Israeli officials who were placed at risk by the Obama administration’s leaks about the Stuxnet virus are disputing American claims that the cyber-weapon was jointly developed by the U.S. and Israel. Rather, they say, Israeli intelligence first started developing cyberspace warfare against Iran, only convincing the U.S.–with some difficulty–to join in. The Israelis allege that President Barack Obama claimed credit for Stuxnet to boost his re-election campaign.
The Israeli officials actually told me a different version. They said that it was Israeli intelligence that began, a few years earlier, a cyberspace campaign to damage and slow down Iran’s nuclear intentions. And only later they managed to convince the USA to consider a joint operation — which, at the time, was unheard of. Even friendly nations are hesitant to share their technological and intelligence resources against a common enemy…
Yet my Israeli sources understand the sensitivity and the timing of the issue and are not going to be dragged into a battle over taking credit. “We know that it is the presidential election season,” one Israeli added, “and don’t want to spoil the party for President Obama and his officials, who shared in a twisted and manipulated way some of the behind-the-scenes secrets of the success of cyberwar.”
The Obama administration’s pattern of leaks to mainstream media outlets–of which the Stuxnet virus is only one example–prompted bipartisan outrage from Congress and the appointment of two special prosecutors. While the leaks jeopardized U.S. national security–allegedly for the political purpose of burnishing President Obama’s image as commander-in-chief–they may also have been exaggerated, if the new reports from Israel are accurate.
Update: Melman’s colleague Dan Raviv writes to indicate that Melman no longer works for Ha’aretz.