WASHINGTON, March 13 (UPI) -- The U.S. military is creating cyberwarfare teams that could attack other nations if the United States is hit with a major cyberattack, a defense official said.
"I would like to be clear that this team, this defend-the-nation team, is not a defensive team," said U.S. Army Gen. Keith Alexander, who runs both the National Security Agency, protecting government communications and information systems, and the fledgling U.S. Cyber Command.
"This is an offensive team that the Defense Department would use to defend the nation if it were attacked in cyberspace," he told the House Armed Services Committee. "Thirteen of the teams that we're creating are for that mission alone."
His remarks were the first time the Obama administration has publicly acknowledged developing such cyberwarfare weapons.
The Defense Department is creating 40 of the special teams all told, Alexander said, with 27 supporting commands such as the U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii and the Central Command in Florida in their cyber-offensive capabilities.
Separate teams will focus on protecting the Defense Department's computer networks.
The teams are part of a broad government effort to defend the nation from destructive cyberattacks that Alexander said could, for example, cripple Wall Street trading or knock out electric power across a major region.
His testimony Tuesday came the same day James R. Clapper Jr., the top U.S. intelligence official, told the Senate Intelligence Committee a major cyberattack on the United States now posed the nation's most dangerous immediate threat -- more pressing than a terrorist attack.
It was the first time Clapper, the director of national intelligence, put a cyberattack at the top of his list of attack dangers.
It was also one of the rare times since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that intelligence officials have not listed international terrorism as the No. 1 danger facing the United States, The New York Times said.
Alexander told the House panel some cyberwarfare teams are already in place, focusing on "the most serious threats," which he did not identify.
He said a third of the forces, which officials say will total several thousand civilian and uniformed personnel, will be in place in six months and two-thirds a year later.
All 40 teams will be in place by fall 2015, he said.
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