Spy vs. Spy: Stuxnet, Good-Guys and Bad-Guys

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On June 1st of this year the New York Times reported that President Obama himself participated in the “Stuxnet” cyberattack against Iran’s nuclear ambitions, beginning very shortly after he took over the executive reins of the U.S. government from ex-President George W. Bush.

It was under Bush that American and Israeli intelligence agencies got together on the project, code named Olympic Games.

The Times article set off a wave of criticism, leading to the June 5th announcement from the Senate Armed Services Committee that closed hearings will be held to examine the apparent authorized release of classified information that Senators John McCain and Saxby Chambliss claim to have damaged U.S. national security.

McCain further charged that the revelations were designed “to enhance President Obama’s image as a tough guy for the elections.”

Why the Senate suddenly believes that a POTUS cannot release classified information when he sees fit is a mystery, as under the last administration the Vice President of the United States leaked the classified identity of a covert CIA counterproliferation agent to the New York Times (which duly reported the information) as a way to publicly punish that agent’s ambassador husband for debunking an aspect of Bush administration’s excuse for invading Iraq.

As reported at the time, Vice President Dick Cheney maintained that he had the power to declassify government secrets at will by virtue of an executive order issued by Bush. The Senate apparently believed that at the time, so it’s difficult to pinpoint why things should be any different now.

Thus it is doubtful that release of purportedly ‘classified’ information about either the commando raid last year that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, or past and present White House involvement in developing and deploying the Stuxnet computer worm can constitute a breach of executive power.

Administrations have a long and storied history of using the press as a tool of propaganda to advance policies and positions. As well as for planting carefully crafted lies that may affect relations with other nations.

The press both here and abroad has been more than willing to do its part, as exemplified by the recent Wall Street Journal revelation that Matsutaro Shoriki, head of the Yomiuri Shimbun, had worked closely with the CIA to promote nuclear power in Japan back in the 1950s…

Mr. Shoriki was many things: a Class A war criminal, the head of the Yomiuri Shimbun (Japan’s biggest-selling and most influential newspaper) and the founder of both the country’s first commercial broadcaster and the Tokyo Giants baseball team. Less well known, according to Mr. Arima, was that the media mogul worked with the CIA to promote nuclear power.

Apparently, Obama’s admission that the U.S. government was responsible along with Israel for the Stuxnet worm has some in the Senate very upset. That could come down to questions of liability for damage once the worm escaped in the summer of 2010. It might have to do with the danger that Iran’s new cyberwarfare initiative (in response to Stuxnet) could present.

Or it might come down to concerns that could be raised about the U.S. strategic relationship with Israel highlighted by the Olympic Games project.

The Times article provides details from a number of attendees of a tense Situation Room meeting just days after the worm escaped from Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment plant to infect computers worldwide via the internet…

An error in the code, they said, had led it to spread to an engineer’s computer when it was hooked up to the centrifuges. When the engineer left Natanz and connected the computer to the Internet, the American- and Israeli-made bug failed to recognize that its environment had changed.

It began replicating itself all around the world. Suddenly, the code was exposed, though its intent would not be clear, at least to ordinary computer users.

“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.”

Obama decided at that meeting to keep going with the Olympic Games operation, and over the next weeks the Natanz plant was hit by newer versions of the worm, eventually destroying nearly 1,000 of 5,000 centrifuges (or closer to 2,000 centrifuges, depending on who you ask).

Meanwhile, internet computer sleuths and security experts were busy cracking the Stuxnet code, and quickly discovered its nature, target and likely origins.

The above-mentioned Yomiuri Shinbun reported in October of 2010 that the worm, designed to infect German energy giant Siemens’ widely used energy industry computer control and monitoring software [Simatic WinCC Step7], had been confirmed to have infected at least 63 computers in Japan.

Continued on Page 2…


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