debkafile's intelligence sources report information reaching the West in the past week that Iran has put to death a number of atomic scientists and technicians suspected of helping plant the Stuxnet virus in its nuclear program. The admission by Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization, on Friday, Oct. 8 – the frankest yet by any Iranian official – that Western espionage had successfully penetrated its nuclear program is seen as bearing out those reports.
It also attests to the damaging effect the malworm has had on the program: the Bushehr reactor has faced one delay after another since it was inaugurated in August and other nuclear plants are functioning only partially since the virus first surfaced last July.
Salehi said the West had stepped up efforts "to establish contact with experts" at his agency and "lure them with promises of further study and better jobs abroad." Some nuclear personnel, he said, had access to information about Iran's plans for "foreign purchases and commercial affairs."
He thus accused Iranian personnel of making it possible for Western agencies to use items purchased overseas as Stuxnet carriers. But, the Iranian nuclear chief contended, Iran had countered their efforts and security had been stepped up so as to make it "almost impossible" for secrets to leak out. "The issue of spies existed in the past, but is diminishing day by day," he said
Salehi's words confirmed the forebodings of personnel at Iran's nuclear facilities. They had already suspected that a number of their colleagues taken away for questioning about the worm – and never since seen or heard of at work or at home – were no longer alive.
debkafile adds: The extreme security measures clamped down on the program's employees have further slowed its progress. Nuclear scientists, engineers and technicians are no longer allowed to communicate freely on their work and exchange information before obtaining clearance from intelligence officials.
The dark atmosphere pervading these workplaces has brought some of the nuclear facilities to a standstill.
The Atomic Energy Organization has published booklets which Salehi said will "alert personnel to Western techniques for luring them into espionage." They "spell out precautionary measures to protect information and the life of scientists," he said.
This phrase was taken by the personnel receiving the booklet as a death threat for any who defy its directives.
debkafile's sources find in Salehi's statement further evidence that Tehran is still fighting an uphill battle against the invasive worm and has not yet succeeded in bringing its nuclear facilities back to normal operation.