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How Stuxnet Came To Be

Worm, tested on Israeli centrifuges, is responsible for Iranian havoc

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Iran's nuclear facility (and not an Israeli replica)(HAMED MALEKPOUR/AFP/Getty Images)

“Somebody made a duplicate of my vault!”

The New York Times reports today, in part quoting anonymous American intelligence officials, that Stuxnet, the mysterious computer worm reportedly disrupting Iran’s nuclear program, is the result of a multiyear Israeli-American collaboration that involved creating a replica of Iranian centrifuges at the secret Israeli nuclear facility in Dimona and testing the worm (which, remember, contains references to Esther, the historic Jewish underminer of Persian power). This testing was a crucial precondition for success. “To check out the worm, you have to know the machines,” an American expert says. “The reason the worm has been effective is that the Israelis tried it out.” They made a duplicate of their vault.

In many ways, the operation and this subsequent report bear a strong resemblance to the 2007 bombing of the Syrian nuclear reactor, which, as Yossi Melman detailed last week in Tablet Magazine, was essentially a coup of Israeli intelligence that was then stamped with an American brand as a gesture of alliance and diplomacy. And indeed the success of the mission is a P.R. victory for Israel at least as far as, say, the American public.

Over the past two weeks, we’ve received several hints that Iran’s nuclear program has slowed. It was believed that Stuxnet, the mysterious computer virus of likely Israeli origin (“Israeli officials grin widely when asked about its effects”), was playing a role in doing this. Stuxnet, the Times reports, has destroyed the effectiveness of at least one-fifth of Iran’s centrifuges by instructing them to spin way too quickly, while at the same time distorting what Iranian scientists think is happening, something it accomplishes by secretly recording normal operations and then playing the results of that back, “so that it would appear that everything was operating normally while the centrifuges were actually tearing themselves apart.” This, it must be pointed out, is also something that happens in Ocean’s 11.

The Times article confirms two pieces Tablet Magazine published last October. Michael Tanji reported then that Stuxnet’s most distinctive characteristic is that it “is much more in-line with traditional military or intelligence thinking than most malicious activity noted online;” the Times quotes a computer security expert, “Stuxnet is not about sending a message or proving a concept. It is about destroying its targets with utmost determination in military style.” And Melman guessed that the German industrial giant Siemens, which sold Iran much of the technology necessary to its nuclear program, “suffering from a degree of liability and guilt—Germans perpetrating a second Holocaust—willingly cooperated with Israeli intelligence;” while the Times does not prove Siemens’s knowledge of what exactly it was cooperating with (or certainly its motives), it does report that Siemens allowed American scientists to test its equipment for certain vulnerabilities.

“One small section of the code appears designed to send commands to 984 machines linked together,” the article notes. “Curiously”—that is some trademark Times coyness, folks—”when international inspectors visited Natanz in late 2009, they found that the Iranians had taken out of service a total of exactly 984 machines that had been running the previous summer.”

A thought: In his recent profile of Dagan, for Tablet Magazine, Melman, a top Israeli spy correspondent, reported that the greatest success of Dagan’s tenure was Israel’s 2007 bombing of a then-secret Syrian nuclear reactor. The coup was both strategic and diplomatic:

For seven years no one—not Syrian ally Iran, not the CIA, neither French nor Israeli intelligence—had a clue about the North Korean-built reactor until April 2007, when Mossad agents discovered that Syria was within months of becoming a nuclear power. Dagan wasted little time. In September of that year, eight Israeli Air Force fighter planes and bombers destroyed the reactor. Israel never took responsibility for the attack. But Dagan’s people showed photos of the reactor before and after its destruction to the CIA, which presented the intelligence to Congress, creating the impression that the CIA was somehow involved in the operation.

This latest Israeli-American collaboration feels, as reported by the Times, awfully like a primarily Israeli job. Perhaps this is why the Obama administration has, over the past two months, been uncharacteristically reticent when it comes to Israeli building in the West Bank?

Israel Tests on Worm Called Crucial in Iran Nuclear Delay [NYT]
Related: Coded [Tablet Magazine]
Modern Warfare, Too [Tablet Magazine]
Uncloaked [Tablet Magazine]
Earlier: Iranian Nukes: Probably Slowed
Iran: Stuxnet Isn’t Harming Nuclear Program

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Shalom Freedman says:

Instead of fighting the previous war and doing what so many of us for so long thought should be done, bombing the nuclear reactors the Israeli people responsible for stopping Iran’s nuclear program showed the kind of original and brilliant thinking and operating that characterizes humanity in its ‘finest hours’.
This does not mean of course that the problem is finished or that Iranis stopped. It still threatens Israel and the whole of the Middle East. But Apparently though there has been in the middle of the struggle a victory for the side which represents human freedom and dignity.

allenby says:

Agree with you Shalom! yes, it is Israel-Jewish ingenuity at its best again!
There is absolutely nothing that can prevent Jewish brains from creating creative ways of handling the ENEMIES and disabling them in very ARTISTIC ways.
I’m sure the stinky-greedy bastards in hollywood will monetize this story in a few years, with one goal for them: moneymoneymoneymoney…and more money.

You know Allenby, the hallmark of classical antisemitism isn’t merely that one falsely ascribes guilt or sin to the Jews, whether in Hollywood or Israel. It’s that the one assigning blame typically projects his own negative traits onto them.

Having said that, you might want to work on toning down your own sleazy, avaricious tendencies. Maybe while you’re rhapsodically fantasizing about megalomaniacal psychopaths like Ahmadinejad.


shualah elisheva says:

another interesting parallel to the megillah: ahmadinejad is very much a haman, busily constructing a nuclear gallows on which to hang israel. it’s a delightful irony that this nuclear gallows [with its attendant sanctions, stuxnet, and international scrutiny] might be the instrument of his destruction. and i’ll happily cast mr. dagan as a clandestine mordechai.

a girl can dream.

Some implications of Stuxnet: If a computer bug can by designed to achieve what appears the case in Natanz, then Iran must feel particularly anxious about its access to funds to run the government at all levels; its civilian air control; fueling aircraft and selling tickets for flights. The Revolutionary Guard is looking over its shoulders at possibility that its missiles might be useless, its command and control non-existent or even commandeered by an enemy computer. Stuxnet is the harbinger of future warfare, military and civilian. And no country can be secure now that its potential is in the open.

I, for one, will take another look at Bruce Willis in Live Free or Die Hard. Stuxnet at a global level.

The intelligent course of action would have been to say nothing rather than boast about it and give ammunition to the Iranians. Not knowing is far worse than being given the story and show the complicity of Israel, the US and the Germans. Not too smart for Jews. It must have been the Americans who leaked it. Now Dimona can be considered a legitimate target for Iran, not that it wasn’t before but you know how the Muslim mind works.

Bill Levy

I think leaking it may have been an important way of dispelling the perception of momentum that the Iranians had successfully cultivated, planting the idea the idea that their achieving their goals was an inevitability and undermining the confidence of American allies in the region that we would be able to contain them. Arab leaders have had to hedge their bets, walking a fine line between maintaining a unified front against their Shia adversary, and trying to propitiate them lest they do attain attain nuclear capability and threaten the stability of the older, conservative regimes in the region.

I’m also starting to believe that Israelis and Americans both played up the idea of a military strike, keeping Iranians watching the skies while they sabotaged the program from within.

I think it’s also important to remember that the Iranians have spent the last decade attacking Israel, by way of their proxies, Hamas and Hezbollah. It’s more than high time that Israel struck back at them directly.

Note that the NYT can’t ever miss an opportunity to knock Israel. In the article they say that this attack legitimizes attacks of this type by other countries on the USA. As if they needed legitimization. If they were capable of it they would have done it already.

This Zionist pride and arrogance is blinding. From behind, the silent member drops a nasty one on Tel Aviv, and all the world’s problems are over, except for all the 25 cent AIPAC whores in the US congress.

I’m pretty sure at least one prominent detail in this story is complete BS. I won’t copy the whole explanation here–just see my latest blog posting (click on my name)…

SS, not if we find you first.

Haya Molnar says:

What better way to fight a war without hurting a single human being?

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How Stuxnet Came To Be

Worm, tested on Israeli centrifuges, is responsible for Iranian havoc

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