Saturday, October 9, 2010

"Foreign experts", "analysts", and "security sources"

In its Handbook of Journalism, Reuters specifically forbids its reporters from quoting "analysts" and notes that quotes from anonymous sources are the weakest as they cannot be independently verified.  This advice doesn't dissuade correspondent Dan Williams from building a purely speculative case for Israel's involvement in the reported appearance of the Stuxnet computer worm at Iran's nuclear reactor:
Israel's pursuit of options for sabotaging the core computers of foes like Iran, along with mechanisms to protect its own sensitive systems, were unveiled last year by the military intelligence chief, Major-General Amos Yadlin...
Disclosures that a sophisticated computer worm, Stuxnet, was uncovered at the Bushehr atomic reactor and may have burrowed deeper into Iran's nuclear programme prompted foreign experts to suggest the Israelis were responsible.  
Israel has declined to comment on any specific operations. Analysts say cyber capabilities offer it a stealthy alternative to the air strikes that it has long been expected to launch against Iran but which would face enormous operational hurdles as well as the risk of triggering regional war.
According to security sources, over the last two years the military intelligence branch, which specialises in wiretaps, satellite imaging and other electronic espionage, has set up a dedicated cyber warfare unit staffed by conscripts and officers.
Now, we have no idea whether Israel had a hand in the introduction of Stuxnet.  There has been no hard evidence (actually, no evidence at all) put forward by Iran, any other government, or the press that would implicate the Israelis.  Clearly, there are many other nations running sophisticated intelligence and electronic espionage networks which engage in this type of activity.  And many of these governments have openly declared their opposition to Iran's nuclear program.  Yet, note how Williams employs a series of unnamed sources, red herrings, and innuendo to lead the reader from a report on the introduction of information security technology last year to the foregone conclusion that Israel was behind Stuxnet.

A "stealthy alternative" to real journalism.

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