According to the soon to be released documentary, “Zero Days,” early in the Obama administration the United States developed a sweeping cyberattack to launch on Iran if diplomatic efforts to halt Iran’s nuclear program failed. That planned cyberattack had a bad-ass codename: Nitro Zeus.
Nitro Zeus cyberattack detailed
Following the nuclear deal reached with Iran and six other nations last summer, Nitro Zeus was largely shelved according to sources but surely it’s still a viable plan. Nitro Zeus was planned to give President Obama additional options beyond a full-scale attack on Iran. While the United States’ military devises contingency plans for areas and conflicts all over the world, Nitro Zeus was fast-tracked by the administration and the military due to the belief that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was poised to launch an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities thus drawing the United States into the conflict.
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Nitro Zeus, according to sources and the documentary’s director Alex Gibney and his investigative team, was put together to disable Iran’s communication systems, its air defenses, and large portions of the nation’s power grid. Nitro Zeus was not the work of a couple of people in the military but rather was far enough along that thousands of people in the intelligence community and the military were working on the project and spending tens of millions of dollars “preparing the battlefield” by entering Iranian computer networks.
In addition to this massive cyberattack that is/was Nitro Zeus, American intelligence agencies were also working on a separate plan with a specific nuclear enrichment site in mind.
Covert cyberattack targeted Fordo
The Fordo nuclear enrichment site is built deep into a mountain near the Iranian holy city of Qom. The site itself was built so deep inside the mountain that the military wondered if any of its conventional “bunker-busting” arsenal would have any effect. Not wanting to go the nuclear “bunker busting” route, the intelligence agencies began working on a “worm” that could be inserted into the Fordo facility with the aim of attacking Iranian centrifuges working on enriching uranium.
Operation “Olympic Games” was a cyberattack launched by the United States and Israel on Iran’s nuclear enrichment site at Natanz which destroyed 1,000 of the 5,000 centrifuges housed there. Begun under the George W. Bush administration, “Olympic Games” was accelerated under Obama and while neither country has acknowledged it, it was launched against Natanz in 2012.
Fordo is less of a target now. Following the Iran nuclear agreement, two-thirds of the centrifuges located there have been removed along with all nuclear material in recent months. Additionally, the site is being converted to other uses than nuclear-related programs as per the eight-country agreement for the next 15 years.
“Zero Days” to premier next week
The documentary directed by Alex Gibney will premier on Wednesday at the Berlin Film Festival. Gibney was also the director of the Oscar-winning “Taxi to the Dark Side” as well as “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks.” The former detailed the use of torture by American interrogators following the World Trade Center attacks.
Nitro Zeus, had it been ordered, would have been executed by the United States Cyber Command which was born in 2009. “This was an enormous, and enormously complex, program,” said one Nitro Zeus participant under the condition of anonymity. “Before it was developed, the U.S. had never assembled a combined cyber and kinetic attack plan on this scale.”
While Nitro Zeus fell under the United States Cyber Command, it would have been the National Security Agency’s Tailored Access Operations that was responsible for entering Iran’s networks and maintaining a presence there during the launch of Nitro Zeus.
“Zero Days” should make for interesting viewing next week.