Do Americans “Need to Know” We’ve All But Declared War on Iran?

While lawmakers work themselves up into a tizzy that the White House might be leaking classified information to make President Barack Obama look good (and wouldn’t it just be the living end if true, given Obama’s habit of prosecuting leakers?), Sen. John Kerry asks whether it’s appropriate for the media to actually let the public know what’s going on. Via Politico:

Sen. John Kerry on Wednesday questioned whether The New York Times should have published explosive stories last week about President Obama ordering cyberattacks against Iran’s nuclear program.  

“I personally think there is a serious question whether or not that served our interest and whether the public had to know,” Kerry, the Foreign Relations Committee chairman, told reporters. “To me it was such a nitty-gritty fundamental national security issue. And I don’t see how the public interest is well served by it. I do see how other interests outside the United States are well served by it.” …

Earlier, Kerry said he was “disturbed” by the leaking of classified information cited in the Times story, saying it endangers U.S. national security and “begs retaliation” from America’s enemies. The chairman said he couldn’t understand how an American citizen could leak classified information that could potentially put the country at risk.

It’s not the act itself that “begs retaliation,” you see, it’s the reporting of it. The fact that there could be blowback for targeting a foreign nation’s nuclear program with a computer virus doesn’t mean you possibly shouldn’t do it. It means you should make sure you don’t tell your own public. After all, how would Iran ever conclude that the United States and Israel could be working together to design a virus to shut down their nuclear ambitions? Anybody could be the culprit! Anybody at all! They would never have figured it out had The New York Times kept their big traps shut.

Or, perhaps, they might have gotten a clue from this 2010 story from The Guardian that suggests Israel was responsible for it and that Stuxnet was pretty obviously designed to target Iran. Or maybe this story from Forbes.com from 2010 that talks about the suspicions and various theories that the United States and Israel were the sources of the virus.  Or perhaps this lengthy Vanity Fair investigative report from from last year that says, “[T]here is vanishingly little doubt that the United States played a role in creating the worm.” The fact is, The New York Times story merely revealed the truth that anybody who followed computer security news already suspected, and Iran doesn't seem like the kind of nation that needs a metaphorical smoking gun before casting blame.

More to the point, launching the virus itself could ultimately give Iran (or others, because Stuxnet, like every other government venture, immediately got out of hand and ended up in places where it wasn’t meant to be) the tools to bring about that blowback Kerry is so worried about.  Via The Christian Science Monitor:

Although Stuxnet is estimated to have eventually destroyed as many as 1,000 high-speed Iranian gas centrifuges designed to enrich uranium, its importance was far larger than that, [German cybersecurity expert Ralph] Langner warned. It demonstrated that a cyberweapon could physically destroy critical infrastructure, and that process could also work in reverse. 

"One important difference between a cyber offensive weapon and some kind of advanced bomb, for example, is that when the bomb blows up you can't examine or reverse-engineer it," says Joel Brenner, a former national counterintelligence executive in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

"Once you find the malware, on the other hand, once you find the code, you can see how it was done," he says. "So we are going to see more operations of this kind – and the US's critical infrastructure is undoubtedly going to be targeted. I still don't think that the owners and operators of most of that infrastructure understand the gravity of this threat."

The possibility that Stuxnet could come back to haunt us does seem to meet a certain "need to know" threshold. The New York Times Managing Editor Dean Baquet responded to Kerry via Politico:

"Our job is to report issues in the public interest, and this piece certainly meets that standard," Dean Baquet, the Times managing editor, said in a statement to POLITICO. "As always with sensitive stories, we described the piece to the government before publication. No one suggested we not publish. There was a request to omit some highly technical details. We complied with the request after concluding it was not a significant part of the piece."

 Well, that ought to add more ammo to those who believe the White House is actually causing the leaks.

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  • Pro Libertate||

    No formal declarations of war, and presidents can order attacks of all sorts without any public knowledge, let alone permission.

    What legitimate purpose does this serve?

  • Hugh Akston||

    It's legitimate because the government does it. Try to keep up.

  • Pro Libertate||

    We need an anti-government, living outside of the government, with the sole power of stopping government actions and removing government officials. Because these fuckers can't be trusted even a teensie bit.

    Where's Congress? Where's the Court? Fuck!

  • Paul.||

    We need an anti-government, living outside of the government, with the sole power of stopping government actions

    Paul Krugman calls that "libertarianism".

  • Hugh Akston||

    Where's Congress? Where's the Court? Fuck!

    Congress is quoted in the post as being very disappointed that the NYT would be so irresponsible as to print stories about what the government is doing.

    The courts are too busy issuing secret warrants and super-secretly interpreting laws that no one is allowed to read.

  • Pro Libertate||

    DISAPPOINTED!

  • wareagle||

    where does Congress think the NYT got the material for its stories? Please.

  • mr simple||

    Where's Congress? Where's the Court? Fuck!

    I'm sure they were at the meetings and making sure it got funded.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    We need an anti-government, living outside of the government, with the sole power of stopping government actions and removing government officials.

    According to Jefferson, that was supposed to be We, the People, as a populace with a right to bear arms.

    Fat load of good that did us.

  • ||

    Jefferson's key mistake was assuming that a majority of people wouldn't trade being well-kept pets in exchange for their freedom and money.

    He was very, very wrong.

  • Entropy Void||

    According to another Jefferson (that would be Davis), that was supposed to be the CSA , see how wonderful that worked out ...

  • DEG||

    Bureau of Sabotage maybe?

  • Marshall Gill||

    We need an anti-government, living outside of the government, with the sole power of stopping government actions and removing government officials.

    The Bureau of Sabotage?

  • Marshall Gill||

    Dammit! I hate it when I don't read all the way down. No, wait, it was the squirrelz!

  • Xenocles||

    It's legitimate because the government Obama does it.

    Just call me the handyman.

  • ||

    Fucking with other countries serves the legitimate purpose of hardening many warboners and giving all the people employed to fuck with other countries something to do.

    Do you understand now, ProL?

  • Pro Libertate||

    Oh, I see. It's so they'll all feel good about themselves. It's about empowering people.

    Objection withdrawn!

  • Pi Guy||

    I feel more powerful already. Thx, Epi!

  • Almanian's Evil Twin||

    USA! USA! USA!

  • Paul.||

    Wearing the veil makes you free by keeping the prying male gaze off of your feminine form.

  • Hugh Akston||

  • ||

    You NutraSweeted the link, Hugh, but I fixed it for you.

    That looks funny. I can't listen to it now at work, but I will later.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Thanks, I can only assume the guy with the octomullet is Warty.

  • ||

    You assume correctly. Also, that video sounds just like what goes through my head when I read one of your comments.

  • Hugh Akston||

    So you're saying that the Obama Administration created the Legacy virus?

  • Scott S.||

    No, no: The Legacy virus was Bush I, but launched by Bush II. The name is the hint!

  • Paul.||

    It demonstrated that a cyberweapon could physically destroy critical infrastructure,

    If you build your network in that way, yes, yes it can.

    Of course I was right there on the front lines in the late 80s and early 90s telling people they couldn't get viruses by reading their email.

    Then Microsoft overheard me and said, "You know what would be boss, write an Email client which will execute code... in the email"

    The rest was history.

  • Hugh Akston||

    They might have gotten a clue from this 2010 story from The Guardian that suggests Israel was responsible for it and that Stuxnet was pretty obviously designed to target Iran. Or maybe this story from Forbes.com from 2010 that talks about the suspicions and various theories that the United States and Israel were the sources of the virus. Or perhaps this lengthy Vanity Fair investigative report from from last year that says, "[T]here is vanishingly little doubt that the United States played a role in creating the worm."

    Can anyone think or a reason that Iran might want to develop a nuclear weapon?

  • Bill||

    Because they hate us for our freedoms? And they don't like fat people?

  • ||

    Obviously the secret to get them to like us would be to take away our freedoms and force us into becoming skinny.

    I wonder when our government is going to get around to doing that.

  • Sudden||

    Michael Bloomberg is going to win the GWoT single-handedly then.

  • pmains||

    Bill, you're confusing Iran with Michelle Obama.

  • Xenocles||

    After 9/11 they kept saying they hate us for our freedoms, and I believed them. These days I've come to realize that they were actually laying the groundwork for their strategy to fight terrorism. After all, if we give up enough of our freedoms, maybe they won't hate us anymore.

  • lightning||

    According to most Republicans it is because they are re-building the Persian empire, plan on re-creating the crusades, thus bringing about the 12 Imam so that Allah can reign in glory here forever. Or so I have heard.

  • Xenocles||

    You forgot the part about how we have to prevent that so Jesus can come back to a Jewish Israel.

  • juris imprudent||

    It takes a religious nut to understand religious nuts?

  • Dan Bongard||

    I can think of several.

    Ask me if I can think of a reason for wanting them to develop a nuclear weapon, though, and I draw a blank.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Hey, does anyone remember a few years ago there was that country that everyone was super sure had weapons of mass destruction? Wasn't that Iran? No. It was close to that, though. Ira-something.

    What ever happened with that?

  • ||

    Procedures were followed. Nothing else happened.

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    All I remember are the ticker tape parades.

  • ||

    MISSION ACCOMPLISHED

  • ||

    I remember delirious Iraqis dancing in the streets with joy to see our victorious Marines marching into Baghdad. Or at least that's what I remember being told to remember.

  • 0x90||

    "I personally think there is a serious question whether or not that served our interest and whether the public had to know," Kerry, the Foreign Relations Committee chairman, told reporters. "To me it was such a nitty-gritty fundamental national security issue. And I don’t see how the public interest is well served by it. I do see how other interests outside the United States are well served by it."

    So, I assume we know, then, how a president Kerry, now nearing the end of his second term, would have handled this stuff. And in that case, we would now be looking at: Romney vs. Edwards? Talk about your reversals of fortune -- guy was supposed to be the next coming of JFK or something.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Every time a news story refers to him AS John F. Kerry, the nation dies a little inside.

  • wareagle||

    Kerry's using the oldest defense imaginable - blame the messenger, as if the NYT conjured up the information on its own with absolutely no cooperation from the administration. Bullshit. Look what's happening.

    Folks are navel-gazing and hand-ringing over some perceived leak, being implicitly reminded of King Obie I's foreign policy adventures. Nice distraction. Meanwhile back home...unemployment, problem; debt, growing problem; another war?, no problem.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    And I don’t see how the public interest is well served by it.

    The public is best served when it knows how its agent (the government) is acting in its name.

  • Archduke PantsFan||

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    I hate the spam filter

  • ||

    Could Kerry be doing this specifically to deflect blame from the Big O? As in, "Well gosh, a prominent democrat is upset by this, so presumably it isn't being leaked by fellow prominent democrats."

  • wareagle||

    only if you believe in misdirection. Kerry knows where the info came from; not like the NYT did the stories without cooperation from inside.

  • ||

    ONE MORE WAR!
    ONE MORE WAR!
    USA!
    USA!

  • ||

    Look, if you go to war with Iran and then with Pakistan, it's just one war. You've just enlarged the boundaries. And hey, since we've already conquered Iraq, then pulling Syria into the mix still doesn't violate anyone's airspace.

    The Crusades II, US Boogaloo.

  • ||

    Well, I mean, libertarians don't believe in national boundaries, do we? So I guess there's only one war.

  • Almanian's Evil Twin||

    I SAID USA!!! USA!!! USA!!!1ONEELEVENTY!!1

  • Almanian's Evil Twin||

    USA! USA! USA!

  • Almanian's Evil Twin||

    TWO!
    FOUR!
    SIX!
    EIGHT!
    WHO DO WE APPRECIATE?!
    THE WARTIME!
    THE WARTIME!
    TEN!
    TWELVE!
    FOURTEEN!
    SIXTEEN!
    WHO BE BLOWIN' UP YOUR KIDS?!
    THE WARTIME!
    THE WARTIME!

  • mr simple||

    It's cool, if someone tries any US computer systems we just need someone to hack away at the keyboard furiously to isolate the node and dump it into an image of the hard drive while rerouting the subroutines and create a GUI interface to ping the IP while windows open and close and scroll random code. Or something. I saw it on TV.

  • Hugh Akston||

    While getting a blowjob. Don't forget that part.

  • ||

    That's the exact point that I turned that piece of shit off.

  • Hugh Akston||

    So you didn't get to see the John Travolta foreign policy declaration?

  • ||

    No, the "let's show a completely moronic concept (speed hacking) and compound the stupidity with testing his 'skills' by having him be distracted by a surprise hummer" kind of made me scramble for the remote.

  • Hugh Akston||

    It's not that stupid. My last job interview involved proofreading a four page brochure while getting a Cleveland Steamer.

  • Dovahkiin||

  • Sudden||

    That Hackerman fellow seems like a pleasant chap.

  • Xenocles||

    I talked to his cousin the other day. It must run in the family.

  • gulo gulo||

    "Once you find the malware, on the other hand, once you find the code, you can see how it was done," he says.

    Not really. A sophisticated enemy could use a custom compiler/language combination and obfuscation code specifically designed to hide how the malware functions.

    If it were a nation state? I have no doubt they could do a good enough job to hide the code's inner workings indefinitely.

  • Michael S. Langston||

    Without question.

    Additionally, the malware in this case was written for very specific system, in this case (I believe) a windows based system with special aps built to control various nuclear facility micro-controllers, which in turns does whatever, open/close valves for instance.

    This is all very specific, and even if one could reverse engineer the code, it's not all that helpful when trying to build a virus to attack a different vulnerability, within a different framework, running different applications, with different control systems.

    They make it sound here as though by merely creating the virus, we also created a hack tool which they will use to be able to create other viruses for other systems.

    As if by doing this one act, we gave them so much technology, that know they can use script kiddies to bring down the entire US infrastructure.

    It's the new meth.... One use.... And it's all down hill from there.

  • TheZeitgeist||

    Well said.

  • Jerry on the road||

    Not if you have simple CPU debug access.

  • gulo gulo||

    Not if you have simple CPU debug access

    Changes nothing in regards to my statement.

    Was your post supposed to be sarcasm? Did I miss the tag?

    I ask because your response is like the stuff in the comic upthread, a meaningless pseudo-technical statement that only really speaks to your ignorance of the subject.

    Am I not getting your joke?

  • General Butt Naked||

    No he's right.

    Someone with administrative privileges could gain access to the central memory kernel, do a CPU debug, ping the ip address, reroute the internal/external traffic, and perform a full spectrum worm scan and that would do it.

    Bada-bing, bada-boom your centrifuges are purrin' like kittens.

  • gulo gulo||

    7/10

    A few "cache" references and something about RAM would have put you on the podium. Mentioning a chip stretcher would have been a gold.

    Still, not bad.

  • TheZeitgeist||

    Stuxnet hung out in controller cache and wrote to addresses in between timed pings from the Siemens controller - it was writing to local addresses (each centrifuge), once it was on-boarded on the local microcontroller for the 'fuge motor, no more IP traffic was ever needed.

    Matter of fact, as best I understood, the Stuxnet worm was exact memory footprint and address space of the excess leak as understood by the controller but the actual code was smaller - hence the Hebrew biblio comments etc. to do nothing else than fill the bytes up right - and also why Stuxnet was so comparatively big, a lot of 'junk DNA' you could say was needed. I could be wrong, but that's what I thought the M.O. was for Stux.

  • Sevo||

    “I personally think there is a serious question whether or not that served our interest and whether the public had to know,”

    OK, I'm gonna lose whatever cred I have here.
    War (let's be specific) includes killing people, like, oh Obama's choosing 'that guy over there' to be hit by a missile from a drone. Or LBJ's lies about Tonkin Gulf.
    This is far closer to the 'reading other gentlemen's mail'; no one died and there's a chance it might keep a whacko government from getting nukes.
    Let's hear where I'm missing the point; I got thick skin.

  • Enjoy Every Sandwich||

    This is far closer to the 'reading other gentlemen's mail';

    I would say that it's rather more like 'sabotage'. I confess I do not know if that is usually regarded as an act of war; I do know that acts which don't kill anyone can be regarded as acts of war (e.g. blockades).

    There is no doubt in my mind that our "leaders"--and some of our right-wing friends here--would loudly screech that it is an act of war if the actors had been reversed.

  • Sevo||

    OT, but what the hell:
    "Nancy Pelosi concedes health care law unpopular"
    But, of course, that's because, like her, they have no idea about the benefits!
    http://blog.sfgate.com/nov05el.....unpopular/

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Is that comic book cover telling me that Phantom Limb is gay?

  • howardtlewisiii||

    Every so often we need to see our diving swan 'Cash and Carry' the congressman in full prancing and pouting. Carry is proof that too much inbreeding and privilege is not a good thing. He dove at the cocaine/CIA hearings. He dove in the 2004 election. And now he dives, trying to hide the fact that the U.S. prancing congressional mewling poodles trying to be the genetic slag of humanity are stupid enough to radiate us all and attack a totally peaceful nation that has not attacked outside its borders in 200 years or more. What a twink. What a bunch of sissy boys in need of a legal asskicking. They need prison for 20 to life for even conspiring to attack Iran.

  • ||

    Of course we need to know if we're trying to pwn Iran's nuke program via cyber war. Because. Well not sure, but because. All this "openness and transparency" is all very well and good but sometimes, and I'm ready for a shitstorm, some things should remain private. And how people who obsess about openness demand that private citizens be open seems like a contradiction. Are private citizens at least allowed privacy if not agencies trying to stop a bunch a religious whackjobs awaiting Armageddon trying to make the instruments to bring it on?

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