Flaming the Flame: The Case of the Mysterious Cyberleaks

Those perspicacious bloodhounds at the Washington Post reported today that U.S. and Israeli agents were the “clever boots” collaborating on the recently revealed “Flame” virus that has been infecting (mostly) Iranian computers of late. They published this “astonishing” news the very day Iran nuclear talks with the so-called 5+1 broke down for what feels like the five thousandth time.


I think not. It’s not even particularly surprising news, even though it did generate a Drudge link (no siren, however).

What’s interesting is the timing of the leak and its purpose. After all, it had long been reported, surmised earlier, that the same two countries had combined forces on “Stuxnet” and, as our ever-collegial Russian friends informed us, “Flame” was a veritable “Son of Stuxnet.” Like love and marriage, you couldn’t have one without the other.

So what’s the game? Why now and how did it happen?

As most of us in the news biz know, true investigative reporting is an extreme rarity, basically non-existent. To get a scoop that way, you would have to do some real work. That’s for college kids -- or used to be. Most scoops arrive in much simpler fashion -- by phone. Someone has something to leak. In this case that someone is an intelligence official with an axe to grind -- exactly the kind of person you don’t want in your foxhole.

But never mind, why’d they do it? The superficial logic is to hype Barack Obama’s national security bona fides. Our president and his “great friend” Benjamin Netanyahu are working together to defend us against the Mad Mullahs. Vote Barack. Save Israel. Or something like that.

Well, maybe. But not bloody likely. Beyond the obvious that Obama has already made his disdain for Netanyahu painfully obvious, the WaPo report contains the following giveaway paragraph:

Flame was developed at least five years ago as part of a classified effort code-named Olympic Games, according to officials familiar with U.S. cyber-operations and experts who have scrutinized its code. The U.S.-Israeli collaboration was intended to slow Iran’s nuclear program, reduce the pressure for a conventional military attack and extend the timetable for diplomacy and sanctions.

Hold on – “at least five years ago”? That’s puts Flame’s instigation well back into the Bush administration. In fact, if Stuxnet predates Flame at all, as it sounds like it did, we could be considerably further back than that, in the early days of Bush.