Academic journal article Military Review

China's Electronic Long-Range Reconnaissance

Academic journal article Military Review

China's Electronic Long-Range Reconnaissance

Article excerpt


Congress passed legislation this week requiring the Pentagon to report on China's growing computer-warfare capabilities when producing assessments of Chinese military power The fiscal 2008 National Defense Authorization Act, passed yesterday by the House, contains a provision requiring the annual Military Power of the People's Republic of China report to include a new section on Beijing's "efforts to acquire, develop, and deploy cyberwarfare capabilities " in its assessments of China's "asymmetric" warfare capabilities.

--Early Bird, 14 December 2007

SINCE 2005, Chinese cyber attacks against U.S. systems have increased at an alarming rate. However, the term "attack" carries unwanted connotations, these unwarranted incursions are more likely reconnaissance missions to collect intelligence on U.S. military systems, to spot vulnerabilities or plant trap-doors or viruses in our systems, and to ensure that China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) has an immediate advantage in the event of war involving America and China. If the incursions were "attacks," then our systems would be down and destroyed. Instead, these computer reconnaissance measures appear to conform to an old Chinese stratagem: "a victorious army first wins and then seeks battle. A defeated army first battles and then seeks victory." Reconnaissance via computer to spot vulnerabilities before the first battle fits the stratagem well.

The United States, of course, is not the only country accusing the Chinese of unwarranted incursions. Germany, England, France, Japan, Taiwan, and Australia, and others, have also been Chinese targets. When one views these events in the light of open-source accounts of Chinese information operations (IO) theory over the past several years, there is much circumstantial evidence to find China guilty as accused. The only actual forensic evidence, of course, is classified and located in the security agencies of the countries that China has electronically invaded.

This article explains Chinese military thought that supports their cyber-attack activities. While other articles focus on who was attacked and how many times, this article focuses more on the theory behind the attacks, especially the PLA's use of electronic stratagems for their computer network operations and the use of surrogates such as patriotic hacker groups. The article reviews Chinese incursions since 2005 and examines open-source assessments provided by some of the most important Chinese information warfare theorists.

The PLA has followed theory with practice. Computer network operations have become part of the peacetime strategic activities of the PLA. More worrisome is the purpose of these incursions. Is it reconnaissance? Or is the purpose of these incursions to place Trojan horses or some other device into U.S. and other partner systems to disable or destroy them in case of war? As one reads about Chinese information warfare developments, it becomes clear that China's potential intentions raise questions.

IW Units and the Active Offense

While the exact reason for China's cyber attacks is unknown, we can follow a cause-and-effect rationale in Chinese contemporary writings. The cause of China's attachment to new information technologies and the "informatization" of their force is the dramatic impact the technologies have had on military affairs, most notably the U.S. use of technology in Iraq. The effect of these technologies on Chinese military thought is the Chinese belief that only countries that take the initiative in an information war or establish information superiority and control ahead of time will win, and that this requires reconnaissance and intelligence gathering before the first battle to set the stage for the use of cyber forces.

Historically, the PLA based its strategic philosophy on "active defense," meaning that China would never attack someone first but would be ready to respond if attacked. …

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