debkafile's intelligence sources report that the Stuxnet malworm which played havoc with Iran's nuclear program for eleven months was not purged after all. Tehran never did overcome the disruptions caused by Stuxnet or restore its centrifuges to smooth and normal operation as was claimed. Indeed, Iran finally resorted to the only sure-fire cure, scrapping all the tainted machines and replacing them with new ones.
Iran provided confirmation of this Tuesday, July 19 in an announcement that improved and faster centrifuge models were being installed.
Iran would clearly not have undertaken the major and costly project of replacing all its 5,000-6,000 centrifuges with new ones if they were indeed functioning smoothly. The announcement was made by the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman at a press briefing although no one present had raised the nuclear issue. He said: "The installation of new centrifuges with better quality and speed is ongoing… this is another confirmation of the Islamic republic's successful strides in its nuclear activities."
Britain and France immediately condemned the announcement. It proved, official spokesmen commented, that Iran plans to triple the amount of uranium it enriches in contravention of six UN Security Council Resolutions and defiance of ten International Atomic Energy Agency decisions in Vienna. The announcement also "confirmed suspicions that the Iranian nuclear program had no credible civilian application."
In recent months, Iran has taken advantage of the West's preoccupation with the Arab revolt to quietly forge ahead unnoticed with its weapons program. So if everything was moving smoothly forward why did Tehran suddenly decide to raise the touchy subject again?
Indeed, by doing so, the official spokesman placed in doubt the three major strides Iran was generally presumed to have made while the West was otherwise engaged:
1. The dramatic speeding-up of uranium enrichment and expansion of the quantities produced.
The West has no credible information, whether from intelligence, research, or nuclear watchdog inspections, as to how much enriched uranium Iran has produced and how much it has in stock.
As debkafile reported previously, for the past six months, Iran managed to keep the full scope of its enrichment activities hidden from IAEA inspections. Although inspectors were allowed to visit Iran's acknowledged enrichment facility at Natanz, they were unable to gauge how many active centrifuges were present and how many removed to unknown site or sites. The sophisticated cameras supposed to monitor the Natanz facility were unable to record all of Iran's enrichment activities because key production sites were moved out of range.
2. The glitches bedeviling their centrifuge machines were overcome and all 5,000 were spinning away without interruption. After expunging the Stuxnet virus which first struck in June 2010, all their nuclear program's control systems and installations, including Natanz and the Russian-built Bushehr reactor, were functioning perfectly. It took Iranian and Russian computer and cyber-terrorism experts a year to cleanse the system. This gave security agencies their first indicator of the time it takes to overcome a large-scale, sophisticated cyber attack.
On July 5, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, head of Israeli military intelligence, said that Iran is currently running 5,000 active centrifuges and aiming for 8,000. He made no reference to their replacement with newer and faster machines – which the Iranian spokesman disclosed suddenly last Tuesday.
3. The Iranians are engaged in the relocation of the centrifuges spinning 20-percent grade enriched uranium to a new underground facility at Fordo, 100 kilometers away near Qom. Tehran has rejected every European and IAEA demand to install monitoring and inspection equipment at the new facility which is therefore functioning without international oversight.
Those presumptions are now largely suspect.
Western intelligence sources tell debkafile that until recently, the Iranians believed they had a clear road for enriching large quantities of high-grade uranium after solving technical obstructions and beating back the cyber attack. But then, they were stunned to discover that the Stuxnet virus, far from being eradicated, was back with a vengeance and on the offensive against their centrifuges. Iran was forced to adopt a course it had avoided last year, namely to destroy the entire plant of approximately 5,000 working centrifuges and replace them all with new machines.
This decision led to the foreign ministry spokesman's one-sentence announcement. He delivered it to pre-empt Iran's enemies from picking up on the installation of the new centrifuges and making it public with the real reason for dumping the "smoothly" operating ones.