James’s Musings

thoughts, photography, and geeky stuff
from an unrelentingly curious Silicon Valley entrepreneur

A Cyber Take on the Iran/Syria RADAR Deal

by James G. Beldock on June 30, 2010

Second in a se­ries of posts from Aspen Institute Security Forum, the inaugural—and so far excellent—security and coun­ter-ter­ror­ism con­fer­ence at the Aspen Institute, di­rect­ed by my friend and col­league Clark Ervin, the for­mer Inspector General of DHS.

The head­line on yesterday’s Wall Street Journal read “Iran Arms Syria with Radar [sic]”. My or­tho­graph­ic quib­bles about the prop­er spelling of RADAR notwith­stand­ing, the ar­ti­cle quotes of­fi­cials who say the new RADAR could pose a se­cu­ri­ty threat to Israel. No doubt it could. The point of the ar­ti­cle is that this lev­el of mil­i­tary and tech­nol­o­gy “co­op­er­a­tion” con­sti­tutes a se­ri­ous se­cu­ri­ty threat. No doubt it does.

Unloading of a ship in Syria which Israelis claim contained arms for Hezbollah from Iran
Wall Street Journal, from Getty Images

One fact miss­ing from the sto­ry was that the Syrians had al­ready spent huge amounts on their air defenses—billions, by some es­ti­mates1. And as the for­mer US top cy­ber­se­cu­ri­ty of­fi­cial, Richard Clarke, points out in his new book, Cyber War: The Next Threat to National Security and What to Do About It, those in­vest­ments had failed spec­tac­u­lar­ly. Clarke those re­it­er­at­ed last night at the Aspen Institute Security Forum that the chal­lenge of cy­ber­se­cu­ri­ty lies in the man­ner in which it lev­els the play­ing field in such un­ex­pect­ed ways. In the case of the briefly in­fa­mous 2008 Israeli air raid on the North Korean-de­signed (and op­er­at­ed?) Syrian nu­clear fa­cil­i­ty, the Syrian RADAR sys­tems ap­pear to have been shut down be­fore a sin­gle Israeli shot was fired: some­one (the Israelis, we pre­sume) hacked the Syrian RADAR net­works caused them ei­ther not to de­tect the F-15s and F-16s over­head, or not to dis­play them. (Neither of those air­craft is stealthy; there is no ques­tion the RADARs could have de­tect­ed them.) Perhaps the first pub­lic ac­knowl­edg­ment of cy­ber­war in a mod­ern mil­i­tary ac­tion fol­lowed, as first pub­licly re­port­ed by David A. Fulghum, Robert Wall and Amy Butler (“Israel Shows Electronic Prowess,” in Aviation Week).

So one won­ders about this WSJ sto­ry: why are the Syrians buy­ing new RADAR equip­ment in­stead of new fire­walls and routers? Well, per­haps they are….

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  1. Clarke, Richard A. and Robert K. Knake, Cyber War, Harper Collins, 2010 []

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