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"Obama's 'Secret Wars' Against America's Threats"

President Barack Obama confers with National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, right, Chief of Staff Bill Daley, left, and Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications in El Salvador in March 2011 (White House)

"Obama's 'Secret Wars' Against America's Threats"


June 6, 2012

Author: David E. Sanger, Senior Fellow, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs; Adjunct Lecturer in Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School


David Sanger, senior fellow at the Belfer Center and adjunct lecturer in public policy at Harvard Kennedy School, was interviewed on NPR’s “On Point” about his new book on President Obama’s foreign policy efforts, including a cyber-campaign against Iran’s nuclear program. Sanger’s book, Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power, was published this week. Below is an excerpt from his NPR interview.

SANGER: Well, you've seen President Obama from the first days of his presidency talk about hardening America's cyberdefenses, and there have been billions of dollars the federal government now spends trying to harden critical infrastructure. In fact, just in March, they ran a simulation up in the U.S. Senate, a classified simulation, about what would happen if a foreign hacker or foreign power attacked the electrical system in New York City and turned off all the lights in New York.

And these raise very big issues. One of them is: Would you consider that an act of war? Would you respond with a cyberattack against the country that led the attack on the U.S.? Would you even know what that country was? I mean, in the old nuclear age, you could sit in front of a big screen under the mountain in - Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado, and you could see where the missiles were coming from.

If there's a cyberattack from China or Russia or Romania or Mexico, it may well run through a server in another country. And you may not - it may take months before you know where it really came from. And that makes deterring against cyberattacks very difficult.

And think about Olympic Games, because the Iranians were not certain where these attacks were coming from. In fact, for the first couple of years of the attacks, they didn't even really know they were being attacked. They only knew that their centrifuges were failing.

The full text of Sanger’s interview can be found here.


On June 5, Sanger was interviewed on PBS’s Charlie Rose about his book. A video of the interview can be found here.

A review of Sanger's book by Thomas Ricks, former national security correspondent for the Washington Post, can be found here.


Article by Sanger adapted from Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power:

Obama Ordered Wave of Cyberattacks Against Iran,” New York Times. June 1, 2012


For more information about this publication please contact the Belfer Center Communications Office at 617-495-9858.

For Academic Citation:

Sanger, David E. "Obama's 'Secret Wars' Against America's Threats." News, Harvard University, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, June 6, 2012.

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