President Obama Threw A Cyberwar…. And No One Showed Up

from the firing-off-a-blank-check-from-the-'Executive-Order'-account dept

Last spring, in the wake of the Sony hack, President Obama threw a cyberwar. And no one showed up.

In April 2015, President Obama issued Executive Order 13694 declaring a national emergency to deal with the threat of hostile cyber activity against the United States.

But six months later, the emergency powers that he invoked to punish offenders had still not been used because no qualifying targets were identified, according to a newly released Treasury Department report.

It certainly sounded scary enough. Obama said things about “cyber threats” being a serious threat to national security and the US economy. The state of emergency, according to the President, would create a “targeted tool” for combating our cyber-enemies.

This state of emergency is just one more in a line of uninterrupted states of emergencies dating back to the mid-1970s. A perpetual state of emergency is far more useful to the government than a “targeted tool,” so a declaration of (cyber) war against a bunch of noncombatants still served a purpose, if only indirectly.

It started the ball rolling on the CISPA/CISA resurgence, which eventually “passed” after being attached to the coattails of a budget bill with far more momentum and support, as few legislators were willing to stare down the barrel of a government shutdown just to prevent a badly-written cyber-bill from passing.

More importantly, the president’s statement and executive order gave the administration permission to do things it doesn’t normally get to do.

Under the powers delegated by such statutes, the President may seize property, organize and control the means of production, seize commodities, assign military forces abroad, institute martial law, seize and control all transportation and communication, regulate the operation of private enterprise, restrict travel, and, in a variety of ways, control the lives of United States citizens.

Declaring a state of emergency allows for the potential wreaking of havoc in taxpayers’ lives. And even if these powers go unexercised (or anything), it still costs the taxpayers money.

Even though it generated no policy outputs, implementation of the executive order nevertheless incurred costs of “approximately $760,000, most of which represent wage and salary costs for federal personnel,” the Treasury report said.

The expenses of national states of emergency aren’t being offset by seized funds or assets related to the targets of the executive order. The Treasury Department’s report logically notes that zero targets means zero seizures. According to another report quoted by Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists, the long-running “state of emergency” prompted by various North Korean actions is resulting in less than ~$60,000 a year — compared to an operational cost of at least $125,000/month (presumably the North Korean state of emergency is more expensive than the “cyberwar” one). No one really expects a “break even” government, but it’s inarguable that targeting known or unknown entities via executive orders really isn’t doing much to cripple their operations.

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Comments on “President Obama Threw A Cyberwar…. And No One Showed Up”

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DigDug says:

Re: Re:

There was no formal declaration of war by Congress.
This is why most, if not all of the antics by the Executive branch and its agents are not only illegal, but unconstitutional.

The Patriot act itself is unconstitutional.

Without a formal declaration of war by Congress, the President’s executive orders exceed the authority limited outside a time of war.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Quoth Wikipedia

As of 2015 more than thirty emergencies under the IEEPA remain active regarding various subjects, the oldest of which was declared in 1979 with regard to the government of Iran.


The United States declared a national emergency in response to the September 11, 2001 attacks that remains in effect. This emergency suspends certain provisions of law that limit the size of the military and the duration of military service.

Anonymous Coward says:

Lol, it’s not that they can’t find the targets or whatever, it’s because they can’t outright attack say China over it. So if anything these “anti-cyberwar powers” will only be used selectively to punish some little guy, like the Anonymous people perhaps, and parade them in front of the media for how effective the powers have been.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Military Industrial Political Espionage Complex

Actually I think it has been longer than that. President Eisenhower warned us in 1961 during his farewell address about a state of emergency that had crept into being over the previous years. It has been talked about extensively, and ignored completely. I think it would be fair to say that the Military-Industrial complex has been co-opted by both politicians and espionage agencies. Each of these entities strive to roll over the general populace with the intent of everlasting power, held by the incumbent for as long as they live.

Frankly, I am surprised there isn’t more money being dumped into research that extends lifespans just so these corrupt, power hungry monsters can exercise that power one year longer.

One mere state of emergency is inconsequential when there are so many to choose from: drugs, poverty, the environment, non-governmental entities who wish to attack the US, anyone who doesn’t look like us, The Domino Theory applied…everywhere, world trade, personal empiricism, communists, non-communists, wannabe communists, terrorists who are not us, terrorists who are us but we don’t like, copyright haters, patent haters, countries who fail to bow down to our corporate partners…etc.

Anonymous Coward says:

Under the powers delegated by such statutes, the President may seize property, organize and control the means of production, seize commodities, assign military forces abroad, institute martial law, seize and control all transportation and communication, regulate the operation of private enterprise, restrict travel, and, in a variety of ways, control the lives of United States citizens.

So if the emergency ended, we would have no more:

– Civil asset forfeiture (“seize property”; “seize commodities”)
– Foreign military deployments not explicitly authorized by Congress (“assign military forces abroad”)
– TSA, no-fly list (“seize … transportation”; “restrict travel”)
– Intrusive tax code (“control the lives …”)

Sign me up!

Skeeter says:

War on What?

The ‘War on Terrorism’ is, by default, a ‘never-ending-war’ anyhow. Why is anyone surprised 15-years after it started, that it is still going on, still eating Personal Rights, and still hungry? I guess the supporters haven’t figured out that the only ones suffering from ‘this war’ are Americans and our Rights. Nope, too much profit to be made in ‘perpetuating the lie’.

JBDragon (profile) says:

Re: War on What?

Well we have the War on Drugs, and the War on Poverty. What else? These things go on forever.

Why does the U.S. have Military bases all over the world in a number of countries? Why have we been in the Europe all these years? These country’s can’t take care of themselves, we have to do it? Can you imagine if France had a Military base in California? How about the U.K. with a base in New York? We’re in more then 100 countries and some with many bases. Seems like a world Invader to me not to mention pretty costly.

So we really are the World Police!

Whatever says:

It’s more a symptom of the broken political processes and systems in the US. There is no simple way for the President to put the focus on any area unless congress agrees. The current (and long standing) adversarial attitudes mean that even the basics are no longer getting done.

The best example is that a sitting President should be able to select a Supreme Court Judge and get an up or down vote from the congress in a reasonable time. Instead, the process is entirely political and Republicans have stated that they won’t consider a candidate unless it comes from the NEXT President, almost a year after the court lost it’s judge.

So in order to deal with cyber crime issues, the only way the President can do anything is through executive orders and “war on…” type things, because that’s all he’s got left to work with.

That said, it’s hard to deny that there appears to be at least some state sponsored hacking going on. Of course, you can always believe the “rogue agent” or “rogue citizen” line if you like, but the result is still sort of the same.

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