After publishing the leaks given to them by Edward Snowden, a former technical assistant for the CIA and NSA contractor due to his job Booz Allen Hamilton, the Guardian has revealed another interesting fact: President Obama ordered a list of foreign cyber targets as part of Presidential Policy Directive 20, issued late last year.
Presidential Policy Directive 20 was somewhat disclosed, in redacted form, earlier this year. Written last October, the directive was said to be part of President Obama’s plans to make cybersecurity a top priority.
In addition, the redacted memo on the directive said that the policy established principles and processes for the use of cyber operations, so cyber tools are integrated with the full array of national security tools the government has at disposal. Moreover, those same principles and processes were created “to enable more effective planning, development, and use of our capabilities.”
As it turns out, planning and development included a section on Offensive Cyber Effects Operations (OCEO). According to the memo, which the Guardian published in full, OCEO offers “…unique and unconventional capabilities to advance US national objectives around the world with little or no warning to the adversary or target and with potential effects ranging from subtle to severely damaging.”
The government, the memo goes on to state, will identify potential targets of national importance where OCEO can offer a favorable balance of effectiveness and risk as compared with other instruments of national power.
As the Guardian aptly notes, the move to create a potentially aggressive cyberwarfare doctrine, “will heighten fears over the increasing militarization of the internet.”
The bombshell in the leaked memo however is the virtual hit-list, which is established under the section dealing with Policy Reviews and Preparation.
According to the wording of the directive, the Secretary of Defense, Director of National Intelligence, and the director of the CIA, in coordination with the US Attorney General, Secretaries of State, and Homeland Security, will need to prepare a plan that “identifies potential systems, processes and infrastructure against which the United States should establish and maintain OCEO capabilities; proposes circumstances under which OCEO might be used; and proposes necessary resources and steps that would be needed for implementation…”
“The revelation that the US is preparing a specific target list for offensive cyber-action is likely to reignite previously raised concerns of security researchers and academics, several of whom have warned that large-scale cyber operations could easily escalate into full-scale military conflict,” the news agency reported.
The full memo, as well as the coverage from the Guardian is linked above. The confirmation that the U.S. is planning to use cyber abilities for offense and defense isn’t new, given what’s known about Stuxnet.
The problem, which the memo takes into account, is that once such acts are undertaken, then the nation targeted will surely respond, either on a virtual front – or a more aggressive and physical one.