CIA Knew of 'Secret' Iran Facility: Panetta

Once agency was certain this spring, Obama kept info as leverage for talks
By Harry Kimball,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 8, 2009 11:20 AM CDT
A satellite image of the nuclear enrichment facility under construction inside a mountain located about 20 miles north northeast of Qum, Iran.   (AP Photo)
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(Newser) – The CIA knew about Iran's recently revealed uranium-enrichment facility and had been collecting intelligence on it since 2006. The US, the UK, and France had been on the lookout for a new secret plant since the 2002 revelation of the Natanz facility. When intelligence and covert operations uncovered a new project “built into a mountain,” CIA director Leon Panetta tells Time, “obviously that raised question marks.”

Panetta said he was briefed on the existence of the Qom facility when he started his current job, and “we spent the next months trying to get better intel about what was going on there.” In the spring the agency was able to “reach the high-confidence conclusion that this was a covert nuclear facility,” an official says. European allies urged immediate disclosure, but President Obama kept the info secret, planning to use it as leverage should Iran refuse to come to the table for nuclear talks.