U.S. aims to make war on Iraq's networks

A secret directive President Bush signed last summer ordering a plan for launching cyberattacks against enemy computer networks is gaining momentum as a weapon the United States may use against Iraq. In fact, one intelligence official said, some attacks have already begun.

'We are at this point in a state of information warfare against Iraq,' the official said. 'We are conducting overt information operations against them. In the current condition of information warfare we are trying to convince them that resistance is futile.'

The initial details about National Security Presidential Directive 16, which Bush had signed in July, became public last month during a meeting at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to discuss the effects of cyberwarfare. The meeting was open to government officials and representatives from academia and the technology industry.

Of the administration's use of such tactics against Iraq, the intelligence official who spoke on condition of anonymity, declined to discuss which networks the U.S. government was targeting, the nature of the attacks or how long they have been going on.

Of course, cyberwarfare would never take the place of iron and blood, experts said. Instead, it would be used in combination with the arsenal of weapons the military now uses, a new tool battlefield commanders have at their disposal. 'It's better not to kill somebody if you can convince a government or entity what they are doing is wrong,' one intelligence official said.

'If we can solve conflicts through computer network attack, it's a nice soft-kill tactic. We're not blowing people up; we're giving them service denials,' he said. 'If you take down their overall air control defense network, they can't operate. If you take down their communications network, they can't talk.'

This was done in the Gulf War, officials said, by jamming key radars and command and control systems. Only then were bombs launched from vehicles, destroying communications networks across the region.

Bush's directive calls for guidance to accomplish the same mission through the use of electronic warfare. Officials said the government is developing the guide, which will spell out targets that could be attacked and who would launch the attacks.

No warning

'Saddam was left in a bunker talking to himself,' the intelligence official recalled about the impact of the bombing of systems a decade ago. 'We had interrupted kinetic weapons, communications towers, relay points. We denied them so much command and control that the forward troops had no advanced communications. The first they knew the war was going on was when they were being blown up.'

John Pescatore, research director for Internet security at Gartner Inc. of Stamford, Conn., said Bush's directive would have a far-reaching effect because cyberwarfare could pull down not only enemy military networks but also a country's entire IT infrastructure.

'The issue is, what are the guidelines in using it against a country's systems? What are the rules of engagement?' Pescatore said. 'It's a very slippery slope.'

He cautioned that Internet-based attacks are hard to contain. And just as easily as the military could launch an attack, adversaries could counterattack U.S. systems. One unintended result of cyberwarfare could be civilian deaths, if the military inadvertently takes out systems that control an adversary's hospitals, for example.

A spokesman for JTF-CNO said it is premature to discuss cyberattacks and declined to confirm whether the United States has begun some form of cyberwarfare against Iraq.

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