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WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama’s pick to lead the new Cyber Command told Congress on Thursday that the U.S. did not know yet how it would resolve a litany of concerns over having a military command respond to cyberspace attacks.

Members of a Senate oversight committee expressed worry about several issues including the Pentagon’s rules of engagement for cyber warfare, the constitutional authority of the military to respond to attacks inside the United States, and the potential legal precedents set by their actions.

Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency for the past five years, said he was unsure how the military’s coming Cyber Command, or CYBERCOM, would address the hundreds of thousands of daily hostile probes and attacks to computer networks on U.S. soil that may have been routed through neutral or allied nations.

“That brings real problems,” he said, “many of which are not yet fully answered.”

Alexander said he intended to coordinate heavily with the Department of Homeland Security and with private industry.

If confirmed, Alexander would receive his fourth star and become the first commander of CYBERCOM, but he would perform those duties simultaneously with his job as NSA director at Fort Meade, Md.

Senator Carl Levin, D.-Mich, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said that no government or economy is more dependent on the Internet than the U.S., which makes it the most vulnerable country to cyber attacks. He called for the U.S. to tread carefully.

“Responses and initiatives in cyberspace could have extremely broad and damaging consequences,” he warned.

At one point, reflecting how behind the curve Congress is toward cyberspace oversight and regulation, Sen. John McCain asked the spy chief to provide the committee a “laundry list of what needs to be done” so that Alexander would be protected “constitutionally” once CYBERCOM gets underway.

Alexander said he intended to shift cyber security focus from a defensive posture to a more offensive approach. He pointed to the evolution of tactics from simple communications jamming to more complex electronic attacks.

“I believe a cyber war could exist,” he said. “Not in and of itself, but as part of a larger military campaign.”


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