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.