Michael Hastings and Petraeus's EndGame solution. What was the General thinking?

In 2010, David Petraeus's four stars were ascendant. On his way to an eventual CIA directorship, he was head of CENTCOM, the premier combatant command within the armed services and arguably the current key stepping stone to the services on the Joint Chiefs of Staff or to Political Office. He was loved by the Bush administration as the architect of the surge in Iraq and entrenched enough to maneuver the Obama administration into a similar strategy in Afghanistan. He also may have been building a personal military empire that far exceeded the scope of his authority as CENTCOM commander.

While commander of CENTCOM in February 2010, General Petraeus's staff was engaging Endgame Solutions to provide offensive cyberwarfare capability. As was revealed in the HBGary emails garnered by LulzSec “While I was at their place getting briefed by Chris, Gen. Patraeus' [sic] exec called three times to set a follow-up meeting. It seems like there is plenty of interest in them.”

Little is known about EndGame Solutions, who are publicity adverse even by the standards of private military contractors, but it appears their core business area revolves around providing offensive cyberwarfare capability. In military terms, offensive cyberwarfare goes beyond spying and manipulation of public perception. Offensive cyberwar means actual physical destruction.

EndGame solutions provided a comprehensive and integrated suite of zero day exploits allow them to map and attack networks. This in turn opens the door to actual mayhem. If the attacked network is an office LAN, the data may be stolen or destroyed and productivity lost. When the attacked network operates a factory, or power plant, or canal locks, the prospect of actual mass destruction is not fantasy. The capability exists within this framework to not to access computers remotely or erase hard drives, but to physically destroy hard drives and render computers permanently inoperative. Attacked infrastructure such as a traffic or eve air traffic control system could be placed offline as effectively as if it was bombed.

The recent revelations by the Guardian newspaper of documents provided by NSA leaker Edward Snowden show that the authority to deploy offensive cyberwarfare systems and tactics is tightly restricted. Specifically the authority to engage in such actions rests with Agency heads, the Secretary of Defense and the President. Offensive cyberwar was secretly codified to be the prerogative the national command authority, not theater level combatant commander, despite the latter's jobs being subject to a congressional confirmation process.

Why was General Petraeus seeking a capability he had no statutory authority to use? Was it simply the command hubris? A new full combatant command, the United States Cyber Command, was in the process of being created at the time. USCYBERCOM was established in by order of the Secretary of Defense in June 2009 and was declared operational in May 2010 at a ceremony that General Petraeus attended.

Offensive cyberwarfare was already being carried out at the time by under the aegis of the National Command Authority within Petraeus's designated military fiefdom. At the time the Iranian nuclear program was being hit with what was arguably the worlds first fully functional offensive cyberweapon, a worm called Stuxnet. Stuxnet is believed have been developed in the United States sometime between 2005 and 2007 and versions have appeared that were updated through 2010. Israeli intelligence services were believed to have partnered with the United States to use their human assets in Iran to deliver the weapon.

Offensive cyberweapons are a strategic asset designed to strike at an enemy's homeland, civil infrastructure and industrial base, as would a bomber or ICBM. Further, although Iran is within the area of responsibility of CENTCOM, Israel is not. It appears that cyberwar had been initiated within Petraeus' area by authority of persons senior to him. Yet it also appears that he sought to acquire a capability independent of and parallel to an ongoing operation. Certainly this capability was not to be deployed against the Taliban, who have no power plants, air traffic control system or civil infrastructure worthy of a cyber strike.

At the time of Michael Hastings's death, the Free Press noted that all three of his known lines of journalistic inquiry lead to or through David Petraeus. Any article produced would likely be even more non-flattering than Hastings's previous article on the subject for Rolling Stone, entitled "King David's War.”

It's known that Hastings was in fear of investigation by the FBI and perhaps worse in the hours immediately before his death. It is not known why. Perhaps his notes were charred along with his body. Perhaps his sources(s) gave him no notes. Perhaps his notes or sources were capable of shedding light on why a theater level commander was endeavoring to appropriate a military capability reserved for the President.

The Free Press does not speculate, we investigate. And we will keep our readers posted as developments unfold.

Date Originally Published: 
Wednesday, June 26, 2013
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