Former vice-chair of Joint Chiefs probed for alleged Stuxnet leak

WASHINGTON (AP) - The former vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is under investigation for allegedly leaking classified information about a covert cyber attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, according to media reports.

Retired Marine General James "Hoss" Cartwright has been told he is a target of the probe, NBC News and The Washington Post reported on Thursday. The Justice Department referred questions to the US Attorney's Office in Baltimore, where a spokesman, Ms Marcia Murphy, declined to comment.

In June last year, the New York Times reported that Gen Cartwright was a crucial player in the cyber operation called "Olympic Games", started under President George W. Bush. Mr Bush reportedly advised President Barack Obama to preserve Olympic Games.

According to the Times, Mr Obama ordered the cyberattacks sped up, and in 2010 an attack using a computer virus called Stuxnet temporarily disabled 1,000 centrifuges that the Iranians were using to enrich uranium. Congressional leaders demanded a criminal probe into who leaked the information, and Mr Obama said he had zero tolerance for such leaks. Republicans said senior administration officials had leaked the details to bolster the President's national security credentials during the 2012 campaign.

The Times said Gen Cartwright was one of the crucial players who had to break the news to Mr Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden that Stuxnet at one point had escaped onto the Internet.

An element of the programme 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 out on the Internet, the Times reported. After the worm escaped onto the Internet, top administration officials met to consider whether the programme had been fatally compromised.

Mr Obama asked if the programme should continue, and after hearing the advice of top advisers, decided to proceed.