Monday, September 08, 2008

Hack First, Ask Questions Later

In today's story in the Los Angeles Times, "Pentagon debates development of offensive cyberspace capabilities," computer hacking is presented as a possible legitimate weapon in the arsenal available to military planners.

What I find interesting to note about going to the websites related to the National Military Strategy for Cyberspace Operations, which the article references, is the ways that military strategists use the term "cyberspace." Although "cyberspace" is often a contested term among theorists of new media, who feel that it poorly represents the actual experiences of users or the ways that interfaces and software programs are designed, it is apparently the phrase of choice in the Pentagon. Furthermore, it's noteworthy that the Air Force uses the term in its promotional and recruiting materials and in its 2005 mission statement to suggest that cyberspace should be most obviously part of its purview rather than the concern of other branches of the military.

The article focuses on the conflict between the Pentagon and the NSA rather than which particular combat organization would be in charge.

"Let's not mistake intelligence collection with military operations," said Lani Kass, a senior Air Force official and former director of the service's Cyberspace Task Force. "The mission of the NSA is to collect signals intelligence, and it is very good at it. But the NSA is not a war-fighting organization." Ironically, given the record of the current administration when it comes to principles of international law, "military officials emphasized that all such efforts would be governed by the laws of war and international treaties."

Of course, as this transcript from a 2006 congressional hearing indicates in its discussion about disrupting the computer networks of hostile parties, this "debate" has been going on for a long time now. As usual, the LA Times has a strangely slow timeline for what it considers to be "news" about the Internet: this "new" initiative dates from 2006.

Update: Peter Krapp notes that Wired ran a story last month,"Air Force Suspends Controversial Cyber Command," which seems to indicate that the Air Force had been thwarted in its attempts to gain operational control over possible Internet offense and defense maneuvers.

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