The US and Israel partnered on the Stuxnet worm years ago in a top-secret attempt to slow down the Iranian development of nuclear weapons, according to current and former US officials. After a New York Times report this morning exposed the partnership, the Washington Post got confirmation from its sources. Interestingly, both newspapers emphasize Barack Obama’s role in the cyberattack strategy, while pushing the fact that George Bush actually ordered the program into existence to lower paragraphs. Here’s the New York Times:
From his first months in office, President Obama secretly ordered increasingly sophisticated attacks on the computer systems that run Iran’s main nuclear enrichment facilities, significantly expanding America’s first sustained use of cyberweapons, according to participants in the program.
Mr. Obama decided to accelerate the attacks — begun in the Bush administration and code-named Olympic Games — even after an element of the program accidentally became public in the summer of 2010 because of a programming error that allowed it to escape Iran’s Natanz plant and sent it around the world on the Internet. Computer security experts who began studying the worm, which had been developed by the United States and Israel, gave it a name: Stuxnet.
At a tense meeting in the White House Situation Room within days of the worm’s “escape,” Mr. Obama, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and the director of the Central Intelligence Agency at the time, Leon E. Panetta, considered whether America’s most ambitious attempt to slow the progress of Iran’s nuclear efforts had been fatally compromised.
“Should we shut this thing down?” Mr. Obama asked, according to members of the president’s national security team who were in the room.
Told it was unclear how much the Iranians knew about the code, and offered evidence that it was still causing havoc, Mr. Obama decided that the cyberattacks should proceed. In the following weeks, the Natanz plant was hit by a newer version of the computer worm, and then another after that. The last of that series of attacks, a few weeks after Stuxnet was detected around the world, temporarily took out nearly 1,000 of the 5,000 centrifuges Iran had spinning at the time to purify uranium.
The Post waits until the third paragraph:
A damaging cyberattack against Iran’s nuclear program was the work of U.S. and Israeli experts and proceeded under the secret orders of President Obama, who was eager to slow that nation’s apparent progress toward building an atomic bomb without launching a traditional military attack, say current and former U.S. officials.
The origins of the cyberweapon, which outside analysts dubbed Stuxnet after it was discovered in 2010, have long been debated, with most experts concluding that the United States and Israel likely collaborated on the effort. The current and former U.S. officials confirmed that long-standing suspicion Friday, after a New York Times report on the program.
The officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe the classified effort they code named Olympic Games, said that it was first developed during the administration of George W. Bush and was geared toward damaging Iran’s nuclear capability gradually while sowing confusion among Iranian scientists about the cause of mishaps.
This sounds a lot like the plan for Iraq, doesn’t it? George Bush signed the status-of-forces agreement with Maliki while Obama promised to accelerate our transition to within 16 months. Once Obama got into office, he simply defaulted to Bush’s plan while taking credit for “ending the war,” which he does to this day. In this case, the New York Times and Washington Post give Obama lead credit for an operation that Bush put in place, seemingly just because Obama didn’t bail out of it when something went wrong. That was a good decision by Obama, but shouldn’t the lead have mentioned the President who actually launched the operation, rather than the one who didn’t end it after it was already in process?
Most of us assumed Israel was involved, and that would have meant the US probably had some participation. I’m not sure how wise it is to take public ownership of the program at this point, although ambiguity would hardly keep Iran from retaliating against either country. This looks like a leak from the White House intending to give Obama some cover on the ongoing failure to deal effectively with the Iranian nuclear-weapon program.