Congress examines undisclosed military cyber ops

In a sign of continuing tensions between the military and civilian sides of government regarding oversight of covert operations in cyberspace, a recent Senate document noted that the Defense Department did not disclose clandestine cyber activities in a report to Congress. The disclosure emerged from a written exchange between Senate Armed Services Committee staffers and Michael Vickers, assistant undersecretary of Defense for special operations.

In 33 pages of Senate documentation obtained by the Associated Press, lawmakers expressed concern about cyberspace operations that were not included in the quarterly report on secret military activity. The documents were Vickers' answers to senators' questions in preparation for his nomination hearing to be undersecretary of Defense for intelligence. The exchange between Vickers and the Senate panel also discussed a variety of other intelligence issues. No date has yet been set for the hearing.

The Associated Press reported that the exchange did not describe the undisclosed cyber activities. However, experts told the Associated Press that they might include secret operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia. Although DOD has established a Cyber Command, clear definitions for offensive and defensive cyber operations have yet to be set down.

In his answer to the Senate, Vickers said those types of operations are not specifically described in the law, the Associated Press reported. Current legal requirements specify and describe missions by human operatives, not digital tools. Vickers said he would review and support expanding the requirement for cyber operations to be included in the quarterly military report.

Cybersecurity expert James Lewis told the Associated Press that there has long been tension between Congress and the intelligence community over the amount of secret information disclosed to lawmakers. Lewis said the need for oversight is important because the results of secret operations can have political repercussions.

About the Author

Henry Kenyon is a contributing writer for Defense Systems.

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