Inside the Ring: NSA on cyberwar

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Cyberwarfare is the hot topic in military and intelligence circles at the Pentagon amid unrelenting cyberattacks from China, Russia, Iran and elsewhere.

But for the super-secret National Security Agency, cyberwarfare is nothing new.


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The electronic spying and code-breaking agency provided a rare public look at its views on cyberwarfare by releasing this month redacted copies of its internal newsletter, which show that NSA has been engaged in cyberwarfare for more than a decade.

A 1997 article published in the once-classified newsletter Cryptolog was written by legendary NSA official Bill Black. He stated that the agency received the mission for Computer Network Attack (CNA) — offensive cyberwarfare — on March 3, 1997, from then-Defense Secretary William S. Cohen.

“This delegation of authority has added a new, third dimension to NSA’s ‘one mission’ future,” Mr. Black, at the time a special assistant to the NSA director for information operations, stated in the spring 1997 issue. “That is, in the networked world of Cyberspace, CNA technology is the natural companion of NSA’s exploit and protect functions.”

Other sections of the newsletter were heavily redacted and labeled “Top Secret Umbra,” the code word used to protect electronic intelligence.

Under a section headlined “The Future of Warfare is Warfare in Cyberspace,” Mr. Black, who rose to NSA deputy director before retiring, said information warfare provides “digital coercion” as a military and political option for leaders.

“The primary target of this option is the information infrastructure of an adversary,” he said. “Such information infrastructures are expected to be primarily computer controlled, operated by the commercial-civilian sector (unprotected), and the primary infrastructure upon which military forces almost totally depend.”


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Future warfare will involve attacking computer-controlled infrastructure with the aim of degrading, disrupting or destroying networks and rendering computers “intelligence ‘targets’ of the highest priority,” he said.

“There are specific types of weapons associated with Information Warfare,” Mr. Black wrote. “These include viruses, worms, logic bombs, trojan horses, spoofing, masquerading, and ‘back’ or ‘trap’ doors. They are referred to as ‘tools’ or ‘techniques’ even though they may be pieces of software. They are publicly available, very powerful, and, if effectively executed, extremely destructive to any society’s information infrastructure.”

As a result, information warriors will need to be expert in understanding the virtual world and have extensive knowledge of non-military targets. Military cyberwarriors will be the “tooth,” and civilians will be the “tail” in what the military calls the tooth-to-tail — frontline and support — relationship in warfare.

Mr. Black stated that the new information age that has emerged since the end of the Cold War is engulfing every aspect of society, including electronic spying. It has produced the need to consolidate what he termed “cyberology” along with cryptology.

“Cyberology’s central activities, i.e., ‘exploitation,’ ‘protection,’ and ‘attack,’ will be worked together, thus benefiting all of them,” he stated.

Just as many viewed industrialists and capitalists during the industrial age as the problem, “in today’s age, the public has centered in on government as ‘the problem,’” he wrote.

“Specifically, the focus is on the potential abuse of the government’s applications of this new information technology that will result in an invasion of personal privacy,” he said. “For us, this is difficult to understand. We are ‘the government,’ and we have no interest in invading the personal privacy of U.S. citizens.”

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About the Author
Bill Gertz

Bill Gertz

Bill Gertz is a national security columnist for The Washington Times and senior editor at The Washington Free Beacon (www.freebeacon.com). He has been with The Times since 1985.

He is the author of six books, four of them national best-sellers. His latest book, “The Failure Factory,” on government bureaucracy and national security, was published in September 2008.

Mr. ...

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