The Jerusalem Post, via an interview with an IT professional, provides an expert assessment on who was responsible for creating the Stuxnet virus and a knowledgeable estimate of just how effective it was in shutting down Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
The Stuxnet virus, which has attacked Iran’s nuclear facilities and which Israel is suspected of creating, has set back the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program by two years, a top German computer consultant who was one of the first experts to analyze the program’s code told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.
“It will take two years for Iran to get back on track,” Langer said in a telephone interview from his office in Hamburg, Germany. “This was nearly as effective as a military strike, but even better since there are no fatalities and no full-blown war. From a military perspective, this was a huge success.”
Last month, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nation’s nuclear watchdog, said that Iran had suspended work at its nuclear-field production facilities, likely a result of the Stuxnet virus.
According to Langer, Iran’s best move would be to throw out all of the computers that have been infected by the worm, which he said was the most “advanced and aggressive malware in history.” But, he said, even once all of the computers were thrown out, Iran would have to ensure that computers used by outside contractors were also clean of Stuxnet.
“It is extremely difficult to clean up installations from Stuxnet, and we know that Iran is no good in IT [information technology] security, and they are just beginning to learn what this all means,” he said. “Just to get their systems running again they have to get rid of the virus, and this will take time, and then they need to replace the equipment, and they have to rebuild the centrifuges at Natanz and possibly buy a new turbine for Bushehr.”
Widespread speculation has named Israel’s Military Intelligence Unit 8200, known for its advanced Signal Intelligence (SIGINT) capabilities, as the possible creator of the software, as well as the United States.
Langer said that in his opinion at least two countries – possibly Israel and the United States – were behind Stuxnet.
Israel has traditionally declined comment on its suspected involvement in the Stuxnet virus, but senior IDF officers recently confirmed that Iran had encountered significant technological difficulties with its centrifuges at the Natanz enrichment facility.
“We can say that it must have taken several years to develop, and we arrived at this conclusion through code analysis, since the code on the control systems is 15,000 lines of code, and this is a huge amount,” Langer said.
“This piece of evidence led us to conclude that this is not by a hacker,” he continued. “It had to be a country, and we can also conclude that even one nation-state would not have been able to do this on its own.”
Eric Byres, a computer security expert who runs a website called Tofino Security, which provides solutions for industrial companies with Stuxnet-related problems, told the Post on Tuesday that the number of Iranians visiting his site had jumped tremendously in recent weeks – a likely indication that the virus is still causing great disarray at Iranian nuclear facilities.
“What caught our attention was that last year we maybe had one or two people from Iran trying to access the secure areas on our site,” Byres said. “Iran was never on the map for us, and all of a sudden we are now getting massive numbers of people going to our website, and people who we can identify as being from Iran.”
The Telegraph is reporting that Maj. Gen. Yuri Ivanov, deputy head of Russian intelligence service known as GRU, died in Syria recently. Speculation is rampant that he was assassinated. He had been staying in the northwestern Syrian resort of Tartous when he disappeared, with his body later hauled in by Turkish fishermen.
Here is some background on Ilanov:
Major-General Yuri Ivanov, 52, was the deputy head of Russia’s foreign military intelligence arm known as GRU which is thought to operate the biggest network of foreign spies out of all of Russia’s clandestine intelligence services.
…Reports have suggested he was on official business and the location where he is reported to have disappeared was only about fifty miles from a strategically vital Russian naval facility in the Syrian port of Tartus which is being expanded and upgraded to service and refuel ships from Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. The facility is Russia’s only foothold in the Mediterranean Sea, and Mossad, Israel’s national intelligence agency, is known to be concerned that Moscow will use the upgraded facility as a base for spy ships and electronic espionage directed at the Middle East.
One wonders whether this is another variant of the U.S.S. Liberty episode in which Israel is warning the Russians not to stray too far into Israel’s business and its “sphere of influence.” I have written here about the possibility of an Israeli attack on Syria. Given this, the Mossad cannot have liked one of Russia’s top spies setting up a new base in Syria. Israel undoubtedly feels it has its hands full anticipating attacks by Hezbollah or Syria on its northern front. To add Russian mischief to the mix would be even more dangerous for Israeli interests.
The Guardian further adds that Ivanov was the architect of several spectacular assassinations of Chechen separatist leaders on foreign soil, one in Qatar. It seems perfect justice for Ivanov himself to have died in similar circumstances.
Of course, this is speculation. But given the dearth of facts, it seems credible speculation that awaits further confirmation or repudiation.
This incident recalls a not dissimilar one in 2008, in which a Syrian general and confidant of Pres. Assad was assassinated by a sniper while sunbathing at his southern Syrian coastal villa. In that case too, if I recall correctly, the Syrians originally reported that Gen. Suleiman died in a “swimming accident.” The general was Syria’s main liaison with Hezbollah and responsible for supplying it with sophisticated weaponry, and as such would’ve been a desirable Mossad target.
Furthermore, Israel, if it killed Ilanov, is sending Assad a message that it has penetrated his circle and those of his closest allies. No one is safe.
It’s difficult to see who else might have been responsible, but if Israel really did assassinate a very senior and important official of Russian military intelligence, that was certainly a bold and risky move. The Russians are decidedly not the United States. They believe absolutely in avenging this kind of thing, and the long knives will be out.
Intelligence services typically do not engage in killing one another’s officers for the obvious reason that retaliation is certainly within the capablities of the opposition and intelligence professionals are not eager to affix targets on their own backs.
If Mossad really killed the second-in-command of Russian military intelligence, there has to have been a very very good reason for such a drastic and dangerous step. And if it was Mossad, we can expect to see intelligence service gang war break out openly as a result.
The United States, Israel, and their Western allies have, so far, failed to take military action to destroy Iran’s nuclear weapon development program, but Eli Lake explains that does not mean that covert operations intended to at least slow production have not been underway behind the scenes.
Efforts to steer defective products toward Iran have taken a number of forms. For instance, according to a former Mossad operations officer who goes by the alias Michael Ross, in 1998, the Mossad and the CIA developed a plan to sell a supposedly helpful chemical substance—which would, in fact, gum up centrifuges over time—to Iran on the black market.
Then, there was the odd case of the Tinners, a Swiss family of engineers long believed to be a cog in the network of nuclear proliferators organized by Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan. In 2008, Urs Tinner admitted that he had been a CIA asset. And it turns out that he may have played a crucial role in an effort to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program. According to The New York Times and other sources, the Tinners sold high-quality vacuum pumps to the Iranians and Libyans. The pumps are crucial for uranium enrichment because centrifuges must operate inside a vacuum seal. David Albright—the president of the Institute for Science and International Security and the author of a new history of Iran’s illicit procurement of nuclear technology, Peddling Peril—explains that, while the pumps that ended up in Iran and Libya were produced in Germany, they were also worked on by the Oak Ridge and Los Alamos laboratories. These labs, he says, modified the pumps “to bug them or to make them break down under operational conditions. If you can break the vacuum in a centrifuge cascade, you can destroy hundreds of centrifuges or thousands if you are really lucky.” (A senior intelligence official confirmed Albright’s information to me. It should be noted that not everyone agrees that the Tinners were the ones who sold these pumps to the Iranians and Libyans; Albright, for one, isn’t sure.) ...
But do sabotage efforts work? In late 2008 and early 2009, the iaea began to see a drop in the amount of low-enriched uranium (LEU) being produced at Natanz, the facility that lies at the center of Iran’s known nuclear weapons program. In the fall of 2008, its centrifuges were producing 90 kilograms a month of LEU. By the end of the year, however, the same centrifuges were producing 70 kilograms of LEU. To be sure, that number was back up to 85 kilograms per month at the close of 2009, and it has been climbing since, to around 120 kilograms a month; but those increases came after the installation of more centrifuges—all of which suggests that at least some of the machines were less efficient than they should be.
Ivan Oelrich, a nuclear scientist and the vice president of the strategic security program at the Federation of American Scientists, estimated in a study this year that the centrifuges are operating at 20 percent efficiency. “We know the average efficiency of the centrifuges is dismal. We don’t know whether it is because of the quality of the individual centrifuges or how they are linked together,” he explains. “We can’t rule out sabotage as one factor leading to these inefficiencies.” Greg Jones, a nuclear analyst at the rand Corporation, says the Iranians “are operating just under four thousand machines, but they have installed about eight thousand five hundred. Those nonoperating machines have been installed for many months. Why they are not operating is not clear.”
Among people I spoke to, there seemed to be a broad consensus that sabotage was, at the very least, slowing Iran’s quest for a nuclear weapon. A senior administration official told me that there was evidence the Iranians are experiencing delays due to “a combination of reasons—some inherent to the nature of the infeasibility of the design and the machines themselves, and some because of actions by the United States and its allies.” Explains David Kay, “History says that these things have done more to slow programs than any sanctions regime has or is likely to do.”
However, the biggest payoff from these efforts may not come from the sabotage itself, but from the psychological effect it could have on Iran’s government. At the most general level, there are probably benefits to keeping Iranian intelligence officials paranoid and off-balance, simply because it can cause them to waste valuable time and resources. This appears to be happening. In 2007, for example, Iran’s state-run news service reported that the national police had arrested a cell of spy squirrels. The next year, Iran reportedly arrested a group of spy pigeons.
But the specific benefit of sabotage is that it makes countries wary of purchasing crucial materials on the black market.
The New York Times is reporting, in duly scandalized tone, on the basis of information received from “military officials and businessmen in Afghanistan and the United States” that the US government was getting around the Pakistani ban on US military operations withing that country’s borders by using a private contracting company employing retired CIA officers and Special Forces military personnel to locate militants and insurgent bases of operation.
Dexter Filkins and Mark Mazetti breathlessly suggest that these contractors are being used to target Predator drone attacks, and that all this is very possibly “a rogue operation” breaking some unspecified alleged law against the use of private contractors in covert operations. On top of which, why, funding for all this was probably improperly diverted from an Internet website intended to inform the US military about “Afghanistan’s social and tribal landscape.”
We have here a classic example of the damaging leak by disgruntled insiders. Details about a covert operation are made public, the covert activity is (surprise! surprise!) disclosed to have been going on in secret, the public is advised in shocked tones that persons working for the US government have been quietly engaged in doing harm to enemies of the United States, the covert operation in question is darkly hinted to transgress some unspecified and unidentified federal intelligence statute and/or international law, and finally the secret mission is accused of diverting funding from its own cover.
Even under Obama, it appears that American Intelligence Operations policy will continue to be decided by press leaks and disinformation.
Al-Mabhouh approaches his room, a couple of tennis players just behind him.
Spite and malice time.
What do you do when a foreign intelligence service breezes into your capital, takes out a Hamas arms procurer, and disappears, leaving you with egg all over your face? If you are the security service of Dubai, you leak as many of the after the fact details of identities and tradecraft as you can to the international press. If you can’t stop them and you can’t catch them, at least, you can spill everything you know.
The Daily Mail, as the result, is able to publish the answers to the game of Clue being played by an amused international audience.
The hit squad behind the assassination of a Hamas commander in a Dubai hotel tried to make his death look like an accident by electrocuting him with a bedside lamp.
Police sources said the killers, who used fake British passports, tried to ‘induce the effects of a heart attack’ before smothering Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh with a pillow in his room.
It is understood that the lamp was taken apart and the wiring attached to a device that pulsed electricity into his body. ...
[T]he fake British passports used by the killers had been secretly copied by Tel Aviv airport immigration officials.
The Israeli ambassador to London has been accused of ‘stonewalling’ all attempts to find out how the killers had the passports.
But the Foreign Office has been told that all six of the genuine passport holders – all residents in Israel – had their documents briefly taken away at the airport during routine checks.
The London Times speculates that Meir Dagan’s job as head of Mossad may be in jeopardy as the result of the indignation of Western governments over the forged passports.
All the publicity is doubtless inconvenient, and Mossad will inevitably be obliged to lie low for a bit, avoiding the kind of Black Operations that would fuel the continuation of the Shocked, Shocked! meme, but in the long run a reputation for ruthlessness combined with competence, daring, and efficiency will not really do the state of Israel’s intelligence service much harm.
The Jerusalem Post is defiantly sarcastic in its response to indignation over the presumptive Mossad use of forged passports.
The pigheaded refusal to acknowledge that sometimes the ends justify the means reflects Europe’s moral impoverishment.
Dahu Khalfan Tamim now has a world-class reputation for detective work. The head of the Dubai police swiftly determined that Hamas’s Mahmoud Mabhouh did not die of natural causes at the five-star Bustan Rotana Hotel on Jan. 20. He was assassinated.
Let’s for the sake of argument grant that Israel did away with Mabhouh; that he was not killed by Iran or over some intra-Palestinian dispute, and that clues pointing to Israeli culpability are genuine.
Mabhouh certainly deserved to be assassinated by Israel. Hamas declared war on Israel. And he co-founded its military wing and was personally involved in the (separate) 1989 killings of IDF soldiers Ilan Sa’adon and Avi Sasportas.
Mabhouh was a key link in the unlawful syndicate which delivers Iranian weapons to Gaza. He was apparently tasked with importing an arsenal that would make life hellish for Israelis living in metropolitan Tel Aviv. He was, perhaps, Hamas’s equivalent to Hizbullah’s Imad Mughniyeh, whose car blew up in Damascus two years ago.
You can tell a great deal about the moral compass and political leanings of a society by observing its reaction to the Mabhouh liquidation.
There is unease in Europe because the purported assassins identified by Dubai were travelling under forged French, German, Irish and British passports; and identities of Israelis with dual-citizenship were utilized.
Even The Times of London, whose editorial page has been sympathetic toward Israel, expressed chagrin over the affair, saying this country had shown poor regard for the “future security of British passport holders overseas.” Frankly, there is little reason to think that the tradecraft employed in this assassination – which we will not second guess at this stage – jeopardizes anyone.
Actually, what troubles us is the question of whose passport Mabhouh was traveling under and why he was allowed to enter neutral Dubai on gun-running business.
Of course, that’s not how the British see it. The BBC’s Jeremy Bowen warned that if Israel had used British passports for “nefarious” purposes – meaning sending Mabhouh to his Maker – Bowen expected, or would it be more accurate to say, hoped for, “a crisis” in relations betweenLondon and Jerusalem.
The Guardian quoted a Foreign Office mandarin as gloating: “Relations were in the freezer before this. They are in the deep freeze now.” The paper then grumbled about the British government’s “supine” response to the assassination, editorializing against the government’s proposal to lift the threat of lawfare. The Guardian wants visiting Israeli ministers to continue to worry about facing Palestinian-inspired “war crimes” charges.
With the British media delighting in the assassination-passport kerfuffle – a Daily Mail headline screamed: “Dragged into a Mossad murder plot” – Menzies Campell, a routinely anti-Israel elder of the Liberal Democrats, declared that “Israel has some explaining to do.”
An anyway beleaguered Prime Minister Gordon Brown intoned: “We have got to carry out a full investigation into this. The British passport is an important document that has got to be held with care.” Sentiments echoed by Opposition Leader David Cameron. ...
Perhaps the shrill reaction in some (though certainly not all) British quarters is not rooted purely in anti-Israelism. Chances are that at least parts of the British intelligentsia and media would have reacted similarly if the man in that hotel room had been Osama bin Laden… or Adolf Eichmann.
One has to admire especially the delightfullly humorous, cat-ate-the-canary “Just for the sake of argument, let’s assume that Israel did away with Mabhouh” line. I bet that champagne corks are popping still in secluded rest and recreation facilities used by Mossad operatives obliged by circumstances to remain in hiding and out of the public eye.
Of course, the Jerusalem Post is perfectly correct. The British and European press ought to be editorializing piously about how naughty people who traffic in weapons used to attack innocent civilians need to expect to come to premature ends at the hands of persons unknown, instead of striking poses of feigned indignation over the profaned sanctity of travel identification documents.
That Skull and Bones balloting box was not actually sold. Apparently, Christie’s withdrew it from the sale late last month, IvyGate reports, after receiving a mysterious “title claim.” The Russell Trust has plenty of lawyers.
Hot Air (one of the most important conservative blogs) has been sold to Salem Communications. Congratulations and good luck.
As part of the Carnival celebration, preceding the beginning of Lent, in the Spanish village of Laza, “Peliqueiros” or ancient tax collectors, are portrayed wearing warning cowbells and prepared to beat the villagers with sticks.39 Carnival photos.
Stratfor: Tradecraft in Dubai Assassination
Mystery of the Arctic Sea, 8/20
The Telegraph reports Intelligence leaks indicating that the hijacking was done by Mossad (not a peep from Debkafile!) and was done to prevent an unauthorized shipment of advanced Russian air defense missiles from reaching Iran.
Mystery has surrounded the ship, officially carrying a cargo of timber worth £1.3 million from Finland to Algeria, since its crew first reported a boarding in Swedish waters on July 24 after a raid by 10 armed English-speaking men posing as anti-narcotics police officers.
It was eventually recovered off the coast of west Africa on August 17. Russia has since charged eight men from Estonia, Latvia and Russia with kidnapping and piracy.
Russian officials have said the alleged pirates demanded a $1.5 million ransom but speculation has grown that the freighter was carrying contraband cargo.
Israeli and Russian security sources have questioned The Kremlin’s official explanation, instead arguing that the ship was carrying S-300 missiles, Russia’s most advanced anti-aircraft weapon, while undergoing repairs in the Russian port of Kaliningrad, a notorious Baltic smuggling base.
According to reports, Mossad is said to have briefed the Russian government that the shipment had been sold by former military officers linked to the black market, and Russia then dispatched a naval rescue mission. Those who believe Mossad was involved point to a visit to Moscow by Shimon Peres, Israel’s president, the day after the Arctic Sea was recovered.
Crew members of the Arctic Sea have since told Russian news reporters that they have been told not to disclose “state secrets” further fuelling the speculation.
A Russian military source told The Sunday Times: “The official version is ridiculous and was given to allow the Kremlin to save face.
“I’ve spoken to people close to the investigation and they’ve pretty much confirmed Mossad’s involvement. It’s laughable to believe all this fuss was over a load of timber. I’m not alone in believing that it was carrying weapons to Iran.”
Russian news agency RT News (Moscow) has the same story on this 4:42 video