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PLA Plans to Hack, Sniff, Explode

When one of China's top two military leaders visited America last month, the PLA launched an impressive and coordinated propaganda effort. Those who went to hear Gen. Xu Caihou speak at the Center for Strategic and International Studies were each given an attractive shopping bag with the PLA seal on it and a pointed note in gold letters: "with the compliments of the Ministry of National Defense, People's Republic of China." Inside was a copy of China Daily and the lead article, splashed across the top of the paper made the simple point: "Best Defense: Listening and Collaboration." The subhed: "Trust Becomes the Biggest Force in China-US Military Relations." Along with the paper was a copy of a book titled, "The Wisdom of Sun Tzu." And just to add a little grease to the pitch, the propaganda people include a set of ink drawings of China's 56 ethnic groups!

As Larry Wortzel, vice chairman of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission and one of the country's top experts on the Chinese military noted: "The PLA has a very impressive perception management operation. Their website is much better than it was. The public perception they portray is of a more open military."

Just as they integrate their propaganda efforts, so it turns out the Chinese have crafted an integrated approach to using cyber warfare, melding it with signals intelligence, electronic warfare and precision guided weapons in a new strategy called Integrated Network Electronic Warfare (INEW).

"This sort of multi-spectrum assault has potential implications that go well beyond the battlefield. Given the complex architecture of modern military command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) systems, there is little chance that cyber warfare would remain localized to a particular theater of conflict," Wortzel notes in testimony prepared for Tuesday's hearing before the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on homeland security and terrorism. Cyber attacks specifically targeting domestic civilian infrastructure cannot be ruled out..." he wrote, noting that such attacks are advocated by some Chinese military thinkers.

Given all this, I asked Wortzel about the deep chasm between the nice words spoken by Gen. Xu and the persistent and widespread attacks on US government and defense industry networks by Chinese sources. He discounted Xu's comments, saying one had to expect a visitor to say nice things the first time he comes to call. But he also warned that China's extensive hacking efforts -- including the recent ploy of dropping thumb drives around for Pentagon officials to pick up -- are extensive and intended to gather as much information as possible at the lowest possible cost.

"The first thing you have to realize is that a lot of what is going on now is reconnaissance and espionage. That helps them develop more quickly and helps them save a lot of money on research and development. What we don't know is what they leave behind in malicious code that they might activate later," Wortzel said.

More broadly, Wortzel said in his prepared testimony that the Obama administration needs to get moving on protecting US cyber assets. "President Obama made a good start with the 60-day cyber review earlier this year, but there still is no cyber security coordinator at the White House, as recommended by the White House review. Efforts to coordinate standards and policies across government and in the private sector appear stalled without the support of senior leadership in the National Security Council," he said in his prepared testimony.

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