Before you read this David Sanger/Scott Shane piece reporting that the RQ-170 Sentinel drone that just went down in Iran was, “among other missions,  looking for tunnels, underground facilities or other places where Iran could be building centrifuge parts or enrichment facilities,” I invite you to review what David Sanger has been writing for the last few months. Sure, he’s been the key person orchestrating the IAEA Iran report story, going back months. There’s also this story, curiously mixing reporting on the capture of the drone with a report citing sources describing surveillance photos of the Iranian missile testing base conveniently blown up while Iran’s top missile expert was there.
And then there’s this story from last month, which is or was titled “The Secret War with Iran.” It suggests how the assassins targeting Iran’s nuclear scientists knew exact details of their daily commutes, and then went on to describe the centrality of drones to our surveillance efforts against Iran.
COMMUTING to work in Tehran is never easy, but it is particularly nerve-racking these days for the scientists of Shahid Beheshti University. It was a little less than a year ago when one of them, Majid Shahriari, and his wife were stuck in traffic at 7:40 a.m. and a motorcycle pulled up alongside the car. There was a faint “click” as a magnet attached to the driver’s side door. The huge explosion came a few seconds later, killing him and injuring his wife.
On the other side of town, 20 minutes later, a nearly identical attack played out against Mr. Shahriari’s colleague Fereydoon Abbasi, a nuclear scientist and longtime member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. Perhaps because of his military training, Mr. Abbasi recognized what was happening, and pulled himself and his wife out the door just before his car turned into a fireball. Iran has charged that Israel was behind the attacks — and many outsiders believe the “sticky bombs” are the hallmarks of a Mossad hit.
Iran may be the most challenging test of the Obama administration’s focus on new, cheap technologies that could avoid expensive boots on the ground; drones are the most obvious, cyberweapons the least discussed. It does not quite add up to a new Obama Doctrine, but the methods are defining a new era of nearly constant confrontation and containment. Drones are part of a tactic to keep America’s adversaries off balance and preoccupied with defending themselves. Continue reading
I’ve been saying for some time that America’s hubris about drones will end as soon as one of our antagonists figures out how to hack them.
Which is why it’s interesting that Iran has updated its claims to have “shot down” an American drone to suggest they had “brought it down.” (Note, I found this statement on the Mehr website, but not the Fars one.)
The wreckage of the Lockheed-Martin RQ-170 Sentinel stealth drone was largely intact after it was downed, the Fars news agency said.
“Iran’s army has downed an intruding RQ-170 American drone in eastern Iran,” Arabic-language al-Alam TV said, quoting an anonymous source.
“The spy drone, which has been downed with little damage, was seized by the armed forces,” the news network added.
The cyber warfare unit managed to take over controls of the drone and bring it down, a military official said, according to the TV.
An unnamed military official also told the Fars that Iran’s response “will not be limited to the country’s borders.” [my emphasis]
And after some initial doubts that the Iranian claims were correct, ISAF has now admitted that they lost control of a drone last week.
The UAV to which the Iranians are referring may be a US unarmed reconnaissance aircraft that had been flying a mission over western Afghanistan late last week. The operators of the UAV lost control of the aircraft and had been working to determine its status.
Though the US remains coy over whether DOD was operating the drone (suggesting an Afghan mission) or the CIA was (suggesting a non-Afghan mission).
Although the Sentinel was developed for the Air Force, the U.S. official declined to confirm whether it was the U.S. military or the U.S. intelligence community operating the drone at the time of the incident.
Mind you, lurking in the background are the two recent attacks on Iran–the assassination of Hassan Moqaddam and the explosion in Isfahan. With both those previous explosions, Iran has officially offered conflicting stories about whether or not there was an explosion or why. If the drone was conducting reconnaissance of missile runs over Iran, both sides might say Iran “brought it down” to avoid discussions of where the drone was operating.
Remember, though: less than two months ago, Wired revealed that someone had gotten keylogger software onto Creech Air Force Base’s system in Nevada. So someone already infiltrated the Air Force drone system. It’s just not clear who did so.
Update: Also remember the probable disinformation from a few weeks back saying that the Israelis deliberately let Hezbollah take down one of its drones over Lebanon, which it then detonated to blow up a weapons depot. One reason the ISAF might admit to losing a drone is if it wasn’t their drone.
Update: This appears to confirm the Iranians were right. Though I would suggest both sides still might be lying about aspects of this.
According to Haaertz, the Iranian Fars News Agency is reporting (although I don’t see a story yet at their website or at Mehr News) an explosion in Isfahan, where an Iranian uranium processing facility is located:
A explosion rocked the western Iranian city of Isfahan on Monday, the semi-official Fars news agency reported, adding that the blast was heard in several parts of the city.
It should be noted that Iran operates a uranium conversion plant near Isfahan, one with an important function in the chain of Iran’s nuclear program.
It first went into operation in 2004, taking uranium from mines and producing uranium fluoride gas, which then feeds the centrifuges that enrich the uranium.
The underground centrifuge facility at nearby Natanz was previously attacked by the Stuxnet virus and is seen as perhaps the most important Iranian enrichment facility.
When today’s explosion and the recent death of Hassan Moqaddam, the head of Iran’s missile program, in an explosion of dubious origin while hawks nattered on about the IAEA Iran report, are coupled with the Stuxnet attack, it appears that the Iranian nuclear program is being attacked simultaneously at all points along the path that could lead to a weapon on a missile.
Was today’s explosion an escalation of that battle?
Reaction to the leaked IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear technology continues. In a remarkable article in the New York Times that reads more like an Op-Ed (h/t MadDog), we see the writer urging the US to join the more militant posturing coming from . . .France. [It appears that the world has now completely inverted from the days of Freedom Fries in 2003.] In addition, the New York Times has joined in repeating the whispers that some sort of Mossad-MEK operation was involved in the blast in Iran that killed the head of their missile development program. Also, Iran is discussing changing the extent to which it cooperates with the IAEA. International intrigue surrounding Iran also is enhanced with conflicting reports on the cause of death of Ahmed Rezaei in Dubai. Rezaei is the son of Mohsen Rezaei, who previously served as head of the Revolutionary Guards, ran for President of Iran and now heads the Expediency Council. Dubai has termed the death a suicide but most Iranian sources are labeling it suspicious.
The Op-Ed piece in the New York Times masquerading as a news article is penned by John Vinocur who is based in Paris for the Times’ sister publication the International Herald Tribune. Vinocur opens with a slap at US leadership:
That’s not the way the French would describe their role in the world. Rather, the fact is that France, in many respects, led the United States into battle in Libya and provided much of the willpower leading to a victory over the Qaddafi regime that is shared by the Americans, British and others.
Vinocur then misrepresents the findings of the IAEA report, stating flatly that “the Iranians now have enough fuel on hand to produce four nuclear weapons”, leaving out the key piece of information that this fuel has not yet been enriched to weapons grade and that there is no evidence or even any suggestion that Iran is engaging in enrichment to weapons grade. Continue reading
Because there hasn’t been an immediate, multinational hue and cry to bomb Iran over the leaked IAEA report, both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and David Albright, the designated point person for fomenting fears over Iran’s nuclear program in the United States, have been reduced to using their best Billy Mays voice to boom out “But wait, there’s more!” Netanyahu’s blathering has been dutifully written down and published by Reuters while Albright has found a willing mouthpiece in the Washington Post’s Joby Warrick
Netanyahu told his cabinet yesterday that Iran is closer to getting the bomb than the IAEA report suggests. Here is how Reuters reported his remarks:
“Iran is closer to getting an (atomic) bomb than is thought,” Netanyahu said in remarks to cabinet ministers, quoted by an official from his office.
“Only things that could be proven were written (in the U.N. report), but in reality there are many other things that we see,” Netanyahu said, according to the official.
The Israeli leader did not specify what additional information he had about Iran’s nuclear program during his cabinet’s discussion on the report by the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released last week.
Yup, Netanyahu is telling us he knows more about Iran’s nuclear technology than the rest of the world knows, but he won’t give us details and he can’t prove it. And, of course, it is important to believe everything Netanyahu says.
Meanwhile, in Washington, Joby Warrick saw fit this morning to devote an entire article to building the case that Vyacheslav Danilenko was transferring crucial nuclear technology to Iran rather than helping Iran to develop nanodiamond technology. The accusations against Danilenko come almost exclusively from David Albright and a “report” on Danilenko prepared by Albright’s Insitute for Science and International Security. Warrick does include one brief quotation from a former CIA Iran analyst on how analysts characterize the flow of information into potentially covert programs and a statement from Josh Pollack of Arms Control Wonk. I will return to the Pollack quote below.
Now that Danilenko’s work on controlled high explosives detonations creating nanodiamonds has been put forward as a potentially peaceful use of the technology he was helping to develop in Iran, those who promote the view that Iran is working hard now to develop a nuclear weapon find it necessary to provide a stronger connection between Danilenko’s work and development of a bomb trigger device. At the same time, Danilenko has responded to press inquiries with a direct “I am not a father of Iran’s nuclear program” and “I am not a nuclear physicist.” Continue reading