Netherlands played crucial role in sabotaging Iran's nuclear program: report

Cracked wall with the Iranian flag and a bio-hazard sign painted on it
Cracked wall with the Iranian flag and a bio-hazard sign painted on it Photo: michaklootwijk/DepositPhotos

The Netherlands played a crucial role in sabotaging Iran's nuclear program in 2007. An agent from Dutch general intelligence service AIVD infiltrated the atomic complex at Natanz and spread a devastating digital virus that delayed the nuclear program for years, the Volkskrant reports based on sources and its own investigation.

The Iranian nuclear program was sabotaged in 2007. The ultracentrifuges needed to enrich uranium broke themselves in some way and it took the program years to recover from the loss. In 2010 researchers found an advanced sabotage virus on computers worldwide and determined that this virus was used on the Iranian nuclear program. But how it ended up in the heavily protected underground complex in Natanz, which has no internet connection with the outside world, has always been a mystery. 

According to the Volkskrant, the virus was called Stuxnet and was developed by the American and Israeli secret services. Germany provided technical details about the Siemens systems that ran the centrifuges. An AIVD agent smuggled it into the nuclear complex in Natanz and infected its computers. England and France also made - as yet still unknown - contributions to this mission, which was given the code name Olympic Games.

The AIVD was asked to help with this mission because the Dutch intelligence service has a reputation for inventiveness, according to the Volkskrant. The AIVD also has a history with nuclear intelligence. Dutch-Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Khan sold knowledge of the ultracentrifuge method of making atomic bombs to Pakistan, North Korea, Libya and Iran in the 1970's, and the AIVD has been keeping a close eye on Khan and his worldwide network since then. In 2000, the AIVD also managed to break into the email systems of the Iranian Defense and that is how Western services found out about the secret nuclear project in Natanz. 

In 2004 the American and Israeli secret services approached the AIVD with the mission of "generating" access to Iran's nuclear complex in Natanz. In the years that followed, the AIVD created two companies with the goal of gaining access to the nuclear complex. These companies had Iranian employees and a credible profile - a history of previously executed assignments, the correct references, and contacts with the Iranian government. 

In 2005 the situation in Iran changed dramatically when conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president. He withdrew Iran from an agreement with the atomic agency and continued the program with the potential to develop a nuclear weapon, according to the newspaper. The first centrifuges needed to enrich uranium was installed in Natanz in 2006. By May 2007, Iran had 1,700 centrifuges installed. The United States and Israel saw that as the signal to take action. They provided the virus that would disable the centrifuges and told the AIVD it was time to infiltrate, according to the Volkskrant.

The first AIVD created company could not manage to get into the Natanz nuclear complex. "The Iranians were already suspicious" of it, due to the way it was set up, a source said to the newspaper. The second company, an installation company set up to supply peripheral equipment to the complex, was more successful. An Iranian engineer recruited by the AIVD gained access to the complex multiple times as a technician. He collected information about the computer systems that controlled the centrifuges, which the American and Israelis used to adapt their virus. And around September 2007 the engineer entered the complex with a USB stick containing the virus. The virus was installed and it broke the centrifuges. 

The Dutch route "was the most important way to get the virus into Natanz", one source said to the Volkskrant. The AIVD contribution to the sabotage mission was confirmed to the Volkskrant by four intelligence sources from the Netherlands and abroad. In 2009 and 2010 the virus was updated and released on five Iranian companies that supplied industrial systems to nuclear facilities. After that Stuxnet spread to tens of thousands of computers worldwide, where researchers discovered it in 2010.