Report says US contemplated cyber war against Libya
This spring, the US government contemplated using IT-based measures in the fight against the regime of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. A report in the New York Times cites an inside source who wishes to remain anonymous, who claims that the government eventually decided against employing cyber-warfare. The reason for the decision was that overcoming the Libyan firewall to weaken air defences would have set an unfortunate precedent for other countries, in particular Russia and China. The report says that it is also doubtful whether US president Barack Obama would legally have been able to order a virtual attack without informing the Senate and Congress.
The report claims that during planning for the conflict, US military advisors specifically considered penetrating Libyan communication networks. This would have allowed them to disrupt radar systems and thus anti-aircraft missile defences, reducing the risks faced by NATO forces. The report does not reveal the nature of the measures considered. NATO eventually took command of the international mission against the Gaddafi regime at the end of March.
The use of computer technology in preparation for an attack was also discussed in the run up to the US Navy Seal mission which killed Osama bin Laden in early May. According to the report, consideration was given to disabling Pakistani radar systems. Instead, specially equipped Black Hawk helicopters were used. According to James Andrew Lewis of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the US did not want to be the first country to officially deploy instruments of cyber-warfare, potentially opening the floodgates to their use in future conflicts.
The US also needed to measure up to its own standards on this issue. In May, the US Department of Defense declared that it would consider serious cyber-attacks originating from another country as an act of war, which might require it to counter-attack with conventional weapons. That possibility was not discussed in a strategy document on defending against cyber-warfare released in July. The document also made no mention of options for carrying out offensive cyber-warfare against enemies. Cyber-warfare in Libya was discussed in emails penned by the head of a US security company and subsequently leaked by the LulzSec hackers. The emails revealed how US software companies court government agencies in order to win contracts.