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News | Report: Obama Intensified Cyberwar against Iran Nuclear Program

01 Jun 2012 14:00Comments

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CyberWarNodboy.jpg2 p.m. IRDT, 12 Khordad/June 1 In a Friday New York Times article adapted from his forthcoming book, Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power, David E. Sanger reports on how President Barack Obama accelerated a campaign of cyberweapon attacks on Iran's nuclear program that was initiated under his predecessor. According to the article,
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. [...]

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 In the following weeks, the Natanz plant was hit by a newer version of the computer worm, and then another after that.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. [...]

[O]fficials 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.

The revelations about the emphasis placed by the White House on expanding and enhancing its cyberwarfare capabilities in responding to the perceived threat of Iran's nuclear program echo a report from earlier this week. For the Washington Post, Ellen Nakashima detailed the Pentagon's launch of a five-year, $110 million public-private research program, dubbed Plan X, that is focused on innovative technologies in the field of cyberwarfare. According to the report's description of Plan X,

Among the goals will be the creation of an advanced map that details the entirety of cyberspace -- a global domain that includestens of billions of computers and other devices -- and updates itself continuously. Such a map would help commanders identify targets and disable them using computer code delivered through the Internet or other means.

Another goal is the creation of a robust operating system capable of launching attacks and surviving counterattacks. Officials say this would be the cyberspace equivalent of an armored tank; they compare existing computer operating systems to sport-utility vehicles -- well suited to peaceful highways but too vulnerable to work on battlefields.

The architects of Plan X also hope to develop systems that could give commanders the ability to carry out speed-of-light attacks and counterattacks using preplanned scenarios that do not involve human operators manually typing in code -- a process considered much too slow.

Copyright © 2012

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