A cyberattack would be sufficient grounds for the Pentagon to declare an immediate act of war, responding to suspected enemies with military force. For Obama and his team, this is a matter of national security.
President Barack Obama marked a return to the theme of national cybersecurity in his traditional State of the Union Address on 12th February.
The democrat leader announced an executive order to bolster internet surveillance in the face of what the White House considers a growing threat of internet attacks.
In line with the order, federal agencies will notify private companies of both classified and unclassified cyber threats, whilst safeguarding US citizens’ privacy and civil liberties.
Furthermore, a ‘cybersecurity standard’ will be established by the National Institute for Standards and Technology, to roll out best possible practices for protection against attacks, and armour-plate those companies considered critical to the country’s infrastructure.
The new ‘cyber defenses’ will, according to Obama, increase information sharing and develop standards “which will protect our national security, our jobs, and our privacy”.
In a recent poll from The Hill, a newspaper specialising in legislative topics, results showed that a number of citizens believe Obama holds policies similar to, or worse than, his predecessor George Bush when it comes to the balance between national security and civil liberties.
The survey showed that 37% of those questioned think the president’s policies are worse, whilst 15% say there are few differences between the two.
The publication of a Justice Department memo has seen a resurgence of the debate over the protection of individual rights. The leaked memo makes it legal to kill US citizens overseas suspected of terrorism through the deployment of unmanned aircraft and drone strikes.
It is up to organisations whether they adopt the guidelines in the executive order: it will be directed by the coordination of various sectors of the current administration, including defence, national security, and anti-terror advisors; though it will not actually specify the methods of response to possible threats.
All the same, for Pentagon strategists a cyberattack would be sufficient grounds for the Pentagon to declare an immediate act of war, responding to suspected enemies with military force.
“Our enemies are seeking the ability to sabotage our power grid, our financial institutions, and our air traffic control systems.” claimed the head of state in his address at Capitol Hill.
Some critics of his policies have expressed concerns that the order as it stands has a limited scope, and is by no means a panacea for the control of cyberspace.
For the Atlantic Council, think tank for international matters headed by new secretary of defense Charles Hagel, the order is “flawed”: it provides “limited actions for a limited set of problems”.
According to Obama, the order was long anticipated, in spite of some opposition members delaying its implementation. In May 2011 Obama put forward an initiative along similar lines, which Congress rejected in 2012.
But now into his second term, the president is exerting his executive power on various issues, such as climate change and cybersecurity, according to an article published in The Hill.
Around the time the Pentagon announced a wide reaching cybersecurity plan just two years ago, a rise in cyberattacks was reported, showing the vulnerability of networks to hackers.
When it was revealed that some 24 thousand Pentagon documents were stolen in March 2011 by hackers, it provided justification for the implementation of a cyber plan. The hackers breached the security of a computer owned by a US army contractor.
Some information was stolen from “the most sensitive systems” protected by “surveillance technologies, satellite communication systems, and internet security protocols.
The most interesting aspect of the cybersecurity plan, however, is that the Department of Defense has declared the internet a war domain, according to The Hill.
Jeffrey Carr, author of ‘Inside Cyber Warfare: Mapping the Cyber Underworld’ is of the opinion that hackers, although they may want to, would not be able to penetrate sensitive CIA documents, for example.
It is certain that cyberwar paranoia in the era of new technologies and communication is more than a plan ‘in development’ for the Pentagon.
They were already claiming that the internet should be treated as ‘an armed enemy force’ in documents dating from 2008.
Fundamentally, it constitutes an attempt on the part of the US to uphold its incomparable military superiority across the world, and above all provides a new pretext for the White House to show its traditional military strength. (PL)
(Translated by Claudia Rennie – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org).