What new documents say about US-partner cyber operations

What new documents say about US-partner cyber operations

Cyber operations were given their first big real-world test in November 2016, during the Department of Defense’s largest cyber operation to date. Now newly released documents reveal that U.S. Cyber Command proposed passing some targets to coalition partners — information typically held closely.

The documents, released as part of a Freedom of Information Act request from the National Security Archive at George Washington University, are a series of internal briefings and lessons from Operation Glowing Symphony. The operation was part of the larger counter-ISIS operations — Joint Task Force-Ares — but specifically targeted ISIS’s media and online operations, taking out infrastructure and preventing ISIS members from communicating and posting propaganda.

New documents received via the Freedom of Information Act reveal new details regarding Cyber Command's largest operation to date. (Army Cyber Command)

“As a [course of action] for dynamically deconflicting and engaging aim points of opportunity, the [cyber mission force] proposed passing aim point information to allied partners to take for action,” an after-action observation of Operation Glowing Symphony prepared by Cyber Command’s operations directorate stated.

Typically, cyber capabilities and targets are some of the most closely guarded secrets given the types of resources needed to gain access to targets’ networks. However, officials have indicated in the past that, sometimes, effects were easier achieved if given to coalition partners because they might not have as restrictive domestic authorities for using such capabilities. Moreover, they may also possess better access in some cases.

For years, the military operated under what the military, many members of Congress and national security experts considered restrictive authorities and polices. U.S. officials have detailed instances where domestic authorities and processes may have slowed down operations. The former commander of the joint task force in charge of the anti-ISIS operations described an instance in which they were trying to use non-kinetic capabilities to take out ISIS command posts. While the overall operation was successful, the planning and coordination took weeks. Other officials noted that foreign partners provide unique access or unique capabilities and operate off of different authorities that compliment those of the military.

Those authorities and processes have been streamlined by the executive branch and Congress in recent years.

An Australian official details lessons from an offensive cyber operation undertaken against the Islamic State. (Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
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