Information Warfare: Fear What You Wish For

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August 11, 2021: Over the last two years all the attention focused on a virus research center in Wuhan, China while not noticing the recent completion of a new Cyber War facility, the huge National Cybersecurity Talent and Innovation Base. This 38 square kilometer (15 square miles) complex had been under construction since 2017 and consolidates dozens of military and civilian Cyber War organizations into one place, which is called the NCC (National Cybersecuity Center) for short and includes ten separate Cyber War and Cyber Security operations in one place. This is part of an effort to create a center for innovation as well as university level education programs for officers and civilians. China has been establishing this higher education for Cyber War professionals over the last decade to train computer security professionals for the military. While much publicity is given to the Chinese success in hacking Western military, government and commercial networks, there is less publicity given to the vulnerabilities of China’s growing dependence on similar networks and problems in developing adequate defenses. Many of the Chinese hacking efforts against Western security agencies sought to find out the status of covert cyber intelligence operations against China. This made China aware of how dependent they were on Western-developed software and Internet security techniques. China has made no secret of its goal to achieve military superiority in development of offensive and defensive Cyber War capabilities as a way to neutralize the many superiorities Western military organizations still possess.

The NCC is also an effort to solve a worldwide problem of training enough network security professionals to protect national network security as well as supply the military with similar professionals dedicated to unique military needs. China is suffering a growing labor shortage in the military and the civilian economy because of three decades of energetic population control measures which slowed population growth and produced something new in China; an educated middle class. This phenomenon began in the United States after World War II when the GI Bill educational benefits created, in a short time, a huge number of college-educated Americans to fuel a huge technological and economic boom. One of the side-effects of this was that it established English as the international language of technology that produced the primacy of computers and software in the economy and popular culture. China was way behind in providing advanced education to most Chinese, while catching up required prosperity and more Chinese who could at least read and write English, which had become the language most software was written in. China began closing the education gap in the 1990s and the government made it possible for the best students to study at American and other Western universities. That did not work out as well as expected because many of these English-speaking Chinese computer experts stayed in the United States, where individuals with the right technical skills and entrepreneurial spirit could start new companies and become fabulously wealthy. For the Chinese non-entrepreneurs there were more opportunities to get a better paying and more interesting job in the United States and the rest of the West than back home. For over a decade China has been striving to reverse that process, with limited success. Those new Chinese university grads studying in the United States eventually got older and discovered that the China they left had not really changed its ancient ways despite all the new prosperity and a wealthy Chinese middle class. Worse, the new China was depending on aggressive nationalism to maintain popular support for the Chinese police state. This was a China that was becoming more like the imperial system that was overthrown in 1910 only to reemerge less than a century later as a wealthy fascist dictatorship led by the unelected chairman of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party). Overseas Chinese note that the CCP insists that soldiers swear an oath to protect the CCP, not the Chinese people.

The new Chinese empire has problems with finding enough capable officers and technical specialists to maintain the most powerful military China has ever possessed. The primary tool of control is information, which travels faster than ever before and is difficult for the Chinese rulers to control. The Westerners developed a new communication technology (the Internet) that was designed to resist all manner of attacks and efforts to establish central control. China has become obsessed with taming this Western beast that has brought China so much prosperity while also threatening the new imperial rule in ways past Chinese rulers never had to deal with. The new NCC is all about taming the beast so that it becomes a decisive weapon for China rather than a growing threat to Chinese imperial ambitions.

In some categories the NCC makes sense because it produces more Internet security professionals. Hackers don’t have to be encouraged, that comes naturally because hacking has more natural appeal to young and ambitious people with the right tech skills and not enough opportunities to profit them economically. That’s why Russia became a leader in Cyber Crime after the collapse of communism in Russia and Eastern Europe between 1989 and 1991. Suddenly thousands of very bright and formerly well taken-care of scientists and engineers in formerly communist countries were out of work and many realized that there were tremendous economic opportunities for the ruthless in the dark side of their technology. Criminal gangs in former communist nations noted the same thing and these former communist nations became the birthplace of professional, organized and very profitable Internet hacking. China has to build this capability, which made it easier to control even the outlaw hackers by providing a sanctuary in China in return for carrying out less profitable, but more valuable to the government, efforts against Western governments. The Chinese have a long tradition of organizing and building on new concepts, like a trained government bureaucracy in the form of the Mandarin system, where entry was via competitive tests that enabled only the most able Chinese to attain lucrative jobs in the government. Unfortunately, the Mandarin system was not an agent of change but of maintaining what already existed. China still suffered revolutions and attacks from more entrepreneurial foreigners, like the Mongols and then the technologically adept West. The NCC means to capture lightning in a bottle and make a tool of the state rather than a threat. This might work, or became another example of “be careful what you wish for…”.

 


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