recommended reading

Lawmaker wants to clarify Pentagon’s authority for cyber operations

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

House Armed Services Committee chairman Rep. Howard McKeon has called for legislative language to clarify that the Pentagon can launch secret cybersecurity operations to support military efforts and guard against network attacks.

In a release of his draft bill of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2013, the Republican lawmaker pushed for a clause to confirm that the Pentagon has “the authority to conduct clandestine military activities in cyberspace.”

Such operations could be taken to protect against cyber attacks or as an extension of military policy if Congress authorized use of force outside the United States, according to the document.

The draft did not clarify what such clandestine activities would encompass, acknowledging instead that “because of the evolving nature of cyber warfare, there is a lack of historical precedent for what constitutes traditional military activities in cyberspace.” The bill could force lawmakers to debate the scope and the authority of the Pentagon’s ability to wage hacking attacks and infiltrate enemy networks.

Clearer guidelines for offensive operations could provide clarity to defense technology contractors. The top three contributors to McKeon’s campaign committee in 2011-2012 were Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a research group.

“Because of the sensitivities associated with such military activities and the need for more rigorous oversight, this section would require quarterly briefings to the congressional defense committees on covered military activities in cyberspace,” according to the document.

Laws are gradually emerging around the Pentagon’s scope of power for launching military operations in cyberspace. The National Defense Authorization Act for the Fiscal Year 2012 stated that the Pentagon could conduct offensive operations in cyberspace to defend the country and its allies, with the approval of the President.

In March, Regina Dugan, then director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, said the military research arm would “focus an increasing portion of our cyber research on the investigation of offensive capabilities to address military-specific needs.”

Threatwatch Alert

Thousands of cyber attacks occur each day

See the latest threats


Close [ x ] More from Nextgov

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • It’s Time for the Federal Government to Embrace Wireless and Mobility

    The United States has turned a corner on the adoption of mobile phones, tablets and other smart devices, outpacing traditional desktop and laptop sales by a wide margin. This issue brief discusses the state of wireless and mobility in federal government and outlines why now is the time to embrace these technologies in government.

  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

  • A New Security Architecture for Federal Networks

    Federal government networks are under constant attack, and the number of those attacks is increasing. This issue brief discusses today's threats and a new model for the future.

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

  • Software-Defined Networking

    So many demands are being placed on federal information technology networks, which must handle vast amounts of data, accommodate voice and video, and cope with a multitude of highly connected devices while keeping government information secure from cyber threats. This issue brief discusses the state of SDN in the federal government and the path forward.

  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.