FBI intent on sniffing out those who leaked possible US Stuxnet role

Filed Under: Featured, Law & order, Malware, Privacy

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visits the Natanz nuclear enrichment facilityFederal investigators in the US are tightening the screws on former senior government officials who might have leaked info about the Stuxnet worm, according to The Washington Post.

Last June, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. started the inquiry into loose lips.

As Naked Security recounts here, the Stuxnet virus was seemingly created by the US, under the regime of President George W. Bush, to target Iran's nuclear facility in Natanz.

The US pulled Israel into the cyber-espionage effort, with stunning results.

Those results included slowing down and speeding up a centrifuge's delicate parts, which resulted in damage so extreme that, according to The New York Times, debris from a damaged centrifuge was laid across the conference table at the White House's Situation Room to demonstrate the malware's potential power.

But the obligingly destructive Stuxnet spun out of control and escaped into the wider world, damaging systems well beyond Iran.

In spite of the virus going maverick, President Barack Obama secretly authorized continued attacks, according to the NYT.

New York Times article

The code name for the Stuxnet operation was Olympic Games.

Olympic Games, indeed: The administration's efforts to find and punish those who informed the press about Stuxnet are reaching strenuous levels.

One person familiar with the investigation told the Washington Post that prosecutors are pursuing "everybody - at pretty high levels, too... There are many people who’ve been contacted from different agencies."

Send button. Image from ShutterstockThat includes several current and former senior government officials. The Washington Post reports that investigators are confronting these high-level officials with evidence of contact with journalists that's based on extensive analysis of their email accounts and phone records.

Six officials have already been prosecuted for disclosing classified information, and more senior-level officials may yet be implicated.

The FBI's manhunt has been aided by increasingly sophisticated data-crunching tools to sift through huge volumes of email.

Outside of its use in investigating Olympic Games leaks, such data-crunching technology has led to one recent prison term—that of John Kiriakou, a former CIA officer sentenced on Friday to 30 months in prison for disclosing to a journalist the identity of an undercover CIA officer - and the high-profile resignation of Gen. David H. Petraeus, who resigned as CIA director after the FBI discovered emails implicating him in an extramarital affair.

Glenn Greenwald at The Guardian has written an extensive and thoughtful post about how the Stuxnet leaks investigation demonstrates, in his opinion, the Obama administration's devotion to maintaining and increasing its secrecy power.

Secret, confidential, classified. Image from ShutterstockIt's not hard to come to the same conclusion that Mother Jones did: war has been declared against whistleblowers, and the administration is taking it to what some believe are troubling extremes.

The worry is that we are all suffering loss of privacy due to increasingly sophisticated and ever-more-intrusive surveillance techniques.

But what's particularly alarming is the idea of would-be whistleblowers being intimidated to the extent that they might not fight for transparency into the government's actions.

The Guardian's Greenwald writes:

"Given how subservient the federal judiciary is to government secrecy claims, it is not hyperbole to describe unauthorized leaks as the only real avenue remaining for learning about what the US government does - particularly for discovering the bad acts it commits. That is why the Obama administration is waging an unprecedented war against it - a war that continually escalates - and it is why it is so threatening."

May those who seek government transparency keep a close eye on the FBI's use of data-crunching and how it can be used against them.

Send button and top secret stamp images from Shutterstock.

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11 Responses to FBI intent on sniffing out those who leaked possible US Stuxnet role

  1. I'm very inspired by how the Land of the Free shows us how Democracy and Free Speech work.

  2. NobodySpecial · 977 days ago

    Leaker != Whistleblower. The latter releases information out of a sense of duty to expose some wrongdoing, the former for reasons more like gaining attention or influencing public opinion. There is no reason to leak the details of ongoing intelligence activities unless the release of the information is truly in the public interest, not just the public curiosity.

    • janet · 933 days ago

      There is much done in order to try to draw attention and "make a name" for oneself. This is particularly true for those with political aspirations - even campaign support positions. Some feel they are going to save the country - and blame someone else if they believe that their remarks are voiced too loudly - phoney reputations.

  3. Catman · 976 days ago

    Too much free speech costs lives. When faced with the prospects of a nuclear armed despotic regime (a.k.a. Iran) or silencing blabbermouths masquerading as do-gooders, the choice should be really simple: big mouths should be kept shut.
    This is especially true for those who have been trusted with highly confidential information. Getting security clearance and signing official secrets acts must have consequences when breached, otherwise national security is a meaningless farce.
    Am I a control freak? Hell yeah!

  4. David Emeny · 976 days ago

    Only one country has used the atomic bomb. Apart from heavy metal weapons together with its allies (slaves) Guess who? Paranoia rules OK.

  5. idbehold · 976 days ago

    Well what do you expect? You release highly classified information that is highly embarrassing to the administration and your country yet you wonder why they are coming at you full force?

    Whistle blowers are breaking the law and their work contract most likely as well. If they are caught they will be prosecuted otherwise what is the point of having classified information?

    • G-Man · 975 days ago

      Those designating information or events as 'classified' may have there own motives for doing so, for example to attempt to hide war crimes.

      Classified or not, there are times when it is in the public interest to release such information.

  6. "The FBI's manhunt has been aided by increasingly sophisticated data-crunching tools to sift through huge volumes of email." ....that would be Google.

  7. Chih-Cherng · 975 days ago

    Stuxnet is just the tip of the iceberg. US government is capable of more and bigger cyber attacks.

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About the author

I've been writing about technology, careers, science and health since 1995. I rose to the lofty heights of Executive Editor for eWEEK, popped out with the 2008 crash, joined the freelancer economy, and am still writing for my beloved peeps at places like Sophos's Naked Security, CIO Mag, ComputerWorld, PC Mag, IT Expert Voice, Software Quality Connection, Time, and the US and British editions of HP's Input/Output. I respond to cash and spicy sites, so don't be shy.