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What Did The Iranian Defectors Say?

The Los Angeles Times has a big story today on Iranian defectors. Here's the lede:

The CIA launched a secret program in 2005 designed to degrade Iran's nuclear weapons program by persuading key officials to defect, an effort that has prompted a "handful" of significant departures, current and former U.S. intelligence officials familiar with the operation say.

The previously undisclosed program, which CIA officials dubbed "the Brain Drain," is part of a major intelligence push against Iran ordered by the White House two years ago.

This would certainly explain the NIE's turnabout. This bit, later in the piece, didn't make sense, however:

In the two years since it was launched, the program has led to carefully orchestrated extractions of a small group of Iranian officials who operated in the mid- to upper tiers of the Islamic Republic's nuclear programs.

None of those who defected was considered essential to the nuclear program, nor were they able to provide comprehensive descriptions of Iran's efforts, officials said.

"Did they have replacements for these people? Any country would have," the former official involved in the operation said. "But we did slow the program"

Hmm, the defections happened in 2005. According to the NIE, and the article, Iran froze its nuclear program in 2003. How could defections in 2005 have slowed a program that was supposedly frozen? Theories welcome!

--Isaac Chotiner