Will the Iran deal usher in an era of nuclear terror attacks?

One cold winter day in Moscow in 2013, police burst into the home of a 35-year-old college professor, where they confiscated 14 kilograms of radioactive materials. When questioned, the professor claimed that he had acquired the materials at burial sites and planned to use them to irradiate a friend who desired to become immortal.


The incident, one among hundreds over the past few years, highlights a critical weakness in the nuclear nonproliferation regime: the inability of governments and international organizations to keep radioactive materials off the black market. In the case of the Moscow professor, the materials were never reported missing or stolen. Indeed, this is the case with about every serious nuclear trafficking incident that the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) has uncovered. The IAEA itself has concluded that it is likely that most black market nuclear materials remain in circulation.

Government authorities do have equipment to test for the radioactive materials, but these alarms are also triggered by a wide range of non-suspect items such as optical lenses or video screens with thorium, watches with radium, kitty litter that contains potassium, or natural uranium found in some ceramics. Traffickers can exploit these "innocent alarms" to test the detection capabilities of authorities along trade routes. It's a cat-and-mouse game in which the cat must procure expensive systems to catch mice. And in Eastern Europe and Asia, government authorities simply don't have the budget or governance in place to keep the mouse population in check.

Between 1993 and 2012, authorities confiscated 19.2 kilograms (kg) of highly enriched uranium (HEU) from traffickers. The IAEA estimates that terrorists or terrorist states need as little as 25 kg of HEU to develop an improvised nuclear device (IND) capable of destroying the heart of an average-sized U.S. city.

Thus, the main obstacle to the detonation of such a device is nuclear know-how.

This is precisely why Congress must be party to the contents of the secret agreements of the Iran nuclear deal. These secret agreements reveal what, if anything, Iran must disclose about its past weapons development and what access the IAEA will have to the military complex in Parchin where the Iranians are most likely developing the know-how to build nuclear devices, such as warheads or INDs.

Let's recall: The Obama administration submitted the text of the Iran nuclear deal on July 14 without disclosing the existence of secret side agreements. A few days later, Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonSenate Republicans: Newly proposed ATF rules could pave way for national gun registry Jon Stewart shows late-night conformity cabal how political comedy is done The Hill's Morning Report - After high-stakes Biden-Putin summit, what now? MORE (R-Ark.) and Rep. Mike PompeoMike PompeoWhite House denies pausing military aid package to Ukraine The Hill's Morning Report - ObamaCare here to stay The Hill's Morning Report - After high-stakes Biden-Putin summit, what now? MORE (R-Kan.) questioned the IAEA in Vienna about Parchin, and IAEA officials revealed that Parchin inspections are covered by the secret agreements made between the IAEA and Iran. The IAEA official explained that "No American is ever going to see them." On July 22, National Security Adviser Susan Rice conceded that these secret agreements do exist and that the administration would inform Congress about their contents. However, that same day, Secretary of State John Kerry could not recall if any U.S. negotiators had actually seen these agreements. On July 29, Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said that she had seen them, but on Aug. 5, she admitted that the documents were only a rough draft. Given that these agreements determine whether Iran will tell the world how close it is to creating nuclear warheads and improvised nuclear devises (IND), the Obama administration's handling of this issue is at best irresponsible. The U.S. president does have a duty to protect the American people.

The IAEA, for its part, has refused to show the final draft to our representatives in Congress.

And if you aren't already concerned about whether the IAEA is up to the task of monitoring Iran, then consider this: In the past 20 years, under the nose of the IAEA, India, Pakistan and North Korea have all openly tested nuclear weapons, and nuclear facilities have been discovered in Libya, Iran, Syria and Iraq (twice).

And that's not all: Since the 1970s, the vast A.Q. Khan network has spread nuclear know-how to Libya, Iran, North Korea and Pakistan. When the head of the network — Khan — was finally arrested in Pakistan in 2004, the Pakistani government promptly pardoned him. The IAEA never gained access to or debriefed the man. Few members of his network were arrested and those that were received slap-on-the-wrist prison sentences and are already all out of jail.

And, finally, by its own admission, the IAEA may not be up to this task. IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano, speaking at the Brookings Institution about monitoring Iran, stressed that "IAEA resources are limited, demand from member states for our services continues to grow and our budget is being squeezed." The organization's 2010 report on the Khan network recognized the limits of its current own technology, emphasizing that "the IAEA is fighting tomorrow's wars with yesterday's tools." Even proponents of the deal concede the Iran deal would require the IAEA to expand its mission, budget and capabilities.

And if you still believe that the IAEA, as it is today, and the Iranian nuclear deal, whatever that turns out to be, are capable of stopping Iran from acquiring the nuclear know-how to build nuclear warheads, then maybe you are just a generous person — like a boss that not only gives employees a second, third and fourth chance, but promotes that employee after four such failures.

But if you believe that the IAEA and the Iran deal will prevent Iran from building improvised nuclear devices and delivering them to targets around the world, then let me tell you a story about an emperor who hired a tailor to sew him the "best possible" clothes.

Friedman is an American-Israeli writer and editor in the fields of political science, history and information technology.