Another Top Secret leak: Obama's cyber-war hit-list

Glenn Greenwald and the Guardian have published details of another Top Secret US surveillance/security document. This one is a presidential order from Obama to his top spies directing them to draw up a hit-list of "cyber war" targets to be attacked by American military hacking operations.

The 18-page Presidential Policy Directive 20, issued in October last year but never published, states that what it calls Offensive Cyber Effects Operations (OCEO) "can offer unique and unconventional capabilities to advance US national objectives around the world with little or no warning to the adversary or target and with potential effects ranging from subtle to severely damaging".

It says the government will "identify potential targets of national importance where OCEO can offer a favorable balance of effectiveness and risk as compared with other instruments of national power".

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 document further contemplates preemptive first strikes on foreign targets.

As Greenwald points out, this document has been published on the eve of a meeting between Obama and the Chinese Premier Xi Jinping. China has been publicly accused by the USA of carrying out electronic attacks on American infrastructure, and Xi has rebutted by saying that the US has engaged in aggressive "cyber-war" attacks on Chinese infrastructure. This document lends credence to Xi's claim.

Obama orders US to draw up overseas target list for cyber-attacks


  1. Does the Guardian know that they can only get one Pulitzer for this reporting? Maybe they are trying for a Nobel Peace Prize? Keep the leaks coming!

    1. Holy shit the administration is leaking like a sieve! Somebody is going to spend the next 100,000 years in Supermax, plus stress positions.

    1. Not seeing the comparison. Nixon’s list was domestic enemies of Dick Nixon. This is, well , not that at all.

      1. I rate it as Nixonian because it had less to do with a successful national security strategy and more to do with a middle school mindset in which we compile lists of, on the one hand, people who comply with our every wish and, on the other hand, our “enemies.”

        That strategy has gotten us into a global guerrilla war with Islam, led to vast amounts of death and destruction, and has in fact weakened our security by alienating most of the world from us.  There was a time when the parents of the billion or so people who would like to blow us to smithereens actually admired us and wished that they could live here.

    2. Um, how is this at all remarkable?  The US has always had defense-related contingency plans.  Not particularly “Nixonian” at all.

      I find the nuclear-related ones much more disturbing.

  2.  The fact that the American list is published does not mean the Chinese (and other countries) dont have a cyberarmy that have a hitlist .

          1. A communications-system of his own devising which he expects everyone else to pick up? Honestly, I’d forget it if I were you. One of Wittgenstein’s lions, y’know.

    1. I think you misunderstood the problem:
      As usual the US was pointing it’s finger combined with an condescending stare and saying “Me good – you bad”. Then facts emerge that shows it was at the minimum just as bad as the one it accused.

      Happened quite often lately esp. with human rights’n stuff.

      1. The US lost any credibility on ‘human rights’ a long time ago.
        There are people starving themselves to death in a Gulag in Cuba as we speak.

    2. Exactly. I think that any competent government should have those hit-lists, and update them regularly as the global situation changes. It would be foolish not to.

  3. I remember stories about our government (Ireland), years ago, being umm.. helpeda$$isted, to make our telephony system as transparent as possible to the US.

    Cold War concerns, but still, it makes you wonder about all the sordid little countries, like mine, what has been ‘given away’, arranged, paid for..

  4. Meh!  By the time we … or “they” … get any value out of all this … the spy biz will have moved beyond it technologically. Very innovative, those spooks.

  5. I don’t understand the criticism; what’s the alternative, that we don’t have a plan or the capacity to defend ourselves from cyberattack and retaliate, or strike first when the threat is imminent?

    Cyber warfare is real, and attacks are happening daily against the US government, US infrastructure, and US private companies. I may not always agree with the way they are directed, but I’m glad we have a standing army capable of defending this country with guns, planes and ships. And I’m equally glad that we have some hackers capable of doing the same in cyberspace. It’s not the cyberwarfare capability or the existence of a plan that is a problem, it’s in the way it is used.

    1. Its being used as a propaganda weapon against the Chinese. 
      I read about nothing but the Chinese attacking our servers.
      Now we know that we are doing excactly the same.
      All arguments against the Chinese actions become invalid.
      Unless you still believe in that outdated good vs. evil concept.

      1.  Not really good vs evil, more like retaliation in response to actual attacks. The Chinese are damn good at cyber stuff and we’d be complete fools NOT to have contingency plans already in place.

        And of course it’s being used as propaganda against the Chinese. The negative articles decrying the existence of plans is propaganda against the U.S. Pretty much any and everything written about a government is propaganda either for or against that government.

    2. I don’t think it’s any real secret that America has been engaged in cyber warfare with China for years. But the administration always has to at least pretend to have some moral leverage over “them” as it were.
      It reminds me how China rolls it’s eyes at America when we try to school them on human rights abuses. I think it’s less of a criticism of the actual conflict and more of a why-don’t-we-just-cut-the-crap-already.

  6. So there is a list and contingency plans. I certainly hope so! It would be negligent not to have thought about these things and made plans for them in case they should become necessary. That’s a big part of government’s job, to try to foresee potential problems and be ready should they occur. I hope there are plans for military invasions/first strikes/sabotage of the top 20 or 30 most potentially troubled countries, probably Canada and Mexico, too.

    That being said, I suspect that more of it has gone past the planning stage than the government will admit, or that many of us would find acceptable.

    1. Hear, hear. There is an important difference between “actively engaged in” and “preparing contingent plans for”. Given the timing, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that this was a well-considered leak, letting the Chinese know that their infrastructure is vulnerable, and their intrusions are unwelcome.

      1. But we “actively engaged in” it.  We developed a computer worm to shut down Iran’s nuclear program and attacked their systems with it.  Secretly, of course.

        1. True – though different in kind. Stuxnet was sabotage, its purpose was to cripple Iran’s enrichment program; while accounts are that the Chinese have been breaking into .mil (or defence contractors’) networks and stealing secret stuff. This is espionage.

          I think these are sufficiently different to warrant a little sabre rattling, a bit of covert gunship diplomacy, on the eve of a summit.

          1. I could have missed it, but I didn’t see anything in the article that limited these potential actions to only espionage.

          2. Nor did I: and all I said was that Stuxnet was sabotage, and what the Chinese are engaging in is espionage. Your example of US sabotage does not excuse Chinese espionage, or offer China a defence against espionage countermeasures, or make US countermeasures to espionage inexcusable.

          3. I don’t think I implied any excuses or defenses for Chinese espionage.

            I only challenged your assertion that we weren’t “actively engaged in” cyber attacks or that the article reported that our planning was for espionage purposes only.

            I totally agree that we should have defensive contingency plans for attacks from outside.  But the U.S. is frequently quick to condemn the actions of others while engaging in the same behavior.  This is no different.

          4. So I think that using espionage to steal military secrets for the purpose of empowering an individual state is morally reprehensible when compared to using sabotage for the purpose of  disabling a state’s ability to produce nuclear weapons which threaten all mankind. Do you think that this judgement is incorrect? If so, how?

          5. If I thought Iran’s nuclear program was a threat to all mankind, then I’d have to think about it.  As it stands, the U.S. has caused more mayhem around the world in the last 10 years than Iran has since it was the Persian Empire.

            We’re in no position to tell even an authoritarian dictatorship like Iran (unlike our friendly authoritarian dictatorships like Bahrain and Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan, etc.) what nuclear programs it can and cannot have.

    2. Agreed. When I was stationed in Germany back in the 80’s we had ‘active’ plans for attacking East Germany in the event of the Eastern Block attacking us. It’s common sense, from a military standpoint, to have contingency plans for every damn thing.

  7. Congratulations Glenn, you’re the A-Team now. Be careful because in real life the bad guys can actually hit what they are shooting at.

  8. B/c the government uses cyber tools to spy and wage war they cannot allow you to use these same tools, so in attempting to disarm the public they excessively punish even when there is no damage done (ie Aaron Swartz).

    1.  just like with normal guns then. i m not pro gun ownership. but it does come down to the same thing.

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