Return to

May 9, 2012
Notes from the Pentagon

Aggressive Chinese cyberespionage and digital warfare capabilities were major topics this week during talks between senior U.S. and Chinese defense officials.

Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Liang Guanglie said Tuesday that China is not behind the relentless wave of cyberattacks against the United States, a comment challenged by U.S. national security officials.

Gen. Liang said in response to a reporter’s question: “I can hardly agree with the proposition that cyberattacks directed to the United States are directly coming from China.”

He then insisted that, during earlier talks, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta “also agreed on my point that we cannot attribute all the cyberattacks to United States to China.”

In following what U.S. officials say is a “denial and deception” campaign, Gen. Liang said that China, too, is a victim of cyberattacks and all nations have an interest in stopping electronic attacks like those that use computers to steal money from bank accounts.

Gen. Liang said he and Mr. Panetta discussed ways their countries can “jointly work” to boost cybersecurity, although no details were mentioned and the technical issues will be left to “experts.”

Mr. Panetta then noted that both the United States and China have developed advanced technology in cyberwarfare and that other countries and computer hackers are behind attacks against both nations.

“But because the United States and China have developed technological capabilities in this arena, it’s extremely important that we work together to develop ways to avoid any miscalculation or misperception that could lead to crisis in this area,” Mr. Panetta said.

He was referring to the danger of a devastating future cyberwar that likely would involve crippling cyberstrikes to knock out military and civilian networks and infrastructure controlled by them.

Although less confident about cooperation, Mr. Panetta noted that he appreciated the general’s “willingness to see if we can develop an approach to having exchanges in this arena in order to develop better cooperation” when it comes to cyberattacks.

A U.S. official familiar with cyberwarfare capabilities said it appears the defense secretary was letting the Chinese military off the hook for its massive data theft and cyberwar activities as part of an effort to try to befriend Beijing's powerful military. Pro-China officials in the Obama administration apparently influenced Mr. Panetta to follow a script that says “any action to look out for U.S. strategic interests that even slightly upsets the partnership [is viewed] as ‘too escalating,’ ” the official said.

If Mr. Panetta doesn’t believe Gen. Liang’s assertions, “Panetta should be calling Liang out on it because Panetta knows Liang is lying for his country,” the official said.

“If Panetta believes Liang, he should know better and he is lying to himself and enabling [China].”

According to a Pentagon source, Chinese military visitors, as in past meetings, declined to discuss the People’s Liberation Army’s cyberwarfare capabilities during the meetings this week.

China’s cyberwarfare doctrine has been highlighted in numerous military writings, including a 2008 article by PLA Senior Col. Lin Shishan of the department that conducts cyberwarfare operations.

Col. Lin wrote that because of U.S. cyberweapons, “We must establish [the] information combat concept of ‘attack and destruction of systems’ and … look for crucial points in the architecture which will serve as precise attack targets paralyze the work of the systems and reach the goal of weakening and suppressing their ability to obtain information superiority.”

The Pentagon’s annual report on China’s military stated that in 2010 “numerous computer systems around the world, including those owned by the U.S. government, were the target of intrusions, some of which appear to have originated within [China].”

It noted that the methods of the intrusions and data theft “are similar to those necessary to conduct computer network attacks.”

The Pentagon is stepping up internal spying on employees to thwart foreign intelligence activities, according to a Defense Department directive issued May 4.

The memo, “Countering Espionage, International Terrorism and the Counterintelligence Insider Threat,” is signed by Michael G. Vickers, undersecretary of defense for intelligence, and requires all officials and military personnel to report “anomalies associated with [counterintelligence] insider threats.”

The Defense Intelligence Agency’s Defense Counterintelligence and Human Collection Center will run the CI Insider Threat Program to “identify and neutralize” foreign intelligence operatives. Counterspies will “review and evaluate reports that indicate a CI insider threat from an unknown [Department of Defense]-affiliated person … .”

The criteria for conducting mole hunts is information “based on a reasonable belief that a clandestine relationship exists or has existed between a [foreign intelligence entity] and an unidentified current or former DOD -affiliated individual.”

Auditing and monitoring of computer systems will provide clues to “prohibited activities, anomalous behavior and suspicious actions.” Also, Pentagon officials’ foreign travel and foreign contact reporting also is included, and polygraph or lie-detector tests will be used.

Seven former Vietnam War prisoners of war who were held and tortured at the notorious Hoa Loa prison, dubbed the Hanoi Hilton, met Tuesday on Capitol Hill to mark the publication of the book, “Leading with Honor,” by Lee Ellis, an Air Force F-4 fighter pilot shot down over North Vietnam and taken prisoner.

Mr. Ellis, now a leadership consultant, said the lessons of his more than five years as a prisoner before being released 39 years ago “are as relevant today as they were in the POW camps.”

During the ordeal, Mr. Ellis explained how most of the Americans held fast to principles of not helping the enemy.

He wrote that the POWs in Hanoi were disheartened by daily propaganda radio broadcasts that featured “regular” talks by Tom Hayden, then head of the socialist front group Students for a Democratic Society, whose wife, actress Jane Fonda, also was welcomed by the Vietnamese as part of the propaganda.

“We were able to endure … because we had great leadership; we had teamwork, and we had commitment to each other,” he said.

“Leading with honor is the one thing that can turn this country back to the way to we think it ought to be. Do the right thing for the country.”

Sen. John McCain, who wrote the book’s foreword and whose jet was shot down in 1964, days after Mr. Ellis suffered the same fate, told those gathered that Mr. Ellis‘ book is remarkable.

“The world continues to cry out for American leadership, as we watch thousands of people being slaughtered in Syria today and the absence of American leadership is conspicuous by its absence,” the Arizona Republican said. The former GOP presidential candidate took a shot at the Obama administration during his remarks. People in the Middle East and Afghanistan are afraid the United States is withdrawing, highlighting the need for greater U.S. leadership, he said.

He noted an interesting commentary on the lack of U.S. leadership came from a captured Taliban fighter who, while being interrogated by an American, remarked: “You’ve got the watches; we’ve got the time.”

“A very interesting commentary on the lack of American leadership,” Mr. McCain said.

Among the former POWs was 75-year-old retired Navy Cmdr. Everett Alvarez Jr., who was the first American POW in Vietnam and who endured eight years and six months in captivity.

Return to