New Pentagon Strategy Permits Military Response To Cyberthreats The Defense Department said it is preparing to treat cyberspace "as an operational domain," with forces specially organized, trained and equipped to deal with cyberthreats and opportunities. The plan says the U.S. must be prepared to retaliate against cyberattacks, possibly with military force.

Pentagon Strategy Prepares For War In Cyberspace

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Mary Louise Kelly, in for Renee Montagne.


Here's NPR's Tom Gjelten.

TOM GJELTEN: Computer systems underlie virtually every aspect of daily life in America, from power and transportation systems to communication and commerce. The U.S. military relies heavily on data networks in war-fighting. But this leaves the nation vulnerable to a major cyber attack and until now, the Pentagon has not said how, exactly, it would respond. Yesterday, it took a step in that direction. Here's Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn.

D: The United States reserves the right, under the laws of armed conflict, to respond to serious cyber attacks with a proportional and justified military response at the time and place of its choosing.

GJELTEN: In other words, Lynn explained, if the effects of a cyber attack on the United States are comparable to what a traditional military attack would bring about, the U.S. could strike back just as it would if the country were bombed.

D: If there's massive damage, massive human losses, significant economic damage, it would be in those circumstances that I think the president would consider all of the tools that he has - economic, diplomatic, and as a last resort, military.

GJELTEN: For a cyber attack to be met with military retaliation under the Pentagon guidelines, it would have to be considered an act of war. Of course, that would be a call for the president or Congress, not the Pentagon, as General James Cartwright pointed out yesterday. He's the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

GJELTEN: An act of war is a judgment. It's subjective. It's in the eyes of the beholder.

GJELTEN: Christopher Painter is the coordinator of cyber issues at the State Department.

LOUISE KELLY: We have to recognize that cyberspace is predominately a civilian space used for predominately civilian purposes.

GJELTEN: But under the Pentagon strategy, cyberspace is now, officially, also a war-fighting domain. Pentagon officials don't dispute that it's important to promote cyber cooperation among countries, but they also feel the need to warn that countries are conducting more and more espionage in cyberspace.

LOUISE KELLY: avionics, surveillance technology and missile tracking, for example. And he revealed that a U.S. Defense contractor in March suffered a huge theft of secret data.

D: It was large - 24,000 files. It was done, we think, by a foreign intelligence service. In other words, a nation-state was behind it.

GJELTEN: The State Department's Christopher Painter says Internet and cybersecurity policies will need to be coordinated, but he says communication across government agencies is better than it used to be.

LOUISE KELLY: You had people who were looking at the economic aspects; you had people looking at the security aspects; you had people looking at the Internet freedom aspects. They seldom - really, those communities seldom talk together.

GJELTEN: Tom Gjelten, NPR News, Washington.

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