WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Retired U.S. General James Cartwright is the target of a Justice Department investigation into the leaking of secret information about the Stuxnet virus attack on Iranian nuclear facilities in 2010, NBC News reported on Thursday, citing unidentified legal sources.
NBC said Cartwright, once the second highest ranking officer in the U.S. military, is being probed over the leaked information about the computer virus, which temporarily disabled 1,000 centrifuges used by Iran to enrich uranium, setting back its nuclear program.
The United States and Western powers believe the Iranian nuclear enrichment program is aimed at building atomic weapons, while Tehran says it is solely for civilian energy purposes.
The New York Times published a detailed account of the Stuxnet program in June last year, in which it said President Barack Obama had decided to accelerate U.S. cyber attacks, which began under former President George W. Bush.
The story was based on 18 months of interviews with "with current and former American, European and Israeli officials involved in the program, as well as a range of outside experts," the Times said in its story.
Cartwright, a four-star general who is now retired, was vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs from 2007 to 2011.
News of the leak investigation came as the United States is trying to persuade Russia to deport American Edward Snowden, a former contractor working at the National Security Agency who disclosed information to two newspapers about secret U.S. government surveillance of internet and phone traffic.
Snowden fled the United States to Hong Kong before the information was made public this month and is now believed to be in the transit area of a Moscow airport.
(Reporting by Douwe Miedema; editing by Christopher Wilson)