House Committee Tries to Define Cyberwar

A Defense authorization bill expected to move out of committee Wednesday night attempts to explicate the ill-defined area of cyberwarfare, spelling out the Pentagon's power to engage in covert military activities over the Internet.

The legislation, H.R. 1540, clarifies that "the secretary of Defense has the authority to conduct clandestine cyberspace activities in support of military operations . . . outside of the United States or to defend against a cyber attack on an asset of the department."

Al Qaeda and the Taliban increasingly have wielded the Web for command and control operations, as well as for distributing technical information to support attacks on U.S. and coalition forces in areas of ongoing hostilities.

"The committee recognizes 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 measure states.

While the provision is not meant to stipulate every permissible online activity, the committee's bill summary says it is intended to at least empower the Pentagon to use the Web for secret military efforts "pursuant to an armed conflict for which Congress has authorized the use of all necessary and appropriate force or to defend against a cyber attack on a Department of Defense asset."