USAF takes 'war on terror' into cyberspace

The United States Air Force is actively seeking 'cyberspace attack scenarios', say documents posted on a US government website for contractors. This follows the testimony by Marine Gen James Cartwright before the House Armed Services Committee earlier this year that the air force's new strategic command has been given the charge of conducting cyber attacks in support of assigned missions.

"Cyberspace has emerged as a war-fighting domain not unlike land, sea and air," Gen Cartwright told the house committee.

The Air Force Requests for Information (RFIs) specify that the attack strategies should "disrupt, deny, degrade, destroy or deceive an adversary's information system".

Experts say this marks a new phase in the traditionally secret world of cyber warfare. "This is a significant development. Historically, cyber warfare has remained in the very classified arenas of government," Amit Yoran, former White House cybersecurity czar, told ABC, an American TV channel.

Experts say that so much of military logistics is dependent on computer systems, that any kind of disruption would give the attacker an advantage. But as Richard Clarke, a former White House counterterrorism czar told ABC, there is a fine line between cyber espionage and warfare. While passive intelligence collection can be done by spy agencies, cyber warfare will have to be done by the armed forces.

The US establishment has for long believed that Al Qaeda coordinates its activities by embedding signals or triggers for attacks in a coded form on its websites or through the video and audio statements it comes up with on a regular basis.

Quite apart from this, fundamentalist Muslims distrust mainstream meadia of every kind and rely on websites run by Al Qaeda, the Taliban or other insurgent groups for their information. Taking down such websites almost as soon as they are put up by hacking into them would deprive the terrorists of an important communication tool.