Heat Without Light
High-level leaks about the Flame virus tell us more about politics than policy
Another day, another leak about a classified national security program. Gosh, it’s enough to make a person think that someone’s doing this intentionally!
The Washington Post reports that the United States and Israel co-developed the so-called Flame virus (Kaspersky Labs, the major Russian security firm, gave it that name), which has superseded Stuxnet as the latest “face” of cyberwarfare. Flame, which has some code in common with Stuxnet and was apparently developed five years ago (making it the older of the two), is extraordinarily complex. It can “activate computer microphones and cameras, log keyboard strokes, take screen shots, extract geolocation data from images, and send and receive commands and data through Bluetooth wireless technology.” It replicates and spreads itself across networks and hides as an anodyne-looking software update.
The article should be taken with some skepticism, if only because, since this is based on leaked classified information and off-the-record interviews with national security officials, the U.S. government, and the Obama administration, are hoping to push a particular narrative. Knowing that they can’t deny Flame’s existence, the administration has decided, as they did with Stuxnet, to take credit for it. Moreover, they wish to show that the U.S. and Israel are partners and that the Obama administration will pursue shadowy, nondiplomatic means to thwart Iran’s nuclear program. (Those programmers are tough!)
“This is about preparing the battlefield for another type of covert action,” said one former high-ranking U.S. intelligence official, who added that Flame and Stuxnet were elements of a broader assault that continues today. “Cyber-collection against the Iranian program is way further down the road than this.”
Whether this is true, we can’t really know—at least not until the next Kaspersky Labs report or the next controlled leak. Still, it’s fair to assume, based on what we’ve learned about Stuxnet and Flame, and about the resources being devoted to cyberwarfare by the NSA, CIA, Mossad, and related entities, that this isn’t the end of the line for Western cyber-espionage against Iran.
Even so, one would think that the Obama administration isn’t happy that the Iranians discovered this sophisticated, resource-intensive piece of malware, even if there are other such weapons in reserve. And reading between the lines of the Post’s report, you can detect some notes of displeasure. For example, the article claims that Flame was discovered by Iran based on a series of attacks against the oil industry that Israel directed without consulting their American partners. This fits the traditional narrative that the Americans and Israelis are enthusiastic partners, but the Israelis tend to go off the reservation and do things without telling their Yankee friends.
All of this makes for a fascinating installment in the sub-Ludlum tale that is American-Israeli cyber-espionage. And for America’s politicians—who care more about apportioning credit and blame than most anything else—this latest report will surely feed into the nascent investigation into classified leaks, rather than cause any concerted debate over the consequences of this still untested form of warfare.
Alice Walker will not allow Hebrew translation of The Color Purple
Daily rate: $2
Monthly rate: $18
Yearly rate: $180
WAIT, WHY DO I HAVE TO PAY TO COMMENT?
Tablet is committed to bringing you the best, smartest, most enlightening and entertaining reporting and writing on Jewish life, all free of charge. We take pride in our community of readers, and are thrilled that you choose to engage with us in a way that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. But the Internet, for all of its wonders, poses challenges to civilized and constructive discussion, allowing vocal—and, often, anonymous—minorities to drag it down with invective (and worse). Starting today, then, we are asking people who'd like to post comments on the site to pay a nominal fee—less a paywall than a gesture of your own commitment to the cause of great conversation. All proceeds go to helping us bring you the ambitious journalism that brought you here in the first place.
I NEED TO BE HEARD! BUT I DONT WANT TO PAY.
Readers can still interact with us free of charge via Facebook, Twitter, and our other social media channels, or write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Each week, we’ll select the best letters and publish them in a new letters to the editor feature on the Scroll.
We hope this new largely symbolic measure will help us create a more pleasant and cultivated environment for all of our readers, and, as always, we thank you deeply for your support.