Set rules, oversight for new tools of war

The Obama administration needs to do a better of job of transparency when it comes to the rules of engagement for utilizing drone attacks. There need to be rules and guidelines - the administration is reportedly working on them - and the public needs to know what they are. Only with greater transparency can the public judge whether the program of attacks by unmanned planes is being used to counter legitimate threats to the United States and its interests - or is being abused.

But instead of clarifying the policy on drone attacks, it appears the administration is preparing to double down with its secretive use of another weapon of modern warfare - cyber attacks. The New York Times reported Monday that an internal White House legal review has concluded the president has broad power to order pre-emptive cyber strikes if national security networks detect evidence of a looming attack on the United States.

The implications of a unilateral decision by a president to launch a cyber attack are more daunting than ordering drone attacks.

Drones and the collateral damage they cause are known to have turned local populations against U.S. interests. But a cyber attack could result in unpredictable escalation, disrupting vital infrastructure systems and threatening financial markets.

According to sources quoted by the Times, the new policy recognizes the seriousness of the damage that can be caused by cyber warfare and the potential repercussions, which is why the president must give authorization. But the public has the right to know what the standards are and where the lines are drawn. And what congressional oversight will there be? The Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war and that holds true no matter how war is waged.

The public deserves a broader debate about how and when to use these new weapons of war.

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.


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