That the Israelis went to such lengths to distance themselves from the laptop material raises several issues about the documents themselves. Israel had a long history of providing intelligence directly to the IAEA. I was present on several occasions when Israeli intelligence officers handed over intelligence on Iraq to IAEA inspectors in Vienna, and I ran an intelligence-sharing relationship between the U.N. and Israel that lasted four years. Israel also had an active intelligence-sharing relationship with many IAEA member states, including the United States, Germany and others. The need to disguise the source of the laptop material for operational security reasons is not believable in this regard.
If Israel had identified itself as the source of the information contained in the laptop, then questions would have arisen concerning the source and authenticity of the documents that Israel was not prepared or willing to answer. By using the MEK as a front for the documents, the Israelis avoided having to be held accountable for the inconvenient details and inconsistencies in the documents that eventually exposed them as forgeries, while at the same time being able to plant a seed of doubt within the IAEA that could be leveraged to the detriment of Iran. This was the sole purpose of the laptop documents -- to conduct an information operation against Iran.
The documents contained in the laptop played a central role in shaping the IAEA's so-called "possible military dimension" investigation that was used to push the Iranian nuclear issue out of the IAEA and into the U.N. Security Council, where economic sanctions could be brought into play. It was only in October 2015, after the IAEA and Iran consulted extensively about the information contained in these and other documents, that the issue was dropped.
Many of the key documents Netanyahu used in his presentation were familiar to former IAEA officials, including Olli Heinonen (who ran inspections in Iran and had been the point man on getting the laptop documents injected into the IAEA case against Iran). These documents were also familiar to American officials, including Thomas Countryman, the former State Department official responsible for international security and nonproliferation. Both Heinonen and Countryman link these documents to the document trove contained on the 2004 laptop, which contained demonstrable forgeries. Void of any forensic report on the size, shape, format, markings, signatures, paper and ink that comprise each individual document (the kind of details that exposed several of the laptop documents as crude forgeries), or a similarly detailed digital forensic report on the electronic media, there simply is no vouching for the authenticity of the documents in question. At best, the United States can say that these documents come from the same source that produced the forged documents that appeared on the 2004 laptop.
It is here that the logic underpinning Netanyahu's briefing collapses: Why would the Iranians maintain an archive of forged documents? Why would Netanyahu orchestrate a briefing whose content is so readily dismissed?
The answer is clear, once one strips away the pretense of an actual intelligence collection operation. These were not documents stolen away from a deceitful Iran. These documents were already in the possession of Israel (which ostensibly oversaw their creation), for which Netanyahu concocted an elaborate cover story so that they could be shared publicly as part of a classic information operation designed, best case, to sway American public opinion and, at a minimum, the opinion of one man -- President Trump, who on May 12 will make a final decision on whether to stay in the Iran nuclear agreement. Netanyahu's gambit was designed to apply pressure on President Trump to offset counsel from France, Germany, Britain and other allies to keep the agreement alive.
It was a classic psychological warfare operation -- all smoke and mirrors -- designed not for durability, but maximum short-term impact. Given the limited attention span of the intended audience, the move has a good chance at succeeding.