Ellen Nakashima has a piece following up on the WSJ story previewing DOD’s cyberwar (which I posted on here). Before you read it, though, I wanted to suggest another reason we may be seeing this policy early (in addition to the hacking of all the defense contractors, now including L-3; and note, Nakashima references this legislation at the end of her article).
Last Thursday, the Defense Authorization bill passed the House. It retains Section 962, to which the Administration objected, which reads,
SEC. 962. MILITARY ACTIVITIES IN CYBERSPACE.
(a) AFFIRMATION.—Congress affirms that the Secretary of Defense is authorized to conduct military activities in cyberspace.
(b) AUTHORITY DESCRIBED.—The authority referred to in subsection (a) includes the authority to carry out a clandestine operation in cyberspace—
(1) in support of a military operation pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force (50 U.S.C. 1541 note; Public Law 107–40) against a target located outside of the United States; or
(2) to defend against a cyber attack against an asset of the Department of Defense.
(c) BRIEFINGS ON ACTIVITIES.—Not later than 120 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, and quarterly thereafter, the Secretary of Defense shall provide a briefing to the Committees on Armed Services of the House of Representatives and the Senate on covered military cyberspace activities that the Department of Defense carried out during the preceding quarter.
(d) RULE OF CONSTRUCTION.—Nothing in this section shall be construed to limit the authority of the Secretary of Defense to conduct military activities in cyberspace.
So as you read Nakashima, remember that the Obama Administration objected to a section that authorized cyberwar in two circumstances–in support of an AUMF against a target outside of the US and in defense against a cyber attack on a DOD asset–and required quarterly briefings.
OK, now go read Nakashima.
Within the context of the Defense Authorization, a few points of DOD’s campaign to describe what they believe their cyberwar policy to be stick out. First, it envisions preparatory actions–basically spying on a presumably non-belligerent adversary’s infrastructure to map out how DOD would launch a cyberattack if the time came.
The framework clarifies, for instance, that the military needs presidential authorization to penetrate a foreign computer network and leave a cyber-virus that can be activated later. The military does not need such approval, however, to penetrate foreign networks for a variety of other activities. These include studying the cyber-capabilities of adversaries or examining how power plants or other networks operate. Military cyber-warriors can also, without presidential authorization, leave beacons to mark spots for later targeting by viruses, the official said.
In other words, DOD is indicating that it will engage in cyberwar activities outside of those authorized by Congress, activities which I’m sure they’re claiming fall under their “preparing the battlefield” giant loophole they use to engage in spywork.
Then there’s this:
Last year, for instance, U.S. intelligence officials learned of plans by an al-Qaeda affiliate to publish an online jihadist magazine in English called Inspire, according to numerous current and senior U.S. officials. And to some of those skilled in the emerging new world of cyber-warfare, Inspire seemed a natural target.
The head of the newly formed U.S. Cyber Command, Gen. Keith Alexander, argued that blocking the magazine was a legitimate counterterrorism target and would help protect U.S. troops overseas. But the CIA pushed back, arguing that it would expose sources and methods and disrupt an important source of intelligence. The proposal also rekindled a long-standing interagency struggle over whether disrupting a terrorist Web site overseas was a traditional military activity or a covert activity — and hence the prerogative of the CIA.
The CIA won out, and the proposal was rejected. But as the debate was underway within the U.S. government, British government cyber-warriors were moving forward with a plan.
As Nakashima goes onto explain, the British attack on Inspire managed to delay the publication of a bomb-making article in the magazine for two weeks. But it did eventually get published.
The Inspire story is fascinating not just because it reveals the ongoing turf war between DOD and CIA–and makes clear Mac Thornberry intends to let DOD win these battles.
But also, consider the cyberattack-which-shall-not-be-named: someone’s successful effort to ensure WikiLeaks couldn’t publish the State Department cables from a US server. The Inspire story makes it clear DOD is thinking in terms of take-downs of speech, which is precisely what the WL hack was.
And since WL was ultimately a compromise of DOD’s networks, it would solidly fall under the congressionally-defined defense “against a cyber attack against an asset of the Department of Defense.”
That is, it seems that Thornberry has authorized DOD to do things like hack WL. Congress seems to be in the business of helping the government exercise prior restraint.
That First Amendment sure was nice when we had it!
Though there’s just one weird aspect to this: DOD didn’t launch a cyberattack on WL when it compromised DOD resources: the Afghan and Iraq cables. Rather, it waited until all the DOD materials were already out, and then (we assume though don’t know) started attacking free speech to protect the State Department’s assets.
Anyway, all that prior restraint isn’t good enough, it seems, and the Administration is going to campaign for more lenient guidelines allowing DOD to wade through other countries’ infrastructure to figure out how to cyberattack them when the time comes.
I guess they can’t very well complain about the Lockheed and L-3 hacks then.