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.
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.
Defense officials said the Pentagon has intelligence showing China is supplying large quantities of small arms, ammunition, rocket-propelled grenades and components for roadside bombs to Iran and that some shipments were flown directly to Iraq and Afghanistan on Chinese transports.
China's government denied knowing about the shipments when questioned by U.S. officials and instead asked for additional intelligence about them.
The arms were requested by the Iranians, who asked that the serial numbers be removed to prevent tracing their origin. They were described by defense officials as late-model arms and U.S. Army specialists said they had been sent to the region in the past three months.
South Korea absent
A defense official said Pentagon officials and U.S. veterans are upset that South Korea's government prevented all official representatives from attending the June 12 Victims of Communism Memorial ceremony, despite the fact that 54,000 Americans died retaking the country from communist North Korea after its 1950 invasion. Some 224,000 South Koreans also were killed in the war.
More than 1,000 people, including many foreign diplomats, attended the unveiling of the monument to honor the estimated 100 million people who have been victimized by communism since the Bolsheviks first seized power in Russia in 1917.
"There was not a single representative from the Republic of Korea, Korean Embassy or Korean War Veterans Groups," said the defense official, who noted that organizers were told that embassy personnel could not attend.
The official said it appears that the current pro-North Korea government in Seoul is "so interested in appeasement they will dishonor their own war dead killed by communism both in the North and South, during the Korean War and since."
Army Maj. Gen. John K. Singlaub, a former chief of staff of U.S. Forces Korea, said the South Koreans' failure to send a representative was an insult.
"Of all the nations that were attacked and occupied by communists, the United States lost more people trying to retake that land for the South Koreans and we suffered greatly," Gen. Singlaub said.
A South Korean Embassy spokesman could not be reached for comment.
Meanwhile, China's communist government protested the memorial ceremony. Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters June 13 that Beijing said the United States should stop "making ideological judgments" about other nations.
The death toll from communism in China has been estimated at 19.5 million to 75 million.
Former Office of Naval Intelligence official Bruce Rule wrote to challenge Ed Offley's account of the sinking of the USS Scorpion in 1968 that killed 99 sailors.
Mr. Offley stated in his new book, "Scorpion Down," that among other evidence, two Navy officials told him they heard sonar recordings revealing that a Soviet submarine sank the U.S. submarine with a torpedo in an Atlantic underwater dogfight.
"Since I was head of the branch within ONI responsible for the analysis and final evaluation of all SOSUS data of interest from 1963 through 1992, I would have directed any such search and seizure effort, and I did not," Mr. Rule stated in an e-mail.
Mr. Rule said Mr. Offley's account is not true. The ONI never received sound surveillance system data on the Scorpion event, he said, and all data on "explosive/implosive acoustic events" relating to the Scorpion were detected by U.S. Air Force sensors in the Canary Islands and provided to a Navy board of inquiry.
c Bill Gertz covers the Pentagon. He can be reached at 202/636-3274 or at email@example.com.