Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Learnable lessons from Manning, Snowden and inevitable others 26 – thoughts concerning the emerging Obama cyber-doctrine 1

Posted in business and convergent technologies, in the News by Timothy Platt on July 10, 2014

This is my 27th posting on what is becoming a series of leaks and unauthorized disclosures of classified US government documents that relate to its War on Terror (see John Peter Zenger, Henry L. Stimson, Edward J. Snowden and the challenge of free speech and the first 25 postings to this series, available at Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 2 as postings 225 and loosely following.) And I begin it by acknowledging that I was not planning on writing this posting when I was writing, editing and uploading Part 25: the Obama legacy 3, just a few days ago. I was planning on continuing lines of discussion that I have raised here in another series that is more operational in focus. Then events in the news and governmental actions that drive them intervened.

I am still planning on switching my basic ongoing discussion of governmental surveillance programs to that second series (see Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time, postings 58 and following.) But before doing so I want to add at least one more strategic and planning level posting to this series too, where my goal is to at least offer an outside observer’s perspective on overall policy and planning as developed in the Obama administration Oval Office, regarding online intelligence gathering and cyber-defense. And as a working title, I identify this as a discussion of what at least appears to be a rapidly firming up Obama cyber-doctrine.

A doctrine, and certainly in the governmental policy sense that I use that term here, is a high level strategy and planning organizing framework. A tightly organized and coherent doctrine can often be summarized, even if in somewhat cartoon form in a single statement, but any meaningful doctrine has its roots in a complex of issues and decisions, and in the ongoing consequences of actions that were taken and from chances to act that were not followed through upon. The War on Terror, for example, as begun in the United States during the George W Bush administration and continued and expanded upon under the Obama administration, can be seen as the operational outcome of a doctrine of threat containment and neutralization. And it is in many respects a war between competing world views. The Obama cyber-doctrine can be seen as a direct offshoot of that.

My goal for this posting isn’t so much one of trying to summarize this cyber-doctrine in some single short statement of goal or principle. It is to lay out some of the skein of factors that have led to its formulation, and in the form that it is coming to take. And I begin that with the programs and initiatives that are carried out by the US National Security Agency (NSA) that I have been discussing throughout this series (e.g. PRISM, XKeyscore (also identified as XKS) and the like.) They, in effect form the operational backbone to this doctrine.

• According to the developing Obama cyber-doctrine, the United States government has both a right, and even a fundamental obligation to conduct surveillance on any group or individual who might conceivably be involved in, or in any way communicating with a War on Terror threat – and even unwittingly and unknowingly.

And in this context it is important to remember one of the earliest and most strongly regarded lessons from the 9/11 attacks and from the initial formulation of the War on Terror as a response to them and to their source. No one saw or understood the threat posed by a group of Al Qaeda terrorists who came into this country – until after they had hijacked four commercial jetliners and used them as guided missiles, killing thousands of civilians and costing billions of dollars in damage as a result. But after the fact, it was learned that enough information on them and their activities was in US government hands so that at least with the wisdom of retrospect, it might have been possible to prevent those attacks.

The lesson learned from that was that the national intelligence gathering agencies and organizations of the United States need to gather as much information as possible, and pool it together using the most powerful and flexibly capable big data resources available so any future potential attack can be identified and blocked before it can take place. And to the US government and the Obama administration, this meant and still means conducting open ended surveillance on essentially everyone and all of the time when they are online or using a phone.

That is the first of three core components that I see as entering into this newly forming doctrine. The second foundational element underlying this doctrine is that:

• While the US national government has a right and even an obligation to conduct open ended surveillance on everyone, private sector businesses and organizations have very circumscribed rights as to what types of personal data they can gather, how and how long they can store it, and how they can use and share it.

This second collection of threads to the skein allows for big business and small to make use of big data capabilities. But it holds that only the government has authority or right to set the limits on what is acceptable or allowed for this type of activity. I will discuss this set of issues in future postings and simply note here that I base this part of this discussion on a series of recent US Justice Department rulings and governmental actions.

And the third line of reasoning that I will add to this discussion involves the implicitly assumed right and even obligation of the United States government to pursue its online cyber-defense across any and all borders and boundaries in its pursuit of national security and as it conducts its side of the War on Terror. I am going to continue this discussion with a fuller discussion of that and of its implications. And after that I will step back to discuss the Obama cyber-doctrine as a whole. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 2 and in my first Ubiquitous Computing and Communications directory page. I am also listing this under my In the News posting category.


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