In its June 1, 2012 edition, the New York Times reported that, from the beginning of his presidency, Barack Obama had secretly ordered attacks against the computer systems of Iran's nuclear enrichment facilities. The attacks, code-named "Olympic Games", began in 2006 during the Bush administration and involved Israel as an important player in the whole operation.
During Bush's presidency, the Olympic Games did not result in heavy damage to the Iranian nuclear program. However, after listening to Bush's advice to continue the classified program, Obama authorized the cyber-attacks to go on and even ordered to accelerate them. Although there is not a clear assessment on the effects of these attacks on the Iranian facilities, Iran has stated that after some setbacks, it has successfully neutralized the malware, hence enrichment levels have recovered.
This is apparently the first time that the US has engaged in cyber warfare to attack another country's infrastructure. Obama came to office with the promise of formulating a different approach to US foreign policy, particularly towards the Muslim world. In one of his early interviews, he said, "As I said in my inauguration speech, if countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us." At the time when Obama talked about change in its relations with Tehran, he was authorizing the use of computer viruses to attack Iranian nuclear facilities.
Bush's policy towards Iran was marked with open hostility, hence no surprise if overt and covert operations were employed to undermine the overall functioning of Iran's system. It was equally not surprising to see cooperation between the Bush administration and Israel in executing programs to inflict damage to Iran. What is surprising is how Obama has employed hypocrisy to promote his agenda. On the one hand, he extends "a friendship hand" to Iran and on the other, in cooperation with Israel, he orders the most sophisticated cyber-attack against Iran.
This level of hypocrisy has another dimension. Last year, the Pentagon produced its first formal cyber strategy, in which it concluded that computer sabotage by another country could constitute an act of war. After the publication of the strategy, an unnamed US official said, "If you shut down our power grid, maybe we will put a missile down one of your smokestacks." The US considers cyber-attacks against itself an act of war, while it freely engages in the same act against others. As Thomas P. M. Barnett recently wrote in Battleland, "If anybody else does to America what we’re doing to Iran right now, our national security types would describe it as open warfare."
Instead of these hypocritical moves, the US is advised to engage with Iran in all honesty during the next round of nuclear negotiations in Moscow later this month. There is no other way than negotiations to resolve the current standoff.