Commentary Magazine


Topic: Stuxnet

Obama Is Justified in Prosecuting Leakers

There is bipartisan fury today over the Obama administration’s leak investigations, which have included examining the emails of a Fox News reporter and winning an appeals court ruling that a New York Times reporter can be compelled to testify about leaks he received from a CIA source. The mainstream media is in high dudgeon, as expected, and it is joined, unexpectedly, by many on the right who think that this Democratic president is pursuing a vendetta against conservative critics–an impression certainly fostered by the IRS scandal even though there is no evidence of a White House link to the decision to deny Tea Party groups tax-exempt status.

I have no brief for governmental excesses such as those revealed by the IRS, but let’s not lose sight of the larger picture. As the New York Times itself notes, during President Bush’s second term in office, 153 cases of government officials leaking national security secrets were referred to the Justice Department. Not one of those cases resulted in a single indictment. Bush’s reluctance to prosecute leakers is understandable given the firestorm of controversy that has accompanied Obama’s prosecutions–the criticism would have been a hundred times fiercer against prosecutions ordered by a conservative Republican rather than a liberal former law professor. Nevertheless retired Admiral Dennis Blair, former director of national intelligence, is right that this failure to prosecute was “pretty shocking,” and he and Attorney General Eric Holder did what they needed to do by putting more of a push behind leak investigations.

Read More

There is bipartisan fury today over the Obama administration’s leak investigations, which have included examining the emails of a Fox News reporter and winning an appeals court ruling that a New York Times reporter can be compelled to testify about leaks he received from a CIA source. The mainstream media is in high dudgeon, as expected, and it is joined, unexpectedly, by many on the right who think that this Democratic president is pursuing a vendetta against conservative critics–an impression certainly fostered by the IRS scandal even though there is no evidence of a White House link to the decision to deny Tea Party groups tax-exempt status.

I have no brief for governmental excesses such as those revealed by the IRS, but let’s not lose sight of the larger picture. As the New York Times itself notes, during President Bush’s second term in office, 153 cases of government officials leaking national security secrets were referred to the Justice Department. Not one of those cases resulted in a single indictment. Bush’s reluctance to prosecute leakers is understandable given the firestorm of controversy that has accompanied Obama’s prosecutions–the criticism would have been a hundred times fiercer against prosecutions ordered by a conservative Republican rather than a liberal former law professor. Nevertheless retired Admiral Dennis Blair, former director of national intelligence, is right that this failure to prosecute was “pretty shocking,” and he and Attorney General Eric Holder did what they needed to do by putting more of a push behind leak investigations.

The need for such action is clear given how many secrets have been revealed in recent years, Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning being only two of the higher-profile offenders that have done great damage to national security and given great aid and comfort to our enemies. It is imperative to send a signal that leaking secret documents–and even more highly classified information–will not be tolerated, and the best way to do this is to make leakers pay. And not just lowly leakers such as Private Manning.

Recent word is that retired Marine General James Cartwright may be indicted for leaking information about the Stuxnet virus used to sabotage the Iranian nuclear program–one of the most sensitive secrets in the entire government. I have no idea whether or not he is guilty, but if there is good evidence of his culpability, he deserves to have the book thrown at him to show that rank is no protection for those who betray their obligation to keep secret information genuinely secret.

However suspicious Republicans may be of Obama’s motives, the anti-leaker prosecutions seem well justified and deserving of bipartisan support.

Read Less

Snowden’s Nuclear War on Intelligence

For too many Americans, the saga of Edward Snowden has become a vehicle to vent their understandable anger about the growth of government and its power to infringe on our privacy. But the leaker’s activities and his farcical flight to his current perch somewhere in the Moscow airport has allowed these worries to overshadow the true nature of what he has done in spilling so much information about the National Security Agency. Though his campaign to torpedo America’s ability to monitor terrorists should have already alerted even his most ardent fans to the true nature of his activity, his interview in this week’s issue of Der Spiegel is new proof that what he and his supporters in the press and elsewhere are attempting to do is something a great deal more ambitious than curbing the overreach of a government body. By discussing the cooperation of various foreign intelligence agencies and specifically talking about the joint efforts of the United States and Israel to thwart Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons, he has crossed yet another line that shows his true intentions. His is not a war to protect privacy. It’s a war against intelligence and American foreign policy goals.

Snowden’s decision to expand his revelations from the NSA’s monitoring of calls and emails to Stuxnet—the computer virus that was reportedly employed to try to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program—is highly instructive. If Snowden’s leaks were solely about brushing back the spooks’ snooping on Americans, he might have refused to talk about the NSA’s efforts directed at Iran. By choosing to wade into specific intelligence efforts that have nothing to do with individual privacy issues, Snowden is making it clear that for all of the talk about his heroism or his defense of constitutional rights, what he is most interested in doing is making the world a little safer for those whom American intelligence is tasked with stopping. By treating the NSA’s work against Iranian nukes and its cooperation with Israel as fodder for his exposure as much as anything else, Snowden and his backers are treating a consensus objective of American policy as somehow illegitimate.

Read More

For too many Americans, the saga of Edward Snowden has become a vehicle to vent their understandable anger about the growth of government and its power to infringe on our privacy. But the leaker’s activities and his farcical flight to his current perch somewhere in the Moscow airport has allowed these worries to overshadow the true nature of what he has done in spilling so much information about the National Security Agency. Though his campaign to torpedo America’s ability to monitor terrorists should have already alerted even his most ardent fans to the true nature of his activity, his interview in this week’s issue of Der Spiegel is new proof that what he and his supporters in the press and elsewhere are attempting to do is something a great deal more ambitious than curbing the overreach of a government body. By discussing the cooperation of various foreign intelligence agencies and specifically talking about the joint efforts of the United States and Israel to thwart Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons, he has crossed yet another line that shows his true intentions. His is not a war to protect privacy. It’s a war against intelligence and American foreign policy goals.

Snowden’s decision to expand his revelations from the NSA’s monitoring of calls and emails to Stuxnet—the computer virus that was reportedly employed to try to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program—is highly instructive. If Snowden’s leaks were solely about brushing back the spooks’ snooping on Americans, he might have refused to talk about the NSA’s efforts directed at Iran. By choosing to wade into specific intelligence efforts that have nothing to do with individual privacy issues, Snowden is making it clear that for all of the talk about his heroism or his defense of constitutional rights, what he is most interested in doing is making the world a little safer for those whom American intelligence is tasked with stopping. By treating the NSA’s work against Iranian nukes and its cooperation with Israel as fodder for his exposure as much as anything else, Snowden and his backers are treating a consensus objective of American policy as somehow illegitimate.

The link between the monitoring of phone calls or emails of terrorists and Stuxnet is that both are to some degree the fruit of America’s cyber warfare. But whatever concerns some Americans may have about the metadata mining of calls or emails, the Stuxnet virus and, indeed, the entire cyber warfare campaign against Iran have nothing to with privacy and everything to do with national security efforts that are supported by the overwhelming majority of the American people.

The point here is that the anti-intelligence campaign being waged by Snowden and his supporters draws no distinctions between alleged invasions of privacy and efforts to forestall a deadly nuclear threat to the world. While I believe the NSA’s controversial efforts to monitor communications with terrorists are defensible, there should be no argument about whether it’s work in cooperating with Israel to hamstring Iran’s nuclear weapons threat is both legal and absolutely necessary.

Moreover, those who would like to applaud Snowden’s exposures while still asserting their support for Western efforts to stop terrorism and the potentially genocidal intentions of Iran’s Islamist regime need to ask themselves whether they can really draw the line between intelligence operations they don’t like and those that they don’t wish to impede. If all of the NSA’s cyber warfare efforts are somehow illegitimate, as Snowden and his fans seem to be saying, then what they are asking for is not civil liberties but unilateral disarmament on the part of the West against terrorists and terrorist-sponsoring regimes like Iran that also wish to obtain nuclear weapons. Some of President Obama’s staffers (reportedly his favorite general) may have already spilled the beans on American cyber warfare to the press. But by discussing Stuxnet in the context of his attack on all cooperation between security agencies, Snowden has illustrated what we will lose if we allow our libertarian instincts about privacy to hamstring the NSA.

Read Less

Why Doesn’t the Media Get Israeli Politics?

Lee Smith has an interesting take on one aspect of the administration’s calculated cyberleaks, produced obediently by the New York Times, detailing the cooperation between the U.S. and Israel in conducting cyberwarfare against the Iranian nuclear program. It’s true, Smith writes, that in one sense these articles are meant to make Obama seem tough, but they are also to pass the buck if and when things go wrong. Smith writes:

The nature of the story is given away in a quote from Vice President Joe Biden, exasperated after Stuxnet mistakenly appeared on the Web in the summer of 2010, exposing the code. Biden laid the blame at the feet of the administration’s ostensible partner. “It’s got to be the Israelis,” said Biden, according to an unnamed source. “They went too far.” In other words, the Obama White House wants it both ways—to claim credit for the successes of the cyberwarfare campaign and to shift blame on the Israelis in the event that things go wrong.

It’s telling that the administration thinks blaming Israel is a good election strategy, and Smith’s piece is worth reading in full. But a couple quotes from Israeli sources stood out to me. First Yossi Melman, the Israeli journalist, tells Smith: “Israeli officials know that it’s an election year… Israeli officials are not going to rock the boat and ruin the party.” Later in the story, an Israeli intelligence source tells Smith: “No Israeli government is going to be criticized for releasing a virus. We know we are at war, and America does not know it’s at war.”

I’m not so sure that’s the case, but it does reveal something else about the two countries: Israelis understand American politics well, and American officials and journalists don’t seem to understand Israeli politics at all.

Read More

Lee Smith has an interesting take on one aspect of the administration’s calculated cyberleaks, produced obediently by the New York Times, detailing the cooperation between the U.S. and Israel in conducting cyberwarfare against the Iranian nuclear program. It’s true, Smith writes, that in one sense these articles are meant to make Obama seem tough, but they are also to pass the buck if and when things go wrong. Smith writes:

The nature of the story is given away in a quote from Vice President Joe Biden, exasperated after Stuxnet mistakenly appeared on the Web in the summer of 2010, exposing the code. Biden laid the blame at the feet of the administration’s ostensible partner. “It’s got to be the Israelis,” said Biden, according to an unnamed source. “They went too far.” In other words, the Obama White House wants it both ways—to claim credit for the successes of the cyberwarfare campaign and to shift blame on the Israelis in the event that things go wrong.

It’s telling that the administration thinks blaming Israel is a good election strategy, and Smith’s piece is worth reading in full. But a couple quotes from Israeli sources stood out to me. First Yossi Melman, the Israeli journalist, tells Smith: “Israeli officials know that it’s an election year… Israeli officials are not going to rock the boat and ruin the party.” Later in the story, an Israeli intelligence source tells Smith: “No Israeli government is going to be criticized for releasing a virus. We know we are at war, and America does not know it’s at war.”

I’m not so sure that’s the case, but it does reveal something else about the two countries: Israelis understand American politics well, and American officials and journalists don’t seem to understand Israeli politics at all.

The Israelis are at peace with Obama’s strategy, because they get it. It’s an election year. It’s just business. This knowledge gap partially explained Jodi Rudoren’s clumsy transition to the New York Times’s Jerusalem bureau. She made a number of missteps, and explained that she didn’t really know exactly what she was doing yet, and to give her some time to adjust. Fair enough I suppose, but it was telling.

And a perfect example comes from Vanity Fair, which dispatched David Margolick to write a long profile on Benjamin Netanyahu for the magazine’s July issue. It’s now online, and it is truly something to behold. Margolick writes that most of Netanyahu’s decisions can be attributed to the inordinate influence the following people have on his opinions: his wife, Sara; his late father, Benzion; his late brother, Yoni; Ehud Barak; and the last person Netanyahu has spoken to, regardless of who it was.

There may be more in the article, but I stopped reading two pages in when Margolick explicitly compared Bibi to a warmongering Soviet dictator with a split personality. Margolick wasn’t writing that all those people have some influence on Netanyahu; he was making the case that each one has unique control over him. In other words, the article constantly contradicts its own thesis. It is essentially a cry for help. But why? What makes Israeli politics so incomprehensible to the press?

I’m not sure what the answer is, but there are a few possibilities. One is that the left doesn’t understand coalition politics as well as the right, which has to deal with making peace among its various factions. Another is that the liberal media’s echo chamber keeps them in a pack mentality, following the biases of papers like the New York Times. There is of course the left’s anti-Russian-immigrant hysteria, which they direct at Avigdor Lieberman even though he agrees with many of their priorities. It’s also hard to miss the media’s noxious treatment of Orthodox Jews who, much to the left’s eternal chagrin, also participate in Israel’s democratic process.

Maybe it’s something as simple as the media’s deeply personal antipathy toward Netanyahu. Whatever it is, they should figure it out–and soon. These articles portraying Israel’s democratically elected, rational premier as a schizophrenic dictator are getting embarrassing.

Read Less

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.”

Read More

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?

Read Less

Latest Leak: Obama the Computer Warrior

New York Times reporter David Sanger received wide access to high-ranking members of the Obama administration and the security apparatus to write his book about what he has termed “Obama’s Secret Wars.” The latest excerpt published in the Times today shows that Sanger is rewarding his subject with yet another account portraying the president as a bold warrior against America’s foes. The subject this time is the cyber warfare being waged by the United States and Israel against Iran and, according to Sanger, Obama was an eager advocate of turning American nerds loose on Tehran’s computers. But, as was the case with other successful elements of Obama administration counter-terrorism strategy such as the use of drones, the use of cyber weapons is another example of the president merely continuing an initiative developed by the Bush administration.

The impetus for the publication of this report may have been the revelations about a new virus called Flame that has infected Iranian computers. However, that story as well as the interesting tale Sanger tells about the last three years of covert American and Israeli efforts to halt or delay Iran’s nuclear program by means of cyber attacks, shouldn’t deceive anyone into thinking that any of these clever stratagems are a substitute for a real commitment to put an end to the threat.

Read More

New York Times reporter David Sanger received wide access to high-ranking members of the Obama administration and the security apparatus to write his book about what he has termed “Obama’s Secret Wars.” The latest excerpt published in the Times today shows that Sanger is rewarding his subject with yet another account portraying the president as a bold warrior against America’s foes. The subject this time is the cyber warfare being waged by the United States and Israel against Iran and, according to Sanger, Obama was an eager advocate of turning American nerds loose on Tehran’s computers. But, as was the case with other successful elements of Obama administration counter-terrorism strategy such as the use of drones, the use of cyber weapons is another example of the president merely continuing an initiative developed by the Bush administration.

The impetus for the publication of this report may have been the revelations about a new virus called Flame that has infected Iranian computers. However, that story as well as the interesting tale Sanger tells about the last three years of covert American and Israeli efforts to halt or delay Iran’s nuclear program by means of cyber attacks, shouldn’t deceive anyone into thinking that any of these clever stratagems are a substitute for a real commitment to put an end to the threat.

While the president deserves credit for following the advice President Bush gave him about continuing the secret program (or at least what used to be secret before the president and his staff decided they needed to spill the beans so as to enhance his chances for re-election) code-named “Olympic Games,” the subtext of the story is that the effort hasn’t really succeeded.

Though the administration gives itself great credit for proceeding with the Stuxnet virus attack even after it became public knowledge, the results do not seem to have been as impressive as the president’s cheering section would like us to think. As even Sanger notes:

These officials gave differing assessments of how successful the sabotage program was in slowing Iran’s progress toward developing the ability to build nuclear weapons. Internal Obama administration estimates say the effort was set back by 18 months to two years, but some experts inside and outside the government are more skeptical, noting that Iran’s enrichment levels have steadily recovered, giving the country enough fuel today for five or more weapons, with additional enrichment.

If that is true then it must be acknowledged that though both Bush and Obama were right to try Stuxnet and other cyber attacks, they aren’t the solution. As smart as the American and Israeli computer geeks might be, the assumption that the Iranians are too stupid or backward to defend their systems is absurd. As has always been the case with every sort of military technology invented, for every offensive tactic developed there is a defense. The fact is, despite Stuxnet and Flame, the Iranian centrifuges are still turning. The military research at Parchin has already been conducted and may now have been removed to a site Western sources don’t know about. Despite the cyber attacks and the inherent flaws that may exist in the Iranian program, they have managed to develop facilities and technology that is getting them closer to a bomb.

The covert action undertaken by the administration was appropriate and should be continued. But for all of the breathless patting themselves on the back that comes through in the Sanger piece, another familiar theme to observers of the Obama administration emerges: hostility to Israel. Sanger’s sources claim that Stuxnet’s failure was Israel’s fault.

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.”

We don’t really know whether this true and neither does Sanger or Vice President Biden, but it is telling that in a piece dedicated to promoting the idea of President Obama as a ground-breaking cyber warrior, there would have to be a passage trashing the Israelis.

Leaks like these can only add to the level of distrust the Israelis feel for the administration’s intentions on Iran. The administration’s effort to enhance its image via these stories is a poor substitute for a genuine commitment to do whatever it takes to end the nuclear threat that can’t be stopped by viruses alone.

Read Less

Computer Viruses Won’t Stop Iran

Iran’s confirmation that the computers of a number of their officials have been attacked by a new virus will give further ammunition to those who argue that the nuclear threat from the Islamist regime can be neutered by intelligence coups and technology. Like the Stuxnet virus which supposedly flummoxed Iran’s scientists last year, the new Flame worm may cause some havoc in Tehran and the nuclear facilities scattered around the country. And it will give Western and Israeli intelligence agencies and government officials a chance to crow about their capabilities, much as Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon did today.

But even if this is Israel’s handiwork and the damage it does is greater than then the mere temporary inconvenience wrought by Stuxnet, no one should be fooled into thinking a virus will ultimately stop Iran’s nuclear program if the regime is determined to persist in its goal. Any technological attack will spawn a defense and a counter-attack. Though Flame may give Israel and/or the West a temporary advantage in the cyber war being conducted with Iran, it cannot by itself or even in combination with other covert activities such as assassinations, solve the problem. That is only possible by diplomacy or force.

Read More

Iran’s confirmation that the computers of a number of their officials have been attacked by a new virus will give further ammunition to those who argue that the nuclear threat from the Islamist regime can be neutered by intelligence coups and technology. Like the Stuxnet virus which supposedly flummoxed Iran’s scientists last year, the new Flame worm may cause some havoc in Tehran and the nuclear facilities scattered around the country. And it will give Western and Israeli intelligence agencies and government officials a chance to crow about their capabilities, much as Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon did today.

But even if this is Israel’s handiwork and the damage it does is greater than then the mere temporary inconvenience wrought by Stuxnet, no one should be fooled into thinking a virus will ultimately stop Iran’s nuclear program if the regime is determined to persist in its goal. Any technological attack will spawn a defense and a counter-attack. Though Flame may give Israel and/or the West a temporary advantage in the cyber war being conducted with Iran, it cannot by itself or even in combination with other covert activities such as assassinations, solve the problem. That is only possible by diplomacy or force.

Israel’s public skepticism about the P5+1 talks being conducted by the West with Iran about its nuclear ambitions is well-founded. Even though the United States and its European, Russian and Chinese allies deserve credit for not folding completely during the second round of talks last week in Baghdad, the Iranians continue to refine uranium and to get closer to a stockpile that could create a bomb. Iran has every expectation that if it hangs tough, either President Obama or the European Union will crack sometime this summer and abandon plans for an oil embargo in exchange for an inadequate deal that would preserve Tehran’s nuclear program.

Unlike the West’s faltering diplomacy, a course of action that accomplishes nothing except to prevent Israel from attacking Iran, it must be conceded that computer viruses at least have the virtue of slowing the regime’s nuclear progress, though how much, we don’t know. But we do know that for all of the hoopla about Stuxnet, such delays were temporary and strategically insignificant. We can hope for better from Flame, but the odds are it will be just a pinprick, not a decisive stroke. As much as such schemes allow us hope for a solution short of armed conflict, unless a miracle happens and diplomacy succeeds, sooner or later the West and Israel will be faced with a choice between force and living with a nuclear Iran. Like Stuxnet, Flame may put off that day, but it cannot prevent it from happening.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.