It looks like the recent Stuxnet worm that has invaded the command and control centers in Iran particularly, and other countries to a much lesser extent, is more powerful and damaging that initially portrayed.

Iran has begun rounding up Russian scientists, technicians, and contractors who they suspect may have been complicit in planting the worm inside their computers. At the Bushehr nuclear plant, for example, only Russians had access to all aspects of its system, and the question is whether they were unwitting dupes to its entry or actively complicit through bribes or double dealing.

Recent reports mention the disappearance of scientists, technicians and others (not necessarily Russian), and the growing fear is that after questioning they have been executed. This also could explain the rapid departure of many of the Russians and their families as they seek to escape the deepening dragnet for spies and traitors.

The worm is thought to have been introduced via USB thumb drives, as most of the Iranian computers are not connected to the Internet in order to protect them from cyber attacks of this sort. Such an event would then conceivably expose the infected computers to Internet access, and enable the data to be transferred to host servers in other foreign and anonymous locations. Instructions can then be downloaded that could sabotage the proper operation of the centrifuges, for example, by slowing them down or manipulating the speeds at which each one operates, further deteriorating their ability to perform their designated roles.

This information, if accurate, has staggering implications. Not only does the worm perform its role of disabling the Iranian nuclear capability without a shot being fired, but Iranian efforts to uncover its origins have the same ironic impact of disabling their entire nuclear program by intimidating all who participate in it, from the scientists at top to the engineers, technicians and contractors at the bottom.

Evidence that other command and control systems related to their missile defenses and military communications have also been compromised further exacerbates the seriousness of the worm’s impact.

The ability of the regime to defend itself against an offensive or defensive attack may have been severely undermined, as has its ability to respond to internal disturbances in a coordinated and effective fashion. Whatever legitimacy and authority the Iranian regime may still have had amidst an already restive and unhappy population has been punctured through and through, with unsettling possibilities for their longevity the inevitable result.

Larry Isaacson is Vice President of Haskell New York Inc. and contributing author for and

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