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New Pentagon strategy warns of cyber war capabilities

Defense Secretary Ash Carter revealed for the first time that the Pentagon uncovered a breach by Russian hackers into an unclassified defense computer network

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A new Pentagon cyber security strategy lays out for the first time publicly that the U.S. military plans to use cyber warfare as an option in conflicts with enemies.

The 33-page strategy says the Defense Department “should be able to use cyber operations to disrupt an adversary’s command and control networks, military-related critical infrastructure and weapons capabilities.”

And on Thursday, Defense Secretary Ash Carter revealed for the first time that the Pentagon uncovered a breach by Russian hackers into an unclassified defense computer network earlier this year, but officials were able to identify the intruders within 24 hours and kicked them out.

In remarks at Stanford University, Carter said the breach response shows the department is moving in the right direction, but he added: “I still worry about what we don’t know. Because this was only one attack.”

He said one way the department is responding is to be more transparent about cyber security, and that includes a new cyber security strategy that is far more open about the Pentagon’s cyber missions.

The strategy is the second done by the Pentagon and is slated for release Thursday, but it was obtained early by The Associated Press. The previous strategy, which was publicly released in 2011, made little reference to the Pentagon’s offensive cyber capabilities, although U.S. officials have spoken quietly about the issue.

The strategy also, for the first time, includes a small section on U.S. concerns about continued cyber espionage by China against U.S. companies and agencies. It says the U.S. will continue to try to work with Beijing to bring greater understanding and transparency of each nation’s cyber missions to “reduce the risks of misperception and miscalculation.”

Carter is in Silicon Valley to reach out to high-tech companies and experts and seek their help in countering the growing cyber security threat and ensuring that America’s military has the cutting-edge technologies it needs.

But he is likely to face a tough techie audience that has long been suspicious of U.S. surveillance programs and is determined to protect its clients and customers from government prying. He is giving a speech at Stanford University and expects to meet with technology company leaders, including Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, as well as a group of venture capitalists.

Speaking to reporters on the plane Wednesday, Carter acknowledged the challenge, including suspicions involving the case of intelligence leaker Edward Snowden.

“One of the things we need to do is have that dialogue,” said Carter, who has long been entrenched in cyber security issues, including when he served as deputy defense secretary. “We have a tremendous common interest in having a safe but also open and prosperous society, so that’s common ground, and it’s that common ground I’m trying to get us to stand on.”

Carter is expected to make a series of announcements about new ways the Pentagon will partner with technology firms. According to defense officials, he is setting up a full-time unit of military, civilian and reservist workers in the San Francisco Bay area in the next month or so to scout out promising emerging technologies and build better relations with the companies there.