Revealed: America's cyber strike plan on Iran

NYT report uncovers Nitro Zeus cyberattack plan meant to disable Iran if nuclear diplomacy failed, along with Fordo cyber assault.

Ari Yashar ,

Natanz nuclear facility
Natanz nuclear facility

In case the diplomatic efforts to reach a deal on Iran's controversial nuclear program failed, it was revealed Tuesday that the US had a very intricate contingency plan, involving a massive cyberattack crippling the leading state sponsor of terror.

The cyberattack plan, termed Nitro Zeus, was revealed in a New York Times report Tuesday from findings in a coming documentary film and interviews with military and intelligence officials involved in the effort.

Particularly in the early years of US President Barack Obama's presidency the plan was given great priority, so as to provide Obama with an alternate to full out war with Iran if diplomatic efforts on Tehran's nuclear program were to have failed and Iran attacked the US or its allies.

Nitro Zeus was to strike hard, disabling Iran's air defenses, communications system, and key parts of its power grid.

The plan was shelved, at least temporarily, after the controversial nuclear deal reached last July was implemented.

At the height of the program, it involved thousands of military and intelligence personnel, tens of millions of dollars, and setting electronic implants in Iran's computer networks to "prepare the battlefield."

The plan was advanced with particular urgency over fears in the US that Israel would take the initiative and strike Iran's nuclear program, eliminating Tehran's open threats to destroy the Jewish state and drawing America into a regional conflict.

In parallel to Nitro Zeus, another specific cyberattack plan was drafted to disable Iran's sensitive Fordo nuclear enrichment facility, embedded deep in a mountain near the city of Qum.

The Fordo plan was a covert operation destroying the site's circuitry, and it could be authorized by Obama even in the absence of an ongoing conflict according to the report. It was to be a follow-up to "Olympic Games," a virus launched by the US and Israel on Iran's Natanz enrichment site.

So far two-thirds of Fordo's nuclear centrifuges have been removed as part of the nuclear deal, which is to keep limitations on the site - at least for the next 15 years, at which point Iran will be able to advance its nuclear aspirations unchecked.

Nitro Zeus was uncovered in director Alex Gibney's documentary Zero Days, to be first shown on Wednesday at the Berlin Film Festival.

One participant in the cyberattack plan described it as "an enormous, and enormously complex, program." It is unclear what level of cooperation there was with Israel on the plan.