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Presidential cyberwar directive gives Pentagon long-awaited marching orders (+video)

The 18-page, Top Secret 'Presidential Policy Directive 20' instructs the Pentagon to draw up a cyberwar target list and to protect US infrastructure from foreign cyberattack.

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The US Defense Department has been given a bright green light to draw up a global cyberattack target list at which it can deploy digital weapons with “little or no warning to the adversary or the target,” according to a Top Secret policy document leaked to the press.

The policy document, dubbed “Presidential Policy Directive 20” or PPD-20, is an 18-page cyberpolicy roadmap for the Pentagon that directs it to get on with the business of defending the US and its critical infrastructure, such as the power grid and financial sector, from foreign cyberattack.

While the existence of the document and its broad outlines were revealed in news reports last fall, and a “fact sheet” on PPD-20 was released in January, the detailed policy document leaked at week’s end shows the unleashing of a military juggernaught.

Military use of cyberweapons had been paused for about three years, waiting for the end of an intense policy debate and for orders to move ahead with force into cyberspace, cybersecurity experts say.

“What this document does is lay out authority for the US Cyber Command and Joint Chiefs to use cyberweapons,” says James Lewis, a senior fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “It lays out how and when you would use these weapons, what you would target, and how you would do so in ways consistent with the Laws of Armed Conflict, rather than just shooting at random.”

Couched in legalistic language, the document authorizes development of offensive and defensive cybersystems that are consistent with the US Constitution, US law, and the international Law of Armed Conflict – and of a target list to hit with them. The document reviewed by the Monitor, leaked to both the Guardian newspaper in London and the Washington Post, was posted on the Guardian website. [Editor's note: The original version of this story did not cite the source of the document.

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