|U.S. has stepped up surveillance over Iran’s nuclear power plant: report||
TEHRAN – The United States has significantly stepped up spying operations on Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant over the past two months, the Wall Street Journal on Sunday quoted American unnamed officials as saying.
The increased U.S. surveillance of Bushehr, on Iran’s southwestern coast, has been conducted in part with the Pentagon’s fleet of drones operating over the Persian Gulf. The effort resulted in the interception of visual images and audio communications coming from the reactor complex, these officials claimed.
U.S. officials stepped up surveillance after becoming alarmed over activities at Bushehr, especially the removal of fuel rods from the plant in October, just two months after it became fully operational, officials said.
Tehran formally protested the Pentagon’s spying activities in a November 19 letter to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, according to a copy seen by the Wall Street Journal. The complaint charged that the U.S. has repeatedly violated Iranian airspace with its drone flights.
The extent of the U.S. surveillance activity underscores the limits of U.S. knowledge about Iran and its military and scientific bureaucracy, and points to anxious efforts by Washington to increase its understanding.
Officials wouldn’t detail the type of surveillance under way at Bushehr, but drones are known to be capable of intercepting cellphone calls, electronic communications, and other signals.
Eavesdropping on Iranian communications could provide clues to what the country’s nuclear engineers were doing when they began moving fuel rods out of the Bushehr plant in October.
The International Atomic Energy Agency has cameras and seals at the Bushehr facility to control all activities, as well as regular visits by inspectors.
On Friday, a spokesman for the Russian State Atomic Energy Corporation (Rosatom), which built the power plant, said the fuel discharge was a planned removal for safety testing. He denied a Reuters report that the shutdown was because of safety concerns after stray bolts were allegedly found under fuel cells at the plant.
Iranian state media reported last week that Iranian engineers have returned the fuel rods to the Bushehr reactor’s core from a cooling pond.
In their complaint to the UN, Iranian officials said American drones have repeatedly entered the country’s airspace, prompting the November 1 military action against a U.S. drone by Iranian fighter jets.
“Recent operations carried out by United States planes violating the airspace of the Islamic Republic of Iran include flights that took place over the coastal areas of Bushehr on 7, 13, 15, 20, 22, 23, and 26 October 2012, endangering the safety of air navigation,” Iran’s ambassador to the UN, Mohammad Khazaee, wrote.
He said the U.S. “disregarded all radio warnings” before Iran shot an airborne cannon at the drone.
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