Saturday, November 12, 2005

Is the nuke weapons "Iranian laptop" a sucker job?

New York Times
In mid-July, senior American intelligence officials called the leaders of the international atomic inspection agency to the top of a skyscraper overlooking the Danube in Vienna and unveiled the contents of what they said was a stolen Iranian laptop computer.

The Americans flashed on a screen and spread over a conference table selections from more than a thousand pages of Iranian computer simulations and accounts of experiments, saying they showed a long effort to design a nuclear warhead, according to a half-dozen European and American participants in the meeting.

OK, so US intelligence claims we've got a stolen laptop full of nifty bomb design and analysis data. This raises a number of questions the NYT article fails to address.

A) Assuming we had an asset in a position to filch such data, why did they ripoff the whole machine? People tend to notice when whole machines go missing. Classified operations, like Iranian bomb design labs, usually have asset protection plans and security in place to keep things like laptops from growing legs and just walking away on their own.

B) Would the iranians be dumb enough to keep things like bomb designs on a laptop rather than on a mainframe or network with higher security protocols that audit who is accessing what and when it gets accessed? As a 25 year veteran of the computer industry, I would have to guess the Iranians are not this stupid.

Even non-classified US businesses do things to prevent confidential data from walking away. ex. For insurance companies and banks, IBM sold a special version of one of their old PS/2 machines that had no local media. It was just a medialess LAN workstation. People could access and work with data, but couldn't save it locally. All higher quality LAN cards have the ability to RIPL (remote IPL) a machine off of a server making local media unnecessary.

C) Modern laptops are super easy to replace components on. Assuming the Iranian asset had access to this hardware, why would we not simply supply them with a drive that was identical to the one in the machine and do a swap? Certainly the CIA or FBI has people who could counterfeit up all the proper labels with identical serial numbers, etc for the swapped drive so there would be no (obvious) indication a swap had occured. The swapped drive would just need to exhibit a fatal hardware problem that would make data unrecoverable - ex. like a head crash that peeled media off the drive. Drives fail all the time. It would just be considered a routine maintenance thing. It would certainly be easier to sneak a small laptop drive out of a secure facility than a whole laptop.

This story smells -- it reeks of a setup/trap by the Iranians to discredit the US and it appears we've taken the bait. If the story is true, then the Iranian security is more inept than I ever imagined. For the moment at least, its much easier to believe this is a setup rather than the real thing.


Mustang said...

I almost wish they had "laptop nuc's." That way, we could all be guaranteed that the dopes would blow themselves to hell.

Thx for stopping by Social Sense. You've developed an interesting theory . . . I may go back to drinking.

Semper Fi

Purple Avenger said...


Ted Taylor, the designer of most of our current inventory of fission weapons, once commented on how small a completely self contained "ready to pop" nuke we had in inventory.

His answer, while not "specific" was "smaller than a grapefruit, larger than an orange". Maybe not a laptop, but any desktop PC would fill the bill ;->

Red A said...

What do the Iranians have to gain from giving us false info that says they have a nuke?

I could see Israel giving us this, or Iranian dissidents, but it's doubtful.

I suggest incompetence is much more likely. Keep in mind since the Iranians are behind on the tech curve they probably aren't worried about theft of information as we are...

Purple Avenger said...

What do the Iranians have to gain from giving us false info that says they have a nuke?

Making us look like fools and evidence fabricators to help neutralize any significant UN action sounds like a pretty good reason to me.

Now all they need to do in invite a bunch of UN inspectors in.

Purple Avenger said...

Let me expand on the above reason a bit. The NYT story and certain "experts" quoted within make it seem like a big deal to solve certain problems in designing a nuke.

About 25 years ago John Aristotle Phillips designed a bomb as a college project. Dyson commented that it would probably go bang.

In all the live fission bomb testing the US ever did, none of the bombs ever failed to "go bang" to some degree. There was one fizzle yield shot of a very small device I know of, but even that would have been messy and effective too.

If you try to optimize and get by with the bare minimum materiel, or do various enhancements to increase yields there may be varying levels of success, but nobody to the best of my knowledge has ever designed a complete "dud".

G said...

I think either your theory is on the right track, or we are just being stupid again and trying to trump up something that we want the international community to back.

Either way, this just makes us look stupid.