NCRI: New SPND facility at Sanaye Street, Tehran

The NCRI has been at it again, outing a facility in Tehran that they say is the new headquarters of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh’s SPND (سپند) organisation. According to the NCRI’s Paris press conference, SPND’s relocation represents an Iranian attempt to frustrate international safeguards monitors:

“There is a link between this transfer and the date of Geneva (talks) because the regime needed to avoid the risk of visits by inspectors,” Mehdi Abrichamtchi, who compiled the report for the NCRI, told the conference.

For those who couldn’t make it to Paris to hear Mr Abrichamtchi in person, here’s the new SPND site in Tehran, near Sanaye Street (خیابان صنایع):

SPND_site

(That’s at 35.793037N 51.483580E, for the very interested.)

As Reuters correctly points out, the NCRI has a mixed record when it comes to disclosures about Iran’s clandestine nuclear activities, marked by a few triumphs (namely the Natanz and Arak facilities) and a few allegations that have been rather more askew. My take is that the NCRI tends to get the initial facts right, but the following analysis wrong – they’ll correctly disclose an interesting underground facility, person, or project, and then go amiss by making up a context or background that stretches the story a bit too far.

Bearing this in mind, I can believe that this Sanaye Street building actually is part of SPND. We know from past reports that SPND was established a couple of years ago, and that organisationally it has expanded substantially to encompass a number of additional MODAFL research entities and personnel. So it would make sense that Sanaye Street is the shiny new HQ to go with Mohsen Fakhrizadeh’s newly expanded empire. The well‑known Mojdeh Street (خیابان مژده) site – the old work location of SDAAT/SPND – has always been rather tight for space.

What I’m not so convinced of is the notion that SPND has actually up and left Mojdeh Street; that SPND is conducting lab work at Sanaye Street; or that the Sanaye Street move has anything to do with the Geneva talks. I suspect that as usual, the NCRI has the basic facts right and the analysis a bit wrong.

Let’s assume that this Sanaye Street building is an SPND facility. If SPND has taken on new importance in the MODAFL hierarchy, as the NCRI claims, the organisation might have expanded its Tehran real estate to encompass at least two major sites: Mojdeh Street, and now Sanaye Street. Mojdeh Street would be home to SPND’s lab-coated crowd and practical research work, and Sanaye Street home to the white‑collared personnel (and perhaps, now there’s a bit more room, Fakhrizadeh’s own personal bidet).

An organisational expansion by SPND makes for a much more interesting proposition than a simple relocation made under pressure. It leads to a series of questions – why has SPND expanded? Has its budget been bolstered? Does it have a new benefactor in Iran’s Ministry of Defence, or elsewhere in government? Has our old friend Hassan Mohseni (حسن محسنی) wangled more funds to pursue his increasingly off‑piste research schemes? These are the questions I’d like answered.

My thesis of the day: SPND has aspirations to muscle into more conventional research and development, far beyond its traditional nuclear weapon-related work on things like neutron generators, EBWs and hemispherical implosion tests. Their old weaponisation work veers dangerously close to the Supreme Leader’s red-lines on the nuclear program (probably even overstepping it); and certainly doesn’t pay the bills. SPND’s expansion into newer, bigger, prettier offices would support this thesis: the organisation could never become Iran’s version of DARPA while they were still working out of a glorified parking lot.

Still plenty to ponder, then. If anyone can afford some DigitalGlobe imagery of Sanaye Street over the past couple of years (hello ISIS!), I’d be very interested to see a breakdown of how the site has changed. Signatures of demolition or construction might give an indication of just when SPND moved into this site, and what its personnel might be doing inside. (If we see Segways, beanbags or foosball tables on the grounds, my DARPA thesis is pretty much proven.)

Also – who are the contractors for SPND’s big new office building? Is this another Iman Gostaran Mohit (ایمان گستران محیط) job? Or is the Fakhrizadeh family cashing in? More on that to follow…

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