Search the current White House website for the phrase “Bush Doctrine” and “no results” are returned. However, as I’ve previously argued, that does not mean the Obama administration has abandoned the Bush view of “preemption” (which was really a rebranding of preventive war).
This week, the Pentagon has announced a new cyber-spin on “preemptive war”:
The Pentagon is contemplating an aggressive approach to defending its computer systems that includes pre-emptive actions such as knocking out parts of an adversary’s computer network overseas – but it is still wrestling with how to pursue the strategy legally.
The Washington Post reports that the Department is developing a range of weapons capabilities, including tools that would allow “attack and exploitation of adversary information systems” and that can “deceive, deny, disrupt, degrade and destroy” information and information systems, according to Defense Department budget documents.
General Keith Alexander, who leads the Pentagon’s new Cyber Command is quoted as saying “We have to have offensive capabilities, to, in real time, shut down somebody trying to attack us.” These attacks are more than just hypothetical, as detailed in the September/October 2010 issue of Foreign Affairs.
The Post article mentions clearly legal defensive measures the Pentagon could employ when it anticipates attacks — firewalls, password protection, etc. Plus, the U.S. could try to resolve potential disputes without force, with diplomacy perhaps. And, of course, General Alexander implies a retaliatory attack, which would presumably be legal.
But the notion of striking first seems to have been engrained in the defense community’s culture over this past decade.
Luckily, at least some bureaucrats within the administration still recall the illegality of preventive attacks:
Government lawyers and some officials question whether the Pentagon could take such action without violating international law or other countries’ sovereignty.
Apparently, the U.S. has already engaged in questionable cyber-preemptive attack:
The military’s dismantling in 2008 of a Saudi Web site that U.S. officials suspected of facilitating suicide bombers in Iraq also inadvertently disrupted more than 300 servers in Saudi Arabia, Germany and Texas, for example, and the Obama administration put a moratorium on such network warfare actions until clear rules could be established.
The CIA, by the way, is apparently upset that the Pentagon’s strikes would bound to be covert — and that domain belongs to CIA. Turf war!