A secret review has concluded that US President Obama has the
authority to launch a preemptive cyber attack on any country on the
basis that they are considered a ‘cyber threat’ – even if there is no
concrete evidence of this threat.
It may not be long before the US conducts crippling attacks on
foreign soil with little more than a mouse click, thereby sparing itself
the effort of sending its military oversees or declaring war.
Obama administration is currently drawing up a set of rules about how
the US military can defend against or conduct cyberattacks, the New York
Times reports. The Obama administration is also allowing intelligence
agencies to declare potential threats. But even if these threats are
nothing more than a suspicion without evidence, the military now has the
authority to attack foreign nations, regardless of whether or not the
US is involved in a conflict with them.
This would not only spare
the US from sending its own troops overseas, but it would also allow the
administration to make decisions without the deliberation that usually
occurs before sending Americans into a conflict zone. And if the
administration conducts an attack based on false premises, it would be
saved the embarrassment that occurred when President George W. Bush sent
thousands of US troops into a war with Iraq that lasted nearly 9 years,
based on the false premise that Iraq possessed weapons of mass
destruction and was a security threat.
With no overseas
deployments necessary to conduct a cyberattack, the administration would
have nothing to lose by anonymously targeting and destroying
infrastructure based on its own suspicions of a threat. The
administration’s new rules would also allow the military to operate
domestically, the thought of which has always made many people
uncomfortable. The White House in October signed a presidential policy directive that aims to “finalize
new rules of engagement that would guide commanders when and how the
military can go outside government networks to prevent a cyberattack
that could cause significant destruction or casualties.”
senior administration official told the Times that the US has so far
kept its cyber capabilities
restrained and that the new rules could
allow the administration to exercise its full potential.
“There are levels of cyberwarfare that are far more aggressive than anything that has been used or recommended to be done,” the official said.
administration has already used computer worms to cripple other
countries’ infrastructure, including a series of attacks against Iran’s
nuclear power plants, one of which took out nearly 1,000 of the 5,000
centrifuges of the Natanz plant. The attack was controlled from inside
the Pentagon, which now has a new Cyber Command and a growing budget
that would allow it to conduct more extensive cyberattacks.
Pentagon’s foundation of such an office demonstrates the
administration’s preparation for cyberwarfare, in which both the US and
terrorists can strike each other by taking down power grids, financial
systems and communications networks. The Cyber Command office is
experiencing a growing budget, while the Department of Defense is
preparing for spending cuts and is slashing budgets for other Pentagon
departments, indicating the importance of its work to the
The rules have been in development for nearly two
years, but they were leaked to the Times at a convenient moment for the
administration: The New York Times, Bloomberg L.P., the Wall Street
Journal and the Washington Post all claim that their computers have been
penetrated by Chinese hackers and had been targeted for years. The
computer security company Mandiant also alleged that Chinese hackers had
stolen contacts, information and files from more than 30 US newspaper
journalists and executives, many of which had written about Chinese
leaders and political and legal issues in China.
But the Chinese
Ministry of National Defense has denied that its people had anything to
do with the suspected attacks, stating that “Chinese laws prohibit any action including hacking that damages Internet security.” The ministry also expressed anger about the accusations, stating that “to accuse the Chinese military of launching cyberattacks without solid proof is unprofessional and baseless.”
have seen over the last years an increase in not only the hacking
attempts on government institutions but also nongovernmental ones,” US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters on Thursday, emphasizing that the Chinese “are not the only people who are hacking us.”
administration has also recently announced that an unnamed American
power station was crippled for weeks by cyberattacks, without releasing
details about the location of the plant. With little proof about the
alleged cyberattacks and the suspected threats, the White House now
reserves the right to make major cyberwarfare decisions, despite
Congress’ long-standing disapproval.
“The [National Security
Administration’s] cyber security operations have been kept very, very
secret, and because of that it has been impossible for the public to
react to them,” said Electronic Privacy
Information Center attorney Arnie Stepanovich in November. “[That makes it] very difficult, we believe, for Congress to legislate in this area.”
Obama administration has long pushed for Congress to pass the Cyber
Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, which would grant the
government greater access to the Internet and cybersecurity information
from the private sector. US Homeland Security Secretary Janet
Napolitano, claims it
is necessary to prevent a “cyber 9/11” attack that would knock out
water, electricity and gas, causing destruction similar to that left
behind by Hurricane Sandy.
But privacy advocates have long
expressed concern that this measure would give the government access to
Americans’ personal e-mails, online chat conversations, and other
personal information that only private companies and servers might have
access too, prompting Congress to reject the measure.
privacy concerns, the Obama administration’s increasing access to
cybersecurity information and cyberwarfare capabilities provides the
president with an unknown amount of power to conduct anonymous attacks
on foreign infrastructure.
While using this technology to attack
military objects, such as anti-aircraft or missile defense radars in war
zones, would not surprise anyone, the US now also reserves the right to
attack other countries with which it has not declared war.
the US ranking first in a 2012 study that drew up a “Cyber Power
Index”, other nations whose conduct conflicts with US wishes could
become more vulnerable than ever – especially since International Law
allows countries to defend themselves against foreign threats, and these
“threats” can now be concluded based on vague intelligence analysis of a
'potential' cyber attack.