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Snowden is facing espionage charges and U.S. intelligence officials believe the documents he has with him were accessed by Russian and possibly Chinese intelligence.

The most recent Snowden disclosures included classified documents that revealed NSA cyber attacks against China’s Huawei Technologies, a global Internet equipment manufacturer accused by the U.S. government of serving as a covert arm of the Chinese intelligence and security apparatus.

China has been linked by the U.S. government to large-scale theft of U.S. government and private sector data through cyber espionage operations.

On offensive cyber operations, Daniel said he has taken part in “long and torturous debates” in the White House Situation Room on the use of cyber attack capabilities, noting that “these are very, very difficult problems” that will continue to be debated.

Regarding cyber retaliation against the growing threat of increasingly sophisticated cyber attacks, Daniel said deterrence and attributing the source of attacks remains very difficult, and there are complicated polices for retaliatory cyber attacks.

“It’s still very difficult to do really good attribution in cyber space,” Daniel said.

Hackers and foreign nation states do not use computer and network servers labeled “bad guy servers,” he said, noting that they often hijack other people’s networks when conducting attacks.

“So when we consider what we’re doing to actually strike back at some of these things, we have to be very careful,” he said, adding that a counter cyber attack might damage the network that provides electrical power to a hospital or a university.

Still, the administration is working on policy tools that will include cyber attacks in response, although the response will “not always be in cyberspace.”

“The right response might be through diplomatic channels—‘Hey, we know who you are. Knock it off’—and maybe through law enforcement channels,” Daniel said.

Counter attacks against hackers could include digital strikes against “botnets”—networks that have been taken over by cyber attackers and used for malicious activities, he said. For such actions, international cooperation will be needed.

International cyber strikes together with other nations simultaneously will increase the effect of the counterattacks, he said.

“This is hard. We’ve worked at it for several years; we’ve gotten better, but we need to do a lot more in that space.”

Deterring foreign cyber attacks will remain murky and for military cyber warriors will involve an electronic “fog of war” that is similar to its counterpart on conventional battlefields, Daniel said.

On Internet governance, Daniel said the administration is opposing proposals by non-democratic states such as China, Russia, and Iran to place control of the Internet under an international organization.

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