The Flame virus that wrought havoc across the Middle East was part of a joint effort by the United States and Israel to slow down Iranian nuclear efforts, The Washington Post reported on Tuesday.
A former high-ranking U.S. intelligence official told the Post that Flame, and its more infamous cousin Stuxnet, were part of broader covert action against the Iranian regime by the CIA, the National Security Agency and the Israeli military.
Flame — which masqueraded as a routine Microsoft update — mapped out Iran’s computer networks and transmitted data and intelligence back to the countries conducting the operation.
“This is about preparing the battlefield for another type of covert action,” the official told the Post.
Intimate details of the Obama administration’s cyberwarfare program were first reported by The New York Times in early June, in advance of the release of a new book, “Confront and Conceal,” by David E. Sanger. The Times report by the same author said that Obama ramped up cyber attacks against Iran as part of a larger classified program called Olympic Games. Olympic Games is a program that began under President George W. Bush in 2006, when the option of an all-out military attack against Iran was considered off the table.
Stuxnet — the first known computer virus to cause physical damage to a system — was revealed to have been a part of that program. Analysts long suspected that it was developed in relative cooperation between the U.S. and Israel.
The virus reprogrammed the computers at the Iranian nuclear facility at Natanz to destroy centrifuges necessary for enriching uranium.
Flame, an Iranian official announced on its state controlled radio in late May, also infected networks connected to the country’s oil fields, among other sectors of Iran’s economy.
A group of anonymous Israeli intelligence agents recently expressed their frustration that the U.S. has taken too much credit for the joint program.