When the Stuxnet worm started crippling power plants in Iran, the program was so advanced, it was obvious it didn’t come from script kiddies. Last year, it was more or less confirmed that Stuxnet was a joint project between the US and Israel and today the New York Times is reporting that it was ordered directly by Barack Obama.
There are wars that we know about, like the one in Afghanistan. And there are the ones we suspect, like the special forces operations taking part throughout the world. But it turns out there’s another war, an invisible one, with programmers wielding code as vigorously as soldiers do their M16s. It’s called operation Olympic Games, and it’s been waged against Iran for nearly a decade.
Olympic Games began under the Bush administration, in 2006, reports the NYT. That’s when a widely reported tour of Iran’s Natanz nuclear plant made White House officials anxious enough to consider military action. Stop uranium enrichment at all cost, was the part line. But bombs are messy, and lead to more and bigger bombs; not ideal for a region that’s already unstable.
An alternative presented itself:
The goal was to gain access to the Natanz plant’s industrial computer controls. That required leaping the electronic moat that cut the Natanz plant off from the Internet - called the air gap, because it physically separates the facility from the outside world. The computer code would invade the specialized computers that command the centrifuges.
A blockade, then, not of supplies but of information. Lines of code infiltrating high command positions. This is how we fight now.
The new weapon took time and resources to develop. US called on help from Israel (see the NYT for the full, fascinating story of the collaboration). It resurrected some old P-1 centrifuges it had confiscated when Qaddafi gave up his nuclear ambitions, testing the delicate Stuxnet worm on its outdated technology to make sure that it worked. And then it headed straight for the real thing.
While Stuxnet may not have been discovered until 2010, but it was first deployed in 2008, when Iran found that its centrifuges began “spinning out of control.” But how did it get there in the first place? Good old fashioned spies.
It’s long been known that the US has people on the ground, undercover, in Iran; a dozen were sadly captured last year. Armed with thumb drives, they pumped Natanz’s belly full of Stuxnet. It would wreak havoc with Iran’s nuclear ambition for years.
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