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Cyber war accelerates between Iran and US

Published time: December 14, 2011 18:09
Edited time: December 14, 2011 22:09
Iranian Revolutionary Guard, Brigadier General Amir-Ali Hajizadeh (R) looking at what Iranian officials claim is the US RQ-170. Slogans on banner read in Farsi «Death to America, death to Israel, death to England.» (AFP Photo / Iran's Revolutionary Guard website)

Iranian Revolutionary Guard, Brigadier General Amir-Ali Hajizadeh (R) looking at what Iranian officials claim is the US RQ-170. Slogans on banner read in Farsi «Death to America, death to Israel, death to England.» (AFP Photo / Iran's Revolutionary Guard website)

RT’s ongoing investigation of American drone aircraft being downed as a possible result of a cyber attack has been accentuated by recent confirmations by way of a documentary out of Mexico.

The Spanish-language television network Univision has aired a program in which undercover footage allegedly shows Iranian officials discussing ways to go about an attack on America’s infrastructure, specifically attempting to recruit Mexican computer hackers to target the Department of Defense and the CIA’s computer systems.

According to the Washington Times, US officials are now investigating reports that authorities from Iran and Venezuela plotted cyber attacks against America’s military, in what comes as the latest revelation in a quickly unraveling story of cyber war escalating between Tehran and Washington. In the most recent news break, however, a front to the south of the United States could be opening up as Iran tries to take down the American military with the aid of hackers living only next door.

The Times’ report alleges that hackers were discussing potential attacks on the DoD and Central Intelligence Agency. This news comes days after the United States managed to lose contact with two high-tech drone aircraft belonging to the CIA, one two weeks ago over Iran and one this Tuesday over the Indian Ocean island of Seychelles.

In the case of the RQ170 Sentinel craft captured by Tehran, that drone was dispatched from Creech Air Force Base in the state of Nevada. Earlier this year, RT reported that a key-logger virus infiltrated the cockpits of crafts in the base, with Air Force personnel left in the dark until days after the infection took hold. Military personnel later shrugged the incident off as a nuisance and nothing more, but with two drones in two weeks now mysteriously going off the radar, American eyes are now looking towards Tehran — and perhaps a partnership with international hackers — as the threat of an all-out cyber war escalates.

In the report published this week by the Washington Times, it is alleged that the Mexican hackers instructed by Iranian officials were told to crack passwords that would allow for access into protected American computer systems.

Univision says that among the targets intended in the attack against America were nuclear facilities. Coincidently, the nuclear infrastructure of Iran was threatened in 2010 by a computer worm named Stuxnet, believed by many to be the brainchild of American programmers. Earlier in 2011, researcher Ralph Langner told an audience at a TED talk that he thought Stuxnet was of Israeli origin, but added, "The leading force behind Stuxnet is the cyber superpower – there is only one; and that's the United States."

If a cyber war is being waged against America, US officials are remaining relatively mum on the matter. In the case of the Sentinel lost over Iran, the US first denied a crash, only to later confirm that a craft was lost over Afghanistan and was believed to be obliterated. Within days, however, Iran provided footage of the craft in pristine condition much to the chagrin of Washington. American authorities went on to dismiss the craft as a fake before US President Barack Obama asked Tehran to return what was in fact the drone in question.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad responded by shooting down Obama’s plea, telling Venezuelan state television this week, “The Americans have perhaps decided to give us this spy plane. We now have control of this plane.” Iranian authorities now claim that the gift from America is almost done being decoded and its technology will be adapted into its own arsenal.

On Tuesday of this week, an MQ-9 Reaper drone was downed in Seychelles and crash-landed at an air base there that has been under American occupation since 2009. The US uses the island nation to dispatch drones for surveillance over Somalia and to counter piracy in the Indian Ocean. Once again, in this case American authorities are insisting that the craft has been charred beyond repair and are working in conjunction with overseas officials to return the craft to the US.

An investigation over that crash is pending, but officials are for now saying that the “failure was due to mechanical reasons.” At a price tag of around $30 million per craft, it is suspicious that a minor malfunction under the hood of what is the Cadillac of unmanned spy planes can cause the craft to come to a crashing, fiery halt.

The Washington Times adds in their report that State Department spokesman William Ostick believes federal authorities to be investigating the allegation brought forth against Iran by Univision, but formally has declared that officials lack information that corroborates on the allegation. Senator Robert Menendez (NJ-Dem) is now also calling for a congressional hearing to investigate Iranian action in Latin America. Menendez also sits as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere.

“If Iran is using regional actors to facilitate and direct activities against the United States, this would represent a substantial increase in the level of the Iranian threat and would necessitate an immediate response,” Menendez says.

Earlier in 2011, American authorities alleged that Iran had recruited members from a Mexican drug cartel to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States on American soil. While the plot was foiled by US intelligence, the latest revelations add a new piece to a puzzle that shows an increasingly tense standoff between Tehran and Washington.