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Monday, January 17, 2011

The day after Stuxnet

Iran analyst Gary Sick looks at the possible Iranian reaction to the news in Sunday's New York Times that the US and Israel are behind the Stuxnet computer worm.
This comes just a few days before you sit down to negotiate with Americans and others over your nuclear program. Will you be intimidated and therefore demonstrate more willingness to compromise? Or will you play either a stalling game or perhaps a more belligerent game until you can improve your negotiating position?

From this point on, will you be more or less likely to cooperate with the IAEA? Will the Non-proliferation Treaty (in which Iran agreed not to build a nuclear weapon in return for international protection against any nuclear powers) seem like a reassurance or a threat?

Will you retaliate by launching a cyber counter-attack against one or more large U.S. facilities (dams, power plants, refineries, public utilities, nuclear facilities, etc.) which, as the NYT story acknowledges, are known to be vulnerable to cyber attack. Although Iran’s capabilities are hugely overshadowed by those of the United States and Israel, cyber warfare may be an attractive way to level the playing field — the ultimate in asymmetric warfare. U.S. interests, of course, are not all located in the continental United States.

Will you (Iran) cut back your nuclear development or double down on your efforts? (Part of the answer to that question depends on resources. If Iran has been holding back, which is not impossible, then it has some capacity to actually speed up its efforts; if Iran has few or no intellectual, material and scientific reserves, its choices may be quite limited; that seems to be the working assumption of the authors of the worm.)
I wouldn't read so much into the assumptions of the people who developed the worm. Sick is leaving out another aspect of the war on Iran's nuclear capabilities, which might or might not be from the same source: the liquidation of Iran's nuclear scientists. It's not that they're assuming that Iran has no further resources - they're apparently trying to take care of those as well.

There is another assumption that Sick ignores. The perpetrators of Stuxnet (rationally) assumed that Iran will not cooperate in negotiations regarding its nuclear program. They ascribe zero credibility to Iran. Therefore, since they wish to avoid having to take military action against Iran's nuclear plant, with its potential for thousands of deaths, they attacked the program itself through cyberspace. I believe it was a brilliant plan.

Read the whole thing.

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At 11:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The perpetrators of Stuxnet (rationally) assumed that Iran will not cooperate in negotiations regarding its nuclear program. They ascribe zero credibility to Iran"--if President Obama shares this key assumption behind the Stuxnet (reported pre-existing his Administration but sped up by it) the back and forth "outreach" to Tehran is puzzling--hopefully he is up to speed today at least.


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