The Obsessive Hunt for Iranian Nukes Comes up Empty

Much of the US government is determined to prove Iran guilty of nuclear weaponry. We've hidden sensors in their cities, watched them from space, and sent spies. And after all that, the New Yorker reports, we can't dig up proof.

The extent to which we've tried to confirm our fears of a nuclear bomb-chucking Iran is amazing, recounts the New Yorker's Seymour Hirsch: American spec ops agents have worked with Iranians to swap street signs in Tehran with nuke-sniffing replacements. Sensor-embedded bricks were secretly stuck into two buildings to check for rising radiation levels. Truck-tracking devices were disguised as roadside boulders to measure the weight of vehicles, potentially carrying dirt from a nuke construction site.

And yet, nadda. After almost a decade of hunting for a hostile Iranian nuclear program, we've got nothing. Multiple National Intelligence Estimates (N.I.E.s), the summary of the nation's top intel, have stated a profound absence of evidence. The best anyone's been able to say is that we can't be sure Iran won't build the bomb at some point. But you could say that about literally every single country in the world. Even Micronesia.

Hirsch concludes with a lament from Mohamed ElBaradei, Nobel Peace Price winner and former director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (which has spent considerable time monitoring Iran's nuclear intentions. "The core issue is a mutual lack of trust," he says. And no amount of high-tech hunting will ever be able to ameliorate that. [The New Yorker, Photo: Getty/Majid Saeedi]