Expert: Stuxnet Just Latest in U.S. Hacks of Covert Nuke Programs

CORRECTION: This article originally included the incorrect name for an associate of  A.Q. Khan. The correct name of the associate is “Friedrich Tinner,” a Swiss nuclear engineer. The name has been corrected in the article.The author of a new book on the evolution of the world’s first nuclear black market says that Stuxnet is just the latest in a long string of efforts by the U.S. and its allies to slow or stop the creation of nuclear programs by rogue nations.

CORRECTION: This article originally included the incorrect name for an associate of  A.Q. Khan. The correct name of the associate is “Friedrich Tinner,” a Swiss nuclear engineer. The name has been corrected in the article.

The author of a new book on the evolution of the world’s first nuclear black market says that Stuxnet is just the latest in a long string of efforts by the U.S. and its allies to slow or stop the creation of nuclear programs by rogue nations.

Stuxnet, the world’s most famous industrial malware has spurred questions and controversy. Who created it? what was its purpose? And did it work? But a new book out by journalists Catherine Collins and Douglas Frantz claims that Stuxnet was just the latest in a string of covert efforts by the U.S. and its allies to sabotage the nuclear programs of rogue nations, and may have been necessary because of the failure of earlier sabotage attempts.

Their book, ‘Fallout: The True Story of the CIA’s Secret War on Nuclear Trafficking” examines the U.S.’s investigation of A.Q. Khan, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program and of an extensive black market in nuclear materials. Among the pages of this fascinating account of Khan’s rise and the CIA’s decades-long surveillance of his secretive network are some interesting tidbits that shed light on the possible origins of the Stuxnet worm.

Khan’s network was a critical supplier of nuclear equipment to the regimes in North Korea, Libya and Iran that wanted to build a nuclear weapons programs out of sight of international watch dogs and regulators. Among other things, Khan supplied the Iranian leadership with centrifuges used to enrich uranium that could be used to build a nuclear weapon. Those same centrifuges, we now known, were the primary target of the Stuxnet worm, which is believed to have disabled a good part of Iran’s nuclear enrichment operation and set the country’s progress towards a bomb back by years.

In an interview for the National Public Radio program Fresh Air, Frantz – a former managing editor of the Los Angeles Times and now chief investigator for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – said that the U.S. and its allies had been intercepting, analyzing and tampering with critical technologies used by nations like Libya and Iran for years.

According to Frantz, the CIA, working with scientists and engineers at the Department of Energy, started a program to buy, reverse engineer and tamper with critical technology needed to refine and enrich uranium, including vacuum pumps, electric regulators and critical centrifuge components. According to Frantz, in the case of the vacuum pumps, the CIA purchased the pumps from a German manufacturer and had them sent to Los Alamos where a U.S. Scientist, dubbed “The Mad Scientist” by the CIA reverse engineered the devices and reprogrammed them to explode at a predefined pressure. Those altered parts were then passed on to Iran and Libya. The CIA did the same with electric regulators, manufactured in Turkey, that were passed on to Iran and Libya. Finally, the CIA asked a Khan associate, Friedrich Tinner, to manufacture minute flaws into centrifuge parts so that they wouldn’t operate properly in production.

Of course, that program had some consequences. While Frantz acknowledges that the altered parts did hamper the progress of those programs, in the case of Iran, he says that engineers were able to work around the CIA’s tampering and continue to use the critical components that U.S. had allowed to be shipped – components that the U.S. would otherwise have gone to great lengths to prevent Iran from acquiring. According to Frantz, the creation of the Stuxnet worm became necessary because Iran had overcome earlier efforts at sabotaging the centrifuges and was making steady progress toward assembling the fuel necessary to make a bomb.

Frantz’s account of the CIA’s efforts to derail budding nuclear programs in Libya and Iran over the last two decades dovetails with recent disclosures about the origins of the Stuxnet worm that suggest that critical intelligence that enabled the worm to manipulate programmable logic controllers (PLCs) used by Iran had come from the U.S.  Frantz’s discussion of the sabotage operation and his reference to the motivation to create Stuxnet comes at around the 17:00 minute mark in the interview.

Even with the recent revelations, debate on Stuxnet continues. In a presentation at the Black Hat Conference in Washington D.C., security consultant Tom Parker said that an analysis of the Stuxnet codes suggests the worm’s code was not as sophisticated as the public had been led to believe, and that the final Stuxnet worm may be an amalgam of work done by two disparate groups of programmers -one highly sophisticated, and one less so.  

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  • Andrew on

    The above article like many articles I've seen on Stuxnet is a complete lie and fabrication.


    We know who made it, we know why they made it and we know how they made it.


    We released the full information to our web site last year and was linked from one of Bruce Schneier's blog posts.


    It was however completely overlooked and you guys are still going with a U.S Government conspiracy.


    Stuxnet was a lot to do with the Lockerbie bomber being released and was a lot to do with BP.


    The code was written in different parts of the world, the people behind the code weren't told what they were working on.


    The code was finally brought together using a dedicated tool to coordinate the builds from the different developer teams.


    I removed the full report from our web site because people seemed to be offended that the worm was created because of the Lockerbie bomber release and the explosion in the Gulf of Mexico.




    Founder of n3td3v

  • Expatriated American Patriot on

    Netdev, that is pure bullshit. It is now known certainly that Stuxnet was created by the zionist entity at their Dimona atomic bomb factory, using a test rig made out of ex-Libyan P-1 centrifuge cascades. (Colonel Gadhafi made peace with the West a few years ago and gave up on his WMD project hardware, in exchange for oil and gas exports.) The jews got a lot Stuxnet tech info help from the USA and also from the Siemens mega-company in Germany.

    By the way, the person imprisoned for Lockerbie and recently released, had nothing to do with the Pan Am Jumbo Jet explosion. Lockerbie was Iran's revenge, because in 1988 the US Navy shot down an iranian Airbus plane filled with 290 Mecca pilgrims and US president Ronald Reagan stubbornly refused to apologize. Iran then contracted the palestinian "Black September" militant organization to execute the revenge and Lockerbie happened.

    In the end weakling Libya got blamed for Lockerbie bombing by the NATO, because Iran (just victorious in its seven year war against the US-USSR-Frace backed Iraq) was simply too powerful to attack. Furthermore, the USA couldn't find an excuse to attack Iran, because exchanging the Lockerbie Jumbo Jet for the Mecca Airbus A-300 was justified under the old 1927 Nation's League treaty on aerial warfare.

    Eventually it would be very good if Iran or Syria could obtain atomic bombs. That would allow them to negotiate on an equal footing with the 220 pcs A-bomb equipped zionists, equality being a basic requirement for creating a just and lasting peace. Egypt made an equal peace treaty with Tel-Aviv in 1979, a few years after the soviets sent a naval ship with 18 nuclear Scud warheads oboard to their ally Egypt, to balance against the threat of zionists A-bombs that was so decisive in 1973.

    This re-setting of balance motivated the zionists to start negotiating sincerely. Eventually they agreed with egyptians to fool the USSR and so Egypt quickly switched sides to the West in Camp David. Cairo abandoned the USSR entirely and accepted huge sums of US money instead. The same success could be achieved with Syria, for example, but the unilateral threat of jewish nukes prevents equal negotiating for peace, so Damascus just entrenches and clings on to a huge, but obsoleted pile of chemical warheads.

  • Swami Poobah on

    ZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...neither one of you know what you're talking about.

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