Not content with spying on other countries, the NSA (National Security Agency) will now turn on the US's own government agencies thanks to a fresh directive from president George Bush.
Under the new guidelines, the NSA and other intelligence agencies can bore into the internet networks of all their peers. The Bush administration pulled off this spy expansion by pointing to an increase in the number of cyber attacks directed against the US, possibly from foreign nations. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) will spearhead the effort around identifying the source of these attacks, while the Department of Homeland Security and Pentagon will concentrate on retaliation.
The Washington Post appears to have broken the news about the new Bush-led joint directive, which remains classified. The paper reported that the directive - National Security Presidential Directive 54/Homeland Security Presidential Directive 23 - was signed on Jan. 8. Earlier reports from the Baltimore Sun documented the NSA's plans to add US spying to its international snooping duties.
The new program will - of course - drains billions of dollars out of US coffers and be part of Bush's 2009 budget.
During Bush's presidency, US citizens have come under an unprecedented spying regime. In addition to upping its focus on suspected criminals, the administration permitted a system for wiretapping the phone calls of Average Joes and Janes. The government is also funding specialized computers from companies such as Cray that can search through enormous databases at incredible speed. Ah, if only Stalin could see us now.
The government points to cyber attacks against the State, Commerce, Defense and Homeland Security departments as the impetus for expanding the NSA's powers. "U.S. officials and cyber-security experts have said Chinese Web sites were involved in several of the biggest attacks back to 2005, including some at the country's nuclear-energy labs and large defense contractors," the Post reported.
Critics of the new directive will point to the NSA's ability to operate in total secrecy as cause for concern.
More troubling, however, may be the Pentagon and Homeland Security's aspirations to hit attackers with counter-strikes.
Proving that a nation rather than a rogue set of attackers are behind a cyber attack will likely be very difficult. In addition, the international community has yet to address the rules of cyber war in any meaningful way. ®
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