Cyberwar is all-but-officially the new Cold War. In its third major scoop in three days, and just hours before President Obama was set to sit down at the Sunnylands estate in California with Chinese President Xi Jinping to talk about cyberwarfare, The Guardian reported that Obama ordered national security agents to compile a list of targets for preemptive Internet-based disruption, similar to the military's long-standing list of nuclear weapon targets. What's more, the directive includes targets within the United States.
Glenn Greenwald reports:
The 18-page Presidential Policy Directive 20, issued in October last year but never published, states that what it calls Offensive Cyber Effects Operations (OCEO) "can offer 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".
It says the government 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".
The full document, which can be read here, is addressed to much of the president's security council and cabinet and is predicated on "the United States' inherent right of self-defense." It reads, in part:
The United States has an abiding interest in developing and maintaining use of cyberspace as an integral part of U.S. national capabilities to collect intelligence and to deter, deny, or defeat any adversary that seeks to harm U.S. National interests in peace, crisis or war.
It later continues:
The United States Government shall conduct all cyber operations consistent with the U.S. Constitution and other applicable laws and policies of the United States, including Presidential orders and directives.
This suggests that any domestic cyberattack might face additional limitations. As The Guardian notes, the document indicates that the President must issue direct approval before any such action — as with any action deemed to have "significant consequences."