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March 22, 2012
Notes from the Pentagon

U.S. intelligence agencies monitoring China’s Internet say that from March 14 to Wednesday bloggers circulated alarming reports of tanks entering Beijing and shots being fired in the city as part of what is said to have been a high-level political battle among party leaders - and even a possible military coup.

The Internet discussions included photos posted online of tanks and other military vehicles moving around Beijing.

The reports followed the ouster last week of senior Politburo member and Chongqing Party Secretary Bo Xilai, who was linked to corruption, but who is said to remain close to China’s increasingly nationalistic military.

Chinese microblogging sites Sina Weibo, QQ Weibo, and the bulletin board of the search engine Baidu all reported “abnormalities” in Beijing on the night of March 19.

The comments included rumors of the downfall of the Shanghai leadership faction and a possible “military coup,” along with reports of gunfire on Beijing’s Changan Street. The reports were quickly removed by Chinese censors shortly after postings and could no longer be accessed by Wednesday.

The unusual postings included reports that military vehicles were sent to control Changan Street, along with plainclothes police officers and metal barriers.

Another posting quoted internal sources as saying senior Communist Party leaders are divided over the ouster of Mr. Bo. The divide was said to pit Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and against party security forces and Minister of Public Security Zhou Yongkang.

Late Wednesday, another alarming indicator came when Beijing authorities ordered all levels of public-security and internal-security forces under Mr. Zhou to conduct nationwide study sessions, although Mr. Zhou’s name was not on the order - a sign his future may be in doubt.

Additional references on Chinese social media included vague mention of high-level party political struggles and related police activity in Beijing.

One posting referred to a mysterious atmosphere in Beijing and a reported shooting Tuesday night. The posting was quickly censored by authorities.

A defense official told Congress this week that Pentagon security efforts against hackers and other threats remain weak.

Kaigham J. Gabriel, acting director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, told a Senate hearing Tuesday that the Pentagon is “capability-limited in cyber, both defensively and offensively.”

“We need to change that,” Mr. Gabriel said.

He noted that most details of cybersecurity threats and efforts to counter them can only be disclosed at the “special-access level,” the most secret security classification.

However, in both public and prepared statements to the Senate Armed Services subcommittee on emerging threats, Mr. Gabriel issued unusually blunt criticism of Pentagon cyberwarfare programs, both offensive and defensive.

As for cyberdefenses, Mr. Gabriel revealed that “attackers can penetrate our networks.”

“In just 3 days and at a cost of only $18,000, the Host-Based Security System was penetrated,” he said.

Also, password security remains a “weak link.” For example, in security tests, 53,000 passwords were given to simulated hackers and, within 48 hours, 38,000 passwords were cracked.

Also, the defense supply chain is “at risk,” Mr. Gabriel said.

“More than two-thirds of electronics in U.S. advanced fighter aircraft are fabricated in off-shore foundries,” he said.

Additionally, physical systems can be penetrated easily by hackers. In one case, a smartphone hundreds of miles away took control of a car’s drive system through a security hole in its wireless interface.

“The United States continues to spend on cybersecurity with limited increase in security,” Mr. Gabriel said. “The federal government expended billions of dollars in 2010, but the number of malicious cyberintrusions has increased.”

Mr. Gabriel said the Pentagon has used a layered approach to protecting networks from attack that is not well-suited to dealing with evolving cyberthreats.

“Malicious cyberattacks are not merely an existential threat to [Defense Department] bits and bytes. They are a real threat to physical systems, including military systems, and to U.S. warfighters,” he said. “The United States will not prevail against these threats simply by scaling our current approaches.”

Regarding offensive cyberwarfare operations, Mr. Gabriel said the Pentagon “must have the capability to conduct offensive operations in cyberspace to defend our nation, allies, and interests.”

The Pentagon needs a full range of cybertools for offensive attacks to secure national interests.

“Modern operations will demand the effective use of cyber, kinetic, and combined cyber and kinetic means,” Mr. Gabriel said. He said the shelf life for such weapons may be “days” as defenses are devised or offensive attacks thwarted.

Cyberwarfare tools also can be adapted from intelligence-gathering methods, Mr. Garbriel said.

“Rather, cyber [warfare] options are needed that can be executed at the speed, scale, and pace of our military kinetic options with comparable predicted outcomes,” he said.

In criticism of current U.S. government squabbling over controls and structure, Mr. Gabriel said a better question to be asked once lines of authority are clarified is: “What now?” “The lack of capability is the overwhelming issue,” Mr. Gabriel said. “Further oversight strategies must be updated and be at pace with the threat.”

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz told the Senate this week that he is most concerned by China’s military integration.

Asked during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday about China’s aircraft carriers, stealth fights and advanced space programs, Gen. Schwartz said he is less worried about hardware than developments in joint-warfighting and electronic advances.

“I would say their areas, in not so much hardware, but in integration of electronic warfare techniques, of cyber capabilities and so on, with more traditional tools of the trade,” Gen. Schwartz said. “They are becoming more sophisticated in this respect, and that is the thing that I am paying the most attention to.”

China is rapidly building up its military forces to be able to conduct high-technology warfare using a combination of advanced conventional weapons and a growing arsenal of nuclear and non-nuclear strategic weapons.

They include new nuclear arms, multiple-warhead missiles, an advanced anti-ship ballistic missiles, anti-satellite weapons and cyber warfare capabilities.

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