Report: Obama Has Authority to Order Pre-emptive Cyberattack

Monday, 04 Feb 2013 09:19 AM

By Greg McDonald

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President Barack Obama could order a pre-emptive cyberstrike if the administration discovers credible evidence a digital attack is about to be launched against the United States, according to The New York Times.

The Times reported Sunday that a legal review "on the use of America's growing arsenal of cyberweapons" had determined the president does have the authority to take pre-emptive action as part of the first set of rules being developed to guide how the military and intelligence agencies "can defend, or retaliate, against a major cyberattack."

Under the highly classified rules, which allows U.S. intelligence agencies to carry out searches of computer networks for signs of trouble, the president could approve what the Times described as the injection of a destructive code into another country's computer systems even if no war has been declared.

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The newspaper also reported that John Brennan, the president's chief adviser on counterterrorism and his nominee for director of the Central Intelligence Agency, played a key role in developing the new cyberwarfare strategy, as well as the policy governing drone strikes.

Citing unidentified U.S. officials who were not authorized to speak on the record, the Times reported that the Pentagon, as part of its strategy, had created a new Cyber Command to carry out what the Times called "the newest and perhaps most complex arms race under way." The budget for the new command is expected to be one part of defense spending that actually grows in the coming years to help carry out the nation's counterterrorism policies.

According to one official cited by the Times, the U.S. has restrained its use of cyberweapons since it began defining the rules for engagement more than a year ago. And Obama is known to have approved the use of cyberweapons only once. That was against Iran's nuclear enrichment facilities, the paper said.

"There are levels of cyberwarfare that are far more aggressive than anything that has been used or recommended to be done,” this officials told the Times.

Because they are so powerful, one official said, the decision was made that they should be treated like nuclear weapons and released only on the orders of the president.

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