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5 Sep, 2013

U.S. expected to launch cyber attacks against Syria: report


WASHINGTON, Sept. 4 (Xinhua) — The United States is certain to launch cyber attacks on Syria if it goes ahead with its military action to punish Damascus for the alleged chemical weapons use, a report said Wednesday.

U.S. cyber experts believe that the U.S. government could use computer viruses to destroy Syrian defenses and equipment and spy on Syrian government as part of the possible military strike, the Capitol Hill newspaper the Hill said in a report on its website.

“I think that’s a certainty,” Jim Lewis, a senior fellow and director of the Technology and Public Policy Program at the Washington-based think tank the Center for Strategic and International Studies, was quoted as saying.

Experts predicted that the U.S. could complement air or missile strikes against Syria with cyber operations to gather intelligence and spy on the Syrian government.

Chris Finan, a former Defense Department official and a fellow at the Truman National Security Project, expected the National Security Agency (NSA) to take the lead on launching cyber attacks on Syria, once Washington gets the nod from Congress to strike the war-ravaged country.

“The military would be very dependent on the intelligence community for anything it wants to do,” he said.

However, experts are split over how cyber attacks would be launched against Syria once the U.S. starts bombing Syrian government targets.

The U.S. could stage cyber attacks to disable Syrian air defense systems as part of the supporting effort, Lewis said. ” Interfering with Syrian air defense — that’s almost a given,” he said.

But others disagreed with this assessment, citing it is much faster and easier to take out Syrian air defense systems with cruise missiles and the U.S. would likely save the advanced cyber weapons for a bigger conflict.

“I just think taking air defense out with a cruise missile is faster and easier,” said Adam Segal, an expert on cyber conflict at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“If it is a virus, eventually they could get the virus out, and they could put the air defenses back up. If you blow it up, it’s gone,” he said.

Finan echoed Segal’s views by saying that such advanced computer virus would be very expensive to develop and could only be used once, since enemies could patch their systems.

Finan said the U.S. would likely save advanced cyber weapons for a larger conflict, rather than using them to protect U.S. unmanned drones in Syria.

But all experts agreed the U.S. would surely hack into Syrian computer systems to gather information about the regime’s chemical weapons and defenses. Segal predicted the U.S. could also send emails and text messages as propaganda to demoralize Syrian government officials.

The Obama administration is currently campaigning to lobby Congress to approve its military strike against Syrian government to punish it for the alleged chemical attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21, that the U.S. claims killed 1,429 people including 426 children.

The vote on authorizing the military action in Syria is expected to be held soon at both chambers of U.S. Congress, the Senate and the House of Representatives, after members return from summer recess on Sept. 9.