Obama Granted Sweeping Power in 'Secret' Cyber-Wars

(Jim Watson, AFP/Getty Images)

Obama Granted Sweeping Power in 'Secret' Cyber-Wars

Obama now 'proverbial judge, jury and executioner’ of cyber-strikes

U.S. President Barack Obama has been granted sweeping powers to order preemptive cyber-strikes on any given country, anonymous officials involved in a "secret legal review" of U.S. cyber warfare rules, told the New York Times Monday.

Speaking to the Times, the unnamed officials said quickly advancing tactics of cyber-warfare can be unleashed exclusively via the direct orders of the President--should the administration suspect signs of a major digital attack. 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," the Times reports.

The administration has been working to hash out the nation's first written rules on how and when the military and several government agencies can initiate acts of cyber-warfare; however, the rules will remain classified.

"What we know about the legal questions Obama has grappled with is all secret. The development of 'cyber-security' policy or cyber warfare policies indicate a further expansion of the body of secret law under Obama," Kevin Gosztola writes at FireDogLake.

What we do know, as the anonymous officials told the Times, is that under the new cyber-warfare rules, which utilize an increasingly loose interpretation of preemptive war, President Obama can initiate cyber-warfare on countries that we are not officially at war with--much like the highly controversial drones strikes, or targeted assassinations, that Obama has approved in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia in recent years.

"The rules will be highly classified, just as those governing drone strikes have been closely held," the Times reports. "John O. Brennan, Mr. Obama's chief counter-terrorism adviser and his nominee to run the Central Intelligence Agency, played a central role in developing the administration's policies regarding both drones and cyber-warfare..."

"There is no indication that any group of members in Congress or judicial body will have to approve of a preemptive strike before it is carried out," writes Gosztola. "As has become typical, the president wants to be able to conduct war without needing authorization."

"There are levels of cyber-warfare that are far more aggressive than anything that has been used or recommended to be done," one official told the Times.

The New York Times writes:

Mr. Obama is known to have approved the use of cyber-weapons only once, early in his presidency, when he ordered an escalating series of cyber-attacks against Iran's nuclear enrichment facilities. The operation was code-named Olympic Games, and while it began inside the Pentagon under President George W. Bush, it was quickly taken over by the National Security Agency, the largest of the intelligence agencies, under the president's authority to conduct covert action. [...]

The attacks on Iran illustrated that a nation's infrastructure can be destroyed without bombing it or sending in saboteurs. [...]

While many potential targets are military, a country's power grids, financial systems and communications networks can also be crippled. [...]

One senior American official said that officials quickly determined that the cyber-weapons were so powerful that -- like nuclear weapons -- they should be unleashed only on the direct orders of the commander in chief.

Gosztola adds:

...like with the drone program, President Barack Obama is presiding over the creation and development of a power that previous presidents never imagined having. The national security state is effectively appointing him and all future presidents the proverbial judge, jury and executioner when it comes to cyber warfare. [...]

The policy will expand the imperial presidency and the public and civil society organizations, which have a distinct interest in knowing what the government is doing, will be kept in the dark on what is legal and illegal in cyber operations. The Congress will barely make any effort to defend its right to provide oversight of this new power. And any future details on this power will mostly come from selective leaks provided by officials, who do not think they will face repercussions for talking to the press. The policy itself, the rules for cyber war, will remain concealed.

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