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Feb. 23, 2012
Notes from the Pentagon

Chinese cyberattacks and electronic intrusions into U.S. computer networks in peacetime are part of the preparations for a future high-technology war against the United States, according to the U.S. Pacific Command’s new commander.

China's military also plans to disrupt U.S. military and civilian computer networks by attacking satellites in space, as well as ground-based networks, according to Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, who was confirmed by the Senate last week to be the next commander of the U.S. Pacific Command.

Adm. Locklear wrote in answers to questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee that cyberwarfare preparations by China’s People’s Liberation Army include “building capability to target U.S. military space-based assets and computer networks using network and electronic warfare.”

“The development of these wartime capabilities are the motivation for China’s efforts at peacetime penetration of U.S. government and industry computer systems,” the four-star admiral said.

“The theft of U.S. information and intellectual property is attractive as a low-cost research and development tool for China’s defense industry, and provides insight into potential U.S. vulnerabilities.”

It was the first time a senior military officer revealed China's military would conduct cyberattacks to disrupt or disable space systems used by the U.S. for strategic warfighting. Satellites are used by the military for numerous functions, from communicating with forces to guiding missiles and gathering intelligence.

“Overall, China’s development in the cyber realm, combined with its other anti-access/area denial capabilities, imposes significant potential risk on U.S. military activities,” Adm. Locklear said.

Adm. Locklear’s comments Feb. 9 were a rare public admission of what U.S. security officials have been saying privately for years. That is, China is engaged in pervasive warfare preparation against the United States through a combination of cyber and traditional military development.

Security officials said the Chinese goal for cyberoperations is twofold. The intrusions for more than a decade were successful in stealing valuable information useful for intelligence and economic benefit.

A more nefarious objective for the Chinese military’s cyberwarriors is the planting of electronic “sleeper agents” - difficult to detect software that rarely communicates with China but can be activated to sabotage the U.S. military during a crisis.

“China fully understands the critical importance of cyber as an element of modern warfare,” Adm. Locklear stated.

“Chinese military writing clearly shows that China views itself at a disadvantage in any potential conflict with a modern high-tech military, such as that of the United States.”

The latest U.S. military assessments of the war in Afghanistan show Taliban insurgents are facing dire problems.

Military officials with access to the assessments said the insurgency’s difficulties include internal political divisions over negotiations and splits between leaders and fighters in ways the Islamist group did not face in the past.

As one senior official put it, “Clearly the enemy is in deep [trouble].”

The Taliban no longer control key provinces, such as Kandahar and Helmand, after U.S. and allied forces systematically routed their strongholds.

Insurgents in the remaining areas where they are active also were angered over the decision by senior Taliban leaders to engage in negotiations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai 's government in Kabul. These insurgents are opposing talks as an un-Islamic compromise.

Many senior leaders have left Afghanistan for safe havens in Pakistan and elsewhere, leaving most of the junior leaders and their followers to fend for themselves against better equipped U.S. and allied forces.

Intelligence activities by Russia, China and increasingly Iran pose significant threats to the United States, James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, told Congress on Feb. 16.

“Russia and China are aggressive and successful purveyors of economic espionage against the United States,” Mr. Clapper wrote in testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“Iran’s intelligence operations against the United States, including cyber capabilities, have dramatically increased in recent years in depth and complexity.”

Together the three spy services “will remain the top threats to the United States in the coming years,” he said.

Army Lt. Gen. Ronald L. Burgess Jr., the Defense Intelligence Agency director who testified with Mr. Clapper, said Chinese intelligence services use “a variety of methods to obtain U.S. military technology to advance their defense industries, global command-and-control, and strategic warfighting capabilities.”

“The Chinese continue to improve their technical [intelligence] capabilities, increasing the collection threat against the U.S.,” Gen. Burgess said.

“The Chinese also utilize their economic collection to improve their economic standing and to influence foreign policy.”

Foreign spies are constantly developing new methods and technology targeting U.S. national security and economic data, information and infrastructure, Mr. Clapper said.

“The changing, persistent, multifaceted nature of these activities makes them particularly difficult to counter,” he added.

The “most menacing” spy threats in the next three years will come from cyberespionage against the government, businesses and universities, Mr. Clapper said, noting that many intrusions go undetected.

“Although most activity detected to date has been targeted against unclassified networks connected to the Internet, foreign cyberactors have also begun targeting classified networks,” he said.

A new area of concern is corporate supply chains and financial networks. Mr. Clapper said these targets “will increasingly rely on global links that can be exploited by foreign collectors, and the growing use of cloud data processing and storage may present new challenges to the security and integrity of sensitive information.”

China’s strategic nuclear missile forces are expected to double in size by 2025, according to the Defense Intelligence Agency director.

Army Lt. Gen. Ronald L. Burgess Jr., said in recent Senate testimony the current long-range missile arsenal that could deliver a nuclear warhead to the United States is “fewer than 50 ICBMs.”

Gen. Burgess said the strategic missile force “will probably double that number by 2025.”

Estimating China’s strategic nuclear warhead stockpile has been difficult, but most analysts place the number of nuclear warheads in the Chinese arsenal from 300 to 400.

A recent Georgetown University project that examined China’s underground nuclear forces, including some 3,000 miles of tunnels, estimated that based on the size of the facilities, China could have as many as 3,000 warheads. The study based its estimate on fissile material production within what the project called “The Great Underground Wall.”

Gen. Burgess also said China is modernizing its nuclear missiles forces by adding harder-to-hit road-mobile missiles and enhancing silo-based missiles. It is also building up nuclear-missile submarines.

The disclosure of China’s nuclear modernization comes as the Obama administration has directed the Pentagon to consider cutting U.S. strategic nuclear warheads to as low as 300.

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