China's Unbelievable Hacking Denials
Jeane Kirkpatrick once said of the Soviet diplomats she dealt with at the United Nations, "They lie. Even when everyone in the room knows they are lying, they lie." The same can be said of those who serve the Communist regime in the People's Republic of China today. Case in point: Beijing's response to the May 19 indictment of five People's Liberation Army officers by the U.S. Justice Department for cyber espionage. The PLA soldiers were not just hacking government or military targets but a wide variety of corporate and commercial sites to steal trade secrets and technology for the benefit of state-owned enterprises (SOE) in China to improve their industrial capabilities and competitiveness.
The PRC has used three lines of argument against the charges. First has been outright denial. On the day the indictments were announced, Assistant Foreign Minister Zheng Zeguang declared, "The Chinese government, the Chinese military and their relevant personnel have never engaged or participated in cyber theft of trade secrets. The US accusation against Chinese personnel is purely ungrounded with ulterior motives." He added, "China once again urges the US to immediately correct its mistake and withdraw the 'indictment' against the Chinese personnel."
Yet, the Chinese cyber threat has been known for years. The 2009 report on China’s Military Power published by the Office of the Secretary of Defense found "numerous computer systems around the world, including those owned by the U.S. Government, continued to be the target of intrusions that appear to have originated within the PRC." The U.S. established a Cyber Command to meet the threat that year. It is interesting to note that China’s Second Artillery Corps, which runs Beijing’s nuclear arsenal, is also its leading command for cyber warfare, marking its strategic nature.
In 2013, the private firm Mandiant published a report directly linking the PLA to years of espionage against foreign businesses, not just in the U.S. but around the world. That report led to a hearing by the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats, on the staff of which I then worked. Testimony was heard from Mandiant, the State Department, the RAND Corporation, the American Enterprise Institute and the Coalition for a Prosperous America. Mandiant released a new report this April which lead to the Justice Department indictment.
The second line of defense by Beijing has been to change the subject. The Communist Party newspaper Global Times in an editorial on May 21 charged, "the specific country that made the allegations is the one that spies both home and abroad with the PRISM program of the National Security Agency (NSA), revealed by Edward Snowden, former NSA contractor. Washington was condemned by international public opinion and therefore its pretentious accusation against Chinese army officers is ridiculous." Because the U.S. spies, the Chinese do not? Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has admitted the existence of PRISM, which is used to monitor the communications of those suspected of plotting against the United States. It is a much more narrow and defensive form of spying than what the Chinese have been doing. Beijing uses a "vacuum cleaner" approach to data collection to steal massive amounts of intellectual property to enhance its military-industrial base.
The PRC's frequent use of Snowden in its propaganda is further evidence of the damage that punk traitor has done to America. Snowden did, after all, flee first to China, releasing his stolen secrets to the press just before a U.S.-China summit in order to give Beijing an edge in the negotiations over cyber security that was to be a feature of the meeting. He then moved on to Russia, another U.S. geopolitical rival. Perhaps he will inherit the house Kim Philby lived in after his defection to the USSR.
The third line of argument used by Beijing is that while there is hacking being done in China, it is being done by private individuals who have no ties to the government and who cannot be controlled. Given the resources that the regime devotes to censoring and monitoring the Internet -- and jailing dissidents who expose themselves online, this is another incredible claim. There are "patriotic hackers" and mercenaries at work for SOE in China, but they are in addition to the PLA and other government agents. It has been thought that Beijing has even developed a "cyber militia" to put more civilian personnel at work on its massive espionage campaign.
Indicting five PLA officers who will never face trial will not stop the Chinese cyber offensive. More resources will have to be devoted in both the public and private sectors to defeat the assaults. The U.S. also needs to reduce the resources available to China and take the profit out of their IP thefts. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), who chaired the 2013 subcommittee hearing on Chinese hacking, is drafting legislation to impose trade sanctions on SOE that have benefited from PLA spying. Beijing's offensive has been economy-wide and so must be the American counterattack. The PRC's strategic objective is not just commercial, it is to change the global balance of power. That cannot be allowed to happen, whatever the cost.