In a speech Thursday on cybersecurity, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta described as “probably the most destructive attack that the private sector has seen to date” the Shamoon computer virus that in August virtually destroyed 30,000 computers belonging to the Saudi Arabian state oil company Aramco.
Did Panetta limit his description in his talk before the Business Executives for National Security in New York to “the private sector” because he knows of the major cyberattacks against foreign governments? What crossed my mind was the Stuxnet virus, which has been described as a U.S.-Israeli collaboration that, beginning in 2009 and for at least a year, affected software associated with Iran’s nuclear program. In February, the Iranian Fars News Agency quoted a Tehran intelligence officer as saying that 16,000 computers in Iran had been infected by Stuxnet.
Earlier, there was Flame, another intelligence-gathering virus that focused on Iranian and other Middle Eastern computers. International computer security companies reported that Flame had some of the same characteristics as Stuxnet and apparently the same U.S.-Israeli origin.
Should we be surprised that Iran may have been behind the attacks on Aramco and probes of U.S. banks?
On Oct. 6, an Israeli F-16 shot down a drone that had flown in from the Mediterranean Sea and over the Negev desert near Dimona, site of Israel’s secret nuclear weapons facility.
Five days later, hours before Panetta’s speech, Hasan Nasrallah, secretary general of Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia, confirmed that his organization had launched the drone it had assembled from Iranian manufactured parts.
Two days ago, the London-based Sunday Times reported that the Hezbollah drone spent nearly three hours in the air sending back videos to Lebanon of Israel Defense Forces bases and perhaps Dimona before being shot down.
Nasrallah has made it clear that his use of drones isn’t over. “This flight was not our first, will not be our last, and we give assurances we can reach any point we want. We have the right to dispatch recon planes over occupied Palestine at any time,” he said Saturday.
In short, while armed drones have for years been a growing U.S. military and CIA weapon of choice in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen, other countries have been quietly but quickly getting into the game.
The United States paved the way, using drones in the late 1960s and early 1970s during the Vietnam War. Israel had joined in by the 1973 Yom Kippur War, using drones as decoys to confuse Syrian radar as well as for surveillance.
Rumors of a stealth U.S. drone were confirmed in December when Iran showed a video of an RQ-170 Sentinel stealth drone. Iranian officials said they had captured the drone 140 miles inside their borders.