Digital snipers: US gears up for cyber wars, the latest Snowden documents reveal

19 Jan 2015

The NSA is recruiting a sophisticated army of special ops hackers who will paralyze enemies of the US by infiltrating and then taking over their infrastructure, the latest Edward Snowden documents reveal.

The documents, revealed by Der Spiegel, say that the National Security Agency (NSA) believes the next major conflict in the world will begin in cyber space.

To prepare itself the NSA has projected it will need around US$1bn to increase the strength of its computer network attack operations.

In the 20th century we saw the onset of ABC weapons – atomic, biological and chemical – but in the 21st century we will see the advent of digital weapons.

Skilled cyber hackers will be skilled up by the US to infiltrate enemy systems and then paralyse the enemy’s computer networks, taking control of power and water supplies, factories, airports and bank accounts.

Recon, attack, dominate

There will be three phases to the US digital doctrine – surveillance, stealthy implantation allowing permanent access and then domination.

According to the documents the NSA has set up a business known as Politerain, which will recruit and train the next generation of digital snipers on behalf of the NSA’s Tailored Access Operations.

Potential interns are told that their research might include plans to “remotely degrade or destroy opponent computers, routers, servers and network enabled devices by attacking the hardware.”

The US has banded with other like-minded nations to build cyber armies under the Five Eyes alliance, which also includes the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

The NSA’s cyber army will exist alongside other cyber forces established by the US Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force.

America’s leading cyber warrior is Admiral Michael Rogers and he has close to 40,000 employees responsible for digital espionage and hostile online attacks.

If the NSA is correct and believes World War III will begin in cyber space – with no conventional armies and hackers both military and civilian – then it is a signal if anything that nations should be aiming at striking a balance between defence and surveillance.

It calls to mind a famous quote of Albert Einstein: “I don’t know with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”

Sniper image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years