Monday, June 4, 2012

Stuxnet...An Act of War Against Iran?

In 1935 102 cane toads were introduced in Eastern Australia as a tool to control the cane beetle, a local pest to sugar cane. Today there are over 200 million cane toads in Australia, which besides poisoning pets and humans as well as depleting native fauna has directly cost local governments hundreds of thousands of dollars to control, on top of the other economic losses caused by the introduced species. 1

This is not a story about toads though. This is a story about a virus the United States introduced to the internet which could have much greater consequences than some toads down under. This is a story about the United States authorizing acts of war against Iran over the enrichment of nuclear fuel.

On Friday The New York Times broke the news that several American and Israeli officials, who wished to have their identities not released, have stated that not only was the United States part of developing the Stuxnet virus which began targeting Iranian nuclear facilities in 2006 and later escaped into the greater web in 2010, but that top US officials including George W. Bush, Leon Panetta, and even President Barack Obama gave the project numerous green lights.2

The project, codenamed ‘Olympic Games’ would be brought into the Iranian enrichment facility by USB and infect the facility network, remaining clandestine for a period of time before acting and triggering the Iranian centrifuges to speed up and slow down, physically destroying them. The New York Times writes, “Obama, according to participants in the many Situation Room meetings on Olympic Games, was acutely aware that with every attack he was pushing the United States into new territory, much as his predecessors had with the first use of atomic weapons in the 1940s…when it came to stopping Iran, the United States had no other choice.” 2

Whether the nuclear enrichment facility was preparing the necessary components of nuclear warheads or if it was part of Iran’s developing nuclear energy infrastructure, there is one issue at hand: is the use of cyber force justifiable?

In relation to Stuxnet The New York Times feels that there was “no other choice,” that it was the only thing the United States could do. There are even some rumblings that some in the Obama administration feel that the use of hard power will improve the image of the President in relation to foreign policy as he heads toward November’s election.

I find this puzzling. The use of force against Iran, even if only cyber in nature, is the only thing that can be done? What about Hilary Clinton who, “Cited American-led sanctions, which have hurt Iran’s ability to buy components and do business around the world,”?3 Is our nation so off kilter that we have forgotten about soft power? Does Washington forget that the role of diplomats is not in handling blowback but rather in preventative diplomacy? Are U.S. officials so tied up in American exceptionalism, even in the current post-Bush era, that they truly believe they have the sovereignty to enforce the will of America anywhere in the globe?

Iranian efforts toward nuclear proliferation, whether for peaceful measures or an attempt to increase its own balance of hard power, are a threat. It might be a threat to the United States grand clockwork, and it could be an issue for Israeli security, but it is without a shadow of a doubt a threat to the development of a sustainable and just world based on peace and harmony. Before we worry about how this issue affects the United States and how the US administration ought to respond, maybe we as a nation should gather with other nations and address this issue. Iran is not just a potential threat to the United States, you, and I. From the children of Tehran to the cosmopolitans of Paris, we are all affected by nuclear proliferation equally. As we saw in the cold war, a unilateral response to a unilateral threat does not prevent, but rather exacerbates, a conflict, and as we have empirically seen, leads to greater levels of proliferation. In other words, militarism and posturing will not lead to peace. We as citizens of the world must urge our leaders and politicians toward peace and alternatives to force.

Here is the most troubling part of all of this though; on the May 27th episode of ABC’s This Week, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta stated, “Well, there’s no question that if a cyber attack, you know, crippled our power grid in this country, took down our financial systems, took down our government systems, that that would constitute an act of war.” 4

Kind of like how the United States utilized a cyber attack to cripple what Iran claims is part of its power grid in an action which also maintained extended financial and government costs? It seems clear to me that either Panetta believes the United States is above the law and can carry out actions such as Stuxnet not as an act of war but rather as a benevolent police action on behalf of the entire world, or the United States government has admittedly been engaging Iran in acts of war. Both options have disturbing implications which can no longer be accepted but the global populace or the media establishment.

Just like the cane toads, Stuxnet has spiraled out of control. Besides escaping from the Iranian facility and damaging computers across the internet while causing increasing blowback against United States interests, it seems to have done little to dampen the resolve of the Iranian establishment’s pursuit of nuclear enrichment while setting dangerous precedence for global international affairs. One can only hope that unlike in the case of Australia and the toads, the United States and its allies can shift their course of actions before prospects of peace become unobtainable.

1 Sanger “Killing Off the Cane Toad,” The University of Queensland.
2 Sanger, David, “Obama Order Sped Up Wave of Cyberattacks Against Iran,” ,” The New York Times. June 1, 2012.
3 Broad, Markoff, and Sanger, “Israeli Test on Worm Called Crucial in Iran Nuclear Delay,” The New York Times. June 1, 2012.
4 Tapper, Jake, “Has the U.S. Declared (Cyber) War on Iran?” ABC News. June 1, 2012.

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