Intelligence: Unstoppable China

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November 25, 2009: Western corporations are increasingly alarmed at the extent and persistence of Internet based espionage coming from China. It has also  been known for years that similar efforts have been directed at government networks in North America and Europe. While government Internet security officials tend to be reticent about plans to deal with this espionage, their civilian counterparts are more outspoken. But these civilian Internet security firms agree that there's only so much they can do. Governments must do something to get the Chinese to stop. That has not been very successful, as China denies everything.

At the same time, China makes no secret of the fact that they intend to rely heavily on Information War in any future conflict. This is reinforced by the extent to which China has been using Internet based espionage to steal military secrets. China is also spending more, than any other nation, to develop ways to control Internet use. Up until now, that has applied only to Chinese Internet users, but many of those techniques can be used against other nations. Electronic warfare techniques (jamming, confusing and generally nullifying enemy electronic tools), first developed and used during World War II, are being adapted to Chinese needs.

While the details of Chinese military plans are secret, the general strategy isn't. The weapons, equipment and techniques the military uses, as well as discussions in professional journals, makes it clear how the Chinese plan to fight the United States in the next war. That's how many Chinese military experts describe it. The U.S. is the principal foe, and some kind of conflict is inevitable. All that may seem strange to Americans, but for most Chinese, it's just the way it is.

China plans to disrupt the American military, not destroy it. China takes for granted that they will be on the defensive, and forced to deal mainly with American air and naval forces. Methods discussed include attacks via the Internet (hacking and such) and electronic warfare (jamming and deceptions). China has been very active in controlling its domestic Internet users, and an increasing number of hacker attacks on U.S. military targets are being traced back to China. There, the government denies everything. Yet their professional journals talk about all the opportunities in this area. There are similar discussions of electronic warfare opportunities. In addition, the professional journals are full of exhortations to develop insights into the details of how the American armed forces operates, and adapt Chinese tactics to take care of any U.S. weaknesses.

These Chinese efforts are under the control of the highest military leaders and their staffs. All national resources (human and technical) are to be made available for this effort. This stuff is considered very important, and details are hard to come by. But if you look at the history of Information War, you can form some accurate ideas of how it will work.

 This sort of thing is nothing new in the history of warfare, and that's where the Chinese are coming from. The Chinese are big on learning from the past. It has, so to speak, often worked in the past. Chinese troops achieved some success with these traditional deception and Information War methods during the Korean War (1950-53), but their eagerness for outthinking the enemy has not resulted in any major battlefield successes for quite a while. Chinese military commanders are eager to change that. Only an actual war, or another revolution (that reveals their current secrets), will determine if the new methods might work.

Meanwhile, the Chinese threat is being addressed by U.S. government Cyber War organizations. As usual, there are not many press releases full of details, but it is known that America's premier Internet security organization, the NSA (National Security Agency) has been working closely with Microsoft, the manufacturer of the operating system used on some 90 percent of the world's computers, to increase security. At the same time, American military Internet security outfits continue to call for more aggressive responses. This debate is clouded by secrecy, including the need to go about these Internet counter-attacks in secrecy. So all we know for now is that there is an increasing call for stronger defenses, and a growing agreement that striking back has to be part of the defensive strategy. An old military axiom, "the best defense is a good offense," implies that the counterstrikes may already be under way. China continues to complain about attacks on their Internet based networks, and this may now be more reality, rather than just defensive propaganda.

 


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