Obama draws up plans for cyber attacks on China as he meets leader in California
PUBLISHED: 08:21 EST, 8 June 2013 | UPDATED: 14:58 EST, 8 June 2013
Barack Obama has ordered senior intelligence officials to compile an overseas target list for U.S. cyber attacks.
An unpublished presidential directive obtained by the Guardian reveals America plans to step up its cyber offensive capability in a bid to ‘advance US national objectives around the world’.
The news comes as Obama prepares to tackle the contentious issue of cybersecurity with China President Xi Jinping at day two of a summit in California today.
Fresh start: President Barack Obama, right, shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands on Friday in Rancho Mirage, California
The top secret Presidential Policy Directive 20, issued in October, outlines Offensive Cyber Effects Operations (OCEO) which can have ‘subtle to severely damaging’ impacts on adversaries.
The selected targets will be of ‘national importance where OCEO can offer a favorable balance of effectiveness and risk as compared with other instruments of national power’, according to the Guardian.
The 18-page document specifies that U.S. cyber operations must conform to U.S. and international law and the president must approve of operations likely to result in ‘significant consequences’.
These include death, damage to property and seriously negative economic or foreign policy impacts.
Obama is today expected to confront his Chinese counterpart over alleged Chinese attacks on western targets at a summit in the Californian desert.
The two-day talks kicked off yesterday, marking the first time the men have met since Xi took office in March.
Co-operation: U.S. President Barack Obama, pictured right, is set to confront China President Xi Jinping at the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage about cyber attacks
In a question-and-answer with reporters at the sprawling Sunnylands estate last night, the men acknowledged an urgent need to find a common approach to addressing cybersecurity.
‘We don’t have the kind of protocols that have governed military issues and arms issues, where nations have a lot of experience in trying to negotiate what’s acceptable and what’s not,’ Obama said.
Because of advances in technology, the issue of cybersecurity and need for rules and common approach for cybersecurity are going to be increasingly important, Obama said.
Obama said it was critical that the U.S. and China reach a ‘firm understanding’ on cyber issues.
But he stopped short of accusing China of orchestrating hacking attacks on American government and business computers.
Xi claimed no responsibility for China’s alleged actions. He said his nation was also a victim of cyber-spying, but did not assign any blame.
While both leaders carefully avoided directly accusing each other of cyber-espionage yesterday, the Guardian reports Beijing officials have claimed they have ‘mountains of data’ on American cyber-attacks that were every bit as serious as those China was accused of having carried out against the U.S.
Protest: Am American-Vietnamese woman protests against China near the retreat President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart will meet for two days
The discussion on international cyber-spying was juxtaposed with new revelations that the Obama administration is collecting data from U.S. phone and Internet companies.
The president pushed back against the notion that the controversy over the widespread government surveillance undercut his credibility to take on China over cybersecurity.
He insisted the two issues were separate and said concerns over hacking and intellectual property theft shouldn’t be confused with the debate over how governments collect data to combat terrorist threats.
‘That’s a conversation that I welcome,’ he said.
China, too, has concerns about cybersecurity, Xi said, calling new technology a ‘double-edged sword’ that can drive progress while causing headaches for governments and their regulators.
Although he said China has been victimized by cybercrime, he did not specify who may have perpetrated them.
Speaking more broadly, Xi said he and Obama believe the two countries can approach each other in a way ‘that is different from the inevitable confrontation and conflict.’
The U.S. has started bringing its complaints about persistent Chinese computer-hacking into the open after years of quiet and largely unsuccessful diplomacy.
It has accused Beijing’s government and military of computer-based attacks against America.
While there have been no actual admissions of guilt, Chinese leaders have started acknowledging there is a problem and U.S. officials say the Chinese seem more open to working with the U.S. to address it.