A series of reports on Stuxnet's infiltration of Iran's nuclear program suddenly turned up in a number of Western media between Feb. 11 and 16. One was a study by the Californian Symantec Corporation (Symantec), a global provider of security, storage and systems management solutions, which was published on the same day as an analysis of its results run by The New York Times (Malware Aimed at Iran Hit Five Sites, by John Markoff).
Then, on Feb. 15, the BBC offered its analysis of the Stuxnet attack, based in part on the Symantec Corporation's findings and partly on the conclusions reached by its technology reporter, Jonathan Fildes. He appeared to have drawn on the assistance of British intelligence officials familiar with the subject. His analysis varied slightly from that of the American Symantec.
And on Wednesday, February 16, the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security – ISIS issued another set of conclusions laid out by the institute's founding president, David Albright, who over the years has become Washington's unofficial spokesman on the Iranian nuclear issue.
Common to all three findings is the determination that Stuxnet caused severe damage to the main Iranian centrifuge facility in Natanz, but only slowed it down without completely halting uranium enrichment there.
US hints that Belarus may have planted Stuxnet in Iran
The virus infects Windows machines via USB keys, which are commonly used to move files around and plugged into a computer manually. But it had to be seeded in the five Iranian organizations' internal networks by an outside party in the first place – either deliberately or accidentally – presumably by a mole or moles planted by a hostile spy agency or an outside contractor.
Albright suggested the malworm may have been introduced through organizations or firms which illegally procured parts for Iran's nuclear programs in violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. He named no names. DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources say he was referring to Belarus, which procures for Iran the nuclear and military technology which Russia cannot supply directly because of UN sanctions.
Belarus furthermore has quietly developed thriving and extensive economic, commercial and technological ties with Israel, and Stuxnet has turned up in its own computer systems, albeit in dormant form.
This would partly account for the broad hints by the Americans that Israel planted the worm in Iran's nuclear program.
But there is another possibility: that the US used Israel's strong ties with Minsk, primarily through the friendship between President Alexander Lukashenko and Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, to have Israel plant the virus on its own and Washington's behalf.
This suspicion is supported by repeated references by American sources to the possible development of Stuxnet in the United States and its removal by Israeli intelligence for testing on centrifuges similar to those used in Iran, namely Israel's Dimona nuclear center.
Symantec reported proof that Stuxnet attacked five "industrial processing" organizations in Iran, but declined to name them, unlike the other reports.
Tehran suspects Moscow of conniving with US and Israel
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources, the company's conclusion that five Iranian sites were attacked is rated in Tehran, Moscow and Minsk as its most significant finding, whose purpose is quite different from the conclusions reached in the West. It was the first time that sites other than Natanz were mentioned as definite Stuxnet targets by an authoritative Western entity.
The Russians and Iranians see it as a crude attempt to meddle in their dispute over responsibility for the delays in activating the Bushehr nuclear reactor and connecting it to Iran's national electricity grid.
They point out that the latest flurry of Stuxnet reports only mention the centrifuge facility at Natanz, which appears to be back on track – not Bushehr over which Tehran and Moscow are at odds.
Iran suspects Russia of secretly abiding by a deal which involved a US-Israeli promise not to attack the Bushehr reactor provided Moscow subscribed to additional sanctions against Iran and withheld S-300 interceptor missiles (against planes, missiles and cruise missiles) from the Islamic Republic and its allies.
This pledge was reportedly given in mid-2010 by President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
Hardly mentioned in this regard was a demand by the acting Director of the Iranian Atomic Energy Commission, Mohammad Ahmadian, on February 4, for an Iranian probe into claims of major damage caused by the computer worm to Iran's first and only nuclear reactor, in order to determine the validity of the warning by Russia's UN ambassador Dmitry Rogozin that its activation could cause anotherChernobyl (the Ukraine plant that blew up in 1986 by accident).
The Iranian official slammed the latest round of Western media reports as hostile and malicious. But, he said, they still had to be investigated to relieve anxieties in the minds of the Iranian people and the region over Bushehr's activation.
But he made it clear that Tehran would not accept an international probe as suggested by Moscow. It would conduct its own investigation into the mysterious workings of the malworm.
The Iranians suspect that Moscow only pretended to complete work on the Bushehr reactor and get it ready for activation. On the quiet, they suspect the Russians secretly collaborated with Washington and Jerusalem to keep the reactor idle – or else, they turned a blind eye to Belarus actions in planting the virus in Iran's nuclear sites, including the reactor.
The silence of Western sources about Bushehr only strengthens Iranian suspicions.