The US had a perfect opportunity to absolutely demolish Iran’s infrastructure with a cyber operation called Nitro Zeus.
The top-secret initiative was first revealed in the film “Zero Days,” which premiers Friday and is centered around investigations of the world’s first cyber weapon known as Stuxnet, according to Tech Insider. Stuxnet is malicious software that can obscure and harm critical data, but during the fact-finding for the development of the movie, the films’ director Alex Gibney realized that this was just the tip of the iceberg: another component, Nitro Zeus, exemplified an even more extensive cyber weapon.
Nitro Zeus provided the NSA the ability to attack Iran’s command-and-control systems, which would obstruct the whole country’s communication capabilities.
“We spent hundreds of millions, maybe billions on it,” an anonymous National Security Agency source describes in the film. “We were inside, waiting, watching. Ready to disrupt, degrade, and destroy those systems with cyber attacks. In comparison, Stuxnet was a back alley operation. [Nitro Zeus] was the plan for a full scale cyber war with no attribution.”
The state-sponsored cyber hack would also disable Iran’s air defenses, and harm financial systems as well as vital components of the power grid. This would allow US and Israeli aircraft to survey the area without being shot down.
“When you shut down a country’s power grid, it doesn’t just pop back up. It’s more like humpty dumpty. And if all the king’s men can’t turn the lights back on or filter the water for weeks, lots of people will die,” an anonymous participant in the program says, according to Tech Insider.
Stuxnet and especially Nitro Zeus prove that once fictitious depictions of cyber warfare are now a reality.
“This was an enormous, and enormously complex, program,” the source told The New York Times. “Before it was developed, the U.S. had never assembled a combined cyber and kinetic attack plan on this scale.”
The operation was in place as a second option just in case diplomacy and negotiations did not go smoothly. The cyber program was never employed, and it is possible that President Barack Obama feels the nuclear deal hashed out between the two adversaries is sufficient.
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