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Controversy Ignites over Informing Allies of US Military Cyber Operations


By Sarah Martin
Contributor, In Military

A covert global operation referred to as Operation Glowing Symphony has brought about much debate as to whether or not it was essential to inform the countries in which the operations will be carried out, according to reports from the Washington Post.

This operation was approved by the Pentagon last year as a way to undermine ISIS’s attempt to spread online videos and propaganda to further their reach. The actions by Cyber Command and this operation have led to the interception of a number of passwords linked to the Islamic State administrator accounts, giving officials the ability to access the accounts and delete any damaging content.

Originally, the operation came about from pressure from the Defense Secretary at the time, Ashton Carter, in efforts to increase actions against ISIS. However, once the State Department, CIA and FBI discovered that these operations would be taking place in other countries without their knowledge, they became fearful that the operations would take a toll on cooperation between those countries in areas such as intelligence, law enforcement and counterterrorism.

The apprehension from officials comes from the idea that if the roles were reversed and another country was conducting an operation that would affect the servers in our country without our knowledge, how would we respond?

Pentagon officials explained that under the current authority concerning terrorists and the Internet, they were not obligated to inform or request permission from countries in which the operation took place. Approximately 35 countries outside of war zones would be encompassed in this operation.

Even with the CIA, FBI and National Intelligence Directors arguing that it would be important to inform the countries prior to carrying out the operations to maintain good relations, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff reiterated that the present authority did not require it. The Pentagon reassured officials that no negative collateral effects would come out of these operations.

An argument against informing the countries is the potential for a leak pertaining to the operation or possibly tipping off targets. Also, it was important not to let enemies realize the degree of the command’s cyber abilities.

The operations began in November of last year and are considered a success by both the Pentagon and Cyber Command officials. They stated it brought to light how Cybercom could assimilate computer attack capabilities with more traditional battle plans in efforts to push ISIS out of Iraq and Syria. They believe it paved the path for current and future operations to fight terrorism.

There are, however, some officials who do not see it as the success the Pentagon claims it was, believing the negative effect it had on ISIS was brief as they would move to new servers once they realized theirs had been compromised. Those in the private sector also are not entirely convinced of its success.

There was a drop in ISIS propaganda during the months of the operations, but there is no way to prove with certainty that it was due to the operations carried out by Cyber Command. The Islamic State at that time had endured many casualties of those associated with media and production, which could have also accounted for the reduction in propaganda that was distributed.