As the possibility of destructive cyberwarfare inches towards reality, the government is scrambling to figure out who holds the keys to America's malware arsenal. Obviously, it's President Obama.
The New York Times just published the findings of an investigation into a secret legal review that set out to determine who actually had the power to order a cyberattack. Given his status as commander-in-chief, Obama seems to be the clear choice, but since cyberwarfare is such a new and unknown thing, the government hasn't actually figured out the rules of engagement yet. In the past couple of decades, the power to use America's cyberweapons has been shared between the Pentagon and the various intelligence agencies. With the exception of a series of strikes on the computer systems that run Iran's nuclear enrichement facilities — an attack that Obama ordered himself — the U.S. hasn't launched any major cyber attacks in recent memory, however.
This probably won't be the case in the future. So the government is working on new rules of engagement, as it realizes that the capabilities of cyber weapons are evolving at a startling rate. The rules will be not unlike the set that governs how drone attacks are ordered and who orders them. Cyberwarfare certainly stands to affect the average American more, though. Obama himself described a possible cyberattack scenario in a Wall Street Journal op-ed last summer. "Across the country trains had derailed, including one carrying industrial chemicals that exploded into a toxic cloud," the president wrote. "Water treatment plants in several states had shut down, contaminating drinking water and causing Americans to fall ill. Our nation, it appeared, was under cyber attack."
Scary, right? Apparently, it could be worse. From a recent victim of hack attack, The Times, :
"There are levels of cyberwarfare that are far more aggressive than anything that has been used or recommended to be done," the official said. …
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.
So that kind of makes Obama a hacker, doesn't it? He's probably not writing the malware code himself, but Obama is the guy that hits enter. Oh, and he can tweet, too.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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