Iranian troops uncovered a monitoring device disguised as a rock near the underground nuclear enrichment plant at Fordo, according to western intelligence sources.Israel has been suspected of using similar booby-trapped devices to intercept voice and data transmissions from Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The Sunday Times quoted the sources as saying that the fake rock exploded when Revolutionary Guards who were on a patrol last month to check terminals connecting data and telephone links at Fordo tried to move it.
According to the British newspaper, Iranian experts who examined the scene of the blast found the remains of a device capable of intercepting data from computers at the nuclear plant, where uranium is being enriched in centrifuges.
The Sunday Times said it is feared a significant source of intelligence may have been lost for the West, which believes Iran could be preparing to use enriched uranium to make a nuclear bomb.
The report said the Iranians initially kept news of the explosion secret. But last week Fereydoun Abbasi, the country’s vice president and head of its nuclear energy agency, revealed that power lines between Qom and the Fordo plant had been blown up on August 17.
Early reports suggested the explosion was meant to cut power supplies to the plant and damage the centrifuges. However, inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), who visited Fordo the day after the explosion, made no mention of any damage or disruption in their report.
The Sunday Times said intercepting the computer and phone lines from the plant would have enabled western analysts to estimate the output from the centrifuges.
This report seems more plausible than the idea that the West would arbitrarily send a message to Iran by noisily destroying power lines that could be easily replaced. However, the initial reports said that power lines to Natanz were also destroyed in a separate explosion.
Were power lines also being monitored? I can imagine that Western intelligence can estimate the number of centrifuges being placed on line by watching how much power is being used incrementally at Fordo.
All of this is guesswork, of course, as no one is going to tell the full truth. Perhaps this alleged device was a critical piece in harvesting intelligence at Fordo. But for all we know there is a huge infrastructure of dozens or thousands of similar spy and sabotage devices sprinkled around Iranian nuclear facilities and Iran itself.