Monthly Archives: May 2011

New Miniature Weapons: tagging, tracking, locating and destroying

 

A new generation of weaponry is being readied in clandestine laboratories across the nation [USA]-

Responsibility to Protect or an Excuse for War: Libya

For those who back muscular humanitarian intervention, both the words and deeds of Colonel Muammar Qaddafi provided absolute moral clarity. “Come out of your homes, attack [the opposition] in their dens,” he told his supporters on February 22nd. He called the protesters “cockroaches” and “rats” who did not deserve to live: language chillingly reminiscent of the broadcasts of Radio Mille Collines, which spurred on the perpetrators of Rwanda’s genocide in 1994.

As he spoke, his forces had set their sights on Benghazi, their adversaries’ stronghold. According to Human Rights Watch, a New York-based group, government forces had already killed 233 people in the preceding week. A bloodbath beckoned, in a city of 700,000 people. The United Nations Security Council invoked a fateful formula, urging the regime to meet its “responsibility to protect” its people. On March 17th the council, “expressing its determination to ensure the protection of civilians”, ordered air strikes.

That set the stage for the first full-blown test of a principle that the UN adopted in 2005 and has been refining since. The doctrine of “responsibility to protect” (R2P) holds that when a sovereign state fails to prevent atrocities, foreign governments may intervene to stop them. Human-rights advocates say it saves lives. Sceptics see it as too easily misused to be useful: a cover for imperialism, or even an incentive to kill (because even if a massacre is not looming, an unscrupulous warlord might be tempted to engineer one against his own people to spur outside support).

Previous uses of R2P have been solo ventures. In 2008 Russia used it to justify attacking Georgia, and France cited it after the cyclone in Myanmar, implying that humanitarian aid might have to be brought in by force if the regime persisted in stonewalling (it backed down). But before this year, no mission had been authorised by the UN Security Council that so explicitly cited the new principle.

At first it looked likely that the doctrine would either triumph or die in Libya. But two months and thousands of air strikes later, war’s messy reality has merely hardened views on both sides. On one hand, the decision to go to war was made in good faith at a time when the risk of massacres seemed real. As Mats Berdal, a professor at King’s College London, points out, the world’s leading powers had good reason to think they were “avoiding a Srebrenica”—the massacre of Bosnians which UN forces failed to avert in July 1995.  But as the war drags on and NATO strikes more widely, sceptics also feel their case has been bolstered. “For those of us who feared that R2P was just a warrant for war, our fears have been vindicated,” says David Rieff, an advocate-turned-critic….

Colonel Qaddafi provided an all-but-unique test. Regional leaders loathed him and readily dumped him. The Arab League’s support for the intervention stopped Russia and China wielding their vetoes. And the concentration of the rebels in the east, combined with flat desert terrain, at first made the regime’s forces easy bombing targets. “The stars were well and truly aligned in the Libya case,” says Mr Evans. “All the criteria were satisfied.”  The immediate goal of protecting Benghazi from massacre was achieved within days. Having destroyed Libya’s air defences, Western bombers and missiles pummelled the advancing troops into a speedy retreat…Protecting all Libyans, not just those in the east, would require the end of Colonel Qaddafi’s rule—an outcome that both Western and Arab governments had already called for. NATO stepped up its military campaign, bombing retreating columns as well as advancing ones, and attacking command-and-control centres frequented by Colonel Qaddafi and his family. On April 30th an air strike killed one of his sons. The line between curbing atrocities and an air war for regime change blurred—though a land operation is ruled out, for the moment.

Excerpt, Responsibility to protect: The lessons of Libya, Economist, May 21, 2011, at 67

When Sanctions Start to Bite: Iran, North Korea, Syria Nuclear Nonproliferation

On May 23, 2011, pursuant to the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act (INKSNA), the United States imposed sanctions on two Belarusian entities, three Chinese entities and one individual, five Iranian entities and one individual, one North Korean entity, two Syrian entities and one Venezuelan entity.

The sanctioned entities are:

Belarusian entities – Belarusian Optical Mechanical Association and BelTechExport;

Chinese entities and individuals – Mr. Karl Lee, Dalian Sunny Industries, Dalian Zhongbang Chemical Industries Company, and Xian Junyun Electronic

Iranian entities and individuals – Milad Jafari, Defense Industries Organization, Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL), Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Qods Force, SAD Import-Export Company, and Shahid Bakeri Industries Group (SBIG)

North Korean entity – Tangun Trading

Syrian entities – Industrial Establishment of Defense and Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC)

Venezuelan entity – Venezuela Military Industries Company (CAVIM)

Sanctions were imposed on these entities as provided in the INKSNA because there was credible information indicating that they had transferred to or acquired from Iran, North Korea, or Syria equipment and technology listed on multilateral export control lists (Australia Group, Chemical Weapons Convention, Missile Technology Control Regime, Nuclear Suppliers Group, Wassenaar Arrangement) or otherwise having the potential to make a material contribution to WMD or cruise or ballistic missile systems.

The sanctions apply to the specific entities above and will be in effect for two years. The sanctions do not apply to these entities’ respective countries or governments.

The sanctions consist of the following:

No department or agency of the U.S. Government may procure, or enter into any contract for the procurement of, any goods, services or technology from these entities;

No department or agency of the U.S. Government may provide any assistance to these entities and they shall not be eligible to participate in any assistance program of the U.S. Government;

U.S. Government sales of any item on the U.S. munitions list (USML) to any of these entities are prohibited, and sales of any defense articles, defense services or design and construction services controlled under the Arms Export Control Act are terminated; and

New licenses will be denied and any existing licenses suspended, for transfer to these entities of items controlled under the Export Administration Act of 1979 or Export Administration Regulations.

Iran, North Korea and Syria nonproliferation Act (INKSNA), Fact Sheet, United States Department of State Press Release, May 24, 2011

Oil Drilling in the Arctic: Environmental Commandoes weapon freedom of information

Armed Danish commandoes are thought to have been landed on a giant oil rig by helicopter to prevent environmentalists interfering with a British oil company’s controversial exploration of deep Arctic waters. In a stand-off in the Davis Strait, west of Greenland, the Danish navy has been shadowing the Greenpeace ship Esperanza as it tracked the 53,000 tonne Leiv Eiriksson in iceberg-strewn sea to the site where it plans to search for oil at depths of up to 5,000ft.  The confrontation between Denmark and Greenpeace, which argues that it is dangerous to drill for oil in pristine Arctic waters, follows the decision by Scottish oil company Cairn Energy to explore for oil and gas in Baffin Sea this summer.

Fears that an Arctic spill would be difficult if not impossible to clean up were confirmed in an email exchange between the British Foreign Office and the energy secretary, Chris Huhne, that was obtained by Greenpeace under freedom of information legislation. Officials briefed Huhne, saying: “It is difficult to get assistance in case of pollution problems in such areas, and near impossible to make good damage caused.”…Ruth Davis, chief policy adviser at Greenpeace UK said: “These documents make it clear that companies like Cairn are playing Russian roulette with one of the most important environments in the world. When even the UK government recognises the huge risks associated with the oil drilling in the Arctic then it must be time to halt the rush for oil in one of the most delicate ecosystems in the in the world.”

Cairn says it has prepared comprehensive oil spill plans, and has put up a bond of $2bn. Last month it said in a statement: “Wherever it is active, Cairn seeks to operate in a safe and prudent manner. The Greenlandic Bureau of Minerals and Petroleum has established some of the most stringent operating regulations anywhere globally, which mirror those applied in the Norwegian North Sea. Cairn respects the rights of individuals and organisations to express their views in a safe manner.”

Seven major oil companies have licenses to explore off Greenland but Cairn will be the only one to begin operations in the short July-October “summer window” when the ice has retreated. Cairn holds 11 licences covering over 80,000 square kilometres and plans to drill four exploratory wells to depths of around 5,000ft, the deepest ever attempted in the Arctic.

Fears that Greenpeace plan to prevent work have been heightened since the group occupied one of Cairn’s drilling ships working in shallower Arctic waters last years, and 11 climbers also boarded the Leiv Eiriksson, when it left Turkey for Greenland last month. Greenpeace also tried to stop the rig as it passed Greece and Italy last month but was prevented by storms.

Excerpt, John Vidal, Danish commandoes wade into Greenpeace Arctic oil protest,Guardian, May 24, 2011

Cloak-and-Dagger Drones: the next nuclear bombers

Deep in the Mojave Desert, surrounded by tiers of barbed-wire fence, the nation’s largest defense contractors work in secrecy designing and building the latest military aircraft at Air Force Plant 42.  The military’s top weapons buyer quietly visited the Palmdale facility this month to talk with leading aerospace executives about plans to build a fleet of radar-evading bombers that the military hopes to have ready for action by the mid-2020s.  The plane would be the first long-range bomber built in the U.S. since the last of the 21 bat-winged B-2 stealth bombers by Northrop Grumman Corp. rolled off the assembly lines at Plant 42 more than a decade ago… Now on the Pentagon wish list is a proposed fleet of 80 to 100 nuclear-capable bombers that could operate with or without a pilot in the cockpit.

Pentagon weapons acquisition chief Ashton Carter met separately with representatives of Northrop, Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp., Pentagon spokeswoman Cheryl Irwin said. These companies are expected to vie for the estimated $55-billion contract that is expected to provide jobs and decades of work for Southern California’s aerospace industry…This program may also have a broad effect on the mom-and-pop machine shops and other contractors that could be called upon to make parts for the bomber, said Fred Downey, a national security analyst with the Aerospace Industries Assn., an Arlington, Va.-based trade group.

The B-2 fleet now numbers 20 — one crashed in Guam in 2008. The Air Force also has 66 B-1 bombers, built in the 1980s, and 85 B-52 bombers, which were built in the 1960s and modified for use today.  “The Air Force believes it’s overdue for an upgrade,” Harrison said, adding that funding for the new bomber program could already be underway through the Air Force’s $12.6-billion classified, or “black,” budget for weapons research and developmentBuilding bombers under the black budget is not unprecedented. The U.S. government didn’t lift the veil on the B-2 program until a decade after it had begun, revealing one of the largest weapons development efforts since the Manhattan Project produced the atomic bomb in the 1940s.

The Air Force and Northrop went to great lengths to conceal even the smallest detail of the B-2 program. Many suppliers had no idea they were making parts for the bomber. The government created dummy companies that ordered the parts, which were often picked up in the middle of the night by unmarked trucks. Northrop said that at its height, the B-2 program involved about 40,000 employees at aerospace facilities all over the country, including about 15,000 in the Southland.

This time, “the cloak-and-dagger should be even better,” said John Pike, director of Globalsecurity.org, a website for military policy research. “The government is not going to want to advertise a program like this.”  Gates said the new bomber would be “using proven technologies, an approach that should make it possible to deliver this capability on schedule and in quantity.”  Such comments have led many defense analysts to believe the future bomber will look a lot like the stealthy jet-powered drones that are currently flying from Northrop, Boeing and Lockheed.

Northrop has a drone, dubbed X-47B, that is designed to carry laser-guided bombs and be launched from an aircraft carrier. Lockheed’s RQ-170 Sentinel spy drone, called the “Beast of Kandahar,” was developed at Lockheed’s famed Skunk Works and reportedly was used during the raid at Osama bin Laden’s compound. Both were built at Plant 42.   Boeing’s fighter-size Phantom Ray drone is undergoing test flights at Edwards Air Force Base, just north of Palmdale.  “All of them look like baby B-2s,” said defense expert Peter W. Singer, author of “Wired for War,” a book about robotic warfare. “They have key stealth design features, which allow them to penetrate enemy air defenses.”  Although the program is still far from a certainty, Singer believes that fielding a new bomber is crucial. “It’s a national security concern.”

Excerpt, W.J. Henniganm,Pentagon weapons buyer quietly visits California to discuss bomber planes, Los Angeles Times, May 22, 2011

Forget about Fukushima:Riding the Wave of Nuclear Renaissance, China, India, South Korea

The biggest drop in prices of uranium in two years may be ending as China and India plan atomic power developments that will more than double global production even after Japan’s nuclear disaster.   The radioactive metal has slumped 8.7 percent this year, the most since 2009, after tumbling as much as 27 percent as governments reviewed nuclear plants following the Japanese crisis in March, according to prices from MF Global Holdings Inc. China and India will lead a 46 percent increase in consumption by the world’s five biggest atomic-power developers by 2020, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Soaring energy demand from the world’s fastest-growing economies is buoying uranium and prospects of miners from Cameco Corp. to Paladin Energy Inc. even after radiation leaks from Japan’s 40-year-old Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant sparked the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986. China’s Nuclear Energy Association said May 12 it will boost atomic capacity as much as eight times by 2020. A day later, India’s Atomic Energy Commission said it will increase production 13-fold by 2030.

“The question is whether what happened in Japan with older-generation reactors justifies not building newer, safer reactors, and to me the answer is no,” Spencer Abraham, a former U.S. energy secretary who is now non-executive chairman of Areva SA, the largest nuclear-equipment producer, said in a May 17 telephone interview from Washington. “China recognizes they can’t satisfy the growth in electricity demand in a single dimension and they really need a diverse group of sources.”

A gigawatt, enough to power about 1 million U.S. homes, requires 200 tons of uranium a year at full operating rates, according to the World Nuclear Association. China, India and South Korea expect to use 262 gigawatts by 2030, more than what the U.S., Japan, Germany and France produce together, according to Bloomberg data.  Nuclear energy was being held out by nations from the U.S. to France and the U.K. as a potential solution to challenges posed by rising oil prices, which reached a record $147 a barrel in July 2008. Unlike fossil fuels, atomic power produces virtually no greenhouse gas emissions, as governments around the world try to cut down on pollution.  Those considerations became secondary after the Japanese disaster showed construction flaws at the Fukushima plant. Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the plant, posted a full- year loss of 1.25 trillion yen ($15 billion) on May 20.

None of that reduces the power requirements of the world’s fastest-growing economies. China’s economy will probably expand 9.5 percent this year, according to the median of 11 forecasts compiled by Bloomberg. India’s gross domestic product may grow as much as 8.5 percent in the current fiscal year, Chakravarthy Rangarajan, chairman of the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council, said on May 3.  “Fukushima has made us pause and rethink some of our projects,” Xu Yuming, vice secretary general of the Nuclear Energy Association, said in a May 12 interview in Beijing. “Of course, the overall plan won’t be changed. China faces power shortages and we need to change our energy mix. To resolve these issues, we must develop nuclear.”

Even if Japan develops half of its proposed 19 gigawatts of nuclear power this decade, the country, together with China, India, Russia and South Korea, will add a combined 160 gigawatts by 2020, according to Bloomberg data based on figures from the World Nuclear Association, Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan and South Korea’s economy ministry.  South Korea may almost double its nuclear-fired capacity to about 36 gigawatts by 2024, accounting for 48.5 percent of the nation’s power generation up from 31.4 percent today, according to the Ministry of Knowledge Economy. The country may add 10 reactors by 2020 totaling 12.8 gigawatts.  That will require an extra 32,000 metric tons of uranium a year, according to calculations based on data from the World Nuclear Association. Global use will be about 69,000 tons in 2011…..

Germany, which relies on atomic energy for 23 percent of its supplies, may phase out plants as early as 2022, Georg Nuesslein, a lawmaker for Bavaria’s Christian Social Union party, said in a phone interview on May 4. Chancellor Angela Merkel ordered a halt to the country’s seven oldest reactors on March 15, removing more than 25 percent of its 20,700 megawatts of capacity, equivalent to the power needed to supply almost 21 million U.S. households.  Siemens AG, which had planned to become the market leader in atomic power along with Russia’s Rosatom Corp., has decided to abandon its nuclear plans after the Fukushima accident damaged market potential, Handelsblatt reported, citing unidentified people close to the company…

Japan, the third-biggest nuclear-power producer after the U.S. and France, is reconsidering plans to increase the share of atomic energy to 50 percent from 30 percent, Prime Minister Naoto Kan said on May 10. About 13 gigawatts of capacity is currently closed in Japan due to the earthquake, according to Societe Generale SA. No decision has been made on whether to restart the plants….

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission on April 21 renewed the operating licenses for the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station in Arizona, the country’s biggest atomic plant, for an additional 20 years. The U.S., which produces about 27 percent of the world’s nuclear power, had said it will scrutinize license renewals for utilities following the Japanese crisis.  “The right solution is to go forward and build safer, new- generation reactors,” Abraham said. “It will help diversify the fuel mix and contribute to energy independence. Overtime, cooler heads will prevail.”

By Moming Zhou, Dinakar Sethuraman and Lars Paulsson, Uranium to Recover as China’s Nuclear Plans Offset Fukushima, Businessweek, May 23, 2011

Illegal Wildlife Trade: how China can stop the poaching of elephants

The ivory may have been among the large shipment just uncovered at the main airport of Nairobi, Kenya’s capital. The tusks of 58 elephants, worth $1.3m, were in metal boxes. The shipment was bound for Nigeria, purportedly from two embassies in Nairobi that do not exist. At the same time, in Vietnam, authorities found $600,000 of tusks hidden in a cargo of rubber from Tanzania. Thai customs last month spotted $3.3m-worth of tusks under a pile of frozen fish.

The quest for ivory charms in China and Vietnam makes elephant poaching lucrative in eastern and central Africa. Ivory fetches up to $1,200 a kilo in Asia, says the WWF, a wildlife lobby. That encourages middlemen. Many Chinese citizens in several African airports have been arrested this year for smuggling ivory. Detectives suspect many more get through with a few kilos and a bribe. Tree cover, armed groups, and open borders make elephants as vulnerable as ever. The herds of central Africa are being particularly hard hit. In Chad alone, at least 30 elephants are known to have been poached last month. Some conservationists think there is no future for a truly wild and unprotected elephant.

Yet, taken as a whole, African elephants have increased from a low of 500,000 in the 1980s to more than 600,000 today. The Swiss-based International Union for Conservation of Nature, an environmental lobby, which publishes a “red list” of the world’s most endangered species, says elephants in southern Africa are increasing by 4% a year. Their fecundity is offsetting losses in central and west Africa. Indeed, the main threat in Botswana, southern Mozambique, parts of South Africa and Zimbabwe is arguably not poaching but overpopulation. Boffins are pondering birth control for elephants, including even vasectomies. There are calls for culling or allowing trophy hunting under rigorous controls. Southern African countries are keen to see the lifting of the worldwide ban on the ivory trade.

But east and central African countries and well-financed animal-rights groups fiercely oppose this. They say an earlier decision to let southern African countries sell some of their ivory stockpile caused poaching to soar elsewhere: those handling the ivory often provide false labels of origin. In the end, as the Chinese get richer, it is probably only China itself that can determine the fate of Africa’s elephants. Earlier this month, two Chinese engineers were arrested in N’Djamena, Chad’s capital, with eight pairs of tusks. After producing diplomatic passports, they were freed. The fate of the tusks is unknown. That of the elephants isn’t.

Excerpt, Africa’s elephants: To cosset or to cull?, Economist, May 21, at 56

United States Official Position on the Killing of bin Laden

[A]s a matter of international law, the United States is in an armed conflict with al-Qaeda, as well as the Taliban and associated forces, in response to the horrific 9/11 attacks, and may use force consistent with its inherent right to self-defense under international law. As a matter of domestic law, Congress authorized the use of all necessary and appropriate force through the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). These domestic and international legal authorities continue to this day.

As recent events have shown, al-Qaeda has not abandoned its intent to attack the United States, and indeed continues to attack us. Thus, in this ongoing armed conflict, the United States has the authority under international law, and the responsibility to its citizens, to use force, including lethal force, to defend itself, including by targeting persons such as high-level al-Qaeda leaders who are planning attacks. As you know, this is a conflict with an organized terrorist enemy that does not have conventional forces, but that plans and executes its attacks against us and our allies while hiding among civilian populations. That behavior simultaneously makes the application of international law more difficult and more critical for the protection of innocent civilians. Of course, whether a particular individual will be targeted in a particular location will depend upon considerations specific to each case, including those related to the imminence of the threat, the sovereignty of the other states involved, and the willingness and ability of those states to suppress the threat the target poses. In particular, this Administration has carefully reviewed the rules governing targeting operations to ensure that these operations are conducted consistently with law of war principles, including:

• First, the principle of distinction, which requires that attacks be limited to military objectives and that civilians or civilian objects shall not be the object of the attack; and

• Second, the principle of proportionality, which prohibits attacks that may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, that would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.

In U.S. operations against al-Qaeda and its associated forces … great care is taken to adhere to these principles in both planning and execution, to ensure that only legitimate objectives are targeted and that collateral damage is kept to a minimum.…[S]ome have suggested that the very act of targeting a particular leader of an enemy force in an armed conflict must violate the laws of war. But individuals who are part of such an armed group are belligerents and, therefore, lawful targets under international law. During World War II, for example, American aviators tracked and shot down the airplane carrying the architect of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, who was also the leader of enemy forces in the Battle of Midway. This was a lawful operation then, and would be if conducted today. Indeed, targeting particular individuals serves to narrow the focus when force is employed and to avoid broader harm to civilians and civilian objects.…

[In addition] some have argued that the use of lethal force against specific individuals fails to provide adequate process and thus constitutes unlawful extrajudicial killing. But a state that is engaged in an armed conflict or in legitimate self-defense is not required to provide targets with legal process before the state may use lethal force. Our procedures and practices for identifying lawful targets are extremely robust, and advanced technologies have helped to make our targeting even more precise. In my experience, the principles of distinction and proportionality that the United States applies are not just recited at meetings. They are implemented rigorously throughout the planning and execution of lethal operations to ensure that such operations are conducted in accordance with all applicable law.

… Finally, some have argued that our targeting practices violate domestic law, in particular, the long-standing domestic ban on assassinations. But under domestic law, the use of lawful weapons systems—consistent with the applicable laws of war—for precision targeting of specific high-level belligerent leaders when acting in self-defense or during an armed conflict is not unlawful, and hence does not constitute “assassination.”

Given bin Laden’s unquestioned leadership position within al Qaeda and his clear continuing operational role, there can be no question that he was the leader of an enemy force and a legitimate target in our armed conflict with al Qaeda. In addition, bin Laden continued to pose an imminent threat to the United States that engaged our right to use force, a threat that materials seized during the raid have only further documented. Under these circumstances, there is no question that he presented a lawful target for the use of lethal force. By enacting the AUMF, Congress expressly authorized the President to use military force “against … persons [such as bin Laden, whom the President] determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001 …in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such … persons”. Moreover, the manner in which the U.S. operation was conducted—taking great pains both to distinguish between legitimate military objectives and civilians and to avoid excessive incidental injury to the latter—followed the principles of distinction and proportionality described above, and was designed specifically to preserve those principles, even if it meant putting U.S. forces in harm’s way. Finally, consistent with the laws of armed conflict and U.S. military doctrine, the U.S. forces were prepared to capture bin Laden if he had surrendered in a way that they could safely accept. The laws of armed conflict require acceptance of a genuine offer of surrender that is clearly communicated by the surrendering party and received by the opposing force, under circumstances where it is feasible for the opposing force to accept that offer of surrender. But where that is not the case, those laws authorize use of lethal force against an enemy belligerent, under the circumstances presented here.

In sum, the United States acted lawfully in carrying out its mission against Osama bin Laden.

Excerpts, Harold Hongju Koh, The Lawfulness of the U.S. Operation Against Osama bin Laden,  opinio juris

Iran and the IAEA: hackers, spies and worms

The following is reported by the Associated Press

The U.N. nuclear agency is investigating reports from its experts that their cellphones and laptops may have been hacked into by Iranian officials looking for confidential information while the equipment was left unattended during inspection tours in the Islamic Republic, diplomats have told The Associated Press.  One of the diplomats said the International Atomic Energy Agency is examining “a range of events, ranging from those where it is certain something has happened to suppositions,” all in the first quarter of this year. He said the Vienna-based nuclear watchdog agency was alerted by inspectors reporting “unusual events,” suggesting that outsiders had tampered with their electronic equipment.  Two other diplomats in senior positions confirmed the essence of the report but said they had no further information… An agency official, who also spoke on condition that he not be identified, said strict security measures included inspectors’ placing their cellphones into seamless paper envelopes, then sealing these and writing across the seal and the envelope to spot any unauthorized opening while they were away.  He said inspectors are not allowed to take their cellphones with them while touring Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities and other venues. Laptops, he said, are either locked in bags or sealed the same way as cellphones when they are left temporarily unattended by inspectors. The computers also are sometimes left unattended in hotel rooms at the end of a work day, he said.  But the diplomat who spoke at greatest length about the reported breach said the Iranians had found ways to overcome the security measures.

Iran has been under IAEA inspections for nearly a decade after revelations that it was running a secret uranium enrichment program and has been hit with four rounds of U.N. Security Council sanctions over its refusal to halt the activity…

Olli Heinonen, who stepped down last year as the IAEA’s deputy director general in charge of investigating Iran’s nuclear program, said information on the laptops is encrypted — and therefore difficult to decipher. Anybody gaining access to information on cellphones would find little sensitive material, he said.  Heinonen speculated that any attempt to access such equipment might have been meant to plant spyware designed to infect the IAEA computer network once the cellphones or laptops are connected and siphon off information.  “It’s possible if there is tampering that something is planted in the computer and when you work with sensitive data it transmits it or it contaminates other computers with sensitive information — like Stuxnet,” he said.

IAEA officials attribute a temporary breakdown of Iran’s enrichment program late last year to the Stuxnet computer worm, and Tehran has acknowledged that Stuxnet affected a limited number of centrifuges — a key component in uranium enrichment — at its main uranium enrichment facility in the central city of Natanz. Tehran blames the United States and Israel for creating and planting the malware.

Excerpts from George Jahn, AP Exclusive: Diplomats: IAEA fears Iran hackers, Associated Press, May 19, 2011