News blog

How Israel’s covert uranium enrichment programme sabotaged Iran

This weekend The New York Times published what they claim is an insider look at the mysterious Stuxnet virus that attacked Iran’s nuclear programme in 2009. Stuxnet was a worm that appears to affect a specific make of Siemens controller used in Iran’s centrifuge complex. There’s been a fare bit of speculation about whether Stuxnet was put together by the Israelis or the Americans or just some random hackers.

The level of detail in the piece, by veteran reporters Bill Broad, John Markoff and David Sanger, should put that speculation to rest. According to the piece, Stuxnet was a coordinated attack two years in the making. It appears to be a joint US-Israeli effort, with possible involvement from the UK and Germany.

Perhaps most surprising is the article’s claim that the Israeli nuclear research centre at Dimona, which is widely believed to be the site that developed the nation’s first nuclear weapons, was actually operating a cascade of Iranian-style centrifuges in order to test the virus. According to the report, Israel obtained a cascade of P-1 centrifuges of the type used by Iran (how is unclear, although the United States obtained parts for the P-1s from Libya in 2004). They then used their cascade to make sure the Stuxnet virus did its job.

The virus itself appears far more sophisticated than initially reported. According to Ralph Langer, an independent computer security expert, the virus was designed to only attack 984 controllers linked together. That, it turned out, was the exact size of a cascade that was incapacitated by the attack. Moreover, it appears to have been designed simultaneously spin the rotors of the centrifuges until they broke apart, while sending a signal that all was well to facility operators.

There’s plenty more in the story: details of how a US Department of Energy lab studied vulnerabilities in the controllers in the year before Stuxnet emerged, and how officials believe the virus did far more damage than the press has reported. That last point may be why the story is finally now coming to the fore: somebody feels their hard work is underappreciated.


  1. Report this comment

    Shay Begorrah said:

    “That last point may be why the story is finally now coming to the fore: somebody feels their hard work is underappreciated.”

    The release of information is more likely aimed to fill the dual political imperatives of giving a plausible explanation to the Israeli public why Iran has not been attacked by Israel while hopefully provoking Iran into action that the US can use as a pretext to attack.

    Remember that in this particular game you can not deduce anything from the details of what people say (yellowcake from Niger) but you may be able to work out why they are saying it.

  2. Report this comment

    Uncle Al said:

    The US government succeeded at something? One can only hope the competent were identified and then discharged for cause – insubordination. One good apple can ruin the barrel.

Comments are closed.