Exclusive: Top-secret directive steps up offensive cyber capabilities to ‘advance US objectives around the world’

Read the secret presidential directive here

 

 

A cyber-security centre in the US

Obama’s move to establish a cyber warfare doctrine will heighten fears over the increasing militarization of the internet. Photograph: Jim Young/Reuters

 

Barack Obama has ordered his senior national security and intelligence officials to draw up a list of potential overseas targets for US cyber-attacks, a top secret presidential directive obtained by the Guardian reveals.

The 18-page Presidential Policy Directive 20, issued in October last year but never published, states that what it calls Offensive Cyber Effects Operations (OCEO) “can offer unique and unconventional capabilities to advance US national objectives around the world with little or no warning to the adversary or target and with potential effects ranging from subtle to severely damaging”.

It says the government will “identify potential targets of national importance where OCEO can offer a favorable balance of effectiveness and risk as compared with other instruments of national power”.

The directive also contemplates the possible use of cyber actions inside the US, though it specifies that no such domestic operations can be conducted without the prior order of the president, except in cases of emergency.

The aim of the document was “to put in place tools and a framework to enable government to make decisions” on cyber actions, a senior administration official told the Guardian.

The administration published some declassified talking points from the directive in January 2013, but those did not mention the stepping up of America’s offensive capability and the drawing up of a target list.

Obama’s move to establish a potentially aggressive cyber warfare doctrine will heighten fears over the increasing militarization of the internet.

The directive’s publication comes as the president plans to confront his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping at a summit in California on Friday over alleged Chinese attacks on western targets.

Even before the publication of the directive, Beijing had hit back against US criticism, with a senior official claiming to have “mountains of data” on American cyber-attacks he claimed were every bit as serious as those China was accused of having carried out against the US.

Presidential Policy Directive 20 defines OCEO as “operations and related programs or activities … conducted by or on behalf of the United States Government, in or through cyberspace, that are intended to enable or produce cyber effects outside United States government networks.”

Asked about the stepping up of US offensive capabilities outlined in the directive, a senior administration official said: “Once humans develop the capacity to build boats, we build navies. Once you build airplanes, we build air forces.”

The official added: “As a citizen, you expect your government to plan for scenarios. We’re very interested in having a discussion with our international partners about what the appropriate boundaries are.”

The document includes caveats and precautions stating that all US cyber operations should conform to US and international law, and that any operations “reasonably likely to result in significant consequences require specific presidential approval”.

The document says that agencies should consider the consequences of any cyber-action. They include the impact on intelligence-gathering; the risk of retaliation; the impact on the stability and security of the internet itself; the balance of political risks versus gains; and the establishment of unwelcome norms of international behaviour.

Among the possible “significant consequences” are loss of life; responsive actions against the US; damage to property; serious adverse foreign policy or economic impacts.

The US is understood to have already participated in at least one major cyber attack, the use of the Stuxnet computer worm targeted on Iranian uranium enrichment centrifuges, the legality of which has been the subject of controversy. US reports citing high-level sources within the intelligence services said the US and Israel were responsible for the worm.

In the presidential directive, the criteria for offensive cyber operations in the directive is not limited to retaliatory action but vaguely framed as advancing “US national objectives around the world”.

The revelation that the US is preparing a specific target list for offensive cyber-action is likely to reignite previously raised concerns of security researchers and academics, several of whom have warned that large-scale cyber operations could easily escalate into full-scale military conflict.

Sean Lawson, assistant professor in the department of communication at the University of Utah, argues: “When militarist cyber rhetoric results in use of offensive cyber attack it is likely that those attacks will escalate into physical, kinetic uses of force.”

 

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By TBC Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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HUFF POST

Obama Cyber Memo Is Just The Latest Sign That The U.S. Is Preparing For Cyberwar

The Huffington Post  |  By Posted: 06/07/2013 5:43 pm EDT  |  Updated: 06/07/2013 6:07 pm EDT

A top-secret presidential memo published Friday marked the latest sign that the Obama administration is ready to go on the offensive in a potential cyberwar.

On Friday, the Guardian published a secret presidential directive calling on national security and intelligence officials to create a list of potential foreign targets for U.S. cyber attacks. The 18-page document, known as Presidential Policy Directive 20, aims “to put in place tools and a framework to enable government to make decisions” on cyber actions, a senior administration official told the Guardian.

The directive states that cyber attacks can be launched as part of “anticipatory action taken against imminent threats,” but should comply with U.S. and international law and receive approval from the president if they are “reasonably likely to result in significant consequences,” according to the Guardian.

 

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