The Stuxnet Worm Turns

In 2010, a computer virus now known as Stuxnet went out of control. Originally created to infect and disable Iranian nuclear plants, Stuxnet, in concert with another malicious program called Flame, went—as you might expect almost any virus to do—out of control, in fact it went crazy.

It infected, for example, Chevron, a Fortune 500 company that only admitted contracting the Stuxnet infection in November, although for over two years it kept the devastating intrusion a secret. Around the same time as the Chevron assault, published reports by Symantec, the software security giant, indicated that not simply Iran, but Indonesia and India also found their systems infected: in all, some 15,000 unintended consequences.

One month after those reports, a British newspaper speculated (correctly) that perhaps both the US and Israel were responsible for creating the worm in order the disable Iranian plants. It was not a stretch. After all, more than 60 percent of the infected computers were in Iran. However, as one security expert told the Guardian: “There’s every possibility that the [other countries affected] may have been collateral damage.”

In other words, the worm had turned. And everyone with access to a newspaper or a news program knew this because the worm was uncontainable—only the US and Israel apparently hadn’t foreseen that possibility. The world, everyone swiftly realized, had entered a new stage in which malware was no longer merely a tool for Internet theft from the occasional bank or stock brokerage. It was a weapon of sovereign nations intent on dismantling or delaying the development of weapons in other sovereign nations—an undeclared war that the US and Israel hoped, absurdly, to keep invisible.

However, for some time now, the US has unilaterally decided the world has no right to know what it already knows. The Obama administration has out-Nixoned Richard Nixon, de-Jeffersoned the Constitution, plaguing government officials on their contacts with journalists and attempting to do the same to some journalists who may have met with officials. The anti-torture whistleblower John Kiriakou has been sentenced to more than two years in prison, ostensibly for disclosing the identity of an undercover CIA colleague—but most likely because he was … an anti-torture whistleblower. Another former CIA officer was charged with leaking information about Stuxnet to New York Times reporter James Risen. And Risen, in turn, was subpoenaed by federal prosecutors, who are trying (thus far in vain) to force him to talk. In fact, as we now know, federal officials secretly gathered Risen’s phone and credit card records.

However, at the same time that the US is prosecuting officials and hounding reporters, some Israeli intelligence officials have boasted about their participation in Stuxnet’s creation. In June, Mossad agents, speaking anonymously to Haaretz senior correspondent Yossi Melman, insisted that it was Israel and not the US that developed Stuxnet, and Obama and his people were simply trying to grab all the credit. “Israeli officials actually told me … it was Israeli intelligence that began … a cyberspace campaign to damage and slow down Iran’s nuclear intentions,” Melman wrote on his website. “And only later they managed to convince the USA to consider a joint operation.”

So ask yourself this: How effective will the US be at controlling the world’s press? Let’s forget the First Amendment to the US Constitution. Can America muzzle Melman? The Mossad? Haaretz or the Guardian? Can it, for that matter, even with the assistance of its spy agencies, necessarily figure out who in government is saying what to the New York Times?

Back in 2006, US federal judge Robert D. Sacks, in a case that involved the New York Times, interestingly enough, wondered in a written dissent whether all this government harassment might simply lead to cleverer methods of eluding it in the future: “Reporters might find themselves, as a matter of practical necessity, contacting sources the way I understand drug dealers to reach theirs—by use of clandestine cell phones and meeting in darkened doorways.”

They might indeed. As good a time as any to invest in those throw-away cell phones, in my opinion.


Photo Credit: Hamed Saber

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