SPND has Built ... a Bus!

Here's a sentence we never thought we'd have to write: SPND has built a bus.

Yes, SPND - the Iranian defence research organisation that's basically a halfway house for Iranian scientists who are addicted to nuclear weapons. With all of their funding and great minds they've come together to create something that looks like a school science project. How amazing. 

Maybe this cartoon (one of my favorite shows) is where Fakhrizadeh and his friends get their best ideas?

Let's backtrack a bit on how we found out about this story. Our Redline team was happily chowing down on some chelow kebab and reviewing the latest news updates from our friends at Iran's Ministry of Defence (shout out to http://www.defanews.ir/!). In an otherwise extremely tedious press release from October2018 about the launch  of a new portable x-ray device for monitoring truck cargo, one of our eagle-eyed correspondents spotted a familiar logo. 

Here it is:

And from another angle:

It's the SPND magic school bus! And in fairness, it's not just a bus - it's a road-mobile, bus-based system for x-raying cargo, to be used to find illicit drug and weapon shipments. The big crane arm sticking out the side enables trucks to drive underneath to be scanned. (Redline suspects that the arm also doubles as a mechanism for lifting Hassan Firouzabadi, vanquisher of nuclear lizards, on board).

We’re amazed that SPND has spent time and money delivering something as ridiculous as this bus. With a crippled economy, is this really the solution for all of Iran’s woes?

Anyway, the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the SPND bus was basically one big party. Just like us, the media had some pressing questions about the bus.

Sadly not. Although Defanews.ir was kind enough to provide us with some photographs from inside the SPND bus. Here's a good shot of the command room:

Someone really should tell those guys not to leave such sensitive images up on their Insta feed! #nofilter #bestlife #spnd (As much as we love MS Paint, Redline will be passing around a hat later for a copy of Photoshop.)

We jest, but there's a more important story here. We’re extremely surprised that SPND still has any standing in Iran as a serious organisation. It’s hard to come back from being responsible for the worst security failure in recent Iranian history - the theft of the so-called Atomic Archive of SPND-curated documents on nuclear weapons research. 

What's surprising is that SPND still has some supporters in high places in the defence hierarchy. Here's Iran's Deputy Defence Minister for Defence Support, Ghasem Taghizadeh standing in front of a giant SPND logo at the bus press conference:

If we were a senior official we’d be extremely reluctant to be photographed anywhere near the SPND logo! We've been expecting a dismantling or at least re-badging of SPND for some time now, but expect that we'll have to wait for the retirement of SPND's long-time head, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. Surely that can't be too far off ? – Particularly with someone like Mohammad Mehdi Tehranchi (محمدمهدی طهرانچی) so enthusiastic to take his job.

In the meantime, SPND is moving into trolling mode. Plastered across the front of the bus, there's a three-letter acronym, IAP, that in the SPND context is rather loaded, to say the least. (Note also that the bus's model designation, which you can see on the extendable boom arm, is IAP-XM 600D.)

IAP stands for the Institute of Applied Physics. It was a cover term used by SPND's predecessor organisations to give some semblance of respectability to their malign research, and it's notorious in the world of Iran watchers. Here's a timeline of how the IAP was used as a front company for the various Iranian nuclear weapon-related organisations, according to the IAEA's landmark 2011 investigation into Iran's historic nuclear weapon-related activities:

Redline hasn't heard any use of the IAP name for about a decade, and we're surprised to see it back as a brand - particularly as one that is so clearly linked to SPND. Is this is a sign that SPND thinks it can do anything it wants? We'll have to wait and see.


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