ALLY MY A**: Israel’s rash behavior blew operation to sabotage Iran’s computers, US officials say
“Zero Days,” Alex Gibney’s film premiering at the Berlin Film Festival, explores the joint US-Israeli operation to develop the Stuxnet virus and sabotage Iran’s nuclear program.
Gen. Michael Hayden, former head of both the CIA and the NSA, claims the goal of a potential Israeli strike on Iran would be to drag the US into war.
Hayden made the remarks in a documentary film premiering this week at the Berlin International Film Festival. The film also quotes other sources in the US intelligence community who accuse Israel of disrupting a joint covert operation to sabotage computers used in Iran’s nuclear program by acting rashly and in opposition to agreed-upon plans. As a result, hundreds of millions of dollars that were invested in the operation went to waste.
The film, Zero Days, was directed by Alex Gibney, whose film Taxi to the Dark Side won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2008.
The film contains testimony from NSA and CIA operatives who worked together with Israeli colleagues – from the 8200 Military Intelligence Unit and Mossad – to develop several versions of a deadly virus that penetrated computers at the uranium enrichment facility at Natanz in Iran. The testimony is delivered anonymously by an actress whose face remains hidden.
Iranian soldiers stand guard on an anti-aircraft machine gun inside the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, 322km (200 miles) south of Iran’s capital Tehran March 9, 2006 (Reuters)
According to the claims in the film, the hasty Israeli action prevented the carrying out of a number of further planned actions that were intended to sabotage computers at a second, more fortified uranium enrichment facility at Fordow. The film also reveals another planned cyber unit covert operation code-named NZ (Nitro Zeus).
“We spent millions on this operation to sabotage all of the computers of the Iranian infrastructure in the instance of a war,” a source quoted in the film said. “We penetrated the government, electricity lines, power stations and most of the infrastructure in Iran.”
The deadly virus that was implanted at Natanz was named “Stuxnet” by computer security experts, but it had a different name among the Israeli and American intelligence communities that was not revealed in the film. The codename of the entire operation, as was revealed byNew York Times’ journalist David E. Sanger, was “Olympic Games.” Conventional wisdom holds that the implanting of the virus marked the first time that a country, or two countries in this case (the US and Israel), engaged in cyber warfare against another country (Iran). Up until then, the majority of attacks were carried out by individual hackers for their own enjoyment or for political purposes, by criminals for the purposes of fraud and thievery, or by companies engaged in industrial and commercial espionage.
US Vice President Joe Biden was quoted in the film as saying in a meeting that the Israelis “changed the code” of the deadly virus’s software. As a result, in opposition to the plan, the virus spread from nuclear program computers to many other computers in Iran, and from there, to computers around the world, even harming the computers of American companies. The unplanned spread of the virus led to the exposing of the operation and enabled the Iranians, with the help of information security experts from Belarus and Russia, to invent a “vaccine” for their computers to better defend the nuclear program.
According to the film, the premature exposure of the operation caused by Israel’s action’s also caused the virus software, which was among the most classified and most advanced in the world, to leak to Russian and Iranian intelligence.
“Ironically,” it is said in the film, “the secret formula for writing the code for the virus software fell into the hands of Russia and Iran – the country against which it was developed.”
US Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, Director of the CIA, addresses reporters as he arrives for a closed-door session with the House Select Committee on Intelligence at the Capitol in Washington, December 12, 2007 (Reuters)
The development of Stuxnet and the planning of Operation Olympic Games began in 2006, during George W. Bush’s term as president, who wanted to thwart the Iranian nuclear program. Hayden, who was alternately the head of the NSA and the head of the CIA for 10 years starting in 1999, reveals in the film that “President Bush did not want to be left with the choice of ‘ to bomb or be bombed.’”
According to the film, experts from both countries came up with the idea to try to sabotage Iran’s nuclear facilities, and in particular their computers. Pictures of then-Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to the Natanz facility helped the experts obtain needed intelligence on the computers. The computers, their configuration and their rear connections can be seen clearly in the pictures. Eventually, these entry and exit points served as portals to implant the virus.
Iranian nuclear experts accompanied Ahmadinejad on his tour of the facility. One of those photographed at Ahmadinejad’s side was assassinated a few years later, in an operation that was attributed to the Mossad.
On Bush’s orders, exact replicas of the centrifuges were built at the national laboratories in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, which is also used to produce nuclear weapons, and at Israel’s nuclear reactor in Dimona. The deadly virus was implanted in the centrifuges and their rotors were damaged and broken. Intelligence operatives brought the broken rotors to the White House situation room, showed them to President Bush and
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