Monday, September 10, 2007

YELLOW PERIL: PLA cyberwarrior lore and the Pentagon

"It will be the acme of skill to defeat the prideful military of the Americans through the righteous uniting fists of stealthy digitized roaming mobile code."

-- People's Liberation Army military theorist Fu Man Tzu in "Cyber-Wars Like Grains of Sand," translated by China scholar, Hue Pflong Pu, Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"Unnamed Pentagon figures continue to get big ink for their thesis that Chinese military cyber assault is a threat of trouser-moistening magnitude," reported Lewis Page skeptically at the Reg today.

"Last week's media bandwagon, initiated after Financial Times hacks in Washington obligingly got things rolling, is now thundering along unstoppably as foaming tech-dunce scribes pile aboard.

"On Friday it was [The Times of London's] turn to play ventriloquist's dummy.

" 'Chinese military hackers have prepared a detailed plan to disable America’s aircraft battle carrier fleet with a devastating cyber attack, according to a Pentagon report obtained by The Times,' " says the Thunderer."

Read the entirety here.

Last week your friendly neighborhood GlobalSecurity.Org Senior Fellow was contacted by a journalist from an English-speaking Asian radio station. The enterprising fellow wanted to know what was going on between alleged Chinese cyberwarriors and the Department of Defense.

DD told him that -- historically speaking -- Chinese cyberwarriors have regularly been "seen" to invisibly smite the Pentagon.

Going back ten years, one is not challenged hard to find anonymous sources in a variety of news stories pumping up a cyberwar said to be prosecuted by the PLA.

It's a wearisome beat.

DD learned to ignore it some time ago and even to make fun of it at VMYTHS.COM where the Chinese were in the press so much we made a joke of it, referring to the menace as "the Chinee."

The stories on "the Chinee" are always the same.

Anonymous sources insist some Pentagon network has had its intellectual treasure stolen or something bad but invisible done to it. There may be some nugget of truth in the thicket of produced claims but it is impossible to get at because no one comes clean and the journalism is so lousy. Sources have always tended to either be exaggeraters or simple dissemblers passing on nebulous gossip. When attempts are made to nail down claims with verifiable details, they blow away like leaves in the wind.

In such stories there is always said to be evidence of a new dawning of digital warfare!

Reporters never look into Lexis to see how insubstantial and repetitive the memes are, how deadening the scripts recited by the anonymous. Last week was no different. The journalist who wanted to question me had his own thesis about what was going on. It was so compelling I have forgotten the details of it.

DD's mind carelessly wandered while the current truth was being explained to him.

Should I water the hanging plants on the patio at once or wait another day?

But the Chinese? Oh, yeah. Whatever you say, guy.

DD has dredged up some old stuff from VMYTHS and the electronic Pearl Harbor archive to illustrate the inanity of the Chinee-on-the-digital-attack meme.

From late 2001 at Vmyths:

At the rate of about once a week, sometimes even more, the Chinee will be accused of doing something vague but bad in the mainstream press.

The Sunday, July 22 edition of the Washington Times rolled out a general from Chancre Jack China (Taiwan) to accuse Commie China of planning to use weapons that have never been demonstrated to exist — "Electromagnetic pulse missile warheads that can disrupt the electronics of weapons systems by creating an electronic shock," computer viruses, which do exist, but which allegedly "can be unleashed against both military and civilian computer networks, such as banking and stock market systems, to cause social unrest and create chaos," and the always popular sleeper agent, or spy "who could sabotage computer networks in wartime."

The primary target: Chancre Jack China. But America is in for its share of trouble, too, warned the Taiwanese fugleman.

The U.S. geo-political climate [then] more or less dictated that the designated enemy [was] China. How much substance [was] in the claims or if there [was] any at all, [was] beside the point.

In August of 2001, the Washington Times reported that "all intelligence services, including the CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency, and especially the National Security Agency, have launched major searches for [an] elusive computer hacker" named "Red Crack." [Stifle your urge to make a joke of the name or you'll be labelled as unserious.]

It was so decreed, the newspaper said, by unidentified officials from the Bush administration. Anonymous "Internet security specialists" were alleged to have implicated the clever "Red Crack" in cyberwars between the U.S. and the Chinee.

Close upon its heels, MSNBC added even more pages to the already thick book of nauseatingly unimaginative and repetitive text on the subject. Perceptively entitled "the U.S.-China Information War," it contained all the hackneyed usages, packaged as eye-opening revelations, common to the brand of literature.

For MSNBC's "U.S.-China Information War" you had your anonymous sources of alleged gravitas ("senior government and military officials"), your claims of plans to strike at electronic Mammon ("30 high-ranking [Chinese military] experts called for the development of weapons that can throw the financial systems and army command systems of the 'hegemonists', i.e., America into chaos") and the always trusty saw that computer viruses will be unleashed ("China appears interested in researching methods to insert computer viruses into foreign networks...")

It produced the silly expert, in this case Army analyst Tim Thomas, mildly infamous on for a Nineties article in Parameters magazine that crazily spoke of a Russian virus -- named 666 -- that could cause heart arrhythmia and nuclear missile silo operators said to be in training to resist telepathic attack by malicious computer program! (In the MSNBC report, the Russian 666 virus was no longer the object of interest. Now it was possibly Chinee network-striking "shock brigades.")

The story closed with a routine brag on the utter supremacy of U.S. cyberwar might, supplied by another pro forma anonymous source. "A high-ranking U.S. intelligence official says, U.S. info-war capabilities far outstrip those of China or any other potential adversary."

If that is not sufficient to tickle your funny-bone, consider the following excerpts from 1999, on Chinee cyberwarriors threatening US interests.

November 18, 1999: "Internet Warfare Concerns Admiral" was the title of an article by Bill Gertz of the Washington Times.

"The Pentagon's top intelligence official said yesterday that China's announced plans to conduct 'Internet warfare' poses a future threat to U.S. military dominance on the battlefield."

"We are clearly interested and concerned about this whole idea of information attack," said Vice Adm. Thomas Wilson, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), to Gertz for the Times.

Richard Allen, national security advisor during the Reagan administration, [was]produced as an expert on cyberspace and information warfare.

"Richard Allen . . . said the Chinese could inflict strategic damage from military-backed information warfare attacks."

"Mr. Allen said the recent computer attacks on the Pentagon by an Israeli hacker and two teen-agers in California would pale in comparison to a Chinese military computer strike."

"This is something about which we ought to be mightily alarmed," said Allen to the Washington Times.

A day earlier, Gertz had run with a story entitled "China Plots Winning Role in Cyberspace."

"It is essential to have an all-conquering offensive technology and to develop software and technology for Net offensives so as to be able to launch attacks and countermeasures on the Net, including information-paralyzing software, information-blocking software, and information-deception software," Gertz quoted a Chinese military publication as stating. Gertz neglected to mention that US Department of Defense printed and prints similar tripe fairly regularly -- and has done so for well over a decade.

Pentagon "anonymoids" showed up on schedule: "A senior Pentagon official said he was notified about the article, which has raised concerns among defense officials who see China's information warfare capabilities as a potential threat to U.S. civilian infrastructures . . ."

An "expert," "William Triplett, co-author of a book on the PLA," said: "All of this offensive-warfare talk, when China is not threatened by anyone, shows that the dragon is at the point where it doesn't have to hide its claws."

Then the scary hypothetical scenario of catastrophe was produced.

According to Triplett, "China could launch a devastating computer-run sabotage operation by attacking U.S. oil refineries, many of which are grouped closely together in areas of Texas, New Jersey and California."

"A [Chinese] computer attacker could penetrate the electronic 'gate' that controls refinery operations and cause fires or toxic chemical spills . . . "

An electronic Pearl Harbor primer on DD blog.


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