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.
An intelligence source with extensive knowledge of the National Security Agency’s systems told the Guardian … “We hack everyone everywhere. We like to make a distinction between us and the others. But we are in almost every country in the world.”
The full classified directive repeatedly emphasizes that all cyber-operations must be conducted in accordance with US law and only as a complement to diplomatic and military options. But it also makes clear how both offensive and defensive cyber operations are central to US strategy.
Under the heading “Policy Reviews and Preparation”, a section marked “TS/NF” – top secret/no foreign – states: “The secretary of defense, the DNI [Director of National Intelligence], and the director of the CIA … shall prepare for approval by the president through the National Security Advisor a plan that identifies potential systems, processes and infrastructure against which the United States should establish and maintain OCEO capabilities…” The deadline for the plan is six months after the approval of the directive.
The directive provides that any cyber-operations “intended or likely to produce cyber effects within the United States” require the approval of the president, except in the case of an “emergency cyber action”. When such an emergency arises, several departments, including the department of defense, are authorized to conduct such domestic operations without presidential approval.
Obama further authorized the use of offensive cyber attacks in foreign nations without their government’s consent whenever “US national interests and equities” require such nonconsensual attacks. It expressly reserves the right to use cyber tactics as part of what it calls “anticipatory action taken against imminent threats”.
The directive makes multiple references to the use of offensive cyber attacks by the US military.
Greenwald and others have long reported that the Obama administration claims the right to be judge, jury and executioner in both drone assassinations and offensive cyber attacks.
Greenwald also reports that the head of the cyber command is the NSA boss … the same guy responsible for much of the spying we’ve been hearing about:
In January, the Pentagon announced a major expansion of its Cyber Command Unit, under the command of General Keith Alexander, who is also the director of the NSA. That unit is responsible for executing both offensive and defensive cyber operations.
(There are other overlaps and interconnections between spying and warfare as well.)
The War Comes Home
Offensive cyber operations are not only occurring overseas …
This is not entirely surprising, given that:
- Programs which the government claims are aimed at foreign entities have long been used against American citizens living in the United States
- The “war on terror” has come home. If the government claims the power to assassinate and indefinitely detain American citizens living on U.S. soil … it’ s not going to hesitate in targeting them for propaganda and cyber-warfare
- The government has long sought to spread propaganda through mainstream media, video games, movies, television, and every other popular medium. Famed Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein says the CIA bought and paid for many successful journalists. See also this New York Times piece, this essay by the Independent, this speech by one of the premier writers on journalism, and this and this roundup. And the CIA is investing in technology which lets them cut out the middle man altogether … by having a computer write news stories
- On the other hand, real reporters who criticize those in power are being harassed, targeted and smeared
- Government agencies are scouring the Web for any critical comments about them, actively manipulating social media for propaganda purposes, and to help the too big to fail businesses compete against smaller businesses (and here), and to promote viewpoints which have nothing to do with keeping us safe