DALLAS, June 21st, 2012 — Heydar Moslehi, the Iranian Intelligence Minister, claimed on Thursday that a planned cyber-attack against their nuclear facilities was detected. Moslehi said the United States, Britain, and Israel worked together to plan the attack and were referred to as arch enemies of Iran on their state television. This statement came directly following a failed summit between Iran and other world powers over Iran’s controversial nuclear program.
“Based on obtained information, America and the Zionist regime along with the MI6 planned an operation to launch a massive cyber-attack against Iran’s facilities following the meeting between Iran and the P5+1 in Moscow,” said Moslehi on Iran’s press TV. He continues that, “They still seek to carry out the plan, but we have taken necessary measures”.
This claim was quickly refuted by the chairman of the House intelligence committee Mike Rogers. At a Bloomberg Government conference in Washington Rogers said, “The United States does not use offensive capabilities. We just don’t do it,” in reference to cyber-attacks.
What can be construed as offensive might be in question however. According to The New York Times President Obama ordered attacks on Iran’s nuclear enrichment facilities as early as 2008, continuing an earlier program started by President George W. Bush. These attacks were said to have used a worm referred to as Stuxnet by cyber-security experts. The purpose of this malware was to target the centrifuges used to enrich uranium in order to slow down the growth of the Iranian nuclear program. These claims were said to have been made by former government officials that would not allow their names to be used due to the classified nature of the information.
What specific attack the Iranian Intelligence Minister is referring too now is unknown as is the method that was too be used. The United States has not openly admitted to any involvement in this but the defense department has recently been gearing up to use the Internet to fight terrorism.
The new Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications uses social media, intelligence analysts, hackers, and even diplomats to coordinate cyber-attacks aimed at terrorist threats. Starting as a group that focused primarily on countering the attempts of terrorist groups to recruit new followers, it has since become involved in a myriad of operations. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the group is part of a, “larger, multi-pronged attack on terrorism that goes beyond attacks like the Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden to include the propaganda battle”.
Clinton, in a speech at Special Operations Command, also stated that this type of hacking operation is only the beginning of a new wave of counterterrorism operations from the U.S. government. The Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications will work closely with the military, FBI, CIA, State Department and other groups to not only slow down terrorist recruitment, but to attack their ability to use the Internet as a weapon. Clinton also wishes to expand the reach of her department by increasing the number of military operations that incorporate civilian resources. These ops are referred to as “Smart Power” and could enlist the assistance of internet service providers, private sector software developers and more.
The latest Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications activity has garnered media attention all over the world. The group hacked terrorist propaganda sites in Yemeni and replaced al-Qaida anti-American propaganda with information that showed how much damage the terrorists have done to the people of the region. It took the group 48 hours to hack into the many targeted sites and make the changes. Clinton added that “Extremists are publicly venting their frustration and asking supporters not to believe everything they read on the Internet” which is odd considering they wanted potential followers to believe everything they read 48 hours earlier.
The Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications was formed by an executive order given on September 9th, 2011. The goal of the group was the reduction of radicalizing and violence by terrorists abroad through the use of communication tools. The executive order doesn’t specify what tools are to be used, but does mention “digital technology.” It is clear that the group is currently using hackers of the highest order and monitoring social media outlets such as Twitter, Facebook, and chat rooms. Agents are using these tools to covertly spread messages that counter the terrorist’s ability to do business and destabilize organizations that associate with al-Qaida . Using just the power of search engines such as Bing the group can identify potential threats and organize attack strategies.