by Tom Burghardt
October 2, 2013
In 2008, the
Journal published a prescient piece by Colonel Charles W. Williamson
III, a staff judge advocate with the Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance
and Reconnaissance Agency at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, the National
listening post focused on intercepting communications from Latin
America, the Middle East and Europe.
Titled "Carpet bombing in cyberspace," Col. Williamson wrote that,
needs a network that can project power by building an af.mil robot network (botnet)
that can direct such massive amounts of traffic to target computers that
they can no longer communicate and become no more useful to our adversaries
than hunks of metal and plastic. America needs the ability to carpet bomb in
cyberspace to create the deterrent we lack."
While Williamson's treatise was fanciful (a DDoS attack can't bring down an
opponent's military forces, or for that matter a society's infrastructure),
he had hit upon a theme which Air Force researchers had been working towards
since the 1980s:
the development of software-based weapons that can be
"fired" at an adversary, potentially as lethal as a bomb dropped from 30,000
Two years later, evidence emerged that US and Israeli code warriors did
something far more damaging.
Rather than deploying an "af.mil" botnet against Iran's civilian nuclear
infrastructure at Natanz, they unleashed a destructive digital worm, Stuxnet.
In the largest and most sophisticated attack to date, more than 1,000
centrifuges were sent spinning out of control,
"no more useful" to Iranian
physicists "than hunks of metal and plastic."
A line had been crossed, and by the time security experts
sorted things out, they learned that Stuxnet and its cousins,
Gauss, were the most complex pieces of malware ever designed, the
opening salvo in the cyberwar that has long-guided the fevered dreams of
Today, that destructive capability exists under the umbrella of US Cyber
one which has the potential of holding the world hostage.
Last year the Pentagon allocated $80 million dollars to defense giant
Lockheed Martin for ongoing work on the National Cyber Range (NCR), a top
secret facility that designs and tests attack tools for the government.
Under terms of the five year
contract, Lockheed Martin and niche malware developers have completed
work on a test-bed housed in a,
"specially architected sensitive
compartmented information facility with appropriate security protocols" that
"emulates the public internet and other networks, and provides for the
modeling of cyber attacks."
Originally developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA),
the Pentagon's geek squad, NCR has gone live and was transitioned last year
to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, federal contracts uncovered by
Antifascist Calling reported back in 2009,
"NCR will potentially
serve as a new and improved means to bring America's rivals to their knees.
Imagine the capacity for death and destruction implicit in a tool that can... cause an adversary's chemical plant to suddenly release methyl isocynate
(the Bhopal effect) on a sleeping city, or a nuclear power plant to go
supercritical, releasing tens of billions of curies of radioactive death
into the atmosphere?"
NextGov also reported that the,
"Pentagon is seeking technology to
coordinate and bolster cyberattack capabilities through a funding experiment
called 'Plan X,' contract documents indicate."
A notice from DARPA's Information Innovation Office (I2O)
informs us that,
"Plan X is a foundational cyberwarfare program to develop
platforms for the Department of Defense to plan for, conduct, and assess
cyberwarfare in a manner similar to kinetic warfare.
Towards this end the program will bridge
cyber communities of interest from academe, to the defense industrial
base, to the commercial tech industry, to user-experience experts."
Although DARPA claims,
"Plan X will not develop cyber offensive technologies
or effects," the program's Broad Agency Announcement,
Foundational Cyberwarfare (Plan X), explicitly states:
"Plan X will conduct novel research into the nature of cyberwarfare and
support development of fundamental strategies needed to dominate the cyber
battlespace. Proposed research should investigate innovative approaches that
enable revolutionary advances in science, devices, or systems."
The document also gives notice that DARPA will build,
"an end-to-end system
that enables the military to understand, plan, and manage cyberwarfare in
real-time" as an "open platform architecture for integration with government
and industry technologies."
Military & Aerospace Electronics web site reported that DARPA has,
"chosen six companies so far to define ways of understanding, planning, and
managing military cyber warfare operations in real-time, large-scale, and
Collectively worth some $74 million, beneficiaries of taxpayer largesse
Data Tactics Corp. in McLean, Va.
Intific Inc. in Peckville Pa.
Raytheon SI Government Solutions in
Aptima Inc. in Woburn
Apogee Research LLC in McLean, Va.
the Northrop Grumman Corp.
Information Systems segment in McLean, Va.
Additional confirmation of US government plans to militarize the internet
were revealed in top secret documents provided by former NSA
contractor-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Those documents show that
the Pentagon's goal of "dominating cyberspace" are one step closer to
reality; a nightmare for privacy rights and global peace.
Such capabilities, long suspected by security experts in the wake of Stuxnet,
are useful not only for blanket domestic surveillance and political
espionage but can also reveal the deepest secrets held by commercial rivals
or geostrategic opponents, opening them up to covert cyber attacks which will kill civilians if and when the US decides that critical
infrastructure should be been switched off.
Before a cyber attack attack can be launched however, US military
specialists must have the means to tunnel through or around security
features built into commercial software sold to the public, corporations and
Such efforts would be all the easier if military specialists held the keys
that could open the most secure electronic locks guarding global
According to Snowden, NSA, along with their corporate
partners and private military contractors embarked on a multiyear,
multibillion dollar project to
defeat encryption through the subversion of the secure coding process.
Media reports published by
The Wall Street Journal and
The Washington Post, also revealed that US intelligence agencies are
"elite teams of hackers" and have sparked "a new arms race" for cyberweapons where the "most enticing targets in this war are
civilian - electrical grids, food distribution systems, any essential
infrastructure that runs on computers," Businessweek noted.
Confirming earlier reporting,
The Washington Post disclosed that the US government,
231 offensive cyber-operations in 2011, the leading edge of a clandestine
campaign that embraces the Internet as a theater of spying, sabotage and
war, according to top-secret
documents" provided by Snowden to the
Since its 2009 stand-up as a "subordinate unified command" under US
Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM), whose
brief includes space operations (military satellites), information warfare
(white, gray and black propaganda), missile defense, global command and
control, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), as well as
global strike and strategic deterrence (America's first-strike nuclear
arsenal), Cyber Command has grown from 900 personnel to a force that will
soon expand to more than "4,900 troops and civilians,"
The Washington Post reported earlier this year.
Under the USSTRATCOM umbrella, the organization is comprised of
Air Forces Cyber (AFCYBER)
Fleet Cyber Command (FLTCYBERCOM)
Marine Forces Cyber Command (MARFORCYBER)
"The Command," according to a 2009 Defense Department
"is also standing up dedicated Cyber Mission Teams" that "conduct full
spectrum military cyberspace operations in order to enable actions in all
domains, ensure US/Allied freedom of action in cyberspace and deny the same
to our adversaries."
The Defense Department
Memorandum authorizing it's launch specified that the Command,
capable of synchronizing warfighting effects across the global security
environment as well as providing support to civil authorities and
In written testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee during 2010
confirmation hearings, NSA head General Keith Alexander agreed, and
York Times reported that Cyber Command's target list would,
civilian institutions and municipal infrastructure that are essential to
state sovereignty and stability, including power grids, banks and financial
networks, transportation and telecommunications."
But what various "newspapers of record" still fail to report is that the
deliberate targeting of civilian infrastructure are war crimes that
cause catastrophic loss of life and incalculable suffering, as US attacks on
the former Yugoslavia, Iraq and more recently, Libya, starkly demonstrate.
In a portrait of Alexander published earlier this summer by
Wired, James Bamford noted that for years the US military has,
developing offensive capabilities, giving it the power not just to defend
the US but to assail its foes. Using so-called cyber-kinetic attacks,
Alexander and his forces now have the capability to physically destroy an
adversary's equipment and infrastructure, and potentially even to kill."
While the specter of a temporary "interruption of service" haunt modern
cities with blackout or gridlock, a directed cyberattack focused on bringing
down the entire system by inducing widespread technical malfunction would
transform "the vast edifices of infrastructure" into "so much useless junk,"
according to urban geographer Stephen Graham.
Cities Under Siege, Graham discussed the effects of post-Cold War
US/NATO air bombing campaigns and concluded that attacks on civilian
infrastructure were not accidental; in fact, such "collateral damage" was
consciously designed to inflict maximum damage on civilian populations.
"The effects of urban de-electrification," Graham wrote, "are both more
ghastly and more prosaic: the mass death of the young, the weak, the ill,
and the old, over protracted periods of time and extended geographies, as
water systems and sanitation collapse and water-borne diseases run rampant.
No wonder such a strategy has been called a 'war on public health,' an
assault which amounts to 'bomb now, die later'."
A further turn in US Cyber Command's brief to plan for and wage aggressive
war, was telegraphed in a 2012 Defense Department
Directive mandating that autonomous weapons systems and platforms be
built and tested so that humans won't lose control once they're deployed.
There was one small catch, however.
According to Deputy Secretary of Defense
Ashton Carter, a former member of
the Board of Trustees at the spook-connected
MITRE Corporation, the Directive explicitly states it,
"does not apply to
autonomous or semi-autonomous cyberspace systems for cyberspace operations."
Presidential Policy Directive 20
Authorizing 'Cyber-Kinetic' War Crimes
We now know, based on documents provided by Edward Snowden, that President
"has ordered his senior national security and intelligence
officials to draw up a list of potential overseas targets for US
cyber-attacks," according to the 18-page top secret Presidential Policy
Directive 20 published by
Though little commented upon at the time due to the avalanche of revelations
surrounding dragnet domestic surveillance carried out by NSA, in light of
recent disclosures by
The Washington Post on America's bloated $52.6 billion 2013
intelligence budget, PPD-20 deserves close scrutiny.
With Syria now in Washington's crosshairs, PPD-20 offers a glimpse into
Executive Branch deliberations before the military is ordered to "put steel
The directive averred that Offensive Cyber Effects Operations (OCEO),
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."
These are described in the document as "cyber effects," the,
disruption, denial, degradation, or destruction of computers, information or
communications systems, networks, physical or virtual infrastructure
controlled by computers or information systems, or information resident
To facilitate attacks, the directive gives notice that "cyber collection"
"Operations and related programs or activities conducted by or
on behalf of the United States Government, in or through cyberspace, for the
primary purpose of collecting intelligence - including information that can
be used for future operations - from computers, information or communications
systems, or networks with the intent to remain undetected."
Such clandestine exercises will involve,
"accessing a computer, information
system, or network without authorization from the owner or operator of that
computer, information system, or network or from a party to a communication
or by exceeding authorized access."
In fact, PPD-20 authorizes US Cyber Command to,
"identify potential targets
of national importance where OCEO can offer a favorable balance of
effectiveness and risk as compared with other instruments of national
"directive pertains to cyber operations, including those that
support or enable kinetic, information, or other types of operations...
that are reasonably likely to result in 'significant consequences'" to an
We are informed that "malicious cyber activity" is comprised of,
other than those authorized by or in accordance with US law, that seek to
compromise or impair the confidentiality, integrity, or availability of
computers, information or communications systems, networks, physical or
virtual infrastructure controlled by computers or information systems, or
information resident thereon."
In other words, if such activities are authorized by the President
acting as Commander-in-Chief under the dubious "Unitary Executive" doctrine,
like Richard Nixon, Obama now claims that,
"when the President does it that
means that it is not illegal," a novel reading of the US Constitution and
the separation of powers as it pertains to declaring and waging war!
"Military actions approved by the President and ordered by the Secretary of
Defense authorize nonconsensual DCEO [Defensive Cyber Effects Operations] or
OCEO, with provisions made for using existing processes to conduct
appropriate interagency coordination on targets, geographic areas, levels of
effect, and degrees of risk for the operations."
This has long been spelled out in US warfighting doctrine and is fully
consistent with the Pentagon's goal of transforming cyberspace into an
offensive military domain.
In an Air Force planning document since removed
from the web, theorists averred:
Cyberspace favors offensive operations.
These operations will deny, degrade, disrupt, destroy, or deceive an
Cyberspace offensive operations ensure friendly freedom of
action in cyberspace while denying that same freedom to our adversaries.
We will enhance our capabilities to conduct electronic systems attack,
electromagnetic systems interdiction and attack, network attack, and
infrastructure attack operations.
Targets include the adversary's
terrestrial, airborne, and space networks, electronic attack and network
attack systems, and the adversary itself. As an adversary becomes more
dependent on cyberspace, cyberspace offensive operations have the
potential to produce greater effects.
(Air Force Cyber Command,
"Strategic Vision," no date)
Those plans were made explicit in 2008, when the Air Force Research Lab
issued a Broad Agency Announcement entitled
Dominant Cyber Offensive Engagement and Supporting Technology,
Predating current research under "Plan X" to build "an end-to-end system
that enables the military to understand, plan, and manage cyberwarfare in
real-time," the earlier notification solicited bids from private military
contractors to build cyberweapons.
We learned that the Air Force, now US Cyber Command, the superseding
authority in the realm of cyberweapons development, a mandate made explicit
in PPD-20, was,
"interested in technology to provide the capability to
maintain an active presence within the adversaries information
infrastructure completely undetected. Of interest are any and all techniques
to enable stealth and persistence capabilities on an adversaries
"This could be a combination of hardware and/or software focused development
"Following this," the solicitation read, "it is desired to have the
capability to stealthily exfiltrate information from any remotely-located
open or closed computer information systems with the possibility to discover
information with previously unknown existence."
While the United States has accused China of carrying out widespread
espionage on US networks, we know from information Snowden provided the
South China Morning Post, that NSA and US Cyber Command have
"extensive hacking of major telecommunication companies in China
to access text messages"; carried out "sustained attacks on network
backbones at Tsinghua University, China's premier seat of learning"; and
have hacked the "computers at the Hong Kong headquarters of Pacnet, which
owns one of the most extensive fibre optic submarine cable networks in the
China isn't the only target of US industrial espionage.
Earlier this month,
O Globo disclosed that,
"one of the prime targets of American spies
in Brazil is far away from the center of power - out at sea, deep beneath the
waves. Brazilian oil. The internal computer network of Petrobras, the
Brazilian oil giant partly owned by the state, has been under surveillance
by the NSA, the National Security Agency of the United States."
Top secret documents mined from the Snowden cache revealed that NSA
employees are trained,
"step-by-step how to access and spy upon private
computer networks - the internal networks of companies, governments,
financial institutions - networks designed precisely to protect information."
In addition to Petrobras,
"other targets" included, "French diplomats
access to the private network of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of
France - and the SWIFT network, the cooperative that unites over ten thousand
banks in 212 countries and provides communications that enable international
financial transactions. All transfers of money between banks across national
borders goes through SWIFT," O Globo disclosed.
The 2008 Air Force solicitation stressed that the service was interested in,
"any and all techniques to enable exfiltration techniques on both fixed and
mobile computing platforms are of interest. Consideration should be given to
maintaining a 'low and slow' gathering paradigm in these development efforts
to enable stealthy operation."
The Air Force however, was not solely interested in defense or industrial
spying on commercial rivals; building offensive capabilities were viewed as
a top priority.
"Finally," the solicitation reads, "this BAA's objective
includes the capability to provide a variety of techniques and technologies
to be able to affect computer information systems through Deceive, Deny,
Disrupt, Degrade, Destroy (D5) effects."
As Bloomberg Businessweek reported in 2011, recipients of that Broad
Agency Announcement may have included any number of,
"boutique arms dealers
that trade in offensive cyber weapons. Most of these are 'black' companies
that camouflage their government funding and work on classified projects."
"Offensive Cyber Effects Operations" will be enhanced through the
development and deployment of software-based weapons; the Obama
administration's intent in PPD-20 is clear.
The US government,
"shall 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, establish and maintain
OCEO capabilities integrated as appropriate with other US offensive
capabilities, and execute those capabilities in a manner consistent with the
provisions of this directive."
Evidence has since emerged these programs are now fully operational.
On the Attack - Economic, Political and Military 'Exploits'
Despite diplomatic posturing and much handwringing from the "humanitarian
intervention" crowd, the Obama administration's itchy trigger finger is
still poised above the attack Syria button.
Washington Free Beacon web site reported recently that US forces,
"are expected to roll out new cyber warfare capabilities during the
anticipated military strike on Syria," and that the targets of "cyber
attacks likely will include electronic command and control systems used by
the Syrian military forces, air defense computers, and other military
Whether or not that attack takes place, NSA and US Cyber Command are
ramping-up their formidable resources and would not hesitate to use them if
given the go-ahead.
This raises the question: what capabilities have already been rolled
"Under an extensive effort code-named GENIE,"
The Washington Post disclosed, "US computer specialists break into
foreign networks so that they can be put under surreptitious US control."
According to top secret budget documents provided by Snowden, the Post
"$652 million project has placed 'covert implants,'
sophisticated malware transmitted from far away, in computers, routers and
firewalls on tens of thousands of machines every year, with plans to expand
those numbers into the millions."
"Of the 231 offensive operations conducted in 2011," the
reported, "nearly three-quarters were against top-priority targets, which
former officials say includes adversaries such as Iran, Russia, China and
North Korea and activities such as nuclear proliferation. The document
provided few other details about the operations."
As other media outlets previously reported, the Post noted that US
secret state agencies,
"are making routine use around the world of
government-built malware that differs little in function from the 'advanced
persistent threats' that US officials attribute to China."
One firm featured in Bloomberg Businessweek's cyberwar exposť is
Endgame Systems, which first gained
notoriety as a result of the 2011
HBGary Federal hack by Anonymous.
The shadowy firm has received extensive funding from venture capitalists
Bessemer Venture Partners
Caufield & Byers
the intelligence-connected Paladin
Endgame is currently led by CEO Nathaniel Flick, previously the CEO of the
"nonpartisan" Center for a New American Security (CNAS),
a warmongering Washington think tank focused on "terrorism" and "irregular
Flick replaced Christopher Rouland, Endgame's founder and CEO in December
2012. A former hacker, Rouland was "turned" by the Air Force during the
course of a 1990 investigation where he was suspected of breaking into
Pentagon systems, Businessweek reported.
The Board of Directors is currently led by Christopher Darby, the President
and CEO of the CIA's venture capital arm,
In-Q-Tel. Earlier this year, the firm announced that
Kenneth Minihan, a
former NSA Director and managing partner at Paladin Capital had joined the
According to Businessweek, Endgame specializes in militarizing
zero-day exploits, software vulnerabilities which take months, or even years
for vendors to patch; a valuable commodity for criminals or spooks.
"People who have seen the company pitch its technology,"
averred, "say Endgame executives will bring up maps of airports, parliament
buildings, and corporate offices. The executives then create a list of the
computers running inside the facilities, including what software the
computers run, and a menu of attacks that could work against those
While the United States has accused the Technical Reconnaissance Bureau of
China's People's Liberation Army of launching attacks and stealing economic
secrets from US networks, American cyberoperations involve,
"what one budget
document calls 'field operations' abroad, commonly with the help of CIA
operatives or clandestine military forces, 'to physically place hardware
implants or software modifications,'" according to The Washington Post.
"Endgame weaponry comes customized by region
- the Middle East, Russia, Latin
America, and China - with manuals, testing software, and 'demo
"There are even target packs for democratic countries in Europe and other US
'allies'," Businessweek noted.
Readers will recall that Snowden documents have exposed how NSA has carried
out widespread economic and political espionage against erstwhile "friends
and allies" such as,
Add to that list, Endgame exploits which are solely military in nature; in
all probability these have been incorporated into NSA and US Cyber Command's
repertoire of dirty tricks.
"Maui (product names tend toward alluring warm-weather locales) is a package
of 25 zero-day exploits that runs clients $2.5 million a year," Businessweek reported.
"The Cayman botnet-analytics package gets you
access to a database of Internet addresses, organization names, and worm
types for hundreds of millions of infected computers, and costs
"A government or other entity could launch sophisticated attacks against
just about any adversary anywhere in the world for a grand total of
$6 million. Ease of use is a premium. It's cyber warfare in a box."
"An implant is coded entirely in software by an NSA group called Tailored
Access Operations (TAO)," Snowden documents revealed. "As its name suggests,
TAO builds attack tools that are custom-fitted to their targets," according
to The Washington Post.
"The implants that TAO creates are intended to persist through software and
equipment upgrades, to copy stored data, 'harvest' communications and tunnel
into other connected networks" the Post disclosed.
"This year TAO is working on implants that 'can identify select voice
conversations of interest within a target network and exfiltrate select
cuts,' or excerpts, according to one budget document. In some cases, a
single compromised device opens the door to hundreds or thousands of
This does much to explain why NSA's parallel, $800 million
SIGINT Enabling Project stresses the importance of obtaining total
global access and,
"full operating capacity" that can "leverage commercial
capabilities to remotely deliver or receive information."
With "boutique arms dealers" and others from more traditional defense giants
along for the ride, NSA and US Cyber Command hope their investment will help,
"shape the global network to benefit other collection accesses and allow the
continuation of partnering with commercial Managed Security Service
Providers and threat researchers, doing threat/vulnerability analysis."
"By the end of this year," the Post noted, "GENIE is projected to
control at least 85,000 implants in strategically chosen machines around the
world. That is quadruple the number - 21,252 - available in 2008, according to
the US intelligence budget."
The agencies are now poised to expand the number of machines already
"For GENIE's next phase, according to an authoritative
reference document," the Post disclosed, "the NSA has brought online
an automated system, code-named TURBINE, that is capable of managing
'potentially millions of implants' for intelligence gathering 'and active
It should be clear, given what we have learned from Edward Snowden and other
sources, that the US government views the internet, indeed the entire
planet, as a battlespace.
In congressional testimony earlier this year, General Alexander told the
House Armed Services Committee that,
"Cyber offense requires a deep,
persistent and pervasive presence on adversary networks in order to
precisely deliver effects."
"We maintain that access, gain deep understanding of the adversary, and
develop offensive capabilities through the advanced skills and tradecraft of
our analysts, operators and developers."
With US Cyber Command fully funded and mobilized, those "offensive
capabilities" are only a mouse click away.