Is a healthy shot of hysteria over Chinese cyberspying just what’s needed?

Few countries do hysteria as well as America. It’s in the blood. From the Salem Witchtrials to the Red Scares, it’s a talent. So it’s no surprise there is has been a shudder of hysteria in the recent reporting about Chinese hacking of US weapon secrets.

First The Washington Post reports that China has access to a cache of American military secrets. Then the Pentagon downplays the report

The truth is probably somewhere between the two reports. But to be honest, a certain amount of alarm is overdue, especially after decades of complacency about China. Obviously, something is amiss.

The free-trade Utopianists fought to liberate China with most-favored nation status. The thought at the time was that it would, for US business, open whole new vistas of profits. Free minds would follow free markets, I seem to remember hearing from a pre-9/11 America, whose cocksure business lobby was firmly in the driver’s seat of government and much of society.

A decade after China’s accession to the WTO, things haven’t worked out as planned.

Human rights have not marched forward in China – but let’s face it: US business could have lived with that outcome.

Instead, in 2013 Chinese authoritarian capitalism poses a direct challenge to Western business and government. It’s one thing for Western business to have trouble profiting from China, it’s quite another for the Chinese model to threaten the system upon which Western capitalism is based on.

When all blueprints and trade secrets stored on computers are up for grabs by Beijing to be incorporated into the goal of advancing China’s progress (or resumption of their premier place in world affairs – as they see it), it really raises the question of how the US business, but also government and people, will respond.

Looking at tech, David Gewirtz at ZDNet is on to something in his description of the cyberspying of the Chinese as consistent with ancient Chinese notions of war. Give Gewirtz credit for pulling together the strings on this:

“The skillful leader subdues the enemy’s troops without any fighting; he captures their cities without laying siege to them; he overthrows their kingdom without lengthy operations in the field.”

Sun Tzu repeats over and over the idea that once you get to shooting, you’ve given up your advantage. His entire strategic treatise is fighting the war before you fight the war.

Sound familiar? It sure seems like China is engaging in this cyberwar strategy using the Sun Tzu playbook.

And credit to Gewirtz here, too, for wrapping in an example from Battlestar Galactica. (It’s also interesting to read Gewirtz’s views on Chinese cyberprobing in light of the Senkaku-Diaoyu naval adventurism by the China). 

At this point, the reader may say: but the US hacks, too. True. I break out the difference between the Chinese strategic model and the US model here.

Given all of the above, US business, technology, and government must quickly learn something essential. If you want to effectively counter the China model: more of the same won’t work. More of the same, privatizing losses attributed to cyber theft, hiding them from the public, while socializing the risks for the economy and by extension the society won’t work.

And remember, the goal is not for the US economic empire to be “number one,” in anyone’s books. The goal is for the US republic to not get pinned down economically, technically, politically and have to answer to a foreign power wanting to revive an ancient order.

So the world will be watching to see if Obama shames Xi Jinping at their meeting next week in California. As Michael Auslin, from the AEI writes, it’s time to end the abusive relationship between China and the US.

Washington needs to admit that it is in an abusive relationship, and then find the courage to protect itself against further mistreatment.

In an ironic manner, Auslin, who proposes some decidedly non-free-tradey solutions including sending some “viruses back” to China, questions just what kind of relationship the US is fostering with China.

China’s top military leader told U.S. National Security Adviser Tom Donilon that Beijing wanted to create a “new type of major power relations.” Apparently that new relationship entails robbing your partner blind of his most sensitive secrets, then welcoming him for tea while mouthing nostrums about good fellowship.

There is a challenger out there, Uncle Sam, already as big and strong as you. So this is real, Uncle Sam: What are you going to do about it? A tinge of alarm is only necessary.

The China Spy hysteria

Here is an example of a nascent China spy hysteria in the US, or at least a rise in interest in Chinese espionage cases – whether online or not – following the Mandiant story in the New York Times.

The case of the Chinese citizen Sixing Liu who was put away for 5 years and 10 months for taking files about restricted US military technology to the US … “illustrates what the FBI calls a growing ‘insider threat’ that hasn’t drawn as much attention as Chinese cyber operations.”

“But U.S. authorities warned that this type of espionage can be just as damaging to national security and American business.”

Key quote from Washington Post article:

In the past four years, nearly 100 individual or corporate defendants have been charged by the Justice Department with stealing trade secrets or classified information for Chinese entities or exporting military or dual-use technology to China, according to court records. A number of other cases involving China remain under seal, according to the Justice Department.

Note that the US, as a culture, is prone to hysteria. Which means that once the lid is off, the issue could quickly take on a momentum of its own. Stay tuned…

Mandiant/Unit 61398 Hysteria and what comes next

What comes next from America after the revelations about the People’s Liberation Army’s Unit 61398?

How about a little healthy outward-facing hysteria? 

Maybe the question Americans should rightly be asking themselves is.. How do I know the  People’s Liberation Army Unit 61398 isn’t the cause of my slow computer? Are Chinese hackers causing the lights to flicker? Have PLA hackers stolen and bootlegged my Power Point presentation? Maybe they have.

Even if they haven’t, the PLA’s cyber attacks to steal intellectual property are real. People will say, all countries hack each other. But the difference between the US and China is that the US government is not using cyber attacks to pinch intellectual property. Just imagine the outrage if the US Army had a division that was surreptitiously illegally downloading all the designs and plans it could from companies located in commercial rivals of the US. But evidence shows the PLA systematically hacking all the intellectual property they can, to pass it on to industries, over whom the Communist Party of China has the final say. Is this again another example of how the Chinese system operates, in which those in power sit in government and deal themselves the best hands, passing along the IP to their circle of friends? Whatever the nature of China’s systematic rip-off of US inventions, it’s not the American Way. It’s nothing like the American Way. In fact, it’s entirely antithetical to the notions of invention and property rights and competition that are dear to America. Because it’s a threat to the US projected directly into the US, the China Challenge must be addressed. China, through its scale and determination to influence the way of the world, represents a threat to American values in commerce, trade, diplomacy, state-craft, design etc. Sounds like a great a challenge for American politicians. My question is: where are the Republicans on this? Weren’t they the hawks during the Cold War? So I ask, where is the hawkish party on this? A party, coincidentally in need of a huge galvanizing issue or two in order to rediscover their relevance in American politics. Here is a galvanizing challenge that affects many aspects of America, a huge force that is exploiting America’s openness. Even the measure Obama proposed today are being criticized as too tepid by Jason Healey of the Atlantic Council’s Cyber Statecraft Initiative. Who dares talk about freezing assets of companies and organizations involved in this kind of hacking? Who dares block relevant Chinese nations from activity in the US because of their hacking? Not these Republicans. If you want to know where the Republicans are as the Chinese seek to displace the US, the Republicans are busy delaying the nomination of Chuck Hegel until they can be sure he has the right stance on Iran and Israel.

Guys, Iran, for all of its risks, is not a risk to America that China is. China has the power to challenge America in unimaginable ways, starting with economic prowess.

And that’s why just a scintilla of hysteria could be a good thing. People need to realize doing nothing about China is not going to make the problem go away. Doing nothing about China is not an option.

So for a rough draft of contemporary history, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Mandiant report pushes Americans, well, back into their own arms. One of the first major events, following the end of historical Cold War, that forces Americans to seek the Other not across the aisle in Congress, or the radio waves of talkback programming, but abroad, in another nation, whose government, not to mention people, have the goal of ushering the US into strategic decline.