The China Information Warfare Threat

How a Chinese military intelligence operation could cripple the US

The year is 2028. It is August and the weather is hot. People’s Liberation Army (PLA) colonel Sun Kangzhou  and three highly trained special operations commandos from the Chengdu military region in southern China are sitting in two vehicles outside a Walmart Supercenter in rural Pennsylvania about 115 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. Dressed in jeans, T-shirts, and work boots, the men appear to be just like any construction workers. In fact, Colonel Sun and his men are members of the elite Falcon special forces team. One of the vehicles is a heavy-duty pickup truck with a trailer carrying a large backhoe. The other is a nondescript blue sedan. The commandos’ target today is not a military base but something much more strategic.

It has been two weeks since the deadly military confrontation between a Chinese guided-missile destroyer and a U.S. Navy P-8 maritime patrol aircraft thousands of miles away in the South China Sea. The 500-foot-long Luyang II missile warship Yinchuan made a fatal error by firing one of its HHQ-9 long-range surface-to-air missiles at the P-8 as it flew some seventy-seven miles away. The militarized Boeing 737 had been conducting a routine electronic reconnaissance mission over the sea, something the Chinese communist government in Beijing routinely denounces as a gross violation of sovereignty. The Chinese missile was tracked by the P-8’s sensors after a radar alarm signal went off, warning of the incoming attack. The advance sensor warning allowed the P-8 pilot to maneuver the jet out of range of the missile. The crew watched it fall into the sea. Fearing a second missile launch, the pilot ordered the crew to !re back. The aircraft bay doors opened and an antiship cruise missile, appropriately named SLAM-ER, for Standoff Land Attack Missile-Expanded Response, took off. Minutes later, the missile struck the ship, sinking the vessel and killing most of the crew.

The South China Sea incident, as the military encounter was called, was just the kind of military miscalculation senior American military leaders feared would take place for years, as China’s military forces over the years had built up military forces on disputed islands and gradually claimed the entire strategic waterway as its maritime territory.

Following the South China Sea incident, U.S.-China tensions reached a boiling point with threats and counterthreats, including official Chinese government promises of retaliation. In Washington, phone calls to Chinese political leaders went unanswered. Beijing streets were filled with thousands of pro- testers in what was carefully orchestrated government-run demonstrations denouncing America. The demonstrators were demanding payback for sinking the warship. Tensions were the highest in history and threatened to end the peaceful period since the two major trading partners shelved their ideo- logical differences beginning in the 1980s.

Colonel Sun and his team are now striking back in ways the United States would never suspect. The sabotage mission they have embarked on is unlike any conducted before and is one that China’s military over the past two decades has been secretly training to carry out: an information warfare attack on the American electrical power grid.

Chinese military intelligence hackers, after decades of covert cyber intrusions into American industrial control computer networks, have produced a detailed map of the United States’ most critical infrastructure—the electrical power grid stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific and north and south between Canada and Mexico.

Unbeknownst to the FBI, CIA, or National Security Agency, the Chinese have discovered a strategic vulnerability in the grid near the commandos’ location. The discovery was made by China’s Unit 61398, the famed hacker group targeted in a U.S. federal grand jury indictment more than a decade earlier, which named five of the unit’s PLA officers. The officers and their supporters had laughed off the Americans’ legal action as just another ineffective measure by what Beijing believed had become the weakened “paper tiger” that was the United States.

The raid is code-named Operation Duanlu—Operation Short-Circuit—and was approved by the Communist Party of China Central Military Commission a day earlier. The commission is the ultimate power in China, operating under the principle espoused by People’s Republic of China founder Mao Zedong, who understood that political power grows from the barrel of a gun.

The two commandos in the truck drive off to a remote stretch of highway several miles away to a point that was previously identified near a large hardwood tree that has grown precariously close to a key local power line. The truck drives by the tree, whose roots have been weakened on the side away from the power lines by the commandos weeks earlier. The backhoe arm pushes the tree over and into the power lines, disrupting the ow of electricity and shutting down power throughout the area.

At precisely the same time as the tree strikes the power lines, Colonel Sun sits in the car, boots up a laptop computer, and with a few keystrokes activates malicious software that has been planted inside the network of a nearby electrical substation. The substation is one of the most modern power centers and is linked to the national grid through “smart grid” technology designed to better automate and operate the U.S. electrical infrastructure. The smart grid technology, however, has been compromised years earlier during a naïve

U.S. Energy Department program to cooperate with China on advanced electrical power transmission technology. The Chinese cooperated, and they also stole details of the new

U.S. grid system and provided them to Chinese military intelligence.

Once in control of the substation’s network, Colonel Sunsets in motion a cascading electrical power failure facilitated by cyberattacks but most important  carried  out  in  ways that prevent even the supersecret National Security Agency, America’s premier cyber-intelligence agency, from identifying the Chinese cyberattackers and linking them to Beijing. The agency never recovered from the damage to its capabilities caused years earlier by a renegade contractor whose charges of illegal domestic spying led to government restrictions on its activities that ultimately prevent the agency from catching the Chinese before the electrical infrastructure cyberattack. For political leaders, the devastating power outage is caused by a tree in Pennsylvania, leading to a cascading power outage around the nation.

The Chinese conducted the perfect covert cyberattack, which cripples the United States, throwing scores of millions of Americans into pre-electricity darkness for months. Millions of deaths will ensue before Washington learns of the Chinese military role and, rather than fight back, makes a humiliating surrender to all Beijing’s demands—withdrawal of all U.S. military forces from Asia to areas no farther west than Hawaii, and an end to all military relationships with nations in Asia.


. . .


The above scenario is fictional. Yet the devastation a future information warfare attack would have on critical infrastructures in the United States is a real and growing danger.

No other nation today poses a greater danger to American national security than China, a state engaged in an unprecedented campaign of information warfare using both massive cyberattacks and influence operations aimed at diminishing what Beijing regards as its most important strategic enemy. Yet American leaders remain lost in a Cold War political gambit that once saw China as a covert ally against the Soviet Union. Today the Soviet Union is gone but China remains a nuclear-armed communist dictatorship on the march.

From an information warfare stance, China today has emerged as one of the most powerful and capable threats facing the United States. By May 2016 American intelligence agencies had made a startling discovery: Chinese cyber-intelligence services had developed technology and network penetration skills allowing them to control the results of Internet searches conducted on Google’s world-famous search engine.

By controlling one of the most significant Information

Age technologies used in refining and searching the massive ocean of data on the Internet, the Chinese are now able to control and influence what millions of users in China see when they search using Google. Thus a search for the name Tiananmen—the main square in Beijing, where Chinese troops murdered unarmed prodemocracy protesters in June 1989—can be spoofed by Chinese information warriors into returning results in which the first several pages make no reference to the massacre. The breakthrough is similar to the kind of totalitarian control outlined in George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four with the creation of a fictional language called Newspeak, which was used to serve the total dominance of the state.

Technically, what China did was a major breakthrough in search engine optimization—the art and science of making sites appear higher or lower in search listings. The feat requires a high degree of technical skill to pull off and would require learning the secret algorithms—self-contained, step-by-step computer search operations—used by Google. The intelligence suggests that Chinese cyberwarfare researchers had made a quantum leap in capability by actually gaining access to Google secrets and machines and adjusting the algorithms to make sure searches are produced according to Chinese information warfare goals.

Those goals are to promote continued rule by the Communist Party of China and to attack and defeat China’s main enemy: the United States of America. Thus Chinese information warriors can continue the lies and deception that China poses no threat, is a peaceful country, does not seek to take over surrounding waterways, and does not abuse human rights, and that its large-scale military buildup is for purely defensive purposes.

The dominant battle space for Chinese information war- fare programs is the Internet, using a combination of covert and overt means. The most visible means of attack can be seen in Chinese media that is used to control the population domestically, and to attack the United States, Japan, and other declared enemies through an international network of state-controlled propaganda outlets, both print and digital, that have proved highly effective in influencing foreign audiences. One of the flagship party mouthpieces is China Daily, an English-language newspaper with a global circulation of 900,000 and an estimated 43 million readers online. China Central Television, known as CCTV, operates a twenty-four-hour cable news outlet as well to support its information warfare campaigns.

“The People’s Republic of China has studied the U.S. approach to information warfare from the Cold War and has successfully navigated itself into a position of ‘respectability’ compared to their brothers from Russia and their ham-fisted ‘Russia Today’ (RT),” said retired navy captain James Fanell, a former Pacific Fleet intelligence director who specializes in Chinese affairs. Fanell compares Chinese information war- fare targeting the United States and the inability to recognize the danger to a frog being slowly boiled alive. “The heat in the pool just keeps going up one degree at a time,” he says.



Chinese information warfare is being developed within the Communist Party of China’s Central Military Commission, the highest-ranking military body in the nation. One of the most visible uses of information operations can be seen in China’s systematic approach to acquiring territory around the periphery of the country, specifically the waters stretching from the Pacific northeast southward through the South China Sea and Indian Ocean.

China’s aggression in the South China Sea, the strategic waters joining the Pacific and Indian Oceans, is among the more visible examples of this new strategic information war-fare. The effort remained at low levels for years but emerged as a major policy issue for the United States around 2011. China carefully avoided provoking a U.S. reaction and decided to carry out its island-building at the lowest profile possible. Before long, it had built up some 3,200 acres of islands, through dredging the seafloor and using the sand to produce above-water islands that had once been coral reefs. The Chinese were able to deceive the world into believing that the waters were historically theirs and that any other countries’ claims to the sea as international waters were false. Beijing also announced, significantly, that any attempt to counter these claims posed a threat to China’s central national interests—language widely viewed as a basis for going to war to defend those interests.

Behind the campaign was a sophisticated combination of information warfare and Chinese deception operations that lulled the United States into first ignoring the problem and later halfheartedly attempting, through public statements, to prevent military weapons and facilities from being added. But it was too late. By 2016, China had finished building a series of military bases in the South China Sea, first on Woody Island in the Paracels, in the northern part of the sea, then on three separate maritime outposts in the Spratly Islands in the southern part; it also revealed plans for a major base on Scar- borough Shoal, a fifty-eight-square-mile shoal that is strategically located some 120 miles west of the Philippines—where U.S. warships and warplanes are deployed at Subic Bay as part of an enhanced U.S.–Philippines defense agreement.

China launched an aggressive information and cyberwarfare operation against regional states beginning around 2010, using military cyber warfare units located in the Chengdu military region under a code-named Unit 78020. No government was spared in the attacks that involved cyber strikes against computer networks in Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, the Philippines, Singapore, Thai- land, and Vietnam. “We assess Unit 78020’s focus is the disputed, resource-rich South China Sea, where China’s increasingly aggressive assertion of its territorial claims has been accompanied by high-tempo intelligence gathering,” states a report by the cybersecurity firm ThreatConnect. “The strategic implications for the United  States  include not  only  military  alliances  and  security  partnerships  in the region, but also risks to a major artery of international commerce through which trillions of dollars in global trade traverse annually.” According to the report, “Dominating the South China Sea is a key step for Beijing in achieving regional hegemony.” Additionally, the other claimants to the sea, notably Vietnam and the Philippines, are weaker and lack the security guarantees from the United States that have helped temper similar tensions with Japan in the East China Sea.

The information warfare campaign focused on all the governments of Southeast Asia, including the headquarters of the ten-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations and private and public energy organizations. The goal was data theft, to gain valuable commercial information and foreign government secrets that could be given to Chinese companies or used in negotiations. For the longer term, Chinese military hackers were gaining strategic access to target government computer networks that could be attacked and shut down in a crisis or conflict, or used to spread disinformation internally to confuse and weaken the enemy. For the South China Sea campaign, the Chinese used an extensive network of hundreds of Internet Protocol addresses that in some cases were used for only an hour before being abandoned—all in line with a methodology designed to avoid detection by cybersecurity services, both government and private. The operation was first detected in September 2010 and continued at the time the ThreatConnect report was published in August 2015. The domain used for the attacks by the Chinese, known as “,” included 1,236 IP addresses spanning twenty-six cities in eight nations.

Through these information warfare activities China incrementally gained control over the South China Sea and employed multiple pillars of national power with the larger goal of influencing and ultimately exercising control over the entire region. The shadow information war is typical of the kinds of activities China engages in not just in Southeast and Northeast Asia but globally as part of its drive for world acceptance and domination.

As ThreatConnect states:

All of China’s activities in the South China Sea, whether military, diplomatic, or economic, have been long supported by a well-resourced covert signals intelligence and digital exploitation unit that maintained deep access within China’s Southeast Asian neighbors’ public and private sector enterprises. . . . What is really at hand is a broader national objective of physically intruding into the 1.4 million square miles that make up the South China Sea. It is likely that China does not view this behavior as criminal in nature, insofar as it cannot be stealing if you already consider something to be yours. But the targets of this activity most certainly do not share that view. This aggressiveness clearly comes at an expense to China’s reputation regionally and internationally as credible proof of these operations continues to mount.


What made the ThreatConnect report so compelling was its detailed analysis of one of the players involved in the campaign. A PLA officer code-named GreenSky27 was exposed as Ge Xing, a cyber operative with an extensive public persona on Chinese social media sites dating to 2004. Ge posted photos of himself within the compound located in Kunming, in Yunnan Province, China, which borders Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam and is the center of information warfare operations against South China Sea states. Ge was shown biking and holding an infant and posting about his “beloved Party school” in Kunming where he attended courses as part of his career as a PLA officer. He also attended the PLA International Studies University in 2014 and published several academic papers for Unit 78020, including “Analysis of Post-War Thailand’s Political Democratization Characteristics and Factors” and “Examination of Trends in Thailand’s Southern Muslim Separatist Movement.” Ge was born in 1980 and graduated from Yunnan University in 2008. GPS routes used in Ge’s various bike rides in Kunming also were posted. Technical analysis of Ge’s online activities in the Unit 78020 hacking operations included his links to the cyberattacks, which showed a decline in malicious hacking activities during his travel and vacations and a corresponding decline in his social media postings during the same absences. There was even a gap in his Unit 78020 cyber operations when Ge’s child was born. The infrastructure used in the South China Sea cyberattacks also ceased operating during Ge’s visits to his ancestral memorial, and during two vacation trips in the summer of 2014.

In May 2014,  after  the  Justice  Department  indicted five PLA hackers belonging to another cyberwarfare unit, Shanghai-based Unit 61398, the South China Sea cyberattack operations showed a dramatic drop-off inactivity. The high-pro8le indictments targeted military hackers who stole valuable information from major companies in Pennsylvania, including Westinghouse and Alcoa.

The PLA indictments were largely symbolic since the Justice Department has no real prospect of ever prosecuting the Unit 61398 hackers. But the indictment was the first time the

U.S. government had taken off the veil of secrecy surrounding Chinese cyberattacks against the United States. The PLA hackers were identified as Wang Dong, Sun Kailiang, Wen Xinyu, Huang Zhenyu, and Gu Chunhui and their activities outlined in the fifty-six-page indictment. The group was part of the Third Department of the General Staff, also known as 3PLA, and it’s Unit 61398. The FBI went so far as to draw up wanted posters for the five.

Since 2006 the hackers had used sophisticated technology and traditional fake emails to fool targeted Americans with access to corporate secrets into providing break-in points to company networks. They then methodically stole key commercial secrets, such as technical design details for Westing- house nuclear reactors and solar panel technology. Internal communications containing valuable economic data were also stolen and provided by the PLA to Chinese state-run competitors.

The companies hit in the cyberattacks included Westinghouse Electric; SolarWorld AG; United States Steel; Allegheny Technologies; the United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial, and Service Workers International Union; and Alcoa.

The indictment “will scare the PLA hackers, at least for a few months, while they try to find out how they were detected,” said Michael Pillsbury, the Pentagon consultant and specialist on China. “Much stronger medicine will be needed next time,” added Pillsbury, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.

The Justice Department prosecutor in the case explained later that the indictment came out of Chinese government demands for proof of U.S. government charges of widespread Chinese cyberattacks. John Carlin, assistant attorney general for national security, told a security conference in Colorado that after years of ignoring or playing down the Chinese cyber threat, the government was seeking to deal with Beijing’s nefarious data theft and network penetrations the way it dealt with terrorism after the September 11 terrorist attacks. “We heard directly from the Chinese, who said, ‘If you have evidence, hard evidence that we’re committing this type of activity that you can prove in court, show us.’ So we did,” Carlin said, adding that the indictment was a first step in what he called a multipronged strategic approach that set up a “red line” for the Chinese that was designed to dissuade future attacks. Carlin threatened further action, despite the White House’s general lack of interest in effective countermeasures. “We will continue to increase the cost of committing this type of activity on American soil where it is occurring, where they are taking the information, until it stops, and we need to maintain that commitment,” he said.

The commitment was not maintained. And one of the most damaging Chinese cyberattacks against the United States would follow shortly: the theft of federal employee records in the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). That took place after an earlier private sector cyber strike against millions of medical records held by the major healthcare provider Anthem.

On June 4, 2015, the OPM posted a message to the 2.7 million federal employees on its website revealing that in April 2015 the agency detected a cyber intrusion on its networks affecting some 4 million current and former federal workers. Within weeks of that disclosure OPM released further news that the cyberattack was far more damaging than originally assessed. Instead of the initial 4 million people involved in the data theft, the total had increased to 21.5 million. Worse, the agency delicately announced that among those millions of stolen records was “an incident” affecting background investigation records, among some of the most sensitive information in the government’s possession used in determining eligibility for access to classified information. “OPM has determined that the types of information in these records include identification details such as Social Security Numbers; residency and educational history; employment history; information about immediate family and other personal and business acquaintances; health, criminal and financial history; and other details,” the agency said. “Some records also include findings from interviews conducted by background investigators and fingerprints. Usernames and passwords that  background  investigation  applicants  used to fill out their background investigation forms were also stolen.”

It was a security disaster for the millions who held security clearances and were now vulnerable to Chinese intelligence targeting, recruitment, and neutralization. A senior

U.S. intelligence official briefed on the classified details of

the OPM told me that the early technical intelligence analysis of the data theft revealed that it was part of a PLA military hacking operation. “It is fair to say this is a Chinese PLA cyberattack,” said the official, adding that the conclusion was based on an analysis of the software operating methods used to gain access to the government network.

Intelligence officials believe the source behind the attack is the PLA’s Unit 61398 and that it was carried out in retaliation for the May 1 indictment of the five hackers. Months before the OPM hacking was discovered, Chinese hackers also carried out one of the largest data thefts of a healthcare provider in history, targeting Anthem and stealing an estimated

80 million records. The breach, made public in February 2015, included names, birthdates, Social Security numbers, medical identification data, street, and email addresses, and employee data, including income, the company announced.

A staff report by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform concluded the data breach could have been prevented had government officials heeded numerous warnings about the danger of cyberattacks.

Cyberattacks against the State Department, White House, and Nuclear Regulatory Commission and other compromises pale in comparison to the damage done by the OPM attack.

“As a result, tens of millions of federal employees and their families paid the price,” the report said. “Indeed, the damage done to the Intelligence Community will never be truly known. Due to the data breach at OPM, adversaries are in possession of some of the most intimate and embarrassing details of the lives of individuals who our country trusts to protect national security and its secrets.”

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center revealed in an internal bulletin that the OPM and Anthem hackings were just the tip of the iceberg in a major Chinese data collection operation that stretched from July 2014 to June 2015. Sticking to the White House policy of not naming China as the culprit, to avoid upsetting Beijing, the DHS bulletin outlined the major theft of what is called personally identifiable information (PII). It stated that the

U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team had outlined the details of the attacks. “US-CERT is aware of approximately nine major security incidents in which PII was stolen from private sector companies, U.S. government agencies, and a cleared defense contractor,” the bulletin stated. “The cyber threat actors involved in each of these incidents demonstrated a well-planned campaign and high level of sophistication.”

The Chinese stole the records in what the commander of the U.S. Cyber Command, Admiral Mike Rogers, described as big data mining for use in future cyberattacks, and for counterintelligence purposes—the identification of American intelligence officers operating undercover overseas. Once identified, the American spies can be co-opted and neutralized, or worse, fooled into reporting back deliberately provided false information—all in support of the Beijing information warfare campaigns. William Evanina, a senior counterintelligence official within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, warned that big data mining could disclose “who is an intelligence officer, who travels where, when, who’s got financial difficulties, who’s got medical issues, [to] put together a common picture.” Asked by the Los Angeles Times if foreign adversaries have used data to glean information on U.S. intelligence operatives, Evanina bluntly replied, “Absolutely.”

The threat was not theoretical. In the months after the OPM breach, several former intelligence officials began receiving threatening telephone calls that authorities believe stemmed from the compromised information obtained from OPM background investigation data hacked by the Chinese.

The response by the Obama administration to the Chinese hacking was to ignore it, despite appeals from both national security officials and private security experts that immense damage was being done to American interests and that something needed to be done to stop the attacks.

The White House, however, under Obama had adopted a see-no-evil approach to Chinese hacking that would endure throughout his administration and border on criminal neglect. On several occasions, Obama and his key White House aides were presented with proposals for proactive measures against the Chinese designed to send an unmistakable signal to Beijing that the cyberattacks would not be tolerated. Intelligence officials revealed to me that beginning in August 2011, a series of policy options were drawn up over three months. They included options for conducting counter- cyberattacks against Chinese targets and economic sanctions against key Chinese officials and agencies involved in the cyberattacks. The president rejected all the options as too disruptive of U.S.-China economic relations. Obama never explained why he refused to take action against China, but he clearly rejected anything that might make the United States appear as a world leader and power.

The White House seemed more concerned that U.S. offensive cyberattacks might upset relations with a major trading partner that was holding $1.2 trillion in U.S. Treasury debt. The secret plans were proposed by civilian and military officials who were part of the White House Interagency Policy Committee. The committee is made up of representatives from the Pentagon, intelligence community, law enforcement, homeland security, and foreign affairs agencies.

By the summer of 2015, the group of sixteen U.S. intelligence agencies—including the CIA, DIA, and NSA—that make up what is called the intelligence community weighed in on the growing threat of strategic cyberattacks against the United States. In their top-secret National Intelligence Estimate, the consensus was that as long as the continued policy of not responding remained in place, the United States would continue to be victimized by increasingly damaging cyber-attacks on both government and private sector networks. A strong reaction was essential.

The intelligence assessment was produced as the president and his advisers debated what to do to China in response to the OPM and other hacks. The assessment was reflected in comments made by Obama and other officials weeks before the assessment was disclosed. The president said at a summit meeting of world leaders on June 8, 2015, that he expected additional cyberattacks like the OPM hacking to continue. “We have known for a long time that there are significant vulnerabilities and that these vulnerabilities are going to accelerate as time goes by, both in systems within government and within the private sector,” the president said while refusing to publicly blame China for the attacks. A week earlier, Admiral Rogers warned that the increase in state-sponsored cyberattacks was due in part to the perception by the attackers that “there’s not a significant price to pay” for conducting large-scale cyber intrusions and stealing large quantities of private information.

Retired army lieutenant general and former DIA director Michael Flynn has criticized the failure to understand Information Age threats and respond to them forcefully. “Until we redefine warfare in the age of information, we will continue to be viciously and dangerously attacked with no consequences for those attackers,” he told me. “The extraordinary intellectual theft ongoing across the U.S.’s cyber- critical infrastructure has the potential to shut down massive components of our nation’s capabilities, such as health care, energy, and communications systems. This alone should scare the heck out of everyone.” James Lewis, a cybersecurity expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, agreed. “Unless we punch back, we will continue to get hit,” Lewis said, suggesting that among the responses would be leaking details of a Chinese Communist Party leader’s bank account. “We’re all coming to the same place—that a defensive orientation doesn’t work,” he said.

Chinese cyberattacks have been massive and have in- 9icted extreme damage to U.S. national security. A sample of the internal U.S. government assessment of the toll became public in some of the 1.7 million highly classified documents stolen from the NSA by Edward Snowden. An NSA graphic on Chinese theft of government and private sector secrets, labeled “secret,” bore the headline “Chinese Exfiltrate Sensitive Military Technology.” The  cyber-spying  operation was code-named “BYZANTINE HADES” and the NSA concluded that it resulted in “serious damage to [Defense Department] interests.” The statistics were nothing short of alarming. Under “resources” used in the operation, the agency found at least 30,000 incidents, of which more than 500 were “significant intrusions of DoD systems.” At least 1,600 network computers were penetrated; at least 60,000 user accounts were compromised, and the attacks cost more than $100 million to assess the damage and rebuild compromised networks.

The damage included some of the most strategically important information, such as air refueling schedules for the

U.S. Pacific Command. Knowing the schedules is critical information that allows an enemy to learn the range of military aircraft. The information would assist the Chinese military in targeting enemy warplanes and transports with increasingly sophisticated air defenses. The compromise involved the details of how the command moves jet fighters, such as the frontline F-22 fighter, over long distances by following the jets with aerial refueling tankers. The missions are known as Coronet missions. A Coronet refueling operation is a delicate and complex aerial ballet requiring the traveling jets to meet tanker aircraft at precise coordinates and altitudes at exact times. The jet fighters also are required to conduct air-to-air refueling several times during long flights. Knowing Coronet details would allow China’s growing fleet of sophisticated aircraft to conduct similar maneuvers.

Additional data theft involved the compromise of 33,000 general and field-grade officer records from the U.S. Air Force; more than 300,000 user identifications and passwords for the U.S. Navy; and navy missile navigation and tracking systems information and navy nuclear submarine and anti-aircraft missile designs. Export-controlled sensitive technology information taken by the Chinese included data-limited under the U.S. International Traffic and Arms Restriction regulations and defense contractor research and development. Activity included defense industrial espionage against some of the military’s most advanced systems, including the B-2 bomber, F-22 and F-35 fighter aircraft, the space-based laser, and others. The NSA estimates that the amount of data stolen by Chinese cyberspies amounts to an extraordinary fifty terabytes of data—the equivalent of five times all the information contained in the nearly 161 million books and other printed materials held by the Library of Congress.

On the positive side, the Snowden documents disclosed that despite the damaging attacks, NSA in the past has succeeded in disrupting Chinese cyberattacks. The method was outlined in a PowerPoint slide revealing how NSA cyber spying “discovers adversary tools”  used for cyberattacks as they are being developed. The malware tools are then studied and a “tailored countermeasure [is] developed and deployed” so that when the Chinese begin the cyberattack, NSA’s “SIGINT [signals intelligence] discovers adversary intentions” and blocks the attacks. Unfortunately, the Snowden betrayal revealed to the Chinese just how proficient NSA was in gaining access to Chinese computer networks, a capability that was effective only so long as it remained secret.

Stefan Halper, the editor of the Pentagon study on China’s Three Warfares, says the Chinese are using cyber along with information operations in the South China Sea and elsewhere. Information warfare is “a natural inheritor to party deliberations which took place as early as 1923 when they started talking first about information warfare and is built into Chinese strategic thinking.”



Chinese media have been conducting media warfare for the past decade but have been ignored completely in that respect by the U.S. government. On October 30, 2013, an official publication of the Communist Party of China published a chilling reminder of the true nature of the People’s Republic. The Global Times newspaper disclosed in minute detail how China’s People’s Liberation Army developed plans for nuclear missile attacks on the western United States. The newspaper is no ordinary publication, like the scores of officially sanctioned news outlets produced in China. Global Times is a tightly controlled organ of the Chinese Communist Party and a subsidiary of its flagship People’s Daily newspaper. Nothing published in Global Times is produced by chance or accident. Any editors and writers who slip up in even the slightest way by publishing unsanctioned content find themselves behind bars.

The headline in bold Chinese characters did not signal what was coming in the article. “China Has Undersea Strategic Nuclear Deterrent Against United States for the First Time” was not news to those who have watched the PLA develop its conventional and strategic nuclear forces over the past two decades. But at the top of the seven-thousand-word article, the authors disclosed that China’s long-range Ju Lang–2, or Giant Wave–2, missiles would rain death and destruction on the United States. Imposed over a map of the western United States, a red shaded area from Seattle south to San Francisco Bay revealed the destruction of a nuclear strike, with additional shaded areas stretching from Montana south to Las Vegas and Los Angeles and narrowing eastward to a point at Chicago. The caption read “Speculated Overall Destructive Effect Assessment of China’s Intercontinental Nuclear Missiles Hitting Seattle” in phases of three days, a week, and a month after the blast.

“In general, after a nuclear missile strikes a city, the radioactive dust produced by 20 warheads will be spread by the wind, forming a contaminated area for thousands of kilometers,” the publication said. “Based on the actual level of China’s one million tons TNT equivalent small nuclear warhead technology, the 12 JL-2 nuclear missiles carried by one Type 094 nuclear submarine could cause the destruction of 5 million to 12 million people, forming a very clear deterrent effect.” The report added that to increase the casualties in the sparsely populated U.S. Midwest, the proposed strikes would be designed to spread radiation using the west to east winds, and stated: “So to increase the destructive effect, the main soft targets for nuclear destruction in the United States will be the main cities on the west coast, such as Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego.” As if to indicate the Chinese military believes the death of millions of Americans in a nuclear missile attack is more than theoretical, a second graphic of the Los Angeles area included five black circles representing blast zones over the heart of the city. “The picture shows the overall destructive effect assessment of an intercontinental missile strike against Los Angeles,” the caption noted dryly.

The article is classic Chinese information warfare—the use of non-kinetic, information-based programs and activities as surrogates for military conflict to achieve strategic objectives, an approach generally outlined centuries ago by famed strategist Sun Tzu. It was Sun Tzu who declared that the acme of skill is defeating your enemy without firing a shot. His is the guiding thought behind China’s aggressive information warfare today.

As Jake Bebber, a U.S. Cyber Command military officer, put it, the threat from China and its strategy of seeking the destruction of the United States have been misunderstood by the U.S. government and military. “China seeks to win without fighting, so the real danger is not that America will find itself in a war with China, but that America will find itself the loser without a shot being fired,” he wrote in a report for the Center for International Maritime Security.

These types of information warfare activities, along with cyberattacks, influence operations, and the buying of former American officials and military officers who can spout China’s key information warfare themes, have reached un-precedented levels. And the programs have accelerated under the hard-line Marxist-Leninist policies of the current supreme leader and party general secretary Xi Jinping.

While China today remains ruled by a nuclear-armed communist dictatorship, many Americans have been beguiled by successive reformist regimes in China that emerged after the madness of the Cultural Revolution in the 1970s and the ouster of radical Maoists. Communism in China remains unfamiliar and to some even nonexistent. After I took part in a debate in New York City in 2007 on the threat posed by China, I was astounded by businessman James McGregor, an adviser to both the U.S. and Chinese governments, who told me after doing business in China for twenty years he had never met a communist. The ruling party boasts 88.6 million members and controls or influences most domestic businesses.

The roots of Chinese information warfare can be found in the writings of ancient strategists. Sun Tzu is well known and his precepts mainly focus on the use of covert intelligence operations to win wars. “Warfare is the way of deception,” he wrote. “Thus although you are capable, display incapability to them.” But another less well-known Chinese philosopher, Tai Kung, provides a larger strategic perspective on China’s information warfare activities today. In a series of revolutionary military strategies called the Six Secret Teachings, which were passed down through the centuries verbally and eventually in writings, Tai Kung introduced the concept of “total warfare”—the use of all available means to achieve victory, including feigning and dissembling to deceive the enemy and allay suspicions, along with bribing and sending gifts to enemies as a way to foster disloyalties among foreign officials and create chaos in their ranks. Tai Kung also advocated covert action as a way of inducing extravagance and wastefulness in the enemy by providing the tools for the enemy’s self-destruction. China operates under the concept that utmost secrecy is required in preparation for warfare and that once the battle begins, warfare must be unrestricted by any constraints.* These concepts directly apply to the element of Chinese information warfare currently used by the rulers in the People’s Republic of China.

Based on these ancient principles, China has been developing its information warfare programs in earnest since the early 2000s, and despite its penchant for utmost secrecy, military writings obtained by the CIA and Pentagon have revealed the underpinnings of this new strategy. Shen Weiguang, one of China’s leading military theorists on in-formation warfare, stated in his 2000 book, World War, the Third World War—Total Information Warfare, that warfare in the twenty-first century will shift from traditional mechanized warfare to information-based conflict, the new “leading form of war.” In a society dominated by information, Shen, a former People’s Liberation Army officer, writes, control is the prime objective, and controlling the information domain will be the key to victory. “Whoever controls information society will have the opportunity to dominate the world and even the universe,” he warns.

Shen makes the dubious assertion that information war fare will be a bloodless, nonviolent war carried out in the domain of information systems and that it will ultimately re-place traditional armed conflict. Echoing Sun Tzu, he states:


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* Ralph Sawyer, The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China (New York: Basic Books, 2007).

“Because one can win an information war without fighting, it is thousands of times more efficient than armed aggression.” He called on China to rapidly learn this new form of warfare because China’s communist system is “locked in a fierce conflict with the capitalist system.”

For the Chinese, information warfare encompasses six aspects: obtaining information by various means, analyzing and verifying information, protecting information from attack or theft, utilizing information fully for military objectives, denying the enemy the ability to gather information, and managing information through electronic means to ensure its use. Its essence is to defeat enemy forces without fighting or with as little fighting as possible. China’s plan for information warfare includes both wartime and peacetime variants. For periods of peace, China will wage economic information war, to weaken a country’s economy by cutting off the source of information. Cultural information war, psychological war, and Internet war also will be employed in both peacetime and times of conflict. According to Shen, here’s what the United States will face from China’s military during a future conflict: “Strategically the objective of information war is to destroy the enemy’s political, economic, and military information infrastructures, perhaps even the information infrastructure of the whole society. This includes destroying and paralyzing the enemy’s military, financial, telecommunications, electronic, and power systems as well as computer networks. Moreover, psychological war and strategic deception would be employed to undermine morale among enemy forces and in the civilian population and weaken confidence in the government in hopes of stripping the enemy of its ability to go to war.”

Shen concludes:

Not for a single day have the imperialists given up their de- sire to destroy socialism. Instead, they have adopted all sorts of strategies and taken all kinds of actions to achieve that goal. Peaceful evolution is precisely the product of the failure of the imperialists’ armed suffocation strategy and global containment strategy, a shift from “hard confrontation” to “soft confrontation,” from “armed conquest” to “victory through peace,” an effort to use peaceful methods to achieve objectives unattainable by military means, an attempt to change the face of socialist nations and turn them into the appendages of the capitalist world.


Many of the concepts and theories put forth in 2000 by Shen have been implemented by the Chinese leadership, including the shift within its armed forces from a traditional, ground-force-oriented military to what Beijing calls an “informationized” one.

In 2012 China’s National Defense University produced a revealing internal study that includes the first details on information warfare programs and operations being developed by PLA forces for use in both peacetime and wartime.

The offensive information missions will seek to destroy American high-technology networks and systems, including satellites and their ground stations “so as to strip away and weaken the enemy’s information collection, dissemination, and processing capabilities,” according to a chapter of the report that I obtained. In the next war the Chinese will be using electronic, cyber, and military influence operations for attacks against military computer systems and networks, and specifically against air defenses and for jamming American precision-guided munitions and the GPS satellites that guide them. American antimissile systems also have been made a priority target of Chinese electronic warfare attacks as a way to assist “the penetration of our conventional missiles.” By electronically disrupting U.S. missile defenses, Chinese war-fighters plan to increase the ability of their large and diverse missile forces to reach and destroy regional targets.

For network attacks, special computer programs and viruses will be used in the attacks to “weaken, sabotage, or destroy enemy computer network systems or to degrade their operating effectiveness.” Chinese cyberwarriors plan to exploit what the report called “loopholes and weak links in the enemy network operating system, network protocols, applications software, and management operation.” The operations will require Chinese hackers to conduct forced or secret entry into American networks by penetrating security protection measures such as firewalls, gateways, and encryption authentication measures. Once network security is broken, follow-on attacks using “deception and disruption” will take place.

The report provides the first official Chinese evidence that its military forces are developing extremely powerful weapons for what were described as special information warfare attacks. “These weapons can effectively destroy electronic targets, and have become a new means with the highest lethality in information attacks,” the report said. “They mainly include directed energy weapons, kinetic energy weapons, in- capacitating weapons, and plasma weapons. They mainly

include laser weapons, high-power microwave weapons, EM-pulse [electromagnetic pulse] bombs, and particle-beam weapons.”

Psychological information warfare attacks by the Chinese military will combine “soft strike” with “hard destruction” means to inflict “enormous shock to the enemy in psychological respects, keep the enemy in a state of fear for a long period, and thus achieve the goal of victory without fighting.”

According to the report:

The important means for executing a psychological attack against the enemy include the following: First is to organize and conduct public opinion propaganda. No matter whether before a war or during war, it is always necessary to fully exploit carriers such as leaflets, photos, radio and TV, computer networks, multimedia newspapers & magazines, and the Internet, and adopt modes such as sea oats, air projection, and battlefield front-line propaganda directed to the enemy, to carry out psychological deterrence and psychological inducement of the enemy, so as to shake the enemy troops’ morale, disintegrate the enemy morale, break up the hostile forces, and win over the enemy people’s support. The second is to apply psychological warfare (PSYWAR) weapons to execute psychological attacks against the enemy. This can apply specialized PSYWAR weapons such as noise simulators, electronic whistlers, thought-control weapons, and virtual reality [VR] means to attack and deter the enemy, generate psychological fear or various hallucinations in the enemy military and civilians, and thus shake their will to wage war and degrade the enemy’s operational capability.


Among the exotic Chinese information weapons are holographic projectors and laser-glaring arms that can pre- sent large unusual images in the skies above enemy forces that would simulate hallucinations among troops on the ground. Traditional propaganda also will be used, including “public opinion propaganda and PSYWAR weapons to execute psychological attacks against the enemy, so as to disrupt the enemy command decision making, disintegrate the enemy troop morale, and shake the enemy’s  will  to wage war.”

All the operations would require military forces to use speed, surprise, and utmost secrecy. Also, Chinese troops are being ideologically hardened against enemy psychological warfare operations and U.S. EMP weapons.*

The response of American leaders to the unprecedented published threat to inflict nuclear annihilation on the United States was equally chilling. Under the liberal left policies of President Barack Obama, every element of the U.S. government was ordered to silence all public criticism of China. Government spokesmen were prohibited from saying anything about the Chinese threat. The American response to a state-run Communist Party newspaper’s outlining of plans to kill up to 12 million Americans was silence. It would be another seventeen days before I posed a question about the Global Times report to Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert during a conference at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. Greenert, among the more dovish navy chiefs in recent years, had been politicized under the Obama administration into not highlighting any threat posed by China. In response to my question, he astoundingly dismissed China’s submarine-launched nuclear attack threat as “a deterrent” that lacked credibility. The four-star admiral instead suggested that U.S. attack sub- marine forces were capable enough to prevent such attacks. “For a submarine-launched ballistic missile to be effective it has to be accurate, and you have to be stealthy, and survivable and I’ll leave it at that,” Greenert said, adding that American nuclear-armed missile submarines remain a powerful deterrent despite an aging U.S. nuclear arsenal and the urgent need to upgrade those forces, including new missile submarines, in the face of eight years of sharp defense spending cuts under Obama.

* Thanks to Michael Pillsbury, senior fellow, and director for Chinese Strategy at the Hudson Institute, for translating Chapter 7 of the report, “Introduction to Joint Campaign Information Operations,” Beijing, National Defense University Press, June 2012. (Military internal distribution only.)

Several weeks before the Global Times article boasting of the deaths of millions of Americans, Xi Jinping, China’s supreme leader, spoke to a gathering of party propaganda officials tasked with waging what he termed “public opinion struggle,” the Marxist concept of using all means to wage information warfare. The secret speech was reproduced in China Digital Times, an uncensored aggregator of news and information on China. It was significant for revealing the true and secret objectives behind the current leadership of China’s efforts to master the power of the Information Age. Bemoaning how the Communist Party is besieged by hostile Western forces promoting values such as freedom and democracy, Xi issued an urgent appeal for cadres to step up the use of information warfare to defeat the United States and its democratic allies. The Chinese leader first made clear that the Chinese communist system—socialism with Chinese characteristics— is threatened by the West, along with the Communist Party itself. “The disintegration of a regime often starts from the ideological area, political unrest and regime change may perhaps occur in a night, but ideological evolution is a long-term process,” Xi proclaimed. “If the ideological defenses are breached, other defenses become very difficult to hold. . . .

Communist Party members should fight and struggle for their beliefs, and contribute all their energies or even their lives.” The comments provide a clue to a future U.S. information warfare program against China.

The speech was an ideological call to arms, an appeal to step up information warfare against the West, an enemy Xi sees as posing an existential threat to party rule and what he has called the China Dream—the objective of diminishing all opposition to the Chinese communist system and leading to world domination by China, economically, politically, and militarily. This is the Chinese supremacist view of a world dominated by a Communist Party whose current leaders are the heirs of totalitarians behind the deaths of 65 million Chinese since coming to power in 1949, and who have never acknowledged that carnage or been held accountable for the atrocities committed under what has been called Marxism– Leninism–Mao Zedong thought, the official state ideology.

In December 2015, Xi completed a major reformation of the Communist  Party-led  People’s  Liberation  Army and its massive intelligence system with an eye to projecting power—both military and informational—around the world. The revamping of the military command structure has increased the danger posed by China’s cyberwarfare capabilities, which were folded into a new military entity called the Strategic Support Force and given greater prominence within China’s overall military forces. The Strategic Support Force, including intelligence, cyberwarfare, and information warfare units, was elevated to an equal footing with China’s other military services, the army, navy, air force, and strategic rocket forces that operate both nuclear and conventional missiles.

China’s main cyberwarfare capabilities were developed and are mainly carried out by one key unit within the all-powerful military, the Third Department of the General Staff, also known as 3PLA. American intelligence agencies estimate 3PLA has as many as 100,000 cyber warfare troops—hackers and electronic intelligence-gathering specialists—under its control. They include highly trained people who specialize in conducting network attacks, information technology, code-breaking, and foreign languages. The new force also includes the Fourth Department, China’s separate military electronic intelligence and electronic warfare service, and the more traditional military intelligence service devoted to human spying known as 2PLA.

Despite its secrecy, Xi made a revealing call for greater military information warfare efforts in the late summer of 2014. In a little-noticed report on China National Television, the Web version of state-run China Central Television, the Chinese leader announced at a meeting of the Communist Party Politburo on August 1, 2015, that China must adopt a new information warfare strategy as part of greater military innovation. “Xi Jinping encouraged the army to change fixed mindsets on mechanized warfare and create a concept of information warfare, as the country faces escalating tensions on intelligence issues with other countries,” the English- language CCTV broadcast announced.  According  to  Xi, the PLA needs to “counter nontraditional security threats, including economic threats.” The disclosure went unreported in Western news media but confirmed the growing danger posed by China.

For China, these events—the call to revamp information warfare against the West and reorganize the PLA into a high-tech power projection force—represent the ultimate repudiation of several decades of U.S. policies of conciliation toward China, which were the hallmark of successive U.S. administrations since the 1970s. That was when President Richard Nixon’s national security adviser Henry Kissinger introduced the Cold War policy of playing the China card against the Soviet Union. Since then, Kissinger and others of his ilk have dominated U.S. policy toward China, which has been characterized as unfettered engagement, regardless of Chinese threats, be they support for enemy states, theft of American nuclear secrets, or the spread of nuclear weapons around the world.

The height of the appeasement of China occurred during the administration of President George H. W. Bush, when National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft secretly traveled to China in July 1989 weeks after Chinese tanks crushed un- armed prodemocracy protesters in Tiananmen Square. Scow-croft and Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger were shown in photographs toasting Chinese leaders by candlelight during the visit. The message was unmistakable: despite curbing high-level contacts with China over the Tiananmen massacre, the U.S. government would continue business as usual with leaders who had been widely denounced as the Butchers of Beijing. The argument of the appeasers of China in the United States, who dominate not only the upper echelons of American government policymaking and the halls of academia but the ranks of senior military and intelligence officials as well, is that by adopting conciliatory policies toward Beijing, the United States will foster the evolution of a free and democratic China. Instead, the United States has become the target of Chinese hostility and venom and non-kinetic information warfare designed to destroy the nation.

As Grant Newsham and Kerry Gershaneck, two former U.S. policymakers, put it, the accommodationist approach has been a disaster. Their evidence was China’s covert, information-warfare-based program to take over the South China Sea without firing a shot. As they stated in the National Interest:

The United States’ approach to dealing with China from the Nixon-Kissinger era onwards resembles a forty-five-year science experiment—an experiment that has failed. In fact, the PRC’s relentless effort to create what might cheekily be called a “Greater South China Sea Co-Prosperity Sphere” belies any notion this view was ever correct. China’s island-building expansion across the South China Sea is just the latest evidence that most of the “experts” got China wrong.

These wrongheaded policies were not limited to the policy makers, in Republican as well as Democratic administrations, who worshipped at the altar of what they regarded as the great China economic miracle, which for decades appeared to produce a workable Marxist-Leninist economic system. Successive military leaders at the United States Pacific Command, based in Hawaii and charged with keeping the peace in the Asia Pacific, swooned at the prospect of regular meetings and exchanges with Chinese military leaders who were keen to deceive what they must have regarded as hapless Americans into believing that such high-level visits and other military exchanges could “build trust” between the two militaries. The U.S. military leaders have been badly mistaken. In the Chinese system, any Chinese military leader even perceived as having a trusting and friendly demeanor toward the American military would be prosecuted for party disloyalty or treason.

Typical of the U.S. military’s self-delusional approach to China was Admiral Samuel Locklear, an ambitious four-star officer. Locklear, in an apparent bid to curry favor with his superiors in Washington, adopted conciliatory postures toward China that sought to play down or ignore dangerous Chinese activities and behaviors. As an example, Locklear suggested in 2013 that China’s growing military capabilities were less of a concern than claims that climate change, based on dubious scientific claims about global warming, will eventually pro- duce disastrous rising sea levels. Climate change was a key policy of the liberal left Obama administration, and Locklear’s suggestion is an example of how politicized the U.S. military, and the navy in particular, had become under Obama.

According to a senior navy officer, it was Locklear’s failure while head of Pacific Command from 2012 to 2015 to assert the U.S. Navy’s rights of free navigation in the South China Sea that historians will mark as a failing that facilitated the growth of Chinese military dominance in Asia.

Lured by the prospect of improved relations with the People’s Liberation Army and hesitant to take any actions that would upset Chinese generals, Locklear failed to press political leaders in the administration to approve any U.S. Navy freedom-of-navigation operations in the South China Sea beginning in 2012. Prior to that, such operations were regularly carried out. However, approval of naval passage operations was put off by political appointees who wanted to avoid upsetting the Chinese government, which opposed the operations as an encroachment on its claimed maritime territory. The failure to maintain free and open seas with warship passes within twelve nautical miles of disputed islands, reefs, and shoals turned out to be a major strategic mistake. China’s military interpreted the lack of naval operations or aircraft overflights near the disputed islands claimed by China, Vietnam, the Philippines, and other regional states as a green light to move ahead with an aggressive program of dredging and building up the islands—to solidify its claim to own most of the entire sea. The South China Sea is a vital strategic waterway used annually by ships that move $5.3 trillion in goods, including $1.7 trillion in trade bound for the United States. The island-building campaign is part of the key objective of Beijing of driving its main enemy out of the region and gaining complete control over it.

Another significant shortcoming of the dominant establishment China specialists in and out of government is the failure to understand the emergence and dominance within China of a hard-line, anti-American Chinese military and civilian faction, which currently controls the country. That faction was identified by Wang Jisi, one of China’s foremost specialists on the United States, who wrote in 2011 that the pervasive anti-Americanism in China is based on a concept espoused by yet another ancient Confucian philosopher, Mencius (372 BC–289 BC), who argued that “a state without an enemy or external peril is absolutely doomed.” Thus the United States has been demonized as China’s main enemy, along with Japan, to be vanquished through information warfare under a program with the strategic goal of dominating the region. “Its proponents argue that China’s current approach to foreign relations is far too soft; Mao’s tit-for-tat manner is touted as a better model,” Wang wrote in Foreign Affairs. “As a corollary, it is said that China should try to find strategic allies among countries that seem defiant toward the West, such as Iran, North Korea, and Russia. Some also recommend that Beijing use its holdings of U.S. Treasury bonds as a policy instrument, standing ready to sell them if

U.S. government actions undermine China’s interests.”

To better understand China’s  information  operations, the Pentagon produced an important study on Chinese information warfare in May 2013 called “China: The Three Warfares.” For the first time, a detailed study had revealed Beijing’s covert strategy of using legal warfare, psychological warfare, and media warfare. Stefan Halper, a Cambridge University professor and editor of the study, told me the Chinese are far more advanced than the Pentagon in the art of information war. “We’re in a period where it’s not whose army wins. It’s whose story wins, and the Chinese figured that out very quickly,” Halper says. “They’re way ahead of us in this. We’re in an age where nuclear weapons are no longer usable. They understand that. We keep nattering on about nuclear capabilities, and shields and so on, but it’s really quite irrelevant.”

In the future, an American president must come to the realization that the decades-long policy of appeasing and accommodating the communist regime in Beijing is not just contrary to American national interests, but is in fact advancing a new strategic threat to free and democratic systems everywhere. As I wrote in my 2000 book, The China Threat, the solution to the problem of an economic and politically powerful nuclear-armed communist dictatorship in China is to help China transition its system from a communist regime into a free and open democracy, albeit one with Chinese characteristics. To this end, the use of information warfare tools will be essential to backing the forces for democratic change in China, as represented in part by the faction associated with tycoon and popular blogger Ren Zhiqiang.

Michael Pillsbury, a Pentagon consultant on Chinese affairs for several decades, revealed how a Chinese defector disclosed that Beijing, under supposed reformist Deng Xiaoping, successor to Chairman Mao, deceived the United States into believing China’s communist rulers were moderates on a slow but steady path to democratic political reform. “I was among those perpetuating the delusion that the arrest of China’s party leader was a temporary setback; that China was still on the road to democracy; that this purge was an overreaction; and that we had to protect the ‘moderate’ faction, led by Deng, who would right the ship and keep our relationship sailing smoothly.

“No one I worked with at the CIA or the Pentagon in the 1980s raised the idea that China could deceive the United States or be the cause of a major intelligence failure,” Pillsbury said.

The Obama administration negotiated an agreement with China to halt cyber-espionage against American corporations. In September 2015 an accord was reached during the visit to the United States by Chinese supreme leader Xi Jinping that stated both nations would abstain from government-backed cyber economic espionage. It was part of an administration policy that argued such agreements would produce new “norms” of behavior in cyberspace and stave off cyberattacks like the OPM and Anthem breaches, or future cyberattacks against critical infrastructures. The effort proved to be an utter failure. According to a U.S. defense official, the U.S. Cyber Command produced an intelligence report in early September 2016 revealing that a U.S. software company was hit by Chinese Ministry of State Security hackers to the tune of 1.65 terabytes of the company’s valuable proprietary data, a massive amount of information. The data theft had taken place after the September 2015 cyber agreement reached with the Chinese, and the software company cyber espionage left many American security officials extremely doubtful that Beijing had any intention of abiding by the ban on cyber eco- nomic espionage.

China today employs strategic information warfare to de- feat its main rival: the United States. China’s demands to control social media and the Internet are part of its information warfare against America and must be resisted if free and open societies and the information technology they widely use are to prevail. China remains the most dangerous strategic threat to America—both informationally and militarily.

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