Monday, April 23, 2007

The Iran nuclear spy case you're not hearing about

Move along, nothing to see here....

Federal 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. It seems that the former engineer at the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station might just have illegally taken software codes to Iran and downloaded details of control rooms, reactors and designs of the nation's biggest nuclear plant.

Of course. no one's using the word, `espionage'.

"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," said FBI spokeswoman Deborah McCarley.

So.....why was Alavi able to peddle this in Iran? And whom else would buy it but the government?

According to officials with the Arizona Public Service Co., which operates Palo Verde, the software doesn't 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..meanwhile, they've admitted that they now have changed procedures to prohibit former employees from accessing software when they leave the company. No such procedure was in place when Alavi quit APS last August...and remember, this is in a post 9/11 environment!

Meanwhile, Alawi Alavi, an Iranian who's been a naturalized citizen since 1976, is being held without bail in California, in spite of the fact that they're only charging him, believe it or, with a trade embargo violation.

According to Alavi's lawyer ( a public defender, of course) "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 didn't feel like talking about specific charges in the indictment, including whether Alavi gained unauthorized access to the software and bought a laptop computer weeks before he resigned and moved to Iran.

The federal judge in Phoenix wanted Alavi held without bail, because 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 a mere 21 months in prison maximum, if he's convicted.

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.

Now, here's where it gets interesting.

According to Judge Wake, Alawi was planning on relocating permanently in Iran, where he's invested substantial money in an Iranian company and owns a house.

And,authorities say that this unemployed engineer recently deposited $98,000 into a U.S. bank account.

Curious how that all worked out.

A month before Alawi gave notice at Palo Verde, he apparently bought a laptop computer and used it to download the 3KeyMaster software system.

That software is used to train employees on the operation of nuclear reactors and provides employees with emergency scenarios and teaches them how 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.

AThe Feds say Alavi asked a Palo Verde software engineer he was friends with to recommend a laptop and help him obtain a user name and password to access the software system.

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.

The software's maker, Western Services in Maryland, had no idea that Alavi had resigned from Palo Verde and were never told by Palo they didn't try to restrict access, according to a federal affidavit.

Nobody from Palo Verde even informed Western Services that Alavi had quit his job at the power plant, the FBI said. TNor did the plant even tell the software company to remove Alavi's user name or password from the company's Web site!

Unbelievable...simply unbelievable.

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