A three-month investigation published Saturday by The New York Times indicates the Stuxnet virus that did damage to Iran's nuclear program may well have been a joint project between the American and Israeli government.

The "Dimona complex" located in the southern Negev desert in Israel, where that country is said to have centered its nuclear weapons program, may for two years have been the proving ground for Stuxnet as well.

Stuxnet, a virus that attacked a particular piece of machinery used in Iranian uranium enrichment efforts, and which hit Iran more than any other country, has been widely acknowledged to be too complex to be a hacker artifact and a likely government undertaking.

Recently, both the U.S. Secretary of State and the head of Israel's Mossad spy agency have stated that Stuxnet has pushed Iran's full nuclear capability start date back several years. The clean-up of the virus, replacement of damaged parts on the centrifuges and other machinery and the hardening of the system against future viral attacks will add as many as three years to the program's birthdate.

At Dimona, says the Times, "Israel has spun nuclear centrifuges virtually identical to Iran's at Natanz, where Iranian scientists are struggling to enrich uranium." It's a lot easier to target a virus at a piece of machinery if you've got the machinery to hand, goes the argument.

Among additional evidence that this was a U.S.-Israel attack:

  • Idaho National Laboratory conducted tests of Siemens' weaknesses for the U.S. Department of Energy, which oversees the U.S. nuclear program (the machinery Stuxnet targeted was manufactured in part by Siemens)
  • In January of 2009, then-President Bush "authorized a covert program to undermine the electrical and computer systems around Natanz, Iran's major enrichment center"
  • US succeeded in stopping an April 2009 delivery of Siemens controllers to Iran, according to several Wikileaks-released cables

The Times' investigation hardly proves conclusively that Stuxnet was a U.S.-Israel collaboration, but it does strongly suggest it. It will be interesting to find out if future diplomatic cable releases shed any further light on it.

Dimona cliff photo by Hanan Cohen | Natanz photo from OpenDemocracy