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Looks like that top secret espionage program against Iran isn't so secret anymore

A little more than a month ago I wrote the following:

The sanctions and the lack of technical competence are probably helping [slow down Iran's nuclear program], but if I had to guess, I'd wager that the covert attempts at sabotage are yielding the most promising results.  The thing is, no administration can publicly say, "hey, everyone should relax about Iran's nuclear program, cause we've got covert operatives crawling all around Natanz, Bushehr, and Qom.".... 

Now, I don't know this to be true -- it's possible that covert action has yielded little in the way of results.  Still, this might be a situation in which no news on Iran is actually good news.

I still don't know this to be true, but after reading this Financial Times story by Joseph Menn and Mary Watkins, my confidence in this assertion is rising: 

A piece of highly sophisticated malicious software that has infected an unknown number of power plants, pipelines and factories over the past year is the first program designed to cause serious damage in the physical world, security experts are warning.

The Stuxnet computer worm spreads through previously unknown holes in Microsoft's Windows operating system and then looks for a type of software made by Siemens and used to control industrial components, including valves and brakes....

At a closed-door conference this week in Maryland, Ralph Langner, a German industrial controls safety expert, said Stuxnet might be targeting not a sector but perhaps only one plant, and he speculated that it could be a controversial nuclear facility in Iran.

According to Symantec, which has been investigating the virus and plans to publish details of the rogue commands on Wednesday, Iran has had far more infections than any other country.

“It is not speculation that this is the first directed cyber weapon”, or one aimed at a specific real-world process, said Joe Weiss, a US expert who has testified to Congress on technological security threats to the electric grid and other physical operations. “The only speculation is what it is being used against, and by whom.”

Experts say Stuxnet’s knowledge of Microsoft’s Windows operating system, the Siemens program and the associated hardware of the target industry make it the work of a well-financed, highly organised team.

They suggest that it is most likely associated with a national government and that terrorism, ideological motivation or even extortion cannot be ruled out.

Stuxnet began spreading more than a year ago but research has been slow because of the complexity of the software and the difficulty in getting the right industry officials talking to the right security experts.

Unless there's an Iranian John McClane running around Iran, this looks like something that could help retard Iran's nuclear program. 

Now, I'm very uncomfortable with a lot of the rhetoric surrounding the notion  of "cyberwarfare." It needlessly equates actions in cyberspace with real-world warfare, when I'm not at all sure that either the logic of consequences or the logic of appropriateness are the same in both spheres. 

That said, I do wonder about the long-term effects of this kind of cyberattack. The very way the FT is reporting this story suggests that some kind of line has been crossed. Not to mention the fact that the news coverage itself suggests that this gambit has run its course. 

Developing... in ways that I cannot begin to fathom. 

Daniel W. Drezner

Are there any realpolitik films?

Your humble blogger will not be blogging with great frequency over the next few days, as he'll be drinking power-schmoozing diligently going to panels attending the American Political Science Association (APSA) meetings in Washington.  I have to present at a few panels this year, so blogging will be on the lighter side (though if I have time, I want to revisit this question about millennials and foreign policy attitudes). 

Here's a topic for discussion.  Yesterday I had a disturbing dream involving some hybrid of a normal APSA meeting and The Highlander.  Today I finally went to see The Expendables with an IR colleague, which led us into a deep discussion of how much of a bad-ass Dolph Lundgren is how most movies that have any IR component are essentially idealist in their orientation.  This led my companion to ask me an interesting question:  "Has there ever been a film with an explicitly realist take on world politics?" 

I went back and consulted my list of top IR films and came up empty.  I then consulted Steve Walt's list and came up empty again.  In theory Independence Day has some very crude balancing behavior, but let's face it, that's pretty weak beer.  Both The Americanization of Emily (on my list) and Wag the Dog (on Steve's list) are very cynical movies, but I don't think the logic of realpolitik plays that big a role in either film.  The best example that comes to mind is an old Star Trek episode -- A Private Little War -- but that's not a movie. 

In the end, I can offer two proper film suggestions.  The lesser film would be No Way Out (1987), but I can't explain why this is a realist movie without spoiling the ending. 

The better example -- or, at a minimum, the better film -- would be The Godfather (1972), which is not exactly about international relations, but is about negotiating an anarchic environment.  For more on this selection, see John Hulsman and A. Wess Mitchell's The Godfather Doctrine, which started as an article in The National Interest.  As they argue: 

Unlike Tom [Hagen], whose labors as family lawyer have produced an exaggerated devotion to negotiation, and Sonny [Corleone], whose position as untested heir apparent has produced a zeal for utilizing the family arsenal, Michael has no formulaic fixation on a particular policy instrument. Instead, his overriding goal is to protect the family's interests and save it from impending ruin by any and all means necessary. In today's foreign-policy terminology, Michael is a realist.

Still, this is a thin list.  Additional suggestions are welcomed in the comments.