In my column for the National Post, I argue that the Obama administration is leaking details of its national security operations in order to do better in the election:
Election years play hell with secrecy. Facing a tough campaign, the Obama administration has begun leaking details of some of its most clandestine operations: the drone attacks in Pakistan and the cyber-war against Iranian nuclear facilities.
Over the past week, readers of The New York Times have learned that the president personally changed the definition of a “non-combatant” so as to reduce the number of non-combatant casualties in Pakistan.
They have learned that, yes, Stuxnet was a joint U.S.-Israeli operation, and that the U.S. has launched newer and more sophisticated computer attacks against Iran following Stuxnet. These stories were all produced with the active co-operation of the most senior White House officials.
Have you wondered how the U.S. managed to infect Iranian computers?
“[T]humb drives turned out to be critical in spreading the first variants of the computer worm; later, more sophisticated methods were developed to deliver the malicious code.” So reports the Times’ David Sanger in a front-page extract from his forthcoming book, Confront and Conceal.
But who inserted the thumb drives into the computers?
“The United States and Israel would have to rely on engineers, maintenance workers and others – both spies and unwitting accomplices — with physical access to the plant.”
Ah, that’s great to know. But inquiring minds in Tehran would like to know: Is there any daylight between the U.S. and Israel in this campaign? Any wedges that might be useful to play one ally off against the other?
“In the summer of 2010 … it became clear that the [Stuxnet] worm, which was never supposed to leave the Natanz [facility’s] machines, had broken free, like a zoo animal that found the keys to the cage.… An error in the code … had led it to spread.… It began replicating itself all over the world.… ‘We think there was a modification done by the Israelis,’ one of the briefers told the president … [vice-president] Biden fumed, ‘It’s got to be the Israelis,’ he said. ‘They went too far.’”
Perhaps you are wondering whether the U.S. has considered cyber-attacks on other countries? Look no further.
“American cyberattacks are not limited to Iran, but the focus of attention, as one administration official put it, ‘has been overwhelmingly on one country.’ … [However], ‘We’ve considered a lot more attacks than we have gone ahead with,’ one former intelligence official said.”
Administrations like to brag about their national-security accomplishments. Administrations beset by bad economic news may feel they need to brag. An administration widely perceived as at odds with America’s ally Israel may especially feel the need to brag about joint U.S.-Israeli operations against a shared U.S.-Israel enemy.
But you have to wonder: When does information go into overload?