In May 2011, President Obama and his administration published a seemingly-attractive and ethical report of America’s strategy for Cyberspace, calling for tighter measures for cyber protection, security, freedom and openness. Fine words used to depict morality and ethics in global internet society! But, did Obama really mean what this report emphasized upon?
“Today, as nations and people harness the networks that are all around us, we have a choice. We can either work together to realise their potential for greater prosperity and security, or we can succumb to narrow interests and undue fears that limit progress. Cybersecurity is not an end unto itself; it is instead an obligation that our governments and societies must take on willingly, to ensure that innovation continues to flourish, drive markets, and improve lives” said the report.
Carrying on, Obama wrote, “The digital world is no longer the province of small elite. It is a place where the norms of responsible, just, and peaceful conduct among states and peoples have begun to take hold. It is one of the finest examples of a community self-organising, as civil society, academia, the private sector, and governments work together democratically to ensure its effective management.”
Fair enough, these lines are self explanatory and clearly indicate that Obama would have thought of implanting a uniform code of conduct in order to stand by his words. But something was missing! Something the world was unaware of, something that could wreck havoc in the cyber world. Yes, it was the implicit cyber war that the US and Israel had initiated against Iran, totally going against the codes of the published report.
Within a few months of taking over the presidency, Obama decided to accelerate the cyber warfare that was targeted towards Iranian nuclear facilities. The cyber programme, named Olympic Games, started in Bush administration, got an acceleration call from Mr. Obama but accidentally became public through an error in 2010, when it leaked to internet by mistake through an Iranian official’s laptop. The malware in use for dismantling the nuclear centrifuges is now commonly known as Stuxnet.
In a leaked reported quoted by David Sanger (for New York Times), it was stated that soon after the escape of Stuxnet, an emergency meeting was called at the White House by President Obama that included the Vice President Joe Biden and then CIA Chief, Leon Panetta. Mr. Obama asked where the cyber programme should be halted or not, but with assurance that the Iranians know little about it, he decided to carry on with the project.
A former Israeli government official told the Guardian that just as it was confirmed that Flame, another highly sophisticated cyber worm, was prepared by US security experts with the help of Israeli army engineers, Stuxnet also, more or less, comes from the same origin.
Just a few weeks later of the Virus’s international exposure, there was a heavy attack on Tehran’s centrifuges and to US and Israel’s success, 1000 out of the total 5000 centrifuges ceased to function, though the threat was later neutralized by Iranian experts. Variants of Flame and Stuxnet were successful in wiping out hard drives from computers of senior Iranian officials coupled with an Iranian Oil firm that led to suspension of various oil terminals in the country.
It still remains a point of debate as if Tehran is actively pursuing its Nuclear Weapons ambitions as many intelligence reports found out in 2003 that the major nuclear weapons programmes were abandoned by Tehran. It that is held to be true, then the million or even billions of dollars spent by the US administration for this cyber warfare make no sense.
The revelations made by Sanger undermine that fact that America’s claims of protecting the cyber freedom hold no credibility as if these malwares go publicly in the wild, they take with them the risk of dismantling major industrial and technical infrastructures. With the leak of information related to Flame and Stuxnet, attacking Iranian nuclear facilities, the questions arise as if the US and its allies are at all serious in solving the nuclear impasse with Tehran?