Saturday, June 2, 2012

Pro-Romney Protestors Heckle David Axelrod's Speech

Pro-Romney protestors disrupted David Axelrod's speech in Boston on Mitt Romney's record as Governor of Massachusetts with chants of Solyndra, where are the jobs, and boos. 
Andrew Kaczynski  
BuzzFeed Staff 

In Boston, Romney And Obama Campaigns Clash With Dual Rallies

“This is the great pageant of democracy,” declares Axelrod — as Romney supporters shout him down.
McKay Coppins 
BuzzFeed Staff

BOSTON, Mass. — Supporters of Mitt Romney and Barack Obama clashed on the steps of the Massachusetts State house in Boston Thursday, as senior Obama adviser David Axelrod designed to dismantle the Republican nominee's Bay State record.
Romney aides, interns, and volunteers flooded out of the campaign's headquarters here with signs — and bubbles — to protest Axelrod and Obama, while Obama supporters chanted "Hey hey, ho ho, Mitt Romney has got to go."
Romney supporters responded by chanting "Solllyyynndraaa" like Bruins fans heckling the visiting team.
After he finished his remarks, Axelrod opened the floor to questions, but he couldn't hear reporters over the protests.
"You can shout down speakers my friends, but it’s hard to etch a sketch the truth away," Axelrod said as he struggled to be heard over the crowd, later shouting, "You can’t handle the truth my friends! If you could handle the truth then quiet down."
The content of the press conference focused on Romney's gubernatorial record in the state — one that Axelrod and a slew of local Obama surrogates tried to paint as ineffectual and weak, a failed attempt to translate private equity principles to a governance. Pointing out that under Romney's leadership, Massachusetts was ranked 47th in private sector job creation, Axelrod said the Romney's experience as a venture capitalist left him ill-equipped to run a state.
"It wasn't happenstance, folks, that Massachusetts stumbled under Romney," Axelrod said. "He borrowed money to pay operating expenses and left the tab for the next Governor. This may work in the realm of leveraged buyouts and quick scores; that may work in that world, but it's not how you build a future."
As Obama surrogates took the podium, Romney supporters booed, and chanted "wrap it up." Some got a call-and-response chant going: "What do we want? Jobs! When do we want them? Now!" And some Romney aides even blew bubbles at the speakers.
"Thank you for the bubbles, it's a hell of a lot better than the smoke Mitt Romney blew at us as governor," retorted Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone.
Obama supporters purposefully didn't advertise the press conference until Thursday morning, hoping to avoid any sort of organized effort by their opponent to disrupt the event. But it was to no avail: For much of the time, Romney supporters outnumbered those backing the president.
Asked about the hecklers shortly after the event, Axelrod quipped, "I'm glad Mitt Romney is finally creating jobs in Massachusetts."

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Joe Biden Can “Have Conversations With White Men” That Obama Can't

So says NBC Latino's Raul Reyes. 
Dorsey Shaw 
 BuzzFeed Staff 

Obama Wants You To Buy A Thingamajig

Delivering a speech today on veterans' jobs at Honeywell's International Campus in Minnesota the President said his proposal would allow people to have the money to buy a “thingamajig.” 
Andrew Kaczynski  
BuzzFeed Staff

Published on Jun 1, 2012 by
During an event Obama admits that Obama's economic plan is to help Americans buy a "Thingamajig" (June 1, 2012).

Romney: Jobs report a 'harsh indictment' of Obama's policies

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney talks about today's bleak jobs report, repealing Obamacare and his role in private equity.


By NBC's Garrett Haake

SAN DIEGO -- Mitt Romney declared May's disappointing jobs report a "harsh indictment" of President Obama's stewardship of the economy, accusing the president of being overly focused on "legislative achievements" instead of putting Americans back to work.

"The president's policies and his handling of the economy has been dealt a harsh indictment," Romney said in an interview on CNBC. "In many respects their policies have made it harder for the economy to recover."

Romney scheduled the appearance in reaction to a new government report on Friday that showed the economy added 69,000 jobs in May -- well below expectations -- and that the unemployment rate had ticked upward to 8.2 percent.
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The dismal numbers gave Romney ammunition to prosecute his case against Obama as a manager of America's economy.

"Jobs are job No. 1 for the presidency," Romney said.

Romney's argument on CNBC was largely similar to the one he makes on the campaign trail: that the recovery has been dampened by Obama's policies. Romney said the president's focus on "legislative achievements," like green energy policies, taxes, and health care reform, which Romney asserted would slow the recovery.

"He decided instead of getting people back to work he’d fight for something he thought was historic, and frankly the American people don’t want it and we can’t afford it," Romney said.

Economists have attributed some of the struggles in the U.S. to the ongoing monetary crisis in Europe, but Romney said that was no excuse for Obama.

"Of course the developments around the world always influence our jobs, but we should be well into a very robust recovery right now," Romney said, noting several times during the interview that the unemployment rate has remained above eight percent for 40 straight months -- longer than the Euro crisis."

The former Massachusetts governor said the most significant prescription to instill confidence in businesses in the near term would be to "elect a new president," and that his energy, tax and spending policies would stimulate more robust growth in the private sector.

Romney also voiced opposition to a third wave of so-called "quantitative easing," a stimulative effort by the Federal Reserve that, critics fear, could lead to inflation.

Beyond the economy, Romney also addressed some of the larger political issues to plague his campaign this week.

Three days after appearing at a fundraiser with controversial supporter Donald Trump, who has continued to question whether President Obama was born in the United States, Romney was asked again why he does not simply tell one of his most prominent surrogates to drop the issue.

"I disagree with it," Romney said. "there's no question that the President was born in the United States of America,"

Romney added that he doesn't tell his supporters what to think, but that Trump "knows what I believe about this."

The presumptive GOP nominee also pushed back on the Obama campaign's criticism of his private sector record.

"I'm happy to embrace my record in private equity," he said, pointing also to an interview given last night by former President Bill Clinton, who said Romney's business career was "sterling."

Recession storm clouds threaten global economy

Damian Dovarganes / AP
In this Thursday, May 31, 2012, job seekers gather for employment opportunities at the 11th annual Skid Row Career Fair at the Los Angeles Mission in Los Angeles.

The gears of the global economy are all slowing in unison.

The latest evidence came with Friday’s startling employment report from the Labor Department: Job growth slowed in May to just 69,000 and was much weaker in April than initially reported. The news followed a string of reports from Europe to China showing that growth in world's major economies is fading away.

"Wow, this is ugly,” said Malcolm Polley, president of Stewart Capital Advisors, in response to Friday’s jobs data. “Some had believed that we had decoupled from China slowing and all the problems in Europe, but that seems to be shortsighted. We're slowing alongside the rest of the world."

There was little good news to be found in Friday’s numbers. After adding more than 200,000 jobs a month in the first quarter, the pace of hiring slowed sharply, to an average of just 73,000 per month in April and May. Analysts say the economy needs to create roughly 125,000 jobs a month just to keep the unemployment rate steady.

The hiring slowdown last month sent the unemployment rate up to 8.2 percent from 8.1 percent, reversing a steady decline that began last summer. Overall, total employment remains about five million jobs lower than the level seen in December 2007, at the start of the latest recession.

The weak hiring complicates President Barack Obama's fight to win re-election, offering his Republican rival Mitt Romney a powerful issue.

"Today's weak jobs report is devastating news for American workers and American families," Romney said in a statement.

The White House called on Congress to do more to help the economy create jobs.
"Congress has to take some action because while we see the unemployment rate where it is, it's not acceptable," Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said on CNBC.

Hiring was weak across the board in May. The private sector added just 82,000 new jobs. Governments continued to cut payrolls, slashing another 13,000 positions, as cities and states struggle to balance their budgets.

After unseasonably warm weather boosted hiring earlier this year, construction employment shrank by 28,000 in May, the fourth straight decline. Manufacturing, which has been enjoying a revival in the U.S. this year, added only 12,000 jobs.

Those with jobs saw their hours trimmed and their paychecks lose ground to inflation. Gains in average weekly earnings fell from a recent high of 3.1 percent to just 1.7 percent. Consumer prices were 2.3 percent higher in April than a year earlier.

“Slicing the lifeblood of spending nearly in half accomplishes only one thing: It slows spending,” said Tom Porcelli, chief U.S. economist at RBC Capital Markets.

Consumers are getting a break at the gas pump as prices slide from a peak of almost $4 a gallon reached in April. But their paychecks still aren’t covering the bills: A separate report Friday showed that as personal spending continues to outpace incomes, consumers are borrowing or tapping savings to make up the difference. The savings rate continued to decline in May, falling a tenth of a point to 3.4 percent, to the lowest level in more than four years.

As consumer confidence fades and demand slows, businesses are also pulling back. Investment in machinery and computers has fallen in the last two months, and some regional surveys are showing slower growth in factory activity.

There’s reason for caution. As Europe's financial crisis widens, businesses face bigger uncertainty closer to home with the looming impact of higher taxes and deeper government spending cuts. As the November election approaches, Congress is all but ignoring the year-end deadline to avert the so-called “fiscal cliff” that economists estimate could shave as much as half a percent from U.S. gross domestic product, which expanded at a tepid 1.9 percent in the first quarter.

As the U.S. has slowed, Europe’s economy has come to a dead stop, with weak growth in Germany offsetting deepening recessions in Greece, Spain and Italy.

On Friday, fresh data showed that eurozone unemployment has hit a record high. Job losses there are expected to continue to climb as the ongoing financial crisis forces businesses to pull back and compels debt-burdened governments to lay off workers.

Some 17.4 million people were out of work in the 17-nation bloc in April, or 11 percent of the working population, the highest level since records began in 1995, the EU's statistics office Eurostat said on Friday.

"This 11 percent level is going to continue edging up in the coming months and probably until the end of the year," said Francois Cabau, an economist at Barclays Capital who sees the eurozone's economy contracting 0.1 percent this year.

Despite efforts by Europe’s central bank to lower interest rates and revive growth, borrowing costs have risen and banks have tightened credit as they hoard cash to weather the crisis. Consumer and business confidence has been sapped by ongoing uncertainty about the financial fallout from Greece, which threatens to destabilize Europe’s banking system and plunge the eurozone deeper into recession.

Slowing demand from consumers and businesses in the developed world are creating headwinds for China’s economy, the last source of growth to support the global economy. Despite wage gains, Chinese consumers still make up a relatively small portion of the Chinese economy, so domestic spending is not strong enough to offset falling demand for exports.
“It is increasingly obvious that we are in the midst of a global economic slowdown,” said Porcelli.

The ominous economic data from around the world raises the prospect that central banks will act to try to revive growth. But it remains to be seen how effective those polices would be. The U.S. Federal Reserve has already undertaken two rounds of pump-priming with massive purchases of bonds to force rates to record low levels.

“(Fed Chairman Ben) Bernanke’s hat is pretty well out of rabbits,” said David Rosenberg, chief economist at Gluskin Sheff.

"This is not just a soft patch, but we may actually roll over into a mild double dip recession," says Barton Biggs, Traxis Partners, responding to this morning's dismal jobs report and its impact on the economy.

Credible Amelia Earhart radio signals were ignored as bogus

New study says aviator's plane was on land, upright for several days after disappearance

updated 6/1/2012 7:00:24 PM ET
Dozens of previously dismissed radio signals were actually credible transmissions from Amelia Earhart, according to a new study of the alleged post-loss signals from Earhart's plane. The transmissions started riding the air waves just hours after Earhart sent her last in-flight message. 

The study, presented on Friday at a three day conference by researchers of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), sheds new light on what may have happened to the legendary aviator 75 years ago. The researchers plan to start a high-tech underwater search for pieces of her aircraft next July. 

"Amelia Earhart did not simply vanish on July 2, 1937. Radio distress calls believed to have been sent from the missing plane dominated the headlines and drove much of the U.S. Coast Guard and Navy search," Ric Gillespie, executive director of TIGHAR, told Discovery News.

"When the search failed, all of the reported post-loss radio signals were categorically dismissed as bogus and have been largely ignored ever since," he added.

Using digitized information management systems, antenna modeling software, and radio wave propagation analysis programs, TIGHAR re-examined all the 120 known reports of radio signals suspected or alleged to have been sent from the Earhart aircraft after local noon on July 2, 1937 through July 18, 1937, when the official search ended.
They concluded that 57 out of the 120 reported signals are credible.

"The results of the study suggest that the aircraft was on land and on its wheels for several days following the disappearance," Gillespie said.

Tracking Earhart's transmissions 

Earhart used radio transmissions on her last flight on July 2, 1937, during her record attempt to fly around the world at the equator. 

At 07:42 local time, as she flew toward the target destination, Howland Island in the Pacific, with her navigator Fred Noonan, Earhart called the Coast Guard cutter Itasca, stationed at Howland Island to support her flight.

“We must be on you, but cannot see you — but gas is running low. Have been unable to reach you by radio. We are flying at 1,000 feet,” she said.

Earhart's final in-flight radio message occurred a hour later, at 08:43.
“We are on the line 157 337. We will repeat this message. We will repeat this on 6210 kilocycles. Wait,” she said.

According to TIGHAR, the numbers 157 and 337 refer to compass headings — 157 degrees and 337 degrees — and describe a navigation line that passed not only Howland Island, the target destination, but also Gardner Island, now called Nikumaroro.

This uninhabited atoll in the southwestern Pacific republic of Kiribati is where TIGHAR believes Earhart and Noonan landed safely and ultimately died as castaways. 

According to TIGHAR's hypothesis, Earhart would have used the aircraft's radio to make distress calls for several days until the plane was washed over the reef and disappeared before Navy searchers flew over the area.

Detailed analysis done 

TIGHAR built a detailed catalog and analysis of all the reported post-loss radio signals, and selected the credible ones based on their frequencies.

Transmissions from Earhart's Electra (NR16020) were possible on three primary frequencies: 3105 kHz, 6210 kHz and 500 kHz. For the latter, however, there were no reported post loss signals.

On her world flight, Earhart transmitted on 3105 kHz at night, and 6210 kHz during daylight, using her 50-watt WE-13C transmitter. 

The Itasca transmitted on 3105 kHz, but did not have voice capability on 6210 kHz.
Under favorable propagation conditions, it was possible for aircraft operating on the U.S. West Coast at night to be heard on 3105 kHz in the central Pacific. Indeed, the Itasca reported hearing such signals on one occasion.

There were three 50-watt Morse code radio stations in Nicaragua that could be heard on a receiver tuned to 3105 kHz, but the stations sent only code, not voice.

Moreover, all transport aircraft in the area used assigned route frequencies, instead of 3105 kHz.

"Therefore, other than Itasca, Earhart’s Electra was the only plausible central Pacific source of voice signals on 3105 kHz," said Gillespie.

Spurious claims identified 

Although several of the analyzed post-loss signal reports were determined to be hoaxes, Gillespie ruled out the hypothesis of an illegal transmitter "given the numerous constraints militating against successfully perpetrating a signal transmission hoax."

"We do not really have hoax transmissions but rather reports from people who, for whatever reason, claimed to have heard something they did not hear," Gillespie said.

To make multiple transmissions, the Electra plane needed to run the right-hand, generator-equipped engine to recharge the batteries.

"The safest procedure is to transmit only when the engine is running, and battery power is required to start the engine," said Gillespie. "To run the engine, the propeller must be clear of obstructions, and water level must never reach the transmitter."

To verify the hypothesis that the plane landed on Nikumaroro's reef, TIGHAR researchers analyzed tidal condition on the island from 2 to 9 July 1937, the week following Earhart disappearance. It emerged that transmission of credible signals occurred in periods during which the water level on the reef was low enough to permit engine operation.

Four messages of particular interest 

According to Gillespie, at least four radio signals are of particular interest, as they were simultaneously heard by more than one station. 

The first signal, made when the pilot had been officially missing for just five hours, was received by the Itasca, and two other ships, the HMS Achilles and the SS New Zealand Star.
The Itasca logged, “We hear her on 3105 now — very weak and unreadable/ fone” and asked Earhart to send Morse code dashes.

The Achilles did not hear “very weak and unreadable” voice, but heard Itasca’s request and heard dashes in response. The SS New Zealand only heard the response dashes.

In other cases, credible sources in widely separated locations in the U.S., Canada and the central Pacific, reported hearing a woman requesting help. She spoke English, and in some cases said she was identified as Amelia Earhart. 

In one case, on July 5, the U.S. Navy Radio at Wailupe, Honolulu heard a garbled Morse code: “281 north Howland - call KHAQQ - beyond north — won’t hold with us much longer — above water — shut off.”

At the same time, an amateur radio operator in Melbourne, Australia, reported having heard a "strange” code which included KHAQQ, Amelia's call sign.

According to Gillespie, the reanalysis of the credible post-loss signals supports the hypothesis that they were sent by Earhart’s Electra from a point on the reef at Nikumaroro, about a quarter-mile north of the shipwreck of the British freighter SS Norwich City.

"The results of the study show a body of evidence which might be the forgotten key to the mystery. It is the elephant in the room that has gone unacknowledged for nearly 75 years," said Gillespie.

Romney claims Solyndra is Obama's 'Symbol of Failure'

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks during news conference in front the shuttered Solyndra solar power company's manufacturing facility Thursday.
SAN DIEGO -- The Romney campaign has moved quickly to exploit the candidate's unannounced visit to bankrupt solar energy company Solyndra, producing a web ad entitled "Symbol of Failure," designed to highlight the president's role in the failed business.
The ad intersperses audio from national news broadcasts' coverage of the bankruptcy and subsequent federal investigation of Solyndra (including NBC's coverage), with clips of Barack Obama visiting the plant in 2010, and Romney's press conference there Thursday.
Graphics highlight what the Romney campaign is presenting as the vital statistics of the Solyndra failure, which took place after a series of federal loan guarantees were put in place which Republicans decried as the height of cronyism: 1,100 employees laid off, $535 million in taxpayer dollars spent.

After Tuesday's Texas GOP primary, Mitt Romney was able to clinch the party's nomination with more than the 1,144 delegates needed. Vanity Fair's Carl Bernstein and the Washington Post's David Ignatius join a conversation on why the race between Romney and Obama is so close. The panel also discusses Romney's recent hits against Solyndra.
The quick-turnaround ad comes as the Romney and Obama campaigns are concluding a week spent battling over Romney's record as governor of Massachusetts, and the salience of his role as CEO of Bain Capital when it comes to expertise creating jobs -- not just wealth for investors.
Thursday, the political theater reached its zenith (or nadir - depending on your perspective) with dueling press conferences on the East and West coasts, as Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod attacked Romney's record as governor in Boston, and Romney attacked the president's record, standing on a highway median in front of the vacant Solyndra headquarters in Fremont.
“Two years ago, President Obama was here to tout this building and this business as a symbol of the success of his stimulus. Well you can see that it’s a symbol of something very different today. It’s a symbol not of success, but of failure,” Romney is shown saying near the close of the 1:38 second web video, as uplifting music begins to play.
"I can tell you that my experience in the economy tells me how it is businesses make decisions to hire people in America. I want to use that knowledge to get Americans working again. The idea of 23 million American families out of work or stopped looking for work or underemployed is unacceptable and crony capitalism like this did not help,” the ad concludes.

Romney Celebrates His Nomination With Newt And The Donald

In an all-star Las Vegas fundraiser, Romney and Friends celebrated his nomination. Outside, Gingrich talked birthers. Welcome to the circus. 

McKay Coppins  
BuzzFeed Staff

(Reuters / Christopher DeVargas)
LAS VEGAS, Nevada — After a day consumed by coverage of Donald Trump's birther crusade, the much-hyped Mitt Romney fundraiser at Trump International Hotel appears to have ended rather anti-climactically.
Despite the attendance of some the most memorable and unpredictable figures of the GOP primaries — including Trump, Newt Gingrich, and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson — the remarks stayed focused on Romney's candidacy, and the nomination he clinched Tuesday night with a victory in the Texas primary, according to a pool report.
Still, the fact that Romney celebrated the occasion in the presence of two of his party's most provocative and polarizing characters was a stark reminder of the nominee's refusal thus far to pick fights with the right wing.
"This has really been a special day and a special evening," Trump told attendees. "It's been amazing the amount of money we have raised."
He continued, according to the pool report, written by the Huffington Post's Jon Ward:
Trump then launched into an ode to Romney, and gave a nod to his
finally crossing the 1,144-delegate threshold: "1,144: you know what that is. Well in about an hour or so that number will be superceded and we will have effectively our nominee. He will be the man and he will carry us to victory, but much more importantly than us he will carry the country to victory, because that's what we need.
As Romney stood to Trump's left, his face obscured by Trump's shadow in the harsh lighting, Trump tore into China, and into Obama's handling of relations with China.
"They look at us. They laugh at us. They think we're stupid. When he's president they will no longer think we're stupid," Trump said of Romney.
Trump also made a few interesting comments about U.S. war policy: "We have wars. We get nothing from them … We leave Iraq. What do we get out of it? They're having a field day with the second largest oil reserves in the world. We get nothing."
In total, Trump spoke for only three and a half minutes. The campaign declined to say how much money was raised at the event.
But while the program stayed on message in the ballroom, Gingrich had few reservations about weighing in on the story of the day while standing in the lobby outside. Speaking to a crush of reporters, Gingrich took questions about Trump's assertion that the president has orchestrated a massive coverup to hide the fact that he was born outside the U.S.
“The Republican Party’s not distracted. We believe that this is an American-born job-killing president. Other people may believe that he was born somewhere else and still kills jobs, but that’s an argument over background,” he told reporters at Trump International Hotel shortly before the event.
Asked whether he thought the birther allegations were racist, Gingrich pushed back.
“Nobody runs around and asks whether Col. [Allen] West was born in the United States. He’s an African-American, you know. He’s a congressman. Nobody runs around and says was Tim Scott born in the United States. He’s a congressman. He’s an African-American," he said. "So the idea of asserting that any charge against Obama somehow manages magically in the media to get back to racism, I think it is just one more device to protect Obama.”

Obama order sped up wave of cyberattacks against Iran

Internal Obama administration estimates say sabotage program slowed Iran's progress toward developing the ability to build nuclear weapons by 18 months to 2 years

Image: File photo of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visiting the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility

Iranian Presidential Website  /  Reuters, file
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visits the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility on April 8, 2008 file photo.
updated 6/1/2012 3:55:50 AM ET
From his first months in office, President Obama secretly ordered increasingly sophisticated attacks on the computer systems that run Iran’s main nuclear enrichment facilities, significantly expanding America’s first sustained use of cyberweapons, according to participants in the program. 

Mr. Obama decided to accelerate the attacks — begun in the Bush administration and code-named Olympic Games — even after an element of the program accidentally became public in the summer of 2010 because of a programming error that allowed it to escape Iran’s Natanz plant and sent it around the world on the Internet. Computer security experts who began studying the worm, which had been developed by the United States and Israel, gave it a name: Stuxnet.

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.

“Should we shut this thing down?” Mr. Obama asked, according to members of the president’s national security team who were in the room.

MAY 30, 2012
In this exclusive interview Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak spoke with NBC’s Richard Engel about Iran and their determination to become a military power with a nuclear weapon.
Told it was unclear how much the Iranians knew about the code, and offered evidence that it was still causing havoc, Mr. Obama decided that the cyberattacks should proceed. In the following weeks, the Natanz plant was hit by a newer version of the computer worm, and then another after that. The last of that series of attacks, a few weeks after Stuxnet was detected around the world, temporarily took out nearly 1,000 of the 5,000 centrifuges Iran had spinning at the time to purify uranium.

 January 17, 2011
Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, offers an exclusive glimpse of a nuclear program he says is under covert attack. NBC's Richard Engel reports
 This account of the American and Israeli effort to undermine the Iranian nuclear program is based on interviews over the past 18 months with current and former American, European and Israeli officials involved in the program, as well as a range of outside experts. None would allow their names to be used because the effort remains highly classified, and parts of it continue to this day.
These officials gave differing assessments of how successful the sabotage program was in slowing Iran’s progress toward developing the ability to build nuclear weapons. Internal Obama administration estimates say the effort was set back by 18 months to two years, but some experts inside and outside the government are more skeptical, noting that Iran’s enrichment levels have steadily recovered, giving the country enough fuel today for five or more weapons, with additional enrichment.

Whether Iran is still trying to design and build a weapon is in dispute. The most recent United States intelligence estimate concludes that Iran suspended major parts of its weaponization effort after 2003, though there is evidence that some remnants of it continue.

Iran initially denied that its enrichment facilities had been hit by Stuxnet, then said it had found the worm and contained it. Last year, the nation announced that it had begun its own military cyberunit, and Brig. Gen. Gholamreza Jalali, the head of Iran’s Passive Defense Organization, said that the Iranian military was prepared “to fight our enemies” in “cyberspace and Internet warfare.” But there has been scant evidence that it has begun to strike back.

The United States government only recently acknowledged developing cyberweapons, and it has never admitted using them. There have been reports of one-time attacks against personal computers used by members of Al Qaeda, and of contemplated attacks against the computers that run air defense systems, including during the NATO-led air attack on Libya last year. But Olympic Games was of an entirely different type and sophistication.

MAY 26, 2012
United Nations weapons inspectors have reportedly discovered traces of radio activity inside a nuclear bunker in Iran. Former U.S. ambassador Mark Ginsberg joins MSNBC to talk about the situation.
  It appears to be the first time the United States has repeatedly used cyberweapons to cripple another country’s infrastructure, achieving, with computer code, what until then could be accomplished only by bombing a country or sending in agents to plant explosives. The code itself is 50 times as big as the typical computer worm, Carey Nachenberg, a vice president of Symantec, one of the many groups that have dissected the code, said at a symposium at Stanford University in April. Those forensic investigations into the inner workings of the code, while picking apart how it worked, came to no conclusions about who was responsible.

A similar process is now under way to figure out the origins of another cyberweapon called Flame that was recently discovered to have attacked the computers of Iranian officials, sweeping up information from those machines. But the computer code appears to be at least five years old, and American officials say that it was not part of Olympic Games. They have declined to say whether the United States was responsible for the Flame attack.

Mr. Obama, according to participants in the many Situation Room meetings on Olympic Games, was acutely aware that with every attack he was pushing the United States into new territory, much as his predecessors had with the first use of atomic weapons in the 1940s, of intercontinental missiles in the 1950s and of drones in the past decade. He repeatedly expressed concerns that any American acknowledgment that it was using cyberweapons — even under the most careful and limited circumstances — could enable other countries, terrorists or hackers to justify their own attacks.
“We discussed the irony, more than once,” one of his aides said. Another said that the administration was resistant to developing a “grand theory for a weapon whose possibilities they were still discovering.” Yet Mr. Obama concluded that when it came to stopping Iran, the United States had no other choice.

If Olympic Games failed, he told aides, there would be no time for sanctions and diplomacy with Iran to work. Israel could carry out a conventional military attack, prompting a conflict that could spread throughout the region.

A Bush Initiative 

The impetus for Olympic Games dates from 2006, when President George W. Bush saw few good options in dealing with Iran. At the time, America’s European allies were divided about the cost that imposing sanctions on Iran would have on their own economies. Having falsely accused Saddam Hussein of reconstituting his nuclear program in Iraq, Mr. Bush had little credibility in publicly discussing another nation’s nuclear ambitions. The Iranians seemed to sense his vulnerability, and, frustrated by negotiations, they resumed enriching uranium at an underground site at Natanz, one whose existence had been exposed just three years before.

Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, took reporters on a tour of the plant and described grand ambitions to install upward of 50,000 centrifuges. For a country with only one nuclear power reactor — whose fuel comes from Russia — to say that it needed fuel for its civilian nuclear program seemed dubious to Bush administration officials. They feared that the fuel could be used in another way besides providing power: to create a stockpile that could later be enriched to bomb-grade material if the Iranians made a political decision to do so.

Image: Still image taken from video shows workers in what is described by Iranian state television as an enrichment control room at a facility in Natanz

Reuters TV, file
Workers are seen in what is described by Iranian state television as an enrichment control room at a facility in Natanz, in this still image taken from video released February 15.
Hawks in the Bush administration like Vice President Dick Cheney urged Mr. Bush to consider a military strike against the Iranian nuclear facilities before they could produce fuel suitable for a weapon. Several times, the administration reviewed military options and concluded that they would only further inflame a region already at war, and would have uncertain results.

For years the C.I.A. had introduced faulty parts and designs into Iran’s systems — even tinkering with imported power supplies so that they would blow up — but the sabotage had had relatively little effect. General James E. Cartwright, who had established a small cyberoperation inside the United States Strategic Command, which is responsible for many of America’s nuclear forces, joined intelligence officials in presenting a radical new idea to Mr. Bush and his national security team. It involved a far more sophisticated cyberweapon than the United States had designed before.

The goal was to gain access to the Natanz plant’s industrial computer controls. That required leaping the electronic moat that cut the Natanz plant off from the Internet — called the air gap, because it physically separates the facility from the outside world. The computer code would invade the specialized computers that command the centrifuges.

MAY 25, 2012
Diplomatic talks aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions have ended with no major breakthrough. NBC’s Ali Arouzi reports.
  The first stage in the effort was to develop a bit of computer code called a beacon that could be inserted into the computers, which were made by the German company Siemens and an Iranian manufacturer, to map their operations. The idea was to draw the equivalent of an electrical blueprint of the Natanz plant, to understand how the computers control the giant silvery centrifuges that spin at tremendous speeds. The connections were complex, and unless every circuit was understood, efforts to seize control of the centrifuges could fail.

Eventually the beacon would have to “phone home” — literally send a message back to the headquarters of the National Security Agency that would describe the structure and daily rhythms of the enrichment plant. Expectations for the plan were low; one participant said the goal was simply to “throw a little sand in the gears” and buy some time. Mr. Bush was skeptical, but lacking other options, he authorized the effort.

Breakthrough, Aided by Israel 

It took months for the beacons to do their work and report home, complete with maps of the electronic directories of the controllers and what amounted to blueprints of how they were connected to the centrifuges deep underground.

Then the N.S.A. and a secret Israeli unit respected by American intelligence officials for its cyberskills set to work developing the enormously complex computer worm that would become the attacker from within.

The unusually tight collaboration with Israel was driven by two imperatives. Israel’s Unit 8200, a part of its military, had technical expertise that rivaled the N.S.A.’s, and the Israelis had deep intelligence about operations at Natanz that would be vital to making the cyberattack a success. But American officials had another interest, to dissuade the Israelis from carrying out their own pre-emptive strike against the Iranian nuclear facilities. To do that, the Israelis would have to be convinced that the new line of attack was working. The only way to convince them, several officials said in interviews, was to have them deeply involved in every aspect of the program.

Soon the two countries had developed a complex worm that the Americans called “the bug.” But the bug needed to be tested. So, under enormous secrecy, the United States began building replicas of Iran’s P-1 centrifuges, an aging, unreliable design that Iran purchased from Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Pakistani nuclear chief who had begun selling fuel-making technology on the black market. Fortunately for the United States, it already owned some P-1s, thanks to the Libyan dictator, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.

When Colonel Qaddafi gave up his nuclear weapons program in 2003, he turned over the centrifuges he had bought from the Pakistani nuclear ring, and they were placed in storage at a weapons laboratory in Tennessee. The military and intelligence officials overseeing Olympic Games borrowed some for what they termed “destructive testing,” essentially building a virtual replica of Natanz, but spreading the test over several of the Energy Department’s national laboratories to keep even the most trusted nuclear workers from figuring out what was afoot.

Those first small-scale tests were surprisingly successful: the bug invaded the computers, lurking for days or weeks, before sending instructions to speed them up or slow them down so suddenly that their delicate parts, spinning at supersonic speeds, self-destructed. After several false starts, it worked. One day, toward the end of Mr. Bush’s term, the rubble of a centrifuge was spread out on the conference table in the Situation Room, proof of the potential power of a cyberweapon. The worm was declared ready to test against the real target: Iran’s underground enrichment plant.

“Previous cyberattacks had effects limited to other computers,” Michael V. Hayden, the former chief of the C.I.A., said, declining to describe what he knew of these attacks when he was in office. “This is the first attack of a major nature in which a cyberattack was used to effect physical destruction,” rather than just slow another computer, or hack into it to steal data.

“Somebody crossed the Rubicon,” he said.
Getting the worm into Natanz, however, was no easy trick. The United States and Israel would have to rely on engineers, maintenance workers and others — both spies and unwitting accomplices — with physical access to the plant. “That was our holy grail,” one of the architects of the plan said. “It turns out there is always an idiot around who doesn’t think much about the thumb drive in their hand.”

In fact, thumb drives turned out to be critical in spreading the first variants of the computer worm; later, more sophisticated methods were developed to deliver the malicious code.
The first attacks were small, and when the centrifuges began spinning out of control in 2008, the Iranians were mystified about the cause, according to intercepts that the United States later picked up. “The thinking was that the Iranians would blame bad parts, or bad engineering, or just incompetence,” one of the architects of the early attack said.

The Iranians were confused partly because no two attacks were exactly alike. Moreover, the code would lurk inside the plant for weeks, recording normal operations; when it attacked, it sent signals to the Natanz control room indicating that everything downstairs was operating normally. “This may have been the most brilliant part of the code,” one American official said.
Later, word circulated through the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Vienna-based nuclear watchdog, that the Iranians had grown so distrustful of their own instruments that they had assigned people to sit in the plant and radio back what they saw.

“The intent was that the failures should make them feel they were stupid, which is what happened,” the participant in the attacks said. When a few centrifuges failed, the Iranians would close down whole “stands” that linked 164 machines, looking for signs of sabotage in all of them. “They overreacted,” one official said. “We soon discovered they fired people.”

MAY 24, 2012
Sanctions have taken a toll on the Iranian economy. The government is reluctant to admit it. Inflation is high. The number of young unemployed is a growing concern. NBC’s Ali Arouzi reports. 
Imagery recovered by nuclear inspectors from cameras at Natanz — which the nuclear agency uses to keep track of what happens between visits — showed the results. There was some evidence of wreckage, but it was clear that the Iranians had also carted away centrifuges that had previously appeared to be working well.

But by the time Mr. Bush left office, no wholesale destruction had been accomplished. Meeting with Mr. Obama in the White House days before his inauguration, Mr. Bush urged him to preserve two classified programs, Olympic Games and the drone program in Pakistan. Mr. Obama took Mr. Bush’s advice.

The Stuxnet Surprise 

Mr. Obama came to office with an interest in cyberissues, but he had discussed them during the campaign mostly in terms of threats to personal privacy and the risks to infrastructure like the electrical grid and the air traffic control system. He commissioned a major study on how to improve America’s defenses and announced it with great fanfare in the East Room.
What he did not say then was that he was also learning the arts of cyberwar. The architects of Olympic Games would meet him in the Situation Room, often with what they called the “horse blanket,” a giant foldout schematic diagram of Iran’s nuclear production facilities. Mr. Obama authorized the attacks to continue, and every few weeks — certainly after a major attack — he would get updates and authorize the next step. Sometimes it was a strike riskier and bolder than what had been tried previously.

“From his first days in office, he was deep into every step in slowing the Iranian program — the diplomacy, the sanctions, every major decision,” a senior administration official said. “And it’s safe to say that whatever other activity might have been under way was no exception to that rule.”

But the good luck did not last. In the summer of 2010, shortly after a new variant of the worm had been sent into Natanz, it became clear that the worm, which was never supposed to leave the Natanz machines, had broken free, like a zoo animal that found the keys to the cage. It fell to Mr. Panetta and two other crucial players in Olympic Games — General Cartwright, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Michael J. Morell, the deputy director of the C.I.A. — to break the news to Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden.
An error in the code, they said, had led it to spread to an engineer’s computer when it was hooked up to the centrifuges. When the engineer left Natanz and connected the computer to the Internet, the American- and Israeli-made bug failed to recognize that its environment had changed. It began replicating itself all around the world. Suddenly, the code was exposed, though its intent would not be clear, at least to ordinary computer users.

“We think there was a modification done by the Israelis,” one of the briefers told the president, “and we don’t know if we were part of that activity.”

Mr. Obama, according to officials in the room, asked a series of questions, fearful that the code could do damage outside the plant. The answers came back in hedged terms. Mr. Biden fumed. “It’s got to be the Israelis,” he said. “They went too far.”

In fact, both the Israelis and the Americans had been aiming for a particular part of the centrifuge plant, a critical area whose loss, they had concluded, would set the Iranians back considerably. It is unclear who introduced the programming error.

The question facing Mr. Obama was whether the rest of Olympic Games was in jeopardy, now that a variant of the bug was replicating itself “in the wild,” where computer security experts can dissect it and figure out its purpose.

“I don’t think we have enough information,” Mr. Obama told the group that day, according to the officials. But in the meantime, he ordered that the cyberattacks continue. They were his best hope of disrupting the Iranian nuclear program unless economic sanctions began to bite harder and reduced Iran’s oil revenues.
Within a week, another version of the bug brought down just under 1,000 centrifuges.

Olympic Games was still on.

A Weapon’s Uncertain Future 

American cyberattacks are not limited to Iran, but the focus of attention, as one administration official put it, “has been overwhelmingly on one country.” There is no reason to believe that will remain the case for long. Some officials question why the same techniques have not been used more aggressively against North Korea. Others see chances to disrupt Chinese military plans, forces in Syria on the way to suppress the uprising there, and Qaeda operations around the world. “We’ve considered a lot more attacks than we have gone ahead with,” one former intelligence official said.

Mr. Obama has repeatedly told his aides that there are risks to using — and particularly to overusing — the weapon. In fact, no country’s infrastructure is more dependent on computer systems, and thus more vulnerable to attack, than that of the United States. It is only a matter of time, most experts believe, before it becomes the target of the same kind of weapon that the Americans have used, secretly, against Iran.

This article is adapted from “Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power,” to be published by Crown on Tuesday.
This story, "Obama Order Sped Up Wave of Cyberattacks Against Iran," originally appeared in The New York Times.

Has the U.S. Declared (Cyber) War on Iran?

“The Pentagon has acknowledged recently China is the biggest source of cyber attacks against this country, including stealing our military secrets,” I asked Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in our THIS WEEK interview Sunday. “Newt Gingrich spoke about this threat on the campaign trail often. He said cyber attacks, cyber spying, are quote, ‘acts of war.’ Do you agree? Are they acts of war, and how would the United States respond?”

Said Panetta: “Well, there’s no question that if a cyber attack, you know, crippled our power grid in this country, took down our financial systems, took down our government systems, that that would constitute an act of war.”

The comment takes on added resonance given the scoop in David Sanger’s new book, “Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power,” to be published by Crown on Tuesday and excerpted in today’s New York Times. 

“From his first months in office, President Obama secretly ordered increasingly sophisticated attacks on the computer systems that run Iran’s main nuclear enrichment facilities, significantly expanding America’s first sustained use of cyber-weapons, according to participants in the program,” Sanger reports.

Asked about the story today, White House deputy press secretary John Earnest said, “I’ve read the story you’re referring to…and I’m not able to comment on any of the specifics or details in the story.”

Sanger describes the U.S. and Israeli efforts to undermine and sabotage the Iranian nuclear program with the computer worm “Stuxnet” and another, which “temporarily took out nearly 1,000 of the 5,000 centrifuges Iran had spinning at the time to purify uranium…. Internal Obama administration estimates say the effort was set back by 18 months to two years, but some experts inside and outside the government are more skeptical, noting that Iran’s enrichment levels have steadily recovered, giving the country enough fuel today for five or more weapons, with additional enrichment.”

The Obama administration has only recently admitted using cyber-warfare, and then only regarding al Qaeda.

-Jake Tapper