President Can Order Pre-Emptive Cyber Attack
February 4, 2013

President Obama Now Authorized To Order Pre-emptive Cyber Attack

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

A secret legal review of America´s growing arsenal of cyber weapons has determined President Obama has broad powers to order a pre-emptive strike if given “credible evidence” of an impending digital attack, The New York Times reported over the weekend, citing unnamed officials involved in the review.

The findings of the review will help shape new rules for how the US military and intelligence agencies can defend and retaliate against cyberattacks on critical national infrastructure.

The new policies, which will remain classified, will also apply to efforts by US intelligence agencies to mine foreign computer systems in order to detect looming attacks and — if the president approves — attack overseas adversaries by infecting them with destructive code.

John Brennan, the President´s chief counterterrorism adviser and nominee for Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, has reportedly played a key role in developing the administration´s policies regarding cyberwarfare and the use of drones, the governing rules of which have remained a closely held secret.

The decision about whether or not the President can authorize a pre-emptive strike is just one of many reached in recent weeks and months as the administration works to determine how to best protect the country from cyberattacks.

The new policies range from straightforward to sensitive to potentially controversial.

Some of the new rules could, for example, allow US authorities to disable an adversary´s air defense system during a tactical drone strike, while others could provide the US with the ability to respond to potential attacks through the use of computer viruses or other cyberweapons even in the absence of a  formal declaration of war.

However, one senior official stressed such decisions would only be made at the highest levels of government, on direct orders of the commander-in-chief.

“There are very, very few instances in cyberoperations in which the decision will be made at a level below the president,” the official told the Times.

There are some possible exceptions to this rule, however, such as in cases of narrowly-targeted tactical strikes by the US military, which could involve turning off an adversary´s air defense system during these conventional strikes.

In January 2011, the US was suspected of aiding Israel in a covert cyber attack intended to derail Iran's nuclear ambitions.

The move to establish new cyberwarfare rules highlights the fact the digital realm is becoming an important theater in global military and intelligence operations, both at home and abroad.

The new policies also coincide with fresh concerns about the ability of US enemies to use cyber attacks to disrupt or take out defense networks, technology infrastructure and other critical facilities such as power plants and financial systems.

Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano recently warned a wave of cyberattacks on vital US infrastructure is a serious possibility, describing such an event as a "Cyber 9/11."

On Monday, reports surfaced that computer networks at the U.S. Department of Energy´s Washington headquarters were attacked two weeks ago in a sophisticated hack that compromised the personal information of several hundred employees.

Agency officials and the FBI are investigating the attack, which they believe was not limited to the theft of personal information.

Governments systems are not the only targets for cyberattacks. Last week, The New York Times reported it had been the target of an ongoing hacker attack after the paper ran a story on the business dealings of relatives of China´s Prime Minister. The attacks are believed to have originated in Beijing.