- The Washington Times - Friday, June 22, 2007

China cyber-war

Defense officials say new intelligence on China’s cyber-warfare capabilities has triggered a major reassessment of Beijing’s ability to penetrate and attack U.S. and allied defense computers. The intelligence also is prompting a reassessment of past intelligence shortcomings on the subject.

“There appears to be a systematic underestimation by the U.S. intelligence community of the Chinese offensive cyber-warfare threat that is only now being understood,” said one official.

China’s cyber-warfare capabilities are being reassessed comprehensively, officials said.

Chinese-origin computer attacks are widespread and are detected regularly in the thousands by defense security officials. But the difficulty in identifying specific attackers has led to playing down the Chinese military role in the attacks by officials seemingly more interested in developing closer ties to China.

Some details of the new China cyber-threat were disclosed to Congress recently by Richard Lawless, deputy undersecretary of defense for Asia.

Mr. Lawless told the House Armed Services Committee on June 13 that China’s military “is making significant strides in cyber-warfare, moving from solely defending PRC networks from attack, to offensive operations against adversary networks.”

The Chinese military has “developed a very sophisticated, broadly based capability to attack and degrade our computer systems and our Internet systems,” he said. The computer warfare effort by China is focused on penetrating U.S. networks to disrupt them, stealing information, “as well as computer network attack programs which would allow them to shut down critical systems at times of contingency,” he said.

“First of all, the capability is there. They’re growing it; they see it as a major component of their asymmetric warfare capability,” Mr. Lawless said.

The new intelligence contradicts assessments by U.S. intelligence staff analysts and contractors who for the past several years have sought to minimize Chinese cyber-warfare capabilities, claiming the Chinese military is not capable of waging computer warfare or has no intention of doing so.

Officials said there are now suspicions involving a major compromise of U.S. command and control technology to China that investigators fear will allow military hackers to attack critical U.S. military communication nodes with relative impunity. The compromise is linked to the case of a Taiwan-based arms dealer named Ko-Suen “Bill” Moo, who was convicted last year of supplying weapons and technology illegally to China and who was involved in an earlier sale of a U.S. command, control, communications and intelligence system to Taiwan.

China-terror link

A State Department official, commenting on the report in this space last week on new intelligence showing China is shipping arms to insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan through Iran, said the department had no information about direct shipments from China.

However, the official said the issue of Chinese arms transfer to Iran is a frequent topic of official talks.

“We have frequently raised with China concerns about its continued sale of arms to Iran, a state sponsor of terrorism and a proliferator of arms to non-state actors,” the official said.

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