US/Israel responsible for major cyber attack

IssueFebruary 2011
News by Milan Rai

In a surprising reversal of previous propaganda, top Israeli officials have downgraded the nuclear threat from Iran. This was almost certainly because of the impact on Iran of a dangerous computer virus believed to have been developed by Israel and the US.

Israeli deputy prime minister Moshe Yaalon, known as a hawk on security matters, said on 29 December that because Iran’s nuclear programme was suffering “a number of technological challenges and difficulties”, “we cannot talk about a ‘point of no return’ ” in Iran’s suspected development of a nuclear bomb. Yaalon also told Israeli public radio: “Iran does not currently have the ability to make a nuclear bomb on its own.”

On 6 January, the outgoing head of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, told Israeli journalists in a rare briefing that Iran would not be able to develop a nuclear warhead before 2015, “if that”. This is a major change from previous Israeli warnings of imminent danger. Meir Dagan explained the delay by referring to “measures that have been deployed” against Iran, including covert operations by Mossad.

These measures were explained by the New York Times on 15 January, which described how Israel and the US worked together to develop a sophisticated computer virus during two years of testing in the Dimona nuclear weapons complex in Israel.

The Stuxnet virus was used to make P1 nuclear centrifuges identical to those used by Iran spin wildly out of control, while reporting to operators that nothing out of the ordinary was happening. German computer security expert Ralph Langner describes Stuxnet as “a marksman’s job”, designed to destroy cascades of 984 P1 centrifuges. 984 P1 centrifuges failed during 2009 at Iran’s nuclear enrichment facility in Natanz.

The unreliable Con Coughlin of the Daily Telegraph reported on 16 January that according to “Western intelligence reports” (in other words, Mossad), Russian scientists have warned that the Stuxnet virus has compromised the security of the Bushehr nuclear power plant, creating the risk of a Chernobyl-style disaster. This seems unlikely, as Stuxnet targets centrifuges not reactors; the Russians have denied that any viruses exist at Bushehr.