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    Stuxnet hit ‘significant’

    PressTV quoted a report from the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) as saying of Stuxnet, “It did not stop … or even delay the continued buildup of low-enriched uranium.”

    Actually, while those words are in the document, that isn’t quite what the ISIS report concluded.

    ISIS said, “The effect of this [Stuxnet] attack was significant.  It rattled the Iranians, who were unlikely to know what caused the breakage [of centrifuges].…  Iran took steps in the aftermath of the attack that likely reduced further damage by Stuxnet, principally shutting down many centrifuge cascades for months.”

    The ISIS report continued:  “While it [Stuxnet] has delayed the Iranian centrifuge program at the Natanz plant in 2010 and contributed to slowing its expansion, it did not stop it or even delay the continued buildup of LEU [low-enriched uranium].”

    ISIS concluded, “The relatively limited damage implies that destroying centrifuges through a cyber attck may be more difficult to do than commonly perceived.”

    But the report also says that the small number of centrifuges destroyed by Stuxnet may actually be a large number for Iran’s limited resources.

    “It may have the materials to build only 12,000 to 15,000 IR-1 centrifuges.  With 9,000 centrifuges already deployed at Natanz, and an estimated 1,000  centrifuges broken during routine operation, adding in the 1,000 centrifuges destroyed by Stuxnet brings the total to 11,000 centrifuges.… Iran may be approaching a limit on the  number of IR-1 centrifuges it can build, making those destroyed by Stuxnet more significant than the number would imply.” 

    The report also speculated on other ways the Stuxnet worm attack may impact Iran’s nuclear program.

    “Once Iran learned of the reason for the failure of so many centrifuges, it must have felt a heightened sense of vulnerability to outside attack.  The immense detail in Stuxnet about the Natanz enrichment plant must have also unsettled the Iranians, as it demonstrated that foreign intelligence agencies had learned a considerable amount of information about their secret operations, far beyond what the IAEA knew.  

    “Only an insider could have obtained so much detail.  One official at a Western intelligence agency said that since outsiders knew so much about Natanz, Iran would tend to hesitate about building a secret centrifuge plant out of fear of getting caught.  That fear was already magnified after Western intelligence agencies exposed the secret gas centrifuge plant near the holy city of Qom in October 2009. 

      “Iran must also feel less secure about the goods its smuggling networks acquire abroad for its nuclear programs,” since that is the route by which Stuxnet presumably got into Natanz.  

    “It may need to resort to relying more heavily on reverse engineering and domestic production of a greater variety of advanced industrial goods for its centrifuge program.  However, Iran has limited advanced industrial capabilities and has encountered difficulties in successfully reverse engineering equipment and technology.  

    “Thus, such a strategy would cause delays in its centrifuge program and require Iran to use goods of far less quality that are more prone to failure,” the ISIS report concluded.    

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