U.S. President Barack Obama ordered the Stuxnet virus attack on Iran in 2010 as part of a wave of cyber sabotage and espionage against the would-be nuclear power, according to a new book citing senior Washington sources.
The New York Times cited excerpts from the book, which chronicles secret wars under the Obama administration, in a report on Friday.
It is entitled “Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power” and was written by David Sanger.
The Stuxnet virus, aimed at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, was designed to damage centrifuges by making covert adjustments to the machines controlling them.
It was part of a “wave” of digital attacks on Iran, codenamed “Olympic Games” and was created with the assistance of a secret Israeli intelligence unit, the book reportedly says.
The New York Times report confirms the suspicions of computer security experts who detected and forensically examined Stuxnet in 2010. They reasoned that the technical expertise and human intelligence sources needed to create and deliver the virus, described as the “world’s first cyberweapon”, pointed to a joint operation by American and Israeli agencies.
The experts reportedly discovered Stuxnet after a “programming error” that meant it spread beyond the computer network at Natanz. According to the account presented on Friday, Obama asked his national security advisers whether the attack should be halted at a White House Situation Room meeting convened days after the virus “escaped”, but decided to intensify it instead.
Commentators suggested that confirmation of American involvement in Stuxnet had been released by others to neutralize any Republican election claims that President Obama has been soft on Iran.
“Obama wanted to get credit for Stuxnet, as that makes him look tough against Iran,” said Mikko Hypponen, chief research officer at F-Secure, one of the security firms that have investigated Stuxnet. “And he needs that as Presidential elections are coming.”
The report comes several days after Iranian security experts reported that Flame, a virus far more dangerous than the Stuxnet worm, struck the country's computer systems.
The virus, described by the Kaspersky Internet security firm as the “most sophisticated cyber-weapon yet unleashed”, struck at least 600 specific computer systems in Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian Authority.
Iran later admitted that its oil industry was briefly affected by Flame, but claimed that Iranian experts had detected and defeated the virus.
It is not known who was behind the virus, but Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon appeared to hint in a radio interview Tuesday that Israel is behind the malware.
Asked about the attack, Ya'alon told IDF Radio: “Whoever sees the Iranian threat as a meaningful threat – it is reasonable he would take various measures, including this one.”
“Israel has been blessed with being a state rich in top level high-tech. These tools that we take pride in open up various possibilities for us,” he added.
The semi-official Iranian news agency Fars seized upon Ya’alon's statements as proof that Israel engineered the Flame virus.
“The Vice Prime Minister of the Zionist regime admitted the role of the regime in creating the virus Flame for cyber espionage in the Middle East, and especially in Iran,” Fars stated. "Moshe Ya’alon's statements today are an additional confirmation of Israel's role in developing the malicious program.”
(Arutz Sheva’s North American Desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)