Obama administration claims power to authorize pre-emptive cyberwar strikes [World Socialist Website]

By Joseph Kishore
5 February 2013

The Obama administration has concluded that the president can authorize pre-emptive cyberwar attacks, according to a secret legal review prepared by the US government. The move is part of efforts to expand the ability of the American military to use new technologies to carry out acts of aggression—with Iran and China the most immediate targets.

The discussions within the administration were reported by the New York Times in an article published on Monday.

While invariably couched in the language of “defense,” the Pentagon’s cyberwarfare plans are part of an array of offensive capabilities—in addition to and alongside economic sanctions, global spying, drone assassination strikes and more traditional military actions.

According to the Times, the administration’s legal review concludes that the president “has the broad power to order a pre-emptive strike if the United States detects credible evidence of a major digital attack looming from abroad.” The newspaper also reports on new policies “that will govern how intelligence agencies can carry out searches of faraway computer networks for signs of potential attack on the United States and, if the president approves, attack adversaries by injecting them with destructive code — even if there is no declared war.”

The doctrine of pre-emptive war was adopted by the Bush administration for the purpose of justifying military aggression against any country deemed an existent or even potential threat to the United States. The Times notes in an aside, “Pre-emption has always been a disputed legal concept,” citing the invasion of Iraq in 2003 on the fraudulent pretext of that country’s possession of “weapons of mass destruction.” Such disputes have evidently been swept aside by the Obama administration.

The importance of cyberwarfare has expanded with the increasing reliance on computer networks for the delivery of basic services. A cyber attack could take down power plants, hospitals, transportation systems or other critical infrastructure, potentially leading to economic devastation and widespread casualties.

According to the Times, decisions to authorize cyberwarfare will generally be made by the president himself. “One senior American official said that officials quickly determined that the cyberweapons were so powerful that—like nuclear weapons—they should be unleashed only on the direct orders of the commander in chief.”

China is a particular target of current or potential cyberwarfare carried out by the US. Seeing China as a principal economic and geopolitical competitor, the Obama administration has organized a “pivot” to Asia and the Pacific to focus military resources in the region.

The Times quotes Richard Falkenrath of the Council on Foreign Relations: “While this is all described in neutral terms—what are we going to do about cyber attacks—the underlying question is, ‘What are we going to do about China?’”

The report comes only days after a number of newspapers—including the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and the Times itself—announced that they had been the target of hacking attacks by individuals in China, which the Times, in particular, sought to link to the Chinese government.

The most significant act of cyberwar to date, however, came not from China, but from the United States and Israel, and was directed at Iran’s nuclear program. It was revealed last year that the two countries were behind the creation of the Stuxnet virus, which infected Iranian networks in June 2010. The US military operation, dubbed Operation Olympic Games, began under Bush and was continued under Obama…

Full article link: http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2013/02/05/cybe-f05.html

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