Obama’s Cyber-War on Iran

The United States, in collaboration with Israel, has undertaken an unprecedented cyber-warfare attack on Iran’s nuclear program, opening the door to a new dimension for international conflict and complicating negotiations with Iran, say Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett at www.RaceForIran.com.

By Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett

In May 2009, we published an op-ed in The New York Times, in which we argued that “President Obama’s Iran policy has, in all likelihood already failed”, largely because “Obama is backing away from the bold steps required to achieve strategic, Nixon-to-China type rapprochement with Tehran.” Indeed.

We wrote, “The Obama Administration has done nothing to cancel or repudiate an ostensibly covert but well-publicized program begun in George W. Bush’s second term, to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to destabilize the Islamic Republic. Under these circumstances, the Iranian government will continue to suspect that American intentions toward the Islamic Republic remain, ultimately, hostile.”

President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush (with First Lady Michelle Obama and former First Lady Laura Bush) walk to a White House event on May 31, 2012. Published reports indicate that Bush started a cyber-war campaign against Iran, which Obama has expanded. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

Now, in an article by David Sanger, “Obama Order Sped Up Wave of Cyberattacks Against Iran,” The New York Times informs that:

“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.”

The article goes on to describe multiple details about Stuxnet and the President’s decision-making as to its use. We, however, are most interested in the report for what it confirms about Obama’s approach to Iran, in particular, that Obama’s aggressiveness toward the Islamic Republic extended to a significant expansion of “America’s first sustained use of cyberweapons.”

Consider what Sanger writes about the motives for Obama’s decision-making in this regard:

“Mr. Obama, according to participants in the many Situation Room meetings on Olympic Games, was acutely aware that with every attack he was pushing the United States into new territory, much as his predecessors had with the first use of atomic weapons in the 1940s, 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 cyberweapons, 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 Mr. Obama concluded that when it came to stopping Iran, the United States had no other choice.

“If Olympic Games failed, he told aides, there would be no time for sanctions and diplomacy with Iran to work. Israel could carry out a conventional military attack, prompting a conflict that could spread throughout the region.”

The perceived imperative “to dissuade the Israelis from carrying out their own preemptive strike against the Iranian nuclear facilities” also reportedly motivated the Administration to have Israel “deeply involved in every aspect” of Olympic Games.

Two things strike us as significant here. First, our May 2009 analysis was right on the money. If anything, we may have underestimated the degree to which Obama was prepared to let half-baked schemes undermine any chance he might have had, at least in theory, to pursue serious diplomacy with Iran.

Obama apologists want us to believe that the President meant well on engaging Tehran, but that what they describe (with no evidence whatsoever) as the Islamic Republic’s “fraudulent” 2009 presidential election and the resulting “disarray” within the Iranian leadership stymied Obama’s benevolent efforts. This is utterly false.

Second, the Sanger article makes undeniably clear, if it were not sufficiently evident already, that the reason for the President’s hostility toward Iran has nothing to do with American security.

Rather, Obama’s aggressiveness, which carries with it a willingness to put significant long-term American interests at risk, is motivated by a perceived imperative to prevent the Israelis from doing something that they cannot credibly do in the first place: namely, strike and destroy Iran’s nuclear program.

Flynt Leverett served as a Middle East expert on George W. Bush’s National Security Council staff until the Iraq War and worked previously at the State Department and at the Central Intelligence Agency. Hillary Mann Leverett was the NSC expert on Iran and from 2001 to 2003  was one of only a few U.S. diplomats authorized to negotiate with the Iranians over Afghanistan, al-Qaeda and Iraq. [This article was originally published at RaceforIran.com.]

4 comments for “Obama’s Cyber-War on Iran

  1. Joseph A. Mungai
    June 6, 2012 at 00:35

    We gave the world another WMD making everyone less safe.

  2. Mike Lamb
    June 4, 2012 at 18:16

    Now, let me see, if what the United States is doing to Iran was being done by Iran to the United States it would be called a TERRORIST ATTACK and used to justify bombing Iran.

    So much for the “do on to others as you would have them do to you” crap.


  3. incontinent reader
    June 4, 2012 at 14:06

    I recall reading in Legacy of Ashes that the NSA and/or CIA under Reagan allowed the Soviets to steal technology whose programming resulted in the destruction of a Soviet pipeline, so this type of sabotage has been going on for years. However, the full consequences of a cyberwar, just like the consequences of drone warfare, biological warfare and nuclear war cannot be anticipated. Even now there have been allegations, albeit disputed, that the Stuxnet virus may have damaged the Siemans controllers in the Fukishima nuclear plant and contributed to the breakdown of the system.

    Re: the drone warfare program, drones are not so sophisticated that they cannot be duplicated, or improved upon and mass produced by other nations. For example, the Chinese, although they might not right now be motivated to do so for other than for defensive reasons, in the long term would be able to outdo us on anything we are manufacturing on a large scale and think we can get away with now; and what could be some of the big prize targets? Pipelines. The massive web of oil and gas, and water, pipelines that cannot ever be defended over the hundreds of thousands of miles that they extend, and the onshore and offshore wells and rigs, reservoirs, etc., or bridges, roads, etc. And who cares if a person is not allowed to photograph and index these; surveillance drones can do it- after all, we have already done it. This is all just too horrible to contemplate, and who has let the genie out of the bottle? No national security state or aggressive foreign policy will ever be successful in this regard- the John Brennans of our Government notwithstanding.

    So the question keeps coming back, why have our leaders not tried to seek diplomacy instead of war, two-way trade on a fair and equitable basis instead of imperialism, justice between peoples and nations, and peace on an all-inclusive basis that would assure universal prosperity and and thus remove the incentive from any but the few outliers and crackpots that might still seek to destroy the world for everyone else? The technology is so advanced that on a theoretical level all of this should be possible. Maybe, instead, it is the few crackpots (the one percent of the one percent) that are the ones right now calling the shots to keep the pot boiling in the hope of obtaining a universal hegemony that can never be sustained.

  4. Dan Huck
    June 2, 2012 at 15:37

    What we are apparently saying to the world is we no longer believe there is any reasonable cause to trust anyone; just as we accept that the Israelis spy on us, and they are our closest allies, we have determined there is a war against us in process, and, not just with the Iranians but with everyone, there is nothing off the table. American citizens are waking to this new reality that we may be among the perceived disloyal. The world is waking to an awareness that everything touched by this soullessness – whether it be our foreign policy, the drones and bombs we sell, our State Department, our movies, our TV, our cultural everything which we try so hard to export – are all booby-trapped!

    Just as under National Socialism, the wisdom of the past means nothing, whether it be Rabbi Hillel “Don’t do to others what you don’t want them to do to you”, or Confucius (or Lao Tse) “Not enough faith is lack of good faith”, or Jesus “(have) Faith, Hope, and Charity, and the greatest of these is Charity”, all of this is part of an old reality which apparently never was.

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