Iran’s nuclear misfortunes are probably no accident

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AP file photo

An Iranian technician walks through the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the city of Isfahan, 255 miles south of Tehran in this 2007 photo.

WASHINGTON — Iran’s star-crossed nuclear and energy programs have suffered a rash of setbacks, mishaps and catastrophes in the past two years.

Assassins killed three scientists with links to Iran’s nuclear programs. The Stuxnet computer worm that infected computers worldwide zeroed in on a single target in Iran, devices that can make weapons-usable uranium.

Dozens of unexplained explosions hit the country’s gas pipelines. Iran’s first nuclear power plant suffered major equipment failures as technicians struggle to bring it online.

Has Iran just been unlucky? Probably not.

The chief of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Fereidoun Abbasi, told journalists at a meeting in Vienna last week that the United States was supporting an Israeli assassination campaign against his scientists. His comments came almost a year after motorcyclists attached a bomb to the door of his car in Tehran. He and his wife barely escaped.

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Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

President of the Islamic Republic of Iran

As for the three slayings, Iranian President Ahmadinejad told The Associated Press that the killers had been caught and confessed to being “trained in the occupied lands by the Zionists.” He accused the International Atomic Energy Agency of being under U.S. control and said the watchdog agency had “illegally and unethically” released the names of Iran’s nuclear researchers, making them targets.

While Israel and Britain won’t discuss Iran’s charges, the U.S. has denied any role in the slayings.

“We condemn any assassination or attack on a person — on an innocent person,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said after the latest killing in July. “We were not involved.”

Former U.S. officials point out that assassinations are outlawed by the U.S., which condones drone strikes against terrorists as acts of war against combatants.

Yet there is little doubt that the Obama administration is pursuing a program of high-tech sabotage to disrupt Tehran’s suspected weapons-related nuclear efforts.

“I have no doubt that the U.S. and other countries were behind industrial sabotage aimed at the program of concern,” said Mark Fitzpatrick, a former State Department official who’s now at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

Tehran said it is pursuing nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. International inspectors said Iran has refused to explain suspected weapons work since 2008. The U.S. and other countries accuse Iran of making all the necessary preparations to build a nuclear arsenal.

Publicly, the administration has pushed for tougher penalties and further diplomatic isolation to pressure Iran to abandon weapons-related work. At the same time, former officials said, the U.S. and its allies have ramped up covert actions aimed at slowing Iran’s nuclear progress toward a bomb.

Ex-officials said the U.S. has been careful to target only those facilities suspected of playing a role in weapons work.

One former senior intelligence official said that the U.S. considered a scheme to use a burst of electromagnetic energy to knock out power to one suspected Iranian weapons-related site but rejected the plan because of the risk of causing a widespread power outage. The former official would only speak about classified matters on condition of anonymity.

The suspected sabotage campaign is widely seen as an alternative to military confrontation with Iran, which some experts say could have disastrous consequences for the Middle East.

A 2010 U.S. diplomatic memorandum published by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks quoted a German government official as saying that a program of “covert sabotage” against Iran, including explosions, computer hacking and engineered accidents, “would be more effective than a military strike whose effects in the region could be devastating.” The memo did not cite any specifics.

While the fact is rarely discussed, the U.S. may be the world’s leader in high-tech industrial sabotage.

According to an official CIA history, the Reagan administration was convinced that the Soviet Union was engaged in the wholesale theft of Western technological secrets. It arranged for the shipment of doctored computer chips, turbines and blueprints to the USSR that disrupted production at chemical plants and a tractor factory. When the KGB obtained plans for NASA’s Space Shuttle, the CIA said it made certain it was for a rejected design.

Thomas C. Reed, a member of the National Security Council in the Reagan administration, wrote in his 2004 book 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.

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Article source: http://wenatcheeworld.com/news/2011/sep/27/irans-nuclear-misfortunes-are-probably-no/

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Gergory Evans