WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama called on national security leaders to develop destructive cyberwarfare capabilities that could be triggered with "little or no warning" against adversaries, according to a top-secret document obtained by the Washington Post.
Presidential Policy Directive 20, issued to national security and intelligence officials in October, includes an array of procedures to ensure cyberattacks are lawful and minimize damage. But in bureaucratic language, the directive indicates the government believes cyberattacks, known as "Offensive Cyber Effects Operations," or OCEO, are becoming common and that cyberwar could be just around the corner.
"OCEO can offer unique and unconventional capabilities to advance U.S. 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," the document said. "The United States government shall identify potential targets of national importance where OCEO can offer favorable balance of effectiveness and risk as compared with other instruments of national power."
The leak of the document could complicate today's summit talks between Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, during which Obama is expected to complain about Chinese cyberspying and theft of American trade secrets. Specialists take it for granted that the United States and China are already engaged in a struggle in cyberspace.
National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in a statement Friday, "As we have already publicly acknowledged, last year the president signed a classified presidential directive relating to cyber operations, updating a similar directive dating back to 2004."