News Briefs

October 4, 2019
A hacking group linked to the Iranian government unsuccessfully attempted to access Microsoft accounts connected with President Donald Trump's re-election campaign, among other targets. Microsoft reported "significant" cyber activity from the hacking group Phosphorous targeting U.S. government officials, journalists, and prominent Iranian expatriates. According to Microsoft, "Phosphorous" - which is also known as APT 35, Charming Kitten, and Ajax Security Team - made over 2,700 attempts to identify target email accounts and attacked 241 of them over a 30 day period in August and September.
-- Reuters
October 2, 2019
More than 20 ships carrying approximately one million tons of grain have been stuck for over a month outside Iran's Bandar Imam Khomeini and Bandar Abbas ports because of sanctions-related payment issues. The ships are carrying soybeans and corn, primarily from South America, and face costs of up to $15,000 per day. While there are no sanctions on humanitarian supplies such as food, businesses are often waiting months to receive payment because many Western banks are reluctant to have any business dealings with Iran. Affected companies include U.S. agribusiness Bunge, China's COFCO International, and several smaller Turkish and Iranian businesses.
-- Reuters
September 27, 2019
A British tanker detained by Iran was released and has left Iranian territory. The Stena Impero, which is owned by the Swedish company Stena Bulk, was seized in the Strait of Hormuz on July 19 by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), two weeks after an Iranian tanker was detained in Gibraltar. Iranian authorities held the Stena Impero in Bandar Abbas port under accusations of colliding with a fishing boat and not responding to calls. Iran's Ports and Maritime Organization announced that it had released the Stena Impero "despite there being an open court case" against it. The tanker has since reappeared on shipping tracking websites.
-- BBC
September 26, 2019
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) revealed that Iran is now enriching uranium with advanced centrifuges in violation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). An IAEA report verified that two R&D lines at Iran's Natanz facility, each of which contains up to 20 centrifuges, "were accumulating, or had been prepared to accumulate, enriched uranium." The Agency also reported that Iran is in the process of installing 164-machine cascades of IR-4 and IR-2m models, both of which were removed under the JCPOA. Iran informed the IAEA in a letter on September 25 of the additions, which also include a 165-machine cascade of IR-6 centrifuges. Under the terms of the JCPOA, Iran can only use first-generation IR-1 centrifuges at Natanz, with a small number of more advanced models allowed for research purposes.
-- Reuters
September 25, 2019
The United States sanctioned several state-owned Chinese companies for allegedly shipping Iranian oil to China. The sanctioned entities include two subsidiaries of shipping giant Cosco Group: Cosco Shipping Tanker (Dalian) Co. and Cosco Shipping Tanker (Dalian) Seaman & Ship Management Co. The sanctions also affect more than four dozen Cosco Group ships. Additionally, the United States blacklisted Kunlun Shipping Co. and Kunlun Holding Co., which are connected to the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC).
-- The Wall Street Journal
September 19, 2019
A new intelligence report from the German state of Hesse found that Iran engaged in proliferation efforts connected with weapons of mass destruction in 2018. The report states that Iran "attempted to acquire and redistribute such weapons in the context of proliferation," as did North Korea, Pakistan, and Syria. It details the use of foreign academics in fields such as electrical engineering and chemical-biological processes in support of proliferation. The report also highlights Iran and China's use of cyber activities to facilitate "scientific goals." The conclusions are similar to those in reports released earlier in 2019 from the German states of Bavaria and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. 
-- The Jerusalem Post
September 15, 2019
The United States says that Iran was likely behind attacks on key Saudi Arabian oil facilities. The U.S. government released satellite photos showing at least 17 points of impact on the facilities which indicate that the strikes came from the north or northwest. These findings suggest that the attack likely originated in Iranian or Iraqi territory rather than in Yemen, where Houthi rebels claimed responsibility for the strikes. According to U.S. intelligence, the attacks involved a combination of drones and cruise missiles, which also indicates a level of military sophistication beyond that which Houthi rebels alone have shown. Iran rejected the accusations, while Iraq affirmed that Iranian operatives did not initiate the attacks from Iraqi territory.
-- The New York Times
September 10, 2019
Israel accused Iran of destroying a secret facility where it had conducted nuclear weapon experiments. In a televised speech, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu showed satellite images from the past summer of the facility south of Isfahan which allegedly showed that Iran had destroyed the site. Netanyahu claimed that Iran destroyed the facility after learning that Israel had discovered it, adding that the intelligence was based on documents from the Tehran archive obtained by Mossad in a covert operation last year. Netanyahu gave no additional details of the alleged nuclear work or when it occurred, but said that Israel has shared its intelligence with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). 
-- The Wall Street Journal
September 8, 2019
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) took samples from a Tehran facility that showed traces of uranium, according to two diplomats. Last year, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flagged the site -- which Iran never declared under the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) -- as a "secret atomic warehouse" containing 15 kg of radioactive material. The IAEA inspected the site in April and took environmental samples, which can show the presence of radioactive particles even after the material has been removed. Previous reports indicated that the IAEA had found unspecified radioactive material, which the two diplomats now reveal was uranium. IAEA Acting Director-General Cornel Feruta met with Iranian officials in recent days and "stressed that these interactions (on its nuclear commitments) require full and timely cooperation by Iran."
-- Reuters
September 7, 2019
Iran announced that it would begin using advanced centrifuges to enrich uranium in violation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The JCPOA capped Iran at approximately 6,000 first-generation IR-1 centrifuges with a small number of more advanced models allowed for research purposes. Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said that Iran would lift limitations on "research and development imposed by the deal," including the implementation of 20 IR-6 centrifuges as well as tests of the IR-8 model. Iran says that these steps are reversible if European partners can restore its access to international trade, setting another 60-day deadline for Europe before it will further reduce JCPOA commitments.
-- Reuters