was these safeguards that would make it so much harder for Iran to try again to build a bomb in secret. 
With the Iran nuclear deal in serious trouble, we’re in danger of losing these safeguards. Iran’s parliament has already passed a law saying that if the US doesn’t reenter the deal, the special safeguards have to go. The IAEA worked out a compromise with Iran that bought everyone a few more months, but those months are now up. 
Without those safeguards, the situation gets pretty tricky. 
When things get desperate, people look around for a silver bullet. That’s next time on The Deal.
 

Season 2, Episode 2: Nuclear Rx

Like most things, nuclear technology is not all bad.


Voice of unidentified male: My father died when I was four years of age from gangrene of his foot. You know, that’s just the death of the tissues. 
And in the city where I’m from, called Tabriz, is in northwest of Iran, we didn’t have a surgeon and we didn’t have money to take him to Tehran to have surgery done. So we cried with him for six months before he died. And ever since I remember my mother said, you’re going to become a doctor. 
Fortunately, I was a just great student. And I just I excelled in sciences and math, chemistry, physics. 
And those days we had a great relation with America. A lot of graduates of medical school used to come to America. 
So I came to the United States in 1966 to Philadelphia, I was in the community hospital called Albert Einstein Medical Center. 
I did not want to go into medicine to just do typical work that doctors do. I like to do things that helps millions of people. 
And the first thing that caught my eyes in a hospital called Einstein was the use of radioactive agents to help patients, you know, with the specialty that’s called nuclear medicine. 
I said to myself, this is exactly what I came to medicine to do. 
I just want to get into the specialty of imaging using radioactive agents / to help people all over the world. 
My name is Abass Alavi. I’m a professor of radiology and neurology at the hospital of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. 
JEFFREY LEWIS: Dr. Abbas Alavi was born in 1938. That makes him 83 years old. He has been a doctor for six decades. And over that time, he says, he’s worked 7 days a week his entire career. He loves what he does and will never retire. 
ALAVI: the reason that I don’t want to retire is that there’s so much work needs to be done. 
When Dr. Alavi says he’s a professor of radiology, it’s another way of saying he works in nuclear medicine. In fact he’s a pioneer. In the 1970’s, Dr. Alavi was part of a team of doctors who developed a technology that may have benefited you - or someone you love. It’s called the PET scan. 
Here’s how it works. You swallow or are injected with a tracer. The tracer is slightly radioactive which means a scanner can watch it move through your body. If you use the right sort of tracer, it will concentrate in certain kinds of tissues — the brain, the liver, and this is the important part: tissues where there is cancer. Dr. Alavi was part of the group who figured out how to do this. 
Two million of these PET scans are performed every year in the US to diagnose and assess cancer treatments. It’s basically routine, essential care for people living with cancer. 
This same technology that has the potential to create so much human suffering, is also used to alleviate it. 
ALAVI: This is what life is all about, making human being happy, not suffering. 
JEFFREY: I’m Jeffrey Lewis and you’re listening to The Deal. If you are just finding us, Season 1 tells the story of the Iran nuclear deal. You don’t have to listen to Season 1 to follow season 2. But it helps. Now, we’re bringing our story into the present, exploring President Joe Biden’s options when it comes to Iran and its nuclear program. 
JEFFREY: There are thousands of nuclear weapons around the world, just sitting, waiting to unleash their destructive power in a moment’s notice. 
In the United States this destructive power is put at the fingertip of one person with no second vote required. 8 other countries have also put nuclear weapons at the fingertips of their leaders. Russia, Britain, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan. Even North Korea. 
For the first time in human history we have the power to choose extinction, and we’ve entrusted that choice to just a handful people and placed it at the touch of a proverbial button. 
Why do we do this? That’s what fascinated Roger Fisher, who you heard from last episode. 
Fisher: I’ll tell you why. Because we like it that way. We love the confrontational approach to conflict. It is fun 
And that’s why he suggested, with his tongue firmly in his cheek, the president be forced to kill just one person with his own hands before killing millions with the push of a button. 
It’s easy to see why people would say this is all some kind of mistake. That we wish this technology was never invented. But there is a flip side: like most things, nuclear technology is not all bad. And I don’t just mean nuclear power. This technology that can be used to kill millions can also be used to save just as many. 
And my producers insist that this bears repeating. 
So, in this episode, we are doing something a bit different. We’re going to spend some time with someone who used this technology for something other than bombs…like something good! That’s why we spoke to Dr. Abass Alavi. 
ALAVI: Radioactivity was introduced by a lady named Madame Curie…in early 20th century, And and, of course, an atomic bomb was a very unfortunate consequence of using radioactivity. 
But in using it peacefully in medicine was relatively minimal until the 60s and 70s. Fortunately, I just got into it in the early phases of it. 
PET imaging has been my main focus. And I was the first one to do the human study with this technology. And when I started, it was very primitive. 
Now I can make the diagnosis of cancer that cannot be detected by any other means. 
We do a lot of patients who are suspected of having lung cancer, a very serious and common cancer. 
You get lesions that you see on conventional radiology. These are very common people who do chest x-ray, and you see a nodule, like you see al little spot in the lungs. 
Before we invented this technology, every one of these patients will go to surgery, mutilating surgery. They will take the patient to the operating room, spend two or three hours, take this little lesion in the lungs, put it under a microscope. And 50 percent or more of the time, it turns out that this lesion is totally innocent tissue. 
So we have eliminated millions of patients from going to surgery by doing PET scan, because if you have cancer, the lesion lights up very significantly. So we know this is an active disease. If it is not cancer, you’re going to see nothing on PET scan. So we will tell those patients who have nothing on that PET scan go and have a glass of wine. 
You don’t have cancer. 
But also use of radioactive agents is very very important for the treatment of cancer. If the drug is working, wesee o pet scan. If it’s not working, we switch to something else. We are eliminating / and / minimizing human suffering. 
Depriving any country, any society from receiving radioactive agents is immoral as far as I’m concerned. 
And seeing that the country of my birth suffering because we have deprived the country from access to this technology, that is the very, very unfortunate and disturbing. 
And and I like to just see every effort made so that 80 million people in the country are not suffering because of political issues. / Because this has nothing to do with politics. We are talking about patient care. 
JEFFREY: If you’ve been listening to the news lately, you might have heard a lot about how Iran is making uranium metal. 
Archival: Iran has begun production of uranium metal base fuel which can we used to construct a nuclear weapon 
Iran has taken a series of steps away from the nuclear deal to protest the fact that Donald Trump pulled out of it and reimposed sanctions. And one of those steps that’s making everyone nervous is producing its own nuclear fuel with “uranium metal.” The ability to make uranium metal fuel is also the ability to cast the spherical heart of a nuclear bomb. 
Iran needs the fuel for the nuclear reactor that it uses to produce medical isotopes for imaging and cancer treatment. Like PET Scan, although the specific isotopes are different. 
Now, it’s is unusual for nuclear fuel to be metal because of the bomb problem. And you may be wondering why does Iran use a fuel with a bomb problem? Whose bright idea was that? That bright idea … was ours.
In 1967 the United States provided Iran, which at the time was a US ally, with the Tehran Research Reactor — just a couple of years after Abbas Alavi graduated medical school and moved to the United States. Actually our idea was dumber — the original reactor used bomb-grade fuel. 
It’s a long story, but after the Islamic Revolution the US cut Iran off and Iran got foreign help to redesign the reactor. It doesn’t use bomb grade fuel anymore, but it does use uranium metal. 
This experience explains why at least some people in Iran think that instead of relying on the outside world for help making medical isotopes, Iran should learn do it itself. 
It also shows what’s so special about the Iran nuclear deal. Because as part of the deal, Iran agreed that it would rely on the outside world to supply the fuel to make medical isotopes. That it would trust us. 
It was, in a way, a step back from conflict and toward the time when the US would help Iran use nuclear medicine to treat its people and where young doctors, like Abbas Alavi, could come to the United States and develop pioneering ways to treat everyone. 
JEFFREY: Nuclear medicine often seems like small potatoes compared to nuclear weapons, but here is the thing. Sure, nuclear weapons could kill millions of people some day. But nuclear medicine already improves the lives of millions of people every year, And it keeps doing it, Year after year. After year. 
We just have to find a way, together, to make sure this technology is used for the good things, and not the bad. Dedicated people, committed to safeguarding the atom, 
Inspectors. Next time, on The Deal. 
The Deal is produced by me, Jeffrey Lewis along with Erin Davis, Juliette Luini and Nicki Stein. Our original score is by Hannis Brown who also mixes the episodes. 
Special thanks to the Jessica Varnum and the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey and Middlebury College. 
Subscribe to The Deal on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts, and while you’re there you can rate and review the show and listen to season 1. 
I’m Jeffrey Lewis. Thanks for listening.

Season 2, Episode 1: What Is Past Is Prologue

Why is the Biden administration so cautious about something that is so obviously in our interest?

The Deal: A podcast about the nuclear problem hosted by Jeffrey Lewis Season 2 Episode 1: What is Past is Prologue 

JEFFREY VO: The story of the nuclear button is kind of a fable. Except in this fable, we don’t necessarily live happily ever after. In the story, there’s a big. red. button on the President’s desk: the nuclear button. When the President pushes the nuclear button, at any time, for any reason: boom — that’s it. The President has total and complete control over the bomb. No second vote required. No need to ask, or really even tell, Congress. 

JEFFREY VO: Ok, there isn’t actually a button button. The button symbolizes our actual, real-world, decision to place the power of our nuclear arsenal - at the fingertip of a single person. 
President Biden can order a nuclear war like you order takeout. On the phone. The only safeguard is that he has to prove it’s really him. He has to read a little code off a little card. Does it sound crazy that it’s this easy? That it’s down to the whim of one person? Yeah, it’s crazy. And in 1981, a man named Roger Fisher took this insane arrangement to its logical conclusion. 
Fisher: He speaks to us today on the subject, “Negotiating with your spouse and with the Russians.” 

Applause (fade under) 

JEFFREY VO: Fisher was a Professor at Harvard Law School and renowned for research on how to negotiate. 

Here he is, in 1983, giving a speech talking about how we deal with other countries. 
Roger Fisher [28:40] We love a confrontational approach to conflict. It is fun. Now at home we know it doesn’t work, but if you’re just shooting down some Libyan jets or calling Soviets liars and cheats, that’s terrific. It’s kinda the John Wayne approach to the world, high noon, its a cowboy approach. 
JEFFREY VO: Fisher was fascinated not just by the John Wayne approach, our desire to blow things up and shoot things down, but by how we chose to make it all so easy. Like ordering a pizza. That’s how Fisher got thinking about the nuclear button. Or, rather, that little card with the code given to the President. Fisher made a modest proposal in an effort to get to the, er, heart the problem, if you will. He did this in the pages of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Let me read you a passage.
 
JEFFREY VO:“My suggestion was quite simple: Put that needed code number in a little capsule, and then implant that capsule right next to the heart of a volunteer. The volunteer would carry with him a big, heavy butcher knife as he accompanied the President. If ever the President wanted to fire nuclear weapons, the only way he could do so would be for him first, with his own hands, kill one human being. kill one human being. The President says, “George, I’m sorry but tens of millions must die.” He has to look at someone and realize what death is—what an innocent death is. Blood on the White House carpet. ” 

JEFFREY VO: When Fisher suggested this to friends in the Pentagon they said, “My God, that’s terrible. Having to kill someone would distort the President’s judgment! 

Music shifts 

JEFFREY VO: It didn’t occur to Fisher’s friends that the President’s judgement was already distorted. Distorted by our current set-up that sanitizes the decision to kill millions of people - at the push of a proverbial button. His butcher knife cut right through that 

Roger Fisher [31:05] We’re against aggression so we have nuclear weapons. We’re against nuclear war so we have arms control. It’s time to think about what we do want to have happen. 

JEFFREY VO: Unfortunately, 40 years later, we are still making the same choices. I should know.
I’m a professor who studies nuclear weapons and how to stop countries from building them. On a good day I am kind of like a detective, looking at satellite images, trying to find secret nuclear sites from space. On a bad day, [insert brief pause] I am sitting in very long meetings on zoom where diplomats palaver back and forth. Today, what I really care about is how the new President, Joe Biden, is going to get us out of this mess with Iran. 

JEFFREY VO: My name is Jeffrey Lewis. And you’re listening to Season 2 of The Deal. If you are just finding us, Season 1 tells the story of the Iran nuclear deal, how it came together, how it fell apart and why all of it matters. You don’t HAVE to listen to Season 1 to follow season 2 but it helps. And it’s awesome. You should totally check it out. 
In Season 2 we are bringing the story into the present.
 
We’ll examine the options available to Joe Biden by looking at the past. Will we make the same mistakes? Or have we learned our lessons? 
This is Episode 1. 

Act I. 
JEFFREY VO: It was no secret that Joe Biden, on the campaign trail, was enthusiastic about the Iran Deal. He helped put the thing together with Barack Obama in 2015. Here he is in 2020 
OPTION: NBC: And find a way to avoid the onrush of war and the best way to do that of course would be for president trump to join the Iran deal and build on it. 
JEFFREY VO: When Joe Biden was a senator, he was a leading voice for diplomacy as a member of the senate foreign relations committee. After that, in 2015, Biden was, of course, Vice President when the Obama Administration agreed to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, aka the JCPOA aka the Iran Deal. So, Biden knows the ins and outs of our diplomacy with Iran. And he has some old frenemies he’s going to be back in business with. People like Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister. Zarif and Biden go way back to the very beginning of the nuclear crisis” almost a decade ago. Here’s Zarif with a Russia Today journalist, on how he thinks the history between him and Biden will play out. 
Reporter:You’ve known Joe Biden for many years, perhaps even decades. I read somewhere that he has his personal cell phone number. 
Zarif TAPE: My personal cell phone number has changed since…laughter 
Reporter TAPE: Maybe you can fax the new one to him again? [9:20] But do you think the personal connection, [I don’t know how deep it is, but do you think it] will facilitate any diplomatic activity? 
Zarif TAPE: Let me make it clear, Joe Biden and I are not buddies. We represented two different countries with different policies. He was a senator and I was a permanent representative to the i United Nations. We had many civilized meetings where we disagreed but with civility. But I think that is the basis for understanding.
 
JEFFREY VO: Biden inherits a mess from Trump. The fact that he maybe had Javad Zaif’s digits isn’t all that much. Trump abandoned the deal in 2018. He reimposed sanctions on Iran that damaged the Iranian economy. Saboteurs blew up an Iranian nuclear facility in the summer of 2020, then assassinated a leading Iranian nuclear scientist. All the while, Iran kept stepping back from one part of the nuclear deal after another. 
At one point in this mess, the US assassinated an Iranian general, Iran responded with a huge missile attack on a US base that wounded more than a hundred American soldiers. Things got so tense that an hyped up Iranian missile crew shot down one of their own civilian airliners. 176 innocent people died in the crash. When I look back on it, it’s really just luck that we didn’t go to war with Iran. 
JEFFREY VO: But now, Biden is in office. He’s signing executive orders and rolling out plans. And assembling a team to restore our reputation internationally. This is where what Biden is going to do with Iran starts to get more complicated. 
Blinkin Confirmation Hearing Next the confimration hearing for Tony Blinkin.. The Biden nominee… (fades under) 
JEFFREY VO: The deal has been a hot topic in recent confirmation hearings for Biden’s cabinet. Here’s Antony Bilnken, the new Secretary of State answering a question from a senator. 
Senator: Would you commit to rejoining to JCPOA without any preconditions as a starting point as long as Iran joined ? 
Blinkin Confirmation Hearing What the president-elect has had on that, senator, is that if iran returns to compliance with the JCPOA, we would do the same thing workign with our allies and partners 
JEFFREY VO: Blinken is appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Biden’s stomping old ground. 
Blinkin Confirmation Hearing…Having said that i think we’re some ways from een that. There is a lot that Iran would need to do…. (fade under) 
JEFFREY VO: And here’s Avril Haines, Biden’s nominee to be director of national intelligence, at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Haines Confirmation Hearing CSPAN 1/20/21 (46:25) It is true obviously the president-elect has indicated if Iran were to come back into compliance that he would direct and we would do so as well and I think frankly were a long ways from that… 
JEFFREY VO: Notice anything similar? 
Haines Confirmation Hearing I think frankly were a long ways from that… Blinkin Confirmation Hearing i think we’re some ways from een that. 
JEFFREY VO: Biden’s team is suddenly being really careful. They all seem to want to put the deal back together, but they’re also being really cautious. So is Iran. 
Zarif TAPE: If they return to the deal with full effect, benefiting the iranian people, knowing that their policy of maximum pressure has already failed. Then we are ready going back to the deal. 
Both sides say they want back in the deal. But there is a stand-off. Who goes first? If it seems like Washington and Tehran are making this harder than it needs to be, well, they are. 
Act II. Corey 10:00 
Corey TAPE [00:11:12] We knew this was not going to be an easy path back to the deal. 
JEFFREY VO: This is Corey Hinderstein. Even though her job is to prevent a nuclear war, like many people she’s been working from home during the pandemic. 
Corey TAPE [00:01:02] I have like a mobile desk because I have to go to different rooms all the time in my house and my mobile desk is a bag with all my shit in it. So. 
Corey works for a think-tank called the Nuclear Threat Initiative in Washington, DC
Corey TAPE: [6:30] which means I look at issues that are related to the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and how that intersects with potential national security, international security, nuclear proliferation concerns.
 
Jeffrey: You were also the breakout star of season 1 of The Deal. Corey: (laughs) Ok! Excellent. 
Jeffrey TAPE: Let’s talk about how things are broken. Can you walk me through the mess that Biden inherits? If you had to sit down and brief the president and say: “When you left office, things looked OK
Corey: Mmhmm. 
Jeffrey: You are back in office and things look very different.” Corey: Yeah. 
Jeffrey: Some people say it’s not not as easy as just re-entering the deal. Corey: Yes. 
Jeffrey: But I think some people also want it to be hard so we don’t have to do it. 
Corey:I think the opponents of the deal come from a number of different places and some of them are well intentioned and some of them are not. 
Corey: First, we don’t want Iran to have a nuclear weapon. Full stop. // We also don’t want them to come close to a nuclear weapons capability. And in that sentence, we now have a lot of things that we can start debating about, what does it mean to be close? What does it mean to have a capability? 
It’s easy in a speech to say we don’t want Iran to develop a nuclear weapons capability. 
It’s a lot harder to develop a technically justifiable and politically sellable definition for that. 
Jeffrey: From my perspective, I don’t I don’t think as many of the arguments a re are in good faith as as you do, you know, 
Jeffrey: And, you know, for me, it seems to me that a lot of what people are saying is really just letting the best be the enemy of the good. / You know, my sense is that they are promising a better deal so that we don’t have to take the one that’s right in front of us.
 
Jeffrey: Can we as a country reach diplomatic agreements anymore, will we ever ratify a treaty? Will we ever have a Democratic president make an agreement that a Republican president doesn’t walk away from like or is this like school shootings, you know, just something that is broken about our country that we don’t know how to fix? 
Corey: Is our system broken? I refuse to believe it. And I may be delusional. It wouldn’t be the first time that I was accused of being too optimistic or Pollyannish, but I don’t know any other way to look out at the world and still get up in the morning. 
I think that we have gotten to a place where we define US interests as personal interests. We’ve seen this with mask mandates. We’ve seen this with all sorts of issues where, you know, the American ethos of personal freedom, um, somehow has gotten bigger than the collective good. 
Corey: I’m sad to say, I think the thing that would bring us together more than anything else is, you know, Iran demonstrating a nuclear weapons capability. 
Jeffrey:We have a little game we’re playing. 
Corey: Oh, no. 
Jeffrey: It’s it’s called complete this sentence. 
Jeffrey: So ready. 
Corey: Mm hmm. 
Jeffrey: The best scenario is. 
Corey: Iran and the United States are both in compliance with the JCPOA as it was created by June 17th. 
Jeffrey: The worst case scenario is. 
Corey: Iran decides it has no interest in doing business with the United States anymore and we can’t be trusted. 
Jeffrey: Does that end like North Korea? 
Jeffrey: Probably. 
Beat - silence is working?
 
JEFFREY: The United States had a deal with North Korea, too — one negotiated by a Democratic President and then abandoned by his Republican successor. That led to the current situation where North Korea is testing nuclear weapons that can reach the 
United States. It’s like I always say If you like a nuclear-armed North Korea you are going to love walking away from the Iran deal. Corey’s not so sure. 
Corey: Well, the real answer if Iran wanted a nuclear weapon, they would have done it by now.. Iran is trying to forge its own path, and that path right now is not about a nuclear weapon or nuclear weapons capability, but what I worry is not that Iran becomes the next North Korea. What I worry about is Iran becomes the first Iran and shows that there is a credible path towards a high level of nuclear capability with a lot of capacity / but not enough to invoke the ire of the world against them. 
music. 
Corey TAPE You know, hedging their bets against nuclear weapons that if Iran demonstrates that that is feasible and beneficial, that’s a path others might want to go down. That worries me more. 
Act III 
For me, the fundamental question of the series is as Biden surveys this situation/ the question about that that I have is: 
Why do we as a country? Prefer violent and belligerent solutions that don’t work to diplomatic ones that often do. 
So, the thing that sticks in my mind is people are incredibly excited if a scientist is killed or if if a building is blown up, but those things don’t have a substantial long term impact on Iran’s nuclear program. People loved Stuxnet. It delayed the program by a couple of months. And so, you know, it’s like that sexist meme, right, with the boyfriend, with the wandering eye. What what is it about? 
Jeffrey: These solutions that don’t work, that makes them so much more attention getting than the ones that do. Like, why is that? Why are we like that? 
Corey: First of all, I think your your hypothesis is right that people like those kinds of actions. 
Corey: But I also think it’s because we’re not good as human beings. About thinking. Big and intangible. And I don’t blame somebody for you know, wanting the foreign policy equivalent of the laboratory marshmallow test. A little kid will stare at a marshmallow and be told, I’m going to leave the room. You can either have this marshmallow or if you don’t eat it, by the time I get back, you can have two marshmallows and they’ll eat the marshmallow. They know that it would be better to have two marshmallows later, but they can’t resist eating one marshmallow now because it’s here now. It’s in front of us. It’s tangible. We understand it. The second marshmallow is conceptual, um, and in this case, we feel so impotent. We just want to do something and sitting around conference rooms is not something and, you know, flying back and forth to Vienna five times in a month. 
Corey: Is not something. But disrupting something, breaking something, smashing something, or sadly killing someone is something. 
Beat 
Beat 
Jeffrey: I’m so excited I get another nuclear weapons program to study. Corey: No, we should not be wishing for these things. 
Jeffrey: I’m not here to fix problems, I’m just here to narrate the collapse. 
JEFFREY: Ok. That’s too cynical. But something bugs me. I think Biden wants back in the deal. So why are they screwing around? This question of who goes first, the US or Iran, that can be solved — if that’s what both parties want. So, this season is about the 
options available to Joe Biden. We’re looking at the past to understand the present. With one really big question in mind: Why have we made the choices we have? Why have we been so excited about attacks that don’t really slow down the Iranians, but then acted so embarrassed about diplomatic agreements that do? Why does the Biden Administration feel the need to be cautious about something that is so obviously in our interest? Its the same question that puzzled Roger Fisher. 
Roger Fisher [27:25] Why do we behave so belligerently? Why do we make threats as as a negotiating process when we know they make threats, when they build more missiles than they should we react belligerently? Why do we paint the world as simply divided between good guys and bad guys. 
JEFFREY: I don’t know either Roger, but in season 2 we’re gonna try to find out. 
The Deal is produced by me, Jeffrey Lewis along with Erin Davis, Juliette Luini and Nicki Stein. Our original score is by Hannis Brown who also mixes the episodes. 
Special thanks to Jessica Varnum and the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey and Middlebury College. 
Subscribe to The Deal on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts, and while you’re there you can rate and review the show and listen to season 1. 
 I’m Jeffrey Lewis. Thanks for listening. 
AT the mement there is an aid that follows the president everywhere they go carrying that little cad with that little code. It was fisher’s idea to take that code and put it in a little capsule. 
If the president ever wants to start a nuclear war
 

Episode 5: The Power to Hurt

It’s not that we’re going to wake up tomorrow and there will be a nuclear war. It’s that if things don’t change, someday there will be.

Content warning: This episode refers to Islamophobic sentiments in the American public.

Content warning: Islamophobia.

<< Archival Tom Lehrer [source]: “I always like to end on a positive note. So here is a rousing, uplifting song which is guaranteed to cheer you up.”
<piano intro>
LEWIS: This is the songwriter Tom Lehrer / playing a concert in Oslo in 1967.
(Tom Lehrer singing) 
When you attend a funeral
It is sad to think that sooner or
Later those you love will do the same for you
[fade under]
LEWIS: Lehrer, who is still alive at 92, is kind of the original Weird Al Yankovic.  He wrote songs about political issues that were very funny and very, very dark.  This one is about nuclear war. It’s called, “We’ll All Go Together When We Go.” 
For if the bomb that drops on you
Gets your friends and neighbors too (laughter) 
There’ll be nobody left behind to grieve
And we will all go together when we go
What a comforting fact that is to know
Universal bereavement
An inspiring achievement
Yes we all will go together when we go! [fade under]
When you study a subject as dark as the bomb, you get a sick sense of humor,  If you don’t learn to laugh at really dark things, or else you’d spend all your time crying.
Tom Lehrer got that. Not all of his songs were about the bomb.  But a lot of them were. And this one, I think it’s the best because it really gets to gets to the heart of the issue: 
We will all burn together when we burn.
There’ll be no need to stand and wait your turn [fade under]
It makes no sense to talk about winning a nuclear war. Not when nuclear weapons can do so much damage. We’ll all go together, when we go.  And if we don’t want to go? Then we need to do that together, too.
We will all go together when we go! [tempo picks up, key shift]
LEWIS: I’m Jeffrey Lewis. And you’re listening to The Deal. This is the final episode: The Power to Hurt. 
When the air becomes Uranius
We will all go simultaneous
Yes we all will go together
When we all go together!
We all will go together when we go. 
[fade out applause]


Act I - The Study 

As I’m recording this, the nuclear deal with Iran is on life support. The US pulled out in TWENTY18 and pushed for more sanctions.  The other countries who signed the deal — Britain, France, Germany … Russia and China? They are still sticking with it. Iran is too, although it has taken a series of steps back from the deal to protest the new sanctions. 
 
It’s starting to feel a little like old times, which is to say: Things are not looking good.
 
Jeffrey: you went for a hike? 
 
Sagan: Nah I went for a run. Today was the hottest day we’ve had / snows melting. Yesterday we were up on the mountain with snow shoes but today uuh [fade under]
 
LEWIS: A while back, I called up Scott Sagan.  He’s is a professor at Stanford. He’s also a friend and a mentor of mine.  I wanted to talk to him about the trip we take every year to the Japanese city of Hiroshima.  
Every August, around the anniversary of the atomic bombing, the local governor invites experts like Scott and me to meet in a big hotel ballroom and discuss how to eliminate nuclear weapons. 
One morning, before the meeting, I ran into Scott, running.
Jeffrey: I remember when I ran into you and you were doing your run, that morning, do you think about the big stuff when you’re running? Or are you like just like listening to music, zoned out. 
 
Scott:: I’m listening to music, although what I find sometimes when I run— I have ideas… 
 [fade under]  

LEWIS: He says when he goes for a run, not only does it clear his head, he can feel his “synapses opening up” 
Scott: … I’ll stop and write “new title” and then I’ll keep runnig cuz then I’ll forget about it. 
Scott: I mean, half the time, it’s a crappy idea (Scott and Jeffrey both laugh) the other half the time it’s like Ok, yeah! That’s the way it should be put…  
 
LEWIS: I am quizzing Scott about where his ideas come from. Because, after we had visited Hiroshima a couple of times, Scott had a really important insight about the lessons of what happened there.
Jeffrey:  I think people have like the wrong idea about Hiroshima. ya know? 
Scott: I think they have the wrong idea about / hiroshima / , but I think they also have the wrong view about. nuclear weapons more broadly

LEWIS: The trip can be very sobering. I usually visit the Hiroshima Peace Museum, where one exhibit in particular really hits me. Tattered uniforms — the ones worn at school by children hurt in the bombing.  For Scott, the one that really hits him? It’s a tricycle.
 
Scott: There’s a burnt out / slightly melted / tricycle / in a glass / case at the museum. And the fact that this toy survived when the rider clearly did not, um, I find particularly moving.
LEWIS: Maybe you’ve seen the photos taken after the US dropped the bomb on Hiroshima. The city is in ruins. It is also, in black-and white. Of course, it’s not at all like that today.  When Scott says people have the wrong idea about Hiroshima?  He means two things.
Scott: Hiroshima is / a modern Japanese city.
Scott: And I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that it has a very good baseball team. 
One thing that whenever possible that Jeffrey and I do is go to a Hiroshima Carp baseball game together on one of the evenings.
After debating grand strategy and nuclear weapons disarmament, and verification measures and the test ban treaty all day it’s nice to go and debate whether you should take out the starting pitcher and have a relief pitcher put in instead. 
[baseball sounds, cheerful and lively!] 
LEWIS: Thats’ one way people have the wrong idea about Hiroshima. Today it’s a vibrant city with a great baseball team. 
[button on baseball sounds [source]]
LEWIS: But people also think an atomic bombing could never happen again. That our views about the bomb have evolved.
LEWIS: In 1945, a huge majority of Americans —more than 80 percent — supported President’s Truman’s decision to drop the bomb on Japan. Today, when Americans are asked about it, most people think Truman made the wrong choice. 
Scott: A number of really distinguished scholars / have argued that that decline in support / means that the american public has changed from 1945 to today 
/ the american public strongly believes that it is wrong / to kill innocent civilians in conflict . 
LEWIS:  Hiroshima was horrible. It was a mistake. We are ashamed of it and would never do that again… Right? That’s the lesson a lot of people would like to take away. But Scott? He suspected that was the second thing we get wrong idea about Hiroshima.
The trips to Hiroshima / It got me really interested in trying to figure out is the American public any different today than in 1945. 
Lewis:  Scott thought about this question for a while. And then called up a former student. 
Ben: Yeah so there’s a theory / and that is that people see nuclear weapons as fundamentally different than Conventional Weapons
LEWIS: This is Ben Valentino, today he’s a professor at Dartmouth.  Like Scott, Ben was aware of the idea that there might be strong barriers against using nuclear weapons again? — a barrier that one might call a taboo.  
Ben: the reason that nuclear weapons have not been used in the last 75 years is because a primarily of this taboo that has been built up around them. It’s a taboo in the same sense that there is a taboo against cannibalism or incest 
LEWIS: It’s not just that cannibalism has serious drawbacks. It’s that for most people, it doesn’t even feel like an option. 
Ben: these aren’t actions according to this view that you consider, weigh the costs and benefits and then decide no I’m not going to eat my friend instead of hamburger you say simply friends are not for eating
it doesn’t even enter my mind and the theory is that’s the same thing for nuclear weapons 
LEWIS: The Nuclear Taboo. 
When Ben was in college in the early 90s, this idea picked  up steam. The cold war was over, the Berlin wall had fallen— 
Ben: Gorbachev visited Stanford when I was there and I got to stand in a long line of people and shake his hand
LEWIS: The threat of nuclear war seemed to disappear. People moved on. Students  were encouraged to study other topics.
Ben: I had an early conversation with my thesis advisor in which I talked about an idea for a thesis involving nuclear weapons and / he asked me whether that was really the wisest thing to focus on at that moment
LEWIS: Instead of the bomb, Ben spent most of his career studying genocide, in places like Bosnia and Rwanda. Those acts of mass violence and extreme cruelty made him really question whether people today were in fact more enlightened.
Ben: After having spent the decade looking at the darkest sides of humanity and watching / these events unfold and the public either participating to some extent or certainly doing nothing to stop them, I definitely didn’t think it was likely that there were these kind of bright lines against massive violence like this.
LEWIS: Scott and Ben are academics. So they decided to test this idea.  To really try and find out whether it was people’s attitudes toward the bomb that had changed? Or was it something else? Do we just feel differently today about Japan? They came up with an experiment, in the form of a public opinion survey.
Scott: So we designed this not to look at US views about Hiroshima,
but US views about doing it again against an enemy that we had hostile feelings towards. 
LEWIS: There was one obvious candidate. 
Scott: And that’s why we chose Iran. 
LEWIS: Scott and Ben tried to recreate how Americans felt in 1945 — that sense of fear, anger and revenge.  So they created a fictional scenario. It’s basically World War Two, but they replaced Japan with Iran. Kinda like historical fan-fiction. Reading it… it’s actually not *that* hard to imagine. Listen to one of the scenarios they included in their survey: Here’s Scott again:
Scott: the United States had put sanctions back onto Iran after a discovery of a secret nuclear weapons facility. In response Iran attacked a us ship in the persian gulf, killing 2400 people the same number who had died at pearl harbor, the United States declared war. The president had called for unconditional surrender…
LEWIS: But in the scenario, Iran refuses to surrender, just as Japan refused in World War 2, and the president has to make a choice: 
… you can have a conventional military campaign marching to Tehran and we’ll win the war but our estimate is that 20,000 american soldiers will be killed
LEWIS: That was option A. There was also an option B. 
Scott: OR, you could drop an atomic bomb on the second largest city…
LEWIS: Instead of invading, losing all those American lives— you could drop one nuclear weapon. BUT, you would kill 2 million Iranian civilians. 
 
LEWIS: So, Scott and Ben sent off the survey questions to a polling firm.  A huge, representative group of Americans answered them. And then the results came back. 
Ben: What we found was was more shocking than I had been prepared for 
LEWIS: 59%. That’s how many Americans opted for the nuclear strike, that’s how many opted to kill 2 million Iranian civilians. Men, women, children. 
LEWIS: Somehow, that wasn’t even the worst part.
Ben: In all of our surveys when we asked people would you prefer using nuclear weapons in this scenario or conventional weapons, we next asked— tell us why. 
Scott: So let me just read some of the statements our respondents made: 
Scott: One wrote “wipe them out, all leaders and followers.” Another wrote “bomb the hell out of them, they’re all barbaric animals anyway. Dirty muslim lives are less valuable than American lives,”  “don’t stop until they’re dead.” 
Scott: And finally one person wrote “they attacked us first, and therefore show no mercy.” 

LEWIS: Nuclear Taboo? Notsomuch. 

This study had tapped into something really dark. And way more widespread than Scott or Ben expected.  
Ben: I do remember that moment with my jaw kind of dropped because I expected significant but not that high.I thought we might get 30% sort of Hardcore right-wing Hawks saying I don’t care what happens in Iran but you know the numbers that we got obviously include a significant number of Democrats and we can’t just conclude that these are the the fringes of the American public 
LEWIS: Later, on another one of our trips to Hiroshima, Scott presented the findings.  We were back in that same hotel ballroom. Up on the screen is a bar graph, showing how many Americans are willing to nuke Iran. 
J: And do you remember— I actually vividly remember — the first time you showed that slide at the Prince Hotel. In one of our meetings. Do you remember doing that? 
S: Yeah because I was concerned that that would be offensive to the Japanese. Uhm As it is to some americans. / I know that many in Japan believe that there’s a taboo but what they really mean is that they think there should be a taboo.
LEWIS: It’s comforting to think it couldn’t happen again. Comforting, but wrong. 
Scott: I believe this should make us really worried because it suggests that leaders who can take aggressive acts are less likely to be punished for those things. And that the public will be a goad in crises rather than being a constraint. That is not a happy lesson to be learned. 
 
Outro
LEWIS: “They attacked us first.”  “They’re barbaric animals. Sometimes it’s hard for me to imagine that people are this cruel. And then I’ll catch a bit of cable news. 
 
Sandra: the president tweeted out that they will pay a big price. He said this is not a warning, it’s a threat, in a new year… in a new year’s message. Mr. Secretary, what is president trump’s willingness to further engage there?
 
LEWIS: This is a Fox News interview with Trump’s Secretary of Defense Mark Esper. 
 
Esper … he is absolutely correct that If anybody challenges us, they will be met with a severe response, a strong response by U.S. Forces.
 
Sandra: what does that response look like?
Esper: I’m not going to telegraph we are going to do, but people know we have vast capability to do any number of things.  We will act in response to actions by Iran or its proxies and we will at to preempt any attacks on our forces, our personnel… and now our aim is to deter further Iranian bad behavior that has been going on now for over 40 years. It’s time that Iran started acting like a normal country.

Vitter: It’s a long lst of bad behavior and i’m glad you brough that up. It’s like a sandbox in grade school. Sometimes bullies don’t understand sanctions, tough talk, deployments, air strikes against proxies.  Bullies understand a punch in the nose. Is there a time the bullies and ayatollahs need a punch in the nose … [source]
LEWIS: If you attack us, we’ll attack you. This isn’t some fringe idea— it is the whole idea of how nuclear weapons are supposed to work. It’s simple: I ask my son “Why did you hit your brother?” And he says “Because he hit me first.”
Most academics call this Nuclear Deterrence. 
A friend of mine once called it “the power to hurt.” 
<<music>>
LEWIS: At the beginning of this series, I filled up a bucket with beebees, to try to explain how much power to hurt we have in the world today.


LEWIS: I said that it is bizarre that we live with enough firepower to kill every person on earth and most people don’t even think about it. After the atomic bomings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Albert Einstein said something similar — that the atomic bomb had changed everything, except our way of thinking.  What he meant was this: The idea of responding to violence with violence? That no longer makes any sense when we’re talking about thousands and thousands of nuclear weapons. 
LEWIS: No one wins a nuclear war!  Nuclear weapons are a shared danger to everyone. What was so special about the Iran nuclear deal, in my opinion, was that we took a shared danger, and created a shared solution.  
LEWIS: A future with fewer bombs, not more. / It was an opening to a relationship that didn’t depend on the power to hurt. 
 
LEWIS: Without the deal, Iran may build nuclear weapons. And America and Israel will keep building up their nuclear arsenals, too.
We think we’re enemies, but we’re really making a choice, together.
Because we’re betting that no one will never do anything stupid with their nuclear weapons.
That we’re so much smarter than the people who lived before.
And that the nuclear taboo will work perfectly. Forever.
**
LEWIS: Its not that I wake up every day thinking that today is the day we’re going to die in a nuclear war.  It’s that I know, if we keep choosing more nuclear weapons, forever, someday, our luck will run out.


The Deal was produced by me, Jeffrey Lewis along with Erin Davis, Mitchell Johnson and Juliette Luini with additional help from Ellie Barney and Jessica Varnum.Editorial support from Julia Barton. Our original score by Hannis Brown. Special thanks to the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey and Middlebury College. Rate and review the show wherever you are listening now. 
Additional thanks to the amazing Tom Lehrer for permission to use his song We’ll All Go Together When We Go.
 

Episode 4: The Unraveling

Not everyone is impressed by Moniz and Salehi’s clever solutions.

INTRO 
Lewis: Just because Iran struck a deal with the international community, that didn’t mean everyone was happy. 
<<Netanyahu: (:39) Tonight, we are going to reveal new and conclusive proof of the secret nuclear weapons program that Iran has been hiding for years from the international community in its secret atomic archive. We’re going to show you Iran’s secret nuclear files…fade out You may well know that Iran’s leaders repeatedly deny ever pursuing nuclear weapons… 
Lewis: This is the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu on April 30th, TWENTY18. He is standing at a podium, microphone in hand, gesticulating toward this giant powerpoint - (aside) it’s got to be a ten foot tall screen. 
In the briefing, he singles out Javad Zarif - the Iranian foreign minister and the same guy who, a decade earlier, faxed the US in an effort to open a backchannel. 
<<Netanyahu: fade up: This is repeated by Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif: “We didn’t have any program to develop nuclear weapons. Anyway, we consider nuclear weapons both irrational as well as immoral.” Well, tonight, I’m here to tell you one thing… 
Lewis: The powerpoint slide reveals two giant words: 
<<Netanyahu:Iran lied. >> 
Lewis: … Iran lied. 
<<Netanyahu: Big time. >> 
Lewis: Netanyahu walks to the right of the stage as the camera follows him.

<<Netanyahu: (3:00) Israel obtained half a ton of the material inside these vaults.>> <<Netanyahu: And here’s what we got. >> 
Lewis: With the efficient tug of a magician, he pulls a black sheet [Sound of sheet coming off] to reveal a bookshelf full of black binders. 
<<Netanyahu: 55,000 pages.>> 
Lewis: He pulls down another black sheet. 
<<Netanyahu: (3:20) Sound of sheet coming off. Another 55,000 files on 183 CDs.>> 
Lewis: After the nuclear deal in TWENTY15, Iran packed up all the documents related to its once secret nuclear weapons program and stashed them in a nondescript warehouse outside of Tehran, across the street from a carpet cleaner. Videos, memos, unrealized plans. 
Somehow, Israeli agents learned about the site. They watched it carefully, for over a year, until one night in January TWENTY18 when they struck. 
Arriving after 10:00 pm, they entered the warehouse and used a torch to cut open 32 safes. For more than six hours, they plundered the warehouse of its contents. Escaping with more than 50,000 pages of documents and compact discs with countless files. There was so much material, the agents did not have time to take it all. 
At the time, Iranian leaders probably suspected the Israelis. Netanyahu was now confirming those suspicions. 
Netanyahu is using the documents to make an astonishing claim: He says that even though international inspectors and most intelligence agencies think Iran is complying with the deal, the atomic archive proves Iran / is not.” And Netanyahu knows his audience: 
<<Trump: Well if anything it’s proven right what Israel has done today with the news conference. And Prime Minister Netanyahu just gave a very — I don’t know if everybody has seen it, but I got to see a little bit of it.

And that is just not an acceptable situation. They’re not sitting back idly. They’re setting off missiles, which they say are for television purposes. I don’t think so. So we’ll see what happens. I’m not telling you what I’m doing, but a lot of people think they know. 
Mission accomplished. 
I’m Jeffrey Lewis and this is The Deal. The story of the Iran Nuclear Deal. How it came together, how it fell apart. and what that means for the rest of us. This is episode 4: The Unraveling. 
ACT I — THE INVITATION 
Lewis: The Israeli government was well aware that not everybody was gonna buy their story about the archive. So Israel’s national intelligence agency launched an outreach campaign to spread the word on what they’d found. They began by giving versions of Netanyahu’s presentation to groups of respected academics and serious policy experts. 
<<Tape sounds>> 
<<Arnold: Ugh, this might not work. I dont know. There’s too much tape. Oh no, it’s recording! But somehow I’ve turned on my flashlight - I’ve got tape everwhere… 
Lewis: This is Aaron Arnold… 
and there we go! Look at that. I have a phone recording on my head (tape sound). >> 
…Don’t be fooled. Aaron is actually a very serious and impressive person in my field. He’s a former intelligence analyst and also has a PhD. 
<<Arnold: My name is Aaron. I currently sit on the UN panel of experts for North Korea sanctions. And prior to that, I was a research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School Project on Managing the Atom where I studied nuclear security, illicit procurement, sanctions. All the fun stuff.>> 
Lewis: Full disclosure: I used to direct the same research project that Aaron is talking about, although that was a long-time ago and way before Aaron got there.

Aaron’s experience with Iran’s secret nuclear documents starts not not in Tel-Aviv or Tehran, but in Cambridge, Massachusetts. / Harvard was one of the places Israeli officials visited in the wake of Netanyahu’s presentation. 
<<Arnold: Ah, Yossi Cohen who is the Director of Mossad, comes to the Kennedy school and gives this talk about the Iran nuclear archive. 
<<Arnold: For your listeners, now is probably the time you want to pause, google Yossi Cohen. Because this guy, if you don’t know who he is or you haven’t seen him, the man is like basically James Bond. He’s gorgeous. He wears suits that are form fitting, you know former special forces and jumps out of airplanes and runs marathons, and like you know has a full head of hair (laughs) 
Lewis: A lot of the meetings I used to go to at Harvard were pretty boring. But this one is different. The idea that Israel has thousands of original documents for Iran’s nuclear weapons program? Aaron was salivating. 
<<Arnold: Its an insane glimpse / into / Iran’s nuclear program and / how much progress it was making. 
Lewis: When I tell people that I study nuclear weapons programs, they always ask: “How do you study something that is supposed to be secret?” That’s why we use commercial satellite images and other technologies. We stare at these programs from a distance because you can’t actually get inside another country’s nuclear program… Unless, of course, you steal tens of thousands of pages of documents from it. Aaron found the idea of seeing those documents irresistible. And Cohen knew that. 
<<Arnold: Mr. Cohen said something to the affect of, “well, if you’re ever in Tel-Aviv, you know, swing by and we will show them to you.” 
Lewis: Them: as in the original stolen documents detailing years of Iran’s nuclear program. 
<<Arnold: Well, I sort of made this flippant gesture of shooting my business card across the table to call him on his, lighthearted / invitation. 
<<Arnold: He grabbed the card and he handed it to his assistant and he said alright, well we’ll see.>>

Lewis: On cue, an email arrived from Israel. Aaron and five other scholars from Harvard were invited to Tel Aviv for a briefing on the atomic archive. 
<<Arnold: There really wasn’t anything more specific than that. They did provide an opportunity for us to send them back questions that we might be interested in. So for example, I remember I just put together a high level list of illicit procurement things I 
was interested in. And I think some others had some specific questions about enrichment capability [fade under?] and centrifuge technology. That was it. 
Lewis: Aaron’s not naive. He already knew what Yossi Cohen thought the documents proved. 
<<Arnold: Tel-Aviv has a very specific narrative about the archive and what it meant… The claim that this material is de facto proof that Iran’s program continues… 
Lewis: And, he knew why he was being invited. 
<<Arnold: There was always this kind of concern of well, is this just a play to you know sort of get the Harvard seal on these talking points? 
Lewis: The academic in Aaron was cautious. But the intelligence officer in him? That guy was game. 
<<Arnold: I thought it was just absolutely amazing that as a former intelligence analyst that I would be going into Mossad headquarters. You know, that doesn’t happen! / Why not? 
ACT II TEHRAN 
Lewis: Over the next few weeks, and on the long flight to Tel Aviv, Aaron had a lot of time to think about to think about those documents. 
<<Arnold: Would we be, kind of, ushered into like the chamber of these archives and get to sort of rifle through these papers? Or maybe they would just give us laptops! And maybe we could just examine them on the laptops. (fade under)>> 
Lewis: By the time the plane landed. Aaron was really excited. But first, they wait in line. they wait in line. The team from Harvard has to go through security like everyone else. Aaron stood next to his colleague, Will Tobey, a tall, laconic New Englander with a long government resume.

<<Arnold: So I get to the front of the line. They’re asking who are you, what are you doing here. And so I give this nondescript answer: you know, I’m here on business. What type of business? I say well, I’m a researcher, I’m here to receive a briefing. And then they go, what kind of briefing? 
And I’m like wow this is a lot of questions! The whole time I’m thinking like how much of this should I say before…because you can’t really walk into an airport and be like yeah, totally, I’m here to receive a briefing on Iran’s nuclear weapons. I feel like that would just raise some red flags… 
And finally I’m like, yeah, yeah, I’m here to get a briefing on Iran’s nuclear weapons program. And all I hear is Toby… Will Toby right behind me goes, “Oh shit” 
There was just this really long awkward pause And she was just kind of staring at me. And I said yeah, well we have an official invite. And I think I said something to the effect of like yeah, from the Foreign Minister’s office or something like that. 
And she’s like okay. / And walked on through. 
Our host had a nice van waiting for us, blacked out windows and everything. I mean, it was just a regular van but in my mind it was like a… “SPY VAN” >> 
Lewis: Aaron would have to wait until the morning to see the archive. 
<<Arnold: They picked us up at our hotel bright and early. I think it was like 7 in the morning. Uh and you know we’re all like really excited. I remember, actually I remember on the drive over there, its like a 20 minutes drive or so /and I remember on the drive over there, um from our hotel. And I remember on the way over there, I had my phone, and I remember thinking, “what a dumb rookie mistake it was to bring your phone to like a foreign spy agency!” Laughs… 
So, and of course when we get there they’re like, just put them in these lockboxes. And I’m like okay, yeah, Just put them in the lockbox no problem. 
So we get there and its a compound. It actually, to be frank it kinda looked like any other government office building I’ve been in my entire life. 
Beat?

 After they sort of brought us down the basement kind of walking toward the executive conference area. >> 
Lewis: After weeks of waiting, after a long-flight, after a moment of minor terror at the airport, Aaron was finally ready to see the atomic archive. So he and the rest of the team from Harvard sat down, and were shown … another a powerpoint presentation. 
Lewis: There were also some documents — The Israelis had selected the best ones, the ones they knew would impress the Harvard team. 
<<Arnold: you know the technical drawings of specific warhead designs. Or the policy document that was signed by / one of the high level Iranian officials to proceed. They showed us the budgetary information and things like that. 
<<Arnold: And so, I nodded and went mhmm this is interesting, you know, kinda the academic thing. You’re just like, oh… sure.>> 
Lewis: And that… was basically it. No secret chamber. No rifling through papers. No laptops. No surprises really. Just a briefing and some binders. 
<<Arnold: There are a lot of stories out there that sort of imply that people went and opened up this archive and got to see everything and that’s just not the case. 
<<Arnold: We received their assessment of what the archive meant. We were to then go home and make of that as we will / Given what we’ve seen, what does it mean? 
Lewis: The story Israel was pushing was that Iran was still, in TWENY18, building a bomb. That they were violating the Iran Nuclear Deal. But the Harvard researchers weren’t so sure. They came out of those three days with a slightly different story. 
<<Arnold: The archive… basically is a chronicle, its sort of the the scientific documentation and some of the policy decisions written down about Iran’s Amad program, which was essentially their nuclear program from about 1999 to 2003.>> 
Lewis: Two.. thousand… and three. The same time that Corey Hinderstein’s satellite photographs were fueling the growing nuclear crisis with Iran. That’s when the archive stops. 
Remember Alireza Jafarzadeh?

<<Jafarzadeh: nuclear sites have been kept secret until today… (fade under)>> 
… the dissident who gave that press conference at the Willard hotel? The one that tipped off Corey Hinderstein about Iran’s secret nuclear facility at Natanz? At the time, everyone wondered how he got his information. And remember, when Corey was hunting for a satellite image… 
<<Hinderstein: I wonder if I can find it..>> 
…she noticed that there were already pictures? Someone paid for those pictures? <<And I thought somebody else is looking at this other than me.>> 
And when international inspectors told her another country had already informed them? Then there are those assassinated nuclear scientists on Salehi’s wall? 
<< Salehi: we do not look at it like you have lost your life, but that you have gained martyrdom>> 
Those satellite images that Corey found of Natanz? the US had had those pictures taken so that they could share them with international inspectors who were trying to get access to the site. But Israel? Israel wasn’t waiting for international inspectors. They were busy assassinating Iranian scientists. And that’s probably why they leaked the existence of Natanz to Jafarzedeh. 
Because if you are the government of Israel, Iran is enemy number one. 
<<quote from former Iranian President (source)>> 
I mean, the last President of Iran used to call for Israel to be wiped off the map and pal around with Holocaust deniers. It’s no surprise that Israel keeps a very close eye on Iran’s nuclear program. And it’s no surprise that the government of Israel doesn’t trust Iran. 
<<beat >> 
But whether or not you trust Iran, there is something to keep in mind: The information in that archive, we’d seen it before. In fact international inspectors and the U.S. intelligence community already knew pretty much everything in it.

<<Arnold: I think with this archive, while I, and I believe most of my colleagues that I went, with would not necessarily assess that the archive is de facto proof that Iran still has a nuclear weapons program. I think that we can all kind of agree it provides a really interesting snapshot at a discrete period of time.>> 
Lewis: To a person like me, the details in the archive were really interesting. We knew Iran had scouted locations for a first nuclear test, but the archive told us exactly where. We knew Iran wanted nuclear bombs. Now we knew they wanted six. 
Lewis: But, more than a revelation, it was a time-capsule … from 2003. None of it changed the essential facts: Iran had a nuclear weapons program Iran had stopped it years ago. And Iran — in TWENTY 18 — was complying with the deal. 
That’s how experts like me or Aaron look at the archive. But when it comes time to make political decisions, nobody asks people like us. 
ACT III THE DEAL IS DEAD 
<<Trump: Today, we have definitive proof that this Iranian promise was a lie. Last week, Israel published intelligence documents long concealed by Iran, conclusively showing the Iranian regime and its history of pursuing nuclear weapons.>> 
Lewis: Donald Trump had always hated the nuclear deal with Iran. But he didn’t withdraw from it for the first year he was in office. Some of his advisors like his first Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and his defense Secretary James Mattis, … they told him that the deal was working! And US intelligence agencies told him Iran was following it. In the end though, none of that mattered to Trump. Netanyahu’s gambit worked. Just eight days after Netanyahu’s powerpoint presentation, Trump withdrew from the deal - on May 8, 2018. 
Lewis: The deal was unraveling. But that didn’t mean it was dead. 
Lewis: Iran, the Europeans, China and Russia were all still part of it — and they hoped the US might eventually rejoin. That possibility —that the US might rejoin — that possibility, that the US might rejoin? That is why Israeli officials kept showing their curated version of the archive to people like Aaron. Because there was still a fight about what comes next: Do we let the deal collapse? Or try like hell to put it back together? Aaron was up for that fight. He relished it.
10 
<<Arnold: I love confrontation. I love nothing more than a good Twitter war. This is like at least 20-30% why I follow Jeff on Twitter, to like, watch the Twitter wars. 
LEWIS: I’m @armscontrolwonk if you’re interested. 
To, like, watch the twitter wars. So I was definitely hoping for some pretty significant engagement. >> 
Lewis: And, yeah, some of the fight did play out on Twitter. And while I’ve been pretty vocal, the best tweets didn’t come from me. They come from Corey: Corey Hinderstein, who had gone from looking at satellite pictures at a little think tank to working for Ernie Moniz to make the nuclear deal with Iran happen: 
<<Hinderstein tweet: It’s from May 8, 2018 (1:11:27) Fitting that I will be on an airplane as the President destroys the single most successful nuclear non-proliferation measure ever concluded. Our team spent thousands of hours traveling around the world to negotiate and then implement the deal - at no small cost to our health, family and personal lives, and (sometime) sanity. We held Iran’s feet to the fire, and because of that they are in compliance. Iran today does not have the material to make a nuclear weapon, and no boots are on the ground except those of international inspectors who are there 24/7 every.single.day. 
The deal is unequivocally good for US national security, a sentiment expressed by former and current members of the security, military, and intelligence leadership from both political parties. That is why I support the Iran deal. It is being thrown away by the US, with no credible alternative proposed. This action will have consequences in Iran, the Middle East, and for the United States’ reputation and ability to act cooperatively with our allies. So, if you get the feeling from me or anyone else / that we are sad, confused, or angry, you are damn right”>> 
Lewis: The theft and display of Iran’s atomic archive was a real blow to The Deal. I mean, sure, Iranian officials were not honest about what Iran was doing before 2003. But / I hate to break it to you, diplomats? They don’t always tell the truth. / When Javad Zarif said Iran never had a nuclear weapons program, he was full of it. Corey knew that in 2003. We all knew that. / The question then was — what do we do next? Attack Iran? Or negotiate a deal? 
OUTRO
11 
Lewis: If what you care about is the world having fewer nuclear weapons, then it does not matter what Javad Zarif said on CNN almost twenty years ago. What matters is what Iran does in future. But what you want is just to keep fighting? Then it makes sense to keep digging up the past. To keep talking about what Iran did. Not what it is doing now. 
In a world filled with conflict, countries are going to keep building nuclear weapons. They use our bombs to justify theirs. Just like we use their bombs to justify ours. 
It’s so easy to get drawn into this kind of thinking. To just build and build. That’s how the world ended up with so many nuclear weapons. 
But we wouldn’t actually use them again, right? 
Wrong. 
That’s next week on our final episode of The Deal. 
Lewis: The Deal is produced by me, Jeffrey Lewis along with Erin Davis, Mitchell Johnson and Juliette Luini and additional help from Ellie Barney, and editorial support from Julia Barton. Original score by Hannis Brown. 
Also a very special thanks to Richard Stone, for letting us use his audio recordings of his interviews with Ali Salehi. You can read his interview with Salehi, as well as his other reporting on the Iran deal, in Science Magazine. 
Special thanks to Jessica Varnum and the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey and Middlebury College.. Subscribe to The Deal on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts, and while you’re there you can rate and review the show. I’m Jeffrey Lewis. Thanks for listening.
 

Episode 3: The Scientists

Two former MIT colleagues, Dr. Ernie Moniz and Dr. Ali Salehi, are brought to the world’s highest-stakes negotiating table.

Lewis: It’s not that easy to meet the people involved in Iran’s nuclear program. And that’s a problem, because if you want a diplomatic solution, you sort of need to know what the other side wants. Who they are. How they think. 
Richard Stone also wanted to know how people in Iran think. He is science reporter. In TWENTY FIFTEEN he was writing for Science magazine. 
RICHARD: covering the Iranian nuclear program and the, the interactions with the international atomic energy agency. 
Lewis: And there was one guy Richard really, really wanted to talk to named Ali Salehi. [SOLLA-HEE
RICHARD: I knew about, I knew about him by his reputation, president of the atomic energy organization, which was his current capacity in 2015 August, 2015 when I first met him. 
Lewis: In the entire story of the Iran Deal, Salehi is one of the most important—and inaccessible—figures. 
He’s a household name in Iran. He’s the head of the nuclear energy program. [And?] He also has political connections to the Supreme Leader. 
RICHARD: I mean, I tried every avenue to interview dr Salehi. I contacted the atomic energy organization. I contacted it every single Iranian scientist I knew. Nobody could put me in contact with him. 
Lewis: Until 
RICHARD: I was in a room with a group of scientists 
Lewis: Richard was interviewing some scientists at a university in Tehran. 
RICHARD: and I see this physicist, uh, has the same last name, Salehi. And I’m wondering to myself, well, maybe Salehi in Iran is like Smith here. And, uh, is there any possibility they could be related? 
Lewis: Turns out, it was Ali Salehi’s brother.

RICHARD: So, I asked him, um, is there any possibility that I could interview your older brother? And he said, let me look into it. 
Lewis: A couple days later, Richard found himself in a taxi, on his way to the headquarters of Iran’s nuclear energy program. He was alone… kinda. 
RICHARD: you know, they watch journalists pretty closely over there. So, I was sure they were watching me pretty closely. 
So I got out of the taxi I got, I went through the security, I go through it. An X Ray scanner and there is a little kind of a printed sign, say no cell phones. And I’m like, well, I need my cell phone to record the interview. That was what I planned to use. So I’m like, I’m just going to keep my cell phone. I just walk right up with it. 
Lewis: And, this inaccessible man at the head of Iran’s nuclear energy program? It turns out— 
RICHARD: very personable guy and a very polite and warm, warm person. And so I pull out my cell phone, I, I said, do you mind if I record the interview? And he was fine with that. 
Lewis: Richard Stone’s interview with Ali Salehi was a scoop, no doubt about it. He was the first western journalist to interview Salehi after the deal was signed. As he loo ks around Ali Salehi’s office, he notices something: 
RICHARD: on the wall of dr Salehi’s office. Uh, there were five framed portraits. And underneath the portraits, uh, was a bouquet of roses in a vase, red roses. And I asked him about it and he said, yeah, those are our nuclear martyrs. 
five scientists that were assassinated, 
SALEHI: these are their pictures 
Lewis: Some were killed with car bombs. One was gunned down picking up his daughter from kindergarten. Most experts think Israel carried out these attacks in a covert campaign to halt Iran’s nuclear weapons program. 
STONE: Does um, these deaths, does that cast a shadow on international collaboration? Do scientists feel nervous about c oming out and meeting counterparts from overseas? 
SALEHI: No. Being Muslims, We do not look upon it as you have lost your life— ok, but you have gained martyrdom. We believe in eternity, so.. 
Lewis: The threat of being killed in a politically motivated attack did not scare off Iran’s nuclear scientists.

RICHARD: In fact it had the opposite effect. He said “As a result of the deaths of these scientists, they had a lot more interest among, um, among young Iranians to become nuclear scientists.” 
SALEHI: Many students who were in other fields, after this happened, they changed their field to Nuclear engineering 
RICHARD: It inspired them 
SALEHI: It inspired them. [fade under] This is the kind of aspiration that happens. 
Lewis: This is the position Salehi was in as the head of Iran’s nuclear energy program. Sanctions and assassinations made the Iranians more determined to push forward, which only led to more sanctions and assassinations. 
A deal could put an end to this cycle of escalation. 
Lewis: US Ambassador Wendy Sherman described the Iran Nuclear Deal as a Rubik’s cube. 
For some people, solving a Rubik’s cube seems impossibly complicated. And if that’s you, you look at someone who can solve one like they have some kind of superpower. 
<<Sherman: This was a Rubik’s cube. There were many pieces to this puzzle and if the last piece didn’t click into place, there would be no agreement. So it wasn’t like you were 20% of the way there, or 80% of the way there. It was binary. It was either you were going to get there, or you weren’t.>> 
But in reality, the people who solve the cube are just people who know how to do it. It’s a pattern. You break it down into a series of steps. Individual problems to solve until it’s all figured out. 
As the Iran nuclear deal got closer, both countries needed people who knew how to break down all the steps and solve them in the right sequence. 
And that’s where Ali Salehi came in. 
ACT
This is The Deal, the story of the Iran Nuclear Deal. How it came together, how it fell apart. And what that means for the rest of us. You’re listening to episode 3: The Scientists. 
The interim deal that was reached in Geneva at the end of 2013 was supposed to last just six months. But almost two years later, negotiations on a comprehensive deal to replace it were stuck.

RICHARD:, the negotiators were really struggling with the technical aspects of reaching this agreement. 
The people involved with the deal were world class diplomats— but their expertise was in policy, not centrifuges or reactors or isotopes. They needed to pass the baton. They needed a scientist. 
RICHARD: So, the foreign minister Zarif. Ask Salehi. If he would participate, try to try to get them over the hump 
SALEHI: I said you must be joking— now that it is stalled, what can I do? What more can I do that Zarif has not done? And I said well, politically that means if I join the negotiation now, and it fails, the whole thing is on my shoulders 
He was being asked to stick his neck out — in a big way. 
SALEHI: And eventually I said ok I will go. 
He agreed to go. 
Salehi: one condition 
On one condition. 
RICHARD: that is that the Iranian side ask the U S side for his counterpart to join as well. 
He wanted to negotiate with his American equivalent. 
SALEHI: I said, if he comes, I will go. If not, I will not go. 
RICHARD: So the way Salehi told the stories there. Zarif contacted Wendy Sherman. 
[00:29:06] Said, um, we would like, um, dr Salehi to take part in negotiations on the condition that dr moniz also join. 
Dr. Moniz is Dr. Ernie Moniz, at the time the US secretary of energy. Like Salehi, he’s a nuclear scientist. Unlike Salehi, he has great hair— a killer 70’s bob. 
MONIZ: Ok, so you want me to wear these earphones or not?… you can hear me now? 
Lewis: Secretary Moniz spoke to us over Zoom, from his house in Brookline, Mass. He said that he’d been peripherally involved in the Iran negotiations since he started as Energy Secretary in 2013. 
MONIZ: the, uh, department of energy was providing the, uh, scientific and technical support to the negotiating team.

Lewis So, a quick note— the word “energy” in the Department of Energy is kind of a euphemism. In 2015, the DOE spent about $3.5 billion dollars on the line item called “energy.” It spent 3 times more on nuclear weapons: almost $12 billion. Moniz’s title was Secretary of Energy, but more than anything else, he was the Secretary of the Bomb. 
So in the Iran deal, Moniz helped out in the background. But he didn’t expect to ever take part in the political gymnastics themselves. He’s a scientist, not a diplomat. 
MONIZ: the change, uh, in this arrangement really came in early February. Lewis: That’s February, 2015. 
I was told, uh, initially by Wendy Sherman, [00:37:00] that,the president, had decided that I should pack my bags and be in Geneva, in a few days, to, uh, enter, enter the negotiation. 
He was off to join Salehi at the negotiating table. They were both high-level government officials. Which was pretty lucky— usually these jobs are filled with political appointees but Moniz and Salehi had real scientific chops. 
They also had something else in common.. 
MONIZ: Salehi and I were together at MIT in the 1970s. His PhD advisor is a very good friend of mine. 
Lewis: Salehi had been a graduate student in Nuclear Engineering, at the same time Moniz was a professor in the Physics department. They had lots of mutual acquaintances and plenty to talk about. Not just mutually assured extinction stuff. Just regular human-stuff. 
MONIZ: In our first meeting, uh, he noted that, uh, his first. [00:51:00] Granddaughter, was born during the, uh, during our meeting, 
So for the second meeting, I went back with, uh, some presents for the, uh, for the baby. 
Uh, one was the kind of thing you find in an MIT, a bookstore, a, uh, a pink onesie for a baby girl, uh, with two. A symbol. The symbols have two atomic elements on it. Uh, and, uh, we can have this as a brief test for the readership, uh, to, uh, when I say that the symbols were for copper and [00:52:00] Tellurium. 
Not letting too much time go by to think through the answer. Of course, the symbol for copper is CU and Tellurium TE. So this was like a typical bad MIT joke, but Salehi of course, loved it. 
Lewis: C-U, T-E 
Lewis: It is kind of cute, actually.

Lewis: Thanks to a shared alma mater and some corny science humor, the negotiations got a second wind. 
But that didn’t mean the collaboration would be easy. Salehi was a tough negotiator— he actually used to be Iran’s Foreign Minister— and he was being asked to live with restrictions on Iran’s nuclear energy program. His nuclear energy program. 
MONIZ: To state it crudely, it was his enterprise. That was going to be severely diminished. 
ACT
In a lot of deals, diplomats can work out the big picture in a few pages, sign the deal, then leave the little details to be worked out later, letting technical experts figure it out as they go along. Not possible with this deal. 
They couldn’t just limit exactly how many centrifuges Iran can have. Or just put a limit on many they can make or store. They ALSO had to put restrictions on things like the tools used to make the centrifuges — flow-forming machines, filament-winding machines— mandrels. 
MONIZ: So it was quite a long, drawn-out intense effort. 
The negotiations last for months. Take a moment to picture it— 
Lewis: You have Moniz and Salehi and their assistants, and John Kerry and Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and all of their assistants, Wendy Sherman and her counterparts from Iran and the P5+1 and all of their assistants — and all of these people are basically living, for big stretches of time, in hotels in whatever European city is able to accommodate them. 
MONIZ: It’s not like you had planned out, you know, four or five dates in a row. We would see how a negotiation went, see what we had to do, and then decide upon the next meeting and the next meeting date and get the venue. 
And as they go from hotel to hotel, Moniz and Salehi were trying to find technical solutions to really tough political problems. 
MONIZ: the way we entered it, uh, was to. Try to understand really what our red lines were and to determine whether or not there was a solution space. 
I absolutely needed some things. He absolutely needed some things. And the question was, did that leave any solution space? 
Lewis: They had a process.

Lewis: They spoke during the day, came up with ideas for how to solve some of the technical problems. At night, they parted ways and went over the details with their negotiating teams. Moniz would then send information back to the United States and go to bed. Lawrence Livermore national laboratory in California would model various scenarios while Moniz slept.The next day, Moniz would wake up in Switzerland, look at what the models said, and return to the negotiating table with Salehi [for round 2, or 10, or wherever they were.] 
MONIZ: I estimate that we had something like 65 or 70 hours of one-on-one meetings, uh, over the course of the negotiations. 
Um, it’s a lot of time and, uh, and that’s where we could really, uh, really hammer things out. To be able to do that, it of course, means that we reached at least at the personal level, uh, a level of trust and understanding, that we could, uh, negotiate in good faith, uh, that we were true to our word. 
Moniz and Salehi actually become pretty close. 
SALEHI: I got the feeling that as if we had known each other for so long. I didn’t feel that we were strange to each other. 
RICHARD: You know, it’s funny these kind of very human interactions that define these two men. And I think that was just one of the anecdotes Salehi had from those months where They were able to transcend all these political kind of pressures that both sides were, both sides were certainly coming under. 
SALEHI: We tried both to be rational and logical and fair. 
I thought I’m going to Mission Impossible! But then it was Mission Possible. 
That’s the kind of the point of Mission Impossible. Even if Tom Cruise is hanging there by his fingernails with no possiblity of escape, he’s gonna make it. 
ACT
Lewis: Let me give you one example of how the scientists thought differently than everyone else in the room. 
Each country came to the negotiations with various red lines. One US red line is that Iran could not under any circumstance be allowed to enrich uranium at the underground plant called Fordow. The one buried so deeply that most US bombs can’t reach it.

The Iranian red line is that they put Fordow and its thousands of centrifuges deep underground precisely so the US couldn’t bomb it. It wasn’t cheap. And they aren’t they aren’t giving it up under any circumstance. 
It seems like these two red lines: you can’t have it versus we aren’t giving it up? Seems like those would cancel each other out.There’s no middle ground. 
Unless you’re Salehi and Moniz. 
Their answer? 
You can do this totally different thing with centrifuges, something that isn’t uranium enrichment. Specifically, a process called stable isotope separation. Iran could use the centrifuges to separate isotopes other than uranium ones. 
Lewis: Is stable isotope separation like incredibly useful? No, not really— but that’s not the point. The point is that Ernie Moniz can go back to President Obama and say— in our agreement, you got what you asked for we got Iran to stop enriching Uranium at Fordow. And Ali Salehi can go back to Iran’s Supreme Leader and say— we’re able to keep the centrifuges spinning at Fordow and preserve the country’s scientific progress. 
Lewis: The deal is full of intricate, nerdy work-arounds like this. Moniz and Salehi worked out one technical compromise after another, which would then have to be implemented by their experts in the United States and Iran. Experts … like Corey Hinderstein. 
Corey: I was asked to join and then lead the task force at the Department of Energy that was responsible for implementing the nuclear related activities of the deal. 
Lewis: Yep, that’s the same Corey Hinderstein who found Natanz and another Iranian facility back in 2002. 
Corey: I couldn’t have imagined sitting in December of 2002 that one day I would be in the office responsible for implementing a nuclear deal with Iran. / 
I was managing the people that were responsible for all the different pieces including monitoring to the conversion of the facility that was using all that heavy water (1:07:32) they were at the Arak plant we saw on that first satellite image. 
Lewis: Moniz and Salehi solved one side of the Rubik’s cube after another.

MONIZ: Step-by-step problem by problem 
Lewis: Until 
MONIZ: It’s finished, and that was it. 
Lewis: At this point, the baton passed back to the diplomats. 
SHERMAN: It was quite extraordinary. 
Lewis: This is Ambassador Wendy Sherman again. After Ernie Moniz and Ali Salehi filled in the nuclear physics, the diplomats met privately to celebrate and reflect. John Kerry was there. having brokered the backchannel in Oman and now having watched the Deal come together. 
Secretary Kerry had used the points that we had drafted for him, but then he let the paper fall to the table and he spoke about having been a young man at 24 who went to Vietnam and got a purple heart and came back to protest the very war which he had fought because he believe it was so important for that war to end. And he said with his voice trembling, (1:04:14) and the room utterly silent, that for him the this deal was about no more war. 
You could hear a pin drop. And then with tears in many of our eyes, everybody, including the Iranians, applauded. Now, maybe there was something surreal about that and maybe it was just in the moment. But it sort of spoke to we actually can find our way through years of negotiations to a breakthrough but it takes staggeringly hard work and one can get these very very very difficult things done. 
Lewis: It’s fair to say the Americans believed they had prevented another war - like Iraq or Vietnam where young people died needlessly. It’s hard to know what Ali Salehi [might have] felt in this moment. We asked for an interview, but didn’t get a response. I imagine he was thinking about the portraits of those assassinated nuclear scientists on his office wall. 
RICHARD: What do you want to be known for, after you die? Your most important achievement? 
SALEHI: What do I want to be known for? I want to be known as a person who did good for mankind…. that’s all.
10 
RICHARD: Do you think this agreement— Nuclear agreement— will be remembered that way? 
SALEHI: This is one small step toward that goal. Whatever I can do for mankind, whether that’s my people, the people of the region, the people of the international community, it doesn’t matter. I look at it as— humans. 
OUTRO 
OBAMA: Today after 2 years of negotiations, the US along together with our International partners has achieved something that decades of animosity has not. A comprehensive deal with iran that will prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon. This deal demonstrates that American diplomacy can bring about meaningful change. 
Lewis: On the same day the P5+1 signed the deal in Vienna, Obama announced it from the White House. It immediately ignited a political firestorm. 
Chairman ROYCE. This hearing will come to order. Today, we continue our review of the nuclear agreement the Obama administration reached with Iran. [fade under: This is a critical hearing on one of the most sweeping diplomatic initiatives in years, some say decades, demanding the committee’s thorough review.] 
Lewis: A couple weeks later, Moniz and Kerry are pulled into a 6-hour testimony in front of the Republican-led congress. 
Secretary KERRY. Well, Chairman Royce, Ranking Member Engel, and all the members of the committee, thank you very, very much. We genuinely appreciate the opportunity to be here to, frankly, clear up a lot of misinterpretation, [fade under: some element of public distortion that exists out there.] 
Lewis: And throughout the hearing, Moniz and Kerry do their best to lay out the facts of the deal. Moniz even tries to explain some of the science. 
Secretary MONIZ. [Fade up: Well, first of all, technically on the half life,] the half life of the dominant uranium isotope is roughly the age of the Earth, which is why it still exists in the Earth. And that of uranium 235, [fade under: which is the isotope that you would want to enrich for a nuclear weapon, is somewhat shorter and therefore is more rare in nature.
Lewis: It’s a noble effort, but I’m not sure any members of Congress walked away with an understanding of isotopic half-lives. For a lot of Republicans— even some Democrats—in
11 
Congress, none of the explanations mattered anyway. The debate became about something else: do you trust Iran? Do you trust Obama? 
Mr. CHABOT: Why should the American people trust the administration now on this deal? 
Secretary KERRY. We are not asking them to trust. We are asking them to read the deal and look at the components. Nothing in this deal is based on trust. 
Mr. SALMON. Iran is not a normal country. In fact, Iran is a terrorist state under heavy international sanctions. It neither is the moral nor the geopolitical equal of the United States or our negotiating partners, and I think we have to stop treating it like one. 
Secretary KERRY: But can I just say something? You know, we hear these complaints. We hear, well, this agreement doesn’t do this, it doesn’t stop their terror, this agreement is going to give them some money, this agreement is going to do this. What this agreement is supposed to do is stop them from having a nuclear weapon. Now, I want to hear somebody tell me how they are going to do that—— 
[music] 
Lewis: Not everyone wants the crisis to end. Solving the nuclear crisis means that sanctions come off Iran 
Mr. MARINO. I am going to show you right now how that is going—— 
Secretary KERRY. President George Bush—— 
Mr. MARINO [continuing]. To happen, Mr. Secretary. You have answered my question. I am going to show you how that is going to happen. I am going to take Secretary Lew’s words. The sanctions have crippled Iran. If we ratchet them up and get our allies to ratchet those sanctions up, you can bring Iran to its knees, where it cannot financially function. That is how to do it, because it—— 
Secretary KERRY. Congressman, let me—— 
Mr. MARINO [continuing]. Is proved that it has been done. 
Lewis: And, the deal means that the US isn’t actively trying to overthrow the Iranian government. 
Mr. POE. We want to push back. We want them to stop their naughty ways. But regime change—I mean, I personally think the best hope for the world for safety, including in
12 
Iran, is for the people of Iran to have free elections and to let the people of Iran really decide who their government should be in a free setting. [fade under on a moment of argument, partisan bickering] 
Lewis: The deal works — it prevents a war. And for a lot of people, that’s the problem. 
Lewis: Moniz, and John Kerry, and the rest— they are ready for this backlash. They expect it. That’s politics. At least in the US. But in the Middle East, its life and death. A government that assassinate scientists isn’t going to be impressed by Ernie and Ali’s clever solutions. They have other plans. They’re going to kill the deal. 
<< Netanyahu: Tonight we are gonna reveal new and conclusive proof. That Iran lied. Big Time.>> 
Lewis: That’s next, on The Deal. 
Lewis: The Deal is produced by me, Jeffrey Lewis along with Erin Davis, Mitchell Johnson and Juliette Luini and additional help from Ellie Barney, and editorial support from Julia Barton. Original score by Hannis Brown. 
Also a very special thanks to Richard Stone, for letting us use his audio recordings of his interviews with Ali Salehi. You can read his interview with Salehi, as well as his other reporting on the Iran deal, in Science Magazine. 
Special thanks to Jessica Varnum and the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey and Middlebury College.. Subscribe to The Deal on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts, and while you’re there you can rate and review the show. I’m Jeffrey Lewis. Thanks for listening.
 

Episode 2: The Backchannel

An Iranian volley is returned after 10 years.

Lewis: In the 1980’s there was this popular way of explaining just how much destructive potential exists in the world’s nuclear arsenals. It goes like this. I have a bucket [tap tap] and a bb. This bb, [plunk] is the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. This is the bomb that destroyed Nagasaki 3 days later. [plunk] Here’s a typical American nuclear weapon today. [4 plunks] And here is the explosive power of every single nuclear weapon that exists in the world today. [Rush of plunks that continues for 17 seconds] It is bizarre that we live with enough firepower to kill every person on earth and we don’t even think twice about. We spend billions of dollars a year in the US planning to fight a nuclear war on a moments notice. And we’re not alone. So do eight other countries: Russia, Britain, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan. Even North Korea. This is madness. We ought to be doing everything we can to empty this bucket. And under no circumstances should we allow anyone to fill it back up. That’s where Iran comes in. —beat— Lewis: This is THE DEAL: the story of the Iran Nuclear Deal. How it came together, how it fell apart, and what that means for the rest of us. You’re listening to Episode 1: The Revelation. — beat — Back in 2015, after a decade of painful negotiations, Iran finally agreed with the United States and five other countries to a deal. Basically, this deal restricted Iran’s nuclear energy program so that it could not be misused to make a bomb. The actual name of the agreement is the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. But most people know it now as The Iran Nuclear Deal. When the deal dropped, it was really big news to people like me. I’m a professor whose full time job is studying the bomb. I work at a place called the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies — proliferation is just a fancy word that means the spread of nuclear weapons. We study who is building the bomb and why? I saw the US invade Iraq in 2003 over nuclear weapons that didn’t exist and I watched North Korea join the nuclear club with a bang three years later. Frankly, I wasn’t all that hopeful that things would end peacefully with Iran. What seemed more likely was the US bombing Iran, Iran getting the bomb — or both. Archival Jeffrey: (1:11) I am sooo tired I got up at like 3:30 Guest: Yeah, this is like Christmas for you, you couldn’t stay asleep (fade under) This is me on my other podcast, Arms Control Wonk - reacting to the Iran deal back in 2015. Archival Jeffrey: I knew I knew what as gonna happen I would wake up in the middle of the night and i would know,.. The deal was proooobaby online and sure enough i picked up my little phone and (gleefully) there it was! Guest: Did you get the Russian leak or the official document (fade under) It was 3:30 in the morning, and I read all 150 pages on my cell phone Archival Jeffrey: Yeah, I had a, I had a three year old snuggled up next to me and i was reading it on the tiny phone. When I read it, I was impressed. The language of the agreement was thorough, specific, detailed. Guest: Yeah so what’d you think? Jeffrey: It’s an awfully good deal. It’s as good of a deal as I think I’ve seen. You know, i mean people who are not in the administration can always say, that if they were in the admin that they would have gotten a better deal, I mean that’s like the easiest thing in the world to say, but i think relative to other deals it’s pretty good. (fade under). — (include blip about scrolling in bed /w kid snuggled in) I thought it should be big news for everybody — after all, who wants another country build a nuclear bomb? Of course, like all big news the Iran deal quickly became a political issue. In the end, what you think about the deal depends on which cable news channel you watch. You either think it: OBAMA: “makes our country, and the world, safer and more secure” or you think, like this guy, that it’s TRUMP: A horrible, one sided deal that should have never, ever been made. ACT I Lewis: I actually know the person who kind of started the nuclear crisis with Iran. She’s my friend. > Lewis: This is Corey Hinderstein. Nonproliferation experts spend a lot of time looking at pictures taken from space. And the person who first taught me how to do it? That was Corey. She’s a kind of like a professional big-sister to me, introducing me to all the cool stuff. We met in the mid 2000’s in the most mid-2000’s way ever: Corey would comment on my blog. She used a pseudonym. > Lewis: That’s totally her. She definitely is the person who sits in the front row and raises her hand. Like me, Corey was a 1980’s kid. Lewis: What do I remember about the 1980s? The Cold War and 3 channels on TV. > > Long beep > > > Lewis: Those alerts? They seem quaint now because we didn’t get nuked. But we were really scared. The threat of a bomb falling on your town… is the kind of thing that really leaves a mark on a kid’s psyche. [that leaves a mark] > Twenty years later, it’s 2002. Corey is now a nuclear weapons expert sitting in the audience of a press conference at the Willard Hotel in Washington DC. Clicking cameras > There’s a video of the event, that’s because C-SPAN was there. Podium, potted ferns, and a handful of reporters and researchers with notepads and coffee. No surprise: Corey is in the front. Lewis: The whole scene is pretty routine for Washington. There are lots of press conferences like this. Most of them don’t even generate much press! But this one, this would turn out to be different. > > Jafarzedeh is claiming to reveal two nuclear sites in Iran, one at a place called Natanz. It’s not unusual for dissidents to make things up about the governments that they want to overthrow. In this case, he has a little bit to work with, Iran really does have a nuclear energy program. And here we need to leave the press conference for a moment…we need a little background. >It immediately created for itself a number of enemies. This meant that Iran’s nuclear program also suffered because they ceased to provide it with fuel and ceased to help it out. (12:33). Eventually the nuclear power program started up again in the 1990s with help from Russia. But by 2002, the plant still isn’t finished. In 2002, Iran’s nuclear energy program is going nowhere, fast.” > “These are the two nuclear sites that the regime has established” Lewis: People like Jafarzedeh are spreading rumors that Iran wants more than just energy, but they don’t have any concrete evidence. So, sitting at that press conference, Corey isn’t buying it. > > > Lewis: This distinction is maybe a little boring, but it matters. “Fuel fabrication” and enriching uranium” mean two different things to a nuclear expert. What Jafarzideh is saying is that Iran is building a factory in Natanz that will make metal rods filled with uranium. This is the typical fuel for a nuclear power plant. Lots of countries have nuclear power plants and make their own fuel rods. And the fuel rods themselves aren’t dangerous, unless you drop one on your foot. They weigh about 1,000 pounds… Anyway, what Corey hears Jafarzedah say Iran is stepping up its nuclear energy program, So, Corey is sitting there wondering, why is he telling us this? Who cares? Any nuclear energy plant will eventually be monitored by international inspectors. Her impression is that dissidents are just trying to turn nothing into something. Hyping a threat that doesn’t exist. But… there is one thing. > It is Corey’s job is to study nuclear programs around the world. And she has never heard of Natanz. So she walks over to Jafarzedah and gives him her business card. She wants to see it for herself. > ACT II Lewis: So Corey wants to see Natanz for herself, but she can’t just hop on a plane and ask a taxi driver to take her to the “secret nuclear plant in the desert.” She doesn’t even know where it is, exactly. > > Lewis: Step one: figure out where Natanz is, like on a map. It’s 2002, Google Earth does not exist. The closest thing available to Corey is the library — in her case the Library of Congress. Corey’s first stop is the map and geography library, which is down in the basement of the Madison building. The process back then is: > Jane’s Addiction music I imagine Corey spending that hour, sitting there, waiting and waiting, scrolling through her brick-sized iPod. Rocking out to Jane’s Addiction… > > Lewis: She’s right. By 2002, Jane’s Addiction has already broken up once and reunited. > Eventually, the librarian comes back. > Lewis: oh yeah, one more thing. > Lewis: With the help of an interpreter, Corey finds Natanz. Actually, she finds a couple of places called Natanz. Now she has to figure out which one is the right one. She goes back to her office, boots up her computer, and starts comparing the places she found called Natanz with a catalogue of satellite images. > > Lewis: This thing at Natanz is massive. It is a giant hole in the ground — fifty thousand square meters, or about the size of 10 football fields. And there is another one sitting right next to it. Lewis: I do this kind of sleuthing a lot and I have to tell you — when you’re expecting a secret nuclear bomb factory and it turns out to be a chicken farm, that sucks. But when you find something big, it is the best feeling in the world — knowing something that almost no one else does, knowing a secret that will soon be huge news, but, just for a moment, its all yours. > Lewis: The guy at the press conference who wants to overthrow the Iranian government? He is on to way more than he realizes. What kind of factory needs to be the size of 10 football fields then buried underground? It’s not a plant to make fuel rods. Then, Corey remembers another little detail. She’s been to a couple of these press conferences, and at one, Jafarzadeh uses an unusual word: > Lewis: Clearly, he’s not talking about the kind of ladder you stand on to change a light bulb. Corey is racking her brain, and then it hits her. > Lewis: When you hear the word cascade, maybe you think about a waterfall, shrouded in mist with maybe some birds flying around, like some kind of tv commercial for shampoo. Me? When I hear the word cascade, I think about metal tubes, standing on end. Thousands of them, connected by pipes. I’ve got a weird gig, I know. Those metal tubes are called centrifuges. And they are a crucial step between the uranium found in nature, which is totally harmless, and the uranium that has been processed so that it can be used in a nuclear reactor, or in a bomb. Most of the uranium found in nature can not sustain a chain reaction. To make a bomb, or to make fuel for a nuclear power plant, you have to separate the tiny amount of fissile uranium that will. The concentration of that good stuff, uranium-235, is less than one percent of uranium found in nature. To make a bomb, it needs to be 90 percent. In other words, the uranium has to be enriched. Corey compares it to making coffee: > Lewis: That’s where centrifuges come in. You turn the uranium into a gas, put it in a centrifuge. And then spin the [bleep] out of it. It’s the same principle as a washing machine or salad spinner— spinning separates the heavy bits from the light bits. But a centrifuge, spins much, much faster than your washing machine. The centrifuges Iran was building do about sixty-three thousand (63,000) rpms. What that means is that the edge of the centrifuge is spinning at about the speed of sound. Each individual centrifuge only does a little bit of that work by itself. If Iran wants to make a bomb, what they need is a really big building with thousands of centrifuges, each connected by pipes so that uranium can, step by step, go from one machine to another. In our business, that’s called a cascade. Not a ladder. > Lewis: The guy who wants to overthrow the Iranian government? He has just revealed a secret site to enrich uranium — and he doesn’t even know it. Kind of makes you wonder how he found out, right? Like, who is feeding him this information that he doesn’t understand? And who is paying a company to take satellite pictures of this site? Corey is in the middle of something huge. ACT III > HINDERSTEIN: We believe that this is a uranium enrichment facility and could be a centrifuge facility. / And the important facility here is this sort of Z shaped structure.”>> Lewis: This is Corey on CNN. She’s sharing her images with the public. > Lewis: Making the decision to go public with the image is kind of a risk. Just as Corey suspects, another country already has the information and has already informed international inspectors. > Lewis: The IAEA is worried that going public with Corey’s pictures will embarrass Iran’s leaders who might just throw them out and build a bomb. Iran’s leaders are already pretty wary of the west. Everyone assumed that Iran’s nuclear program wasn’t going anywhere. But Corey’s discovery made them realize: Iran had another nuclear program. One they were hiding. > Lewis: That’s Dina Esfandiary again. She says it makes sense that Iran would do something like this in secret. > So, from Iran’s perspective— Other countries have nuclear energy programs. And, other countries have nuclear weapons. Countries that hate Iran. Lewis: And, it’s not like Americans trust Iran anymore than the Iranians trust us. In 2003, Iran was one of the countries George Bush listed as a member of the “Axis of Evil.” > Lewis: Republicans and Democrats don’t seem to agree about much, but one thing they can all get behind is hating Iran. > Lewis: Corey knows she is kicking a hornet’s nest by alerting the world that Iran might be secretly building a bomb. Because there is one other thing going on at the time. > Lewis: Corey discovers Iran’s secret nuclear facility just as the United States is gearing up to invade Iran’s neighbor, Iraq — for allegedly using centrifuges to enrich uranium. > OUTRO LEWIS: We know the US doesn’t invade Iran. George W. Bush is busy enough chasing after Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and toppling Saddam in Iraq. There just isn’t an appetite in the US for another military conflict. On the other hand no one wants to let Iran get a nuclear bomb either. That leaves one option, no matter how unlikely. The two sides are going to have to talk to each other. It will take them more than a decade. By that time, Jane’s Addiction will break up again and get back together. And then break up again. A couple of times, actually. But that’s another podcast. >>> In the next four episodes of this series,l we’ll hear from the people who made The Iran Nuclear Deal happen. People who neglected their families, lost teeth, examined stolen documents, and even used a novelty baby onesie as a negotiating tactic. We’ll talk about how the deal was undermined, and ultimately left in tatters and what that means for the rest of us. That’s all to come, on The Deal. > The Deal is produced by me, Jeffrey Lewis along with Erin Davis, Mitchell Johnson and Juliette Luini with help from Ellie Barney and Jessica Varnum. Editorial support from Julia Barton. Our original score by Hannis Brown. Special thanks to the Jessica Varnum and the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey and Middlebury College. Subscribe to The Deal on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts, and while you’re there you can rate and review the show. I’m Jeffrey Lewis. Thanks for listening.

Episode 1: The Revelation

In 2002, a young researcher follows a hunch that will change the course of history.

Lewis:  In the 1980’s there was this popular way of explaining just how much destructive potential exists in the world’s nuclear arsenals.

It goes like this. I have a bucket [tap tap] and a bb.

This bb, [plunk] is the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.


This is the bomb that destroyed Nagasaki 3 days later. [plunk]

Here’s a typical American nuclear weapon today.  [4 plunks]
 
And here is the explosive power of every single nuclear weapon that exists in the world today.

[Rush of plunks that continues for 17 seconds]

It is bizarre that we live with enough firepower to kill every person on earth and we don’t even think twice about. We spend billions of dollars a year in the US planning to fight a nuclear war on a moments notice. And we’re not alone. So do eight other countries: Russia, Britain, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan. Even North Korea.

This is madness. We ought to be doing everything we can to empty this bucket. And under no circumstances should we allow anyone to fill it back up.

That’s where Iran comes in.

—beat—

Lewis: This is THE DEAL: the story of the Iran Nuclear Deal. How it came together, how it fell apart, and what that means for the rest of us. You’re listening to Episode 1: The Revelation.

— beat —

Back in  2015, after a decade of painful negotiations, Iran finally agreed with the United States and five other countries to a deal. Basically, this deal restricted Iran’s nuclear energy program so that it could not be misused to make a bomb. The actual name of the agreement is the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. But most people know it now as The Iran Nuclear Deal.

When the deal dropped, it was really big news to people like me. I’m a professor whose full time job is studying the bomb.  I work at a place called the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies — proliferation is just a fancy word that means the spread of nuclear weapons.  We study who is building the bomb and why? 

I saw the US invade Iraq in 2003 over nuclear weapons that didn’t exist and I watched North Korea join the nuclear club with a bang three years later. Frankly, I wasn’t all that hopeful that things would end peacefully with Iran.  What seemed more likely was the US bombing Iran, Iran getting the bomb — or both.

Archival Jeffrey: (1:11) I am sooo tired I got up at like 3:30
Guest: Yeah, this is like Christmas for you, you couldn’t stay asleep (fade under)

This is me on my other podcast, Arms Control Wonk - reacting to the Iran deal back in 2015.

Archival Jeffrey: I knew I knew what as gonna happen I would wake up in the middle of the night and i would know,.. The deal was proooobaby online and sure enough i picked up my little phone and (gleefully) there it was!
Guest: Did you get the Russian leak or the official document (fade under)

It was 3:30 in the morning, and I read all 150 pages on my cell phone
                             
Archival Jeffrey: Yeah, I had a, I had a three year old snuggled up next to me and i was reading it on the tiny phone.
 
When I read it, I was impressed. The language of the agreement was thorough, specific, detailed.

Guest: Yeah so what’d you think? 
Jeffrey: It’s an awfully good deal. It’s as good of a deal as I think I’ve seen. You know, i mean people who are not in the administration can always say, that if they were in the admin that they would have gotten a better deal, I mean that’s like the easiest thing in the world to say, but i think relative to other deals it’s pretty good. (fade under). — (include blip about scrolling in bed /w kid snuggled in)

I thought it should be big news for everybody — after all, who wants another country build a nuclear bomb? 

Of course, like all big news the Iran deal quickly became a political issue. In the end, what you think about the deal depends on which cable news channel you watch. You either think it:

OBAMA: “makes our country, and the world, safer and more secure”

or you think, like this guy, that it’s

TRUMP: A horrible, one sided deal that should have never, ever been made.
                             

ACT I

Lewis:  I actually know the person who kind of started the nuclear crisis with Iran. She’s my friend.

<<Hinderstein: My job was to be a little bit of a detective.

I had progressed from an intern to a research assistant to a research analyst. And I really loved the work.

It was my first real job. >>

Lewis: This is Corey Hinderstein. Nonproliferation experts spend a lot of time looking at pictures taken from space. And the person who first taught me how to do it? That was Corey.  She’s a kind of like a professional big-sister to me, introducing me to all the cool stuff.

We met in the mid 2000’s in the most mid-2000’s way ever: Corey would comment on my blog. She used a pseudonym.

<< Hinderstein: …it was Lisa Simpson. A nickname I have earned and retained for many many years. // Everything from having played an awkward large brass instrument when I was in elementary school to being a little bit of an adult even when I was a child.>>   

Lewis:  That’s totally her.  She definitely is the person who sits in the front row and raises her hand. Like me, Corey was a 1980’s kid.

Lewis: What do I remember about the 1980s? The Cold War and 3 channels on TV.

            <<static>>

<<Hinderstein: And periodically they would break into the program>>

Long beep

<<Hinderstein: with this long beep tone.>>

<<Hinderstein: And they would say, we interrupt this program

<<Archival: We interrupt this program (overlap with Corey) a special report from NBC news>>

<<Hinderstein: “We interrupt this program with a special report with ABC, or NBC news.” And every single time that happened, I was convinced it was the beginning of nuclear war.

And when I started working on nuclear issues, I just found it fascinating and I felt inspired, and felt compelled to keep doing it.. And I really think it goes back to that fear.>>

Lewis: Those alerts? They seem quaint now because we didn’t get nuked. But we were really scared. The threat of a bomb falling on your town… is the kind of thing that really leaves a mark on a kid’s psyche. [that leaves a mark]

<<press conf ambi chatter >>

Twenty years later, it’s 2002. Corey is now a nuclear weapons expert sitting in the audience of a press conference at the Willard Hotel in Washington DC.

Clicking cameras

<<Jafarzadeh (fade in): good day ladies and gentlemen. (slow fade)>>

There’s a video of the event, that’s because C-SPAN was there.  Podium, potted ferns, and a handful of reporters and researchers with notepads and coffee. No surprise: Corey is in the front.

Lewis: The whole scene is pretty routine for Washington. There are lots of press conferences like this. Most of them don’t even generate much press! But this one, this would turn out to be different.

<<Jafarzadeh: What I am going to reveal today, is the result of extensive research by the Committee of Defense and Strategic Studies of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (fade under)…

Lewis: So this guy is called Alireza Jafarzadeh. He is a spokesperson for a group called the National Council of Resistance of Iran They want to overthrow the Iranian government.

 <<Jafarzadeh: (fade back in) Today I’m going to reveal to you two top secret sites of the Iran regime that they have succeeded to keep secret until today.>>

<<one of these top secret projects is in the city of natanz>>

Jafarzedeh is claiming to reveal two nuclear sites in Iran, one at a place called Natanz. It’s not unusual for dissidents to make things up about the governments that they want to overthrow.  In this case, he has a little bit to work with, Iran really does have a nuclear energy program. And here we need to leave the press conference for a moment…we need a little background.

<<Estfandiary: So the history of Iran’s nuclear program is a complicated one.

Lewis: This is Dina Esfandiary. She’s an expert on nuclear issues at the Century Foundation in New York.

<<Estfandiary: I am originally Iranian, so it was inevitable that I would get drawn into Iran’s political dramas.

Lewis:  Iran had been pursuing an on-again, off-again nuclear energy program since the late 1960s. The US provided a small nuclear reactor that is still in Tehran today. Eventually Iran started constructing a nuclear power plant with help from West Germany. Back then, Iran was ruled by the Shah, who was an American ally. When Islamic revolutionaries overthrew him in 1979, things changed.


<<Estfandiary: >>It immediately created for itself a number of enemies. This meant that Iran’s nuclear program also suffered because they ceased to provide it with fuel and ceased to help it out. (12:33).

Eventually the nuclear power program started up again in the 1990s with help from Russia. But by 2002, the plant still isn’t finished.  In 2002, Iran’s nuclear energy program is going nowhere, fast.”

                               <<bring back news conference archival ambi>>

                              “These are the two nuclear sites that the regime has established”

Lewis: People like Jafarzedeh are spreading rumors that Iran wants more than just energy, but they don’t have any concrete evidence. So, sitting at that press conference, Corey isn’t buying it.

<<Hinderstein: Well, I remember my first reaction being pretty skeptical of what they released.>>

<<Hinderstein: They said it was a fuel fabrication facility at Natanz.>>

<<Hinderstein: It would have been much more concerning given what we  were watching for many years if they were to be enriching uranium.>>

Lewis: This distinction is maybe a little boring, but it matters. “Fuel fabrication” and enriching uranium” mean two different things to a nuclear expert. What Jafarzideh is saying is that Iran is building a factory in Natanz that will make metal rods filled with uranium. This is the typical fuel for a nuclear power plant. Lots of countries have nuclear power plants and make their own fuel rods.  And the fuel rods themselves aren’t dangerous, unless you drop one on your foot. They weigh about 1,000 pounds…

Anyway, what Corey hears Jafarzedah say Iran is stepping up its nuclear energy program,  So, Corey is sitting there wondering, why is he telling us this? Who cares? Any nuclear energy plant will eventually be monitored by international inspectors.

Her impression is that dissidents are just trying to turn nothing into something. Hyping a threat that doesn’t exist. 

But… there is one thing.

<< “Natanz”>>

It is Corey’s job is to study nuclear programs around the world.  And she has never heard of Natanz. 

So she walks over to Jafarzedah and gives him her business card. She wants to see it for herself.

<<Hinderstein:  If this is out here, if it’s real and if it’s important, I wonder if I can find it.>>

ACT II 

Lewis: So Corey wants to see Natanz for herself, but she can’t just hop on a plane and ask a taxi driver to take her to the “secret nuclear plant in the desert.”  She doesn’t even know where it is, exactly.

<<Hinderstein: The first thing I did is take all the information from the press conference, and I tried to pull out anything I could that was related to a geographic location. And I compiled all of that into one place to say: what is all the information I have?

<<Jafarzadeh:  Now, its installation is located in old Kashan- Natanz Highway across a
village called Deh-Zireh located 40 kilometers or some 25 miles south east of Kashan.>>

<<Hinderstein: He named other towns. He named roads. He gave mile markers at this and at future press conferences.

<<Hinderstein: And then I had to find where is that in the world?>>

Lewis: Step one: figure out where Natanz is, like on a map. It’s 2002, Google Earth does not exist. The closest thing available to Corey is the library — in her case the Library of Congress.

Corey’s first stop is the map and geography library, which is down in the basement of the Madison building. The process back then is:

<<Hinderstein: look into the card catalogue and pick which maps I wanted to see. And hand that to a librarian and they went in the back. And I waited an hour, while they pulled those maps.>>

Jane’s Addiction music

I imagine Corey spending that hour, sitting there, waiting and waiting, scrolling through her brick-sized iPod. Rocking out to Jane’s Addiction…

<<JANE SAYS>>

<<Hinderstein: I would have died for Perry Farrell at the time. You know, this is all past that prime. But I was still listening to it.>>

Lewis: She’s right. By 2002, Jane’s Addiction has already broken up once and reunited.

<<Let’s rock out for a second>>

Eventually, the librarian comes back.

<<Hinderstein: They were these giant manilla folders basically that had multiple maps stacked in them. And then I tried to find where is that? Where is this town of Natanz, How far is 40 km?>>

Lewis: oh yeah, one more thing.

<<Hinderstein: Almost every single one of these maps was in Farsi.

<<Hinderstein:  So I hired a Farsi speaker to go with me. I paid him by the hour. He went with me to the map library. >>

Lewis:  With the help of an interpreter, Corey finds Natanz. Actually, she finds a couple of places called Natanz.  Now she has to figure out which one is the right one.

She goes back to her office, boots up her computer, and starts comparing the places she found called Natanz with a catalogue of satellite images.

<<Hinderstein: When you’re looking at something like the Statue of Liberty, there would have been a lot of pictures. But when you’re looking at a remote location in the desert of Iran it was pretty interesting that for the areas we wanted to look at there would be nothing nothing nothing and then, boom. There like one 16 km square area where there were 3 photos stacked on top of each other.

And I thought someone else is looking at this other than me. 

Lewis: This is a revelation.

In 2002, commercial satellite images are pretty expensive. Companies do NOT take pictures of random places.  That means someone else is already looking.
 
Corey fills out a form, faxes it to the company, then waits for them to mail her a CD with the picture.  It takes a couple of weeks.

<<Hinderstein: The day we got the images I was excited. I mean by that point I had spent countless hours in a basement looking at maps and talking to people trying to get there. So I was excited.>>

<<Hinderstein: The thing that jumped out at us about Natanz was this does not look like a fuel fabrication plant.

<<Hinderstein: Fuel fabrication is usually a metallic, dirty, industrial process. And one of the places we had been looking at a lot of imagery was North Korea. And North Korea had a fuel fabrication plant. I looked at that and I looked at Natanz and I said, “this doesn’t seem right.” >>

Lewis: This thing at Natanz is massive. It is a giant hole in the ground — fifty thousand square meters, or about the size of 10 football fields.  And there is another one sitting right next to it.

Lewis: I do this kind of sleuthing a lot and I have to tell you — when you’re expecting a secret nuclear bomb factory and it turns out to be a chicken farm, that sucks. But when you find something big, it is the best feeling in the world — knowing something that almost no one else does, knowing a secret that will soon be huge news, but, just for a moment, its all yours.

<<Hinderstein: They were building massive underground facilities that were approximately 50,000 square meters each. That immediately told me that this is something they want to both hide and protect, which means that it was something interesting and something nuclear.>>

Lewis: The guy at the press conference who wants to overthrow the Iranian government?  He is on to way more than he realizes.  What kind of factory needs to be the size of 10 football fields then buried underground?  It’s not a plant to make fuel rods.

Then, Corey remembers another little detail. She’s been to a couple of these press conferences, and at one, Jafarzadeh uses an unusual word:

<<Hinderstein: Ladders. That the facility contained ladders for uranium fuel production. And that was a word that jumped out at me because I didn’t know that word in any nuclear context.>>

Lewis: Clearly, he’s not talking about the kind of ladder you stand on to change a light bulb. Corey is racking her brain, and then it hits her.

            <<Hinderstein: Cascades >>

 Lewis: When you hear the word cascade, maybe you think about a waterfall, shrouded in mist with maybe some birds flying around, like some kind of tv commercial for shampoo.  Me?  When I hear the word cascade,  I think about metal tubes, standing on end. Thousands of them, connected by pipes.  I’ve got a weird gig, I know.

Those metal tubes are called centrifuges.  And they are a crucial step between the uranium found in nature, which is totally harmless, and the uranium that has been processed so that it can be used in a nuclear reactor, or in a bomb.

Most of the uranium found in nature can not sustain a chain reaction. To make a bomb, or to make fuel for a nuclear power plant, you have to separate the tiny amount of fissile uranium that will.  The concentration of that good stuff,  uranium-235, is less than one percent of uranium found  in nature. To make a bomb, it needs to be 90 percent.  In other words, the uranium has to be enriched. Corey compares it to making coffee:

<<Hinderstein: Low enriched uranium is like really weak coffee. If you think about your cup of coffee, how many coffee particles are there versus water. Weak coffee, you know, it may satisfy your craving but it’s not going to do much for you. Because those coffee particles are really going to give you the kick. But as you enrich uranium, you’re making the coffee stronger and stronger by basically removing the water, removing the less interesting part of the uranium. What you want to be left with is that really sludgy café cubano..>>

Lewis: That’s where centrifuges come in.  You turn the uranium into a gas, put it in a centrifuge. And then spin the [bleep] out of it.

It’s the same principle as a washing machine or salad spinner— spinning separates the heavy bits from the light bits.  But a centrifuge, spins much, much faster than your washing machine.  The centrifuges Iran was building do about sixty-three thousand (63,000) rpms.

What that means is that the edge of the centrifuge is spinning at about the speed of sound. 

Each individual centrifuge only does a little bit of that work by itself.  If Iran wants to make a bomb, what they need is a really big building with thousands of centrifuges, each connected by pipes so that uranium can, step by step, go from one machine to another. In our business, that’s called a cascade. Not a ladder.

<<Hinderstein: Like this is a word they use in Persian or in Farsi for some concept. And the only thing I could think of is maybe this is related to the concept of cascades where one thing leads to another. And that is something that related to  uranium enrichment.>>

 Lewis: The guy who wants to overthrow the Iranian government?  He has just revealed a secret site to enrich uranium — and he doesn’t even know it.  Kind of makes you wonder how he found out, right?  Like, who is feeding him this information that he doesn’t understand? And who is paying a company to take satellite pictures of this site?

Corey is in the middle of something huge.


 ACT III

<<David Ensor (CNN correspondent): Based on satellite photos like these, senior U.S. officials tell CNN they are convinced Iran is constructing large nuclear facilities which could be used to produce material for nuclear weapons.

Corey’s satellite images become part of the US government’s case that Iran is building a bomb.

U.S. officials tell CNN these commercial satellite photos, taken in September, show a nuclear facility near the town of Natanz
<< Ensor: The large facility at Natanz appears to U.S. intelligence officials to be a uranium enrichment plant. Outside experts agree..>>

HINDERSTEIN: We believe that this is a uranium enrichment facility and could be a centrifuge facility. / And the important facility here is this sort of Z shaped structure.”>>

Lewis: This is Corey on CNN. She’s sharing her images with the public.

<<Hinderstein: I was young and this was my first really big public splash.>>

Lewis: Making the decision to go public with the image is kind of a risk. Just as Corey suspects, another country already has the information and has already informed international inspectors.

<<Hinderstein: We took that information to the International Atomic Energy Agency

Lewis: That’s the IAEA — those are the inspectors that make sure countries aren’t building a bomb …

<<Hinderstein: … and we asked them, are you trying to see this facility? And at that time they told us quietly that they were.  …. And the IAEA  actually kind of begged us not to go public with this picture.>>

Lewis:  The IAEA is worried that going public with Corey’s pictures will embarrass Iran’s leaders who might just throw them out and build a bomb. Iran’s leaders are already pretty wary of the west.

Everyone assumed that Iran’s nuclear program wasn’t going anywhere. But Corey’s discovery made them realize: Iran had another nuclear program. One they were hiding.

<<Dina: Iran’s nuclear history is one that has been fraught with lies and countries changing their mind.>>

Lewis: That’s Dina Esfandiary again. She says it makes sense that Iran would do something like this in secret.

<<Esfandiary: One of the reasons why throughout its history Iran has withheld information about things like building plants is also because it didn’t trust the international community  It knew it had been treated as a pariah state after the Islamic Revolution in 1979. / Thats why Iran decided to build up its nuclear program itself.>>

So, from Iran’s perspective— Other countries have nuclear energy programs. And, other countries have nuclear weapons. Countries that hate Iran.

Lewis: And, it’s not like Americans trust Iran anymore than the Iranians trust us. In 2003, Iran was one of the countries George Bush listed as a member  of the “Axis of Evil.”

<<Bush 2003 State of the Union: States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil arming to threaten the peace of the world.>>

Lewis: Republicans and Democrats don’t seem to agree about much, but one thing they can all get behind is hating Iran.

<<Esfandiary: containing Iran has been an issue that U.S. Congress seems to agree on unlike everything else. >>

Lewis:  Corey knows she is kicking a hornet’s nest by alerting the world that Iran might be secretly building a bomb.  Because there is one other thing going on at the time.

<< BUSH: Sadaam Hussein has gone to elaborate lengths, spent enormous sums, and taken great risks to build and keep weapons of mass destruction. But why? The only possible use he could have for these weapons is to dominate, intimidate or attack.>>

Lewis: Corey discovers Iran’s secret nuclear facility just as the United States is gearing up to invade Iran’s neighbor, Iraq  — for allegedly using centrifuges to enrich uranium. 

<<Hinderstein: I remember there being conversations, only half joking, that the US having moved through Iraq like a hot knife through butter, which is what we thought they were doing at the time, that they should just keep going north and turn right.

Lewis: In case you don’t remember, these claims about Iraq are all false.  No yellow cake, no aluminum tubes, no WMD at all.  Saddam Hussein, in 2002, is definitely not building a bomb.   

Lewis: But Iran is.

Lewis: Corey hopes that publicizing the truth will put pressure on Iran to open up.  To let international inspectors have a look.  She also worries that it might backfire and start another war.

<<Hinderstein: Iraq is at the forefront of everybody’s mind. We are in Afghanistan. People are already worried about war. And so part of the concern with the Iran information once we revealed it is this another front in a war? Is this the next place that we are going?>>


OUTRO

LEWIS: We know the US doesn’t invade Iran.  George W. Bush is busy enough chasing after Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and toppling Saddam in Iraq. There just isn’t an appetite in the US for another military conflict.  On the other hand no one wants to let Iran get a nuclear bomb either.  That leaves one option, no matter how unlikely. 

The two sides are going to have to talk to each other.

It will take them more than a decade.

By that time, Jane’s Addiction will break up again and get back together. And then break up again. A couple of times, actually. But that’s another podcast.

<< music post>>>>

In the next four episodes of this series,l we’ll hear from the people who made The Iran Nuclear Deal happen. People who neglected their families, lost teeth, examined stolen documents, and even used a novelty baby onesie as a negotiating tactic. We’ll talk about how the deal was undermined, and ultimately left in tatters and what that means for the rest of us.

That’s all to come, on The Deal.

<<music>>

The Deal is produced by me, Jeffrey Lewis along with Erin Davis, Mitchell Johnson and Juliette Luini with help from Ellie Barney and Jessica Varnum. Editorial support from Julia Barton. Our original score by Hannis Brown.

Special thanks to the Jessica Varnum and the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey and Middlebury College.

Subscribe to The Deal on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts, and while you’re there you can rate and review the show.

 I’m Jeffrey Lewis. Thanks for listening.
 

The Deal: Coming Soon

In the 1980’s there was this popular way of explaining just how much destructive potential existed in the world’s nuclear arsenals.

It went like this. I have a bucket and a bb.

This bb [plunk] is the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.

This is the bomb that destroyed Nagasaki. [plunk]

Here’s a typical American nuclear weapon today. [4 plunks]
 
Here’s the explosive power of every nuclear weapon in the world.

[Rush of sounds for 17 seconds]

It is totally bizarre to live amidst enough firepower to kill every person on earth and not even think twice about.  We spend billions of dollars a year in the US planning and preparing to fight a nuclear war on a few moments notice. So do eight other countries: Russia, Britain, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and even North Korea.

We outta be doing everything we can to empty the bucket. And we certainly shouldn’t allow anyone to fill it back up

 That’s where Iran comes in.

I’m Jeffrey Lewis and I’m the host of The Deal: a podcast series about the Iran Nuclear Deal.

You’ll hear from the people who made The Iran Nuclear Deal happen. People who neglected their families, examined stolen documents, and even used a novelty baby onesie as a negotiating tactic. We’ll talk about how the deal was undermined, ultimately left in tatters and what that means for the rest of us.

Subscribe to The Deal now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Coming soon.
 

You can subscribe to The Deal at Apple PodcastsStitcher, or Spotify