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Roger L. Simon

Cyber War on Iran: the Siemens Connection

September 25th, 2010 - 3:34 pm

While the boors and bores of the mainstream media continue to focus on the “crucial matters” of our time such as Stephen Colbert’s tedious appearance before Congress and whether a Delaware senatorial candidate spent two days as a witch in high school,  news of real importance is breaking all around us.

I am not just referring to the cataclysmic testimony by Chris Coates  in front of the Civil Rights Commission on Friday, but to a yet bigger story with a potentially huge implications for geo-politics — the recent (and possibly ongoing) cyber attack on Iranian computers that may have temporarily crippled the nuclear capability (and who knows what else) of the totalitarian Islamic state.

Yesterday, I wrote some preliminary words about this highly sophisticated attack by the so-called “Stuxnet” worm; today we learn the startling news the Iranians themselves have admitted that something serious has happened. Such admissions are certainly not common from the secretive state. From Asia Bizz:

The Iranian Ministry has stated that some 30000 industrial computers have been infected by Stuxnet. One of the main operations done by Stuxnet is that it extracts vital information from these systems and then sends it somewhere abroad. Iran has termed this virus as a spy virus, as it is deploying vital data to other countries. On the other hand it is said, a similar attack has been reported from Iran’s latest nuclear power plant facility, but these reports have not yet been confirmed.

Three-thousand industrial computers … what industries and how extensive the damage is Iran isn’t saying. But we can hazard the guess that most of it is militarily related. Besides the ability to send information abroad, “Stuxnet” is reportedly able to commandeer computers and direct them to destroy what they are managing. If true, this changes the face of warfare.

How did it all start?  The conjecture is that someone stuck a thumb drive in a USB port and off went the malware to infect the network.  This, of course, suggests an inside job of some sort (more of that in a moment). As for whodunit,  among many others, Richard Falkenrath of the Chertoff Group says the attack was too extensive for hackers and was most likely the work of “state actors.”  Falkenrath suggests Israel, because he theorizes the U.S. would not take such a bold step.

That makes sense. But did the Israelis tell the US administration what they were up to — or did they just surprise us, as they did with the raid on Saddam’s Osirak reactor?  As you will recall, when Reagan’s national security adviser, in high dudgeon, reported on that Israeli action to the president, Reagan famously shrugged it off with a “boys will be boys.”  It’s hard to imagine Obama being so blase about anything where Israel is concerned, but some CIA or other U.S. intelligence  involvement in what has occurred remains a possibility.

In all likelihood Israel did not act entirely alone — there were too many moving parts to this attack — and I am going now to suggest another ally — the German electronics giant Siemens AG.

Iranian computers are PCs operating on Windows 7. The minds behind Stuxnet apparently discovered four new vulnerabilities in the latest Windows operating system previously unknown to Microsoft, two of which have reportedly already been plugged. (Nuclear weapons controlled by Windows?  Let’s not even go there.) The actual industrial equipment, however, is controlled by software specially designed for the Iranian by another company — the aforementioned Siemens.

Now like several other major German corporations,  Siemens has — shall we say — a checkered past regarding the Jews. From Wikipedia:

Preceding World War II Siemens was involved in funding the rise of the Nazi Party and the secret rearmament of Germany. During the second World War, Siemens supported the Hitler regime, contributed to the war effort and participated in the “Nazification” of the economy. Siemens had many factories in and around notorious concentration camps[8][9] to build electric switches for military uses.[10] In one example, almost 100,000 men and women from Auschwitz worked in a Siemens factory inside the camp, supplying the electricity to the camp.

With that history, what was Siemens doing making deals with the Holocaust-denying Iranian regime? Good question.  In fact, their dealings with the regime went way above and beyond the call of duty or anything else. With Nokia, the Finnish cellular phone giant, they aided and abetted the mullahs in the regime’s brutal repression of the democracy demonstrators in 2009. Indeed, the technology from the joint venture of the two telcom companies was used to track down dissidents, some of whom ended up in Evin Prison and were undoubtedly tortured. This disgusting behavior on the part of the companies was documented all over the Internet, as many of you will recall, particularly on Twitter and Facebook.

Now Siemens was not unaware of this (to put it mildly) embarrassment.  Quite recently, June 2, 2010, in fact, they admitted their culpability. From Business Week:

Nokia-Siemens Networks on Wednesday (2 June) admitted its share of the blame for Iran’s brutal crackdown on anti-government demonstrators last year after selling mobile phone surveillance to the authoritarian regime.

“We absolutely do find ourselves in a tricky situation and need the help of people in this room to help us navigate in these challenging times,” Barry French, head of marketing and corporate affairs with Nokia-Siemens Networks, a joint venture of Nokia (NOK) and Siemens (SI), told MEPs [members of the European Parliament] during a hearing on human rights and new information technologies.

I guess you see where I’m going here. Did someone at Siemens, or some group of people, somewhere between Auschwitz and Teheran, finally start to choose the most obvious moral good over corporate greed? Anything’s possible, isn’t it, especially given the light shown on their behavior by the Internet. Did they want to be recorded in history as the company that created the software controlling Iranian nuclear weapons?

In order not to be, they didn’t have to do anything too complicated.  They would just have to give some people a few lines of code or a “certificate” (two were reportedly involved here).

Of course, I could be all wrong and Siemens did not reform. Someone just stole the information from them. But I am an optimist and choose to believe that Siemens — or people within it — are capable of change. In fact, I rather suspect they are.

So there is a lesson from this, not only for the execrable mullahs (who now must be circling their wagons in panic) but also to the other companies that still make deals with them. When you consort with true evil just for the bottom line, someone may come to get you.  And if you have a computer, they can come to get you just about anywhere. And they will be justified in doing it.  And they will not stop.

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