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Stuxnet and Iran’s Shadow War

8:08 AM, Jun 8, 2012 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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David Sanger’s piece in the New York Times earlier this month (“Obama Order Sped Up Wave of Cyberattacks Against Iran”) has garnered widespread attention. The piece provides granular details about a top secret effort to undermine Iran’s nuclear program using cyberweapons, including the Stuxnet virus, which disrupted Iran’s uranium enrichment efforts.

Ahmadinejad Mahmoud Columbia

The shameless manner in which some officials spoke about this secretive program, code-named “Olympic Games,” has generated controversy for understandable reasons. The piece is essentially an admission that the U.S. government and Israel are deeply involved in clandestine efforts to stop Iran’s quest for the bomb. We knew that already, of course, but now anonymous sources have provided an insider’s view of these efforts that the American public, and the Iranians, previously lacked.

There is another, largely unappreciated aspect of this story. It concerns Iran’s response to the American-led cyberwar and other clandestine efforts to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program. Sanger reports that there is “scant evidence” the Iranians have “begun to strike back” in the cyber world. This may be true, but the Iranians have attempted to strike back in the bricks and mortar world. And while some American officials are happy to brag about their clandestine cyber successes against Iran, others are just as eager to downplay Iran’s response. That response has included worldwide terrorist plots, including attempts to assassinate foreign diplomats in the republic of Georgia, Azerbaijan, India, Pakistan, Turkey, and Thailand.

Iran’s targets have included American diplomats.

For this part of the story we turn to a piece by the Washington Post’s Joby Warrick late last month (“U.S. officials among the targets of Iran-linked assassination plots”). Warrick focuses specifically on a foiled plot to assassinate American diplomats and their family members in Azerbaijan. Warrick reports:

The Obama administration has declined to directly link the Azerbaijan plot to the Iranian government, avoiding what could be an explosive accusation at a time when the two governments are engaged in negotiations on limiting Iran’s nuclear program. U.S. officials say they are less convinced that top Iranian and Hezbollah leaders worked together to coordinate the attempted hits, noting that both groups have a long history of committing such acts on their own, and for their own purposes.

The idea that Hezbollah and Iran would work separately on such efforts is pure nonsense. It is an obfuscation intended to hide the Iranian regime’s fingerprints, which are all over the plot, because American officials do not want to deal with the implications. In reality, Hezbollah has been a proxy of the Iranian regime for decades and its top terrorist leaders work closely with their counterparts in Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

The Iranian regime’s hand in the plot to assassinate American diplomats in Azerbaijan is plain to see. Consider the evidence made public by the Azerbaijani government.

On March 14, Azerbaijan’s Ministry of National Security announced that 22 people “accused of treason and other grave crimes” had been arrested. The would-be terrorists “were involved in secret collaboration with the special services of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” which is probably a reference to the MOIS, as well as SEPAH, otherwise known as the IRGC.

An IRGC “employee” instructed one of the conspirators “to find suitable persons…in order to involve them in secret military trainings for the purpose of penetrating terrorist attacks and sabotages against the embassies, representations [sic] and organizations of the US, Israel and the Western countries in Baku.” The IRGC “promised to give [a] large amount of money” for this work.

The IRGC further arranged for the terrorist cell to travel to Iran under “different pretexts,” including religious pilgrimages. In reality, they were brought to Tehran, where the details of the plot were hatched. In broken English, the Azerbaijani Ministry of National Security explained that the cell:

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