Someone has been sending a message to Iranian nuclear scientists, and now to Iranian Cyberwar experts: don't bother buying green bananas; before they ripen, you could be dead.
The UK Daily Telegraph reported on October 2, 2013, that Mojtaba Ahmadi, who served as commander of the Iranian Cyber War Headquarters, was found dead in a wooded area near the town of Karaj, northwest of Tehran. The local police chief said that two people on a motorbike had been involved in the assassination. A day later the Iranians claimed it was a terrible incidence, not an assassination. There was no explanation how the body reached the wooded area.
In recent years, the life expectancy of a number of Iranian nuclear scientists has similarly been cut short. On January 15, 2007, it was reported that Ardeshir Hassanpour, an Iranian nuclear scientist working at a nuclear plant in Isfahan, had died six days previously. Accounts concerning the cause of his death conflicted. First, the cause of death was given as poisoning caused by a faulty heater. Other reports suggested that the cause of death was radioactive poisoning.
In January, 2010, nuclear physicist Masoud Ali Mohammadi was killed by an explosive, attached to a motorcycle parked outside his home and detonated by remote control. In November, 2010, Fereydoon Abbasi, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, was wounded when a motorcyclist used remote control to detonate a magnetic bomb hidden under Abbasi's car. Abbasi was listed on a U.N. roster of people sanctioned for suspected links to nuclear activities. On the same day, Majid Shahriari, a nuclear physicist, was killed by a bomb that a motorcyclist had attached to his car. In July, 2011, two gunmen on a motorcycle shot Darioush Rezaeinejad in the neck outside his daughter's Tehran kindergarten. Reports associated him with the development of a nuclear detonator.
On January 11, 2012, Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, 32, described by Iran as "a deputy director of Natanz uranium enrichment facility for commercial affairs," was killed by a bomb attached to his car by two passing motorcyclists. Other reports describe Roshan as a chemical engineer with an expertise in polymer membranes, essential for uranium enrichment.
On November 17, 2011, Major General Hassan Moghadam, the head of Iran's ballistic missile program, was killed in a huge explosion at a missile base of the Revolutionary Guards. In November, 2010, Dr. Majid Shahriari was killed when an explosive attached to his car was remotely detonated. Another scientist, Fridon Abassi, who was injured in the attack, was later appointed as the head of the Iranian Nuclear Commission.
These are just the reported instances of sudden deaths. There could be more that have never come to light, perhaps because the Iranian authorities have been too embarrassed at their inability to protect their key scientists, and obviously because the killers - whoever they have been -- have had no interest in talking.
Iranian nuclear bombs and ballistic missiles could kill, but their dispatchers would be identified immediately and a deadly retaliation would follow. Iran knows that it cannot match the West's military might: a response to an Iranian military attack could send Iran to the Stone Age. In recent years Iran has settled its scores through its terrorist subsidiaries Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad. Alas, these organizations' terror attacks have also been attributed to Iran, tarnishing it as a terror sponsoring state. Bad for business and "smile attacks" aimed at the US.
However, cyberwar is by stealth. It can be deadly, and identifying its source is difficult. Iran witnessed it, when its enrichment facilities were seriously damaged by Stuxnet, a computer worm sent by an anonymous organization. Nobody took credit. Computer experts however pointed at the U.S. and Israel as the probable perpetrators. Why is cyberwar potentially deadly? Because well designed commands sent to commercial airplanes could disrupt their navigation systems and crash the plane. Control systems of sewage treatment plants could be manipulated - opening up the raw sewage spigots and contaminating the fresh water supply, thus spreading disease. Computer viruses sent to electrical grids could darken huge parts of the U.S. Therefore, national security experts treat a cyberwar attack just as seriously as a missile attack. Only last January, for instance, senior U.S. administration officials blamed Iran for cyber-attacking Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, and HSBC. These attacks were probably a shot across the bow, telling the U.S. to stop its sanctions that debilitate the Iranian economy - or the U.S. economy could be hurt.
With these and other unreported cyber-attacks on the U.S. and Israel, a clandestine action against the Iranian cyberwar chief was only a question of time.
Whodunit? Who carried out these black bag operations? As always, and as is customary with most intelligence services, nobody has taken responsibility. There have doubtless, however, been discreet hi fives here and there.