The Pentagon plans to create a new military command for cyberspace, stepping up preparations by the armed forces to conduct both offensive and defensive computer warfare, a leading US daily reported on Friday.
The military command would complement a civilian effort to be announced by President Barack Obama that would overhaul the way the United States safeguards its computer networks, administration officials said.
Obama, officials told New York Times, will announce the creation of a White House office -- reporting to both the National Security Council and the National Economic Council -- that will coordinate a multibillion-dollar effort to restrict access to government computers and protect systems that run the stock exchanges, clear global banking transactions and manage the air traffic control system.
White House officials told the paper that Obama has not yet been formally presented with the Pentagon plan. They said he would not discuss it today when he announces creation of a White House office responsible for coordinating private-sector and government defences against the thousands of cyber attacks mounted against the US -- largely by hackers but sometimes by foreign governments -- every day.
But he is expected to sign a classified order in coming weeks that will create the military cyber command, officials were quoted by the paper as saying.
It is recognition that the US already has a growing number of computer weapons in its arsenal and must prepare strategies for use -- as a deterrent or alongside conventional weapons -- in a wide variety of possible future conflicts.
The White House office, said the Times, will be run by a 'cyberczar', but because the position will not have direct access to the President, some experts told the paper that it was not high-level enough to end a series of bureaucratic wars that have broken out as billions of dollars have suddenly been allocated to protect against the computer threats.
The main dispute, the Times says, has been over whether the Pentagon or NSA should take the lead in preparing for and fighting cyberbattles. Under one proposal still being debated, parts of the NSA would be integrated into the military command so they could operate jointly.
Officials said that in addition to the unclassified strategy paper to be released by Obama, a classified set of presidential directives is expected to lay out the military's new responsibilities and how it coordinates its mission with that of the NSA, where most of the expertise on digital warfare resides today.
The decision to create a cyber command, the Times said, is a major step beyond the actions taken by Bush administration, which authorised several computer-based attacks but never resolved the question of how the government would prepare for a new era of warfare fought over digital networks.