Pentagon Developing Cyberspace Weapons

The Pentagon's secret armory of cyberspace weapons could be used to deter foreign attacks, says a Pentagon official

The Pentagon is developing an armory of classified cyberspace weapons that could offer a more powerful deterrent against foreign attacks than conventional weapons such as bombers, say Pentagon officials.

The power of the cyberspace deterrent would lie "somewhere between nuclear and conventional weapons," said Vice Adm. Arthur Cebrowski, director of command, control and communications for the Pentagon-based Joint Staff.

Officials declined to describe the cyberspace weapons under development, citing secrecy rules. "We have an offensive capability, but we can't discuss it.... [However], you'd feel good if you knew about it," said Emmett Paige, the Pentagon's assistant secretary of defense for command, control, communications and intelligence, at a May 16 conference at the Washington-based National Defense University.

"We are at the first stage of a comprehensive effort [to understand information warfare].... What we have been doing up to now is building some very powerful offensive systems," said Capt. William Gravell, director of Cebrowski's information warfare group. So far "there is no current policy in these matters, and any move toward policy is highly conjectural," he said at a June 12 Arlington, Va., conference.

But talk of any cyberspace deterrent is misguided, partly because the United States is more vulnerable than any other country to cyberspace attacks, said one industry official. "I don't think anyone should be as afraid of it as much as us," he said.

The cyberspace war plans -- dubbed information warfare by the Pentagon -- are intended to manipulate the flow of information to enemy leaders, weapons and citizens. The cyberspace weapons and tactics in the armory or in development include:

-Secret cruise missiles designed to short out electrical-transformers with showers of highly conductive Teflon ribbons, which were used on the first night of the 1991 Gulf War to disable the Iraqi power grid and air defenses, according to Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine.

-Non-nuclear warheads that wreck sensitive electronic devices with powerful pulses of electronic radiation are to be tested by 2000, according to the Pentagon's Defense Technology Plan, released last September.

-A nuclear weapon in space would poison satellites with space radiation over a few hours, days or weeks, said Air Force Gen. Kenneth Hagemann, director of the Defense Nuclear Agency.

-The electronic takeover of an enemy's radio and television network, which could then be used to broadcast U.S.-produced information, said Gravell.

-Other potential cyberspace weapons cited by Pentagon officials include hacker attacks via the global Internet against bank networks, high-tech databases or electrical power grids, and the release of software viruses able to corrupt data or damage software. "We don't need many of them and they aren't hard to do," said former Rear Adm. Wesley Jordan on June 12. "If 14-year-olds can do this stuff in their bedrooms at night, it can't be so hard," he said.

But the value of cyberspace weapons for deterrence is limited by several factors, said an industry official. Unlike an attack with nuclear weapons, an attack by cyberspace weapons might not be feared by an enemy country that has few computers or high-tech industries, he said.

Also, U.S. society and the Pentagon are exposed to covert cyberspace attacks by unidentified attackers operating on the Internet, ensuring that U.S. leaders would be reluctant to start a cyberspace war, the industry official said. "The single dawning realization of post-Cold War security [though] is the realization that the sanctuary of the United States is lost because of the access [to information systems] we have built," said Gravell.

For example, Adm. William Studeman, deputy director of central intelligence, acknowledged that it was plausible that the Columbia-based Cali cartel could launch retaliatory information warfare attacks against the U.S. targets. The "Cali cartel has the potential of attack against this or another country," he said May 16 at the National Defense University conference.

Another factor is international law, which only recognizes traditional weapons, such as bombs. "When [can] you begin information warfare and intrude in someone's banking system?" asked Gen. Ronald Fogleman, the Air Force chief of staff. "We've got to get the lawyers involved.... We need their expertise" if U.S. forces are to prepare for information warfare, he said May 16.

Another problem of cyberwar is accidental damage to U.S. interests. For example, U.S. information warfare attacks might be designed to disrupt an enemy's oil exports, but might also disrupt deals with U.S. companies, said Fogleman. "Texaco may have to take some licks," he said.

Another problem is the need for precise intelligence about an enemy's electronic networks, software and computers, without which a cyberspace attack might fail, said Col. Mike Tanksley, head of the Army's information warfare center in Fort Belvoir, Va. This "is the biggest challenge to intelligence since [the development of] nuclear weapons," he said last December at a conference in Alexandria.

To prepare cyberspace attacks, the Pentagon needs simulation technology to help gauge the impact of information warfare attacks, Col. Doug Hotard, chief of the Pentagon's information warfare group, told the industry officials gathered at the December conference.

But given the various problems associated with information warfare attacks, building up U.S. government and commercial defenses against information warfare attacks is a more urgent task, said an industry official. Over the last year, Pentagon and White House officials have prepared a draft President Review Document on cyberspace defense policy. The document could be approved in a few months, said Gravell.

Because of its potential impact, "information warfare must become an important instrument of national policy.... This calls for a great public debate," Cebrowski told a Washington conference hosted by the Armed Forced Communications and Electronics Association, Fairfax, Va.


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