In classified cyberwar against Iran, trail of Stuxnet leak leads to White House
Mr. Sanger’s nudging seemed to do the trick. Over the next several months, Mr. Hammer, the senior public affairs official, arranged interviews with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and a roster of senior aides.
By March 2012, Mr. Sanger had spoken with Deputy Secretary of State William Burns; Deputy Chief of Staff Jake Sullivan, who is now Vice President Joseph R. Biden’s national security adviser; Robert Einhorn, then a special adviser on arms control; Harold Hongju Koh, State’s legal adviser; and others.
In December 2011, Mr. Hammer sent an email summarizing Mr. Sanger’s reporting and reproducing a story from the previous month headlined “America’s Deadly Dynamics with Iran,” which reported on the Stuxnet computer worm.
It is not unusual for authors to request and sometimes win access to administration officials. Mr. Sanger’s access, however, is notable in that its subsequent disclosures prompted an FBI investigation in which agents have interviewed government officials.
The worm on the loose
Mr. Sanger wrote a June 1, 2012, article on Stuxnet that was adapted from his book, which debuted later that week. In the story, he quoted “participants” in White House meetings on whether to continue attacking Iran with Stuxnet, which somehow had broken free into the Internet.
“At a tense meeting in the White House Situation Room within days of the worm’s ‘escape,’ Mr. Obama, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and the director of the Central Intelligence Agency at the time, Leon E. Panetta, considered whether America’s most ambitious attempt to slow the progress of Iran’s nuclear efforts had been fatally compromised,” the story said.
“Should we shut this thing down?” Mr. Obama asked, according to members of the president’s national security team who were in the room.”
Republicans said those passages alone are evidence that Obama aides broke the law by publicly disclosing a covert program.
With the story and book in print, State Department public affairs on June 7 sent to department officials a transcript of a floor speech delivered by Sen. John McCain that week. The Arizona Republican accused the administration of deliberately leaking secrets to portray Mr. Obama as a “strong leader on national security issues” in an election year.
“What price did the administration apparently pay to proliferate such a presidential persona highly valued in an election year?” he said. “Access. Access to senior administration officials who appear to have served as anonymous sources divulging extremely sensitive military and intelligence information and operations.”
‘Drones and cyber’
Citing the book, Mr. McCain said: “The administration officials discussed a most highly classified operation that is both highly classified and still ongoing, an operation that was clearly one of the most tightly held national security secrets in our country until now.”
“I spent a year working the story from the bottom up, and then went to the administration and told them what I had. Then they had to make some decisions about how much they wanted to talk about it.
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