Obama Ordered Wave of Cyberattacks Against Iran: NYT

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Common Dreams

Obama Ordered Wave of Cyberattacks Against Iran: NYT

"Unnamed" US and Israeli officials admit use of cyber weapons

by
Common Dreams staff

Obama with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel in the Oval Office last year. Today's report recounts the American and Israeli effort to undermine the Iranian nuclear program by employing computer viruses to launch a series of cyber attacks. (Jim Young/Reuters)

The Obama administration, allowing 'unnamed officials' to speak with the New York Times, has taken direct responsibility for launching a series of cyber attacks against Iran, including the Stuxnet virus attack that took place in the summer of 2010.

The admission is the first acknowledgement by any White House that it has launched a preemptive cyber attack on another nation. Concerns have been raised that the revelations will set a dangerous precedent for the future of cyber warfare and international relations.

The account of the American and Israeli effort to undermine the Iranian nuclear program, according to the Times, "is based on interviews over the past 18 months with current and former American, European and Israeli officials involved in the program, as well as a range of outside experts. None would allow their names to be used because the effort remains highly classified, and parts of it continue to this day."

"Isn’t it amazing how the U.S. is constantly the world’s first nation to use new, highly destructive weapons — at the same time that it bombs, invades, and kills more than any other country by far — and yet it still somehow gets its media to tell its citizenry that it is America’s Enemies who are the aggressors and the U.S. is simply a nation of peace seeking to defend itself." --Glenn Greenwald

The Guardian's Peter Baeumont, reporting on this and other recent reports in the Times and based on information from "unnamed" Obama administration insiders, says the revelations appear to be well coordinated and seem intended to fend off accusations by his political opponents that Obama has been weak on foreign policy, especially in the case of Iran. "The recent highly sympathetic media disclosures," writes Beaumont, "appear to have been carefully calculated to counter" such suggestions.

And Glenn Greenwald, at Salon.com, comments: "Isn’t it amazing how the U.S. is constantly the world’s first nation to use new, highly destructive weapons — at the same time that it bombs, invades, and kills more than any other country by far — and yet it still somehow gets its media to tell its citizenry that it is America’s Enemies who are the aggressors and the U.S. is simply a nation of peace seeking to defend itself."

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The New York Times: Obama Order Wave of Cyberattacks Against Iran

The United States government only recently acknowledged developing cyberweapons, and it has never admitted using them. There have been reports of one-time attacks against personal computers used by members of Al Qaeda, and of contemplated attacks against the computers that run air defense systems, including during the NATO-led air attack on Libya last year. But Olympic Games was of an entirely different type and sophistication. [...]

Mr. Obama, according to participants in the many Situation Room meetings on Olympic Games, was acutely aware that with every attack he was pushing the United States into new territory, much as his predecessors had with the first use of atomic weapons in the 1940s, of intercontinental missiles in the 1950s and of drones in the past decade. He 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.

It 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. The code itself is 50 times as big as the typical computer worm, Carey Nachenberg, a vice president of Symantec, one of the many groups that have dissected the code, said at a symposium at Stanford University in April. Those forensic investigations into the inner workings of the code, while picking apart how it worked, came to no conclusions about who was responsible.

A similar process is now under way to figure out the origins of another cyberweapon called Flame that was recently discovered to have attacked the computers of Iranian officials, sweeping up information from those machines. But the computer code appears to be at least five years old, and American officials say that it was not part of Olympic Games. They have declined to say whether the United States was responsible for the Flame attack.

Mr. Obama, according to participants in the many Situation Room meetings on Olympic Games, was acutely aware that with every attack he was pushing the United States into new territory, much as his predecessors had with the first use of atomic weapons in the 1940s, of intercontinental missiles in the 1950s and of drones in the past decade. He 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.

The United States government only recently acknowledged developing cyberweapons, and it has never admitted using them. There have been reports of one-time attacks against personal computers used by members of Al Qaeda, and of contemplated attacks against the computers that run air defense systems, including during the NATO-led air attack on Libya last year. But Olympic Games was of an entirely different type and sophistication.

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The Guardian: Highly coordinated reporting between NYT and Obama White House?

The revelation of Obama's involvement in ordering cyber-attacks on Iran in a joint program also involving Israel, follows the disclosure earlier this week that Iran had recently been hit by a massive new virus named Flame, between 20 and 40 times larger than Stuxnet, found infecting PCs in Iran.

According to Symantec – a Russian-based computer security firm that has studied both Stuxnet and Flame – the first Stuxnet attack on Iran took place around June 2009 but its existence did not emerge until almost a year later, appearing to fit precisely with the timeline proposed by the New York Times' sources.

The timing of the disclosure to David E Sanger who boasts of close access to Obama and his closest officials is significant in a presidential election year.

Indeed some experts have suggested that there are sufficient similarities between the two worms to suggest they have the same source.

The timing of the disclosure to David E Sanger who boasts of close access to Obama and his closest officials is significant in a presidential election year.

In recent weeks Republican candidate Mitt Romney has tried to portray the Obama administration as weak and muddled on foreign policy, most recently over the crisis in Syria.

The recent highly sympathetic media disclosures appear to have been carefully calculated to counter this suggestion.

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