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July 2, 2009
Notes from the Pentagon

Cyber threats
The commander of the U.S. Northern Command, Air Force Gen. Victor E. Renuart Jr., said that cyberattacks -- from nation states to individual computer hackers -- pose one of the most serious threats for the military command that is dedicated to protecting the U.S. from attacks on the homeland.

"The thing that I'm most concerned about, really, is in the cyber area because it may be the one that's toughest to detect until its upon you," Gen. Renuart said this week.

Unlike missiles and other "kinetic" threats that normally give the military sufficient response time, cyber attacks are sophisticated, subtle and can hold "a variety of elements of our nation at risk," he said. "You may not know they are there until after they have an effect."

Gen. Renuart said Northcom systems, like other parts of the defense information grid, are targeted by large numbers of attempted electronic penetrations every day.

During a recent Northcom exercise, for example, there were "a number" of attempted computer network penetrations from unknown sources, he said.

"Whether it's to extract information or to in some way subvert information [is] not clear," he said. "Fortunately we've been successful in identifying those attempts and making sure we adjust the system so we continue our defense."

The attempted cyber penetrations were also noted during Northcom's support for disaster relief after Hurricane Gustav and Hurricane Ike. "We noted a series of attempts at intrusion into the network," he said.

It was not clear whether nation states were behind the attempts or they were the work of individuals "trying to figure out what they can find or to make a statement about an event," Gen. Renuart said.

Gen. Renuart said the sophistication of the "moles" -- those trying to break into military and government networks -- is growing and often outpaces cyberdefenses.

Asked which states are most active in cyber attacks, Gen. Renuart named China, Russia, Iran and India.

Cyber attackers can mask their strikes by routing their efforts through other countries.

"But certainly the Chinese and the Russians; the Iranians are also sophisticated; the Indians are also sophisticated," he said.

"You worry that they could create this so-called trap door that in a real crisis they could execute and now information does begin to flow out, or it begins to alter the commands, the communications capabilities you might have with other players," he said.

Cyberattacks to computer networks "cuts across all of our domains because we are so dependent on the digital network world," Gen. Renuart said in an interview at his Colorado Springs headquarters office.

Defending against cyberattacks is a priority for Northcom, which works with the Nebraska-based U.S. Strategic Command on the issue, he said.

The people who threaten government and military networks include "hackers" or "hacking nations," the four-star general said, noting that the command cooperates with private companies and the Department of Homeland Security.

Northcom's command and control systems have been fortified to "very rapidly move from one threat to another and maintain continuity of operations," he said.

Commerce and China
The Commerce Department's program to ease the licensing of high-technology exports to China is under fire again from the anti-arms proliferation group, the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control.

The watchdog group recently identified several Chinese companies that were designated "validated end users" in China as companies linked in the past to Chinese arms proliferation and the target of U.S. sanctions.

The project stated in its most recent report that Aviza Technology China "is the newest Chinese company granted Validated End-User (VEU) status by the U.S. Commerce Department." That status means a company is approved to receive certain sensitive controlled commodities from the United States without having to apply for individual export licenses.

However, the group stated that one of the locations used by Aviza to receive high-tech goods "may in fact be owned by a company penalized by sanctions that the United States imposed in 2006 for proliferation to Iran and/or Syria."

The project showed in 2007 that five companies granted the easy licensing status included two firms caught proliferating arms and goods to rogue states and were "violators of U.S. export controls." The two firms were part of China's military production complex.

"This repeated failure of the selection process to choose 'trusted' customers and locations continues to cast doubt on the wisdom of the VEU program itself," the report said.

Rep. Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat, recently questioned a senior Commerce official, Matthew S. Borman, on Aviza having the same address as a Chinese proliferator sanctioned by the U.S. government in 2006 for illicit exports to Iran or Syria.

"The location that you have authorized to import sensitive U.S. goods, including pressure transducers, which are extremely important to uranium enrichment, is Building A23, Fuxing Road, Beijing, and these documents show the exact same address is the headquarters of a company that was sanctioned by our government for WMD-related [weapons of mass destruction-related] proliferation: Building A23, Fuxing Road, China," said Mr. Markey during a June 4 House hearing.

The Wisconsin Project uncovered documents showing that the warehouse owner had changed the company's name and also claimed that it ended its relationship with the sanctioned parent firm.

However, the project reported that the company did not split and as a result "militarily useful American goods may wind up in the hands of Syria or Iran."

Asked about the report, a spokesman for the Commerce Department's Bureau of Industry and Security, which is in charge of the VEU program, told Inside the Ring that companies in China participating in the VEU program are required to pass a rigorous national security review and must agree to strict follow-on compliance obligations before being approved.

"Aviza Technology received a thorough review by an interagency group that included the Departments of Commerce, Defense, and State, and the intelligence community. We are confident that Aviza meets all of the criteria required for VEU status," the spokesman said.

A Commerce official, who spoke on the condition that he not be named, said Aviza is a Chinese company that has "a very strong internal control program."

A Chinese Embassy spokesman had no immediate comment.

Record Afghan air traffic
A U.S. military official said the NATO-run air base at Kandahar, Afghanistan has become the busiest single runway in the world during the troop surge now under way.

The reason for the increase is that the surge has required vast amounts of equipment and support material for tens of thousands of additional troops being brought into the country as part of a major push for stabilization.

The airfield near the southern city of Kandahar earlier this year logged weekly aircraft movements at about 1,700 flights.

However, since the deployment of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade and the Army's 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, the number has soared to over 5,000 flights a week. The traffic level is expected to remain high throughout the summer as the Stryker Brigade flows through the airfield and into Kandahar province in advance of August presidential elections, said the military officer who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press.

These numbers move Kandahar Air Base past London's Gatwick Airport as the world's busiest single runway airfield. Although a significant portion of these movements are by helicopters, aircraft operations at Kandahar include strategic and tactical airlift, tactical jet operations, unmanned aerial vehicles, and a struggling Afghan commercial operation. This diversity adds a degree of complexity to "KAF" not seen at the more homogenous commercial operation at Gatwick, which, fortunately for travelers to and from Great Britain, does not suffer from twice-weekly indirect fire attacks that harass operations at Kandahar.

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