Just read an awesome article on Yahoo, of all places, about the intrigues surrounding Iran’s nascent nuclear power facilities. This led to follow-up research where I discovered this story about an alleged nuclear scientist gunned down by a motorcyclist. Darioush Rezaie was a university professor with a PhD in physics, but it is unclear if he was part of the the nuclear program. He was named a nuclear scientist by an unknown police official to the Iranian Student News Organization (ISNA) while Deputy Interior Minister Safarali Baratlou told Iran’s Labor News Agency (ILNA) that it is not clear if Rezaie was a nuclear scientist. Regardless, he was not the first to be assassinated for having suspected links to Iran’s nuclear program. As you may or may not recall, the Stuxnet virus helped set back Iran’s nuclear program thus it was the natural next topic to research. This article recounts a visit to Israel’s unacknowledged but widely known nuclear arms plant at Dimona. “Israeli Test on Worm Called Crucial in Iran Nuclear Delay” by William J. Broad, John Markoff and David E. Sanger alleges that Dimona has become a testing ground for anti-Iranian nuclear program activities on the part of the United States and Israel aimed at undermining and delaying Iran’s efforts to build a nuclear weapon.

The Stuxnet computer worm reportedly wiped out a fifth of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges and was designed and tested at Dimona using centrifuges made by Israel to the exact specifications of those being used in Iran. The New York Times records Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as saying the Stuxnet virus has likely set back Iran’s program for years. The Stuxnet virus was incredibly complex. German company Siemens allegedly assisted in the development and, “gave the Idaho National Laboratory — which is part of the Energy Department, responsible for America’s nuclear arms — the chance to identify well-hidden holes in the Siemens systems that were exploited the next year by Stuxnet.”  The Stuxnet virus caused the centrifuges to lose control and destroy themselves while simultaneously feeding false information to operators that everything was operating normally. Israel and the United States do not claim ownership in the design of the virus but many suspect Israel’s Unit 8200, the Defense Force’s electronic intelligence unit, had a hand in Stuxnet’s development.

The operation began in 2009 under a directive issued by the previous Bush administration and endorsed by Barack Obama to speed up the destabilization of the electronics systems at Natanz. The Idaho National Laboratory project with Siemens was born out of the paranoia which accompanied the Bush era, namely, the fear of nuclear facilities being the victims of web-based terrorist attacks aimed at taking control of said facilities. The information gained from this collaboration could have been exploited in the creation of Stuxnet. The origins of the testing of the Stuxnet virus on actual centrifuges traces its roots to 1976 and A.Q. Khan‘s theft of a Dutch blueprint that he used to design P-1, or Pakistan’s first generation of nuclear centrifuges. Khan is regarded as the father of Pakistan’s nuclear program and his P-1 design has reportedly been sold to Iraq, Libya, North Korea and Iran. It is unknown how Israel may have obtained a P-1 centrifuge, whether through Khan’s black market network or through those obtained by the United States when Libya surrendered its nuclear weapons program in 2003.

Nonetheless, these centrifuges mimic those found in Iran and were used in the testing of the Stuxnet virus at Dimona. In the wake of Stuxnet, the assassinations of professors and scientists involved with Iran’s nuclear program is also aimed at delaying Iran’s development of atomic weapons. Mohsen Fakrizadeh, a college professor that is allegedly the mastermind of Iran’s program, is closely guarded by the Iranians because he is a high profile target for assassins. The Yahoo article by Douglas Birch discusses various means that the Obama administration has considered employing in delaying Iran’s nuclear program, including the deployment of an electromagnetic burst to disable power to the facilities at Natanz and Bushehr. Birch details the U.S.’s history in dealing falsely when it believes its designs are being stolen by foreign competitors, as exampled by Thomas Reed’s claim that, “during the Cold War the CIA tampered with the computer code embedded in Canadian components of a new trans-Siberian gas pipeline system. In 1982, a surge in pressure caused a three-megaton blast in the Siberian forest visible from space.” Adding further intrigue to this story is Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA officer now at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, who suspects that inside elements may be ordering the assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists. Gerecht speculates it could either be spies for the West or Iran’s maligned and marginalized opposition.