The Guardian newspaper reported late Friday that U.S. President Barack Obama has ordered various government agencies to prepare for offensive cyberwarfare operations, including drawing up a list of potential overseas targets for U.S. cyber-attacks.
It is the third secret U.S. security document to be published by The Guardian in 48 hours. Earlier Friday, Obama offered a spirited defense of secret administration surveillance policies aimed at stopping terrorist attacks. The president was responding to the news reports about programs that secretly scan through phone records and Internet activity that have outraged privacy advocates.
Obama put forward his defense of the secret surveillance programs when asked by a reporter during a health care event in California.
“My assessment and my team's assessment was that they help us prevent terrorist attacks, and the modest encroachments on privacy that are involved in getting phone numbers or duration without a name attached and not looking at content, that on net it was worth us doing,” he said.
Revelations that the administration has been secretly accessing phone records and scouring the servers of Internet providers for possible terror links set off a wave of outrage among privacy advocates.
Elizabeth Goitein, of the Brennan Center for Justice, said that scouring millions of phone records and Internet activity is ineffective.
“I’m willing to wager that vacuuming up millions and millions of Americans’ metadata is not a good way to find terrorists. I’m sure people in the administration will tell me otherwise, but there are experts out here, and there are people in law enforcement, who say that a more targeted approach is the better approach,” said Goitein.
But many U.S. lawmakers have known about the secret programs for years, and they have remained supportive, including the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein of California.
“We’ve got to examine ways to be able to get data. That can prevent plots from hatching and Americans from being killed,” she said.
Obama said the revelations about the secret programs have sparked a renewed debate on reconciling national security and civil liberties, a debate he said he welcomes.
“You can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience. We are going to have to make some choices,” he said.
Members of Congress are promising to hold hearings to find out more about the secret programs.