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Boots on the ground: Obama’s cybersecurity directive could allow military deployment within the US

Published time: November 16, 2012 18:54
Edited time: November 16, 2012 22:54
US President Barack Obama (AFP Photo / Jim Watson)

US President Barack Obama (AFP Photo / Jim Watson)

The White House is being asked by attorneys to explain a top-secret presidential policy directive signed last month that may allow for the domestic deployment of the US military for the sake of so-called cybersecurity.

Lawyers with the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) have filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the office of US President Barack Obama in hopes if hearing more about an elusive order signed in secrecy in mid-October but only made public in an article published this week in the Washington Post.

According to persons close to the White House who have seen the order and spoke with the Post, Presidential Policy Directive 20 (PP20) aims to “finalize new rules of engagement that would guide commanders when and how the military can go outside government networks to prevent a cyberattack that could cause significant destruction or casualties.” Attorneys with EPIC are now demanding that they see this secret order to find out what exactly that could mean, citing the possibility of putting boots on the ground in the United States if the government argues it’s imperative for cybersecurity.

In the FOIA request, EPIC attorneys Amie Stepanovich and Ginger McCall ask to see information about PP20 because they fear it may enable “military deployment within the United States” by way of a “secret law” that lets the National Security Agency and Pentagon put armed forces in charge of protecting America’s cyberinfrastructure and crucial routes of communications.

“We don’t know what’s in this policy directive and we feel the American public has the right to know,” McCall tells Raw Story this week.

On her part, Stepanovich adds that getting to the truth of the matter could be a nightmare given the NSA’s tendency to keep these sorts of things secret.

“The NSA’s cyber security operations have been kept very, very secret, and because of that it has been impossible for the public to react to them,” Stepanovich adds. “[That makes it] very difficult, we believe, for Congress to legislate in this area. It’s in the public’s best interest, from a knowledge perspective and from a legislative perspective, to be made aware of what authority the NSA is being given.”

The potential of martial law became a topic actually discussed by Congress last year when lawmakers first considered provisions for this year’s National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA. Before the House and Senate agreed on including a section to the law letting the White House arrest and detain any US citizen indefinitely without trial or charge, another provision was almost put on the books that would have essentially allowed for military rule during some situations.

The NDAA’s S. 1867 would “basically say in law for the first time that the homeland is part of the battlefield” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a supporter of the bill, said last year.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H) agreed with his colleague’s claim, telling Congress that “America is part of the battlefield” suggesting that the laws of war are applicable anywhere, even in someone’s own backyard.

EPIC writes that PPD 20 “may violate federal law that prohibits military deployment within the United States without congressional approval” if their worse fear prove correct.

According to the Post’s tale on the directive, the Pentagon now has blueprints to wage more offensive cyberassaults on entities that may be jeopardizing the cybersecurity of domestic computer systems. How they do that, however, remains an issue that the FOIA request will have to coerce from Washington.

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