Covert War on Iran’s Nuclear Program

BY Herschel Smith
4 years ago

In case you weren’t watching, there has been a covert cyberwar going on against Iran’s nuclear program.

The mission: Infiltrate the highly advanced, securely guarded enemy headquarters where scientists in the clutches of an evil master are secretly building a weapon that can destroy the world. Then render that weapon harmless and escape undetected.

But in the 21st century, Bond doesn’t get the call. Instead, the job is handled by a suave and very sophisticated secret computer worm, a jumble of code called Stuxnet, which in the last year has not only crippled Iran’s nuclear program but has caused a major rethinking of computer security around the globe.

Intelligence agencies, computer security companies and the nuclear industry have been trying to analyze the worm since it was discovered in June by a Belarus-based company that was doing business in Iran. And what they’ve all found, says Sean McGurk, the Homeland Security Department’s acting director of national cyber security and communications integration, is a “game changer.”

The construction of the worm was so advanced, it was “like the arrival of an F-35 into a World War I battlefield,” says Ralph Langner, the computer expert who was the first to sound the alarm about Stuxnet. Others have called it the first “weaponized” computer virus.

Simply put, Stuxnet is an incredibly advanced, undetectable computer worm that took years to construct and was designed to jump from computer to computer until it found the specific, protected control system that it aimed to destroy: Iran’s nuclear enrichment program.

The target was seemingly impenetrable; for security reasons, it lay several stories underground and was not connected to the World Wide Web. And that meant Stuxnet had to act as sort of a computer cruise missile: As it made its passage through a set of unconnected computers, it had to grow and adapt to security measures and other changes until it reached one that could bring it into the nuclear facility.

When it ultimately found its target, it would have to secretly manipulate it until it was so compromised it ceased normal functions.

And finally, after the job was done, the worm would have to destroy itself without leaving a trace.

That is what we are learning happened at Iran’s nuclear facilities — both at Natanz, which houses the centrifuge arrays used for processing uranium into nuclear fuel, and, to a lesser extent, at Bushehr, Iran’s nuclear power plant.

At Natanz, for almost 17 months, Stuxnet quietly worked its way into the system and targeted a specific component — the frequency converters made by the German equipment manufacturer Siemens that regulated the speed of the spinning centrifuges used to create nuclear fuel. The worm then took control of the speed at which the centrifuges spun, making them turn so fast in a quick burst that they would be damaged but not destroyed. And at the same time, the worm masked that change in speed from being discovered at the centrifuges’ control panel.

Read the entire report for a very interesting analysis of what apparently is the first real instance of effective cyberwar.  It occurred probably due to cooperation between intelligence agencies, lead more than likely by the Mossad.  This set the program back months or even years.

There is more.  Iranian nuclear physicists and engineers are dying at an alarming rate.

Earlier today, Majid Shahriari, a professor in nuclear physics at Martyr Beheshti University, was assassinated in Tehran. Fereydoun Abbasi Davani, professor in nuclear physics at Iran’s National Defense University, was severely wounded in a separate attack. Motorcyclists either stuck explosives to the physicists’ cars as they headed to work, or threw explosives into the cars. These were just the latest attacks — on January 10, 2010, Masoud Ali-Mohammadi, another Iranian physicist, was killed by a remote-controlled bomb as he left his home.

Iran has accused the CIA and Mossad of masterminding the attacks.  Ryan, from Dallas, TX, dispatches that concern. “I’m not worried about the CIA being to blame, the US government is not competent enough to pull an operation this clean off. A US attempt would have resulted in a lunch worth of mashed potatoes being placed on the wrong cars windshield and the subsequent explosion of a bicyclist.”

Unfortunately, Ryan is probably right.  Again, it is likely the Mossad that is responsible.  But these small efforts must end at some point (or be greatly expanded), since all they do will is temporarily cause the Iranian program to cease and desist.  These efforts won’t end the program.

Switching subjects just for a moment, I had originally judged the most recent Wikileaks data dump to be irrelevant.  The original two were, and told us things that we (I) already knew.  Most Milbloggers knew 95% of at least the broad strokes of the information contained in the data dump on Iraq and Afghanistan.  But this most recent data dump is essentially different.  It pertains to documents that embarrass the administration’s diplomatic efforts and show them to be fundamentally unsound and ineffective.

I predicted this two years ago.

… the State Department will begin the administration will high hopes, excitement and grand ambitions for the role of diplomacy, negotiations and multi-lateral talks. By the end of the administration, a general malaise and confusion will have descended upon the entire State Department, and yet there will still be sparse and shallow understanding of why negotiations have so miserably failed to prevent or ameliorate the various calamities for which they were targeted.

And concerning the failure of diplomatic efforts, we see now that Saudi Arabia has been begging the U.S. for military action against Iran.  It looks as it the folks who would be in a better position that us to understand the Persian mind don’t place much reliance on our “negotiating” and diplomatic efforts to dissuade Iran from their pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Total war with Iran?  No.  That’s what I have wanted to avoid.  Too messy, and unnecessary when it can be done differently.  Covert war with Iran?  Yes, and I have been begging for this for some four years now.  What the Mossad is doing is good, but we need more, and we need the active participation of the CIA.  We need an insurgency within Iran, support for the protesting students, assassination of military commanders within the Quds force, disruption of their infrastructure, cyber attacks, more killing of Iranians inside of Iraq, obvious threats against the Iranian regime by the U.S., and an end to support for Iranian-backed politicians within Iraq.  This is only a start.

In short, we need comprehensive covert war.  I will not rest until I have my war.



  • http://cowboyjihad.blogspot.com Rick

    In addition to the limpet mine attacks yesterday there has been at least one other attack with the same M.O. I would not be suprised if this was being funded by Gulf States using a third party to do the dirty work.

  • TS Alfabet

    What may be most infuriating on this topic is that the Obumble Administration pretends that there are only two options available to us: endless, empty negotiations or all-out war. Refineries can have serious accidents. Power generation systems– as discussed on this blog not too long ago with regard to the U.S.– are extremely vulnerable and difficult to repair. Communications equipment and small arms can find its way to opposition groups. None of this will happen.

    Can we survive until 2013?

  • http://bit.ly/FirstContact3 Warbucks

    Well I for one have certainly misread your communications as being a call for all out war against Iran. I respectfully revise my opinion. Indeed I seem to be in agreement with your comments above.

    One other element I support (see past postings) include the engagement in a not-so-secret communications enabling network imposed on the airspace of Iran by the free world, at least as to those areas we can reach along its boarders.

    An entire net work of stealth, atmospheric based aerial repeater stations that enable an unending parallel communications net work that link cell phones and portable communication devices to continue to operate during civil protests.

  • bartel pritchard

    For those interested in the technical side of the cyber attack, it’s covered in detail in a blog by Ralph Langner, who is quoted in the Fox story:

    http://www.langner.com/en/blog/

  • http://www.captainsjournal.com/ Herschel Smith

    Generally I don’t like advertising other sites on this one except when I choose. It’s like allowing a trackback without linking my own post.

    Nonetheless …

    Also, I like valid e-mail addresses for all commenters.

  • Pingback: The Captain's Journal » Iran Busy Inside of Iraq

  • Pingback: Live By The Sword « Maurice Myth

  • bartel pritchard

    Copy on the 1st count, mea culpa on the 2nd. Perhaps posting guidelines could be shown near the comment form.


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This article is filed under the category(s) Iran,Nuclear,Obama Administration,State Department and was published November 29th, 2010 by Herschel Smith.

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