Jeffrey LewisSabotage! Dutch-style.

Conversations about a recent news report in the Dutch paper De Telegraaf — that Netherlands has recalled a spy/saboteur from Iran’s nuclear program in fear of an impending attack — are filling my inbox.

Here is the crucial bit of the story:

AMSTERDAM – De Nederlandse inlichtingendienst AIVD heeft de afgelopen jaren een ultrageheime operatie laten uitvoeren in Iran met als doel infiltratie en sabotage van de wapenindustrie in de islamitische republiek.


Een van de betrokken agenten, die onder supervisie van de AIVD wist te infiltreren in de Iraanse industrie, is recent teruggeroepen omdat in de VS de beslissing zou zijn genomen binnen enkele weken met onbemande vliegtuigen Iran aan te vallen. Tot de potentiële doelwitten behoren naar verluidt niet alleen nucleaire fabrieken, maar ook militaire installaties die mede door toedoen van de AIVD in kaart zijn gebracht. Informatie uit de AIVD-operatie is de afgelopen jaren gedeeld met de Amerikaanse inlichtingendienst CIA, aldus bronnen.

Ook konden diverse leveranties worden gesaboteerd en tegengehouden. Het ging om onderdelen voor raketten en lanceerinstallaties.

The basic details are that a Dutch agent infiltrated the Iranian “industry” — apparently in the missile and space launch sector. The activities of this individual extend from sabotage to reconnaissance. The Dutch believe that a decision will be made in the next few weeks about an airstrike (with UAVs?). Fearing that an airstrike using intelligence obtained from this individual would compromise his/her safety, the Dutch have recalled the agent.

Fars has a translation.

I don’t think an airstrike is imminent, but the rest of the story seems plausible. Whattya think?


  1. Lao Tao Ren (History)

    It’s called “going Dutch” on non-proliferation.

    This story would be consistent with other stories floated around that Iranians were supplied with defective parts (e.g. firing sets) in order to slow them down a little.

    The other interesting little problem is how much closer to Pakistan and India can such strikes and sabotage be done before they get a bit edgy about non-proliferation efforts in their neighborhood?

  2. Smith

    I think he’s failed at being a saboteur. We all know how these things are supposed to end: semtex, blaring klaxons, and the subsequent massive explosions that render the facility at Natanz into a smoldering pit.

  3. P

    There are reasons to take this story somewhat serious. ‘De Telegraaf’ is a newspaper which has proven to have sources in the Dutch intel world willing to leak sensitive information. The authors of the artice have 2 years ago been ‘taken hostage’ by the Dutch justice system to force them to reveal who within the AIVD (General Intelligence and Security Service, GISS) had leaked some rather sensitive documents about an arms dealer to them. Something also the Fars article correctly refers to.

    However, there are several reasons for doubts. The story has been published and discussed in the Netherlands 4 days ago. Interesting that it only now has reached the rest of the world. That should raise some questions about its veracity. Also note that the report contains information which should make it a real scoop, but the actual article is rather short and does not seem to have featured prominently in the Telegraaf. (Although I cannot judge this 100% well because I have not seen the paper copy)

    Note further that the article claims that its ‘reliable sources’ have revealed the information. The ‘Dutch’ have not said anything, only someone in the Dutch intel world supposedly leaked something.
    Furthermore the Telegraaf is also rather sensationalist. Not like a British tabloid or so, but definitely not my favorite source of information on things Dutch and cetainly likely to exaggerate things considerably.

    The whole thing should have lead to some considerable consternation in the Netherlands. About leaking of information, the Dutch role in sabotage in Iran and the Dutch intel service having information that the US is planning an attack against the wishes of the EU. Oddly enough I have not seen anything more yet in the Dutch press or in Dutch parliament. Makes we wonder how serious to take this report. Or have I missed something?

    Based on all these doubts we can of course speculate about which elements of it are true and especially why the AIVD or anyone within the AIVD would leak the information which obviously would bring into jeopardy any US attack if such an attack really is imminent. Such speculation is fun, but to be honest, without more details and certainty rather pointless.

    Let’s wait and see if someone in the Netherlands pursues the issue and more information surfaces.

  4. Gump (History)

    Suggesting a major airstrike will use UAVs gives the story less credence in my opinion.

  5. P

    More interesting than discussing whether or not the article contains any truth about US air strikes or if there really exist any Dutch James Bonds is the more general question if countries like the Netherlands or EU countries in general which stress the need for a diplomatic solution to the Iran nuclear issue should engage in sabotage or supporting sabotage operations by others. What is the international legal status of such actions? Is it an act of war? What are the political risks involved? Does it undermine or strengthen the diplomatic process?

  6. J House (History)

    It seems clear there are multiple active covert sabotage programs underway (by various western govts) against Iran’s nuclear and missile production activities. Broad reported Tinner’s story last week, and also mentioned the sabotaged vacuum pumps shipped to Iran.
    So, there could be some truth to this. However, it may not necessarily mean an airstrike is imminent.
    The agent may have already completed their activities and were no longer useful, or were in danger of being discovered.

  7. ataune (History)

    Russia has just finished the opening phase of its chess game in the Caucasia and is confidently moving to the “middle game”. They would love to see American embroiled in another hot or cold war in the Middle-East with the state sitting on top of the Iranian plateau.

    This will eminently serve their mid and long term interests of having both Iran and America weakened – nothing better for them than having one big foe fighting a smaller prey that they would love to swallow.

    I don’t see any reason for both country to serve-up the Russian interests. Do you see any ?

  8. Sky (History)

    Wow. I was SOOOO hoping that the story was going to say that he intended to jam the missile launch mechanism by throwing in his clog (sabot).


    The Beasties were a nice touch though

  9. Andy Grotto (History)

    Agree that an airstrike is not imminent. But the notion that the United States would conduct a large-scale air strike against Iran using just UAVs, as the article suggests, strikes me as fantastical. For example, my understanding is that the most powerful bombs that operationally-deployed UAVs can carry at this juncture are 500lb GBU-12s, which don’t have anywhere close to the punch needed to take out a hardened facility like Natanz. (For comparison, estimates I’ve seen on what it would take to accomplish this mission envision the use of up to two dozen BLU-109 2,000lb and BLU-113 5,000lb bunker busters.) So I’m a bit dubious of this story.

    My guess is that this is an effort to spook the Russians and the Chinese into supporting a fourth UN sanctions resolution, and distract the Iranians with a wild goose chase for a mole.

  10. Bill

    The UAVs line gives the story away, as others have pointed out. It would, of course, be impossible to mount a credible attack on Iran using only UAVs. If the US attacks, they’ll use everything.

    Once you step back, you realize this is not a news story but a James-Bond-type spy thriller. Thus, the single agent doesn’t just gather intelligence (BORRRRINNNGGG!), he also does sabotage (seriously? You have a single deep agent providing good intelligence without much backup and you’d risk him on a little sabotage?). The US, meanwhile, doesn’t just attack, but as any good author knows, the US must use the very latest in high tech devices. It makes it more exciting, even if it doesn’t make technical sense (UAVs carrying bunker busters).

    Some wrote a great story, or rather cribbed it. There was a James Bond movie running on deep cable this weekend that started out the same, with Bond being ordered to flee so the submarine could launch missiles and take out the nuclear weapons smugglers. I didn’t stop to watch, but if you rent it, you’ll know what’s in the next expose by this “journalist.”

  11. peter (History)

    This reads more as disinformation than an honest-to-goodness leak. If there really were something in the works, why on earth would the Dutch leaker jeopardize the operation? Doesn’t add up.

  12. radicalc (History)

    That’s a photo of Phil Spector the record producer yes ??

  13. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    You are kidding, right?

  14. scud

    It sure ain’t Sandy Spector.

  15. hass (History)

    The bigger question is who benefits from this constant drumbeat about an imminent attack on Iran

    “Don’t talk about ‘do we bomb them now or later?’” said Brent Scowcroft, adviser to presidents Gerald R. Ford and George H.W. Bush… Scowcroft added that by mentioning that threat, “we legitimize the use of force . . . and may tempt the Israelis” to carry out such a mission.

  16. Page van der Linden (History)

    Um, de Telegraaf is something between a tabloid and a marginally credible source.

    Also, the AIVD’s main function is domestic intelligence (including doing background checks, renewing security clearances, etc. – my brother-in-law just had his periodic AIVD interview, since he works for the Amsterdam police department, with access to all records).

    They monitor domestic security issues, in other words, including potential terrorist groups.

    The idea that they had an “ultra-secret” operation in Iran is really far-fetched. It’s close to improbable. I’ve read the article in Dutch; my husband is Dutch, and his initial response was to laugh out loud.

    Since this is making the rounds on the internet, I’ll dig into it a little further, as much as I can, via my brother-in-law, but I would be VERY careful in taking it as solid fact right now.

    I also know some Dutch reporters with credible news outlets.

    Just because it’s on the internet doesn’t mean it’s true.

  17. Page van der Linden (History)

    I should have said primarily domestic operations. Apparently they want to branch out.

    One more thing: de Telegraaf used to be more moderate (less sensational) in the 1990s. When their editor was replaced, they went full-blown FOX News/ New York Post. They especially love the drama of “the evil Islamists!!11!!!” (see MP Geert Wilders, Rita Verdonk, et al.). They loved Wilders’ “Fitna” drama, for example.

    Just take this story with a grain of salt. The comment by “peter” on this thread is a more succinct version of what I’m trying to say 😉

    Again, I will contact the people I know who report for reliable Dutch news services (NOS, and de Volkskrant ). It just annoys me that many people are taking a translation by Fars, etc. as “fact”, and the story in general as “fact”.

  18. P

    This is an interesting exercise in assessing ‘open source intelligence’. I too have my major doubts about this story based on what I posted earlier.
    However this is not based on
    a) the AIVD/GISS being an organization aimed at internal matters only. It is not. Since some 8 years or so it also has as a major task to gather intelligence abroad, especially also related to WMD proliferation.
    b) the unlikelyhood that only UAVs will be used in an attack. This is unlikely and shows that the journalists have little clue about military operations. But even though they use the information they get to write populist/sensational articles,they have proven in the past to have real contacts in the Dutch intel world. Furthermore stories by others which contained major technical errors later turned out to have also contained some very interesting truth. Compare with all the reports from the NCRI on the Iranain nuclear programme.

  19. John F. Opie (History)

    Hi –

    Classic disinformation at its finest: the Iranians read this and start to wonder who the traitors are. Witch hunt follows, work is disrupted, morale sinks, productivity falls: the Iranian nuclear program is delayed.

    And by reporting that the strike is imminent, the Iranian armed forces go to higher levels of alert well before such an attack might happen: keeping this up is fatiguing and once Iran realizes that it has been chasing shadows and relaxes, the shadows start moving…

    Of course, the story could also have basis, and someone’s leaking for their own agenda…

    Me, I think it’s more of the former rather than the latter…

  20. Ak Malten (History)

    Dear Friends,

    there was an article in the Telegraaf Online Friday 29 Augusts on the issue. For those who can read Dutch here are the links:

    the text:

    A scan of the page:

    The sources of the story however are unknown and the story is not confirmed by the AIVD officially in the article.

    In a half a hour search I cannot find a confirmation of the story in the Dutch and Flemish press, which is not using the Telegraaf article and nothing else as source. Nowhere a confirmation of the AIVD is to be found..

    Of course THE JERUSALEM POST reported on the story. See:

    Do not miss the comments…

    Ak Malten,
    Global Anti-Nuclear Alliance

  21. Akash (History)

    I wonder if Lao Tao Ren is even thinking before writing what he does. He wants saboteurs in weapons programs and that too when the NPA community is also warning of the dangers in nuke supply and security!
    I do wonder where such irrational thoughts come from!

    Second, Jeffrey, please see Physics today for a brand new report on the Chinese program and bomb transfer to Pak.

  22. Gridlock (History)

    Y’all seem to be assuming that the US only has publicly-acknowledged weapons platforms these days, which is certainly a stretch.

  23. Major Lemon (History)

    Maybe some of it is even true?

  24. Tim Kelly

    I personally don’t think the the article holds water for reasons others have already stated. But I was curious…couldn’t a cruise missile be construed as an “unmanned aircraft?”

  25. Ton Biesemaat (History)

    I am a Dutch freelance journalist and writer. My special interest is Dutch intelligence. I have published a short article on my website in Dutch . The Telegraaf-article is in my opinion a sensational hoax. During investigations I met a guy who had contacts with the Iranians, he said he delivered them industrial information. This was not fantasy but this guy was clearly some what confused. I also know that Dutch intelligence knew this guy. And the most interesting part is that this guy had contacts with one of the Telegraaf-journalists who wrote this silly article.

  26. Lao Tao Ren (History)


    Yes is the short answer. At least one Air Force I know had a stack of old, but perfectly flyable F-5s and did precisely that with it.

    If you lifted out the pilot related equipment: instruments, controls, ejection seat sub-system, oxygen / G suit paraphernalia, communications, crew A/C, radar, ECM, Warning Receivers, etc. you have a pretty good weight and form factor budget for actuators, electronics, etc.

    Since the craft could be fitted only for a one way mission, that also simplifies a lot of other issues.

  27. Yossi, Jerusalem (History)

    Lao Tao Ren,

    You could turn the F-117 Nighthawk into a formidable cruise missile…

  28. Lao Tao Ren (History)

    Russian units raid Georgian airfields for use in Israeli strike against Iran – report

    DEBKAfile Special Report

    September 6, 2008, 7:59 PM (GMT+02:00)
    Israeli long-range unmanned aerial vehicle

    Israeli long-range unmanned aerial vehicle

    The raids were disclosed by UPI chief editor Arnaud de Borchgrave, who is also on the Washington Times staff, and picked up by the Iranian Fars news agency. The Russian raids of two Georgian airfields, which Tbilisi had allowed Israel to use for a potential strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities, followed the Georgian offensive against South Ossetia on Aug. 7.

    Under the secret agreement with Georgia, the airfields had been earmarked for use by Israeli fighter-bombers taking off to strike Iran in return for training and arms supplies.

    DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources report that flying from S. Georgia over the Caspian Sea to Iran would sharply trim the distance to be spanned by Israeli fighter-bombers, reducing flying time to 3.5 hours.

    Northern Iran and the Tehran region, where most of the nuclear facilities are concentrated, would be within range, with no need to request US permission to pass through Iraq air space.

    Russian Special Forces also raided other Israeli facilities in southern Georgia and captured Israeli spy drones, says the report.

    Israel was said to have used the two airfields to “conduct recon flights over southern Russia as well as into nearby Iran.” The US intelligence sources quoted by UPI reported that the Russian force also carried home other Israeli military equipment captured at the air bases.

    Our sources say that if the Russians got hold of an Israeli unmanned aerial vehicle complete with sophisticated electronic reconnaissance equipment, they will have secured some of the IDF’s most secret devices for spying on Iran and Syria.

    When this happened before, Russian military engineers quickly dismantled the equipment, studied it and passed the technology on to Tehran and Damascus.