US deliberating on cyberwarfare legal framework: general

Security

by CBR Staff Writer| 20 October 2011

'Active defence' not offense in cyberspace, says Air Force General Robert Kehler

The US is developing a legal framework to guide offensive cyberwarfare.

According to a Reuters report, the process is still underway months after the Pentagon unveiled a broad cyber strategy.

Reuters reported that the head of the military command responsible for such operations Air Force General Robert Kehler said that deliberations on military doctrine and legal framework are "ongoing."

In July, the Defence Department had released the broad outlines of a cyberwarfare strategy. The strategy defined cyberspace as an "operational domain" like air, sea and land.

Speaking about the legal framework, Kehler said, "I would say it's not completed."

Kehler is the commander of the US Strategic Command. He also has overall responsibility for the US Cyber Command, a sub-unit that began operating in May 2010.

Kehler said the military was still considering "what kinds of options would we want to be able to offer" to policymakers.

"Is active defense really offense in cyberspace?" Kehler asked. "I would argue that it really is not. It does not have to be, for sure. But those are the issues that we are trying to work our way through."

Recently it was revealed that the Obama administration considered using cyberoffensive to cripple the Qaddafi government's air-defence system, when the US struck Libya in March, but backed off for fear of triggering cyberwarfare across the world.

According to the New York Times, the Obama administration intensely debated whether to open the Libya mission with cyberoffensive. The aim was to disrupt and disable the African country's air-defence system, which threatened allied warplanes, said the report.

The administration and some military officials feared that the use of cyberwarfare might set a precedent for other nations to use cyberwarfare in conventional wars. The NYT said that Russia and China were the two nations considered to be capable of carrying out similar attacks by the officials. The short notice available for the cyber experts to carry out the offensive was another bottleneck.

Another reason why the US did not use cyberwarfare in the Libya offensive is that the administartion had doubts whether the president had the power to proceed with such an attack without informing Congress.

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