Sunday, June 3, 2012

Operation Olympic Games

David Sanger, Washington correspondent for the New York Times writes about the administration’s program code named Olympic Games.  This was a program to use a computer virus for sabotage against a sovereign nation during peacetime.  He quotes General Michael Hayden, , as follows:

"The virus' escape from Iran's Natanz plant and subsequent discovery in Germany in 2010 was a mistake that U.S. authorities blamed on Israel. Former CIA chief Michael Hayden (Director of NSA during President Bushes (sic) use of the agency for illegal surveillance of American citizens) also acknowledged to the Times that Stuxnet is the first major cyberattack intended to cause physical destruction (to Iranian centrifuges). "Somebody crossed the Rubicon," he said."

This is what happens when decisions are taken when all the adults are out of the room.  Having never lived in a world without computers, President Obama thinks that he understands them.  He understands them in the same way that the Sorcerer's Apprentice understands magic.  

The adults could have told him that a virus is not a toy, to be played with by amateurs. The adults could have told him that a virus is more like a pathogen than a bullet, that it cannot be aimed, that it is as dangerous to the user as to his intended victim.  The adults could have told him that, not only is it not consumed by use but that it is multiplied by use.  The adults could have told him that a virus is incredibly persistent, that it can lie dormant for years without losing its potency.  The adults could have told him that, while its behavior is deterministic in a computer, no one knows enough about a network to be able to predict its behavior there, that the chance that it could remain contained in the Natanz plant, where they planted it, was vanishingly small.

Hayden (Remember when we thought that this sycophant was on the side of the angels?) says "Somebody crossed the Rubicon." Indeed “somebody” did. Hayden seems to believe that it was someone other than himself or those he so poorly advised.  I think Obama has.  When President Obama launched "cyber sabotage" against a sovereign nation he broke something that he did not create and cannot repair.  Not only has he loosed a virus on the world, he has loosed a plague from which there is no turning back. It is not as though he did not realize what he was doing.  He named it, but could not appreciate it, so he did it anyway. 

If he has not succeeded in denying to his children the use of the Internet, he has imposed a huge security tax upon it. Its use will clearly be less efficient as a result of this decision than it might otherwise have been. 

We can no longer avoid cyber conflict.  Thanks to Mr. Obama, that is no longer an option, it is established.  It has its own priesthood.  Mr. Obama has announced that during his second term his administration will develop a cyber weapons program.  He has begun a cyber arms race.  Let us hope that it is not too late to avoid cyber war, one that will lead to the armed conflict, which the administration is threatening.  President Obama has already drawn his “line in the sand,” the cyber line, an arbitrary line, which if an adversary crosses, he can expect Obama to retaliate with armed force.

This is one more assertion of “American exceptionalism.”  Presumably his line is after espionage, which we clearly tolerate, but before the kind of sabotage that he authorized against Iran. Obama to Iran:  “We are the biggest bully on the block.  If you retaliate in kind, expect our drones.”  How long will it be before someone equally immature decides to test his resolve? 

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it were possible for Obama to distinguish between the acts of a nation state and those of children.  (Some of us have not forgotten that the USAF was minutes from launching a bomber against Iraq because two children in California and a young adult in Israel were attacking their logistics systems.)

I admit that it is a troubling decision.  Mr. Obama claimed that it was an alternative to armed conflict with Iran.  I am sure that that is how the sponsors of the virus presented it.  However, that is the kind of false choice that is always used by the governing class to justify war. We all remember the scenarios that Colin Powell used to justify war with Iraq. In contrast, the facts were, Saddam Hussein was a threat to his neighbors but not to us. If everything that Secretary Powell said had been true, Saddam Hussein still would not have represented an existential threat to us, it still would not have justified war. 

Terrorism is not an existential threat to us unless we make it so.  If the Brits survived the Blitz and the IRA, with their liberties tattered but not torn, we can survive anything al Qaeda can do.  Terrorism is not the equivalent of thermo-nuclear war.  Possession of “the bomb” by Iran does not constitute an existential threat to us, or even to Israel.  If Mutually Assured Destruction worked against the USSR for fifty years, is it likely that the Iranians would risk the obliteration of their 5000 year old culture? 

I admit that part of my anger is because his action contaminated "my space," part because he has so misused a tool from my kit. But most of my anger is that of an informed citizen, whose government committed him to a world changing act of aggression, in secret, without the dialogue that democracy requires for such an act, one that can not be undone. It is the anger of a citizen with a special appreciation of facts that he knows his fellow citizens do not enjoy.

Infants and others who "cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Those of us who have lived it become very intolerant of those who refuse to heed its warnings.  

Ultimately this was a political decision, not even a foreign policy or national security decision.  It was made not made by professionals for technical reasons but by politicians in search of political advantage.  However, that does not absolve us as citizens or as professionals.  We have an obligation to educate our fellow citizens and to help them hold the politicians accountable.  We must earn the right to  be called professionals and to be paid the big bucks.


  1. Many civilian organizations were impacted by stuxnet; to the tune of millions of dollars. Someone ought to be prosecuted for the "collateral damage" to US firms, and the NSA ought to be sued for damages and punitive damages.

    Oh, and next time Hayden or McConnell open their mouths about the Chinese cyberthreat, everyone in the room ought to throw their shoes at them.


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