When the piece of malware given the name “Flame” was found last month, initial analysis indicated that it did not share code with Stuxnet and Duqu, two previously discovered programs also directed at Iran and other nations in the Middle East. However, researchers at the Kaspersky Lab have found that a chunk of early Stuxnet code called “resource 207” is also found in Flame, which indicates a connection between the authors of both programs.
An early version of Stuxnet from 2009 included the resource 207 module, which helped spread the virus to new machines via USB drives by exploiting a then-unknown security flaw in the Microsoft Windows operating system. The later incarnation of Stuxnet could accomplish the same task with different sections of code, and resource 207 was discarded. But when Kaspersky Lab researchers began studying an early module of Flame, they found its code bore a strong resemblance to Stuxnet’s resource 207. They believe that Flame was created first (which means it must date back to at least 2009), and its module lent a hand to the early stages of Stuxnet until the younger malware had been developed enough to stand on its own.
Samuel T. Cohen had a different view of warfare than most, and it’s no surprise—he invented one of history’s most controversial weapons, the neutron bomb. He died on Sunday.
Cohen’s ingenious, deadly device actually packed far less destructive power than typical nuclear weapons (which he worked on with the Manhattan Project during World War II). The neutron bomb’s detonation sent out a barrage of neutrons, the neutral subatomic particles in atoms, that passed right though inorganic material but killed living things within its blast radius.
All nuclear explosions produce a rain of potentially lethal neutrons, uncharged particles from an atom’s nucleus, and Mr. Cohen, by adjusting components and reshaping the bomb shell, limited the blast and released more energy as neutrons. [The New York Times]
After the Manhattan Project, Cohen went to work for the RAND Corporation, where he developed his bomb.
He said the inspiration for the neutron bomb was a 1951 visit to Seoul, which had been largely destroyed in the Korean War. In his memoir, he wrote: “If we are going to go on fighting these damned fool wars in the future, shelling and bombing cities to smithereens and wrecking the lives of their inhabitants, might there be some kind of nuclear weapon that could avoid all this?” [Los Angeles Times]
Between murders and leaked documents, there’s disarray and intrigue all around Iran’s burgeoning nuclear program.
Yesterday, two prominent nuclear scientists in Iran were attacked in car bombings.
According to [Iranian new service] Fars, scientists Majid Shahriari and Fereydoun Abbasi were parking their cars in separate locations near the university campus about 7:45 a.m. local time when they were attacked.Witnesses said each car was approached by a group of men on motorcycles, who attached explosives to the vehicles and detonated them seconds later, the news agency reported. Shahriari was killed instantly. Abbasi was wounded. Both men were with their wives, who were also wounded. [Washington Post]
Unsurprisingly, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad quickly pointed the finger of blame at the West and Israel. Both of the targeted scientists are reportedly connected to the Iranian nuclear program, which the government maintains is for the purpose of energy, but the United States and other nations oppose out of fear of an Iranian bomb.
Abbasi-Davani, whose handful of publications on neutron physics are mainly in Iranian journals, is a key figure in Iran’s nuclear programme. He is reported to be a scientist at the country’s defence ministry, and a member of Iran’s revolutionary guards since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. He was also named as being among “Persons involved in nuclear or ballistic missile activities” in the 2007 UN Security Council Resolution 1747, which imposed sanctions on Iran over its refusal to stop enrichment of uranium. [Nature]
If a country fires an airborne nuclear missile, the source of the attack is obvious. But what about the more fluid threat that hangs over the 21st century—terrorists sneaking a nuclear device into a city and setting it off? In a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week, researchers suggest that even in the charred aftermath of a nuclear explosion, there could be evidence left behind that helps to identify the source of the bomb.
Physicist Albert Fahey and company went back to the beginning of the atomic age, to the United States’ first atomic bomb test in New Mexico in July 1945. As that bomb test was called “Trinity,” the glass left behind by the blast is called “trinitite.” Fahey obtained some of that glass to show that all these years later, it still contained evidence of the bomb’s makeup.
“Prior to this study, people didn’t realise that other components of the bomb could be discerned from looking at ground debris and seeing what’s associated [with it],” said Dr Fahey. “But there are some distinctive signatures that were in the bomb other than fission products and plutonium, and that gives you hope that you can get some additional information out of it – like where it was made.” [BBC News]
After decades of development, Iran’s first nuclear power plant is close to operational. This week the country’s TV service announced that engineers have begun loading the fuel rods into the core of the Bushehr plant in southern Iran.
The 1,000-megawatt Bushehr plant has been under construction since before Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution. It was first contracted to a company that later became German industrial giant Siemens; more recently work was done with the help of Russia’s state-owned atomic energy company. [Los Angeles Times]
The plant’s 1000-megawatt capacity is comparable to the power put out by many of the nuclear plants scattered across the United States.
Shahram Amiri is at the Pakistani embassy in Washington D.C. Unless he’s not.
The missing Iranian nuclear scientist is no stranger to intrigue and indecision: Last month we covered dueling YouTube videos in which two men, both claiming to be Amiri, say that either he was being held against his will in the United States or was studying freely and happily here. Today his case took more strange turns, as government officials in Pakistan claimed that Amiri is currently at their embassy in Washington, awaiting a return trip to Iran.
Today Amiri was quoted by Iranian official media as claiming that the US government had intended to return him to Iran to cover up his kidnapping in Saudi Arabia. “Following the release of my interview in the internet which brought disgrace to the US government for this abduction, they wanted to send me back quietly to Iran by another country’s airline,” he told state radio from the Iranian interests office in Washington. “Doing so, they wanted to deny the main story and cover up this abduction. However, they finally failed” [The Guardian].
Have you seen this man? If so, please ask him to make up his mind.
Shahram Amiri, a 32-year-old Iranian nuclear scientist, is at the center of an episode of United States-Iran intrigue that just got weirder, thanks to YouTube. Amiri disappeared during his pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia last year, and anonymous U.S. officials confirmed that he defected, presumably bringing information about Iran’s nuclear program. Now he—or someone purporting to be him—appears in two contradictory videos that claim he was either abducted and tortured by the United States or is living happily here and going about his studies.
The first video:
The dark-haired man, appearing unshaven and disheveled, said he was being held against his will in Tucson. “I was kidnapped in a joint operation by the American intelligence, CIA terror and kidnap teams, and Saudi Arabia’s Istikhbarat” spy service, the man said in a grainy video aired in Iran on Monday night. He said he had been drugged before being smuggled out of Saudi Arabia, adding that he had been subjected to “severe torture” and “psychological pressures” [Washington Post].
A very different Amiri showed up in a second video today. He, or someone like him, appears in a professionally shot video sitting in front of some parlor with a globe and a chess board, as if he wants to have a few minutes of our time to talk about life insurance.
As DISCOVER’s Bad Astronomer reported, Norwegians spotted some seriously strange lights in the night sky early yesterday morning. Since it appeared to be a real phenomenon (as opposed to a Photoshopped delight) and as there was no indication that the little green men had finally come, astronomers and aviation experts immediately began investigating what could have caused such a light show. The Bad Astronomer suggested that it looked like a rocket spinning out of control, and a day later he was proven right.
It turns out the bizarre fireworks display was caused by a missile test that originated in Russia, however the heralded Bulava missile turned out to be a dud–again. The submarine-based Bulava (Mace) missile has been billed as Russia’s newest technological breakthrough to support its nuclear deterrent, but the repeated test failures are an embarrassment for the Kremlin [Reuters].
Federal experts believe that a major earthquake could trigger fires at Los Alamos National Laboratory, releasing radioactive materials and endangering lives. The rupture of a seismic fault that runs underneath the lab would shake the ground more than scientists previously thought, according to a new report (PDF). A natural disaster here would be bad news, since the lab, just west of Santa Fe, is the main plutonium factory in the United States, believed to hold thousands of pounds of plutonium for use in nuclear weapons (the actual amount is classified).
Researchers study plutonium inside glove boxes—a Hollywood movie staple, consisting of a sealed enclosure with gloves so that someone outside the box can work on dangerous materials inside. A major earthquake would shake the ground enough to topple the glove boxes, says the new study. Some glove boxes are enormous and even contain furnaces to cast and mold plutonium. If one of these were to crash, the resulting fire would be uncontrollable and would create a vaporized plutonium cloud that could drift outside of the lab, says the safety report. In a worst-case scenario, a fire could release so much airborne plutonium that a person on the boundary of the lab would get a dose of radiation—potentially many thousands of times greater than a chest X-ray—that could be fatal in weeks, according to individuals knowledgeable about the study [Los Angeles Times].
Here’s one direct and obvious effect of the economic stimulus package passed in February: The toxic sites where scientists ushered in the nuclear age are getting cleaned up. In Los Alamos, New Mexico, a dump that contains refuse of the Manhattan Project and that was sealed up decades ago is finally being explored, thanks to $212 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
But experts aren’t sure what they’ll find inside the dump. At the very least, there is probably a truck down there that was contaminated in 1945 at the Trinity test site, where the world’s first nuclear explosion seared the sky and melted the desert sand 200 miles south of here during World War II [The New York Times]. It may also contain explosive chemicals that could have become more dangerous over the years of burial.