This past weekend the Christian Science Monitor reported that Stuxnet, the original computer virus detected in the American-led cyber war against Iran’s nuclear program, was set to deactivate on June 24. That just so happens to be “seven years to the day after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president.”
This is probably not that big of a deal because, as the Monitor points out: Stuxnet is just one of several programs let loose inside Iran (others are more sophisticated), another version of Stuxnet could be on the prowl, and Stuxnet has already been quarantined on “[a]ll but a few hundred of the more than 130,000 computers globally” that were infected.
Still, the Iranians have taken this opportunity to crow. Stuxnet and the other viruses, while disruptive, have not successfully stopped the Iranians from enriching uranium.
Fars News Agency (FNA), a front for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which controls the Iranian nuclear program, published an article on Sunday titled, “Stuxnet to Shut down Sunday with No Major Breakthrough in Deterring Iran's N. Work.” Accompanying the article is a graphic that reads “Stuxnet” and “Made in U.S.A.” The article is mainly a reprint of the Monitor piece, with a noteworthy edit or two.
Namely, the Monitor article reads:
At one second past midnight Sunday, the world's most powerful known cyber weapon, reportedly created by the US with Israeli support to clandestinely infiltrate and then wreck Iran's nuclear fuel enrichment program, will cease to operate.
Now here is the FNA version (emphasis added):
At one second past midnight Sunday, the United States' most powerful known cyber weapon will cease to operate after it failed to clandestinely infiltrate and then wreck Iran's nuclear fuel enrichment program.
Stuxnet did fail to “wreck Iran’s nuclear fuel enrichment program” entirely, but it also did “wreck” a number of Iran’s centrifuges. And Stuxnet certainly was successful in its ability to “clandestinely infiltrate” Iran’s nuclear program, much to the Iranians’ embarrassment. And the Iranians can’t even take credit for discovering the virus. According to the New York Times’s account of how Stuxnet was unleashed and then found out, it was a programming error that allowed the virus to escape the Natanz nuclear facility, replicate itself in the wild, and then generate the interest of outside observers.
It is worth repeating what Iran’s response to these cyber-attacks and other clandestine measures has been: terrorism. The Iranians have launched a series of plots against foreign diplomats the world over, including against American personnel inside Azerbaijan. Most of Iran’s terrorist plots have failed, but some have been successful.
The Iranians don’t publish any articles on the FNA website crowing about their involvement in terrorism, however. The Iranians leave that part of the shadow war over their nuclear program to others to report on.
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.