Trump Move to Loosen U.S. Use of Cyberweapons Prompts Intrigue

The Trump administration’s move to loosen rules of engagement for U.S. cyberattacks has prompted questions about how the military will carry out offensive digital strikes, and whether hostilities with foreign adversaries will rapidly escalate. Cybersecurity experts and former officials said it was impossible to determine whether President Trump’s move was a step in the right direction or a mistake because the details of such policies are classified. “The devil is in the details,” said Tom Bossert, who as Mr. Trump’s homeland security adviser counseled him on cybersecurity, until he was forced out of his job in April by John Bolton, Mr. Trump’s national security adviser. Mr. Trump on Wednesday reversed an Obama-era set of classified rules dictating an elaborate interagency process that must be followed before cyberweapons can be deployed. The change was described to The Wall Street Journal as an “offensive step forward” by an administration official briefed on the decision. But few specific details have been divulged about what process Mr. Trump is adopting in place of the previous rules, known as Presidential Policy Directive 20. Former President Barack Obama’s rules, adopted in 2012, also were classified but leaked in 2013 by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden. Mr. Obama’s rules prompted debate, with many former officials from different federal agencies saying the process often produced lengthy interagency discussions about the legal, policy, and diplomatic implications of even modest cyber operations. Other former officials said that cyberweapons were rarely deployed not because of bureaucratic red tape because they were in many cases not ready for real-world deployment. Mr. Bossert said in an interview that he began reviewing the Obama directive and considering ways it could be changed before he left the Trump administration. But he declined to speculate on what was in new rules adopted by the administration. “The content is classified. I have no insight into the details of that content,” he said. Some officials offered tentative optimism about steps to unshackle the process for using cyberweapons, a frequent topic in Congress for lawmakers of both parties who have faulted the past three administrations for failing to develop a coherent cybersecurity strategy. Lawmakers have sought to expand their oversight of cybersecurity matters in recent legislation. “One thing is clear—what we have been doing so far hasn’t worked, and our adversaries believe that they can attack us without any consequences,” said Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee…

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