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China is aiming at America’s soft underbelly: the Internet

Cyberattacks on Google might be just the beginning. America's former director of National Intelligence says the US should do what is necessary to defend itself before there is a catastrophic event.

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For once in our history, the US should take proactive measures ahead of a disaster to plan for this instead of react after the fact. I understand the art of the possible in cyberwarfare capabilities. I know what our capabilities are today.

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Others will be able to do the same thing in time, so let’s do what is necessary to defend ourselves now before we have a catastrophic event.

Gardels: When we are talking about the Chinese, whom are we talking about? The government? The People’s Liberation Army?

McConnell: Let me put it this way. In the United States, we made a decision that code breaking was essential to our security; therefore, the president created the National Security Agency in 1952.

In World War II, we had code-breaking units in the Army, Navy, and the State Department that contributed significantly to winning the war in Europe and in the Pacific. In order to manage code breaking going into the cold war, the president created the NSA, which reports to the secretary of Defense, a cabinet position, because the function was considered so important. The secretary of Defense remains today the cabinet official responsible for NSA’s mission of signals intelligence.

So NSA manages it for the nation. China has a similar structure and authority associated with it. So, their intelligence collection is coordinated, but just as in the US, there are competing bureaucracies carrying out the cyberexploitation mission.

In China today, there are thousands of people in a sustained effort to collect intelligence, many of them on an entrepreneurial basis, as it were, within a competing bureaucratic structure.

China understands that a strategic vulnerability of the United States is its soft cyberunderbelly. I believe they seek to “own” that space. My view is that the

Chinese received a big shock when watching the action of Desert Storm (during the first Iraq war). They saw the power of the US linking computer technology with weaponry to attain precision. We had dropped 1,000 bombs in World War II to destroy target effectively. In Vietnam, it took hundreds of bombs. Today it takes one.

One target. One bomb. We dominated the warfare sphere. We owned the ability to locate and see targets through navigation and satellite imagery others did not have. We had air superiority. We could take a valuable target out with one bomb at the time of our choosing.

I believe the Chinese concluded from the Desert Storm experience that their counterapproach had to be to challenge America’s control of the battle space by building capabilities to knock out our satellites and invading our cybernetworks. In the name of the defense of China in this new world, the Chinese feel they have to remove that advantage of the US in the event of a war.

So the Chinese developed capacity to shoot down satellites. They have developed over-the-horizon radar capabilities. They have missiles that can be retargeted in flight. In short, they are seeking ways to keep us at bay in the event of a conflict, to not let us approach China. In time, as their power, influence, and wealth grow, China likely will develop “power projection” weapons systems.

They see the Middle Kingdom as the center of the world. They will have gone from what they describe as “the century of shame” to “our century” going forward. And they want to protect that from the US or anybody else.

The Chinese want to dominate this information space. So they want to develop the capability of attacking our “information advantage” while denying us this capability.

Nathan Gardels is the editor in chief of New Perspectives Quarterly and the Global Viewpoint Network of the Los Angeles Times Syndicate/Tribune Media. His most recent book, with Hollywood producer Mike Medavoy, is “American Idol After Iraq: Competing for Hearts and Minds in the Global Media Age.”

© 2010 Global Viewpoint Network/ Tribune Media Services. Hosted online by The Christian Science Monitor.

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