Posts Tagged ‘Israel’


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Google Invests in World’s Largest Solar Power Tower Plant

Google has just sealed a deal to invest $168 million in a Mojave Desert solar energy plant.
The investment is going to BrightSource Energy, a company that developes and operates large-scale solar power plants, specifically to fund its Ivanpah project.
Ivanpah is a solar electric generating system that uses solar thermal technology and “an environmentally responsible design,” according to the project’s website, to deliver reliable, clean and low-cost power to Californians.
The plant will generate energy with a technology called power towers. Mirrors, called heliostats, are arranged in an array and aim the sun’s rays at a receiver atop a tower. The receiver generates steam; the steam causes a turbine to rotate; the rotation causes a generator to generate electricity. Because such large quantities of solar energy are being directed to such a small area, the power towers are very efficient.
The power tower at Ivanpah will be around 450 feet tall. The plant will use 173,000 heliostats, and each heliostat will have two mirrors, making Ivanpah the largest project of its kind.
Construction at Ivanpah should be completed in 2013. Here’s a video from the plant’s groundbreaking ceremony:
Google’s been on something of a clean energy investment kick over the past year or so. The company was granted the ability to buy and sell energy as a public utility last February, ostensibly to find better ways to power its own massive data centers.
A short time later, Google began making significant investments in green energy technologies. The company sealed a $38 million wind farm investment in May, bought 20 years’ worth of wind farm energy in July, and provided a substantial investment for a huge offshore wind farm in October.
Rick Needham is Google’s Director of Green Business Operations. On the company blog, writes, “We hope that investing in Ivanpah spurs continued development and deployment of this promising technology while encouraging other companies to make similar investments in renewable energy.”

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Israelis teach Vietnam how to milk it

By Ben Bland
Published: March 17 2011 21:27 | Last updated: March 17 2011 21:27
TH Dairy
On a remote farm in rural Vietnam, some 20 or so Israeli kibbutzniks are having to plan ahead for Passover even though it is not for another month.
Their early preparations for the Jewish festival have less to do with spiritual fervour than their location. For they have upped sticks from their homes in the Jordan Valley to move to Nghe An province in north-central Vietnam, where they are helping to build and operate one of Asia’s biggest dairy farms.
It is not easy to get unleavened bread and other traditional Passover fare in these parts. But it is important to keep up morale among the Israelis in their “expat village”, says Barak Wittert, the farm’s director.
Mr Wittert, who grew up on an Israeli kibbutz, has helped set up high-tech dairy farms in the developing world, from Africa to the Middle East. But the TH Milk farm, backed by Thai Huong, a well-known Vietnamese businesswoman, is the most ambitious project he has seen.
The plan, devised by Ms Huong, who runs a local bank, and executed by the Israelis, is to build a huge, state-of-the-art dairy farm and transform the small but fast-growing fresh milk industry in Vietnam.

Audio slideshow: Vietnam’s mega-farm

Audio slideshow: Vietnam's mega-farm

Ben Bland visits a milk farm in Vietnam that is one of Asia’s biggest, with capacity for more than 100,000 cows
Since construction began in October 2009, 12,000 cows have arrived from New Zealand and nearly 300 workers have been hired.
The first milk cartons appeared on store shelves in December 2010 and more than 2,000 cows are now milked daily.
“This is the first time I’ve seen so much achieved in such little time,” says Gil Inbar, chief executive of TH Milk and a veteran of dairy projects in Africa, India, Turkey and Ukraine.
The aim is to expand to 137,000 cows by 2020 after a total investment of more than $1bn.
Mr Inbar concedes that there were “cultural conflicts” initially, as most of the Vietnamese workers were new to dairy farming and unused to operating such high-tech systems. “But sometimes it’s easier to take on people with no prior experience as they have no bad habits,” he says.
Mr Inbar and Mr Wittert work for TH Milk, the Vietnamese company that controls the project. But the farm is being set up and operated by Afimilk, a dairy farm technology company owned by Kibbutz Afikim.
Like many of Israel’s collective farms, Afikim abandoned its socialist ideals in the 1980s for more capitalist activities. Vietnam’s communist leaders, who started opening their country at around the same time, have followed a similar path.
This shared heritage has helped the Israelis to hit the ground running, according to Rami Ofer, Afimilk’s project manager in Vietnam. “There is some advantage for people who come from a socialist background to understand the environment in Vietnam,” he says.
To keep costs down, the Israelis are training Vietnamese dairy farmers and handing over as much responsibility as soon as possible.
The plan is to turn the farms over to the locals within five years.
The pace of progress is all the more impressive in a country where big projects are often delayed by corruption, red tape, financing problems and extreme caution in local government. Senior staff say the initial success is largely down to Ms Huong, whom they describe as an exacting taskmaster.
“It’s not easy to get land and financing in Vietnam, but fortunately we have a very strong chairwoman to bring us everything we need,” says Mr Inbar.
Ms Huong is general director of North Asia Bank, which is financing the project, along with other unnamed investors.
As well as profits, she says the project will bring wider benefits. “Milk is an essential need for the human development of Vietnam,” she says.

Nghe An, birthplace of Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam’s late revolutionary leader, will get some much needed investment, jobs and infrastructure in the area near the farm. Indeed, Ms Huong is already thinking ahead to how she can promote further large-scale industrialisation in agriculture. “You must complete your strategic thinking first in order to develop a project quickly,” she says. “But the critical factor in the success of this project has been the Israeli experts guiding the Vietnamese.”

FT.com / Management – Israelis teach Vietnam how to milk it

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Water-short, energy-challenged and traffic-congested, Israel is a land of environmental experiments


The greening of Israel

Water-short, energy-challenged and traffic-congested, Israel is a land of environmental experiments, reports freelance writer CHRISTINE H. O’TOOLE

Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Sunday, February 20, 2011

NETANYA, Israel

On the coastal highway to Haifa, the sunlit Mediterranean Sea is mirrored by miles of glittering rooftop solar panels, providing residents with home-cooked hot water. It’s common sense to harvest solar radiation here at the latitudes where it’s strongest. But can a crowded, drought-prone country, packed with cars and poor in plant life, oil and water, really go green?

Israel has no choice. The constraints posed by climate, geology and rapid growth have forced the country to experiment with untested ideas in environmental sustainability.

From a landfill-turned-city park, to a national network of charging stations for battery-powered sedans, to wetlands reclaimed from agriculture, examples are everywhere. Touring the country through the sandstorms that battered it in December, I saw projects with both grit and promise.

A 60-meter hill of trash along the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway — it looks like a mountain on the board-flat landscape — grew over Israel’s first 50 years to become the rank centerpiece of a noxious eyesore. But the Hiraya garbage dump now is being transformed into Ariel Sharon-Ayalon Park, which will repurpose the 2,000-acre landfill for recreation.

In a city with a heavily used beachfront but no green space, the site, double the size of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, looks like an urban mesa, with cycling paths and public spaces. Fed by trickles of water — here called rivers — its cedars, figs and olive trees will act as a ‘green lung’ to mitigate airborne pollutants along the busy Route 1 corridor through which a half-million commuter cars pass daily.

Israeli traffic, particularly on the northern highways, is an intractable 24-7 snarl. Despite rail service connecting Tel Aviv and Jerusalem with Ben Gurion Airport, intra-city mass transit options are limited. In Tel Aviv, where a third of the country works, a light rail/subway plan has been stalled for years, and a promised city bike-share program has yet to debut.

Meanwhile, gasoline costs nearly $7 per gallon in a nation completely dependent on foreign oil. That prompted young entrepreneur Shai Agassi to ask: ‘How do you run an entire country without oil, with no new science, in a time frame that’s fast enough to get off oil before we run out of planet?’

On the northern edge of Tel Aviv, Mr. Agassi’s new venture is demonstrating the answer: A Better Place is producing an electric battery-powered car supported by a national network of charging stations.

Mr. Agassi has promoted the system as a giant leap in convenience. Drivers can use home plug-in chargers and extend the car’s range by swapping out batteries on the road. A Better Place has shrewdly built acceptance for the system with free tours and test drives at its demonstration center. Forty thousand people have visited since it opened last March.

‘We’ve created a system that will work on all-electric cars — the Leaf, the Volt, the Mitsubishi,’ Sidney Goodman, vice president of the $700 million startup, told a group of American visitors.

A Better Place’s main partner is Renault, whose Fluence Z.E. electric car will go on sale outside the United States this summer with a base sticker price of nearly $29,000, plus a monthly battery lease of about $100.

As a crowd of observers watched, Mr. Goodman demonstrated the robotic technology that runs the drive-in maintenance system. A machine lifted the car a few feet, extended one arm to detach a spent battery from below and smoothly substituted a fresh one in under five minutes. Mr. Goodman says Israel will have 50 battery switching stations by the end of this year.

The technology has the most promise for small ‘transportation islands’ like Israel and Denmark, but was successfully piloted in buses during the Beijing Olympics. Tests with taxi fleets in Tokyo will be followed by one in the California Bay Area next year.

Water is precious in Israel; the second rainfall of 2010 didn’t occur until my December visit. Although a controversial drought tax that rationed residential water usage was suspended last year, a new 40 percent hike in water tariffs is expected to have the same effect. It’s all the more surprising, then, that the country has allowed an agricultural kibbutz to revert to a wetland wildlife preserve.

As winter dusk fell over the 15,000-acre Hula Nature Reserve near the Golan Heights, thousands of grey cranes suddenly descended. They’d returned to the wetland, a migration stop for two millennia, where neighboring farmland has been turned into an eco-tourism center.

Kibbutz agriculture drained most of the swamplands in the 20th century and wildlife vanished. Now waterfowl, wild nutria, water buffalo and other species thrive in the nation’s first nature reserve. A re-flooded peat bog filters water flowing to the nation’s only fresh water lake, the Sea of Galilee.

Golda Meir famously voiced the Israeli complaint: ‘Moses dragged us through the desert to the one place in the Middle East where there is no oil.’

Israel will continue to struggle with meager resources, despite the recent discovery of a promising offshore natural gas field. But there’s a flow of fresh thinking about how to meet the nation’s environmental challenges.
Christine H. O’Toole is a freelance writer who lives in Mt. Lebanon (chris@christinehotoole.com).

First published on February 20, 2011 at 12:00 am

The greening of Israel

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Photo by: AP
Israel’s clean-tech megaproject
By AMIRAM BARKAT
12/02/2011
Bid to become a leader in renewable-energy technologies aims to help wean world off oil.
‘The global interest in Israel’s energy R&D and technology is out of all proportion to the size of the country,” says Dr. Eli Opper, a former chief scientist who is now the chairman of the Eureka High Level Group.

Israel holds the chairmanship of Eureka, the European R&D program, of which more than 40 countries are members. According to Opper, Israel’s technological achievements were an important consideration in the award of the chairmanship.

“The world looks for two things in Israel: R&D and technology,” he says. “Our manufacturing and marketing capabilities are of far less interest to it.”

Opper says Israel has an impressive record in developing breakthrough energy technologies.

“Israel was a world pioneer in developing water-desalination and solar-energy technologies,” he says. “Unfortunately, in Spain and California there are solar installations that operate using Israeli technologies, but in Israel itself we have missed the opportunity to implement them, among other things, for political reasons.

“Another reason is the small size of the Israeli market. On this point, Israel has a great deal to gain from cooperation with the large European market. Moreover, Israelis have a lot to learn from the Europeans when it comes to environmental protection. This is an area in which Israel considerably lags behind European countries.

Up to now, Israelis have preferred to deal with more urgent issues on the agenda.”

This highlights the importance of the conference organized by the European Friends of Israel in Jerusalem last week, in collaboration with Globes. The conference was attended by about 500 of the European Parliament’s 736 members.

Over the course of the conference, the European parliamentarians visited Israel’s leading industrial plants. This is no small thing, given that they represent a market of 375 million consumers who could help promote Israeli technology.

OPPER defines clean-tech as comprising three sub-fields: water, environment and renewable energy.

One of the most interesting Israel developments, he says, is in water.

“The hot topic in water technologies these days is prevention of leaks from water pipes,” he says. “There are some very interesting Israeli developments in this area that could be especially relevant to large European cities with antiquated water infrastructure.

In cities like London and Paris, the rate of water loss can be counted in tens of percents.

“The Israeli technology is twostage: The first stage is locating the leak, using sophisticated control systems; the second is blocking the leak, by introducing special, nontoxic materials.”

A few years ago, one of the technology incubators operating in Israel, Kinrot, decided to become a dedicated water-technologies incubator. Another incubator, L.N. Innovative Technologies, based near Haifa, has declared itself an “environmental incubator.”

More clean-tech technologies are at various stages of development in more than 26 incubators that operate in Israel under the aegis of the Chief Scientist’s Office in the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry.

Opper, who was chief scientist from 2002 to 2010, says there are eight to 10 companies that have been in the incubators for an average of two years, and altogether, the state supports about 200 startup companies.

Opper says the past three years have seen substantial change in the scope of activity and investment in clean-tech R&D in Israel.

“Energy has expanded in recent years because the market understood that money could be made from it,” he says. “The figures are dramatic and indicate a very clear trend: Investment in clean-tech is growing steadily from year to year.”

In 2007, applications received in the Chief Scientist’s Office for research projects in clean-tech were worth a total of NIS 150 million.

By 2010, the amount had jumped to NIS 380m., representing a rise of more than 250 percent in three years. The amount of grants and the number of applications approved have grown by similar rates. At the same time, it must be remembered that cleantech still accounts for only a small proportion of the total of R&D projects approved by the Chief Scientist’s Office, which are worth about NIS 5 billion annually.

Investment in a technology center

The technology incubators and research budgets are only two elements of the R&D activity in Israel in renewable energy.

Another important factor that will soon come into play is the Renewable Energy Technology Center. The center will be set up by a private consortium selected by the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry. Opper says a second technology center is planned in the next few years for developing water technologies.

Under the terms for setting up and operating the Renewable Energy Technology Center, the state committed to injecting NIS 57m. over five years, while the franchisee committed to match that amount of funding. In September, the tender for the center was won by the Eilat-Eilot Renewable Energy Initiative, a consortium that comprises some of Israel’s most important companies in R&D (Ormat, Elbit Systems, and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems), together with leading research bodies in renewable energy (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies) and venture- capital firm ProSeed.

The center will be constructed in the Arava, north of Eilat, in the Eilot Regional Council. The Eilat- Eilat Renewable Energy Administration is an important partner in the winning consortium. The win in the tender consolidates the Eilot region as the Israeli center for renewable energy.

THE MAIN focus of the region’s activity in renewable energy is the Eilat-Eilot International Renewable Energy Conference.

This year, the fourth year it is being held, the conference will take place in Eilat next Tuesday through Thursday. In 2010, the conference received official recognition as one of the most important renewable-energy events in the world, when the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, chose to include the event in the ECO4B (environment cooperation for business) project, promoted by the Enterprise Europe Network, which links business support organizations from 47 countries.

The conference will bring together more than 2,000 business people, academics, government representatives and large investment entities from Israel and around the world. Among other things, a large Italian delegation is expected, to be led by Economic Development Minister Paolo Romani, alongside delegations from the UK, France and Spain. Two sessions at this year’s conference are being sponsored by Eureka, which at the same time will hold its annual gathering under Luuk Borg, head of the Eureka secretariat in Brussels.

Among prominent Europeans in the renewable-energy field expected in Eilat this year are European Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard; Dr.

Karl-Josef Kuhn, principle engineer of Siemens AG and head of Siemens Corporate Technology E-Car; and Dr. Gabriel Marquette, director of European Affairs at Schlumberger Research and president of Eurogia. Besides focusing on ways of removing bureaucratic obstacles to implementation of renewable-energy projects, a large part of the discussion will be devoted to innovation and the latest technological developments in the field.

NIS 14 billion to replace oil

In the coming years, Israel’s R&D efforts will not be devoted to clean-tech so much as to a subject close to it: substitutes for oil. Last February, the government decided on “a national effort to develop technologies that reduce the world’s use of oil in transport.”

The goal could hardly be more ambitious: The developed world’s dependence on oil for transport is a political problem, but it’s also an economic and environmental problem.

Dr. Gal Luft, executive director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security in Washington, DC, believes this is the world’s number-one problem.

The root of the problem, he says, is that oil is a monopoly in fuel for transport that is produced by a cartel, OPEC, which controls nearly 80% of the world’s oil reserves and is committed to raising its price.

At the Globes Israel Business Conference in Tel Aviv in December, Luft predicted that oil prices would continue to rise under any possible scenario.

“Our ‘luck,’ in inverted commas, is that we have been in a global recession,” he said. “Just imagine what will happen if we emerge from the recession. On the other hand, oil prices will also rise under less optimistic scenarios, such as an outbreak of inflation or substantial weakening of the dollar.

If those things happen, investors will rush to oil as a defensive commodity, like gold.”

Over the past year, since the government decision, comprehensive staff work has been undertaken by the National Economic Council under Prof.

Eugene Kandel. Last month, the government approved a national plan for developing alternatives to oil.

The plan, which will operate between 2011 and 2020, will have a budget of NIS 4b. for its first five years and at least NIS 10b. for the next five years. The government’s participation in the budget will be NIS 1.5b.

The main goal of the plan is for Israel to become a world center of know-how in alternatives to oil.

This goal will be achieved if, by 2016, more than 100 start-up companies and research projects are set up, with the involvement of 20 Israeli global companies.

Also, by 2016, about a 100 research and academic groups in the field are due to be formed.

THE PLAN encourages investment in venture-backed companies active in alternatives to oil.

The program, which has been allocated government funding of NIS 400m., will enable the financing of pilot installations to test new technologies, and it will promote implementation of the new technologies in industry. In addition, a NIS 1.5m. annual prize will be awarded by the prime minister for world innovation in alternatives to oil.

The future scientific activity in Israel will be reinforced by collaboration programs and agreements with foreign countries. Preference will be given to countries with high research and technological capabilities and to countries with the strongest interest in finding alternatives to oil. The government’s decision specifically mentions countries such as India and China, where the number of motorized vehicles is expected to grow substantially in the coming years.

Uri Ben-Porat, economic adviser to President Shimon Peres, recommends teaming with developing countries – such as Kazakhstan, for example – that are dependent on oil exports and seek to diversify their risk. At the recommendation of Opper, the plan states that Israel will seek to strengthen collaboration between Israeli companies and multinational companies active in areas connected to alternatives to oil and with leading research bodies in that area.

“Players like automobile makers and fuel companies are conducting research on a huge scale to find alternatives to oil, and there is a great deal of strategic sense in linking up with them,” Opper said at the Israel Business Conference.

Opper, who was a member of the steering committee that formulated the national plan, believes its ambitious goal is attainable.

“If Israel helps to solve the world’s dependence on oil, it will turn out to have been a very important decision,” he says.

Israel’s clean-tech megaproject

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Jerusalem

The Diary: Simon Sebag Montefiore

By Simon Sebag Montefiore
FT.com / Life & Arts – Published: January 28 2011 22:03 | Last updated: January 28 2011 22:03

Jerusalem has always driven people mad: the Jerusalem syndrome is a madness caused by the disappointment of finding that the real, messy, chaotic, angry place is not the Celestial Holy City of the imagination. One hundred visitors a year – mainly Christian pilgrims – go insane and are committed to the Kfar Shaul Mental Health Centre. Many emperors, conquerors, leaders, Jews, Muslims and Christians have, in their way, succumbed, losing touch with reason when it comes to Jerusalem.

In 2000, the British Journal of Psychiatry described the syndrome as a “psychotic decompensation … related to religious excitement induced by proximity to the holy places of Jerusalem”. The study warns tour guides to be aware of the danger signs in their groups and these include: an obsession with taking baths; compulsive fingernail/toenail clipping; preparation, with aid of hotel bed linen, of toga-like garb, always white; screaming; ranting; procession to shrines and delivery of sermons there. Even writers about Jerusalem have been known to suffer bouts of the syndrome: my wife Santa thinks we’ve all been suffering from it in our house. She is very glad my book Jerusalem: the Biography is out.
. . .
On the subject of family, it is tempting to write Jerusalem’s astonishingly dramatic history as a succession of massacres and conquests but cities are really created by families over centuries. I found myself researching an epic family saga of dynasties – royal, aristocratic and sometimes obscure.
When I am in Jerusalem I always stay in either the American Colony Hotel in the Palestinian neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah or the Mishkenot Sha’ananim, the guesthouse beside the Montefiore Windmill. Sir Moses Montefiore founded the Montefiore quarter and windmill (a real one he exported from Kent) in 1860, the beginning of the expansion of the Holy City from within its walls to create New Jerusalem’s Jewish and Arab suburbs. It was thanks to this great-great uncle that I wrote my book: indeed our family motto is “Jerusalem”. He founded the Montefiore quarter for poor Jews but it was so dangerous to be outside the city walls that, initially, its inhabitants crept into the city to sleep.
During the 20th century, the King David Hotel was built almost next door. During the Arab Revolt of 1936-38, “the Montefiore” area came under Arab attack; during 1948, Arab irregulars tried to storm it while the British, based around the King David Hotel, fired on Jewish forces and blew the top off the Kentish windmill. Now it’s one of the loveliest parts of the city outside the walls, the site of the city’s literary festival.
The American Colony has a parallel history: a mansion built at almost the same time but by the greatest Arab family, the Husseinis. Rabah Al-Husseini, its owner, sold it to a sect of American evangelist millenarians, the American colonists led by the Spafford family. They had settled there in 1888 to prepare for the apocalypse but became a much-loved Jerusalemite institution. Later they converted the house into a hotel: in 1948, Bertha Spafford, the founder’s daughter and now a Jerusalemite matriarch, tried in vain to prevent an Arab ambush, launched from the hotel grounds, of a Jewish convoy of ambulances. In the 1990s, the Oslo peace talks started there.

Read the rest of the article online at FT.com

FT.com / Life & Arts – The Diary: Simon Sebag Montefiore

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Israeli Test on Worm Called Crucial in Iran Nuclear Delay

This article is by William J. Broad, John Markoff and David E. Sanger.
The Dimona complex in the Negev desert is famous as the heavily guarded heart of Israel’s never-acknowledged nuclear arms program, where neat rows of factories make atomic fuel for the arsenal.
Over the past two years, according to intelligence and military experts familiar with its operations, Dimona has taken on a new, equally secret role — as a critical testing ground in a joint American and Israeli effort to undermine Iran’s efforts to make a bomb of its own.
Behind Dimona’s barbed wire, the experts say, Israel has spun nuclear centrifuges virtually identical to Iran’s at Natanz, where Iranian scientists are struggling to enrich uranium. They say Dimona tested the effectiveness of the Stuxnet computer worm, a destructive program that appears to have wiped out roughly a fifth of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges and helped delay, though not destroy, Tehran’s ability to make its first nuclear arms.
“To check out the worm, you have to know the machines,” said an American expert on nuclear intelligence. “The reason the worm has been effective is that the Israelis tried it out.”
Though American and Israeli officials refuse to talk publicly about what goes on at Dimona, the operations there, as well as related efforts in the United States, are among the newest and strongest clues suggesting that the virus was designed as an American-Israeli project to sabotage the Iranian program.

In recent days, the retiring chief of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, Meir Dagan, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton separately announced that they believed Iran’s efforts had been set back by several years. Mrs. Clinton cited American-led sanctions, which have hurt Iran’s ability to buy components and do business around the world.
The gruff Mr. Dagan, whose organization has been accused by Iran of being behind the deaths of several Iranian scientists, told the Israeli Knesset in recent days that Iran had run into technological difficulties that could delay a bomb until 2015. That represented a sharp reversal from Israel’s long-held argument that Iran was on the cusp of success.
The biggest single factor in putting time on the nuclear clock appears to be Stuxnet, the most sophisticated cyberweapon ever deployed.
In interviews over the past three months in the United States and Europe, experts who have picked apart the computer worm describe it as far more complex — and ingenious — than anything they had imagined when it began circulating around the world, unexplained, in mid-2009.
Many mysteries remain, chief among them, exactly who constructed a computer worm that appears to have several authors on several continents. But the digital trail is littered with intriguing bits of evidence.
In early 2008 the German company Siemens cooperated with one of the United States’ premier national laboratories, in Idaho, to identify the vulnerabilities of computer controllers that the company sells to operate industrial machinery around the world — and that American intelligence agencies have identified as key equipment in Iran’s enrichment facilities.
Siemens says that program was part of routine efforts to secure its products against cyberattacks. Nonetheless, it gave the Idaho National Laboratory — which is part of the Energy Department, responsible for America’s nuclear arms — the chance to identify well-hidden holes in the Siemens systems that were exploited the next year by Stuxnet.
The worm itself now appears to have included two major components. One was designed to send Iran’s nuclear centrifuges spinning wildly out of control. Another seems right out of the movies: The computer program also secretly recorded what normal operations at the nuclear plant looked like, then played those readings back to plant operators, like a pre-recorded security tape in a bank heist, so that it would appear that everything was operating normally while the centrifuges were actually tearing themselves apart.
The attacks were not fully successful: Some parts of Iran’s operations ground to a halt, while others survived, according to the reports of international nuclear inspectors. Nor is it clear the attacks are over: Some experts who have examined the code believe it contains the seeds for yet more versions and assaults.
“It’s like a playbook,” said Ralph Langner, an independent computer security expert in Hamburg, Germany, who was among the first to decode Stuxnet. “Anyone who looks at it carefully can build something like it.” Mr. Langner is among the experts who expressed fear that the attack had legitimized a new form of industrial warfare, one to which the United States is also highly vulnerable.
Officially, neither American nor Israeli officials will even utter the name of the malicious computer program, much less describe any role in designing it.
But Israeli officials grin widely when asked about its effects. Mr. Obama’s chief strategist for combating weapons of mass destruction, Gary Samore, sidestepped a Stuxnet question at a recent conference about Iran, but added with a smile: “I’m glad to hear they are having troubles with their centrifuge machines, and the U.S. and its allies are doing everything we can to make it more complicated.”
In recent days, American officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity have said in interviews that they believe Iran’s setbacks have been underreported. That may explain why Mrs. Clinton provided her public assessment while traveling in the Middle East last week.
By the accounts of a number of computer scientists, nuclear enrichment experts and former officials, the covert race to create Stuxnet was a joint project between the Americans and the Israelis, with some help, knowing or unknowing, from the Germans and the British.
The project’s political origins can be found in the last months of the Bush administration. In January 2009, The New York Times reported that Mr. Bush authorized a covert program to undermine the electrical and computer systems around Natanz, Iran’s major enrichment center. President Obama, first briefed on the program even before taking office, sped it up, according to officials familiar with the administration’s Iran strategy. So did the Israelis, other officials said. Israel has long been seeking a way to cripple Iran’s capability without triggering the opprobrium, or the war, that might follow an overt military strike of the kind they conducted against nuclear facilities in Iraq in 1981 and Syria in 2007.
Two years ago, when Israel still thought its only solution was a military one and approached Mr. Bush for the bunker-busting bombs and other equipment it believed it would need for an air attack, its officials told the White House that such a strike would set back Iran’s programs by roughly three years. Its request was turned down.
Now, Mr. Dagan’s statement suggests that Israel believes it has gained at least that much time, without mounting an attack. So does the Obama administration.
For years, Washington’s approach to Tehran’s program has been one of attempting “to put time on the clock,” a senior administration official said, even while refusing to discuss Stuxnet. “And now, we have a bit more.”
Finding Weaknesses
Paranoia helped, as it turns out.
Years before the worm hit Iran, Washington had become deeply worried about the vulnerability of the millions of computers that run everything in the United States from bank transactions to the power grid.
Computers known as controllers run all kinds of industrial machinery. By early 2008, the Department of Homeland Security had teamed up with the Idaho National Laboratory to study a widely used Siemens controller known as P.C.S.-7, for Process Control System 7. Its complex software, called Step 7, can run whole symphonies of industrial instruments, sensors and machines.
The vulnerability of the controller to cyberattack was an open secret. In July 2008, the Idaho lab and Siemens teamed up on a PowerPoint presentation on the controller’s vulnerabilities that was made to a conference in Chicago at Navy Pier, a top tourist attraction.
“Goal is for attacker to gain control,” the July paper said in describing the many kinds of maneuvers that could exploit system holes. The paper was 62 pages long, including pictures of the controllers as they were examined and tested in Idaho.
In a statement on Friday, the Idaho National Laboratory confirmed that it formed a partnership with Siemens but said it was one of many with manufacturers to identify cybervulnerabilities. It argued that the report did not detail specific flaws that attackers could exploit. But it also said it could not comment on the laboratory’s classified missions, leaving unanswered the question of whether it passed what it learned about the Siemens systems to other parts of the nation’s intelligence apparatus.
The presentation at the Chicago conference, which recently disappeared from a Siemens Web site, never discussed specific places where the machines were used.
But Washington knew. The controllers were critical to operations at Natanz, a sprawling enrichment site in the desert. “If you look for the weak links in the system,” said one former American official, “this one jumps out.”
Controllers, and the electrical regulators they run, became a focus of sanctions efforts. The trove of State Department cables made public by WikiLeaks describes urgent efforts in April 2009 to stop a shipment of Siemens controllers, contained in 111 boxes at the port of Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. They were headed for Iran, one cable said, and were meant to control “uranium enrichment cascades” — the term for groups of spinning centrifuges.
Subsequent cables showed that the United Arab Emirates blocked the transfer of the Siemens computers across the Strait of Hormuz to Bandar Abbas, a major Iranian port.
Only months later, in June, Stuxnet began to pop up around the globe. The Symantec Corporation, a maker of computer security software and services based in Silicon Valley, snared it in a global malware collection system. The worm hit primarily inside Iran, Symantec reported, but also in time appeared in India, Indonesia and other countries.
But unlike most malware, it seemed to be doing little harm. It did not slow computer networks or wreak general havoc.
That deepened the mystery.
A ‘Dual Warhead’
No one was more intrigued than Mr. Langner, a former psychologist who runs a small computer security company in a suburb of Hamburg. Eager to design protective software for his clients, he had his five employees focus on picking apart the code and running it on the series of Siemens controllers neatly stacked in racks, their lights blinking.
He quickly discovered that the worm only kicked into gear when it detected the presence of a specific configuration of controllers, running a set of processes that appear to exist only in a centrifuge plant. “The attackers took great care to make sure that only their designated targets were hit,” he said. “It was a marksman’s job.”
For example, one small section of the code appears designed to send commands to 984 machines linked together.
Curiously, when international inspectors visited Natanz in late 2009, they found that the Iranians had taken out of service a total of exactly 984 machines that had been running the previous summer.
But as Mr. Langner kept peeling back the layers, he found more — what he calls the “dual warhead.” One part of the program is designed to lie dormant for long periods, then speed up the machines so that the spinning rotors in the centrifuges wobble and then destroy themselves. Another part, called a “man in the middle” in the computer world, sends out those false sensor signals to make the system believe everything is running smoothly. That prevents a safety system from kicking in, which would shut down the plant before it could self-destruct.
“Code analysis makes it clear that Stuxnet is not about sending a message or proving a concept,” Mr. Langner later wrote. “It is about destroying its targets with utmost determination in military style.”
This was not the work of hackers, he quickly concluded. It had to be the work of someone who knew his way around the specific quirks of the Siemens controllers and had an intimate understanding of exactly how the Iranians had designed their enrichment operations.
In fact, the Americans and the Israelis had a pretty good idea.
Testing the Worm
Perhaps the most secretive part of the Stuxnet story centers on how the theory of cyberdestruction was tested on enrichment machines to make sure the malicious software did its intended job.
The account starts in the Netherlands. In the 1970s, the Dutch designed a tall, thin machine for enriching uranium. As is well known, A. Q. Khan, a Pakistani metallurgist working for the Dutch, stole the design and in 1976 fled to Pakistan.
The resulting machine, known as the P-1, for Pakistan’s first-generation centrifuge, helped the country get the bomb. And when Dr. Khan later founded an atomic black market, he illegally sold P-1’s to Iran, Libya, and North Korea.
The P-1 is more than six feet tall. Inside, a rotor of aluminum spins uranium gas to blinding speeds, slowly concentrating the rare part of the uranium that can fuel reactors and bombs.
How and when Israel obtained this kind of first-generation centrifuge remains unclear, whether from Europe, or the Khan network, or by other means. But nuclear experts agree that Dimona came to hold row upon row of spinning centrifuges.
“They’ve long been an important part of the complex,” said Avner Cohen, author of “The Worst-Kept Secret” (2010), a book about the Israeli bomb program, and a senior fellow at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. He added that Israeli intelligence had asked retired senior Dimona personnel to help on the Iranian issue, and that some apparently came from the enrichment program.
“I have no specific knowledge,” Dr. Cohen said of Israel and the Stuxnet worm. “But I see a strong Israeli signature and think that the centrifuge knowledge was critical.”
Another clue involves the United States. It obtained a cache of P-1’s after Libya gave up its nuclear program in late 2003, and the machines were sent to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, another arm of the Energy Department.
By early 2004, a variety of federal and private nuclear experts assembled by the Central Intelligence Agency were calling for the United States to build a secret plant where scientists could set up the P-1’s and study their vulnerabilities. “The notion of a test bed was really pushed,” a participant at the C.I.A. meeting recalled.
The resulting plant, nuclear experts said last week, may also have played a role in Stuxnet testing.
But the United States and its allies ran into the same problem the Iranians have grappled with: the P-1 is a balky, badly designed machine. When the Tennessee laboratory shipped some of its P-1’s to England, in hopes of working with the British on a program of general P-1 testing, they stumbled, according to nuclear experts.
“They failed hopelessly,” one recalled, saying that the machines proved too crude and temperamental to spin properly.
Dr. Cohen said his sources told him that Israel succeeded — with great difficulty — in mastering the centrifuge technology. And the American expert in nuclear intelligence, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the Israelis used machines of the P-1 style to test the effectiveness of Stuxnet.
The expert added that Israel worked in collaboration with the United States in targeting Iran, but that Washington was eager for “plausible deniability.”
In November, the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, broke the country’s silence about the worm’s impact on its enrichment program, saying a cyberattack had caused “minor problems with some of our centrifuges.” Fortunately, he added, “our experts discovered it.”
The most detailed portrait of the damage comes from the Institute for Science and International Security, a private group in Washington. Last month, it issued a lengthy Stuxnet report that said Iran’s P-1 machines at Natanz suffered a series of failures in mid- to late 2009 that culminated in technicians taking 984 machines out of action.
The report called the failures “a major problem” and identified Stuxnet as the likely culprit.
Stuxnet is not the only blow to Iran. Sanctions have hurt its effort to build more advanced (and less temperamental) centrifuges. And last January, and again in November, two scientists who were believed to be central to the nuclear program were killed in Tehran.
The man widely believed to be responsible for much of Iran’s program, Mohsen Fakrizadeh, a college professor, has been hidden away by the Iranians, who know he is high on the target list.
Publicly, Israeli officials make no explicit ties between Stuxnet and Iran’s problems. But in recent weeks, they have given revised and surprisingly upbeat assessments of Tehran’s nuclear status.
“A number of technological challenges and difficulties” have beset Iran’s program, Moshe Yaalon, Israel’s minister of strategic affairs, told Israeli public radio late last month.
The troubles, he added, “have postponed the timetable.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: January 17, 2011
An earlier version of this story misspelled, at one point, the name of the German company whose computer controller systems were exploited by the Stuxnet computer worm. It is Siemens, not Seimens.

Stuxnet Worm Used Against Iran Was Tested in Israel – NYTimes.com

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In a Computer Worm, a Possible Biblical Clue

September 29, 2010
Deep inside the computer worm that some specialists suspect is aimed at slowing Iran’s race for a nuclear weapon lies what could be a fleeting reference to the Book of Esther, the Old Testament tale in which the Jews pre-empt a Persian plot to destroy them.
That use of the word “Myrtus” — which can be read as an allusion to Esther — to name a file inside the code is one of several murky clues that have emerged as computer experts try to trace the origin and purpose of the rogue Stuxnet program, which seeks out a specific kind of command module for industrial equipment.
Not surprisingly, the Israelis are not saying whether Stuxnet has any connection to the secretive cyberwar unit it has built inside Israel’s intelligence service. Nor is the Obama administration, which while talking about cyberdefenses has also rapidly ramped up a broad covert program, inherited from the Bush administration, to undermine Iran’s nuclear program. In interviews in several countries, experts in both cyberwar and nuclear enrichment technology say the Stuxnet mystery may never be solved.
There are many competing explanations for myrtus, which could simply signify myrtle, a plant important to many cultures in the region. But some security experts see the reference as a signature allusion to Esther, a clear warning in a mounting technological and psychological battle as Israel and its allies try to breach Tehran’s most heavily guarded project. Others doubt the Israelis were involved and say the word could have been inserted as deliberate misinformation, to implicate Israel.
“The Iranians are already paranoid about the fact that some of their scientists have defected and several of their secret nuclear sites have been revealed,” one former intelligence official who still works on Iran issues said recently. “Whatever the origin and purpose of Stuxnet, it ramps up the psychological pressure.”
So a calling card in the code could be part of a mind game, or sloppiness or whimsy from the coders.
The malicious code has appeared in many countries, notably China, India, Indonesia and Iran. But there are tantalizing hints that Iran’s nuclear program was the primary target. Officials in both the United States and Israel have made no secret of the fact that undermining the computer systems that control Iran’s huge enrichment plant at Natanz is a high priority. (The Iranians know it, too: They have never let international inspectors into the control room of the plant, the inspectors report, presumably to keep secret what kind of equipment they are using.)
The fact that Stuxnet appears designed to attack a certain type of Siemens industrial control computer, used widely to manage oil pipelines, electrical power grids and many kinds of nuclear plants, may be telling. Just last year officials in Dubai seized a large shipment of those controllers — known as the Simatic S-7 — after Western intelligence agencies warned that the shipment was bound for Iran and would likely be used in its nuclear program.
“What we were told by many sources,” said Olli Heinonen, who retired last month as the head of inspections at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, “was that the Iranian nuclear program was acquiring this kind of equipment.”
Also, starting in the summer of 2009, the Iranians began having tremendous difficulty running their centrifuges, the tall, silvery machines that spin at supersonic speed to enrich uranium — and which can explode spectacularly if they become unstable. In New York last week, Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, shrugged off suggestions that the country was having trouble keeping its enrichment plants going.
Yet something — perhaps the worm or some other form of sabotage, bad parts or a dearth of skilled technicians — is indeed slowing Iran’s advance.
The reports on Iran show a fairly steady drop in the number of centrifuges used to enrich uranium at the main Natanz plant. After reaching a peak of 4,920 machines in May 2009, the numbers declined to 3,772 centrifuges this past August, the most recent reporting period. That is a decline of 23 percent. (At the same time, production of low-enriched uranium has remained fairly constant, indicating the Iranians have learned how to make better use of fewer working machines.)
Computer experts say the first versions of the worm appeared as early as 2009 and that the sophisticated version contained an internal time stamp from January of this year.
These events add up to a mass of suspicions, not proof. Moreover, the difficulty experts have had in figuring out the origin of Stuxnet points to both the appeal and the danger of computer attacks in a new age of cyberwar.
For intelligence agencies they are an almost irresistible weapon, free of fingerprints. Israel has poured huge resources into Unit 8200, its secretive cyberwar operation, and the United States has built its capacity inside the National Security Agency and inside the military, which just opened a Cyber Command.
But the near impossibility of figuring out where they came from makes deterrence a huge problem — and explains why many have warned against the use of cyberweapons. No country, President Obama was warned even before he took office, is more vulnerable to cyberattack than the United States.
For now, it is hard to determine if the worm has infected centrifuge controllers at Natanz. While the S-7 industrial controller is used widely in Iran, and many other countries, even Siemens says it does not know where it is being used. Alexander Machowetz, a spokesman in Germany for Siemens, said the company did no business with Iran’s nuclear program. “It could be that there is equipment,” he said in a telephone interview. “But we never delivered it to Natanz.”
But Siemens industrial controllers are unregulated commodities that are sold and resold all over the world — the controllers intercepted in Dubai traveled through China, according to officials familiar with the seizure.
Ralph Langner, a German computer security consultant who was the first independent expert to assert that the malware had been “weaponized” and designed to attack the Iranian centrifuge array, argues that the Stuxnet worm could have been brought into the Iranian nuclear complex by Russian contractors.
“It would be an absolute no-brainer to leave an infected USB stick near one of these guys,” he said, “and there would be more than a 50 percent chance of having him pick it up and infect his computer.”
There are many reasons to suspect Israel’s involvement in Stuxnet. Intelligence is the single largest section of its military and the unit devoted to signal, electronic and computer network intelligence, known as Unit 8200, is the largest group within intelligence.
Yossi Melman, who covers intelligence for the newspaper Haaretz and is at work on a book about Israeli intelligence over the past decade, said in a telephone interview that he suspected that Israel was involved.
He noted that Meir Dagan, head of Mossad, had his term extended last year partly because he was said to be involved in important projects. He added that in the past year Israeli estimates of when Iran will have a nuclear weapon had been extended to 2014.
“They seem to know something, that they have more time than originally thought,” he said.
Then there is the allusion to myrtus — which may be telling, or may be a red herring.
Several of the teams of computer security researchers who have been dissecting the software found a text string that suggests that the attackers named their project Myrtus. The guava fruit is part of the Myrtus family, and one of the code modules is identified as Guava.
It was Mr. Langner who first noted that Myrtus is an allusion to the Hebrew word for Esther. The Book of Esther tells the story of a Persian plot against the Jews, who attacked their enemies pre-emptively.
“If you read the Bible you can make a guess,” said Mr. Langner, in a telephone interview from Germany on Wednesday.
Carol Newsom, an Old Testament scholar at Emory University, confirmed the linguistic connection between the plant family and the Old Testament figure, noting that Queen Esther’s original name in Hebrew was Hadassah, which is similar to the Hebrew word for myrtle. Perhaps, she said, “someone was making a learned cross-linguistic wordplay.”
But other Israeli experts said they doubted Israel’s involvement. Shai Blitzblau, the technical director and head of the computer warfare laboratory at Maglan, an Israeli company specializing in information security, said he was “convinced that Israel had nothing to do with Stuxnet.”
“We did a complete simulation of it and we sliced the code to its deepest level,” he said. “We have studied its protocols and functionality. Our two main suspects for this are high-level industrial espionage against Siemens and a kind of academic experiment.”
Mr. Blitzblau noted that the worm hit India, Indonesia and Russia before it hit Iran, though the worm has been found disproportionately in Iranian computers. He also noted that the Stuxnet worm has no code that reports back the results of the infection it creates. Presumably, a good intelligence agency would like to trace its work.

Ethan Bronner contributed reporting from Israel, and William J. Broad from New York.

 In a Computer Worm, a Possible Biblical Clue – NYTimes.com

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