But the Feds say it’s no big deal. A jaw-dropping story from the Arizona Republic: “Palo Verde software is breached: Ex-employee used it during trip to Iran, officials say,” by Robert Anglen and Ken Alltucker (thanks to LGF):
Federal authorities are accusing a former engineer at Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station of illegally taking software codes to Iran and downloading details of control rooms, reactors and designs of the nation’s largest nuclear plant.
Officers arrested Mohammad “Mo” Alavi, 49, in Los Angeles this month and charged him with one count of violating a trade embargo, which prohibits Americans from exporting goods and services to Iran.
Authorities say there is no evidence to suggest the use of the software was linked to terrorists or the Iranian government, which has clashed with the U.S. over attempts to develop a nuclear program.
“The investigation has not led us to believe this information was taken for the purpose of being used by a foreign government or terrorists to attack us,” FBI spokeswoman Deborah McCarley told The Arizona Republic on Friday. “This does not appear to be terrorist-related.”
Then for what purpose, exactly, would an individual take software codes, details of control rooms, reactors and designs of the nation’s largest nuclear plant to Iran and deliver them to anyone?
Officials with Arizona Public Service Co., which operates Palo Verde, said the software does not pose a security risk because it doesn’t control any of the nuclear plant’s operating systems and is mostly used to train employees.
But they acknowledged that they changed procedures after the incident to prohibit former employees from accessing software when they leave the company. No such procedure was in place when Alavi quit APS in August after working there for 16 years.
A Nuclear Regulatory Commission official said Friday that “this incident has not compromised plant security.”
The incident is the latest in a string of problems that has plagued the nuclear power plant, located 50 miles west of downtown Phoenix.
Alavi, an Iranian native who has lived in the United States as a naturalized citizen since 1976, is being held without bail in California. Alavi’s lawyer said Friday that he denies any wrongdoing.
“Mr. Alavi is a U.S. citizen. He respects the court process, and he asserts his innocence,” said Milagros Cisneros of the Federal Defender’s Office in Phoenix. She said the government’s indictment of her client is “more smoke than fire.”
She declined to address specific allegations in the indictment, including whether Alavi gained unauthorized access to software and bought a laptop computer weeks before he resigned and moved to Iran.
A federal judge in Phoenix denied Alavi bail Friday, saying he posed a substantial flight risk.
“If released, it would not be difficult for him to sever electronic monitoring and leave the country by land,” Judge Neil Wake said. “Ultimately, returning to Iran would require some effort but would not be difficult once he left the United States.
“Alavi’s most important associations – family, home, business investment, intended employment and future plans – are all with Iran, not the United States.”
Alavi faces up to 21 months in prison if convicted of the charge. One factor in determining any sentence could be whether the software and schematics of Palo Verde landed in the wrong hands, Wake said.
Alavi was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport on April 9 when he returned from Iran to join his wife, who arrived in the United States two weeks earlier to give birth to their child.
Instant citizen. But if he lived here for 30 years, where has his wife been all this time?
Wake said Alavi intended to immediately return to Iran to live.
“He has no intention of resuming residence in the United States,” Wake said. “He is seeking employment in Iran, having invested $60,000 in a company with the expectation of getting employment. Alavi owns a house in Tehran valued at $150,000, in which relatives live.”
So a man who lived here for 30 years and was an engineer in a nuclear plant is now suddenly going to live in Ahmadinejad’s Iran, and we should not think anything is amiss.
Alavi’s only connections to the United States, the judge said, are a $200,000 retirement fund, his friends, citizenship “and the possibility that he may want to return if he becomes disappointed in his plan to make his life in Iran.”
Gee, why would he be disappointed in Iran?
Authorities say he recently deposited $98,000 into a U.S. bank account.
They also say Alavi’s motivation for taking the software was to help set up his life in Iran.
After his resignation, authorities said, Alavi told fellow employees at Palo Verde and his apartment landlord that he was going to visit Iran for a few weeks and would then return to the United States and look for a new job.
But a month before giving his resignation notice, authorities said, Alavi bought a laptop computer and used it to download the 3KeyMaster software system.
The software is used to train employees on the operation of nuclear reactors.
It provides employees with emergency scenarios and instructs them to react with proper procedures. According to court records, the system contains detailed information on the reactor control rooms as well as maps, drawings, schematics and designs of the power plant.
Authorities said Alavi asked a Palo Verde software engineer to recommend a laptop and help him obtain a user name and password to access the software system.
Another employee saw Alavi with that laptop in the simulator room, with a 3KeyMasterand screen displayed. The employee didn’t raise any alarms.
On Aug. 9, Alavi bought a one-way ticket to Tehran, Iran. His last day at the company was Aug. 14. Two days later, he left the country with his wife. In October, authorities say, the software system was accessed from a person using the Palo Verde user ID in Tehran.