The New York Times reported today that the Obama administration, as part of the military options presented for the initial U.S. action in Libya, considered conducting a cyber attack against the air defense systems in order to protect U.S. and allied war planes. The administration and the Pentagon chose not to exercise that option.
According to the article, “….administration officials and even some military officers balked, citing the precedent it might set for other nations, in particular Russia or China, to carry out cyber raids of their own, and questioning whether the attack could be mounted on such short notice. They were also unable to resolve whether the president had the power to proceed with such an attack without informing Congress.”
It’s gratifying to see well intended people at senior levels in government debating these kinds of issues; the military readiness and ability to conduct such an attack, the legal issues involved, the potential actions of other nations, and the need to coordinate with and keep Congress properly informed.
I only hope nations like Russia and China would actually debate and discuss these issues as thoroughly. I strongly suspect they won’t. Russia and China very likely have cyber attack capabilities that are comparable to whatever the U.S. may have developed, and I strongly suspect we would not see a lively debate within the Russian or Chinese command structures about using such capabilities. They will use them as needed to protect their soldiers and their nation’s interests, and so should we to protect our military forces and our interests.
Cyber warfare is one of the new weapon sets of the 21st Century. We are hardly the only nation on the planet that possesses them, and we should not be hesitant in using them. Our adversaries will not hesitate, and we need not suffer an electronic Pearl Harbor or 9/11 before electing to use the force multiplying advantage that they can afford us when we send our servicemen and women into battle anywhere on the globe, for any reason.