WASHINGTON—Barely two months after U.N. inspectors in Iran failed to find evidence of an active nuclear weapons program, the Department of Homeland Security uncovered new information Monday proving the Middle Eastern nation has obtained literally trillions of atoms—the same particles sometimes used to make atomic bombs—for unknown purposes.
"We have no doubt that Iran now possesses an alarming number of atoms within its borders, despite countless warnings from the international community," Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff said at a press conference Monday afternoon, as he pointed to a satellite image marked with dozens of locations where his office claims the unauthorized atoms are being held. "The Iranians maintain the atoms are only being used to form the building blocks of all existence, but we cannot afford to take that risk."
The atoms, which DHS officials believe to be "the smallest indivisible units of any element," were first discovered in aerial photographs taken of a laboratory in central Isfahan. When the photographs were enlarged several hundred thousand times, additional clusters of atoms—known in intelligence circles as "matter"—were spotted in large cargo trucks parked nearby the facility, in storage units on the grounds, and in the pockets, shoes, clothing, hair, and skin of several nuclear physicists in the parking lot.
More alarming, officials said, is the "very likely" possibility that there are more atoms inside the laboratory.
"The threat of atoms in Iran is real," said Chertoff, showing reporters an empty vial to illustrate his point. "Even as we speak, Iranians are turning millions of carbon atoms into a powerful energy source they can use to strengthen their armies, pilots, president, and someday perhaps, a team of nuclear physicists."
Earlier this month, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made a visit to the region, where she reportedly observed atoms being smuggled across the border from neighboring countries Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as daily shipments of atoms from as far away as Russia, China, and the troposphere. Secretary Rice also witnessed atoms being strategically used to deliver televised press conferences regarding the nonproliferation of Iranian atoms.
"Security checkpoints have been unable to stop the flow of atoms into Iran," Rice said. "Even with the best equipment available, it is nearly impossible to distinguish dangerous atoms that could be used in fission for the purposes of massive destruction from the kind of atoms that are functioning primarily as mechanical pencils."
Added Rice: "We cannot afford to let these atoms fall into, or be a part of, the wrong hands."
Vice President Dick Cheney and his staff were briefed on the atomic situation in Iran Tuesday with the aid of colorful interlocking plastic models and a short film.
"The United States will not stand idly by while Iran gains the protons, neutrons, and whatever else they need to threaten the free world," Cheney said at a press conference that afternoon. "Iran has demonstrated time and time again its ability to combine atoms of hydrogen and oxygen right out in the open, and we cannot allow that to go on any longer."
Iranian officials claim the atoms are being used only for peaceful, life-sustaining purposes, and that it is physically impossible for Iran or any government to create or destroy matter in order to comply with U.S. regulations.
Next month, U.N. inspectors will visit Iran to investigate and catalog all of the nation's current atomic holdings in order to determine if the country may be stockpiling dangerous atoms in unregistered laboratories, underground facilities, above-ground facilities, the citizenry, air, water, soil, grass, shoes, picnic lunches, pets, flaky pastries, or the numerous nuclear warheads the country has recently featured in parades.