The China-U.S. diplomatic spat over cyberattacks on Google has highlighted the growing significance of the Internet as a theater of combat.
Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn recently warned of its appeal to foes who are unable to match the U.S.'s conventional military might.
An enemy country could deploy hackers to take down U.S. financial systems, communications and infrastructure, he suggested, at a cost far below that of building a trillion-dollar fleet of fifth-generation jet fighters.
"Knowing this, many militaries are developing offensive cyber capabilities," Lynn said. "Some governments already have the capacity to disrupt elements of the U.S. information infrastructure."
(On Tuesday, the nation's top intelligence official warned that cyber-enemies have "severely threatened" U.S. computer systems. "Malicious cyber activity is occurring on an unprecedented scale with extraordinary sophistication," Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, told a Senate committee.)
What U.S. officials don't like to acknowledge is that the Pentagon is hard at work developing an offensive cyber capability of its own. In fact, it has even begun using that capability to wage war.
Beyond merely shutting down enemy systems, the U.S. military is crafting a witch's brew of stealth, manipulation and falsehoods designed to lure the enemy into believing he is in charge of his forces when in fact they have been secretly enlisted as allies of the U.S. military.
And some in Washington fear that there hasn't been sufficient debate over the proper role of U.S. cyberweapons that are now being secretly developed.
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