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Dec. 4, 2014
Notes from the Pentagon

China a cyberwarring state
China’s strategy of large-scale cyberattacks is motivated mainly by the goal of keeping the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in power, in addition to gaining economic secrets and planning cyberattacks in a conflict, according to a new report by the Center for a New American Security.

“The primary driver for China’s network security strategy formulation remains the maintenance of CCP governing power,” the 38-page report by the centrist think tank concludes.

The report, “Warring State: China’s Cybersecurity Strategy,” is the first public assessment of China’s strategy for cyberwarfare and cyberspying, a problem that has grown in intensity in recent years as U.S. government and private networks have been victimized by large-scale data theft attributed to Chinese civilian and military hackers.

The report title refers to the roughly 260-year period in Chinese history called the Warring States Era that ended around 221 BC. The period produced military strategists whom Chinese military theorists still revere today. For example, the period produced the concept of “assassin’s mace” weaponry that allows a weaker power to destroy a stronger one. Chinese military theorist regard cyberwarfare as an assassin’s mace weapon.

U.S. policymakers must understand this strategy when adopting policies aimed at mitigating the threat of cyberattacks and cyberespionage, states the report written by Amy Chang and based on a Chinese government and military writings.

Ms. Chang, a CNAS research analyst, said she thinks the prime mover for aggressive Chinese cyberattacks is the need to preserve the Party’s monopoly on power, along with other economic, military and foreign policy goals.

“In revealing China’s cybermotives and explaining its behavior in this lens, U.S. policymakers have a solid foundation from which they can tailor their solutions, impose costs, or engage in negotiations with China,” she said.

China cut off talks with the U.S. on cyber issues after the May 1 U.S. indictment of five Chinese military hackers. China also has sought to exploit disclosures in top-secret documents obtained by renegade National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden revealing U.S. cyberoperations against China.

Adm. Mike Rogers, commander of the U.S. Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency, told Congress last week that China and two other states are capable of knocking out critical U.S. infrastructure with cyberattacks.

The CNAS report suggests that the Obama administration’s policy of seeking to counter widespread and damaging Chinese cyberattacks through promoting adherence to international norms and rules for behavior in cyberspace likely will be difficult.

“China has been actively promoting a counter-narrative: Justifying stringent Internet controls through propaganda, denying involvement or accountability in cyber espionage, and accusing the United States of committing similar actions against China,” Harvard Professor Joseph S. Nye, stated in a foreword to the report.

Many in the U.S. government and military regard Chinese cyber attacks as specifically targeting U.S. networks and related interests, the report notes.

“In reality Chinese aims are more diffuse, comprehensive and based on domestic concerns,” the report states, adding that China only will agree to adopt international norms for cyberspace if doing so would support efforts to legitimize the Communist Party and assist it in maintaining internal political controls.

The objective of cyberprograms is to ensure domestic stability, territorial integrity, modernization and economic growth “while simultaneously preparing for the possibility of militarized cyber conflict in the future,” the report said.

All those objectives “directly or indirectly support the continuation of CCP rule,” the report says.

In addition, China’s rulers are using cyberespionage to boost economic growth and to “signal dissatisfaction with foreign powers over developments outside of China, such as maritime territorial disputes, foreign allegations of Chinese hacking activity, that negatively affect China’s reputation,” the report says.

Another key objective of Chinese cyberoperations is to promote controls over the Internet for domestic-surveillance purposes by advocating national sovereignty over the Internet within China.

The report also states that China’s implementation of cyberstrategy is “fragmented” and “disorganized” because of bureaucratic competition for resources and struggles for influence over policies.

Despite Chinese denials of cyberattacks, U.S. private security firms have identified “a sophisticated level of network attack operations used against government, industrial, commercial, and even political targets from PLA-affiliated entities,” the report said, using the acronym for the Chinese military, the People’s Liberation Army.

Russia is continuing to move large numbers of troops and forces into eastern Ukraine in what U.S. intelligence agencies have reported internally is an ominous military buildup.

Defense officials with access to intelligence reports said concerns were raised during the Thanksgiving holiday that some type of Russian military operation would take place while many in the U.S. were busy enjoying turkey dinners. So far, no military operation has taken place but the signs of a coming Russian military strike are growing.

Currently more than 7,000 Russian troops are deployed inside Ukraine, along with more than 100 tanks, including 40 advanced T-90s. The Russians also have some 400 armored vehicles and 150 self-propelled artillery and multiple rocket launchers in the eastern Ukraine.

Near the border, Russian forces have 40,000 troops, 350 to 450 tanks, 1,000 infantry vehicles and 800 self-propelled artillery and rocket launchers.

Additionally, Moscow has air-assault units and helicopter gunships near Ukraine and large numbers of both strategic and tactical warplanes, including Tu-22 Backfires, Tu-95 Bears, Tu-160s Blackjack bombers along with strike squadrons of Su-34 and Su-24 jet fighters.

Missile forces within striking distance of Ukraine include several battalions of SS-21 and SS-26 short-range missiles believed to be equipped with cluster munitions and thermobaric warheads.

NATO commander Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove said in Kiev last week that Russian forces inside eastern Ukraine were helping arm and train separatist rebels.

The White House, however, is continuing to delay the dispatch of urgently needed U.S. weapons to the Ukrainian military. Kiev’s forces suffered major losses during Russia’s last offensive against the eastern part of the country in August.

According to defense officials, White House national security adviser Susan Rice repeatedly turned down Ukrainian appeals for arms because of concerns the shipments would appear escalatory.

The Ukrainian government has asked the U.S. military to provide TOW-2 anti-tank missiles, and shoulder-fired Javelin anti-tank missiles to counter Russian tanks, many of which are equipped with reactive armor that explodes outward when struck, thus preventing Ukraine’s current anti-tank forces from taking out the armor.

Asked about sending U.S. arms to Ukraine, Pentagon Press Secretary Adm. John Kirby told reporters Tuesday that reviewing arms requests from Kiev is “an ongoing process.”

“It is something that we continue to consider in the interagency, not just here at the Defense Department,” Adm. Kirby said. “There is an ongoing interagency review process of Ukrainian requests for military assistance. Right now the focus of that remains on the nonlethal side.”

Adm. Kirby suggested U.S. arms would escalate the conflict. “We have to be mindful that in meeting requests, that we don’t do anything that makes the situation worse or more tense or escalates the tensions already in the region, and I think that’s really where the focus is with respect to considering that request for stuff,” he said.

National Security Council spokesman Mark Stroh declined to say why TOW-2s and Javelins are not being sent. In an email to Inside the Ring he said the White House is “constantly assessing and reassessing our policies” toward Ukrainian arms requests.

“We continue to believe that there is no military resolution to the crisis,” he said. “Therefore, our focus from the outset of the crisis has been on supporting Ukraine and on pursuing a diplomatic solution that respects Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

U.S. support so far has included $116 million in security aid, all of it of the nonlethal sort — body armor, helmets, vehicles, night and thermal vision devices, heavy engineering equipment, advanced radios, de-mining equipment, patrol boats and other equipment.

Phillip Karber, a former Pentagon official who has traveled several times to Ukraine in recent months to study its armed forces’ needs, said the Ukrainians need western arms.

“The administration has been cautious, concerned about escalation, but moving in the right direction with respect to assisting Ukraine,” Mr. Karber, a Georgetown professor and Pentagon adviser during the Reagan administration, said in an email.

“Russia is building offensive ‘military options,’ and we need to help Ukraine offset those options with lethal defensive weaponry like — mobile [Humvees], dual-warhead Javelin and TOW II anti-tank guided missiles, high altitude reconnaissance UAVs, and long-range counter-battery radar to offset Russian deployment of heavy artillery and multiple rocket launchers into the Donbas area,” Mr. Karber said.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz.

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