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Biden: 'Nothing Off the Table' After Iran D.C. Terror Plot
PHOTO: Vice President Joe Biden said today on "Good Morning America" that no option was "off the table" when responding to the alleged Iran-linked D.C. assassination plot.
Vice President Joe Biden said today on "Good Morning America" that no option was "off the table" when responding to the alleged Iran-linked D.C. assassination plot. (ABC News)
By BRIAN ROSS (@brianross) , RICHARD ESPOSITO, CINDY GALLI and LEE FERRAN
Oct. 12, 2011
Vice President Joe Biden said today that "nothing has been taken off the table" when it comes to the U.S. response to an alleged plot by Iran to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the U.S. and unleash deadly terrorist bombings in Washington, D.C.
"It is an outrageous act that the Iranians are going to have to be held accountable," Biden told ABC News' "Good Morning America". "This is really over the top."
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced Tuesday the DEA and FBI had disrupted a plot "conceived, sponsored and... directed from Iran" to murder the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the U.S. in or outside a crowded Washington, D.C. restaurant which potentially would have been followed up by bombings of the Saudi Arabian and Israeli embassies. The U.S. said an Iranian-American, 56-year-old Manssor Arbabsiar of Corpus Christi, Texas, was working for elements of the Iranian government when he attempted to hire hitmen from the feared Zetas Mexican drug cartel to carry out the hit, but Arbabsiar was unwittingly speaking to a DEA informant from the start.
READ: U.S. Complaint in Alleged Iran-Directed Terror Plot (PDF)
Senior Obama administration officials had previous told ABC News the U.S. response would not include the possibility of an armed conflict with Iran and -- though a complaint filed in federal court directly tied Iran's elite Quds military unit to the plot -- there was no information that Iran's top leaders were aware or had any role.
Biden said the U.S. was in the process of "uniting world opinion" against Iran as it goes forward with a response. The U.S. Treasury Department announced Tuesday sanctions against five Iranians allegedly tied to the plot.
READ: U.S. Will Not Respond Militarily to Iran Over Assassination Plot
A lawyer for Arbabsiar has not returned requests for comment, but the man's wife, Martha Guerrero, said he was wrongly accused.
"I may not be living with him being separated, but I cannot for the life of me think that he would be capable of doing that," she told ABC News' Austin affiliate KVUE, noting the two had been separated some time. "He was at the wrong place at the wrong time. I'm sure of that."
Iranian officials have strongly rejected the U.S. accusations, calling them a "fabrication." The head of the Iranian mission to the United Nations penned a letter Tuesday to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressing "outrage" at the allegations.
"The U.S. allegation is, obviously, a politically-motivated move and a showcase of its long-standing animosity towards the Iranian nation," the letter says. "The Islamic Republic of Iran categorically and in the strongest terms condemns this shameful allegation by the United States authorities and deplores it as a well-thought evil plot in line with their anti-Iranian policy to divert attention from the current economic and social problems at home and the popular revolutions and protests against United States long supported dictatorial regimes abroad."
Alleged Terror Plotter Claims He Was 'Directed By High-Ranking' Iranian Officials
The new case, called Operation Red Coalition, began in May when Arbabsiar unwittingly approached a DEA informant seeking the help of a Mexican drug cartel to assassinate the Saudi ambassador, according to counter-terrorism officials.
Arbabsiar reportedly claimed he was being "directed by high-ranking members of the Iranian government," including a cousin who was "a member of the Iranian army but did not wear a uniform," according to a person briefed on the details of the case.
Arbabsiar and a second man, Gohlam Shakuri, an Iranian official, were named in a five-count criminal complaint filed Tuesday afternoon in federal court in New York. They were charged with conspiracy to kill a foreign official and conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, a bomb, among other counts. Shakuri is still at large in Iran, Holder said.
Holder identified Shakuri as an Iran-based member of the Quds force.
Arbabsiar, a naturalized U.S. citizen, expressed "utter disregard for collateral damage" in the planned bomb attacks in Washington, according to officials.
The complaint describes a conversation in which Arbabsiar was allegedly directing the informant to kill the Saudi ambassador and said the assassination could take place at a restaurant. When the informant feigned concern about Americans who also eat at the restaurant, Arbabsiar said he preferred if bystanders weren't killed but, "Sometimes, you know, you have no choice, is that right?"
U.S. officials said Arbabsiar met twice in July with the DEA informant in the northern Mexico city of Reynosa, across the border from McAllen, Texas, and negotiated a $1.5 million payment for the assassination of the Saudi ambassador. As a down payment, officials said Arbabsiar wired two payments of $49,960 on Aug. 1 and Aug. 9 to an FBI undercover bank account after he had returned to Iran.
Officials said Arbabsiar flew from Iran through Frankfurt, Germany, to Mexico City Sept. 29 for a final planning session, but was refused entry to Mexico and later put on a plane to New York, where he was arrested.
Officials said Arbabsiar is now cooperating with prosecutors and federal agents in New York, where the case has been transferred.
"Though it reads like the pages of a Hollywood script, the impact would've been very real and many lives would've been lost," FBI Director Robert Mueller said of the foiled plot.
Iran D.C. Plot: Vice President Joe Biden Says 'Nothing Off the Table' - ABC News
Ofcom, British version of censorship
Wed Oct 12, 2011 4:35PM GMT
British media regulator, Office of Communications (Ofcom)
The UK Office of Communications (Ofcom) has succumbed to the British royal family's demands to ban Press TV activities despite the Iranian news network's compliance with the law.
The British media regulator has reportedly decided to remove the channel from the SKY platform. The move is considered to be an abuse of the UK media law and the result of mounting pressure on the organization by certain members of the royal family and government.
While being powerless to scrutinize the law compliance of such state-manipulated channels as the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Ofcom issued a verdict on May 23, 2011 that Press TV has breached its rules by airing a 10 second extract from an interview with Iranian-born Canadian Journalist Maziar Bahari while he was still in detention in an Iranian prison.
Bahari claimed in the interview that he had been lured into giving a Press TV interview in 2009 with the promise of release from jail on condition that he would "condemn Western media" and that his alternative option would be to wait six years in jail for his actual trial, after which he might face execution.
Despite cogent explanations provided by the Iranian news outlet that it "neither asked Mr. Bahari to condemn Western media, nor did Press TV broadcast any footage of Mr. Bahari doing so," the British media watchdog has since sought desperately to levy statutory sanctions against Press TV for what it calls "breaching Ofcom's Broadcasting Code."
The new decision to proscribe Press TV activities in London comes as the animus of the British government against Press TV has sharply grown in recent months. Wikileaks documents have demonstrated how the British Foreign Office has told the US Embassy in London that it is "exploring ways to limit the operations of … Press TV."
As an alternative international media outlet, Press TV took pains to break the mainstream media's total silence on the violations of international law and human rights committed by the UK government at home and abroad.
A telling example of these violations is the British government's violent crackdown on peaceful student protests in November 2010 against massive cuts to spending on higher education as well as on the huge social protests which broke out in cities across Britain in early August 2011.
On the international level, Press TV highlighted the UK government's measure to sell a considerable quantity of arms to autocratic Arab states in the Middle East and North Africa such as Bahrain, Libya and many other despotic regimes in the region, in order to help them crush the pro-democracy protests there. The British government also sanctioned the sale of a number of crowd control products to the Bahraini regime including CS hand grenades, demolition charges, smoke canisters and thunder-flashes.
With some 3.5 million UK children living in poverty, many Britons have been feeling "voiceless" and despicably unrepresented by the state-regulated media outlets, which prefer to pay lip-service to the royals and their star-studded wedding entourage wallowing in the luxurious comfort of their public-funded mansions unmindful of the plight of the common man down the street.
A quick glance at the senior decision makers at Ofcom reveals that the regulator is mostly made up of former Channel 4 and BBC executives, some of whom are well-linked to and influenced by powerful pro-Israeli politicians and US sympathizers.
Colette Bowe, the 63-year old Ofcom chairperson, is reportedly paid 200,000£ a year to coordinate the body's different committees. Bowe enjoyed the exclusive support of Peter Mandelson, the main economic planner of the Labor party under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and a Jewish politician with an obvious Zionist mindset.
Millie Banerjee, who was reappointed to the Board of Ofcom in October 2007 after serving for a five-year term, held a non-executive post in Channel 4 between 2000 and 2002.
Tim Gardam, who was appointed to the Ofcom board on January 1, 2008, is a broadcasting sector veteran with a 25-year career that began at the BBC.
Gardam is currently a member of Content Board and chair of Ofcom's Nations Committee, while serving on its Nominations and Remuneration Committee.
On October 5, Peter Horrocks, BBC's head of global services, urged the UK government to take action against Iran for what he alleged to be the suppression of "free media" by the Iranian authorities.
On September 20, Iran's Intelligence Ministry Heidar Moslehi announced the arrest of members of an illegal network charged with feeding the UK information under the guise of working for the state-run BBC.
According to an Iranian Intelligence Ministry statement, the members of the network provided the BBC with propaganda subjects to be exploited in psychological warfare by the enemies of Iranian nation.
PressTV - Ofcom, British version of censorship
Iranian terror ‘plot’: is it just a pretext for war?
Saudi ambassador to the US Adel al-Jubeir
War with the US is of no interest to Iran - so who invented this absurd plot?
LAST UPDATED 10:03 AM,
OCTOBER 13, 2011
EVEN by the forgiving standards of American credulity, the supposed Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the US is spectacularly ludicrous. That doesn't mean it isn't a sinister harbinger of a new crisis, possibly war.
Why would Iran want to kill the Saudi envoy - not the colourful and influential Prince Bandar who used to hold the job, but the mild-mannered functionary, Adel al-Jubeir (above)? To kill any ambassador - particularly a Saudi ambassador - is to invite lethal retaliation, even war. Iran doesn't want war with the US.
Manssor J. Arbabsiar, an Iranian-American used car salesman from Corpus Christi, Texas, has been indicted as the chief conspirator working for Iranian intelligence. He is charged with promising to pay $1.5 million to Los Zetas - one of the Mexican drug cartels - to kill the Saudi ambassador at a restaurant in Washington.
The FBI claims that Arbabsiar told the Drug Enforcement Agency's informant - posing as a high-ranking member of Los Zetas - that it would be "no big deal" if many others died at the restaurant, possibly including United States senators. He also proposed bombing the Israeli embassy.
If even one US senator died in a terrorist bombing in Washington, if anything larger than a firecracker detonated outside the Israeli embassy, US bombers would be raining high explosive on Iranian targets within 24 hours. Why would Iran want to invite such a response?
The supposed plot is wreathed in incidental grandiose absurdities: a side deal between the Quds Force, part of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), and Los Zetas to smuggle vast shipments of opium from the Middle East to Mexico, and plans to bomb the Saudi and Israeli Embassies in Argentina.
To repeat: Iran doesn't want war with the US. Quite the reverse. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently tried to refloat the Tehran Research Reactor nuclear fuel swap. He proposed that Iran suspend production of some uranium-enrichment activities in exchange for fuel supplies from the United States. On 29 September the International Herald Tribune ran an oped piece saying the proposal was well worth consideration by the US government. All such hopes of a warming in relations have now been snuffed out.
There are two powers in the Middle East that most certainly do want war, or a deepening rift between the US and Iran - namely Saudi Arabia and Israel.
Iranian intelligence is famously efficient at hiding its tracks. Though many believe that it was the Iranians who blew up PanAm flight 103 in 1988 - in retaliation for the downing of an Iranian civilian airliner by the US Navy ship, the Vincennes - no convincing trail has ever come to light. Yet it is supposedly Iranian intelligence that wired $100,000 to the used car salesman, using a known Quds bank account.
If the bid was a false flag operation mounted by the Saudis or Israelis, an open transfer of money would be one obvious tactic.
The US has made swift use of dubious "plots" in the not-so-distant past. In 1981 it flourished charges of a Libyan "hit squad" entering the US through the border tunnel between the Canadian town of Windsor to Detroit, with a plan to assassinate newly elected President Ronald Reagan. No evidence was ever offered for this accusation but it kindled animosities that culminated five years later with the US raid on Tripoli, aiming to assassinate Col Gaddafi in his compound.
In April 1993, former president G.H.W. Bush was visiting Kuwait to commemorate the victory over Saddam in the Gulf War. Detection by the Kuwaitis of a plot to kill him with a car bomb was announced. The FBI duly declared that the wiring of the bomb indicated that the bomb-makers belonged to Iraqi intelligence.
In June 1993 Madeleine Albright, US ambassador to the UN, denounced the plot in the Security Council and a day later President Clinton ordered the firing of 23 Tomahawk cruise missiles at the HQ of Iraqi intelligence in Baghdad. One of the missiles landed in a Baghdad suburb and killed Layla al-Attar, one of Iraq's leading artists. This set the tone for relations during the Clinton years.
There have also been some spectacular cases of gullibility on the part of supposedly seasoned US intelligence operatives and high military commanders.
A year ago General Petraeus and the US high command in Afghanistan placed great confidence in Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, allegedly a senior Taliban commander empowered to make peace proposals. The US negotiators and Afghan officials were initially suspicious of Mansour's credentials but their doubts soon melted. According to a New York Times report, "Several steps were taken to establish the man's real identity; after the first meeting, photos of him were shown to Taliban detainees who were believed to know Mr. Mansour. They signed off, the Afghan leader said."
It turned out that Mansour, given quite large sums of money by the Americans, was a freelance impostor. Please note that in the case of the Iranian plot, the FBI says that Manssor J. Arbabsiar correctly identified a known Quds Force officer from a photo array.
The question is why the US government should nail its colours so firmly to the mast of this purported Iranian assassination plot. On two other occasions the US made passionate commitments at the UN to concocted evidence - with both used as levers to launch wars.
The first was US Secretary of State Colin Powell's unveiling to the UN in February of 2003 of the infamous dossier of entirely bogus evidence that Iraq had a huge arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. The second was the allegation by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, in February of this year, that Gaddafi was committing crimes against humanity up to and including genocide against his own people - charges decisively refuted by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
Absurdity is not a decisive factor. Iran doesn't want war with the US. But how far will the US go in its response, led as it is by a weak president always glancing fearfully over his shoulder at the neo-cons and the war party?
Revealed: Fox's best man and his ties to Iran's opposition
An IoS Investigation: The murky world of Adam Werritty: Self-styled adviser 'had links to Mossad'.
By Jane Merrick and James Hanning
Sunday, 16 October 2011
Liam Fox on his wedding day, with Adam Werritty, right
Adam Werritty, the man at the centre of the Liam Fox cash-for-access scandal, has been involved in an audacious plot to topple Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, it was claimed last night.
The self-styled adviser to Mr Fox, whose close personal friendship with the former defence secretary led to Mr Fox's downfall, has visited Iran on several occasions and met Iranian opposition groups in Washington and London over the past few years, The Independent on Sunday has learnt.
Mr Werritty, 33, has been debriefed by MI6 about his travels and is so highly regarded by the Israeli intelligence service Mossad – who thought he was Mr Fox's chief of staff – that he was able to arrange meetings at the highest levels of the Israeli government, multiple sources have told The IoS.
Mr Fox resigned on Friday after a stream of revelations surrounding his dealings with his adviser, centring on 18 meetings abroad at which Mr Werritty was present, including in Dubai, Sri Lanka and Israel, and 22 at the Ministry of Defence. After vowing to fight the disclosures a week ago, Mr Fox quit the Cabinet on Friday when details emerged of the business and intelligence interests of Mr Werritty's financial backers.
The minister admitted that he had allowed the distinction between his personal interests and government activities had become "blurred". But The IoS has learnt that Mr Werritty's travels went further than the luxury hotels of Colombo and Dubai: he has used his House of Commons-branded business card, which said he was Mr Fox's adviser, to pursue his business interests in conflict-torn South Sudan, other developing African countries and Iraq. The aide has also held talks in London with representatives of the new Libyan government in recent weeks. It is not known whether Mr Fox was present.
The fresh disclosures are likely to form part of Sir Gus O'Donnell's inquiry into Mr Fox and Mr Werritty, which was launched last week as the scandal unfolded. The revelation that the man who had unrestricted access to Mr Fox while he was serving in David Cameron's Cabinet was at the same time attempting to unseat the Iranian President will fuel alarm in the Foreign Office that he was pursuing a freelance foreign policy and acting as a "rogue operator".
At the height of the storm surrounding Mr Fox last week, "friends" of the MP tried to distance him from Mr Werritty by describing him as a "Walter Mitty" figure, to the fury of Mr Fox.
Yet the access to senior government figures Mr Werritty enjoyed across the globe suggests otherwise. Mr Werritty, said one source, worked closely with US-backed neocons who thought they could "bring down Ahmadinejad".
Even though such a plot would be highly ambitious, if not impossible, Mr Werritty's activities fly in the face of the British Government's efforts to pursue a diplomatic solution, through the UN, to Iran's nuclear ambitions.
Mr Werritty joined Mr Fox, while he was shadow defence secretary, on a visit to Iran in the summer of 2007. The IoS understands the adviser has also visited the country on several occasions before and after, although it is not known how long he stayed or whom he met.
Mr Fox is an enthusiastic Atlanticist and is sympathetic to the neocon movement in the United States, which takes a hawkish stance on Iran's nuclear ambitions, although on his 2007 visit to the country he said he hoped for a "diplomatic solution" to the issue. An associate said that Mr Werritty, who can speak some Farsi, would act as a "facilitator" and "take messages" between various opposition figures, although the source insisted he was not a "freelance spy". One diplomatic source suggested that Mr Werritty, once back in London, had been debriefed by MI6 about his travels to Iran. It is not known whether Mr Fox knew the full extent of Mr Werritty's activities, or whether he was merely allowed to continue, and provide information to the British Government on an unofficial basis.
This newspaper has made repeated attempts to contact Mr Werritty but has received no response.
One Whitehall source was scathing of Mr Werritty. The source said: "Ask yourself what he was doing there. It's regime change but only in his own mind. I can't think of anything more stupid, wandering round Iran flying the British flag. Does he really think the answer to Iran's nuclear ambitions – which we all want to resolve – is to have a bunch of people encouraging the opposition there in that way? We do have a responsibility to those people, and anything that's done like that has to have government approval, which he doesn't seem to have had. It's ridiculous. You are inviting people to believe you have the Government's resources behind them, and in fact the opposition is likely to be brutally crushed.
"That is not to say that if he came back to London and he offered to tell MI6 what he had seen while he was in Iran, they wouldn't say 'yes please'. But them picking up as much information as they can, and deniably, is quite different from him being licensed by them."
The IoS has learnt that one senior military figure in a developing country, which this newspaper is not naming to protect his identity, feels he was taken in by Mr Werritty. Last night Labour MP John Mann called on Scotland Yard to launch a fraud inquiry into Mr Werritty and his use of a business card falsely giving his position as an adviser to the former Defence Secretary.
In May 2009, Mr Werritty arranged a meeting in Portcullis House between Mr Fox and an Iranian lobbyist with close links to President Ahmadinejad's regime. In February this year, Mr Werritty arranged a dinner with Mr Fox, Britain's ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould, and senior political figures – understood to include Israeli intelligence agents – during an Israeli security conference in Herzliya, during which sanctions against Iran were discussed. Despite Mr Werritty having no official MoD capacity, an Israeli source said there was "no question" that Mr Werritty was regarded as anyone other than Mr Fox's chief of staff who was able to fix meetings at the highest levels, and was seen as an "expert on Iran".
The Foreign Office declined last night to comment on any aspect of Mr Werritty's activities .
Revealed: Fox's best man and his ties to Iran's opposition - UK Politics, UK - The Independent
'Saudi envoy plot suspect is MKO man'
Mon Oct 17, 2011 10:47PM GMT
This drawing shows Mansour Arbabsiar (second from right) in New York federal court.
Interpol has gained information about the second suspect in the alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States indicating that he is a key member of the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO).
A source told the Mehr news agency on Monday that Interpol has learned that Gholam-Hossein Shakouri, aka Ali Shakouri and Gholam Shakouri, the second suspect in the alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to Washington, is one of the senior members of the MKO, which is an anti-Iranian terrorist group.
Shakouri has travelled to numerous countries with many fake identity documents, including forged Iranian passports, and he was last seen in Washington and at Camp Ashraf, where MKO members are based, the source added.
One of the passports used by Shakouri was issued on November 30, 2006 in Washington with the number K10295631.
The MKO fled to Iraq in the 1980s, where it enjoyed the support of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and set up Camp Ashraf in the eastern province of Diyala, near the Iranian border.
Over 3,000 MKO members are currently residing at the camp. In addition, the group has sent elements to Iran on spying and terrorist missions.
The MKO is listed as a terrorist organization by much of the international community and has committed numerous terrorist acts against both Iranians and Iraqis.
Iran has repeatedly called on the Iraqi government to expel the group, but the US has been putting pressure on the Iraqi government to block the expulsion.
Earlier in the day, a senior Pakistani intelligence official said that the prime suspect in the alleged plot, Mansour Arbabsiar, who is also a cousin of Shakouri, had received forged identity documents from the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad.
On October 11, the US Justice Department accused Iran of plotting to assassinate Saudi Arabian Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir, with help from a man suspected of being a member of a Mexican drug cartel.
Tehran says the media hype created by Washington is an attempt to deflect international attention from the anti-corruption and anti-corporatism protests currently rocking the country.
Iran's envoy to the UN, Mohammad Khazaei, has filed a complaint against the US for what he called the “evil plot.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi has described the US accusation as an immature scenario and says US officials will ultimately be forced to apologize.
PressTV - 'Saudi envoy plot suspect is MKO man'
UK military steps up plans for Iran attack amid fresh nuclear fears
British officials consider contingency options to back up a possible US action as fears mount over Tehran's capability
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 2 November 2011 15.21 GMT
Two technicians in protective wear, alongside a box containig uranium ore concentrate, in Iran
Britain's armed forces are stepping up their contingency planning for potential military action against Iran amid mounting concern about Tehran's nuclear enrichment programme, the Guardian has learned.
The Ministry of Defence believes the US may decide to fast-forward plans for targeted missile strikes at some key Iranian facilities. British officials say that if Washington presses ahead it will seek, and receive, UK military help for any mission, despite some deep reservations within the coalition government.
In anticipation of a potential attack, British military planners are examining where best to deploy Royal Navy ships and submarines equipped with Tomahawk cruise missiles over the coming months as part of what would be an air and sea campaign.
They also believe the US would ask permission to launch attacks from Diego Garcia, the British Indian ocean territory, which the Americans have used previously for conflicts in the Middle East.
The Guardian has spoken to a number of Whitehall and defence officials over recent weeks who said Iran was once again becoming the focus of diplomatic concern after the revolution in Libya.
They made clear that Barack Obama, has no wish to embark on a new and provocative military venture before next November's presidential election.
But they warned the calculations could change because of mounting anxiety over intelligence gathered by western agencies, and the more belligerent posture that Iran appears to have been taking.
Hawks in the US are likely to seize on next week's report from the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is expected to provide fresh evidence of a possible nuclear weapons programme in Iran.
The Guardian has been told that the IAEA's bulletin could be "a game changer" which will provide unprecedented details of the research and experiments being undertaken by the regime.
One senior Whitehall official said Iran had proved "surprisingly resilient" in the face of sanctions, and sophisticated attempts by the west to cripple its nuclear enrichment programme had been less successful than first thought.
He said Iran appeared to be "newly aggressive, and we are not quite sure why", citing three recent assassination plots on foreign soil that the intelligence agencies say were coordinated by elements in Tehran.
In addition to that, officials now believe Iran has restored all the capability it lost in a sophisticated cyber-attack last year.The Stuxnet computer worm, thought to have been engineered by the Americans and Israelis, sabotaged many of the centrifuges the Iranians were using to enrich uranium.
Up to half of Iran's centrifuges were disabled by Stuxnet or were thought too unreliable to work, but diplomats believe this capability has now been recovered, and the IAEA believes it may even be increasing.
Ministers have also been told that the Iranians have been moving some more efficient centrifuges into the heavily-fortified military base dug beneath a mountain near the city of Qom.
The concern is that the centrifuges, which can be used to enrich uranium for use in weapons, are now so well protected within the site that missile strikes may not be able to reach them. The senior Whitehall source said the Iranians appeared to be shielding "material and capability" inside the base.
Another Whitehall official, with knowledge of Britain's military planning, said that within the next 12 months Iran may have hidden all the material it needs to continue a covert weapons programme inside fortified bunkers. He said this had necessitated the UK's planning being taken to a new level.
"Beyond [12 months], we couldn't be sure our missiles could reach them," the source said. "So the window is closing, and the UK needs to do some sensible forward planning. The US could do this on their own but they won't.
"So we need to anticipate being asked to contribute. We had thought this would wait until after the US election next year, but now we are not so sure.
"President Obama has a big decision to make in the coming months because he won't want to do anything just before an election."
Another source added there was "no acceleration towards military action by the US, but that could change". Next spring could be a key decision-making period, the source said. The MoD has a specific team considering the military options against Iran.
The Guardian has been told that planners expect any campaign to be predominantly waged from the air, with some naval involvement, using missiles such as the Tomahawks, which have a range of 800 miles (1,287 km). There are no plans for a ground invasion, but "a small number of special forces" may be needed on the ground, too.
The RAF could also provide air-to-air refuelling and some surveillance capability, should they be required. British officials say any assistance would be cosmetic: the US could act on its own but would prefer not to.
An MoD spokesman said: "The British government believes that a dual track strategy of pressure and engagement is the best approach to address the threat from Iran's nuclear programme and avoid regional conflict. We want a negotiated solution – but all options should be kept on the table."
The MoD says there are no hard and fast blueprints for conflict but insiders concede that preparations there and at the Foreign Office have been under way for some time.
One official said: "I think that it is fair to say that the MoD is constantly making plans for all manner of international situations. Some areas are of more concern than others. "It is not beyond the realms of possibility that people at the MoD are thinking about what we might do should something happen on Iran. It is quite likely that there will be people in the building who have thought about what we would do if commanders came to us and asked us if we could support the US. The context for that is straightforward contingency planning."
Washington has been warned by Israel against leaving any military action until it is too late.
Western intelligence agencies say Israel will demand that the US act if it believes its own military cannot launch successful attacks to stall Iran's nuclear programme. A source said the "Israelis want to believe that they can take this stuff out", and will continue to agitate for military action if Iran continues to play hide and seek.
It is estimated that Iran, which has consistently said it is interested only in developing a civilian nuclear energy programme, already has enough enriched uranium for between two and four nuclear weapons.
Experts believe it could be another two years before Tehran has a ballistic missile delivery system.
British officials admit to being perplexed by what they regard as Iran's new aggressiveness, saying that they have been shown convincing evidence that Iran was behind the murder of a Saudi diplomat in Karachi in May, as well as the audacious plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington, which was uncovered last month.
"There is a clear dotted line from Tehran to the plot in Washington," said one.
Earlier this year, the IAEA reported that it had evidence Tehran had conducted work on a highly sophisticated nuclear triggering technology that could only be used for setting off a nuclear device.
It also said it was "increasingly concerned about the possible existence in Iran of past or current undisclosed nuclear-related activities involving military-related organisations, including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile."
Last year, the UN security council imposed a fourth round of sanctions on Iran to try to deter Tehran from pursuing any nuclear ambitions.
At the weekend, the New York Times reported that the US was looking to build up its military presence in the region, with one eye on Iran.
According to the paper, the US is considering sending more naval warships to the area, and is seeking to expand military ties with the six countries in the Gulf Co-operation Council: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman.