China conducting ‘pre-war recon’ on line

Sun Tzu would love the Internet

"A military operation involves deception." Therefore, "lure the enemy in with the prospect of gain; then take him by confusion," the old Chinese military strategist, Sun Tzu, advises in his famous Art of War treatise. There is hardly a more penetrating insight into China's dual programmes of seducing Western corporations into high-tech international commerce, with conditional technology transfers, while aggressively pursuing cyber-warfare and economic espionage capabilities via the Internet. These efforts have enabled China to obtain Western military secrets through commercial technology-transfer seduction, as revealed by the on-going criminal cases of Loral, Hughes, and most recently Lockheed Martin, which the US Department of State has just charged with 30 violations of arms export regulations involving Chinese satellite technology. And what China can't obtain with 'the lure of gain', or with more traditional, hands-on methods of spying, it gets from network intrusions carried out over the Internet, a number of military specialists believe. The goal is not just economic espionage and the theft of lucrative commercial technology, but also the ability to use information technology as a weapon capable of crippling an adversary's critical infrastructure. "China has the biggest [information warfare] programme from the standpoint of being able to attack our infrastructure," Chinese military specialist William Triplett said during an interview on the CBS News programme 60 Minutes this weekend. "It's inexpensive, and it's a way to get serious bang for the buck," he added. The Pentagon is worried. If an attack were carried out, even just a test attack, it's likely that it would go undetected and might well be attributed to equipment failure or some natural event, US Joint Task Force on Computer Network Defence Director General John Campbell pointed out. The Clinton Administration, too, is very worried about cyber-warfare, but inexplicably not at all worried about the People's Liberation Army. "What's going on throughout the world right now is cyber-war reconnaissance, where many nations -- at least a half dozen -- are scanning each other's networks to get a good map of where the key [assets] are, and what the key vulnerabilities are. So you might think of it as pre-war reconnaissance," White House coordinator for counter-terrorism and infrastructure protection Richard Clarke said during the same 60 Minutes story. This is something Master Sun recognised well. "Test them to find out where they are sufficient and where they are lacking," he recommends. "Be extremely subtle....extremely mysterious. Thereby you become the director of your opponent's fate." Surely, if the Internet had existed in the Fourth Century BC, Sun Tzu would have been it's most enthusiastic and skilful on-line warrior. Yet interestingly, Clarke got through his CBS interview, and earlier managed to deliver a 2500-word infrastructure security speech in October of 1998, without once mentioning China. In deference to his boss, China trade cheerleader Bill Clinton, Clarke chose by way of example a hypothetical cyber-extortion demand from "a Columbian drugs cartel," a non-controversial and universal bogeyman if ever there was one. It's a pity that one of the best-informed and most articulate voices in the field of cyber-warfare should be willing to kowtow to the White House's China-coddling politics, when the full story is so rich with implications in both the military and economic realms, and in the rapidly broadening region where the two overlap. It is difficult to reconcile the Administration's professed concern over information warfare with its blasé attitude towards the country that has, by all accounts, the most highly developed capability in that area, without recalling the large amounts of money funnelled from China into the Clinton/Gore re-election campaign. Perhaps it succeeded in buying a few bits of 'strategic ignorance' here and there. Of course, a comparable sum of Chinese money found its way into the Dole campaign as well, though this was never publicised as the Senator lost the race. Backing both parties is a simple and effective strategy. The Chinese don't care who wins the White House; they only care that whoever wins it should owe them something. So look for lots of dicey soft-money contributions from China to both parties during Campaign 2000, and subsequent White-house soft-pedalling of PLA naughtiness in favour of Islamic extremists and drugs cartels, regardless of who should win. ®

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