In yet another major disclosure of the White House's clandestine intelligence operations, the Guardian reported Friday that President Obama ordered his national security team to create a list of potential foreign targets for cyberattacks.
An 18-page directive issued last October called for the government to "identify potential targets of national importance where OCEO [Offensive Cyber Effects Operations] can offer a favorable balance of effectiveness and risk as compared with other instruments of national power."
From the Guardian:
The directive also contemplates the possible use of cyber actions inside the US, though it specifies that no such domestic operations can be conducted without the prior order of the president, except in cases of emergency.
The aim of the document was "to put in place tools and a framework to enable government to make decisions" on cyber actions, a senior administration official told the Guardian.
Asked about the stepping up of US offensive capabilities outlined in the directive, a senior administration official said: "Once humans develop the capacity to build boats, we build navies. Once you build airplanes, we build air forces." [Guardian]
The disclosure caps a three-day whirlwind of explosive leaks that offered controversial new details about the administration's national security and intelligence gathering policies. Late Wednesday, the Guardian broke the news that the administration had secretly collected phone records for millions of Verizon customers. And Thursday, both the Guardian and Washington Post reported that the government had direct access to the servers of nine major tech companies — including Google, Facebook, and Apple — and used that access to pull troves of personal information in a program called PRISM.
The latest revelation comes on the same day the president is to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping to discuss cyber warfare. The Pentagon has accused China of launching cyberattacks against the U.S. in the past, and Obama was reportedly set to demand that China cease such behavior.