Unfortunately, in early June, 2012 information leaked out from an as yet unnamed source regarding two top secret Bush era operations that President Obama had chosen to continue and expand during his administration.
There are two immediate results, so far from the leaks. First, a potential criminal investigation has been launched by the Justice Department on the President’s instructions. The goal is to determine who sprung the leak, and to take action against the person or persons.
The other result is the furor that has built up subsequent to the unauthorized disclosures. On the one hand, there have been hotly denied allegations that the White House itself intentionally provided the information to the New York Times reporter for political purposes – particularly to show how tough the President is on foreign policy. (NOTE: The Times story was referenced in SNAP-CAP #214 as a valuable tool in understanding the behind the scenes story of Obama’s decision making process regarding the drone war).
In response to this, the President bristled at a news conference, saying that such allegations were "offensive" and "wrong." When those reports "surface on the front page of a newspaper," he said, that "makes my job tougher." Worse, they "touch on critical issues of war and peace," he said, and people involved in the covert operations "may be in danger" as a result of those leaks.
The reader should be apprised of the following,
- Days before Obama's inauguration, Bush met with Obama and "urged him to preserve two classified programs, cyber code development (code name: "Olympic Games") and the drone program in Pakistan. Mr. Obama took Mr. Bush's advice."
- President Obama has since acknowledged both ongoing programs, but has never publically called for a cyber-attack on another country.
- “Two U.S. attorneys will lead a pair of criminal investigations already underway into possible unauthorized disclosures of classified information within the executive and legislative branches of government”, Attorney General Eric Holder said Friday, June 9th 2012.
- Consider that what follows is the essence of a large volume of recent "cyber news reporting", much of which is from unnamed (i.e. leaked) sources.
Iran’s nuclear program is one of the most polarizing issues in one of the world’s most volatile regions. 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 cyber weapons, according to participants in the program.
The President decided to accelerate the attacks. He was acutely aware that with every attack he was pushing the United States into new territory, much as Presidents Roosevelt and Truman had with the development and first use of atomic weapons in the 1940s, or our first use 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 cyber weapons — even under the most careful and limited circumstances — could enable other countries, terrorists or hackers to justify their own attacks.
“We discussed the irony, more than once,” one of his aides said. Another said that the administration was resistant to developing a “grand theory for a weapon whose possibilities they were still discovering.” Yet President Obama concluded that when it came to stopping Iran, the United States had no other good choice.
The best known of the cyber weapons was 'Stuxnet', a computer worm, or malicious computer program that turned up in industrial programs around the world in 2009. Stuxnet, which had been developed by the United States and Israel, appears to have wiped out nearly 1,000 of the 5,000 centrifuges Iran had spinning to purify uranium at the time.
In May of 2012, a new and massive, data-slurping cyber weapon circulated in the Middle East, and computers in Iran appear to have been particularly affected, according to a Russian Internet security firm. A data-mining virus called 'Flame' had penetrated the computers of high-ranking Iranian officials, sweeping up information from their machines.
In a message posted on its Web site, Iran’s Computer Emergency Response Team Coordination Center warned that the virus was potentially more harmful than Stuxnet, and appeared to be designed not to do damage but to secretly collect information from a wide variety of sources.
A United Nations agency charged with helping member nations secure their national infrastructures issued a sharp warning about the risk of the Flame virus. "This is the most serious (cyber) warning we have ever put out," said a spokesman for the U.N.'s Geneva-based International Telecommunications Union. The confidential message warned member nations that the Flame virus was a dangerous espionage tool that could potentially be used to attack critical infrastructure. Evidence suggested that the virus may have been built on behalf of the same nation or nations that commissioned the Stuxnet worm that attacked Iran's nuclear program in 2010.