A recently published story from the New York Times reports a “secret legal review” has been conducted on the use of cyber warfare by the United States. It concluded President Barack Obama has “the broad power to order a preemptive strike if the United States detects credible evidence of a major digital attack looming from abroad.”
Unnamed officials involved in the review inform that the administration is moving in the coming weeks to “approve the nation’s first rules for how the military can defend, or retaliate, against a major cyber attack.” These rules, according to David Sanger and Thom Shanker, will “govern how the intelligence agencies can carry out searches of faraway computer networks for signs of potential attacks on the United States.” If the president approves a strike, the government will be able to “attack adversaries by injecting them with destructive code — even if there is no declared war.”
It further adds, “The Pentagon would not be involved in defending against ordinary cyberattacks on American companies or individuals, even though it has the largest array of cybertools. Domestically, that responsibility falls to the Department of Homeland Security, and investigations of cyberattacks or theft are carried out by the FBI.”
The Times story points out the rules—like the rules “governing drone strikes”—are highly classified and will be kept secret. The officials from the administration providing details spoke “on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk on the record.” They selectively leaked a scant amount of details on evolving cyber warfare policy to allay concerns about this power the administration is claiming.
One official claimed the US had been “restrained in its use of cyberweapons” and said, “There are levels of cyberwarfare that are far more aggressive than anything that has been used or recommended to be done.” A “senior American official” said cyberweapons were as powerful as nuclear weapons and “should be unleashed only on the direct orders of the commander in chief.” The official added the decision to launch cyber operations will rarely be made by someone at a level “below the president,” which means “‘automatic’ retaliation if a cyber attack on America’s infrastructure is detected” has reportedly been “ruled out.”