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Iran Pols Mock, Bewail Human Rights Sanctions; Claim Nuke 'Spies' Nabbed

04 Oct 2010 08:107 Comments

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THE LEAD

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Two US-Targeted Iranian Officials Mock New Sanctions

AFP | Oct 2

Two of the eight Iranian officials targeted by Washington with sanctions for alleged human rights abuses on Saturday mocked the moves against them by US President Barack Obama as a "joke."

Welfare Minister Sadeq Mahsouli and deputy police chief Ahmad Reza Radan said Obama's decision questioned the very perception of the United States as a superpower.

On Wednesday, Obama ordered that any US assets held by the eight officials, who include Mahsouli and Radan, be frozen. They will also be denied US visas.

"I have never applied for a US visa...these actions question America's superpower status. I also never had a single rial in an account in America," Mahsouli, interior minister during the disputed June 2009 presidential election, was quoted as saying by Fars news agency.

"This issue is like a political joke. Even when I was working in the private sector I did not visit America," he said.

Radan also dismissed Obama's move.

"I thank Mr Obama for making this joke," Fars quoted him as saying. "When Obama read out the statement, he should have said how much I have in my account. I want to know my correct balance."

Their reactions were the first by any of the eight targeted by Washington for alleged human rights abuses during widespread unrest after last year's presidential election.

[As described in Obama's executive order, Mahsouli "was Minister of the Interior at the time of the June 2009 election. As Minister of the Interior, Mahsouli had authority over all police forces and Interior Ministry security agents. His forces were responsible for attacks on the dormitories of Tehran University on June 15, 2009, during which students were severely beaten and detained. Detained students were tortured and ill-treated in the basement of the Interior Ministry building; other protestors were severely abused at the Kahrizak Detention Center, which was operated by police under Mahsouli's control."]

[Per the executive order, Radan "has been the Deputy Chief of Iran's National Police since 2008. As Deputy Chief of National Police, Radan was responsible for beatings, murder, and arbitrary arrests and detentions against protestors that were committed by the police forces. In addition, several detainees taken to Kahrizak Detention Center, the detention center where at least three protestors lost their lives after being subject to abuses, have alleged that Radan was present in Kahrizak and personally participated in the beatings and ill-treatment of detainees."]

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Iranian Officials Mock New US Sanctions

Radio Zamaneh | Oct 3

Iranian Interior Minister Mohammad Najjar, who is one of the eight people on that list, announced: "US actions with regards to human rights are highly contradictory."

"They can have my nonexistent assets wherever they are," Najjar added; "...furthermore, I never had any plans to travel to America."

[Per Obama's executive order, Najjar "was appointed the Deputy Commander of Armed Forces in charge of Police Forces in order to 'ensure order and security' in November 2009. He was in charge of the government response to protests on Ashura, one of the holiest days in Shia Islam, which in 2009 coincided with December 27, 2009. State media reported 37 dead and hundreds arrested. He is currently the Minister of Interior and, as such, has authority over all police forces, Interior Ministry security agents, and plainsclothes agents."]

US Ban on Iranian Officials 'Childish'

Press TV | Oct 3

Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani [...] described the recent move by US officials to refuse visas and blockade [US] assets of Iranian officials as "so cheap and meaningless," adding that such behavior is deemed on the international scene as [a] "chidish game," ISNA reported on Sunday.

"Block assets of all Iranian officials. It may temporarily ease your pain following your repeated failures in the region," he said, addressing US authorities.

See also: "Majlis Blasts US Ban on Iran Officials" (Press TV)

'Obama Backed Post-Vote Unrest in Iran'

Press TV | Oct 3

A senior Iranian lawmaker says US President Barack Obama's order to slap sanctions on eight officials of the Islamic Republic shows he supported the 'sedition movement' last year.

The sanctions have been slapped on eight senior officials, simply because they fulfilled their legal duties and helped harness the seditious moves and streets riots of last year, Alaeddin Boroujerdi was quoted by IRNA as saying on Sunday.

"Such actions are a clear indication that they are pursuing the policy of meddling in Iran's internal affairs," the chairman of the Parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee further said.

"The US and British governments as well as the Zionist regime [of Israel] made desperate efforts during the post-election unrest in 2009 but...this plot was also foiled," the top parliamentarian concluded.

See also: "'US Supports Sedition Movement in Iran'[: MP Mohammad Esmail Kowsari]" (Press TV) | "'US Ban on Iran's Officials, a Psy-War'[: MP Hossein Sobhani-Nia]" (Press TV) | "MP [Avaz Heidarpour]: US Ban on Iranian Officials Aimed at Undermining Iran's Economy" (Fars)

'Sanctions Show US Desperation'

Press TV | Oct 3

Iran's Judiciary chief, [Ayatollah Sadegh Amoli Larijani], says imposing restrictions on Islamic Republic officials shows Washington's desperation in the face of the Iranian nation's resistance.

He said the "arbitrary decision adopted without going through legal proceedings" belies Washington's claim that it abides by the law and advocates human rights.

Ayatollah Larijani criticized the double standards adopted by the West and in particular the US, in dealing with human rights issue, IRNA reported.

He further referred to a recent scandal surrounding the United States over an experiment which used Guatemalan prisoners and mental patients as test subjects without their knowledge.

"Today, those people who claim to be the advocates of human rights [are the same people who] many years ago performed medical experiments on the innocent people of one country (Guatemala) infecting them with sexually transmitted diseases in order to test [the efficacy of] their drugs on them."

See also: "Iran Calls New U.S. Sanctions Blatant Interference[: Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast]" (Tehran Times)

'Enemy Has Launched Soft War against Iran'

Tehran Times | Oct 3

National Prosecutor General Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei has stated that the enemy has launched an all-out soft war against Iran.

The enemy is aware of its inability to overthrow the Islamic Republic of Iran, and thus it has initiated a new war on a new battlefield to interfere with Iran's police and general public, he said during a military war game held in Tehran on Saturday.

However, Mohseni-Ejei [one of the eight officials targeted by U.S. sanctions], stated that the enemy has not abandoned the traditional means of confrontation with Iran and the enemy is training terrorist groups to create insecurity in the country.

On Saturday, Islamic Revolution Guards Corps Commander Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari [another of those targeted by U.S. sanctions], said that Iran is in "a state of soft war."

This war is cultural and political in nature and is more dangerous than a military confrontation, he added.

Iran Says It Arrested Computer Worm Suspects

New York Times | Oct 2

Iran has arrested an unspecified number of "nuclear spies" in connection with a damaging worm that has infected computers in its nuclear program, the intelligence minister, Heydar Moslehi [yet another of those targeted by U.S. sanctions], said Saturday.

Mr. Moslehi also told the semiofficial Mehr news agency that the ministry had achieved "complete mastery" over government computer systems and was able to counter any cyberattacks by "enemy spy services."

"All of the destructive activities perpetrated by the oppressors in cyberspace will be discovered quickly and means of combating these plans will be implemented," Mr. Moslehi said. "The intelligence Ministry is aware of a range of activities being carried out against the Islamic Republic by enemy spy services."

He provided no further details on the arrests, which could not be independently verified.

Hamid Alipour, an official at the state-run Iran Information Technology company, has said that the worm is spreading. "This is not a stable virus," he said last week. "By the time we started to combat it three new variants had been distributed." He said his company hoped to eliminate it within "one to two months."

OTHER NEWS

Ahmadinejad Calls for US Leaders to Be 'Buried'

AP | Oct 3

Iran's president Sunday called for U.S. leaders to be "buried" in response to what he says are American threats of military attack against Tehran's nuclear program.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is known for brash rhetoric in addressing the West, but in a speech Sunday he went a step further using a deeply offensive insult in response to U.S. statements that the military option against Iran is still on the table.

"May the undertaker bury you, your table and your body, which has soiled the world," he said using language in Iran reserved for hated enemies.

The crowd of military men and clerics in the town of Hashtgerd just west of the capital chuckled at the president's insult and applauded.

The speech was broadcast by both state television and the official English-language Press TV, but the latter glossed over the insult in the simultaneous translation.

See also: "Ahmadinejad Urges Occupiers to Apologize to Regional Countries" (Fars) | "Iran Calls on Foreign Powers to Leave Middle East Region" (Xinhua)

Israel Scrambles to Prevent Ahmadinejad's Lebanon Visit

Daily Star (Lebanon) | Oct 4

Israel is urging international diplomats to push Lebanon into canceling next week's visit by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, media reports said on Sunday.

Ahmadinejad is expected to arrive in Lebanon on Wednesday, October 13 for his first official visit to the country since assuming office in 2005. His two-day stay has been greeted with outright condemnation from Israel, which has labeled the act "provocative," Haaretz newspaper reported.

Over the past week, Israel has sent messages to Prime Minister Saad Hariri and President Michel Sleiman through UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the US and French governments, warning that the visit should be canceled as it would undermine regional stability and the Middle East peace talks, the paper reported.

National Security Council adviser Uzi Arad is also thought to have urged his French counterpart Jean-David Levitte to pass on Israel's condemnation of the visit last month during a visit to Paris.

The escalation of diplomatic posturing comes after media reports emerged that Ahmadinejad was intending to visit southern Lebanese villages of Bint Jbeil and Maroun al-Ras, only a few kilometers from the Israeli side of the Blue Line. He is also said to be looking to throw rocks at Israeli soldiers from the fence, the London-based newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi reported.

The Lebanese government has yet to respond affirmatively to the state visit, with the country's political establishment reportedly divided on the issue.

Ahmadinejad is expected to meet with Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah during his visit.

Joseph Maalouf, Lebanese Forces MP for Zahle, has also welcomed the visit, provided it does not carry any sectarian undertones or intentions, a charge Ahmadinejad has denied.

Fares Souaid, coordinator of the March 14 alliance, however, last week sternly criticized the trip. "Ahmadinejad through this visit is saying that Beirut is under Iranian influence and that Lebanon is an Iranian base on the Mediterranean," he told AFP. "The message is that Iran is at the border with Israel."

See also: "Iran, Lebanon Call for Further Ties" (Press TV) | "Without a Chair at the Table, Iran Seeks Influence Nonetheless" (CNN)

Syrian Leader Visits Iran to Discuss Regional Issues

Los Angeles Times | Oct 3

Syria's president paid a one-day visit to Iran on Saturday to discuss "the exceptional ties" between the two countries, but the meeting came amid a cluster of regional developments that could divide them.

The substance of the talks between Bashar Assad and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was unclear, but on the agenda were the Iranian leader's upcoming visit to Lebanon and the intensified power struggles over the formation of a new government in neighboring Iraq.

Assad's visit to Tehran also comes after a recent improvement in U.S.-Syrian relations that is worrying to Tehran, which views Damascus as one of its strategic partners in its ideological campaign against the West.

Syria's official SANA news agency said that Assad would meet with Ahmadinejad to discuss "the exceptional ties" between the two countries. Assad's official delegation included a number of top Syrian officials, including Foreign Minister Walid Moallem and Vice President Farouq Shara.

Iranian state television aired the red-carpet arrival festivities live, showing Ahmadinejad and Assad standing side by side, and reported that Ahmadinejad would award his Syrian counterpart a medal of valor for supporting the Iran-backed Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah and the militant group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.

See also: "Syria's Assad Rebuffs Washington by Courting Iran" (Reuters) | "Iran, Syria Eye $5b Annual Trade" (Tehran Times) | "US Cannot Make Resistance Obsolete: Ayatollah Khamenei" (Tabnak)

Egypt and Iran to Resume Flights

Al Jazeera | Oct 3

Egypt and Iran have signed an agreement to resume direct flights between their capitals for the first time since the two nations severed diplomatic ties in the wake of the Iranian Islamic revolution in 1979.

Sameh al-Hafni, head of the Egyptian Civil Aviation Authority, said 28 flights will carry travellers between Cairo and Tehran, the respective capitals, every week.

Ahmed Shafiq, Egypt's minister of civil aviation and Hamid Baghai, Iran's vice president and head of tourism, oversaw the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Hamid Ghavabesh, deputy chief of the Iranian national aviation company and Hafni from Egypt's civil aviation authority on Sunday.

Iran's Fars News Agency reported that an Egyptian businessman, who was not named, has announced an agreement worth $1.37bn between his private airline company and Iran's Kish Air Company for the next eight years.

An Iranian government delegation recently visited Egypt in what could be a prelude to the resumption of ties between the countries.

Iran severed ties with Egypt after it signed a peace deal with Israel and provided asylum to Iran's deposed leader, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Since then, the two countries have only maintained interest sections in each other's capitals.

Thirty Percent Increase in Air Ticket Prices in Iran

Tabnak | Oct 30

According to a decision by Iran Airways High Council, domestic air ticket prices will increase by 30 percent as of October 7, the Persian service of Iran Labor News Agency, ILNA, reported Sunday.

Deputy Minister of Road and Transportation, Reza Nakhjavani said the decision was made in line with repeated requests by domestic airliners in an attempt to reach to actual prices, the report added.

He expressed the hope with the new prices, the problems of the air transportation industry would alleviate and airliners would be able to renovate their air fleet and provide passengers with more qualified services.

More Than 80% of Iranians Apply for Government Aid When Food Subsidy Ends

Bloomberg | Oct 2

Iran's government will start paying cash to individuals next week to help them cope with rising prices as it phases out subsidies for food and energy, Economy and Finance Minister Shamseddin Hosseini said.

About 60 million Iranians, or more than 80 percent of the population, have signed up for the program, which starts Oct. 7, Hosseini said in Tehran today, according to the state-run Fars news service. He didn't say how many people will qualify for compensation or how much they will receive, according to Fars.

"The accounts of Iranian families will be credited gradually," Hosseini was cited as saying. "They will see how much they are eligible for when they check their accounts." Hosseini didn't say when caps on food and energy products will be lifted or by how much.

Iran's Rial Stays Fragile Despite Central Bank Move

Reuters | Oct 3

Iran's currency, the rial, defied central bank attempts to revive its value on Sunday, remaining weak after falling 13 percent against the dollar last week.

Last week's rial slump stirred talk of an unannounced policy of devaluation or a scramble for dollars amid fear of a scarcity in hard currency due to economic sanctions. But the central bank said later it would intervene to shore up the rial.

The retail exchange rate was 10,900 rials to the dollar on Sunday, softer than the 10,700 target set by the Central Bank of Iran after it pumped hard currency into the local market.

The rial picked up slightly on Saturday, but fell back again on Sunday, although not to its lowest point of 12,200 registered last Wednesday.

Police Chief Warns Against Riots and Civil Disobedience

Uskowi on Iran | Oct 1

NAJA (Iran's national police) chief Brig. Gen. Esmail Ahmadi-Moghdam warned the participants in today's Friday's Prayer in Tehran that the [nation's] enemies might want to take advantage of people's economic hardships created by sanctions.

"Perhaps people's tolerance for even slight and limited hardship is low.... By way of economic pressure, (the enemies) would want to create riots, insecurity, and civil disobedience in the society," Gen. Ahmadi-Moghdam said, according to Fars News Agency.

"They (the enemies) have launched a protracted psychological war against us and today they are after exploiting the (economic) threats in their favor," he added.

NAJA Chief's delivery of a pre-sermon speech at Friday's Prayer in Tehran is highly unusual and it could represent the government's fear that the worsening economic conditions in the country in the wake of the current sanctions could trigger popular discontent and even "riots and civil disobedience" as Gen. Ahmadi-Moghdam says.

See also: Extensive report on Ahmadi-Moghdam's remarks (Fars [in Farsi])

Prisoners' Letters Upset Iranian Officials

Washington Post | Oct 2

For Iranian political prisoners, being locked away is not necessarily a barrier to speaking out.

In a series of taboo-breaking letters written from prison, activists, politicians and journalists -- most of them arrested in the aftermath of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's disputed June 2009 election victory -- have been telling of torture, criticizing Iranian leaders and encouraging others to continue their protests.

Government officials and their supporters in the media say the criticisms threaten national security and are demanding that judiciary officials put a stop to them.

Abdollah Momeni, a former student leader, described in vivid detail in a recent letter how he was brutally beaten dozens of times by his interrogators, kept for weeks in a tomblike cell and forced to confess to crimes he says he did not commit.

"All this treatment is carried out in the framework of a religious regime, justified by claims of protecting the state," Momeni, 34, wrote in the letter published three weeks ago on the Web site of a human rights group that is critical of the Iranian government. "Haven't the law enforcement officials and the rulers of the current government of the Islamic Republic failed the test of justice, morality, and humanity?"

Heshmatollah Tabarzadi Sentenced to 9 Years in Prison and 74 Lashes

RAHANA | Oct 3

The Public Relations Unit of the Democratic party of Iran has reported that Tabarzadi has been sentenced to 9 years in prison.

According to the report, the 26th branch of the Revolutionary Court, presided [over] by Judge Pirabbas, has sentenced [the] political activist and Secretary-General of the Democratic Party of Iran to 9 years in prison and 74 lashes.

He has been convicted of conspiracy and assembly to commit a crime against national security and insulting the Supreme Leader.

Tabarzadi was detained on December 28th after the Ashura protests and transferred to solitary confinement in Ward 209 of the Evin Prison. He was later transferred to the Rajaei Shahr prison for protesting the execution of the 5 Kurdish activists including Farzad Kamangar.

Iran Sentences Baha'i Aide to Nobel Laureate to 2 Years in Jail

CNN | Oct 2

A Baha'i assistant of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi has been sentenced to two years in prison in Iran, the semi-official Mashregh news website said Saturday.

Jinous Sobhani was arrested in early January with her husband and eight other members of the Baha'i faith after anti-government protests on the Muslim holy day of Ashura.

The Baha'is were blamed for the protests, said Diane Ala'i, representative to the United Nations for the Baha'i International Community.

"They had nothing to do with the demonstrations," Ala'i said. "The accusations are completely false."

They have been jailed in Tehran's Evin prison. Ala'i said Leva Khanjani has also been sentenced to two years behind bars.

Iranian authorities view followers of the the Baha'i faith, the largest minority religion in Iran, as "heretics" who may face repression on the grounds of apostasy.

Baha'is may not establish places of worship, schools, or any independent religious associations in Iran. In addition, Baha'is are barred from the military and denied government jobs, according to a report by the bipartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Seven national Baha'i leaders are currently serving 10-year sentences.

See also: "Amir Sheibanizadeh Detained for the Fifth Time in One Year" (RAHANA) | "Tehran University Student Activist Habib Farahzadi Detained" (RAHANA) | "Mashhad Activist Amir Sheibani Detained" (RAHANA) | "Prisoner [Zia Nabavi, Student Activist,] Under Pressure to Deny Abuse" (ICHRI)

Detained Freedom Movement Leaders Transferred to Tehran

Radio Zamaneh | Oct 3

Two days after their arrest in Esfahan, the government confirmed the arrest of eight members of the Freedom Movement organization and announced that two of their leaders were transferred to Tehran.

Last night IRNA announced the names of the detainees quoting "a knowledgeable source" and added that Ebrahim Yazdi, secretary-general of the political group, and Hashem Sabbaqian, another executive member, were transferred to Tehran.

IRNA reports that the detained members of Freedom Movement are accused of participating in "an illegal prayer session" and adds that Ebrahim Yazdi "planned on holding a private meeting with the other members of the Freedom Movement."

IRNA also notes that Ebrahim Yazdi was on temporary leave from prison and had travelled to Esfahan "without informing the authorities."

[A]ccording to Mizan Khabar, [the] Freedom Movement website, they were attending a prayers session as part of a funeral.

See also: "Members and Secretary-General of the Freedom Movement of Iran Arrested" [provides names of several others detained] (RAHANA)

Iran Slams India over J&K Protests, India Hits Back, Issues Demarche

Indian Express | Oct 2

New Delhi has lodged a strong diplomatic protest with Tehran after the Iranian foreign ministry condemned Indian action against protesters in Jammu and Kashmir. These demonstrations had been provoked by an Iranian channel, Press TV, which showed clips of alleged desecration of the Koran in the US.

While India banned the channel from being broadcast in J&K after over 20 people were killed in the protests on September 13, Iranian foreign ministry spokesperson Ramin Mehmanparast spoke out against the Indian government five days later and went to the extent of saying that to counter such protests could be "interpreted as supporting acts of sacrilege." On September 18, Mehmanparast said it was "perfectly acceptable for Muslims to react to the desecration of the Koran" and called upon the Indian government to show "self-restraint."

His remarks were read in New Delhi alongside the negative media commentary in Iran on banning Press TV in J&K and the action against protesters.

The constant outrage from Tehran upset New Delhi, which finally decided to call in the Iranian envoy to the Ministry of External Affairs and deliver a strong protest. The same was conveyed simultaneously by the Indian mission in Tehran to Iranian authorities.

Iran Says Gas Pipeline to Pakistan Ready in One Year

Tehran Times | Oct 2

Iran will build [a] gas pipeline up to the Pakistan border within one year and it could be linked with the pipeline [as] soon as it is laid on the Pakistani side, National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) officials said.

In a meeting with the Pakistani Petroleum Minister Syed Naveed Qamar in Islamabad on Wednesday, the Iranian delegation said that they had already constructed 900 km pipeline of 56-inch diameter from Assaluyeh gas processing facility up to Iranshahr.

The delegation led by Hamid Ahmadi Sharaf, the director of Gas Export to Pakistan, said that only 250 km of the pipeline remains to be constructed up to the Pakistan border.

Turkey's TUPRAS to Discontinue Activities in Iran

Tehran Times | Oct 3

The Turkish Petroleum Refineries Co., TUPRAS, has decided to discontinue its activities in Iran's energy sector.

"It is TUPRAS's own decision. The executive board of TUPRAS made the decision following the privatization of the company," Energy and Natural Resources Minister Taner Yildiz told reporters Friday.

The United States State Department included TUPRAS in a statement Thursday on a list of companies that have announced they are discontinuing their activities in Iran's energy sector.

Asked about the statement from the U.S., Yildiz said items pertaining to petroleum products were not included in the UN Security Council's economic sanctions against Iran.

""However, the resolutions, related to fuel supply of the said nuclear power plants, bind us in legal sense. The U.S. itself has some sanctions regarding petroleum products. There is the trade of the private sector here.

"The private sector may continue its commerce or not. Turkey does not have any sanction or statement in this respect," Yildiz said.

See also: "Turkey Rejects US Sanctions on Iran" (Press TV)

Iranian Education System to Undergo Radical Changes

Radio Zamaneh | Oct 1

Iran's minister of education announced that the ministry will soon alter textbooks and educational trends in schools in order to realize a complete overhaul of the education system.

According to ISNA the minister announced a five year plan to change the content of educational text books "in order to turn students into thinkers."

He claimed that the changes are aimed at connecting teachers with the supreme leadership as well as religious thinking and positive attitudes toward the regime.

He insisted that the intended changes are a reflection of the leader's views on education.

He also added that ten thousand Quranic schools will open within a week and they plan to increase them to 50 thousand while charging local clergy and Basij forces with their administration.

He also reported the building of prayer rooms in schools and announced the establishment of joint courses to be taught by the education ministry and seminaries.

Persepolis to Host Tehran Orchestra

Press TV | Oct 2

The Tehran Symphony Orchestra is planning to perform the Persepolis Symphony at the capital of the Persian Empire in the southern province of Fars.

Conducted by musician Majid Entezami, the live concert will recount the events from the early years of the Achaemenid dynasty to Alexander's invasion.

Persepolis was built in 518 BCE on an immense half-artificial, half-natural terrace by Darius I, who created an impressive palace complex inspired by Mesopotamian models.

The concert is commissioned by the Foundation for Fars Studies and planned for the next Persian year.

Iran Scraps Ban after Filmmaker's Apology: Report

AFP | Oct 2

Iran has scrapped a ban on internationally acclaimed director Asghar Farhadi's unfinished film after he tendered an apology to the culture ministry, ILNA news agency said on Saturday.

Farhadi was banned from filming his movie "Nader Divorces Simi" late last month because of his alleged support to dissident filmmakers, but ILNA said the ban had now been lifted.

"The authorisation to continue making the film by Farhadi has been issued after his apologies and following a speech made by the culture minister on Thursday," ILNA quoted public relations officer at the ministry Hamid Reza Dibaei as saying. "He can now start filming from Saturday."

According to Iranian media, Culture Minister Mohammad Hosseini had said on the sidelines of a seminar on Thursday that Farhadi "had realised his mistakes."

"The main issue is not Farhadi or his film.... We believe that cultural and artistic groups...must not be involved in political matters," he said.

OPINION & ANALYSIS

Stuxnet Speculation Fuels Crackdown by Iranian Intelligence

Jeffrey Carr (Firewall/Forbes) | Oct 2

Last week I wrote about how the Israel-Iran conspiracy theory around the Stuxnet worm was built entirely on one security engineer's personal conjecture (Ralph Langner) with absolutely no weighing of alternative possibilities for attribution, nor any objective assessment of the evidence.

In my closing paragraph I warned about the potential harm that could result from a lethal mix of bad analysis fueled by a competitive, non-critical media and its effect on irrational state actors like Iran. This morning the BBC reports that Iranian intelligence has rounded up a number of "nuclear spies" suspected of being behind the nation's Stuxnet worm infestation.

Since it's highly unlikely that anyone responsible for the development and execution of Stuxnet is in Iran, this move is an excuse for Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security (VEVAK) to arrest and interrogate pretty much anyone that it deems a political threat, guilty or not. Interrogation by VEVAK means beatings and torture. Some may die in prison.

When subject matter experts mix authoritative research in their realm of expertise (malware analysis) with unsubstantiated speculation outside their expertise (intelligence analysis), and when the issue is as arcane as so-called "weaponized malware," bad things can happen and innocent people suffer.

Virus Attack on Iranian Nuclear Programme: The First Strike by Computer?

Richard Spencer (Telegraph) | Oct 4

Since last year, mystery has surrounded [the] main [Iranian uranium enrichment] facility at a place called Natanz, where the number of working centrifuges, the main enrichment devices, suddenly fell by 15 per cent -- at the very time Stuxnet is first thought to have hit Iran.

Israel has little to gain from denying or confirming anything. It cannot own up to what some see as a monumental act of irresponsibility -- the creation of a worm that could attack any sensitive system anywhere in the world. On the other hand, its struggle with Iran is also psychological, and it does it no harm to be thought capable of disarming a nuclear programme without launching a missile.

Who knows the names of the spies who triumphed? Iran will never admit, and Israel may never say, if it was Stuxnet that damaged Natanz. There is one further hint, though. When Stuxnet does triumph, it leaves a number imprinted on its new host: 19790509. That number [...] seems to be a date -- May 9, 1979.

Many things could have happened on May 9, 1979: it may just be someone's birthday. But newspaper archives also tell us it was the day Habib Elghanian died. Who was Mr Elghanian? He was the first Iranian Jew to be hanged for spying by the new Islamic Republic. And as we all know, revenge is a dish best served cold.

Iran's Songs of Love and Liberation

Ed Emery (Le Monde Diplomatique) | October

The crowd in a small music venue in Oxford is young, there to listen to Iranian songs, including pieces in Azeri, Kurdish and Armenian. Late in the performance somebody calls for "Winter is over" (Sar umad zemestoun), a song from the 1960s now enjoying new life as an anthem of the reformist Green Movement. The band agrees to play as long as the audience sings. People hesitantly come to the front of the stage as an impromptu choir, knowing this is a public proclamation of allegiance: the event is being filmed so they could end up on YouTube, visible to the Iranian regime and its agents. Bad things could happen to family members in Iran.

After June 2009's contested elections, popular anger welled up in Iran. [...] Sound plays a part in the new alignments: every night after the elections, Iranians cried themselves hoarse from Tehran's balconies and windows, an eerie wail. Their chant of Allah-o akbar was a way of expressing determination, hope and frustration, and of creating a spirit of solidarity.

Music has an important role in this opposition between Iran's people and their government. Traditional music, which in the past was a means of protest, is having a resurgence and being criticised by the authorities. A low-grade cleric appeared on TV to attack music as a source of evil. He mentioned the santur (a multi-stringed hammer dulcimer), 10 times in a few minutes, a reminder that in 2007 the government had bizarrely banned Santoori, a Dariush Mehrjui film about a would-be santur player. Ayatollah Khamenei has recently pronounced that learning music runs counter to the principles of the Islamic republic and is a waste of time. Young Iranians are becoming interested in classical music, which a few years ago only older people listened to.

Af-Pak: Iran's Endgame

Siddharth Ramana, Institute of Peace & Conflict Studies Research Officer (Eurasia Review) | Oct 1

Afghanistan's strategic importance lies in its transit point for energy rich states in Central Asia. For example, the trans-Afghan Oil pipeline by American company Unocol proposed to transport oil from Azerbaijan and Central Asia through Afghanistan to Pakistan or India. Iran seeks to rival this and the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline (TAPI), with its own pipeline through Pakistan and India and possibly China (IPI-C).

Iranian energy resources garnering regional support against the United States is a cause of concern for Washington, which has attempted to utilize its influence in Afghanistan to push forward alternatives to the Iranian gas, with limited success. For example, invoking the Libya Sanctions Act against Indian companies that conduct business activities in the US, forced them to abandon projects in Iran. However, India continues to evince interest in the IPI project.

Iran has allegedly played a deceitful role in Afghanistan to push forward its energy and hegemonic interests. For example, it is reported that despite being publicly allied against the Taliban, senior Taliban official Khirullah Said Wali Khairkhwa met Iranian officials in November 2001, gaining assurances of support against the US invasion of Afghanistan. Weapons seizures and testimonies of captured fighters too have collaborated allegations that Tehran is fuelling the insurgency in Afghanistan. In July 2010, additional documents indicated how Iran supports Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a noted terrorist leader in South Asia.

Iran's regional interest in Afghanistan has resulted in a massive influx of investment and aid to the country in order to strengthen its presence in the country. It has taken significant measures to infiltrate itself into the political leadership of the country as well, including through Afghanistan's Vice President Karim Khalili, a Shia Muslim, who is known to be close to Iran. Provinces neighboring Iran such as Herat too has senior government officials who are known to be sympathetic to Iran.

Gingrich: Iran's Leaders Are 'Suicidal Jihadists'

Matt Duss (Wonk Room) | Oct 1

At the risk of giving Newt Gingrich the attention he so obviously desperately craves, this is silly in a couple different and very significant ways:

Gingrich said he needs no further evidence Iran is building nuclear weapons, and he claims Iranian leadership is willing to trade destruction of Tehran for wiping out Israel's Tel Aviv in a nuclear exchange.

As suicidal jihadists, Gingrich said, Iranian leaders believe their dead martyrs go to heaven and Israelis "go to hell," so they win.

"It's impossible to deter them. What are you going to threaten?" Gingrich asked, on stage with Denver Post editor Gregory L. Moore, who moderated the forum sponsored by the Counterterrorism Education Learning Lab, or CELL.

It's absolutely unacceptable for Iran to fully develop a nuclear weapon, Gingrich said. And if China continues to resist joining the world in tough sanctions against Iran's nuclear program, then a U.S. trade boycott of China would quickly persuade Beijing, he said.

"If you get in the way, there would be consequences," Gingrich said.

I admit it's not immediately clear which is more ridiculous, the idea that Iran's leaders would like to commit suicide, or that U.S. leaders would ever seriously consider, let alone carry out, a trade boycott of a country that owns over $770 billion of U.S. debt.

Iran: The Score, the Options

Srdja Trifkovic (Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture) | Oct 1

In recent weeks the proponents of an American war against Iran have been getting impatient with President Obama's apparent unwillingness to get with the program. Joe Lieberman, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman, and Howard Berman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, now press the President to impose a short time limit on the effectiveness of the most recent set of sanctions imposed on Iran.

The Pentagon begs to differ. Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has often warned that a military strike against Iran might open up a "third front" and have serious ripple effects throughout the Middle East. He has also warned Israel of the consequences of an Israeli attack on Iran, just as he had done, repeatedly, under Bush II.

The intelligence community presents a more formidable domestic obstacle to the interventionist lobby. Its primary task, therefore, is to abrogate the November 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran which concluded that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and that the program remained frozen. Reflecting the consensus view of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, the NIE stated that Tehran would keep its options open with respect to building a weapon, but that this could not happen before the middle of next decade.

The ink was hardly dry on the Estimate when the proponents of intervention developed their line of attack: it is a politicized attempt by the intelligence community, they argued, to compensate for the exaggerations regarding Iraq's alleged WMDs by downplaying Iran's capabilities. For almost three years now, they have lobbied for a thorough revision.

The outcome of the battle for the hearts and minds of the U.S. intelligence community will become obvious soon, when the next Estimate is published. It will be a clear indicator of who will prevail. The war in Iraq would have been politically unfeasible had America's spies not provided George W. Bush with a deeply flawed assessment regarding Saddam's possession of, or intention to develop, weapons of mass destruction.

Five years ago I wrote in these pages that even with its unsurpassed military capabilities, the United States would not be able to mount an Iraqi-style invasion of Iran. An air campaign alone could cause a massive anti-American Shia insurgency in southern Iraq, throwing the country into utter chaos once again. Iran's oil production would be halted, Saudi production facilities attacked by gound-to-ground missiles, and the strategic Strait of Hormuz--through which most of oil from the Gulf passes on its way to the Far East and Europe--would be closed. The resulting global energy crisis would make the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War pale by comparison. Oil at $200 a barrel would throw us all into the depths of a new recession, which may be coming even without the new Middle Eastern crisis. Tehran would also have an incentive to support or even sponsor terrorist attacks against the United States, and its proxy groups in Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority would resume their terror campaign against Israel. Last but not least, there would be a new crisis in trans-Atlantic relations, far deeper than the one over Iraq.

The above assessment still stands.

Nuclear Dangers and Opportunities in Mideast

Richard Falk, U.N. Special Rapporteur for the Palestinian Territories and Chair of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, and David Krieger, President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (Pacific Perspectives Media Center via Korea Times) | Oct 3

Iran's uranium enrichment program has drawn much criticism, and there has been talk in both Israel and the United States of possible attacks against Iranian nuclear facilities.

A far better option than attacking Iran would be attempting to negotiate a Middle East Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone. There is widespread support for this initiative among the governments in the region and the world. It was a priority goal agreed to by consensus at the 2010 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference.

But there is one large catch that has so far been a decisive inhibitor: Israel is unalterably opposed, as the establishment of the zone would require Israel to dismantle its own nuclear weapons arsenal.

Obviously, the idea of a Middle East Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone has little regional appeal if it does not include Israel. Israel's insistence on retaining nuclear weapons while being ready to wage a war, with menacing repercussions, to prevent Iran from acquiring such weaponry is expressive of the deeply troubling double standards that are an overall feature of the nonproliferation regime.

A Middle East Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone would immediately improve overall regional stability and, as well, take account of the prospect of many Arab countries poised to embark on nuclear energy programs of their own.

Only the United States has the leverage and stature to bring the diverse cast of regional actors to the negotiating table to make the needed effort to avert war.

Ahmadinejad's Stones

Issa al-Shuaibi (Al-Ghad [Jordan; in Arabic]) | Oct 1

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is expected to visit Lebanon mid-October. In this context, news which could fall in the category of "believe it or not" stated that the president of the Islamic Republic will stand on the border at Fatima Gate and throw stones toward Israel, thus taking inspiration from these stones which characterized the first Palestinian Intifada.

Although many political and cultural figures who visited south Lebanon following the 2006 war carried out that same symbolic act, which inflames the deepest Arab longings to strike Israel and take revenge from it, the most famous of these stones was probably the one thrown by the late Edward Sa'id from that same Fatima Gate, toward those occupying his house in Jerusalem, in order to express a repressed wish to scream against oppression, injustice and encroachment.

There is no doubt that Ahmadinejad's symbolic demonstration points to good intentions that should be registered in his favor. [...] However, for an internationally renowned Palestinian Arab intellectual such as Edward Sa'id, who has nothing but his pen and his tongue to express his positions toward the outcome of the historic conflict [to cast that stone], is definitely different from seeing the president of a republic that is heavily armed with ballistic missiles, in addition to tens of thousands of missiles in Hezbollah's hands, doing that same act in this fashon, considering that he is able to conduct a more practical act.

Moreover, this image, which is still engraved in our memories, conveys an eloquent lesson in determination, insistence, and patience in the long confrontation with the occupation. As for Ahmadinezhad's stones, they are already the object of diverging opinions, criticisms and surprise -- not to say sarcasm -- especially by those who took the Iranian president's statements seriously when he spoke about the eradication of Israel from the map of the Middle East and believed that the region will soon be cured from this cancerous gland.

There is little doubt that Israel -- which is still getting ready to strike Iran as soon as possible based on its complex military and political calculations -- will be pleased to see the president of the Islamic Republic's stones, considering that they also symbolize the lack of alternatives and poor showmanship that has no purpose or impact in comparison with the eloquence of Edward Sa'id's stones.

This is due to the fact that when the president of a republic perceived by Israel as the only remaining source of existential threats in the region throws a stone toward the fence instead of launching a Shahab or Sajil missile, it is likely that Israel will read into this funny but sad scene differently to the popular readings, which applaud such shows, whose only goal is to tickle the emotions.

DOCUMENTS & DECLARATIONS

Ebadi and Prominent International Organizations Call for Release of Nasrin Sotoudeh

Declaration by Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi, Amnesty International, and Seven Other Groups (ICHRI) | Oct 1

Nobel Peace Laureate and Iranian lawyer, Dr Shirin Ebadi, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, the International Commission of Jurists, the International Federation for Human Rights, the Iranian League for the Defence of Human Rights (LDDHI), the Union Internationale des Avocats, and the World Organisation Against Torture, today condemned the continued detention without charge or trial of human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh in Iran and called for her immediate and unconditional release as she is held solely in connection with her work defending others.

They warned that her arrest is the latest step in a series of measures intended to prevent Iranians -- particularly those critical of the authorities -- from being able to access appropriate, competent legal representation, a basic right and important fair trial guarantee.

Nasrin Sotoudeh, the mother of two young children, has defended many high profile human rights campaigners and political activists, including journalist Isa Saharkhiz and Heshmatollah Tabarzadi, leader of the banned Democratic Front of Iran. The former was sentenced and the latter tried after Nasrin Sotoudeh's arrest. She has also represented juvenile offenders facing the death penalty and is acting as the lawyer for Shirin Ebadi in several cases.

She has been held in Tehran's Evin Prison since 4 September 2010 after she presented herself in compliance with a court summons. Since then she has only been allowed to make three telephone calls -- two to her home and one to her lawyer, but so far has not been allowed visits by her family or her lawyer.

Sotoudeh Threatened to Drop Case of Colleague

Letter from Reza Khandan, Husband of Nasrin Sotoudeh, to Tehran Prosecutor Jafari Dolatabadi (ICHRI) | Oct 1

I, Reza Khandan, would like to inform you that my wife, Ms. Nasrin Sotoudeh Langeroudi, a lawyer, received a threatening telephone call from a security organization regarding withdrawal from representing one of her colleagues, who is coincidentally also a lawyer. She was subsequently summoned by Evin Prison Court on 7 September 2010 and arrested. During this time, she has been denied any visitation, which is the natural right of everyone.

During this period, in addition to enduring immense mental pressure due to imprisonment in solitary confinement, she has also been denied visits with her two young children. She has not had any contact with her family since 15 September 2010. Ever since her arrest, she has not been allowed to speak with her 3-year-old child on the phone even for one minute. On 23 September 2010, her father passed away in the hospital, and although even hardened criminals can take bereavement leave to attend a funeral, she was deprived of this right, too, despite the investigator's agreement, a letter from the Prosecutor, the announced $150,000 bail, and presentation of documents related to her father's death. According to the case investigator's remarks, it seems as though the investigations have already ended and she should be able to be united with her children after posting bail.

Punishing children for the actions of adults is quite inhumane. Even if loss of contact with family, confinement in a solitary cell, and insults (by her initial investigator and the interrogator) produce results, those results are worthless and discredited. It has now been 14 days since we last had any news of her. It has been absolutely impossible to communicate with her and get any information about her.

Congressman Sherman Introduces Bill to Stop Iran's Nuclear Program

Press Release from U.S. Representative Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) (PoliticalNews.me) | Oct 2

Congressman Brad Sherman, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade, announced the introduction of the Stop Iran's Nuclear Weapons Program Act, H.R. 6296, to increase economic and diplomatic pressure on Iran and its remaining business partners.

"Existing Iran Sanctions have had a significant impact on Iran's economy, but have not achieved the ultimate goal of ending Iran's nuclear weapons program. We must continue to enact tougher sanctions to isolate Iran economically and diplomatically, and we must act now," said Congressman Brad Sherman. "With the enactment of the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions Accountability and Divestment Act in July, Congress provided firm authorization for U.S. states to enact their own measures to divest from firms that do business in Iran. My legislation would provide similar authorization for states to refuse to contract for goods and services from such firms."

Among other provisions, the Stop Iran's Nuclear Weapons Program Act would definitively end the practice of American corporations conducting business with Iran through their foreign subsidiaries, sanction entities that provide loans to the government of Iran, sanction firms that prepay for future Iranian oil and gas deliveries, and reduce U.S. contributions to international institutions that provide loans or other assistance to Iran.

Russia's Sanctions against Iran

Transcript of Interview with Dr. Mehdi Sanaei, Majles Deputy, Member of the Parliament's Foreign Policy Committee, and Head of the Iran and Eurasia Research Center (IRAS via Iran Review) | Oct 1

Dr. Sanaei, Dmitri Medvedev has issued an executive order to put some anti-Iranian sanctions into force, including a ban on selling S-300 missile system. What is your opinion?

There is no doubt that Moscow's refrainment from selling S-300 missiles to Iran will not help to improve bilateral relations. Two points should be borne in mind here. Firstly, these missiles are just for defense and not suitable for offense. Therefore, the question is "Why there should be concerns about a country's willingness to beef up its defensive capacities?" If they were offensive missiles capable of strengthening Iran's ability to attack other countries, those concerns would have been understandable. However, these are purely defensive missiles suitable to defend the nuclear power plant in Bushehr. On the other hand, Russia has signed a contract with Iran and should fulfill it; therefore, their reluctance to deliver missiles to Iran is by no means justifiable. Of course, tremendous pressures which have been put on Russia by the United States and the European countries to dissuade Moscow from delivery of the missile system should not be ignored.

Russia's abstention from delivering S-300 missiles is also related to pressures from the Zionist regime. Tel Aviv has been insisting Moscow during past few months in this regard. In addition, the list of Russian sanctions proves that 5+1 has given the go-ahead to Moscow to put more pressure on Iran. Therefore, despite Russia's efforts to bypass sanctions, it has complied with those sanctions as relations with 5+1 are very important to Moscow.

Briefing on U.S. Sanctions Policy for Iran's Energy Sector

Transcript of Briefing held by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State James B. Steinberg (Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State) | Oct 1

Today, the United States is taking steps in accordance with our law regarding foreign investment in Iran's energy sector. The State Department is imposing sanctions on Naftiran Intertrade Company, sometimes known as NICO, for its involvement in the Iranian petroleum sector under the Iran Sanctions Act, or ISA.

In addition, I'm pleased to announce that we have received commitments from four international energy firms to terminate their investments and avoid any new activity in Iran's energy sector, delivering a significant setback to Iran. These are the first public actions involving companies investing in Iran's energy sector since the ISA was expanded by Congress on July 1st when President Obama signed the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act into law.

The CISADA, as we call it, along with the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1929, and sanctions imposed by the EU, Japan, South Korea, Canada, Norway, and Australia, is part of our international consensus to raise the cost of Iran's refusal to meet its international nuclear obligations. CISADA is consistent with the growing understanding, recognizing UN Security Council Resolution 1929, that the Government of Iran is using revenues from its energy sector to fund its nuclear program, as well as procurement for its energy sector to mask procurement of dual-use items. The act provides several different tools to encourage companies to end operations in Iran.

NICO, which is based in Switzerland, is an international trading company and a wholly owned subsidiary of the National Iranian Oil Company. NICO has provided hundreds of millions of dollars of financing for development projects in Iran's petroleum sector, and sanctioning NICO today will further isolate the company from the international business community.

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7 Comments

Interestingly, debka.com suggests the "nuclear spies" arrested in Iran were Russians, and that other Russian nuclear engineers are getting the hell out of the country. Previously, other news outlets have that stated Stuxnet was introduced via a Russian laptop or USB stick, so this seems plausible. At least, it's more interesting than the increasingly implausible "myrtus" theories.

Ian / October 4, 2010 5:07 PM

Radan: "When Obama read out the statement, he should have said how much I have in my account. I want to know my correct balance."

that's right...you guys hide your millions in European and Syrian banks. Keep laughing.... you trial in courts will come soon enough

Anonymous / October 5, 2010 12:27 AM

It's interesting to encounter Ian's comment after the discussion of DEBKAfile that took place in the previous roundup comments. The fact is, there appears to be not the slightest bit of independently reported evidence supporting (let alone confirming) this latest DEBKA claim. On Friday, in the conservative U.S. National Journal, David Kay did speculate about a Russian origin for Stuxnet...before moving on to speculate about the Chinese.

We don't generally run blog items in the roundup unless they're by well-established figures, but there are two recent ones worth mentioning here: Russian malware expert Alexander Gostev of Kaspersky Lab provides data apparently indicating that Iran was never the epicenter of the Stuxnet epidemic and has been relatively successful in cutting its infection rate over the past month.

Finally, antivirus professional Mary Landesman of ScanSafe rebuts in detail the arguments underlying the prevailing theory that Stuxnet is an Israeli-directed attack on Iran's nuclear program.

Dan Geist / October 5, 2010 1:30 AM

Dan,

DebkaFile almost never names its sources, on the grounds that these are "intelligence sources". They are generally well-regarded by Israelis (although opinions differ), but one must of course assess their stories in the light of other information and (especially) be prepared for occasionally stonking untruths. I put them in broadly the same category as speculations on "myrtus", but I found that particular story to be "plausible" in the light of other claims that Stuxnet entered Iran via a Russian vector.

You mention Kaspersky's assessment, but not Symantec's, which differs in that they reported 60% of infections being inside Iran "from the early days of the [...] attack". Whilst Kaspersky does differ on what happened in the early days, it is worth noting that their figures accumulated over three months of the attack are unlikely to shed light on the primary target, in much the same way that the source of a blaze isn't necessarily where the fire burns hottest. Whilst noting that DebkaFile is Israeli, and Symantec American, it's worth noting also that Kaspersky Labs are Russian. In an event of this magnitude, it's not beyond the realms of possibility that their reporting of the matter is as biased as other sources have been: there has been more than a whiff of propaganda about this story from the very beginning. All that we really know is that the worm targets industrial control systems, and hence it seems highly likely that it was created by a state actor. Iran remains, in my mind at least, a very plausible candidate for being the target, and even if it wasn't the primary target then it does seem that whomever controlled it took advantage of its spread and has likely caused problems for Iran (which, of course, Iran has been keen to deny).

Ian / October 5, 2010 5:22 AM

P.S. If anyone can find evidence that the worm is actually being used to cause damage in Indonesia, India or other places then it might be plausible this wasn't principally an attack on Iran.

Ian / October 5, 2010 7:48 AM

Thanks very much for your observations, Ian. I'll try to respond point by point:

(1) While, as I indicated in the previous roundup thread, I would generally avoid referencing DEBKAfile directly in this context based on their combination of anonymous authorship and blind sourcing, there certainly is potential news value in tracking their claims. And I am seeing supporting evidence neither for the claimed exodus of Russian engineers nor the suggestion that the nuclear espionage detainees were Russian. (Frankly, I see precious little to indicate that anyone was actually arrested on legitimate suspicion of nuclear espionage at all.)

(2) You're absolutely right about Symantec. I didn't mention them because their data is well represented in the view that has now prevailed for some time -- my comment was purposefully devoted to alternative views. However, mentioning Kaspersky and Symantec's data sets together would have been even more informative. As Gostev himself observes, "any estimates about the number of infected machines can only be based on the data which [antivirus] companies get from their clients' machines.... You have to look at data from several companies in order to get a reasonable idea of what's going on." Landesman makes a similar point.

(3) You state, "[I]t's worth noting also that Kaspersky Labs are Russian." Indeed. Though I have neither reason nor desire to call Mr. Gostev's own credibility into question, I did choose to make note of the national source of the commentary and inserted the hedging term "apparently" into the middle of the phrase "provides data indicating." I suppose, by the same token, it is worth noting that Landesman's employer, ScanSafe, is an Anglo-American subsidiary of Cisco, an American company.

(4) You state, "[E]ven if it wasn't the primary target then it does seem that whomever controlled it took advantage of its spread and has likely caused problems for Iran." An intriguing suggestion, raising a possibility I've seen no expert explore: that Stuxnet's inspiration had nothing to do with Iran's nuclear program, but was purposefully redirected toward that target after its spread. The history of warfare has many such examples of artful appropriation.

(5) Your P.S. raises a couple of interesting issues: First, everyone has been looking for evidence of significant damage in Iran...not so much fevered international looking at India and Indonesia. And, when both political interests and evidentiary ambiguity apply, people almost invariably tend to find what they're looking for. Second, there is no hard evidence that Stuxnet has caused actual damage in Iran. The recent delay at Bushehr? Maybe -- but it doesn't seem to be a lengthy delay...yet. The drop in centrifuge capacity at Natanz? Maybe -- but a 30 percent drop seems more like something you'd get from faulty equipment or a disrupted maintenance supply line than a killer worm. Of course, this is the Islamic Republic of Iran, so hard evidence is a chimera in any event.

Dan Geist / October 5, 2010 8:25 AM

Dan,

Thanks for your reply.

Indeed, there seems to be no firm evidence in the public domain of anything re: the "nuclear spies", not even that anyone has actually been arrested.

Agreed re: Kaspersky, Symantec, etc. Additionally, their willingness to hold forth on the subject is probably as much for the publicity as anything else.

Re: (4), contra that suggestion is the fact that nuclear sabotage has been carried out against Iran before, and that other motives (as listed here) seem rather implausible. In particular the use of codenames (a module named "guava" being a branch of the "myrtus" project, broadly following botanical taxonomy) suggests, in my view, not some kind of Kabbalistic message but is evidence of a quite sophisticated operation. "Normal" programmers do like to use funny names for their projects, but filenames are generally named according to their purpose and are not obfuscated in that way -- at least in my limited experience.

Re: (5), recent reports from China, for instance, suggest there's been no actual damage (or "severe damage", which I suppose means disruption of physical systems). However, as you note, we don't know whether Iran has been different in that respect: there are always delays in their nuclear programme, it seems.

Ian / October 5, 2010 10:40 AM