- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 15, 2003

President Bush's decision to outline rules of engagement for cyber warfare demonstrates his determination to take U.S. military innovation beyond steel and titanium staples. To most Americans, cyber warfare probably seems as relevant today as a "Star Trek" rerun. But, given the reported activities of this country's most dangerous enemies, the Pentagon is wise to bolster its aptitude in this area.
The Bush administration is developing policies on how and when the United States would attack an enemy's computer networks using a cyber arsenal. These efforts are critical, because our enemies are trying to develop cyber capabilities. "There are terrorist groups that are interested. We know that al Qaeda is interested. But the real major threat is from the information-warfare brigade of five or six countries," Richard A. Clarke, head of the Office of Cyberspace Security, said in August. Mr. Clarke didn't specify the countries that pose the greatest cyber-threat to the United States.
Information on U.S. cyber capability is more tightly guarded in the Pentagon than even nuclear secrets. Some observers speculate that the U.S. military may use cyber tactics in a possible war on Iraq. A cyber attack could be less bloody and more effective than conventional approaches, but current technology may not be advanced enough for targeted, predictable results, according to some experts. The use of viruses, for example, could spread beyond their intended target. "There are questions about collateral damage," when using a cyber arsenal, such as the impact that an attack on a power source could have on a hospital, Mr. Clarke said.
Last year, potential terrorists from South Asia and Saudi Arabia were detected surveilling key Web sites nationwide, such as nuclear power plants and water storage systems. The hackers appeared to be studying, among other things, remote control functions. Strategies on how to manipulate these remote controls have reportedly turned up on al Qaeda computers seized last year. A virtual manipulation of these devices could have devastating real affects.
So far, cyber attacks on the United States have caused only moderate problems, but have had frightening consequences nonetheless. The Internet worm caused global disruptions last month, including Washington state's emergency dispatch system. Although the system isn't directly linked to the Internet, it was affected by the worm's impact on local servers. And from 1999 to 2000, unidentified hackers downloaded sensitive documents from the Los Alamos and Livermore national laboratories and the Defense Department.
In wake of September 11, Mr. Clarke has been pushing the administration to bolster cyber security, and military strategists are aggressively moving in that direction. For the past 15 months, the administration has been building an Internet monitoring center to detect and respond to attacks. Mr. Clarke's office is expected to soon release a report outlining cyber security strategies for the private and public sectors. Federal agencies spent $4.5 billion on information technology last fiscal year, an increase of more than 60 percent. But the United States needs several years to comprehensively bolster its cyber defenses.
Mr. Bush is determined to modernize U.S. military capabilities in response to the evolving threats, and a strong cyber arsenal is critical to those capabilities especially since our enemies are trying to do the same.

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