President Bush secretly signed an order last July directing administration officials to develop the parameters for possible cyber-attacks against enemy computer networks, according to a report in Friday's Washington Post. The report also says the Pentagon is actively developing "cyber-weapons," to disable enemy radar, electrical grids and telephone systems.
The U.S. has never used cyber attacks against a country and the early planning stages have been shrouded in mystery. According to Friday's report, security around the program has been likened to the secrecy surrounding the development of the atom bomb.
Although the administration has shown interest in developing such a program, until Bush signed the directive, known as National Security Presidential Directive 16, the government lacked rules outlining who could be subject to cyber attacks, what the targets should be and who would make the decision to launch the attacks.
"We have capabilities, we have organizations; we do not yet have an elaborated strategy, doctrine, procedures," the paper quoted Richard A. Clarke, who last week resigned as special adviser to the president on cyberspace security, as saying.
The report additionally claims the Pentagon is considering cyber attacks against Iraq if Bush decides to go war against the country. Other sources quoted, however, had reservations about the plan, saying the nation's own dependence on digital networks -- and their own well-reported vulnerabilities -- would make it a prime target for a counter cyber attack.
There are also concerns about collateral damage. An attack on a country's electrical grid, for instance, could also cut power to hospitals and other critical civilian facilities.
The Post said the White House arranged a meeting involving academia, industry and the government in January at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to discuss the plan.