Israel Denies Spying on Iran Talks

YERUSHALAYIM (Reuters/Hamodia) -
Iran’s Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Reza Najafi. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)
Iran’s Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Reza Najafi. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)

Israeli officials dismissed as baseless on Thursday reports Israel may have had a connection to a computer virus that a security company said was used to hack into venues linked to international talks on Iran’s nuclear program.

Russia-based Kaspersky Lab said on Wednesday it found the spyware in three European hotels that hosted negotiations involving Iran and six world powers and also on the company’s own computers.

Both Kaspersky and U.S. security company Symantec said the virus shared some programming with previously discovered espionage software called Duqu, which security experts believe was developed by Israelis.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely denied Israel was involved. “The international reports of Israeli involvement in the matter are baseless,” she told Army Radio.

“What is much more important is that we prevent a bad agreement where at the end of the day we find ourselves with a Iranian nuclear umbrella,” she said.

Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan called the allegations “nonsense,” adding that Israel had other ways of gathering intelligence without resorting to hacking.

Meanwhile, Austrian and Swiss authorities were taking allegations of a cyberattack seriously, whether connected to Israel or not.

“The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution and Counterterrorism is aware of the information and is reviewing it,” an interior ministry spokesman in Vienna said on Thursday, but declined to give more details.

The Swiss attorney general’s office confirmed it had launched an investigation back on May 6 following a report from the Swiss intelligence agency. The office conducted a raid six days later, seizing computer equipment in which unspecified information technology material was seized, due to “suspicion of illegal intelligence services operating in Switzerland.” It did not specify if hotels were targeted in the probe.

The Iranians meanwhile struck a blasé pose. “You know that there are enemies of these talks and they will do whatever they can, so it’s not a surprise to us,” Reza Najafi, Iran’s ambassador to the UN nuclear agency, told reporters in Vienna.

The United States said Wednesday night it “takes steps” to ensure the confidentiality of nuclear negotiations with Iran.

“We take steps, certainly, to ensure that confidential, that classified negotiating details stay behind closed doors in these negotiations,” State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke told reporters during the daily press briefing.

But he would not be drawn on whether there was any substance to the allegations published on Wednesday.

“These are claims by a private company about another government, so we’re not going to weigh in on that report,” he said.