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March 21, 2019
Notes from the Pentagon

China's acoustic cannon
U.S. intelligence and security agencies investigating the mysterious sonic attacks against American diplomatic personnel in China need to look no further than China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

The ministry stated in a Nov. 15 report on the use of military technology for civilian projects that one program involves an “acoustic wave cannon.”

The weapon appears to be a variant of the sonic cannon produced by China’s Dongguan 3G Acoustic Technology Co. Ltd.

“The db2700 acoustic wave cannon system is composed of five major components: an acoustic wave cannon, an acoustic wave control system, the Type DA2700 digital audio power amplifier, a tripod head and an acoustic wave cannon control system,” the report says. “Capable of beaming powerful sound in a specific direction, the Type db2700 acoustic wave cannon is suitable for operations that include close-range [personnel] dispersion, deterrence against personnel (100 meters), long-range sound projection, propaganda, and warning (range between three and five kilometers).”

The tripod can be adjusted to beam sound in several directions and both vertically and horizontally.

The weapon is “classified as a type of non-lethal equipment based on a new-type, powerful-sound concept,” the report said.

“The system’s characteristics include high reliability, stable performance and easy operation.”

The weapon includes an MP3 player and powerful directional microphone that allows the user of the gun to issue verbal commands. It has a maximum range of 3,000 meters.

The weapon can be used by the military, People’s Arms Police, firefighter units, and personnel at rescue operations, airports, transport stations, ports and public gatherings needing amplified sound.

CBS’s “60 Minutes” on Sunday interviewed several American diplomats who suffered brain trauma from suspected sonic attacks in Guangzhou, China.

Mark Lenzi, a State Department security officer at the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou, said he and his wife were injured after hearing strange sounds in their apartment. “This was a directed, standoff attack against my apartment,” he said of the attack that left him suffering from headaches, memory loss and sensitivity to light.

Mr. Lenzi said he believes he was targeted by the Chinese because he is involved in using top-secret equipment to analyze electronic threats to diplomatic missions.

The report said State Department officials sought to cover up the Chinese sonic attacks, attacks that were similar to those targeting U.S. diplomats in Cuba.

Hong Kong’s Apple Daily newspaper quoted military expert Antony Wong as saying China’s sonic weapons are as small as a wash basin and portable enough to be carried by one person. Mr. Wong said the sonic weapons are made by private companies specializing in police equipment and that, while the cause of the diplomats’ injuries has not been confirmed, China would have “clandestinely deployed” the sonic arms.

N. Korean financial cyberattacks
The latest report of the U.N. Security Council panel of experts on North Korea reveals new details of Pyongyang’s cyberattacks.

The panel stated in its report made public earlier this month that Pyongyang has used cyberattacks to evade financial sanctions imposed on the regime of Kim Jong-un.

The cyberattacks “illegally force the transfer of funds from financial institutions and cryptocurrency exchanges,” the report noted.

According to the report, one U.N. member told the panel that “cyberspace is used by [North Korea] as an asymmetric means to carry out illicit and undercover operations in the field of cybercrime and sanctions evasion.”

The cyber operations are carried out by the North Korean Reconnaissance General Bureau (RGB), one of the regime’s intelligence agencies. The bureau is the main cyberattack unit and also is ready to conduct cyberattacks for “destroying infrastructure” and spying, in addition to obtaining foreign currency.

The RGB also is behind “cyber-focused military units [that] are directly tasked to generate income for the regime.”

One example was reported by South Korea’s National Police Agency involving the July 28, 2016, cyberattack against an online shopping mall Interpark that sought to steal $2.7 million in foreign currency.

In May 2018, North Korea carried out a cyberattack to transfer $10 million from Banco de Chile to North Korean bank accounts in Hong Kong. The attacks utilized unauthorized transfers using the SWIFT international financial system. That was carried out by a group called Lab 110, part of the RGB.

North Korean hackers then stole around $13.5 million in August from Cosmos Bank in India using more than 14,000 simultaneous automated teller machine (ATM) withdrawals in 28 countries and additional transfers to an account in a Hong Kong-based company using SWIFT.

“These more recent attacks show how [North Korea] has become an increasingly sophisticated actor in cyberattacks for financial gain, with tools and tactics steadily improving,” the report said.

“The Cosmos attack was a more advanced, well planned and highly coordinated operation that bypassed three main layers of defense contained in International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) banking/ATM attack mitigation guidance.”

The hackers in the Cosmos cyber heist not only breached the SWIFT network but also were able to compromise internal bank processes. They bypassed transaction verification procedures in ordering global transfers to nearly 30 nations where funds were physically withdrawn by people in more than 10,000 separate transactions in one weekend.

Cyberattacks involving cryptocurrencies provided Pyongyang with additional ways to circumvent financial sanctions because those currencies are harder to trace, can be laundered easily and are outside of government regulation.

The report said North Korea “carried out at least five successful attacks against cryptocurrency exchanges in Asia between January 2017 and September 2018, resulting in a total loss of $571 million.”

The panel urged the Security Council to seek to take steps to prevent financial thefts though cyberattacks in future sanctions.

Common sense intelligence
The Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency, offspring of the agency that helped create the internet, is now studying ways to give machines the ability to apply common sense.

Peter Highnam, DARPA’s deputy director, recently outlined several projects related to artificial intelligence being worked on at the agency.

The Machine Common Sense program was launched in October in a bid to examine recent advances in cognitive understanding, natural language processing, deep learning and other areas of AI.

“The real breakthrough for artificial intelligence, however, will not come until researchers figure out a way for machines to learn or otherwise acquire common sense,” Mr. Highnam said in prepared testimony. “Without common sense, AI systems will be powerful but limited tools that require human inputs to function.”

Machines programed with common sense will be a partner in problem solving.

“Common-sense knowledge is so pervasive in our lives that it can be hard to recognize,” he said.

For example, in a war zone, troops tend to make snap decisions and ignore evidence that does not support their point of view.

For artificial intelligence to support the military, robot systems powered by AI “will need sufficient common sense to know when to speak and what to say, which will require that it have a good idea of what each person knows.”

“Interrupting to state the obvious would quickly result in its deactivation, particularly under stressful conditions,” he said.

AI technology is involved in more than 60 programs, including one for analyzing sophisticated cyberattacks, detecting fraudulent imagery and building “dynamic kill-chains for all-domain warfare.” Kill chain is the military term for the process of an attack — target identification, force dispatch, order for attack and destruction of targets.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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