Commentary Magazine


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Who is Leaking About Cyberattacks?

The Stuxnet virus, which caused Iranian centrifuges to malfunction and which became public in 2010, attracted worldwide publicity. It was always assumed by those in the know that this cyberattack was concocted by the U.S. and Israel, but neither country would provide confirmation about this highly classified program. That seems to have changed with the publication of this New York Times article by David Sanger, revealing (assuming the article is accurate) that Stuxnet was part of a covert program code named Olympic Games to wage cyber-war on the Iranian nuclear program,which Jonathan Tobin discussed on Friday.

The article is full of fascinating information that should be of great interest to American–and Iranian–readers. The question is: why are we reading this? There are probably few covert programs, if any, that are as sensitive as this one. As Sanger notes: “The United States government only recently acknowledged developing cyberweapons, and it has never admitted using them.”

Was there, one wonders, a conscious decision made by President Obama and his senior cabinet members and generals to declassify this program through a leak to the New York Times–or was it perhaps a leak made with a wink and nudge from the White House but without a formal vetting through the interagency process? One rather suspects the latter for, just like another recent New York Times article on how President Obama personally decides who will be eliminated by CIA drones, this one casts him as a strong commander-in-chief in the secret war against America’s enemies. Suffice it to say, the president is not going to lose any votes come November for carrying out covert operations against al-Qaeda and the Iranian government–but those programs could very well be endangered by this public airing of their details. The same might be said about all the publicity that attended the SEAL raid on Osama bin Laden and the more recent public outing of the British-controlled double agent who infiltrated al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to prevent a new “underwear bomber” plot.

Leaks of highly classified information by the U.S. government are not, of course, a new development. But his recent spate of disclosures raises serious questions about who is leaking and why–and, most important perhaps, what consequences if any they will suffer for such outrageous slips of the tongue?