Why you should be concerned with the fivefold expansion of the Pentagon’s cybersecurity force
By End the Lie
With the Washington Post reporting on the plans for a fivefold increase in the Pentagon’s cybersecurity force over the next several years, major issues once again come to the fore: the government’s overriding secrecy claims, the right to privacy and the international laws which likely will be ignored in this offensive effort.
According to the Washington Post, the move was requested by the head of the Department of Defense’s Cyber Command and will expand from 900 personnel to a whopping 4,900 in order to strengthen the United States’ “ability to defend critical computer systems and conduct offensive computer operations against foreign adversaries, according to U.S. officials.”
The true nature of this plan is revealed by the second paragraph of the Post’s article which states that the massive growth is “part of an effort to turn an organization that has focused largely on defensive measures into the equivalent of an Internet-era fighting force.”
In other words, instead of simply doing what one might think the Department of Defense does – namely, defending the United States – this newly enlarged force will go on the offensive, just as one would expect given the fact that covert offensive cyberwar was given the thumbs up in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012.
Interestingly, as Glenn Greenwald points out in his January 28 article for the Guardian, “This Cyber Command Unit operates under the command of Gen. Keith Alexander, who also happens to be the head of the National Security Agency, the highly secretive government network that spies on the communications of foreign nationals – and American citizens.”
Greenwald also highlights the troubling and unavoidable fact that the unit’s activities will be conducted under a veil of secrecy with little to no oversight and accountability to speak of. Of course there will also be some nice big checks for the war profiteers as well.
The New York Times cited unnamed defense officials in their article who said that the expansion actually includes “three different forces under Cyber Command: ‘national mission forces’ to protect computer systems that support the nation’s power grid and critical infrastructure; ‘combat mission forces’ to plan and execute attacks on adversaries; and ‘cyber protection forces’ to secure the Pentagon’s computer systems.”
There has been much fear mongering surrounding cybersecurity with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta saying the next Pearl Harbor could be a cyberattack on multiple occasions while Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano invoked 9/11 to push for cybersecurity legislation.
Furthermore, there were reports claiming that a foreign entity was responsible for sabotaging a water pump in Illinois in 2011. All of the reports turned out to be false.
Greenwald likens all of this fear mongering, especially that of Panetta, to similarly baseless claims used to justify the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
While these blatant attempts to scare Americans by painting a picture of an “aggressor nation [like China, Russia or Iran] or extremist group” that could “derail passenger trains, or even more dangerous, derail passenger trains loaded with lethal chemicals” might work on some, it is quite clear that it is not a reflection of reality.
Indeed, as Greenwald points out, “It is the US – not Iran, Russia or “terror” groups – which already is the first nation (in partnership with Israel) to aggressively deploy a highly sophisticated and extremely dangerous cyber-attack.”
This was further confirmed by David Sanger’s New York Times article in June of 2012 which revealed, “From his first months in office, President Obama secretly ordered increasingly sophisticated attacks on the computer systems that run Iran’s main nuclear enrichment facilities, significantly expanding America’s first sustained use of cyberweapons.”
According to the report, “Obama decided to accelerate the attacks — begun in the Bush administration and code-named Olympic Games — even after an element of the program accidentally became public in the summer of 2010 because of a programming error that allowed it to escape Iran’s Natanz plant and sent it around the world on the Internet.”
This program never ended. An intelligence gathering virus based on the U.S./Israeli-made Stuxnet worm emerged in 2011. Then in 2012, the espionage malware called “Flame” emerged and was shown to be focused on Iran. Around five months later, “MiniFlame,” a similar piece of malicious software was exposed. A virus named after the Islamic Messiah was also discovered in 2012.
Furthermore, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has been involved in developing “Plan X,” a classified cyberwarfare project and the United States Air Force put out a solicitation in 2012 revealing their search for the ability to “disrupt, deny, degrade, destroy, or deceive an adversary’s ability to use the cyberspace domain to his advantage.”
Simply put, “The US isn’t the vulnerable victim of cyber-attacks. It’s the leading perpetrator of those attacks.”
A Columbia professor and cyber expert, Misha Glenny, pointed out in the New York Times that “by introducing such pernicious viruses as Stuxnet and Flame, America has severely undermined its moral and political credibility.”
Yet clearly the Obama administration has no problem continuing to attempt to present the image of an America attempting to defend itself from evil foreign powers seeking to destroy it via cyberattack when the U.S. is the one attacking other nations without justification.
Greenwald likens it to another disturbing reality:
It’s the same way the US develops offensive biological weapons under the guise of developing defenses against such weapons (such as the 2001 anthrax that the US government itself says came from a US Army lab). It’s how the US government generally convinces its citizens that it is a peaceful victim of aggression by others when the reality is that the US builds more weapons, sells more arms and bombs more countries than virtually the rest of the world combined.
Perhaps even more troubling for many internet users is the fact that this expansion stands to even further expand the massively growing warrantless surveillance of Americans.
The fact that the National Security Agency (NSA) is involved should be doubly concerning due to their “mass illegal surveillance” exposed by former employees in court and the $2 billion heavily fortified and highly secretive complex being built in Utah.
Furthermore, in 2003 the Pentagon published the secret “Information Operations (IO) Roadmap” (mirrored here) which revealed the Pentagon’s goal of preparing the Department of Defense to “fight the net.”
The document shows how the Pentagon held total superiority in cyberwarfare capabilities as a major goal in psychological operations (PSYOPs) and what they called “information-centric fights.”
One section reads, “To prevail in an information-centric fight, it is increasingly important that our forces dominate the electromagnetic spectrum with attack capabilities.”
This capability was to be present in peacetime as well, “The Department’s IO concept should emphasize that full-spectrum information operations are full-time operations requiring extensive preparation in peacetime.”
“Well before the crises develop, the IO battlespace should be prepared through intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and extensive planning activities,” the document states.
A BBC report on the document points out, “Perhaps the most startling aspect of the roadmap is its acknowledgement that information put out as part of the military’s psychological operations, or Psyops, is finding its way onto the computer and television screens of ordinary Americans.”
The report also noted that the domination of the electromagnetic spectrum really means, “The US military seeks the capability to knock out every telephone, every networked computer, every radar system on the planet.”
The Information Operations Roadmap had no small impact. A report by Colonel Brian J. McKiernan of the U.S. Army notes, “Since its publication, the IO Roadmap has played a significant role in shaping how DoD, the Services and Combatant Commands organize, train, equip, plan and execute information operations.”
Indeed, the government now monitors so much of the internet that most uninformed Americans would likely find the reality impossible to believe.
“Every day, collection systems at the National Security Agency intercept and store 1.7 billion e-mails, phone calls and other types of communications,” noted a Washington Post report in 2010.
Of course it is only reasonable to assume that number has grown since then.
Furthermore, the Obama administration has continued a long-running trend of proposing anti-encryption legislation which dates back to 1991 legislation proposed by then-Senator Joe Biden, as a CNET article pointed out in 2010. This effort never stopped.
Unfortunately, as Xeni Jardin pointed out, the presence or lack of backdoors does not really hold back domestic surveillance all that much as is.
“Law enforcement officials have long warned that encryption technology allows criminals to hide their activities, but investigators encountered encrypted communications only one time during 2009′s wiretaps,” reported Wired’s Threat Level blog in 2010. “The state investigators told the court that the encryption did not prevent them from getting the plain text of the messages.”
In other words, encrypted or not, if the U.S. government wants to monitor your communications, they will. Simple as that.
With this massive expansion of the Pentagon’s cybersecurity forces, we can only wonder how much more this surveillance will continue.
We can also only wonder just how much the Pentagon’s PSYOPs online will expand.
However, we cannot totally rule out the threat posed by cyberattacks as there is some danger involved.
“But, as Singel described, all of this can be managed with greater security systems for public and private computer networks – just as some modest security measures are sufficient to deal with the terrorist threat,” Greenwald points out.
“This new massive expansion has little to do with any actual cyber-threat – just as the invasion of Iraq and global assassination program have little to do with actual terrorist threats,” Greenwald writes.
Indeed, the global assassination program hasn’t been governed by any formal rulebook up to this point and even when it is, the CIA will be exempt from the rules. The war on terror is continually proven to be a farce with a nun in her 80s able to waltz into what is supposed to be the “Fort Knox of Uranium” and remain there undetected for two hours among other absurdities (see also here and here).
This growth really has little to nothing to do with a real threat posed by cyberattacks. It has everything to do with increasing the U.S. military’s already massive offensive cyberwarfare capabilities and keeping a government stranglehold on the internet along with their much-beloved dragnet surveillance capabilities.
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