A fact sheet that Omri Ceren at the Israel Project prepared details why the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action’s inspection and verification regime is unlikely to stop Iran from a nuclear breakout.
Last April - in the immediate days after the Lausanne framework was announced - Obama administration officials assured reporters that it was a good deal because the verification regime would include anytime/anywhere inspections. Then there were a range of hearings and forums held in early June - which was the lead-up to Vienna - at which IAEA veterans, nuclear experts, and top US intelligence officials confirmed that indeed anytime/anywhere access to suspicious sites was a minimum prerequisite to verifying a deal with Iran.
Then the Vienna talks began and it became clear that the administration would cave to Iranian intransigence on verification. White House validators started trying to convince reporters that technology could be a substitute for robust access.
Then the talks ended and it was confirmed that Iran will be allowed to block IAEA inspectors for 24 days at a time. The administration is doubling down on the technology talking point and making it mostly about "environmental sampling." White House communications staffers have begun using the phrase as their two-word answer to any questions about the collapse on inspections. Energy Secretary Moniz repeated it over and over again on last weekend's Sunday talk shows. White House validators got the hint and have begun invoking it as well yesterday. The argument is that the IAEA's technology is so good that - even though they have almost a month to destroy evidence - the Iranians could never "sanitize" a site so well that the IAEA couldn't detect nuclear activity.
There are a couple of reasons why that argument doesn't hold up.
(1) Diplomatic - Even if the IAEA could detect that “some” kind of nuclear activity had occurred in a sanitized site, the Iranians will have destroyed enough evidence to prevent the agency from determining “what” kind of activity occurred. The goal of verification is not just detection but detection to a sufficient degree that a diplomatic response can be justified. No country is going to be confident enough to blow up the deal without the IAEA being certain that significant cheating had occurred, and being able to explain what it was.
(2) Scientific - It's just not true. The IAEA's technology is not good enough. A month isn't enough time for the Iranians to dismantle a big site like Natanz, but that's not where they'll cheat. They'll cheat in smaller facilities that can be easily dismantled and scrubbed in a couple of weeks. Olli Heinonen, who is the former Deputy Director General of the IAEA, and who worked at the agency for 27 years, and who sat atop its verification shop as head of the Department of Safeguards, explained to reporters today that the Iranians could assemble all the parts they needed for a nuclear bomb in a building that's just 239 square yards. And unlike a facility like Natanz, small buildings can in fact be sanitized in 24 days:
Much of this equipment is very easy to move... So you can take it out over the night... and then there is this dispute settlement time which is 24 days - you will use that to sanitize the place, make new floors, new tiles on the wall, paint the ceiling and take out the ventilation... This [nuclear] equipment can be taken out in one or two nights. How long will it take for you to renovate your home? It doesn't take three weeks... Secretary Kerry has said if there is big installation, 24 days is enough... But there are certain activities where unfortunately in my view, it's not enough.
This isn't a theoretical debate. In 2003 the Iranians delayed access to the Kalaye Electric Company for two weeks and completely scrubbed it. They pulled the same trick with the Lashkar Abad laser uranium enrichment plant.
It's just not true that they can't dismantle a covert facility in 24 days, and even if it was true they could still dismantle enough to ensure that no country would be confident enough to call them out for cheating.