CIA Rushing Operations on Iranian Soil

by Helen Kennedy
NY Daily News
November 15, 2011

In public Sunday, President Obama was at a summit unsuccessfully leaning on Russia and China to back diplomatic efforts to curb Iran’s nuke program.

In private Sunday, there was more evidence of an efficient and brutal covert operation that continues to degrade Iran’s military capabilities.

Iranian officials revealed that one of the 17 men killed in a huge explosion at a munitions depot was a key Revolutionary Guard commander who headed Iran’s missile program. And the IRNA state news agency reported that scientists had discovered a new computer virus in their systems, a more sophisticated version of the Stuxnet worm deployed last year to foul up Iran’s centrifuges.

Iran said the army base explosion was an accident and the new Duqu virus was contained. But Israeli newspapers and some U.S. experts said it appeared to be more from an ongoing secret operation by the CIA and Israel’s Mossad to eliminate Iran’s nuclear threat.

The covert campaign encompasses a series of assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists since 2007 and a similar explosion at another Iranian missile base two years ago both widely attributed to the Mossad.

“May there be more like it,” was all Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said when Army Radio asked about the new blast.

There was a third mysterious event: The son of a top Iranian hard-liner was found dead — a seeming suicide — in a Dubai hotel on Sunday. His father called it “suspicious” and linked to the base explosion, without elaborating.

Israel was accused of deploying the 11 agents who killed a top Hamas terrorist in a Dubai hotel last year.

Tension has risen in recent weeks between Iran and the United States as a key United Nations report said Iran was close to being able to build a nuclear weapon.

At the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference in Hawaii, Obama tried to get Russia and China to back a bid to tighten sanctions on Iran, meeting individually with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Afterward, Hu didn’t even mention Iran, and Medvedev said only that he had spoken with Obama about Iran.

Obama came under withering fire from the GOP presidential candidates at a debate Saturday, when the front-runners agreed he had been too weak on Iran and vowed to go to war to stop Iran’s nuclear ambitions if needed.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) slammed Obama for not being “smart” on Iran.

Gingrich said he would launch “maximum covert operations” against Iran, “including taking out their scientists. . . . All of it covertly, all of it deniable.”

White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters that pressure on Iran had put its leadership in disarray, and “the Iranian economy has ground to a halt.”

Israel Behind Deadly Explosion at Iran Missile Base

by Karl Vick
Time
November 14, 2011

Israeli newspapers on Sunday were thick with innuendo, the front pages of the three largest dailies dominated by variations on the headline “Mysterious Explosion in Iranian Missile Base.” Turn the page, and the mystery is answered with a wink. “Who Is Responsible for Attacks on the Iranian Army?” asks Maariv, and the paper lists without further comment a half-dozen other violent setbacks to Iran’s nuclear and military nexus. For Israeli readers, the coy implication is that their own government was behind Saturday’s massive blast just outside Tehran. It is an assumption a Western intelligence source insists is correct: the Mossad — the Israeli agency charged with covert operations — did it. “Don’t believe the Iranians that it was an accident,” the official tells TIME, adding that other sabotage is being planned to impede the Iranian ability to develop and deliver a nuclear weapon. “There are more bullets in the magazine,” the official says.

The powerful blast or series of blasts — reports described an initial explosion followed by a much larger one — devastated a missile base in the gritty urban sprawl to the west of the Iranian capital. The base housed Shahab missiles, which, at their longest range, can reach Israel. Last week’s report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Iran had experimented with removing the conventional warhead on the Shahab-3 and replacing it with one that would hold a nuclear device. Iran says the explosion was an accident that came while troops were transferring ammunition out of the depot “toward the appropriate site.” (See why ties between the U.S. and Iran are under threat.)

The explosion killed at least 17 people, including Major General Hassan Moqqadam, described by Iranian state media as a pioneer in Iranian missile development and the Revolutionary Guard commander in charge of “ensuring self-sufficiency” in armaments, a challenging task in light of international sanctions.

Coming the weekend after the release of the unusually critical IAEA report, which laid out page upon page of evidence that Iran is moving toward a nuclear weapon, the blast naturally sharpened concern over Israel’s threat to launch airstrikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Half the stories on the Tehran Times website on Sunday referenced the possibility of a military strike, most warning of dire repercussions.

But the incident also argued, maybe even augured, against an outright strike. If Israel — perhaps in concert with Washington and other allies — can continue to inflict damage to the Iranian nuclear effort through covert actions, the need diminishes for overt, incendiary moves like air strikes. The Stuxnet computer worm bollixed Iran’s centrifuges for months, wreaking havoc on the crucial process of uranium enrichment.

And in Sunday’s editions, the Hebrew press coyly listed what Yedioth Ahronoth called “Iran’s Mysterious Mishaps.” The tallies ran from the November 2007 explosion at a missile base south of Tehran to the October 2010 blast at a Shahab facility in southwestern Iran, to the assassinations of three Iranian scientists working in the nuclear program — two last year and one in July. (See photos of the semiofficial view of Iran.)

At the very least, the list burnishes the mystique of the Mossad, Israel’s overseas spy agency. Whatever the case-by-case reality, the popular notion that, through the Mossad, Israel knows everything and can reach anywhere is one of the most valuable assets available to a state whose entire doctrine of defense can be summed up in the word deterrence. But it doesn’t mean Israel is the only country with a foreign intelligence operation inside Iran. The most recent IAEA report included intelligence from 10 governments on details of the Iranian nuclear effort. And in previous interviews, Western security sources have indicated that U.S. and other Western intelligence agencies have partnered with Israel on covert operations inside Iran. Sometimes the partner brings specific expertise or access. In other cases, Iranian agents on the ground who might harbor misgivings about Israel are allowed to believe they are working only with another government altogether.

Saturday’s blast was so powerful it was felt 25 miles away in Tehran, and so loud that one nearby resident with combat experience thought he had just heard the detonation of an aerial bomb. “Frankly it did not sound like an arms depot from where I was because when one of those goes off, it is multiple explosions over minutes, even hours depending on the size of the facility,” the resident says. “All I heard was one big boom. I was sure from the quality of the noise that anyone in its immediate vicinity was dead. Something definitely happened, but I would not trust the [Revolutionary] Guards to be absolutely forthcoming as to what it was.”