• All governments lie, but disaster lies in wait for countries whose officials smoke the same hashish they give out.

  • I.F. Stone

zaterdag 2 juni 2012

De Dolende Toerist


Toen ik vanmiddag achter een buggy met mijn kleindochter erin van Artis naar huis wandelde viel het me andermaal op hoe stuurloos de laatste jaren 'toeristen' door het centrum van Amsterdam zwalken. Ze lijken in trance te zijn, zwenken plotseling van links naar rechts, lijken geen doel te hebben. Ik schrijf 'toeristen' tussen aanhalingstekens omdat ze in de strikte zin van het woord al lang geen toeristen meer zijn, maar consumenten, eeuwig winkelend publiek. Ze zijn niet geinteresseerd in het culturele erfgoed van Amsterdam, maar willen slechts kopen. Wat maakt vaak niet uit, meestal datgene wat ze door de uniformering van de moderne massacultuur thuis ook kunnen kopen. En dan is er nog het deel dat voor de 'red light district' komt en/of het zuipen en high worden. Paddestoeltje, blowtje, pilletje poppen, pilsje. Het gevolg is dat de moderne 'toeristen' volkomen stuurloos zijn geworden, en reageren op impulsen, bezeten als ze zijn door een brandende koopdrift. Ze voelen zich nergens meer thuis en blijven permanent gemobiliseerd, onrustig op zoek naar iets dat ze zelf niet kunnen formuleren. Ze doen me denken aan de mens die Seneca beschreef in een brief aan Lucilius:
'Je moet van mentaliteit veranderen, niet van klimaat. Al steek je de eindeloze zee over, al "wijken", zoals onze Vergilius zegt, "landen en steden achter je", je problemen zullen met je mee gaan waar je ook heen gaat... Je moet de last van je geest afleggen: anders zal geen enkel landschap je rust geven... Wat je nu doet is geen reizen, maar dolen; je wordt voortgedreven en ruilt de ene plaats in tegen de andere.'

Syrie 15


31
MAY
2012
Your bitter blind broke gap-toothed radio show host Chuck Mertz‘s blog, ‘The Nine Circles of Hell!,’ is now posted every week day, Monday through Friday, at Noon (US central). It’s all the news that give you fits in print, today’s nine reminders that ‘This is Hell!’
Click on any of the Nine Circles! in bold to go directly to the original article.
“The massacre of civilians of the sort seen last weekend could plunge Syria into catastrophic civil war – a civil war from which the country would never recover,” says UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton can foresee “a civil war in a country that would be riven by sectarian divides, which then could morph into a proxy war in the region.” Meanwhile, US envoy to the UN Susan Rice described what she called a worst case and most likely scenario in which “the violence escalates, the conflict spreads and intensifies … It involves countries in the region, it takes on increasingly sectarian forms, and we have a major crisis not only in Syria but in the region.” Reuters also quotes someone they call a ‘senior army commander in Israel’ who said Syria was heading for collapse and would become a “warehouse of weapons” for Islamist militants. Rebels inside Syria issued a 48-hour ultimatum to President Bashir al-Assad to comply with Annan’s peace plan. Then, some guy Reuters calls ‘Syria’s main rebel commander’ – who happens to be based in Turkey – tells Annan to declare the peace plan dead so insurgents can be freed from current constraints on fighting. The ‘commander,’ a Colonel Riad al-Asaad said, “There is no deadline, but we want Kofi Annan to issue a declaration announcing the failure of this plan so that we would be free to carry out any military operation against the regime.” Syria’s foreign ministry spokesman, Jihad Makdissi, however, says that in the massacre in Houla, “Women, children and old men were shot dead. This is not the response of the heroic Syrian army.” The Guardian reports that the killers are likely “armed civilian militias from nearby Alawite villages, who are known to Syrians as shabiha.” These groups are pro-Assad, reportedly have had a relative legal immunity under his government, and have done much of the suppression of the uprising, including the intense violence in Homs. So, who’s paying the shabiha? Sunni, not Alawite, businessmen who found their riches in post-2005 Lebanon pullout Syria. The Guardian reports, “As profit moved away from smuggling and towards more legitimate business interests, a small core of well-connected operators grabbed control of industries, equipment, franchises and car dealerships – one of the central complaints of ordinary Syrians as the uprising has gathered momentum in the last year.” Baghdad was rocked by its worst violence in over a month as 16 were killed in separate bombings throughout the city while, according to Agence France Presse, “international energy companies met in the center of the capital to bid on nationwide oil and gas exploration blocks.” An “Al Qaeda front group in Iraq” claimed responsibility for last month’s attack that killed 17. In April, 126 Iraqis were killed according to official records, and that’s called an improvement. There’s no question it’s getting worse in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Samuel Dixon, Oxfam’s policy adviser in Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, says, “The crisis in Congo is the worst it has been for years. The activity of armed groups has exploded, with militias making the most of the chaos to prey on the local population. Large areas of [North and South] Kivu are under the control of different armed groups – some villages are being terrorized from all sides, with up to five groups battling for power. Local people are bearing the brunt of extreme violence, facing the risk of massacre, rape, retaliation, abduction, mutilation, forced labor or extortion … In less than two months, more than 100,000 people in North Kivu have been forced to flee.” While people are fleeing Congo, they’re being rounded up in Tibet. Sunday’s two anti-China self-immolation actions, the first to take place in Tibet’s capital of Lhasa, were followed up by detentions of hundreds of suspected anti-Chinese Tibetans. As Reuters reports, “At least 35 Tibetans have set themselves on fire since March 2011 in protest against China’s six-decade rule over Tibet, according to Tibetan rights groups. At least 27 have died.” It seems that despite all the horrors we have experienced, we never learn our lesson. A whistleblower won $31 million from Citigroup accusing its home-loan division of systematically violating US mortgage regulations. Citigroup didn’t dispute any of the whistleblower’s facts and didn’t even mount a defense in public or in court. Bloomberg Markets reports, “Citigroup admitted approving loans for government insurance that didn’t qualify under Federal Housing Administration rules. Prosecutors kept open the possibility of bringing criminal charges, without specifying targets.” In February, Citigroup agreed to pay $158.3 million to the US government to settle. The fact that this is still going on led Neil Barofsky, former special inspector general of the Troubled Asset Relief Program, to say, “This case demonstrates that the notion that the bailed-out banks have somehow found God and have reformed their ways in the aftermath of the financial crisis is pure myth.” Big banks not learning their lesson from the financial crisis isn’t a surprise, but it is frighteningly disappointing. It’s also not a surprise to find out that corporations are still trying to greenwash their images. The disappointing part is when you find out how frighteningly hard they work behind the scenes to continue their climate warming ways. A new report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, “A Climate of Corporate Control,” shows some major US corporations that support climate science in public also work hard in private to derail measures meant to address global warming. For instance, ConocoPhillips’s website claims it “recognizes” that human activity is leading to climate change but argued against the Environmental Protection Agency’s ruling that heat-trapping greenhouse gases were pollutants that endangered the public. The report points out how General Electric backs six environmental and non-partisan research groups that accept the scientific consensus on climate change, but also funds four organizations that reject or question the consensus, including the Competitive Enterprise Institute and Heritage Foundation. GE is also a member of several anti-environment groups like the US Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers. When it comes to Caterpillar, for every member of Congress the corporation has given money to who accepts climate change, it has backed five who don’t. The analysis found that while all companies said they were taking voluntary steps to fight climate change, “half of them also misrepresented some element of established climate science in their public communications.” While those corporations posture and profit, the world burns. The Associated Press reports, “The world’s air has reached what scientists call a troubling new milestone for carbon dioxide, the main global warming pollutant. Monitoring stations across the Arctic this spring are measuring more than 400 parts per million of the heat-trapping gas in the atmosphere. It’s been at least 800,000 years — probably more — since Earth saw carbon dioxide levels in the 400s … Until now.”
That’s the Nine Circles of Hell! for ThursdayMay 31, 2012.
Come back Sunday forThe Nine Circles of Hell!: Sunday Morning Edition!


The Next World War (2)



De International Herald Tribune, 'The Global Edition of the New York Times,'  berichtte gisteren onder de kop 'U.S.-China tensions grow at sea' dat 'Naval test of strength revolves around control of potential of energy source.' Om u de context duidelijk te maken citeer ik verder:

'Superficially, a recent squabble in the South China Sea was over rare corals, clams and sharks that Philippine Navy seamen were trying to seize from a half-dozen Chinese fishing boats -- until two Chinese Marine craft intervened. After tense hours in the tropical waters of the Scarborough Shoal, the Philippine Navy Ship -- a refitted U.S. Coast Guard cutter -- withdrew. But the real stakes were far larger, as the insistent claims of sovereignity over the shoal by the Philippine and Chinese governments since the standoff in April have made clear. The clash intensified longstanding disputes over the strategic and potentially energy-rich area that have become more urgent as the United States and China expand their naval power in the region. "We're just pawns," said Roberto Romulo, a former Philippine foreign secretary who argues that China is flexing its muscles to gain uinimpeded access to vast reserves of natural gas and oil believed to be buried under the South China Sea. "China is testing the United States, that's all it is. And China is eating America's lunch in Southeast Asia." A senior Chinese military officer dismissed any legitimate role for the United States in the South China Sea.'



De Verenigde Staten meent dat het recht heeft op 's werelds grondstoffen en om  zo nodig de rest van de wereld te bedreigen of met geweld de eisen van 's werelds enige supermacht af te dwingen. 'From placing American marines in the northern Australian port city of Darwin to increasing military relations with Vietnam -- a county with an uneasy relationship with China -- Washington has signaled its intention to stay. In the latest sign of its resolve, the administration sent Secretary of State Hillary Rodhan Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta to testify last week before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the need to ratify a U.N. treaty intended to govern the world's oceans. China is one of the 162 countries that have ratified the Law of the Sea treaty. But the United States has not done so, holding back  from formal approval ever since President Ronald Reagan refused to sign it when it was completed in 1982. A major goal of the joint appearance, administration officials said, was to strengthen the legal hand of the United States so that the U.S. Navy can be assured the freedom of navigation that the treaty recognizes beyond any nation's territorial limit of 12 nautical miles, about 14 miles, or 22 kilometers,' aldus het bericht in de Herald Tribune, dat kort samengevat het volgende verzwijgt: 30 jaar lang wilde de VS het verdrag niet ondertekenen omdat het zich daarmee beperkt voelde in de uitoefening van zijn gewelddadige macht, maar nu voelt Washington zich juist door dit verdrag gesterkt om overal met geweld te kunnen ingrijpen, zeker nu 'China argues that freedom of navigation comes into force 200 nautical miles, about 230 miles, or 370 kilometers, from a nation's coast, effectively claiming the South China Sea as its preserve.' 


Washington trekt zich hier niets van aan, en laat de Amerikaanse marine China provoceren. 'Yes, we still regularly sell advanced weaponry to a small "break-away" island off China's coast. (Taiwan). We even have a law that mandates it — in so many words. Imagine China doing the same with Cuba, or conducting naval exercises with Venezuela and Mexico in the Gulf, or conducting military spy flights along the California coast. Simply put, we do things in China's front yard that we'd never tolerate from anybody in our own, and if China pushes back at all, we label that provocative... and then sell that many more arms to all of its neighbors — you know, to keep things "balanced."'
Read more: http://www.esquire.com/blogs/politics/us-china-military-relations-6159815#ixzz1wcOyniMH

Ondertussen wordt er door onder andere de zogeheten 'beste krant van de wereld' een al dan niet subtiele perscampagne gevoerd tegen China als opkomende wereldmacht. Zo berichtte 'The Global Edition of the New York Times' vorig weekeinde op de voorpagina: 'Hostility toward foreigners a growing fact of life in China.' Duidelijk is dat na de Sovjet Unie, de Arabische wereld, nu China aan de beurt is om tot de grote vijand te worden gebombardeerd. En wel omdat het de macht van de VS en daarmee het Westen aan banden zal leggen. En dat willen onze machthebbers niet. Vijf eeuwen lang heeft het westerse geweld de wereld kunnen ringeloren en daar mag geen eind aan komen. Onze welvaart, comfort, rijkdommen zijn gebaseerd op ons vermogen maximaal terreur uit te oefenen tegen alles en iedereen die de westerse geopolitieke en daarmee economische belangen inperkt. De Verenigde Staten is slechts de opvolger van het blanke, christelijke, Europese kolonialisme dat rond 1492 begon met de ontdekking van de Nieuwe Wereld. En het ironische is dat het Amerikaanse imperium ruim een eeuw geleden begon met de aanval op de Filippijnen en de grootschalige terreur tegen de Filippijnse bevolking die tegen de Amerikaanse bezetting in opstand kwam.

Tijdens het door Amerikaanse troepen aangerichte bloedblad sprak begin 1900 de invloedrijke republikeinse senator Albert Beveridge het Congres toe over de noodzaak van ‘een Amerikaans Imperium… De Filippijnen zijn voor altijd van ons, “territorium dat eigendom is van de Verenigde Staten,” zoals de Grondwet het noemt. En net voorbij de Filippijnen liggen China’s onmetelijke markten. We zullen ons uit geen van beide terugtrekken.’ Natuurlijk werd dit expansionisme met hoogdravende woorden omkleed. Het was Amerika’s ‘manifest lot’ om over de anderen te heersen, omdat ‘God een glorieuze geschiedenis aan Zijn uitverkoren volk heeft geschonken.’ Bovendien waren gekleurde volkeren volgens Washington niet in staat zichzelf te besturen, getuige de uitspraak van president William Howard Taft dat ‘onze kleine bruine broeders’ tenminste ‘vijftig tot honderd jaar’ onder de directe supervisie van de Amerikaanse elite moesten staan ‘om ook maar iets te kunnen ontwikkelen dat lijkt op de Angelsaksische politieke principes en vaardigheden.’ Maar de ware redenen waren economische, het telkens terugkerende probleem van de overproductie. De toenmalige president McKinley verwoordde dit zonder omwegen toen hij tijdens de grote depressie in de VS aan het eind van de negentiende eeuw verklaarde: ‘Wij hebben goed geld… maar wat we nodig hebben is nieuwe markten,’ omdat, zoals de invloedrijke voorzitter van de Senaats Commissie voor Buitenlandse Betrekkingen Henry Cabot Lodge, hem nog eens duidelijk had gemaakt, de binnenlandse markten ‘niet voldoende zijn voor onze op volle toeren draaiende industrieën.’ Hoe loffelijk het koloniale streven ook mocht zijn van ‘de oudste democratie ter wereld’ dat ‘begrijpelijkerwijs… kopschuw [is] om zich… met huid en haar te binden aan een internationale rechtsorde,’ (Govert Buijs docent wijsbegeerte en spiritualiteit van de Vrije Universiteit, in het dagblad Trouwde Filippino's zelf hadden een volstrekt andere opvatting. Ze wilden onafhankelijkheid en een democratie en begrepen niets van de woorden van president Theodore Roosevelt dat ‘piraten en koppensnellers’ geen onafhankelijkheid en democratie nodig hadden en hun land als ‘springplank’ moest dienen voor de Chinese markt met zijn 400 miljoen potentiële klanten. Er brak een drie jaar durende guerrilla oorlog uit, die door de Amerikanen uitgevochten werd onder bevel van generaals die eerder hun sporen hadden verdiend bij het uitroeien van de Indianen en het opsluiten van de enkele overlevenden in reservaten. Een feit dat achteraf door dezelfde Roosevelt gerechtvaardigd werd met de opmerking dat ‘braakliggende ruimtes’ niet ‘gereserveerd moeten worden voor het gebruik van verspreid levende primitieve stammen, wier leven slechts een paar graden minder betekenisloos, smerig, en meedogenloos is dan dat van de wilde beesten met wie ze het gebied delen.’ Gezien Amerika’s ‘christelijke beschavingsoffensief’ in de wereld kon daar natuurlijk geen sprake van zijn. ‘Spreek zachtjes en draag een grote knuppel met je mee; dan kom je heel ver,’ zo vatte president Teddy Roosevelt het uitgangspunt van de Amerikaanse koloniale politiek kort maar krachtig samen. Hoe groot de knuppel was die de VS naar de Filippijnen meenam bleek uit de massale slachtpartij waarop de verovering uitliep. De officiële schattingen lopen uiteen van 200.000 vermoorde ‘kleine bruine broeders’ als gevolg van de directe oorlogshandelingen tot in totaal 1 miljoen dode Filippino’s, die door de onvoorstelbare verwoestingen massaal crepeerden. Tijdens de genocide vroeg Mark Twain zich in een van zijn vele ‘anti-imperialistische’ en na zijn overlijden zwaar gecensureerde essays sarcastisch af of ‘het zo zou kunnen zijn dat er twee soort beschavingen bestaan –één voor binnenlandse consumptie en één voor de heidense markt?’ Slechts één voorbeeld: tijdens de zogeheten ‘pacificatie’ van het eiland Samar kreeg majoor Littletown Waller van generaal Smith opdracht weerloze Filippino’s dood te schieten omdat ‘er geen tijd was om mensen gevangen te nemen,’ en dat van Samar ‘een barre woestenij’ moest worden gemaakt. Toen Waller aan Smith vroeg hoe oud een slachtoffer moest zijn om te kunnen worden gedood, antwoordde de bevelhebber en veteraan van de slachting bij Wounded Knee: ‘Alles boven de tien.” De correspondent in Manilla van de Philadelphia Ledger berichtte in november 1901: ‘Onze mannen zijn meedogenloos geweest, hebben… mannen, vrouwen, kinderen en gevangenen uitgeroeid… vanuit het heersende denkbeeld dat de Filippijn als zodanig niet veel beter was dan een hond…Onze soldaten hebben zout water in mannen gepompt om hen te dwingen te praten, en hebben mensen die zich met hun handen omhoog vrijwillig hadden overgegeven gevangen genomen om ze een uur later zonder een flintertje bewijs… op een brug op te stellen en hen één voor één dood te schieten… als voorbeeld voor degenen die hun met kogels doorzeefde lijken zouden vinden.’ 

Dat de Filippijnen geen op zichzelf staand incident was, maar het begin van het Amerikaanse buitenlands imperialisme blijkt uit de woorden van generaal Smedley Butler, oud bevelhebber van het Amerikaanse Korps Mariniers, die in 1933 na ruim 33 jaar actieve dienst opmerkte: ‘Oorlog is misdaad. Hij wordt gevoerd ten voordele van de zeer weinigen ten koste van de massa. Ik ben heel lang een eersteklas uitsmijter geweest voor het bedrijfsleven. Voor Wall Street en voor de banken. Ik was in feite een misdadiger, een gangster voor het kapitalisme. Ik heb in 1914 Mexico veilig gemaakt voor de Amerikaanse oliebelangen. Ik hielp bij het verkrachten van een half dozijn Midden Amerikaanse republieken voor het profijt van Wall Street. In China heb ik ervoor gezorgd dat Standaard Oil ongestoord zijn weg kon gaan. Al Capone is niet verder gekomen dan drie wijken. Mijn werkterrein omvatte drie continenten.’ Het plegen van grootschalige terreur is een continuïteit in de Amerikaanse geschiedenis. Een decennium geleden vertelde mij een andere ingewijde, de voormalige directeur van het Star Wars programma, luchtmachtkolonel b.d. Robert Bowman: ‘Het Amerikaans imperialisme dateert uit de tijd van de eerste kolonisten. Gewelddadig expansionisme is de rode draad in de geschiedenis van de Verenigde Staten.’


Meer over de nieuwe wereldoorlog in een volgend stuk.

Obama's Crimes 6


Welk recht heeft Obama om een soevereine staat te terroriseren? Geen enkel, behalve het recht van de sterkste. Wat zou de reactie zijn als Iran hetzelfde deed met de VS? De NYT bericht

'Obama Order Sped Up Wave of Cyberattacks Against Iran





WASHINGTON — From his first months in office, President Obama secretly ordered increasingly sophisticated attacks on the computer systems that run Iran’s main nuclear enrichment facilities, significantly expanding America’s first sustained use of cyberweapons, according to participants in the program.
Hasan Sarbakhshian/Associated Press
Iran’s nuclear enrichment facility at Natanz.
Multimedia

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Mr. Obama decided to accelerate the attacks — begun in the Bush administration and code-named Olympic Games — even after an element of the program accidentally became public in the summer of 2010 because of a programming error that allowed it to escape Iran’s Natanz plant and sent it around the world on the Internet. Computer security experts who began studying the worm, which had been developed by the United States and Israel, gave it a name: Stuxnet.
At a tense meeting in the White House Situation Room within days of the worm’s “escape,” Mr. Obama, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and the director of the Central Intelligence Agency at the time, Leon E. Panetta, considered whether America’s most ambitious attempt to slow the progress of Iran’s nuclear efforts had been fatally compromised.
“Should we shut this thing down?” Mr. Obama asked, according to members of the president’s national security team who were in the room.
Told it was unclear how much the Iranians knew about the code, and offered evidence that it was still causing havoc, Mr. Obama decided that the cyberattacks should proceed. In the following weeks, the Natanz plant was hit by a newer version of the computer worm, and then another after that. The last of that series of attacks, a few weeks after Stuxnet was detected around the world, temporarily took out nearly 1,000 of the 5,000 centrifuges Iran had spinning at the time to purify uranium.
This account of the American and Israeli effort to undermine the Iranian nuclear program is based on interviews over the past 18 months with current and former American, European and Israeli officials involved in the program, as well as a range of outside experts. None would allow their names to be used because the effort remains highly classified, and parts of it continue to this day.
These officials gave differing assessments of how successful the sabotage program was in slowing Iran’s progress toward developing the ability to build nuclear weapons. Internal Obama administration estimates say the effort was set back by 18 months to two years, but some experts inside and outside the government are more skeptical, noting that Iran’s enrichment levels have steadily recovered, giving the country enough fuel today for five or more weapons, with additional enrichment.
Whether Iran is still trying to design and build a weapon is in dispute. The most recent United States intelligence estimate concludes that Iran suspended major parts of its weaponization effort after 2003, though there is evidence that some remnants of it continue.
Iran initially denied that its enrichment facilities had been hit by Stuxnet, then said it had found the worm and contained it. Last year, the nation announced that it had begun its own military cyberunit, and Brig. Gen. Gholamreza Jalali, the head of Iran’s Passive Defense Organization, said that the Iranian military was prepared “to fight our enemies” in “cyberspace and Internet warfare.” But there has been scant evidence that it has begun to strike back.
The United States government only recently acknowledged developing cyberweapons, and it has never admitted using them. There have been reports of one-time attacks against personal computers used by members of Al Qaeda, and of contemplated attacks against the computers that run air defense systems, including during the NATO-led air attack on Libya last year. But Olympic Games was of an entirely different type and sophistication.
It appears to be the first time the United States has repeatedly used cyberweapons to cripple another country’s infrastructure, achieving, with computer code, what until then could be accomplished only by bombing a country or sending in agents to plant explosives. The code itself is 50 times as big as the typical computer worm, Carey Nachenberg, a vice president of Symantec, one of the many groups that have dissected the code, said at a symposium at Stanford University in April. Those forensic investigations into the inner workings of the code, while picking apart how it worked, came to no conclusions about who was responsible.
A similar process is now under way to figure out the origins of another cyberweapon called Flame that was recently discovered to have attacked the computers of Iranian officials, sweeping up information from those machines. But the computer code appears to be at least five years old, and American officials say that it was not part of Olympic Games. They have declined to say whether the United States was responsible for the Flame attack.
Mr. Obama, according to participants in the many Situation Room meetings on Olympic Games, was acutely aware that with every attack he was pushing the United States into new territory, much as his predecessors had with the first use of atomic weapons in the 1940s, of intercontinental missiles in the 1950s and of drones in the past decade. He repeatedly expressed concerns that any American acknowledgment that it was using cyberweapons — even under the most careful and limited circumstances — could enable other countries, terrorists or hackers to justify their own attacks.
“We discussed the irony, more than once,” one of his aides said. Another said that the administration was resistant to developing a “grand theory for a weapon whose possibilities they were still discovering.” Yet Mr. Obama concluded that when it came to stopping Iran, the United States had no other choice.
If Olympic Games failed, he told aides, there would be no time for sanctions and diplomacy with Iran to work. Israel could carry out a conventional military attack, prompting a conflict that could spread throughout the region.
A Bush Initiative
The impetus for Olympic Games dates from 2006, when President George W. Bush saw few good options in dealing with Iran. At the time, America’s European allies were divided about the cost that imposing sanctions on Iran would have on their own economies. Having falsely accused Saddam Hussein of reconstituting his nuclear program in Iraq, Mr. Bush had little credibility in publicly discussing another nation’s nuclear ambitions. The Iranians seemed to sense his vulnerability, and, frustrated by negotiations, they resumed enriching uranium at an underground site at Natanz, one whose existence had been exposed just three years before.
Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, took reporters on a tour of the plant and described grand ambitions to install upward of 50,000 centrifuges. For a country with only one nuclear power reactor — whose fuel comes from Russia — to say that it needed fuel for its civilian nuclear program seemed dubious to Bush administration officials. They feared that the fuel could be used in another way besides providing power: to create a stockpile that could later be enriched to bomb-grade material if the Iranians made a political decision to do so.
Hawks in the Bush administration like Vice President Dick Cheney urged Mr. Bush to consider a military strike against the Iranian nuclear facilities before they could produce fuel suitable for a weapon. Several times, the administration reviewed military options and concluded that they would only further inflame a region already at war, and would have uncertain results.
For years the C.I.A. had introduced faulty parts and designs into Iran’s systems — even tinkering with imported power supplies so that they would blow up — but the sabotage had had relatively little effect. General James E. Cartwright, who had established a small cyberoperation inside the United States Strategic Command, which is responsible for many of America’s nuclear forces, joined intelligence officials in presenting a radical new idea to Mr. Bush and his national security team. It involved a far more sophisticated cyberweapon than the United States had designed before.
The goal was to gain access to the Natanz plant’s industrial computer controls. That required leaping the electronic moat that cut the Natanz plant off from the Internet — called the air gap, because it physically separates the facility from the outside world. The computer code would invade the specialized computers that command the centrifuges.
The first stage in the effort was to develop a bit of computer code called a beacon that could be inserted into the computers, which were made by the German company Siemens and an Iranian manufacturer, to map their operations. The idea was to draw the equivalent of an electrical blueprint of the Natanz plant, to understand how the computers control the giant silvery centrifuges that spin at tremendous speeds. The connections were complex, and unless every circuit was understood, efforts to seize control of the centrifuges could fail.
Eventually the beacon would have to “phone home” — literally send a message back to the headquarters of the National Security Agency that would describe the structure and daily rhythms of the enrichment plant. Expectations for the plan were low; one participant said the goal was simply to “throw a little sand in the gears” and buy some time. Mr. Bush was skeptical, but lacking other options, he authorized the effort.
Breakthrough, Aided by Israel
It took months for the beacons to do their work and report home, complete with maps of the electronic directories of the controllers and what amounted to blueprints of how they were connected to the centrifuges deep underground.
Then the N.S.A. and a secret Israeli unit respected by American intelligence officials for its cyberskills set to work developing the enormously complex computer worm that would become the attacker from within.
The unusually tight collaboration with Israel was driven by two imperatives. Israel’s Unit 8200, a part of its military, had technical expertise that rivaled the N.S.A.’s, and the Israelis had deep intelligence about operations at Natanz that would be vital to making the cyberattack a success. But American officials had another interest, to dissuade the Israelis from carrying out their own pre-emptive strike against the Iranian nuclear facilities. To do that, the Israelis would have to be convinced that the new line of attack was working. The only way to convince them, several officials said in interviews, was to have them deeply involved in every aspect of the program.
Soon the two countries had developed a complex worm that the Americans called “the bug.” But the bug needed to be tested. So, under enormous secrecy, the United States began building replicas of Iran’s P-1 centrifuges, an aging, unreliable design that Iran purchased from Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Pakistani nuclear chief who had begun selling fuel-making technology on the black market. Fortunately for the United States, it already owned some P-1s, thanks to the Libyan dictator, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.
When Colonel Qaddafi gave up his nuclear weapons program in 2003, he turned over the centrifuges he had bought from the Pakistani nuclear ring, and they were placed in storage at a weapons laboratory in Tennessee. The military and intelligence officials overseeing Olympic Games borrowed some for what they termed “destructive testing,” essentially building a virtual replica of Natanz, but spreading the test over several of the Energy Department’s national laboratories to keep even the most trusted nuclear workers from figuring out what was afoot.
Those first small-scale tests were surprisingly successful: the bug invaded the computers, lurking for days or weeks, before sending instructions to speed them up or slow them down so suddenly that their delicate parts, spinning at supersonic speeds, self-destructed. After several false starts, it worked. One day, toward the end of Mr. Bush’s term, the rubble of a centrifuge was spread out on the conference table in the Situation Room, proof of the potential power of a cyberweapon. The worm was declared ready to test against the real target: Iran’s underground enrichment plant.
“Previous cyberattacks had effects limited to other computers,” Michael V. Hayden, the former chief of the C.I.A., said, declining to describe what he knew of these attacks when he was in office. “This is the first attack of a major nature in which a cyberattack was used to effect physical destruction,” rather than just slow another computer, or hack into it to steal data.
“Somebody crossed the Rubicon,” he said.
Getting the worm into Natanz, however, was no easy trick. 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. “That was our holy grail,” one of the architects of the plan said. “It turns out there is always an idiot around who doesn’t think much about the thumb drive in their hand.”
In fact, thumb 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.
The first attacks were small, and when the centrifuges began spinning out of control in 2008, the Iranians were mystified about the cause, according to intercepts that the United States later picked up. “The thinking was that the Iranians would blame bad parts, or bad engineering, or just incompetence,” one of the architects of the early attack said.
The Iranians were confused partly because no two attacks were exactly alike. Moreover, the code would lurk inside the plant for weeks, recording normal operations; when it attacked, it sent signals to the Natanz control room indicating that everything downstairs was operating normally. “This may have been the most brilliant part of the code,” one American official said.
Later, word circulated through the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Vienna-based nuclear watchdog, that the Iranians had grown so distrustful of their own instruments that they had assigned people to sit in the plant and radio back what they saw.
“The intent was that the failures should make them feel they were stupid, which is what happened,” the participant in the attacks said. When a few centrifuges failed, the Iranians would close down whole “stands” that linked 164 machines, looking for signs of sabotage in all of them. “They overreacted,” one official said. “We soon discovered they fired people.”
Imagery recovered by nuclear inspectors from cameras at Natanz — which the nuclear agency uses to keep track of what happens between visits — showed the results. There was some evidence of wreckage, but it was clear that the Iranians had also carted away centrifuges that had previously appeared to be working well.
But by the time Mr. Bush left office, no wholesale destruction had been accomplished. Meeting with Mr. Obama in the White House days before his inauguration, Mr. Bush urged him to preserve two classified programs, Olympic Games and the drone program in Pakistan. Mr. Obama took Mr. Bush’s advice.
The Stuxnet Surprise
Mr. Obama came to office with an interest in cyberissues, but he had discussed them during the campaign mostly in terms of threats to personal privacy and the risks to infrastructure like the electrical grid and the air traffic control system. He commissioned a major study on how to improve America’s defenses and announced it with great fanfare in the East Room.
What he did not say then was that he was also learning the arts of cyberwar. The architects of Olympic Games would meet him in the Situation Room, often with what they called the “horse blanket,” a giant foldout schematic diagram of Iran’s nuclear production facilities. Mr. Obama authorized the attacks to continue, and every few weeks — certainly after a major attack — he would get updates and authorize the next step. Sometimes it was a strike riskier and bolder than what had been tried previously.
“From his first days in office, he was deep into every step in slowing the Iranian program — the diplomacy, the sanctions, every major decision,” a senior administration official said. “And it’s safe to say that whatever other activity might have been under way was no exception to that rule.”
But the good luck did not last. In the summer of 2010, shortly after a new variant of the worm had been sent into Natanz, it became clear that the worm, which was never supposed to leave the Natanz machines, had broken free, like a zoo animal that found the keys to the cage. It fell to Mr. Panetta and two other crucial players in Olympic Games — General Cartwright, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Michael J. Morell, the deputy director of the C.I.A. — to break the news to Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden.
An error in the code, they said, had led it to spread to an engineer’s computer when it was hooked up to the centrifuges. When the engineer left Natanz and connected the computer to the Internet, the American- and Israeli-made bug failed to recognize that its environment had changed. It began replicating itself all around the world. Suddenly, the code was exposed, though its intent would not be clear, at least to ordinary computer users.
“We think there was a modification done by the Israelis,” one of the briefers told the president, “and we don’t know if we were part of that activity.”
Mr. Obama, according to officials in the room, asked a series of questions, fearful that the code could do damage outside the plant. The answers came back in hedged terms. Mr. Biden fumed. “It’s got to be the Israelis,” he said. “They went too far.”
In fact, both the Israelis and the Americans had been aiming for a particular part of the centrifuge plant, a critical area whose loss, they had concluded, would set the Iranians back considerably. It is unclear who introduced the programming error.
The question facing Mr. Obama was whether the rest of Olympic Games was in jeopardy, now that a variant of the bug was replicating itself “in the wild,” where computer security experts can dissect it and figure out its purpose.
“I don’t think we have enough information,” Mr. Obama told the group that day, according to the officials. But in the meantime, he ordered that the cyberattacks continue. They were his best hope of disrupting the Iranian nuclear program unless economic sanctions began to bite harder and reduced Iran’s oil revenues.
Within a week, another version of the bug brought down just under 1,000 centrifuges. Olympic Games was still on.
A Weapon’s Uncertain Future
American cyberattacks are not limited to Iran, but the focus of attention, as one administration official put it, “has been overwhelmingly on one country.” There is no reason to believe that will remain the case for long. Some officials question why the same techniques have not been used more aggressively against North Korea. Others see chances to disrupt Chinese military plans, forces in Syria on the way to suppress the uprising there, and Qaeda operations around the world. “We’ve considered a lot more attacks than we have gone ahead with,” one former intelligence official said.
Mr. Obama has repeatedly told his aides that there are risks to using — and particularly to overusing — the weapon. In fact, no country’s infrastructure is more dependent on computer systems, and thus more vulnerable to attack, than that of the United States. It is only a matter of time, most experts believe, before it becomes the target of the same kind of weapon that the Americans have used, secretly, against Iran.