CIA to launch secret cyberwar
South News, 23 May 1999
WASHINGTON, May 23 (South News) - The CIA plans to step up its covert war against Yugoslavia, including training KLA rebels in acts of sabotage, Newsweek magazine reports in Monday's edition.
The magazine reports that President Bill Clinton has authorized the agency to undertake a series of undercover actions, including using US government computers to hack into banks accounts.
The intelligence agency will also try to teach the KLA, regarded by most of the NATO allies as little better than a terrorist organisation with suspected links to drug money, "age-old tricks like cutting telephone lines, blowing up buildings fouling gasoline reserves and pilfering food supplies," according to the magazine.
Last week, Clinton issued "a highly classified document authorizing the spy agency to begin such covert sabotage "'to find other ways to get at Milosevic,'" Newsweek said, quoting senior intelligence officials.
Two weeks ago national-security adviser Berger secretly briefed members of the House and Senate Intelligence committees about the details of the two-part plan. According to sources who have read the finding,the plan would also launch a "cyberwar" against the Yugoslav president, using government hackers to "diddle with Milosevic's bank accounts," Newsweek quoted a US official as saying.
Intelligence officials have identified banks in several countries, including Cyprus, Greece and Russia. But NATO allies were to be kept in the dark about the covert plan, said the magazine, while conceding it does not have access to the entire document.
The cyberwar scheme has reportedly come under fire by US intelligence officials who warn it could strain relations with friendly nations and open the door to the hacking of US bank accounts, Newsweek says.
The Americans have not told their NATO allies about either part of the presidential finding, not least because the use of information technology as a weapon is almost certainly illegal under international treaties.
And US lawmakers warn the operation could backfire by alienating NATO allies and undermining diplomatic efforts, thus prolonging the war in Kosovo, adds the weekly.
"If they pull it off, it will be great," a government cyberwar expert is quoted as saying. "If they screw it up, they are going to be in a world of trouble."
Congress has no legal authority to block the covert action, the Newsweek points out.
But if criticism mounts in intelligence and congressional circles, "the president may opt to quietly kill the finding -- and pretend it never existed," Newsweek said.