Israel Spies Expert At Cyberwar, Says ‘Armageddon’ Author Melman

By Yossi Melman

A recent article by David Sanger of The New York Times — based on his book, CONFRONT AND CONCEAL — gives the impression that Obama Administration officials are very proud of U.S. cyberwarfare against Iran’s nuclear program, but somewhat dismissive of some mistakes made by Israel.
israel spy, stuxnet, spies against armageddon, covert operations

I was asked about this by The Tablet, a website that focuses on Jewish and Israeli news and culture:

If the Israelis are in fact incompetent at waging cyberwar, then that’s real news, since the Israelis have always been reputed to be the best in the business. “If Israel is incompetent then why was Stuxnet successful?” journalist Yossi Melman, co-author of the forthcoming book Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, responded when I asked him about Biden’s comment. “A thousand centrifuges were disabled, which makes it a very successful campaign.” (more…)

June 8, 2012

When NSA Surveillance Methods are Leaked, Real Damage — and What’s the Leaker’s Goal?

Dan Raviv

In a conversation with WINA Radio in Charlottesville, Virginia, a co-author of Spies Against Armageddon — Dan Raviv of CBS News — discusses the apparent motivations of Edward Snowden, the contract employee for American intelligence agencies who decided to go rogue.  Snowden is believed to be still in Hong Kong, but he may not be — even as he seems to have plans to give even more secrets about U.S. government surveillance programs to journalists whom he trusts.

Click here to hear the 6-minute chat:

The Guardian newspaper, which has published many of Snowden’s leaks, has already revealed that an official summary of communications intercepts by the National Security Agency shows that the biggest target — for intercepting e-mails and details of telephone calls — is Iran.

In addition to combating terrorism, the NSA is tasked with helping the American government pursue its goals of nuclear non-proliferation.  Iran naturally is a target.

So far, at least, there is no information on how — or if — the NSA may be intercepting Israeli communications.

But here is an article by Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman that reveals spy-vs.-spy intrigue, centered around the United States Embassy in Tel Aviv:

June 21, 2013

Israel Won’t Attack Iran in 2013 — Our Assessment; Obama Arrives Wednesday

Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu

President Obama doesn’t want Israel to do it.  He’ll say so, in person, in Jerusalem this week.  Israel is likely, once again, to restrain itself — reluctantly depending on Obama to strike Iran.  If deemed unavoidable and unnecessary.  Maybe next year.


When one assesses the make-up of Benjamin Netanyahu’s newly formed coalition in Jerusalem, there are several facts that lead to a prediction that Israel’s military will not attack Iran this year.

We humbly note that we published our assessment, a year ago, that no attack would occur in 2012.  A very senior Israeli official, reacting to one of our articles at, challenged one of us: “How can you be so sure?”  His job, it seems, was to add to the impression — around the world and especially in the United States — that Netanyahu was very serious in warning that Israel might have to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities at any time.

Netanyahu’s partner in saber-rattling was Defense Minister Ehud Barak.  But Barak, unable to find any traction for a new political party he tried to form, ended up quitting politics.  He is not in the Knesset, and he’s no longer in the cabinet.  Barak’s absence is the main indicator that Israel won’t be rushing its air force or missiles into an offensive against Iran.

Moshe Yaalon

The new defense minister, a former military chief of staff who is proud of leading the elite Sayeret Matkal commando force, is Moshe “Boogie” Yaalon.  He is a hawk in most things, but it seems that he is in agreement with the current and former military and intelligence chiefs who are against a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran.

One reason is the assessment that Iran’s nuclear work would be delayed for only a while.  Some officials say that is good enough.  But, when balancing any gains against the likely damage, destruction, and deaths from Iranian retaliation, the military and intelligence chiefs have concluded that attacking Iran — and doing so without American participation — would be folly.

Amos Yadlin

Retired Major-General Amos Yadlin, who was head of Aman (the Military Intelligence) agency until 2010 — and now heads an influential think tank in Tel Aviv — is trying to keep the military option extremely credible by telling the AIPAC conference in Washington that no one is talking about starting “a war” with Iran.  (View the video here.)  Yadlin said what’s being considered would be a “one-night operation.”  It doesn’t appear that Yadlin favors a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran, but — as an officer who served as Israel’s military attache in Washington — he does want to keep America’s attention on the unacceptable dangers of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.

President Barack Obama has just repeated his firm intention to stop Iran from doing so, but his timeline is significantly different from Netanyahu’s.  Obama told Israel TV that it would take more than a year for Iran to build a nuclear bomb — and he apparently meant after a decision by Iran’s leaders to step-up their uranium enrichment and bomb project.  Both U.S. and Israeli intelligence assess that Iran has not yet made that decision.

Obama will arrive in Israel on Wednesday (March 20) for his first visit as President, and he’ll have plenty of opportunity to discuss this and other issues with Netanyahu — both at a press conference and behind closed doors.  On March 21 he will visit leaders of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, and Obama will deliver a speech aimed at the Israeli people in a convention center in Jerusalem.


March 16, 2013

Media Coverage: NY Times and AP Feature ‘Spies’

MEDIA COVERAGE of ‘Spies Against Armageddon’

Television (click to watch video)

Dan Raviv, Charlie Rose, spies against armageddon, israel spy, covert operations, Iran nuclearCBS This Morning : Dan Raviv with Charlie Rose:

CNN:  Dan Raviv on The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer

CBS Up To The Minute: Dan Raviv interviewed by Terrell Brown;lst;1

Shalom TV’s founder Mark Golub interviewed Dan Raviv for 1 hour:

White House Chronicle  (selected public TV stations):


Print and On-line Coverage

New York Times : July 12, 2012 (page A8) : “Tehran Abuzz As Book Says Israel Killed 5 Scientists”


The Associated Press , article July 8, 2012, by Kimberly Dozier (published worldwide):


Books: Talking With Dan Raviv, co-author of ‘Spies Against Armageddon’ – by Issac Wolf – Scripps-Howard News Service
Times of Israel review (on-line newspaper based in Jerusalem)
The Jewish Chronicle (U.K.) : “When Going Undercover Meant Sleeping with Arafat’s Wife”:

The Jerusalem Post review
of ‘Spies Against Armageddon’ (October 2012)

The Jewish Press
(New York): interview with Dan Raviv


Al-Monitor — by Yossi Melman:  “Netanyahu and Barak Gambling with Israeli Lives, U.S. Relations”:


KYW Newsradio (CBS Philadelphia):


Israel and the US would come to deeply regret air strikes against Iran (article in British newspaper The Guardian)


The Times of Israel


Al Monitor website: Who killed Iranian nuclear scientists?

Washington Jewish Week

Tablet (on-line magazine) : Why Israel Won’t Bomb Iran (this year) — by Yossi Melman and Dan Raviv

Jerusalem Post

The Guardian (British newspaper cited Spies Against Armageddon on covert war against Iran’s nuclear program)


Sacramento Bee


Huffington Post article by Raviv & Melman (Sept. 16, 2012):



ABC National Radio: John Batchelor Show (July 19, 2012)

Public radio in New York City: The Leonard Lopate Show

Jim Bohannon Show on Dial Global Radio (national):

Jim Bohannon interviews Dan Raviv (Oct. 5, 2012):  Click to hear 5-minute item

The Geraldo Show (WABC-AM, #1 Talk, New York) (Friday July 6):

WCBS-AM: WCBS Newsradio 880 (New York)

The Hugh Hewitt Show  (national)

BBC Persian Service (July 9, 2012: radio and TV)

BBC World Service:  NewsHour with Owen Bennet Jones (July 9, 2012)

WTOP Radio (#1 News, Washington, DC) : click to hear interview

WWL Radio, New Orleans: Garland Robinette Show (July 19, 2012)

KXNT-Radio, Las Vegas

KMOX-AM (#1 News/Talk, St. Louis, MO)

WFLA-AM (#1 News/Talk, Tampa, FL)

WNEW-AM (News/Talk, Washington, DC)

WPHT-AM (#1 News/Talk, Philadelphia, PA)

WAKR-AM (#1 Oldies/Talk, Akron, OH)

KOA-AM (#1 News/Talk, Denver, CO)

WIOD-AM (#1 News/Talk, Miami, FL) – Jimmy Cefalo and Manny Munoz

WCCO-AM, Minneapolis, MN

WBAT-AM, Marion, IN

WCXZ-AM, Harrogate, TN

WIBX-AM, Utica, NY

WWJ-AM, Detroit, MI

WBT-AM, Charlotte, NC

WHOP-FM, Hopkinsville, KY

WHCU-AM, Ithaca, NY

WSJS-AM, Winston Salem, NC

KARV-AM, Little Rock, AK

KDAL-AM, Duluth, MN

KICD-AM, Sioux City, IA

KFQD-AM, Anchorage, AL

October 19, 2012

Will Israel Attack Iran? Soon? Defying America?

by Yossi Melman and Dan Raviv

Rumors within Israel — often amplified by websites and traditional news media in other countries — keep suggesting that the Israeli air force will soon be sent on a risky mission to damage or destroy Iran’s nuclear sites.

But for various reasons, the chances of an attack before America’s election day — November 6 — continue to diminish. As we dared to predict in the on-line Tablet Magazine nearly two months ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are well aware of the American political calendar; and every Israeli in any position of responsibility has to acknowledge the vital importance of a healthy alliance with the United States.   Here’s our article from July 11:

In 1994, our book Friends In Deed: Inside the U.S.-Israel Alliance sought to explain why a superpower and a tiny country such as Israel had become so close.  A new e-book version is available for Kindle at: , for Nook at and also in other formats.

Of course, anyone familiar with military history will know that “surprise” can be a potent part of military victory.  Yet for Israel to take the Obama Administration by surprise — at this ultra-sensitive time — seems almost unimaginable.

We hope that doesn’t give the Iranian regime much comfort, as it continues with its secretive nuclear program.

September 15, 2012

Chance of Israeli Airstrikes on Iran Before November Almost Nil

Here is an article posted today by the Jewish news and features on-line magazine, Tablet, by Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman, authors of the newly released Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars.


israel spy, covert operations, spies against armageddonIn the past year, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, have honed their talent for psychological warfare. At international Holocaust Remembrance Day  in January, at the annual AIPAC Policy Conference in March, and in countless interviews, they have created the impression at every opportunity that Israel could strike Iran’s nuclear facilities at any moment—and that an attack becomes more likely with each passing day.

Might we wake up one morning between now and November to hear unconfirmed reports of major explosions at Natanz and Fordow, two of Iran’s key uranium-enrichment centers? Or will rumors of a strike trickle out, as they did in September 2007, weeks after the Israeli air force destroyed a Syrian nuclear reactor under construction?

No chance.

Although the decision rests in the hands of only two men, and ultimately in Netanyahu’s alone, it can be said with confidence that there will be no Israeli military strike on Iran before America’s Election Day this year. November 6 may not be literally circled on the calendars of Israel’s political and military chiefs, but it might as well be. What makes us so confident?

Officials in the U.S. and Israeli governments told us they believe that President Obama, during private talks at the White House in early March, explicitly requested that Netanyahu not use warplanes or missiles to attack Iran before November. The president may well have used the same words a reporter overheard him saying a few weeks later to his Russian counterpart, Dmitri Medvedev, at a summit in Seoul: “This is my last election,” Obama said. “After my election I have more flexibility.”

If Netanyahu heeds the president’s request, he’ll be granting Obama time to win a second term without the crisis of a potential oil disruption and Iranian retaliation that might spook American voters enough to question Obama’s foreign-policy credibility.

But will Netanyahu wait? It is no secret that the two leaders do not get along well personally, and the prisms through which they view the Middle East are entirely different. Obama made plain during his first two years in office that he believed the path to progress in the region was by way of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, specifically by halting Israeli settlements and Jewish housing construction in East Jerusalem. Netanyahu, in contrast, warned that Iran is by far the greatest danger confronting the Western world.

The prime minister seems sure that a President Mitt Romney—with whom he’s been friends since their days at the Boston Consulting Group in the 1970s—would be supportive of almost anything Israel’s government would decide to do.

So, why heed Obama’s request? The simplest answer, of course, is that Obama may be reelected, and Israel’s leader would not want to be branded as the ally who did not cooperate.

There is a more nuanced reality revealed by some Israeli officials who prefer not to be named because their analysis could be seen as undermining Netanyahu-Barak’s tough stand. Some in Jerusalem’s political world, and many in the Israeli military and the intelligence community, say it is highly unlikely that the Jewish state will strike Iran this year for several sound reasons.

First, they say, there is no great urgency. Iran has continued to enrich uranium, but Israeli intelligence estimates suggest that it would take another year—at least—for Iran to assemble its first bomb, and yet another year to fit it into a missile’s warhead.

Second, there is much that Israel can do and is doing, without using its air force and missiles. Israel’s intelligence community, led by the Mossad and the even larger military agency Aman, is enjoying an unprecedentedly strong partnership with the CIA and other Western security agencies. While diplomats led by the United States tried to negotiate with Iran in Istanbul, Baghdad, and Moscow this year, Israel and its covert partners continually pressed ahead with sabotage and other subterfuge meant to delay and divert Iran’s nuclear program.

We now know that the United States and Israel cooperated on highly sophisticated malware called Stuxnet and Flame—and officials we spoke with add that there is more going on that has not been revealed. Israeli responsibility for a string of assassinations in Tehran, aimed at scientists and engineers who worked in their country’s nuclear program, is also barely concealed.

Netanyahu and Barak both have a taste for covert action. They are veterans of an elite and secretive unit of the Israel Defense Forces called Sayeret Matkal that does more than almost anyone can imagine. In the 1970s, Barak was Netanyahu’s commander when soldiers in the unit successfully assaulted a hijacked airliner on the tarmac in Tel Aviv, rescued hostages during other terrorist sieges, slipped into Beirut to assassinate Palestinian militants, and infiltrated Syria to kidnap military officers for use in a prisoner swap.

The two men, now weighing one of the most difficult decisions of their political lives, obviously want to stop Iran’s nuclear program without a military strike or all-out war. They must wonder whether covert action—including, perhaps, more assassinations, sabotage, supplying Iranians with faulty parts, continuing to disrupt their computer programs, and more—can do enough.

Third, most Israeli military analysts, including those in the Israeli air force, agree that Israel’s capabilities are so limited that bombing Iran would only delay its nuclear program, not destroy it. The United States has supplied Israel with 100 GBU-28 bunker-buster bombs in the past six years. But to be much better prepared to strike many targets in Iran, the Israelis want 200 of the improved GBU-31 bombs that have a more precise guidance system. Israel’s air force says it also needs two or three KC-135 midair-refueling tanker planes.

Meir Dagan, the former Mossad espionage chief who is waging an almost one-man campaign against an Israeli military strike, warns that a strike would bolster nationalist pride within Iran and spur the Iranians to rebuild and accelerate their nuclear work. Dagan adds that technological knowledge cannot be wiped out by a series of bombing raids. (On the other hand, in the past Israel has been satisfied with the strategy of achieving a multiyear delay in an enemy’s threatening strategy. When Prime Minister Menachem Begin sent the air force to bomb Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981, Israeli intelligence believed that it might derail Saddam Hussein’s nuclear project for only two or three years. Still, it was deemed by Israel’s leaders to be well worth doing.)

The prime minister and the defense minister are treating Dagan as an enemy, probably because they are annoyed that his public remarks rob them of the strongest tool they posses to command the world’s attention. Netanyahu and Barak have been using the threat of an Israeli strike as a lever to push the international community into imposing harsher sanctions against Iran. But now, a respected man such as Dagan, who has only recently stepped out of the shadows, calls the military option “stupid,” and other senior figures in military and intelligence agencies are beginning to privately agree with him.

Netanyahu and Barak surely realize the potential dangers stemming from a strike on Iran: Retaliation could include terrorism most anywhere around the globe, a lethal rain of thousands of missiles hitting Israel, and the possibility of an all-out war that could disrupt oil supplies and trigger widespread criticism of Israel.

They also know the dangers of accepting Iran as a nuclear-armed state. Almost without exception, Israeli politicians, military leaders, and intelligence chiefs say that their country cannot tolerate living within a thousand miles of a radical enemy armed with nuclear bombs. There is too much of a chance, they argue, that the Iranians would actually use them; or, at the least, that Iran would be propelled into an unchallengeable role as a regional super-power.

The Iranians may not budge, and a military attack may well happen eventually. But it is far more likely that an American president, either Obama or Romney, will be the one to order attacks aimed at destroying Iran’s nuclear facilities after the election. That would be a last resort after exhausting options like covert actions, harsher sanctions, and diplomacy. Whatever their disagreements on tactics, on timing, and on Palestinian issues, U.S. and Israeli leaders are united in their conclusion that the world cannot comfortably live in the shadow of a nuclear-armed Iran.

– – –

Dan Raviv, a CBS News correspondent, and Yossi Melman, an Israeli journalist, are co-authors of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars. They blog at

July 12, 2012

Archive: Anat Kamm, Who Leaked Secret IDF Documents

From, April 8, 2010:

A look at Anat Kamm, who leaked secret IDF documents to a Haaretz reporter.

By  Yossi Melman

Israel’s most famous journalist this month is a 23-year-old Tel Aviv University undergraduate named Anat Kamm. Charged in December with leaking to a journalist some 2,000 classified documents obtained during her army service, she is now under house arrest at her parents’ East Jerusalem home. If convicted, she could serve 20 years in prison. Her case was under a court-issued gag order since her arrest three and a half months ago. Today, on the heels of a blast of international press coverage, a Tel Aviv district court lifted the gag order.

anat kamm, spies against armageddon, israel spyWho is Anat Kamm?

Her mother is a senior civil servant at the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, where she works with the handicapped; her father is a tourist guide. Born in Jerusalem, Kamm joined the Israel Boy and Girl Scouts Federation and attended one of the country’s most prestigious high schools, the Hebrew University Secondary School, known as Leyada, graduates of which include Nobel-winning physicist David Grosman and writer Meir Shalev. Acquaintances describe her as opinionated, very assertive, and politically active from a young age.

Some saw in her the makings of a future political leader. Though by no means a member of the anti-Zionist left, she has throughout her life demonstrated an acute concern with social and political justice, acquaintances say. Her interest in journalism blossomed in high school, where she began writing for several youth publications.

After graduating she began her compulsory military service in the office of Maj. Gen. Yair Naveh, then the head of the Israel Defense Forces’ Central Command, which has responsibility for military operations in the West Bank. Having shown promise in Naveh’s office, she was sent to an officer training course, which she failed to complete because, she told friends, she realized she didn’t want to be an officer.

When her service ended in spring 2007, she found a job at Walla, one of Israel’s most popular news and entertainment websites, owned partially by Haaretz and primarily by Bezeq, a major Israeli telecommunications company. Then, working as Walla’s media reporter, she covered, in autumn 2008, a meeting of Haaretz journalists and editors then trying to organize into a trade union, which the owners of Haaretz did not want to recognize. The meeting took place in the central hall of Tel Aviv’s Beit Sokolov, or Journalists’ House.

At the meeting, she approached the Haaretz investigative reporter Uri Blau, a relatively young man in his mid-thirties, who began his career at a local paper in Jerusalem. Though Kamm and Blau were from the same city, they had never met. Kamm, who admired Blau’s writing, told him she had stolen copies of secret documents during her military service at the office of the head of the IDF’s Central Command. Sometime later she gave Blau some of the documents, which she had been holding for 18 months. (A first attempt to hand off documents to Yossi Yehoshu, a reporter for Yediot Aharonot, failed.) Haaretz published articles based on a few of them not long after, in November 2008.

Kamm’s motive, colleagues say, was to expose the IDF’s egregious violation of Israeli law, clear evidence of which was in her dossier. Of its 2,000 documents, 700 were classified as “top secret” and only a handful were used by Haaretz. But sources familiar with the case say the most damning of them were used in Blau’s reporting.

Blau revealed that in March and April 2007, while Kamm was working at the office of the IDF’s head of Central Command, the army’s highest ranking officers knowingly planned to violate a 2006 Supreme Court ruling that forbade the assassination of Palestinian militants when their arrest was possible. In April 2007, the IDF’s Central Command received permission to assassinate an Islamic Jihad leader named Ziad Malaisha. The assassination, Kamm’s documents reveal, was planned and approved in meetings with the head of the IDF’s Operations Directorate, Brig. Gen. Sami Turjeman, and the IDF’s Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi.

Summaries of the meetings reveal that the officers were aware of the Supreme Court ruling they would soon violate. The assassination, which was postponed because of the April 2007 visit of U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, took place in June 2007, the month Kamm left the army.

Israel’s military censors approved Blau’s article, finding that its publication would not damage Israel’s national security. Yet an intention to do such damage is precisely what Kamm is now accused of.

Whether or not Blau’s article damaged Israeli national security, it appears to have ruffled the feathers of quite a few senior officers: Soon after its publication the military ordered what was then called the Department of Field Security and is now called the Department for the Protection of Information to open an investigation. Ashkenazi, the chief of staff, had said after the Lebanon War of 2006 that it was his mission to end leaks from high-level officers.

The investigation of the leak at Central Command, an operation codenamed “Double Take”—a reference, some believe, to the army’s intention to prosecute both Kamm and Blau—lasted a year before Kamm was arrested. Until then, her life appeared perfectly normal. She moved to Tel Aviv, where she studied history at the university and continued to work as a journalist for Walla.

In September 2009, Israel’s domestic security service approached Blau, who consulted with Haaretz’s lawyers and agreed to cooperate with investigators, who wanted him to return the documents. In return, Shin Bet agreed not to indict him and not to use the documents as evidence against his sources. Now, however, the agreement appears to have broken down, as Haaretz and the Shin Bet accuse each other of violating it. Blau, meanwhile, went with his girlfriend on a previously planned trip to China.

When the investigators found Kamm in late 2009—after obtaining her phone records, which are believed to reveal communication with Blau—she had been a civilian, which is to say outside the jurisdiction of military investigators, for two and a half years. Her case was referred to the Shabak, Israel’s domestic security agency, which promptly called her to a police station, where she was interrogated and is believed to have confessed to leaking the documents. Under Israeli law, providing classified documents to a journalist is no less treasonous than providing them to a terrorist group or foreign government.

After Kamm’s arrest, a court in the city of Petah Tikva issued a gag order forbidding any Israeli media from reporting on the case or on the existence of the gag order. Kamm’s family hired two lawyers, Eitan Lehman and Avigdor Feldman, an articulate leftist and prominent litigator who had previously defended Israel’s most famous accused spy, Mordechai Vanunu, who was sentenced to 18 years in prison for revealing details of Israel’s nuclear weapons program. Kamm was granted permission to serve her house arrest at her Tel Aviv apartment and her mother’s home in Jerusalem, and to continue working at Walla. The judge who issued the gag order, Einat Ron, had served as a colonel in the IDF’s military prosecutor’s office. In 2001, Col. Ron made headlines as the IDF’s chief military prosecutor when she chose not to open a criminal investigation after finding that a group of soldiers had violated army regulations by killing an unarmed 11-year-old Palestinian boy.

Despite the wide coverage of the case in international media, Ron had for months refused to lift the gag order. Pressure from the IDF and the security services forced a higher court to lift it today. But a lifting of the gag order will not ensure leniency in Kamm’s trial. The judge overseeing that trial, Zeev Hammer, is known to be very friendly to the security establishment.

Uri Blau, meanwhile, has not returned from his trip to China. As the case unfolded, he moved to Britain and refused to return to Israel to face interrogation. A lawyer from Haaretz went to see Blau in Europe, where he had gone after visiting China. Haaretz was then negotiating with the authorities to see if he could return without facing arrest. The authorities refused.

More in: Anat Kamm, gag order, Israel Defense Forces, leaks, Shabak, Tel Aviv, Uri Blau, Yossi Melman

June 14, 2012

Archive: Does It Matter Who Gets Credit For Stuxnet?

From, October 5, 2010:

By Yossi Melman

A year and a half ago, the German engineering giant Siemens won a contract to supply the Israel Airports Authority with a new conveyor system worth $50 million. The deal raised eyebrows inside and outside Israel. For years, Siemens had been the largest German trade partner with the ayatollahs in Iran, providing them with sophisticated hardware and software for key industrial plants, including oil rigs, gas pipelines, and refineries, to the tune of over one billion euros. Occasionally, it was reported that some of the Siemens equipment and “dual use” components had found their way to Iran’s nuclear installations. Why was the Israeli government allowing one of its state-owned authorities to do business with Siemens?

stuxnet, cyberwar, spies against armageddon israel spyComplaints about the dubious deal were brought to Uzi Arad, the national security adviser who, together with his boss, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, rarely misses an opportunity to sound alarms over the threat of Iran destroying the Jewish state with a second Holocaust. Arad shrugged the situation off, explaining that the matter was neither under his watch nor part of his turf; instead it was for the Ministry of Finance. But that ministry also did nothing.

The Siemens deal was interpreted at the time as a typical Israeli bureaucratic entanglement—or an example of official Israeli hypocrisy. But with the discovery of Stuxnet, the malicious software—a “worm”—that was eating and damaging Iran’s nuclear computers and slowing down at least two key installations (the uranium enrichment facility at Natanz and the nuclear reactor at Bushehr), a third possibility suggests itself: a hidden connection between the Israeli intelligence community and a German company that was selling advanced machinery to Israel’s most dangerous adversary.

More Context

The Stuxnet attack on Iran is a new development in the evolution of cyberwarfare

Spy vs. spy intrigue between the CIA and Israel, centered around the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv

Computer experts agree that the Stuxnet worm was created by a powerful, resourceful, and technologically skillful organization—and not by freelance hackers. The worm contaminated Siemens control software that was sold by the company to Iranian civilian projects but somehow found its way into its nuclear sites despite U.N. Security Council sanctions.

The major question is how the creators of Stuxnet did it. There are a few possibilities. One is that the intelligence agency behind the attack recruited a Siemens programmer who sold his secrets for financial gain or for other reasons. Another explanation could be that Siemens, suffering from a degree of liability and guilt—Germans perpetrating a second Holocaust—willingly cooperated with Israeli intelligence, which in return offered Siemens a way out of being implicated if and when the worm was discovered.

This last seems to be the least plausible scenario, since the German corporation admitted that 15 of its customers have been affected—including chemical and power plants and production facilities. Five of the 15 companies affected have their headquarters in Germany, while the others are based in the United States, other Western European countries, and Asia. But even if Siemens itself didn’t cooperate, it’s also possible that the BND—Germany’s foreign espionage agency, which is a strong ally of both the Israeli Mossad and the CIA and is a partner in the battle against Iranian nuclear program—was somehow involved in the operation.

Whatever the facts are, Siemens has invested extensively in Israeli high-tech and industrial companies.

According to computer security experts, the worm managed to penetrate the Siemens software and find its way into Iran via Taiwan. Two and a half years ago, the writers of Stuxnet broke the security protections of two Taiwanese firms and planted the worm on their equipment. One, JMicron, is a small and relatively unknown company. The other, Realtek Semiconductors, is large and fairly well-known in its field. A few months later, both the Mossad and the CIA filed complaints to the Taiwanese government that Iranian agents had penetrated the market and acquired 100 transducers, which were secretly shipped to Tehran. The transducers, an essential component for operating centrifuges in Natanz, were originally manufactured in Europe and then sold to a company in Taiwan, which then sold them to Iran’s defense ministry.

Can it be that the complaints about the transducers were a decoy to divert attention from the original Mossad or CIA break-in via Taiwan? In the dark world of secret intelligence operations, characterized by disinformation and webs of lies, everything is possible.

There could be, however, a simpler version of what happened.

Iran’s intelligence minister said on Saturday that authorities had arrested several “nuclear spies” who were working to derail Tehran’s nuclear program through cyberspace.

Without saying how many people had been arrested or when, Heydar Moslehi, the intelligence minister, was quoted on state television’s website as saying Iran had “prevented the enemies’ destructive activity.” He added that intelligence agents had discovered the “destructive activities of the arrogant (Western powers) in cyberspace, and different ways to confront them have been designed and implemented.” Behind Moslehi’s vague words was the suggestion that the enemies of Iran had planted the worm using the techniques of classical intelligence work: recruiting Iranian agents and providing them with the malicious software.

If indeed Israeli intelligence independently (or in a joint operation with its U.S. counterpart) is behind this unique and unprecedented cyberattack, they will never admit it. These are the rules of the espionage game. You spy, you steal secrets, you bug phone lines, you plant viruses that sabotage, and you even kill, but you never take the responsibility, even if you are caught red-handed. A worldwide search is now under way for clues to the identity of the creators and spreaders of the worm.

Last week the New York Times reported the discovery of the word “Myrtus” in the Stuxnet code, which corresponds to the Hebrew word for the Bible’s Queen Esther. The article noted that the Book of Esther describes “the Jews preempt[ing] a Persian plot to destroy them.” The computer security firm Symantec analyzed another data point about the worm. It found the digits 19790509. This is thought to be an infection marker, which, if set correctly, allows infection to occur. The digits appear to point to the date of May 9, 1979.

While a variety of historical events occurred on May 9, 1979, one of them, according to Wikipedia, is that “Habib Elghanian was executed by a firing squad in Tehran sending shock waves through the closely knit Iranian Jewish community. [Elghanian] was the [president of Tehran’s Jewish society] and the first Jew and one of the first civilians to be executed by [Iran’s post-revolutionary] Islamic government. This prompted the mass exodus of the once 100,000 member strong Jewish community of Iran which continues to this day.”

These explanations have an anecdotal value. When you plan such an operation, you check and recheck and double check each digit and each letter. Israeli and U.S. intelligence are not so sloppy as to leave behind such clumsy fingerprints. If they wanted to engage in a mind game, they would have done it in a more amusing and sophisticated manner.

The evidence pointing to Israel remains circumstantial. Israel is threatened by Iran, whose president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, continues to talk about the need for history to wipe the Jewish state from the face of earth. Israelis fear—rightly or wrongly—that once Iran has nuclear weapons, Israelis might be victims of a nuclear attack. The Israeli government has attempted to mobilize international diplomatic pressure on Iran and utilize friendly intelligence agencies to collect data on Iran’s nuclear program. Since Meir Dagan was appointed as head of Mossad eight years ago and assigned to coordinate Israeli efforts, Iran’s nuclear program has topped Israel’s list of intelligence priorities.

Israel has recruited top agents among the upper echelon of Iran’s nuclear scientists and directors. Alone and together with other international espionage agencies, Israeli intelligence has been trying to sabotage Iranian facilities in order to slow down progress toward a bomb. Iran’s uranium enrichment complex is the prime target for any future Israeli or U.S. military assault. A glimpse into the shadow war against the Iranian nuclear program was provided in the sections of James Risen’s 2006 book State of War, in which he detailed joint Mossad and CIA plans to sabotage the electrical grids leading to Iranian nuclear sites—plans that failed to materialize.

Over the past decade, Mossad and CIA planners successfully set up front and dummy companies all over the world with the aim of gaining the trust of Iranian purchasing networks and then selling them flawed components—a method known in intelligence parlance as “poisoning” enemy systems. So, why not try to “poison” Iranian systems further by planting malicious worms?

Israeli intelligence was one of the first in the world to understand the importance of computers and to apply them for military-intelligence use. Rafi Eitan, a former Mossad agent who specialized in covert operations and served as a chief adviser to several prime ministers, told me that already in the late 1970s he realized the significance of the evolving Internet and the virtual world for intelligence-gathering operations. Since then, Israel’s unit 8200 of the military intelligence branch—the equivalent of the National Security Agency in the United States—has been at the forefront of military efforts into technological attacks. Unit 8200 pioneered sigint (signals intelligence—listening to, intercepting, and deciphering enemy communication lines), elint (electronic intelligence), visint (visual intelligence—the collection of data and imagery from satellites and reconnaissance flights), and, in the last decade, netint.

Netint is the art of using cyberspace for intelligence purposes: You engage and try to recruit enemy agents by emails and chat rooms, send coded messages, “poison” computers. A few months ago, General Amos Yadlin, the commander of Israeli Military Intelligence, gave a public lecture at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. His topic was the changing nature of intelligence in the 21st century. The virtual world, he said, is important to the daily work of intelligence in two ways: defending one’s secrets and assaulting the enemy. His lecture was delivered long before the world learned about Stuxnet.



June 14, 2012

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