The trouble with the Stuxnet leak investigation

As I mentioned in this morning’s news round-up, the Justice Department has stepped up its search for the source of the Stuxnet New York Times leak.

In the summer of 2010, it was widely reported that the virus was somehow unleashed upon Iran’s main uranium enrichment facility. And in June of last year, the Times, citing inside sources, reported that the Obama administration ordered the attack, and then ordered its intensification after Stuxnet accidentally spread around the world — the reason news of the U.S.-Israeli made worm went public in 2010 in the first place.

Now, the Washington Post is reporting that FBI and DOJ officials are pursuing a number of possible culprits for the leak “at pretty high levels, too.”

This whole affair – from head to toe – is rather worrisome for a number of reasons.

Whether this leak originated because the Obama administration wanted to boast of the attack, or whether the information was passed on to the Times by an official worried about our foreign policy, it’s a win for democracy any time the public gains insight into the government’s activities. It’s particularly important for Americans to know what our government’s Iran policy is because there is scant evidence that the Iranian government is actually pursuing nuclear weapons.

The urgent need for public oversight of this policy is magnified when considering that in 2011, the Pentagon declared that a cyber attack could be considered as a casus belli. Yet not only did the executive branch unilaterally launch an attack against critical Iranian infrastructure that, by its own standards, amounts to a declaration of war, but “a programming error,” according to the Times, caused the de facto war declaration “to escape Iran’s Natanz plant and sent it around the world on the Internet.”

Regardless of how and why the story was leaked, it’s important that the American people know about it.

But does the Obama administration contemplate its own policy? No. It investigates those who talk about it. As Glenn Greenwald pointed out today (and has discussed at length in the past), the Obama administration has charged more whistleblowers under criminal statutes than all other administrations combined. A President who once declared the Iraq War to be a grave mistake and that his would be the most transparent administration in history declares that ignorance is strength as his administration plays a dangerous game with Iran.

Samuel Knight

Samuel Knight is a freelance journalist living in DC and a former intern at the Washington Monthly.