President Obama Unilaterally Gives Cybersecurity Powers to the Military

Yesterday, the Washington Post reported that the president signed a hush-hush directive granting the military additional power to respond to cyberattacks. The directive was signed as Congress debated — and, ultimately, rejected — controversial legislation dealing with the same issue. While the Post would have it that the president is simply bypassing nasty bipartisan gridlock in Congress to get important stuff done, that glosses over the unpleasant reality that many knowledgeable people argue against the policies that dear leader just implemented unilaterally. With the stroke of a pen, we now have two problems: Potentially bad policy inflicted on the nation through an abuse of executive power.

Reports the Washington Post:

President Obama has signed a secret directive that effectively enables the military to act more aggressively to thwart cyber­attacks on the nation’s web of government and private computer networks.

Presidential Policy Directive 20 establishes a broad and strict set of standards to guide the operations of federal agencies in confronting threats in cyberspace, according to several U.S. officials who have seen the classified document and are not authorized to speak on the record. The president signed it in mid-October.

The new directive is the most extensive White House effort to date to wrestle with what constitutes an “offensive” and a “defensive” action in the rapidly evolving world of cyberwar and cyberterrorism, where an attack can be launched in milliseconds by unknown assailants utilizing a circuitous route. For the first time, the directive explicitly makes a distinction between network defense and cyber-operations to guide officials charged with making often-rapid decisions when confronted with threats.

The details of Presidential Policy Directive 20 are a bit vague, partially because the Pentagon is supposed to fill in the details itself, and (probably) partially because the "leak" about the directive may well be controlled and deliberate, given that the Senate killed Senator Joe Lieberman's Cybersecurity Act yesterday, as well. Suffice it to say that "cybersecurity" is a broad and vague term that can cover everything from the government making sure its own computers are tucked in snugly behind their firewalls, to mandated policies for the private sector and even intrusive snooping.

In fact, the Washington Post reported in September:

The White House has drafted a preliminary executive order aimed at strengthening the nation’s computer systems against attack, an effort to begin to accomplish through fiat what could not be achieved through Congress.

The draft order, whose contours are being debated, would create voluntary standards to guide companies in guarding themselves against cyberattacks, according to administration officials. It would also establish a special council made up of key government agencies to identify threats that could compromise critical sectors.

It's not clear whether any parts of that draft executive order were incorporated in the directive reportedly signed by the president. In September, the Post did report that the components of the draft order, and the legislation on which it was based, were opposed by businesses and GOP lawmakers "who decried even voluntary standards as a regulatory burden on business." Yesterday's article made no mention of opposition at all. But civil liberties groups also opposed Lieberman's bill upon which the draft executive order appears to be based, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation celebrated its demise with a press release:

With your help last summer we helped defeat Senator Lieberman's Cybersecurity Act. But for some reason, Senate Majority Leader Reid decided to call for another vote on the bill in the lame duck session today. After an hour's debate, the full Senate voted 51 to 47 against cloture for the Cybersecurity Act, meaning it can't move forward for a vote.

We've spent months going over the various faults in the bill—and of the faults in the other proposed Cybersecurity bills. We were particularly concerned because the Cybersecurity Act included overly vague definitions for key terms like "cybersecurity threat," "cybersecurity threat indicator," and even "countermeasures."

CNet notes that what little we know about the signed directive also points to controversial elements:

The nuts and bolts of the directive will most likely be met with criticism from many sides of the cybersecurity debate. While some will want to strengthen the directive and give free rein to the military to act quickly against cyberthreats, others will warn that the U.S. could step on international legal issues, Internet freedom, and other countries' sovereignty.

The details of the directive and the criticism of the same are less important here than noting that debate and delay over government power is both natural and healthy. People really do have legitimately different opinions on proposed legislation. Those opinions, when aired and debated, allow for better-informed decisions and a fuller understanding of the ultimate impact of policy changes. Mr. Obama is old enough to remember Schoolhouse Rock. Add in a few rough patches and some cynicism, and "I'm just a bill on Capitol Hill" is how it's supposed to work.

So sorry if the process of debating stuff and maybe losing a vote on favored policies is too drawn-out and annoying for you, Mr. President. But you really aren't supposed to be able "to accomplish through fiat what could not be achieved through Congress," as the Post put it so well, in an open and (still somewhat) free society.

Update: The Electronic Privacy Information Center would like to know just what in hell the administration thinks it's doing. EPIC filed a FOIA request to see what's in Presidential Policy Directive 20.

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  • ||

    This is the most transparent civil-liberties protecting administration ever.

  • Pro Libertate||

    It's like I went to sleep and woke up in a Dali painting.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Your clocks are runny?

  • ||

    More like a Magritte.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Escher?

  • nicole just can't even!||

    Look, we already had our monthly discussion of Magritte in the morning links last week. Sorry you're too good for morning links.

  • ||

    Yes, you should be sorry. Morning links are far too gauche and jejune for me.

    My favorite Magritte.

  • nicole just can't even!||

    Well they're not gauche or jejune when we're talking about Magritte, are they?

    And mine. Which I can go see right here!

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    I see nothing phallic about that.

  • ||

    nicole picked the phallic one, I picked the vaginal one. See? Wait...

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Nobody likes the reverse mermaids?

  • nicole just can't even!||

    Not as much as I like this one.

    But if you want mermaids, go with Paul Delvaux. Also for assorted creepy naked ladies (can't link to more, see others at AIC site). Um, go Belgians?

  • ||

    What, no love for Mondrian? You're just prejudiced against the Dutch like everyone else!

  • nicole just can't even!||

    Dude. Don't get me started on Mondrian. Only my favorite painter EVER. There may or may not be Mondrian needlepoint in my craft room.

    Also a bunch of it at the AIC.

  • ||

    You should probably live here then.

    (I used to walk by there all the time.)

  • nicole just can't even!||

    So...nice...[tear]

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Pffft, the Belgians are amateurs. Real artists have mustaches and paint like this.

  • Restoras||

  • Bobarian||

    I was always a fan of that guy on PBS

    http://www.google.com/imgres?i.....wCA&dur=16

  • ||

    More like Goya.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    This Goya seems more appropriate

  • ||

    This is Warty's favorite Goya.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    He's frightening the cattle!

  • ||

    No, you idiot. This is.

  • Loki||

    Are they all wearing Guy Faukes masks, or are they all wearing Joker makeup? I guess it works either way.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Listen. If we wanted your opinion we'd ask you about your lifting and nutrition programs.

    Seriously, bro. Let me in on it. You're jacked as fuck, brah. Curls or core, bro? Give me advice, bro.

  • ||

    Bench and bi's, brah. Superset your bench with some curls and some abz, yo.

  • nicole just can't even!||

    Warty, that one is the cover a new(ly released reprinted) book that's getting a lot of play right now.

  • ||

    What book?

    I'm also a big fan of Duel with Cudgels.

  • nicole just can't even!||

    Oh damn, it's actually not the same, but very similar--bad memory, sorry, but here.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Heretic. You must believe in our impending CYBERDOOM

    There’s almost universal agreement that the U.S. faces a catastrophic threat from cyber attacks by terrorists, hackers and spies. Washington policy makers just don’t seem able to do anything about it.
  • Pro Libertate||

    Centralizing our information security would be an appallingly bad idea. We're much better off with diverse solutions, and the whole business is going to swing back and forth between the attackers and the defenders having the advantage.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Get used to it. The military has a new club and they are itching to bonk someone with it.

    PROTECT THE TUBES!

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Quo usque tandem abutere, Obama, patientia nostra? quam diu etiam furor iste tuus nos eludet? quem ad finem sese effrenata iactabit audacia? Nihilne te nocturnum praesidium Palati, nihil urbis vigiliae, nihil timor populi, nihil concursus bonorum omnium, nihil hic munitissimus habendi senatus locus, nihil horum ora voltusque moverunt? Patere tua consilia non sentis, constrictam iam horum omnium scientia teneri coniurationem tuam non vides? Quid proxima, quid superiore nocte egeris, ubi fueris, quos convocaveris, quid consilii ceperis, quem nostrum ignorare arbitraris?

    O tempora, o mores! Senatus haec intellegit. Consul videt; hic tamen vivit. Vivit? immo vero etiam in Domum Albam venit, fit publici consilii particeps, notat et designat oculis ad caedem unum quemque nostrum. Nos autem fortes viri satis facere rei publicae videmur, si istius furorem ac tela vitemus. Ad mortem te, Obama, duci iussu consulis iam pridem oportebat, in te conferri pestem, quam tu in nos omnes iam diu machinaris

  • ||

    Yeah, except there's no Cicero in this situation, and Obama didn't lose his election for dictator president.

    BAD ANALOGY.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    I'm Cicero, motherfucker.

  • ||

    When you can get Obama to leave Washington hurling threats just by giving that speech I'll believe you.

  • Pro Libertate||

    You haven't heard HM's "Fucklippics," I see,

  • ||

    Did HM cure himself of stuttering by practicing speaking with river rocks in his mouth? I DON'T THINK SO.

    And I doubt he wants his hands and head nailed to the Rostra.

  • Pro Libertate||

    He's a tough dude.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Well, he did go out like a bad ass.

  • Pro Libertate||

    I don't know why these things keep appalling me. I should expect them, but I just can't get there.

    This is clearly an area where the power resides in Congress, not the president. Just to make it easy for our resident statist fucks, the reason for that is that there's no check on the president when he legislates. That's why he's not supposed to have that power.

  • ||

    Ok, fine, but some poor fucker's still getting his hands nailed to the Capitol.

  • Pro Libertate||

    We could use a consul like Cicero right about now.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    I'd take Caligula as a substitute

  • ||

    WE DON'T HAVE CONSULS BONEHEAD.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

  • Pro Libertate||

    Yeah, well maybe we should.

  • Bobarian||

    This looks like a job for

    CYBER-CZAR!

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    I want to know when we're going to get CYBER-SYNERGISTICALLY-PARADIGM-SHIFTERS

  • Jab Tak hai Jaan||

    FUCK THIS BASTARD IN THE ASS.

  • ||

    Lovin' it. The second term hasn't even started yet. Everybody hold hands and bend FORWARD!

  • Drake||

    "Presidential Policy Directive 20" - That has a nice ominous sound to it.

  • A Serious Man||

    I can't help but hear that in Hugo Strange's voice.

  • Restoras||

    That is some fine alt+text. Well done, Tuccille.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    If you think cyberwar is bad, wait till you see the TACO TRUCKS OF DOOM

    That's right. Instead of serving up a quick hot meal, these food trucks will be serving up death, and lots of it! Under the heading "Terrorist Implications," the FDNY lists the exact reasons we should be concerned, most of which begin with the word "high."
  • Loki||

    Wow. Just, wow. I don't even...

  • CE||

    You know who else bypassed bipartisan gridlock to get stuff done?

  • Restoras||

    Generic Dictator?

  • Bardas Phocas||

    Pol Pot?

  • ||

    Captain Kirk?

  • A Serious Man||

    Batman?

  • Drake||

    Billy the Kid?

  • ||

    That's preposterous. According to the documentary Young Guns II he did no such thing.

  • sticks||

    Wasn't young guns 2 based on the billy Joel song?

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    My errant sperm right before my third child was conceived?

  • ||

    Olive Oyl?

  • ||

    With the help of Cupid, If I recall.

  • Almanian.||

    Adam and Eve?

  • Loki||

    Riggs and Murtagh?

  • ||

    He's getting too old for this shit.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    I don't really know. I think some Italian guy who was really big into trains and making them run on time.

    Or a German. Damn Krauts are into everything these days.

  • Bardas Phocas||

    FLY LITTLE DRONE! FLY!

  • NeonCat||

    "If they were really knowledgeable they'd know Obama must be correct."-most liberals and all of his fan club

  • ||

    I'm amazed that this fucker is still able to appall me. How can that be possible? He's clearly some kind of superhero at villainy.

  • A Serious Man||

    He's clearly some kind of superhero at villainy.

    Or a supervillain...

  • ||

    NO YOU FUCKING IDIOT THAT'S STUPID SHUT UP

  • ||

    Don't confuse him, dude, he'll just ragesmash you.

  • ||

    OT: I was buying my first e-cig this morning, and the first place I stopped in lost my business in the middle of her sales-pitch.

    She went on and on about all her products were "made right here in the USA!" and that is somehow supposed to assure me of their quality, and that I should be satisfied that none of my money is "leaving the country".

    Bitch, I don't give a good goddamn WHERE the fucking thing is made, I just want to smoke! Maybe if you weren't wedded to being made in the USA, your prices would be lower!

  • sticks||

    Buy online.

  • Loki||

    I'm so fucking glad that we elected such a wise and sensible "constitutional law expert" to the white house in '08 and re-elected him again just last week instead of those EVUL RETHUGLICUNTS McLame and Romneybot. It's so re-assuring that no matter what happens, at least teh wymmenz will be able to get free birth control and abortions.

  • nicole just can't even!||

    Most excellent new White House petition

  • Loki||

    I think I'll start a petition of my own. From now on instead of reciting the oath of office new presidents will publicly sodomize the chief justice, who will be dressed up as Uncle Sam. This will be to symbolize the ass raping that the entire country will be recieving for the following four years. I figure this will work no matter who wins future presidential elections.

  • Bobarian||

    Kind of cuts down on the desire to be the Chief Justice, though.

  • Loki||

    Given our current chief justice, I'd say that's a feature, not a bug. If there were similar disincentives for every other federal office we'd be getting somewhere.

  • Silly ol' Bear||

    We have to get rid of the inept moron as President. Impeach him, do something...send him on a 4 yr. golf special in Afghanistan. Find out who his mistresses are. he's Democrat, I am sure he is following the examples od FDR, Kennedy, and Clinton (to name a few.)

  • Geoff Nathan||

    Apparently the process isn't as secret as J D has heard. I was at a meeting this afternoon with the author of this blog, who mentioned some of the details:

    http://www.educause.edu/blogs/.....g-momentum

  • jdtuccille||

    That's news to the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which has filed a FOIA request to get more information about the directive (see update above). That blogger may have more access than many other journalists, or he may not have as complete a copy of the directive as his piece suggests.

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