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Plan X: Pentagon's blueprint for full-fledged cyberwar

Published time: May 31, 2012 17:24
Edited time: May 31, 2012 21:24
AFP Photo / HO / DoD

AFP Photo / HO / DoD

The wheels of the war machine are ever turning inside the Pentagon, but the Defense Department’s latest endeavor won’t involve fighter jets and armored tanks. The DoD is putting aside billions to enhance its cyberwar capabilities.

The Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, DARPA, is turning towards the private sector and America’s next generation of computer wiz-kids to recruit forces for its next war. A report released Thursday by the Washington Post reveals that DARPA is looking to invest $1.54 billion during the next five years to up its online abilities, with $110 million going directly to a program dubbed Plan X, but unlike before it won’t be budgeted necessarily for thwarting acts of cyberterrorism. Instead the Pentagon is itching to ensure that America can carry out an offensive cyberwar on other nations rather than just readying the US to defend itself against a similar assault from abroad.

Experts say that, if the Pentagon’s plans come to fruition, it will put America at the forefront in terms of cyberwar capabilities. And although it might be a success in the eyes of Congress and corporations with a vested interest in protecting America’s cyber infrastructure, the powers that the Pentagon wants could be bigger than anyone can imagine.

“If they can do it, it’s a really big deal,” Herbert S. Lin, a cybersecurity expert with the National Research Council of the National Academies, tells the Post. “If they achieve it, they’re talking about being able to dominate the digital battlefield just like they do the traditional battlefield.”

That isn’t to say, though, that America would necessarily have separate wars waged at once. Sources close to the matter tell the Post that that Plan X would be implemented alongside actual military strikes, ideally giving the US the power to simultaneously use firepower on the battlefield and cyberattacks on computer systems in tandem.

The Post reports that part of Plan X calls for a “digital battlefield map” that would allow the Pentagon to peek on, ideally, every action across the Internet that could be of interest to the US government.

“In a split microsecond you could have a completely different flow of information and set of nodes,” DARPA Director Kaigham J. Gabriel tells the paper. “The challenge and the opportunity is to create a capability where you’re always getting a rapid, high-order look of what the Internet looks like — of what the cyberspace looks like at any one point in time.”

In recent months, the federal government’s attempts to tighten its noose around America’s Internet have been arguably unrelenting. The Stop Online Piracy Act and its sister legislation, the Protect IP Act, stood a serious chance of regulating file-sharing on the Web before public outcry against the proposals pushed Congressman to change their stance. Only weeks later, however, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) was drafted and, if signed into law, will let the country’s elected leaders leer at the personal and otherwise private actions on every American’s computer. Now with Plan X, the US Department of Defense wants to make sure that when spying on their own citizen’s computer habits gets boring that they will be able to investigate the systems of non-citizens abroad and decimate them at the drop of a hat if a threat seems apparent.

Few will argue that, even if hyperbolized by American lawmakers, the threat of a cyberwar is indeed real. Using that excuse, however, Congress has continuously tried to implement measures that would erode online piracy for US citizens so that the federal government can monitor alleged illicit activity. In their latest endeavor, though, the Defense Department is looking to make sure that if anyone makes a move to take on another nation, it’s America.

“Other countries are preparing for a cyberwar. If we’re not pushing the envelope in cyber, somebody else will,” former National Security Agency cyberdefense official Richard M. George adds to the Post.

The latest revelations involving the DARPA’s Plan X comes only a week after RT covered the US National Security Agency’s recently established plan to recruit its own cyber-op officials through the implementing of a new academic program at US universities that will prep college students for a career in online security. So far four schools have been accepted to be considered by the NSA as a Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Operations.

“We are not asking them to teach kids how to break into systems, we're not asking them to teach that. And a lot of them have said they wouldn't teach that," NSA official Steven LaFountain tells Reuters of the agency’s plans to scout for cyber operators. "We're just asking them to teach the hardcore fundamental science that we need students to have when they come to work here."

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