Inside the Ring: Hagel releases cyber warfare plans to China

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Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced in China this week that he had authorized releasing details of the U.S. cyber warfare doctrine unilaterally to China in a bid to win similar cooperation from Beijing.

So far, China has not reciprocated in discussing one of its most secret operations — military cyber warfare programs to attack foreign computer networks for spying and sabotage, U.S. officials said.

U.S. cyber warfare operations are restricted under President Obama’s soft-line military policies, Mr. Hagel disclosed in a speech in Beijing.

Speaking Tuesday to People’s Liberation Army students at the National Defense University, Mr. Hagel said that, as part of a U.S.-China cyber working group, the administration has expressed “concerns about Chinese use of networks to perpetrate commercial espionage and intellectual property theft.”

But instead of pressing the Chinese to curb cyberattacks, the defense secretary said the Pentagon has sought to “be more open about our cyber capabilities, including our approach of restraint.” He said that, for the first time ever, the Pentagon had provided Chinese officials with a briefing on U.S. doctrine on cyber capabilities.

Asked about the briefing, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Damien Pickart said no classified information was disclosed to the Chinese at the briefing held in Beijing in December. The briefing was given by Christopher Painter, State Department coordinator for cyber issues, and Eric Rosenbach, then-deputy assistant defense secretary for cyber policy.

The Chinese were told about U.S. cyber warfare and defensive doctrine and policy, including a summary of Pentagon cyber operations and activities.

“The purpose of this briefing was to increase transparency of one other’s military cyber activities and intentions,” Col. Pickart said.

According to a summary of 10 points presented during the briefing, the two U.S. officials stated the U.S. and China both rely on cyberspace and thus should work to build “mutual confidence” by openness regarding cyber activities.

Both sides shared concerns about cyberattacks and penetrations of networks, and the U.S. officials said that without greater transparency, “this kind of behavior in cyberspace can be misinterpreted and escalate tensions,” according to the summary.

“It is in both countries’ interests to minimize the risk of destabilizing behavior in cyberspace,” the summary said.

According to Col. Pickart, the Pentagon gave the Chinese a “policy framework” of its cyber operations outlined in presidential and Pentagon strategies on the topic.

The briefing also sought to clarify the Pentagon’s roles and missions for operations in cyberspace, and it sought to provide China with an understanding of U.S. cyber organization and force development, including the creation of Cyber Mission Forces.

Col. Pickart did not disclose how the Chinese side responded, but another U.S. official familiar with the talks said China, as it has publicly, denied it engages in large-scale cyber espionage against U.S. government and private targets.

In fact, China in recent months has increased cyberattacks on the U.S., according to The New York Times, which first reported the cyber briefing on Sunday.

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About the Author
Bill Gertz

Bill Gertz

Bill Gertz is a national security columnist for The Washington Times and senior editor at The Washington Free Beacon ( He has been with The Times since 1985.

He is the author of six books, four of them national best-sellers. His latest book, “The Failure Factory,” on government bureaucracy and national security, was published in September 2008.

Mr. ...

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