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June 22, 2017
Notes from the Pentagon

Beijing fears anti-China sentiment in U.S. from Mueller investigation
The political hysteria sweeping Washington over allegations of Russian meddling in the presidential election is reverberating in China. The communist government is worried that a similar wave of anti-China sentiment will take hold in the United States.

According to China watchers in and out of government, what Beijing fears most is that special counsel Robert Mueller, the former FBI director, will add White House dealings with China to his investigation of Russian election meddling.

One main effort of the Chinese government is trying to tamp down the fallout from news reports that first surfaced in March revealing a company owned by the family of President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, was planning to sell a stake in a Manhattan skyscraper to the Chinese state-connected insurance company Anbang for $400 million.

The proposed sale of 666 Fifth Ave., reported by Bloomberg and The New York Times, has all the trappings of a Chinese influence operation designed to boost China’s access to Mr. Kushner, considered one of the president’s most influential foreign policy advisers and among those who favor conciliatory policies toward Beijing.

The proposed deal would give Anbang a piece of the property reportedly valued at $2.8 billion, considered high for New York real estate. The purchase plan called for Anbang to eventually take a controlling stake in the building and refurbish it with a $4 billion loan.

In November, Mr. Kushner was treated to an expensive dinner by Anbang Chairman Wu Xiohui at the Waldorf Astoria, bought by Anbang in 2014 for $2 billion. The sale put an end to the storied hotel’s use as a residence for visiting American presidents over concerns about Chinese electronic spying.

Mr. Kushner has recused himself from the dealings of the company, Kushner Cos., in November, and sold his interest to a blind trust, according to a spokeswoman. But the proposed Kushner-Anbang deal has not lessened speculation about conflicts of interest.

Mr. Wu is one of China’s “princelings,” as the offspring of wealthy elite Communist Party leaders are called. He is married to the granddaughter of the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping. In China’s system, such connections often produce vast wealth.

The controversy deepened last week when Mr. Wu suddenly disappeared from public view. Anbang issued a statement June 13 tersely saying Mr. Wu “is temporarily unable to fulfill his role for personal reasons.”

American China specialists say the action against Mr. Wu appears aimed at avoiding a political backlash against the perceived Chinese influence operation directed at the Trump White House.

Unlike Russia’s election operation that involved hacking and the dissemination of stolen emails, Chinese influence operations in recent years are aimed at American policymakers through the use of former officials, like former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and former senior military officers, like retired Adm. Bill Owens, a former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Mr. Trump met with Mr. Kissinger, who is said to be close to Mr. Kushner, in the White House on May 12 — coincidentally the same day the president met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russia’s U.S. ambassador, Sergey Kislyak.

Published leaks from the meeting with the Russians alleged that Mr. Trump disclosed classified information about Islamic State plots to use laptop computers as aircraft bombs. It was during that meeting that Mr. Trump also reportedly referred to fired FBI Director James B. Comey as a “nut job.”

Patrick Shanahan, nominee for deputy secretary of defense, revealed this week that the Pentagon is preparing to confront adversaries in cyberspace.

The threat posed by advanced cyberwarfare capabilities from American adversaries is increasing, Mr. Shanahan told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“We face significant and varied challenges in cyberspace,” he stated in written answers to policy questions posed by the committee. “Of primary concern are the threats posed by our key adversaries and strategic competitors, whose activities are increasing in complexity, severity and frequency, and who seek to use cybercapabilities to undermine U.S. military advantages.”

Mr. Shanahan favors responding to cyberaggression and hardening information networks and critical infrastructure against cyberattacks in a bid to create “cyberdeterrence.”

“We must do more to deter our adversaries in cyberspace,” he said. “We must convince our adversaries that they will suffer consequences that outweigh any potential gains from conducting cyberattacks.”

The Pentagon is conducting a review of options to improve cybersecurity and deter cyberattacks. The main cyberthreats are posed by China, Russia, Iran and North Korea, U.S. officials say.

Asked what would constitute an act of war in cyberspace, Mr. Shanahan said the president is responsible for such assessments.

“Malicious cyberactivity, however, does not require being deemed an ‘act of war’ to warrant a response,” he said. “I believe that context is important and that threatening cyberactivities should not be viewed in isolation.”

John Lenczowski, a White House National Security Council official during the Reagan administration, is urging the U.S. government to wage ideological war against Islamic terrorism and political jihadism.

“We have spent trillions in this country fighting Islamist terrorism as if it is a military problem,” Mr. Lenczowski, president of The Institute of World Politics, told the Senate Homeland Security Committee on June 14.

“This is like trying to eradicate mosquitoes by inviting your friends for a garden party, arming them with shotguns and shooting mosquitoes all afternoon. You’ll get a few.”

The problem is that jihadist ideology produces more terrorists dedicated to establishing a totalitarian caliphate worldwide.

“This is not a military problem — it is a political propaganda, ideological, cultural and religious doctrine problem,” he said.

The answer is to wage a “war of ideas,” but the U.S. government lacks ideological warriors in the fight, Mr. Lenczowski said.

Jihadis are migrating to non-Muslim lands and creating separatist enclaves under anti-democratic Shariah law, with the ultimate goal of political demographic conquest.

“Modern totalitarian Islamism, which incorporates Marxist-Leninist political strategy, forms the basis of the recruitment of new jihadists, both terrorists and resettlement jihadists,” Mr. Lenczowski said.

“Defeating this ideology requires an ideological counterattack based on superior moral precepts,” he said. “Above all, this requires telling the truth and ending self-censorship about radical Islamism and an information campaign exposing the ideology, exposing jihadists’ strategy, Shariah and the crimes of radical Islamist regimes.”

To better deal with the problem, the government should create a new public diplomacy office within the State Department, Mr. Lenczowski said.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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