Political Animal


January 27, 2013 1:05 PM The trouble with the Stuxnet leak investigation

By Samuel Knight

As I mentioned in this morning’s news round-up, the Justice Department has stepped up its search for the source of the Stuxnet New York Times leak.

In the summer of 2010, it was widely reported that the virus was somehow unleashed upon Iran’s main uranium enrichment facility. And in June of last year, the Times, citing inside sources, reported that the Obama administration ordered the attack, and then ordered its intensification after Stuxnet accidentally spread around the world — the reason news of the U.S.-Israeli made worm went public in 2010 in the first place.

Now, the Washington Post is reporting that FBI and DOJ officials are pursuing a number of possible culprits for the leak “at pretty high levels, too.”

This whole affair - from head to toe - is rather worrisome for a number of reasons.

Whether this leak originated because the Obama administration wanted to boast of the attack, or whether the information was passed on to the Times by an official worried about our foreign policy, it’s a win for democracy any time the public gains insight into the government’s activities. It’s particularly important for Americans to know what our government’s Iran policy is because there is scant evidence that the Iranian government is actually pursuing nuclear weapons.

The urgent need for public oversight of this policy is magnified when considering that in 2011, the Pentagon declared that a cyber attack could be considered as a casus belli. Yet not only did the executive branch unilaterally launch an attack against critical Iranian infrastructure that, by its own standards, amounts to a declaration of war, but “a programming error,” according to the Times, caused the de facto war declaration “to escape Iran’s Natanz plant and sent it around the world on the Internet.”

Regardless of how and why the story was leaked, it’s important that the American people know about it.

But does the Obama administration contemplate its own policy? No. It investigates those who talk about it. As Glenn Greenwald pointed out today (and has discussed at length in the past), the Obama administration has charged more whistleblowers under criminal statutes than all other administrations combined. A President who once declared the Iraq War to be a grave mistake and that his would be the most transparent administration in history declares that ignorance is strength as his administration plays a dangerous game with Iran.

Samuel Knight is a freelance journalist living in DC and a former intern at the Washington Monthly.


  • c u n d gulag on January 27, 2013 3:20 PM:

    There are a lot of things about President Obama that I love/like.

    Drone-strikes, and the way he treats whistle-blowers, ain't any of 'em.

    On the other hand, if anyone was expecting our first African-American President, and a Democrat to boot, to be some sort of forgiving and transparent dove, they're delusional.

  • zandru on January 27, 2013 3:31 PM:

    Long ago, when the internal story of STUXnet was first reported (NYT?), it was said that this was a US operation that Israel demanded to be let in on, and also participate in.

    In that report, Americans working on the project complained to the reporter about the coding carelessness and public bragging that the Israeli programmers had been doing, and were of the opinion that this was where the leaks came from, and the "escape" of the malware into the wider computing world, where now everyone gets to use it and make modifications.

    If this is the case, the "investigation" will find no one. Or - let's be optimistic for a change - this may be another challenge to "Bee-Bee" Netanyahoo's smug assumptions that he's the tail wagging the United States of America. First, Chuck Hagel. Next, the STUXnet leaks?

  • dweb on January 27, 2013 6:18 PM:

    When it comes to National Security, practitioners never want to be accused of a sufficient lack of paranoia in case the s...t hits the fan. They'll always try and do as much as they can get away with. The only consequences and most likely years later, will be a court slap on the wrist saying....you shouldn't have done that. Yes it may impact the lives of real people, but hey...we're talking paranoia....the kind of paranoia that keeps members of Congress from allowing the shutdown of Guantanamo because.....well just because.....something might happen and they sure as hell don't want to be accused if it did.

  • J on January 27, 2013 8:14 PM:

    I wouldn't rely on an Iranian spokesperson as a source on no evidence of a nuclear weapons program, even if he writes a WSJ article. Finding an unquestionably objective source is very difficult. Here's an analysis by the Congress Research Service worth reading: http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/nuke/RL34544.pdf

    A summary of the conclusion of the report:

    "The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) monitors Iranís nuclear facilities and has been
    able to verify that Tehranís declared nuclear facilities and materials have not been diverted for
    military purposes. But the agency still has concerns about the program, particularly evidence that
    Iran may have conducted procurement activities and research directly applicable to nuclear
    weapons development. The United States has assessed that Tehran has the technical capability
    eventually to produce nuclear weapons, but has not yet mastered all of the necessary technologies
    for building such weapons. Whether Iran has a viable design for a nuclear weapon is unclear."

  • benjoya on January 27, 2013 10:34 PM:

    J, you think that could be a little more qualified? maybe you've got a NIE you could point to? didn't think so.