Testimony Spotlights China, Russia, Iran

By David J. Smith

Copyright © 2012 Potomac Institute for Policy Studies

Some recent statements from senior U.S. officials merit attention:

•James R. Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, Worldwide Threat Assessment http://1.usa.gov/yCPXd0

•LTG Ronald L. Burgess, Director, DIA,Annual Threat Assessment http://1.usa.gov/zxqOOF

•ADM Samuel J. Locklear, answers to the Senate Armed Services Committee in connection with his confirmation as Commander, U.S. Pacific Command. Bill Gertz, “Chinese Cyberwarfare Prep,” Washington Times, February 22, 2012 http://bit.ly/xcnxA2

One observation is that despite the growing power of non-state actors, nation-states remain the major players. On terrorism, Director Clapper said, “Some Iranian officials—probably including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei—have changed their calculus and are now more willing to conduct an attack in the United States.”

On proliferation, Clapper said, “Nation-state efforts to develop, acquire, and/or proliferate weapons of mass destruction and their related delivery systems constitute a major threat to the safety of our nation, our deployed troops and our allies.”He specifically mentioned Iran and North Korea.

A second observation is that cybersecurity is now broadly recognized as an important challenge.

“Potential adversaries,”General Burgess said, “are increasingly more capable of conducting cyberspace operations against the United States. The pace of foreign economic collection and industrial espionage activities conducted by foreign intelligence services, corporations, and private individuals against major U.S. corporations and government agencies is accelerating. China is likely using its computer network exploitation capability to support intelligence collection against the United States. Russia also poses a highly capable cyber threat to the United States.”

Clapper recognized that “Nonstate actors are also playing an increasing role in international and domestic politics through the use of social media technologies,” mentioning as examples Anonymous and LulzSec. However, like Burgess, Clapper reported, “China and Russia are of particular concern.” Moreover, “Iran’s intelligence operations against the United States, including cyber capabilities, have dramatically increased in recent years in depth and complexity.”

The DNI drew a somber conclusion. “Two of our greatest strategic challenges regarding cyber threats are: (1) the difficulty of providing timely, actionable warning of cyber threats and incidents…(2) the highly complex vulnerabilities associated with the IT supply chain for US networks.”

A third observation is that nation-states are integrating cyber capabilities into their geopolitical-military strategies. Admiral Locklear placed Chinese cyber activities into their strategic context: “Chinese military writingclearly shows that China views itself at a disadvantage in any potential conflict with a modern high-tech military such as that of the United States…China fully understands the critical importance of cyber as an element of modern warfare.”He continued, “The theft of U.S. information and intellectual property is attractive as a low-cost research and development tool…and provides insight into potential U.S. vulnerabilities.”

And here is Locklear’s important conclusion: China is “building capability to target U.S. military space-based assets and computer networks using network and electronic warfare…Overall, China’s development in the cyber realm, combined with its other anti-access/area denial capabilities, imposes significant potential risk on U.S. military activities.”

In other words, China sees cyber operationsas part of both sides of its burgeoning reconnaissance/strike complex.

These three statements are worth reading.

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