A USB memory stick carrying the Stuxnet malware is believed to have provided intruders with access to Iran's nuclear program. The same technique was used in November 2008 to break into CENTCOM, providing a foreign government with unfiltered access to the Pentagon's command of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Did both attacks come from the same source?
Earlier this week, Reuters reported:
Cyber warfare has quietly grown into a central pillar of Israel's strategic planning, with a new military intelligence unit set up to incorporate high-tech hacking tactics, Israeli security sources said on Tuesday.
Israel's pursuit of options for sabotaging the core computers of foes like Iran, along with mechanisms to protect its own sensitive systems, were unveiled last year by the military intelligence chief, Major-General Amos Yadlin.
The government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has since set cyber warfare as a national priority, "up there with missile shields and preparing the homefront to withstand a future missile war", a senior source said on condition of anonymity.
Back in 1997, when the US did not overtly support political assassinations, President Clinton intervened to save the life of Khalid Meshaal. The Hamas political bureau chief had been poisoned by Mossad operatives (carrying stolen Canadian passports) on the streets of Jordan's capital, Amman.
Clinton wasn't trying to help Hamas but knew that a peace treaty he had helped broker between Israel and Jordan would be in jeopardy if Prime Minister Netanyahu thought he could disregard the sovereignty of Jordan and carry out assassinations with impunity. Likewise, neither King Hussein nor the Canadian government believed that Israeli actions showing a flagrant disregard for the authority of their respective governments could go unanswered.
Netanyahu would probably have found Clinton's pressure unpersuasive were it not for the fact that the Israeli operatives had already been arrested. In exchange for their release, the Israelis supplied the antidote that saved Meshaal's life while also releasing the Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.
Then came 9/11.
Before long, Yassin had been assassinated, the US was using Israeli methods of torture in its campaign against an amorphous Islamic threat, Israel's own war crimes were sanctioned by the US in the name of the war on terrorism, and the use of stolen foreign passports by Mossad agents committing murder on foreign soil provoked nothing more than a diplomatic slap on the wrists.
When suspected Israeli agents were reported this week to be conducting surveillance on the NSA in Utah, the national security breach did not provoke a murmur in the national media -- even though a string of similar incidents prior to 9/11 raised questions about whether Israel could have had foreknowledge of the attacks.
The willingness of this and the previous administration to allow Israel to disregard international law shows that even if the Israel lobby can no longer flourish like a night flower, its power is barely diminished. Even so, the appearance of the Stuxnet malware should be a wake-up call to every government around the world that refuses to place Israel's national interests above its own.
In its conception, Stuxnet can be viewed very much like a targeted killing -- but one designed to attack silently and leave no trace of its origin.
It's creators understood that they had designed an exceedingly dangerous weapon and so they made sure its damage could be contained. But it seems not to have worked according to plan and so caution got tossed out of the window. Apparently, Israel did what it has done so many times before: pursued what it regarded as its own interests with an utter disregard for the international consequences.
The original infection method, which relied on infected USB drives, included a counter that limited the spread to just three PCs, said [Liam] O Murchu [operations manager with Symantec's security response]. "It's clear that the attackers did not want Stuxnet to spread very far," he said. "They wanted it to remain close to the original infection point."