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Inside the Ring: NSA on cyberwar
But for the super-secret National Security Agency, cyberwarfare is nothing new.
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.”
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.”
Critics have disagreed, including several NSA whistleblowers who accused the agency of violating the law by intercepting Americans’ emails in the early 2000s as part of the Terrorist Surveillance Program.
That problem persists today as most U.S. infrastructure is held by the private sector, which remains wary of inviting NSA to help counter or disrupt foreign cyberattacks.
The NSA documents were obtained by the website governmentattic.org.
- Terrorists’ ‘Black Summer’
U.S. national security officials are warning that jihadists are planning a major cyberattack against vital infrastructure soon.
The alert was sent following a report on a jihadist website Monday by two groups that announced in Arabic an “Open Invitation for All Hackers to Participate in ‘Operation Black Summer’ To Target U.S. Vital Services.”
The attackers plan to use the Twitter hashtag #opBlackSummer to wage electronic warfare against the United States with other jihadists.
“It is also essential to note that this raid will be a global one in which all the enemies of the United States, whether Muslims or non-Muslims, will take part,” the posting stated, noting that Osama bin Laden had advocated such attacks.
The message said one group involved in the attack is the al Qaeda Digital Army and appeared on the al Qaeda-linked website Ansar al-Mujahideen Network.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping issued a statement during the Chinese leader’s visit to Moscow that mentioned the “problem” of other nations’ missile defense — seen as a reference to U.S. and NATO defenses in Europe.
The statement released Friday called for building “a new type of great power relations” and called on “all nations of the world to deepen mutual understanding, coordination and cooperation on the question of missile defenses.”
The statement urged states to “be prudent” in deploying and cooperating on missile defenses, and to “oppose” one nation or a group of nations from taking steps to “unilaterally and unlimitedly strengthening missile defenses, harming strategic stability and international security.”
“We stand for the collective confrontation of the challenges and threats from ballistic missiles, preferring to confront the proliferation of ballistic missiles within the framework of international law and political diplomacy, where the security of one group of nations cannot be sacrificed at the expense of another group of nations,” the statement said.
The statement, while couched in diplomacy-speak, appears to reflect Russian and Chinese opposition to U.S. missile defenses that both governments have said threatens the offensive missiles of Russia and China.
During the visit, Mr. Xi was shown how U.S. and NATO missile defenses will impact Russian strategic missiles, according to Russian press reports.
The Pentagon announced earlier this month that it is canceling a long-range missile defense interceptor that Moscow saw as a threat to Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles and opposed.
Russian officials have said the cancellation of the SM-3 IIB interceptor did not resolve their opposition to joint U.S.-NATO missile defenses in Europe. Moscow is demanding legal restrictions on U.S. defenses, something the Obama administration has opposed.
On Monday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu discussed missile defenses during a telephone talk.
The Donilon mission to Moscow prompted criticism from Rep. Mike D. Rogers, Alabama Republican and chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on strategic forces.
“In view of the president’s latest concession to Russia on missile defense, it’s fitting that Mr. Donilon now heads to visit with Mr. Putin,” Mr. Rogers said in a statement. “Much like President Obama asked [former] President [Dmitry] Medvedev to ‘transmit’ his promise of ‘flexibility’ after his ‘last election,’ Mr. Donilon now goes to see what that flexibility has earned our president,” Mr. Rogers said.
“I predict nothing, just as I predicted in two letters before the March 15th announcement that Obama would make this unilateral concession to Russia,” he said. “The president could at least have the courtesy to share with Congress the same proposals his national security adviser is sharing with Putin.”
A White House spokesman had no comment on Mr. Donilon’s visit.
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About the Author
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.
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