In a country that houses nearly a quarter of humanity, minding the home front overwhelmingly dominates Beijing's time
Two items are worth highlighting that, upon quick glance, don't seem to have an obvious connection. But I actually think they should be contemplated in tandem for reasons I'll elaborate below.
First is the op-ed in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal from Richard Clarke -- former White House cyber-security czar who has served under several administrations. (And in the interest of disclosure, Clarke currently runs Good Harbor, a security risk consultancy.) The piece sounds the alarm on China's cyber assault on America:
In 2009, this newspaper reported that the control systems for the U.S. electric power grid had been hacked and secret openings created so that the attacker could get back in with ease. Far from denying the story, President Obama publicly stated that "cyber intruders have probed our electrical grid."
There is no money to steal on the electrical grid, nor is there any intelligence value that would justify cyber espionage: The only point to penetrating the grid's controls is to counter American military superiority by threatening to damage the underpinning of the U.S. economy. Chinese military strategists have written about how in this way a nation like China could gain an equal footing with the militarily superior United States.
What would we do if we discovered that Chinese explosives had been laid throughout our national electrical system? The public would demand a government response. If, however, the explosive is a digital bomb that could do even more damage, our response is apparently muted--especially from our government.
The Chinese are lobbing "digital bombs" at our power infrastructure, apparently. The first thing that came to mind was Die Hard 4: Live Free or Die Hard, in which the basic plot involved a disgruntled former Pentagon cyber genius that conducted an electronic "firesale," knocking out power systems and wreaking general havoc in our digitally connected world. Except in the film, the attack on the electricity grid was merely a diversion to obscure the real intent of executing a high-tech heist of Americans' financial data. The Chinese, on the other hand, aren't after the money but rather are focused on undermining "American military superiority," according to the piece.
I don't want to belittle the cyber-security issue by drawing Bruce Willis, Timothy Oliphant and Maggie Q into it. It is clearly serious, as evidenced by an uptick in reports of hacking incidents and Gmail troubles in China, among myriad other issues. The fact that Chinese cyber and corporate espionage presents a thorny security issue for both the U.S. government and private citizens is uncontroversial. Let me qualify too that cyber security is far outside my realm of expertise, and I have no pretensions of fully grasping the true extent and severity of this threat from China or elsewhere. And I take the examples of Chinese-backed breaches via the "Aurora" attacks cited in the piece at face value (others more knowledgeable can surely comment on the specifics of what's possible and far-fetched by the Chinese).