Iran abhors chemical weapons. Iran is one of the few states to have suffered wide-scale chemical weapon (CW) use against its population, and has maintained a famously strong public stance against CWs since the chemical attacks against it by Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War. Iran is a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) – the main international treaty that prohibits production and use of chemical weapons, and monitors their research by states for defensive purposes – and a vigorous participant at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the international chemical weapons watchdog charged with monitoring state activities relevant to the CWC.

Iran has opposed efforts by the OPCW to investigate Syrian government chemical weapon attacks during the civil war there. And various nations have repeatedly voiced suspicions that Iran has been building dual-use capabilities to develop chemical weapons, based on procurements of red-flag items from abroad, and on other intelligence information. The United States Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in 2020 “Iran’s development of WMD is a threat to the security of it’s neighbours and the world”

Against that backdrop, it’s somewhat alarming to learn that Iran is one of the few states worldwide that are actively involved in synthesizing chemical agents, including VX (the substance used by North Korean assassins to kill the brother of Kim Jong-Un in Malaysia in 2017) and mustard gas. This work, which is detailed in various openly available research papers, is nominally conducted in order to assist the OPCW with building reference samples for use in the organization’s testing and monitoring work.

Even more alarmingly, since 2016, research papers have shown that the same group of scientists involved in Iran’s work on VX and mustard have branched out into the production of even more dangerous chemical agents, including those from the novichok class. Remember that name? Novichoks are a class of organophosphate nerve agents invented in secret by the Soviet Union decades ago. They are estimated to be more than five times as toxic as VX, and have been used with appalling effects on the human body as recently as 2018, when an innocent individual was killed in the United Kingdom after a failed assassination attempt.

Defence Chemical Research Laboratory (آزمایشگاه تحقیقات شیمی دفاعی or آزمایشگاه شیمی دفاعی, aka DCRL)

According to archived versions of the DCRL’s website, the DCRL provides chemical-related analytical and equipment testing and manufacturing services to Iran’s military. It’s also one of the OPCW’s global networks of validation laboratories, meaning that it is equipped and certified to produce and handle the most toxic nerve agents. The DCRL’s status as an official OPCW laboratory also means that the DRCL is subject to OPCW access and monitoring, so it’s not a clandestine facility by any stretch.

The DCRL’s location

Buried in OPCW reports, we found a more specific address for the DCRL: at the 27th kilometer of the Karaj Special Road, which leads out from Tehran’s western suburbs to the satellite city of Karaj.

That address rings alarm bells. It’s the well-known location of a notorious industrial complex owned by the Shahid Meisami Group (گروه شهید میثمی or مجتمع شهید میثمی). Not heard of them? You’ll probably not be surprised to learn that Shahid Meisami’s remit is almost exactly the same as DCRL’s: it’s a military-associated pharmaceutical and chemical facility involved in production of equipment for defence against chemical and biological weapons. And sometimes Shahid Meisami’s work is rather more than defensive: in 2019 the United States specifically called out the Shahid Meisami Group for producing munitions capable of dispersing debilitating chemicals.

What hasn’t been revealed until today is that Shahid Meisami is closely tied to SPND – and as recently as 2016, was actually a sub-group of SPND.

We’ve found patent documents buried in an Iranian corporate registry that show that in 2016, SPND attempted to register a logo for the Shahid Meisami Group. Brilliantly, the applicants also made sure that the Shahid Meisami logo also had the Farsi name of SPND on top – clearly denoting for us that Shahid Meisami was at that time a subsidiary of SPND.

Here’s the logo with our annotation. You’ll have to squint to read the Farsi text:

ifmat - SPND involved in research on Novichok chemical agents

There’s a vast web of connections between Shahid Meisami and SPND that you can find with a little more digging online. For example, Shahid Meisami’s CEO, Dr Ali Pour Asad (aka Ali Pourasad or علی پور اسد), is a director of several SPND front companies, according to business documents that we’ve found. And we’ve seen various other senior alumni of Shahid Meisami, like biotechnologist Dr Ali Gharibian (علی غریبیان), conducting business on behalf of SPND. With all of these connections, we’re confident that Shahid Meisami and its facility at the 27th kilometer of the Karaj Special Road is either part of SPND, or very closely affiliated with it.

Now back to the DCRL. Given that Shahid Meisami and the DCRL share a) an address and b) core functions – namely a key role in Iran’s “defensive” chemical weapon infrastructure – we’re suspect that the DCRL is actually also part of SPND.

Source » iranredline