Cyberwarrior at Argent Consulting
President Obama has been personally directing the cyberwar that has targeted the Iranian nuclear program. In a startling and groundbreaking article in the New York Times yesterday, David Sanger reports on the ongoing joint US/Israeli effort to sabotage Iranian nuclear facilities including centrifuges producing enriched uranium. The code name of this campaign is Olympic Games.
The article is based on the writer’s forthcoming book (June 5), Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power, which drew on 18 months of extensive interviews with unnamed American and Israeli officials involved in the program.
Obama inherited both Olympic Games and the drone campaign in Pakistan from President Bush who implored the incoming President to continue both. Obama apparently took his advice, with alacrity.
In 2010 an error in the code enabled the Stuxnet virus to escape from its Iranian target at Natanz and, like the Golem of Prague, it spread uncontrolled damaging computer networks around the world. According to Sanger, Vice President Biden angrily blamed the mishap on the Israelis who he claimed, “went too far.”
Apparently Obama did not learn from this disaster and ordered that the computer war against Iran continue with full force.
“We think there was a modification done by the Israelis,” one of the briefers told the president, “and we don’t know if we were part of that activity.”
Mr. Obama, according to officials in the room, asked a series of questions, fearful that the code could do damage outside the plant. The answers came back in hedged terms. Mr. Biden fumed. “It’s got to be the Israelis,” he said. “They went too far.”
The Stuxnet virus is believed to be the first computer program that damaged physical infrastructure. This is a very significant escalation in cyberwarfare. Ironically, the nation that is most vulnerable to this type of attack is the United States, as Sanger points out.
Maybe in the future there will be an international cyberweapon non-proliferation treaty. If such a treaty comes into existence, my guess is that the United States will find a way to allow Israel to avoid participation.
[The 2010 attack on Nantanz] appears to be the first time the United States has repeatedly used cyberweapons to cripple another country’s infrastructure, achieving, with computer code, what until then could be accomplished only by bombing a country or sending in agents to plant explosives.
[Obama] repeatedly expressed concerns that any American acknowledgment that it was using cyberweapons — even under the most careful and limited circumstances — could enable other countries, terrorists or hackers to justify their own attacks. “We discussed the irony, more than once,” one of his aides said. Another said that the administration was resistant to developing a “grand theory for a weapon whose possibilities they were still discovering.” Yet Mr. Obama concluded that when it came to stopping Iran, the United States had no other choice.
The unusually tight collaboration with Israel was driven by two imperatives. Israel’s Unit 8200, a part of its military, had technical expertise that rivaled the N.S.A.’s, and the Israelis had deep intelligence about operations at Natanz that would be vital to making the cyberattack a success. But American officials had another interest, to dissuade the Israelis from carrying out their own pre-emptive strike against the Iranian nuclear facilities. To do that, the Israelis would have to be convinced that the new line of attack was working. The only way to convince them, several officials said in interviews, was to have them deeply involved in every aspect of the program.
There is a qualifying statement included in the article on the existence of the alleged Iranian nuclear weapons program. I think it is both accurate and a powerful reminder that what Obama and his American and Israeli kosher cowboys are up to may be one day be considered a folly of historic dimensions.
Whether Iran is still trying to design and build a weapon is in dispute. The most recent United States intelligence estimate concludes that Iran suspended major parts of its weaponization effort after 2003, though there is evidence that some remnants of it continue.
For those who feel uncomfortable with all the high tech explanations, how is this for old-fashioned sleuthing? The New York Times on Thursday reported that the workday of the group that activated and operated the recently discovered Flame virus was on Jerusalem time!
Because Stuxnet and Duqu were written on the same platform and share many of the same fingerprints in their source code, researchers believe both were developed by the same group of programmers. Those developers have never been identified, but researchers have cited intriguing bits of digital evidence that point to a joint American-Israeli effort to undermine Iran’s efforts to build a nuclear bomb.
For example, researchers at Kaspersky Lab tracked the working hours of Duqu’s operators and found they coincided with Jerusalem local time. They also noted that Duqu’s programmers were not active between sundown on Fridays and sundown on Saturdays, a time that coincides with the Sabbath when observant Jews typically refrain from secular work.
Intelligence and military experts have said that Stuxnet was first tested at Dimona, an Israeli complex widely believed to be the headquarters of Israel’s atomic weapons program.