NEWS AND ANALYSIS:
Russia and China are working against the United States around the world, according to a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) report.
“Moscow and Beijing share a common interest in weakening U.S. global influence and are actively cooperating in that regard,” the DIA’s first annual report on Russian military power says.
The military intelligence agency stated in the report made public last month that defense cooperation between Russia and China is slowly expanding along with economic ties. Russian officials, according to the report, frequently praise Russia’s ties with China, and Russian President Vladimir Putin has said the Beijing-Moscow ties are the closest in a decade.
“In fact, the Russian National Security Strategy lists developing a strategic partnership with China as one of Russia’s most important goals,” the report said.
Some in Russia, the DIA report noted, are concerned that the growing power disparity between the two countries and China’s increasing clout will render Russia a “junior partner” to the Chinese.
On the influence front, Russia recently joined China in proposing a halt to U.S. military exercises in South Korea as part of Beijing’s bid to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis. The Trump administration has rejected the deal as undermining the security of South Korea and American troops stationed there.
The report did not provide details of the growing military ties. But a separate report published in March by the congressional U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission reveals that the closer ties include increasingly complex Russia-China military exercises and sales of advanced weapons. That report warns that the joint cooperation has important strategic implications for American security interests in Asia.
The cooperation has involved sales by Russia of Su-35 fighter jets that began in December and transfers of advanced S-400 surface-to-air missiles for air and missile defense.
China also has gained from new and complex war fighting exercises and increased joint missile defense exercises.
Russia and China also are jointly developing a next-generation heavy lift helicopter and a Lada-class diesel electronic submarine. Defense cooperation also includes joint work on aircraft engines, rocket engines, satellites and advanced materials for space applications.
“Despite areas of tension and distrust in China-Russia relations since Beijing and Moscow normalized relations in 1989, the two countries’ militaries and defense establishments have steadily worked to minimize and overcome these differences and are now experiencing arguably the highest period of cooperation,” the congressional report says.
The growing defense ties do not bode well for U.S. security. “Russian arms sales to China and military-technical cooperation could have significant consequences for the United States, challenging U.S. air superiority and posing problems for U.S., allied, and partner assets in the region,” the report concludes.
Chinese information warfare
China is developing strategic information warfare capabilities combining cyberattack capabilities, information and political influence operations and electronic warfare targeting the United States, according to a Navy information warfare specialist.
“This is a geoeconomic and geoinformational struggle” between the United States and China, says Lt. Cmdr. Robert “Jake” Bebber, a former Cyber Command cryptological warfare officer now assigned to Carrier Strike Group 12.
“It is critical to recognize that [China] leverages the American system and its values legally (probably more so than illegally), to constrain the U.S. response, cloud American understanding, and co-opt key American institutions, allies and assets,” Cmdr. Bebber said in a recent series of articles in the journal of the Center for International Maritime Security.
“In many ways, the PRC approach being waged today is being hidden by their ability to work within and through our open liberal economic and political system, while supplemented with cyber enabled covert action, such as the OPM hack.”
Chinese cyberespionage has been blamed for the theft of 22 million records from the Office of Personnel Management. U.S. intelligence officials say the hack provided Beijing with a windfall of information to use in intelligence agent recruitment and future cyberoperations.
Cmdr. Bebber notes that China’s creation of a new military unit called the Strategic Support Force (SSF) is an umbrella for improving psychological warfare in the information sphere, along with increased space, cyberspace and the electronic warfare.
“The PLA’s information warfare strategy calls for its information warfare forces to form into ad hoc ‘information operations groups’ at the strategic, operational and tactical levels, and the establishment of the SSF will save time and enable better coordination and integration into joint forces,” he said.
China appears to be adopting the U.S. view of seeking information dominance in conducting joint warfare, and Chinese military writings call for attacking enemy information infrastructures to weaken the ability to retaliate.
In a future conflict with China, “we should expect to see full-scope network operations worldwide in pursuit of their interests, including in the American homeland,” he warns.
“The U.S. must evaluate how it is postured as a nation and whether it is prepared [to] fight and defend its information space, to include critical infrastructure, networks, strategic resources, economic arrangements and the industries that mold and shape public understanding, attitude, and opinion,” Cmdr. Bebber said.
For China, information warfare is a zero-sum competition with a clear winner and loser.
China “intends to be the winner, and it believes that the longer it can mask the true nature of that competition and keep America wedded to its own view of the competition as a positive-sum game, it will enjoy significant leverage within the American-led system and retain strategic advantage,” Cmdr. Bebber said.
NSA security faulted
The National Security Agency has failed to tighten its security against “insider” threats to its data and equipment despite the devastating compromise of its secrets in the case of renegade contractor Edward Snowden.
A declassified NSA inspector general report looked into the electronic intelligence agency’s “secure the net” initiatives at four locations: the Fort Meade headquarters, an NSA facility in San Antonio, the NSA Utah data storage center and a North Carolina State University laboratory.
“NSA’s actions to implement [secure the net] initiatives did not fully decrease the risk of insider threats or the ability of insiders to exfiltrate data,” the partially declassified IG report states.
NSA continues to be hit with security lapses. In June, Reality Winner, an NSA contractor working at a security agency center in Georgia, was arrested for improperly sharing a classified NSA document with the anti-secrecy website The Intercept.
Last August, a hacker group known as the Shadow Brokers revealed that it had obtained secret NSA hacking tools that were sold off and were used in a global ransomware attack in May. An NSA intelligence contractor, Harold T. Martin III, also was charged with mishandling some 50 terabytes of NSA data the same month.
The security audit was carried out in response to the Snowden leaks in June 2013 that involved the loss of 1.5 million sensitive or classified documents, the report said.
The report, dated August 2016 and made public in June, also faulted the agency for lacking a comprehensive strategy and plan to implement better security controls.
NSA was evaluating its security when Snowden fled to Hong Kong with the documents. After the theft, some steps were taken to protect infrastructure, systems and data against insider threats.
Forty “secure the net” initiatives were launched in June 2013, and the IG looked into seven of those, including a new system for system administrators; assessing the numbers of system administrators; requiring two-person access controls to data centers and machine rooms; using two-stage authentication for log-ins; and increasing oversight of NSA users.
The recommendations of the IG were heavily redacted, but included joint efforts by NSA’s director of the technology directorate to work with the security and counterintelligence director to deal with insider threats. The NSA was also directed to develop a strategy to deal with insider threats.
— Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz.