Iran Vice Minister of Science, Education, and Technology, Atesh Zare, made a final adjustment to the projector connected to his laptop in the front of the cabinet room. His superior, Minister Kashani, welcomed the other ministers.
Supreme Leader paintings hung high on the back wall, observing everything in the room. Ayatollah Khomeini, who launched the glorious 1979 revolution freeing Iran from the shackles of the Shah and the west, hung on the left. Ayatollah Khamenei, who continued and preserved the revolution from saboteurs, hung on the right. Praise Allah for raising up such leaders. They gazed down on all meetings in this room, where senior government officials made momentous decisions.
Atesh took a deep breath and closed his eyes. Allah, please grant me the honor of presenting this plan well. Years of work and meticulous planning—it would all come to fruition today. He opened his eyes. He was ready
After prayer, Minister Kashini began. “I’m sure you’re all curious why the Ministry of Science, Research, and Technology invited all of you here. But after you hear our proposal, I am convinced you will approve. But first, Minister Saidi, would you introduce our honored guest?”
Intelligence Minister Saidi stood. “Yes, thank you. This is Geng Yun, Minister of State Security in China. Minister Geng is representing our friends in China and considering working with us on this project.”
Minister Kashani stood. “Welcome, Minister Geng. I understand you satisfied Minister Saidi’s bountiful appetite during his recent visit to Beijing. Minister Saidi, I do hope you return the favor with some of our famous Persian cuisine.”
Minister Saidi smiled. Minister Geng also smiled and nodded after he heard the translation to Chinese. A few others laughed politely. It was a good tension reliever.
“I would like to introduce my assistant, Atesh Zare, who will present details about our proposal and answer questions. Praise Allah for dedicated men like Atesh. He worked tirelessly on this project for years, bringing it to the state it’s in today. If I may summarize what Atesh is about to present to you. We have a potential weapon that will bring sorrow to the United States and a deployment strategy that will also bring great harm to our Sunni Daesh enemies in Syria. And now Atesh will present details.”
Atesh put up his first slide, a screen filled with computer code.
“This is modern warfare. This computer code that eventually came to be known as Stuxnet set back our nuclear program by more than two years. The Americans and Israelis introduced it to our computer systems to attack the controllers on our centrifuges. That was why our centrifuges continued to fail – because malicious software made them spin faster than 100 percent of their tolerance.
Defense Minister Rahim interrupted. “We know all this. We know what damage it did, we know how it was discovered, and we know what precautions we took, so this never happens again.”
Atesh nodded. “Yes, by now, the story of how the commercial antivirus companies decoded this computer malware and the embarrassment of the United States National Security Agency is all public knowledge. But what is not public knowledge is what we did with the techniques embedded in that computer code. We studied it. And now we now have a plan to use their own technology against them.”
Atesh continued. “The American trucking and transport industry IT infrastructure is rife with security holes. Many companies still run Windows 2003 and Windows XP, which no longer receives security updates from Microsoft. Many of these companies also have weak firewalls and no access restrictions on their computers. We will launch the largest cyber-attack in history against this industry.”
“That’s your plan to bring great harm to the great Satan?” Oil Minister Radan asked. “After you snarl their logistics for even one day, they will surely figure it out and quickly repair the damage. And they will harden their systems. How does that benefit us?”
“You are correct,” replied Atesh. “The Americans would quickly discover and recover from scrambled shipments in their trucking industry. That’s why we need to choose our targets carefully. And we have excellent targets in mind.”
Atesh displayed his next slide, a grey scale picture of what looked like a thin worm with a shape on one end resembling a letter u with loops that looked like eye hooks at each end.
“This is the Ebola virus decimating a few countries in western Africa. During the 2014 outbreak, we took samples of this virus and experimented with methods to amplify it in large quantities, store it, and disperse it. We continue to do research with samples from the current outbreak.”
“Are you considering making a biological weapon?” asked Defense Minister Rahimi.
“Yes. But there are significant challenges. Ebola does not infect people through the air. It only survives for a few hours outside its ideal environment. It’s a virus, and needs living cells to replicate itself. And without proper precautions, it can be fatal to anyone working with it.”
“So, what are you proposing?” Defense Minister Rahimi asked.
“I propose we use a computer virus developed from Stuxnet to help this biological virus invade the great Satan.”
Jaws dropped. After a few seconds, Oil Minister Radan asked, “How would this work?”
“Please indulge me while I lay out our plan,” Atesh replied as he put up his next slide, a picture of a group of typical American high school students. “And I will properly answer your question.”
Atesh glanced at Minister Kashani, who responded with a barely perceptible nod. Intelligence Minister Saidi looked on without comment as Yeng’s interpreter translated. So far, the presentation was going exactly as planned.
“The US calls itself the land of opportunity,” continued Atesh. “But it’s really the land of bigotry, hypocrisy, and class warfare.”
He showed a few slides with images from riots and protests in Baltimore, Ferguson, Cleveland, Chicago, and other cities. “Many people in the United States are angry and some will become angry enough to act when they learn about the lies their government has told them all their lives. Deep in debt, abandoned by everyone they trusted, and left with no future, they’ll want revenge. We will provide the means for that revenge.”
“How?” Oil Minister Radan asked. “We can’t very well open up Iranian recruiting stations on their college campuses. And how does this fit with scrambling their logistical systems and the Ebola virus?”
“Please bear with me. I’m not suggesting we try to recruit for Iran. Nobody in the US would support Iran anyway. But a few angry youths might support Yazid Kalil,” as he put up his next slide. It was a picture of a young man with tangled black hair and a long beard. He wore dirty clothes, boots, and had a rifle slung over his shoulder. His teeth were crooked. He stood on a mountain path, looking down at a village. He had a cell phone to his ear.
“Who is Yazid Kalil?” asked Oil Minister Radan.
“I invented him,” Atesh said. “He’s a twenty-five-year-old American Muslim believer who was bullied all through his teenage years. He is a victim of discrimination and prejudice and he wants revenge. And here is where he found it.”
Atesh put up the next slide. It was picture from a recent edition of Dabiq, the online Magazine put out by the Daesh, also called ISIS in the West, a Sunni Muslim terrorist group and sworn enemy of Shia Iran, superimposed on a background image of the Islamic State black flag. The audience reaction was swift, hostile, and predictable.
“Why are you disgracing this room with an image from that vulgar sect?”
“Those animals do not deserve to live!”
“Those monsters are not true Islam believers!’
“They pervert the holy Quran and call us Kuffar!”
“Why do you insult us with that picture?”
After allowing his audience time to vent, Minister Kashani stood. “Ministers and dignified guests, please! I assure you, we mean no disrespect to this room or those in attendance. My reaction was similar to yours when I first saw this plan. But if you will indulge us for a few more minutes, I think you will enthusiastically accept our idea.” Now turning to Atesh, exactly as they had rehearsed, “but Atesh, please take that offensive image off the screen now. I think we’ve made our point.”
Atesh went to the next slide, a picture of Iranians with arms raised in celebration, superimposed on a background image of the Iranian flag.
“May I continue?” Atesh asked.
The ministers sat, stone faced. Minister Kashani broke the silence. “Yes Atesh, please continue. Perhaps the mood in the room will improve.”
“Thank you. Ministers, Yazid Kalil is a fictional character. We made him up and gave him profiles on social media websites and an untraceable Gmail email address. He regularly posts about his desire to recruit additional angry Americans to join him in Syria and become part of the Daesh. When those angry Americans respond, they think they’re responding to those Sunni dogs. But they’re not. They’re responding to us. We will send those angry Americans on missions to harm the United States in the name of ISIS. And when we find Americans with skills we can exploit, we will use them to our advantage.
“Ministers and staff members, I apologize to you and Allah if that Dabiq image was offensive. But consider your hostile reaction when you saw it. And now consider the Americans’ reactions when they believe the group they call ISIS is plotting attacks on their own soil. The great Satan will attack the apostate devils with a vengeance and leave us alone. We’ll use fake news to set our enemies at each others’ throats.”
Jaws dropped around the room. Some sat back to process what they just heard. Others looked at each other. Geng nodded and sat forward in his chair after his interpreter translated.
Minister Kashani smiled as he watched the reaction. He gave an approving nod to Atesh. “Perhaps you should explain how the Ebola virus fits with your plan.”
Atesh nodded. “Yes, of course.”
After Atesh finished presenting and answering questions, the ministers nodded their approval. One started to clap, then another, and after a few seconds the whole room stood and applauded. Atesh smiled at the praise. Now it was time to execute. Allahu akbar!
Note to readers:
If you’re curious about how somebody could use fake news to attack the United States, how a cyberattack on the trucking industry fits with a biological attack, and how the Chinese fit in, find out in Virus Bomb.