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June 18, 2020
Notes from the Pentagon

U.S. fears China attack on Taiwan
Senior American officials are increasingly worried that stepped-up Chinese threats against democratic Taiwan are signs that Beijing is planning a future military takeover of the island — a move that would trigger a major U.S.-Chinese conflict.

In recent weeks, Chinese officials and state media outlets have escalated their threatening rhetoric against the island state 100 miles off the coast where Nationalists fled at the end of China’s civil war in 1949.

An example appeared Wednesday in the online China Daily, one of the central propaganda outlets of the Chinese Communist Party. Noting reports in foreign media of increased concerns about the possible use of force by the People’s Liberation Army against Taiwan, the article bore the headline “Secessionists should refrain from provoking Beijing.”

It accused Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen of promoting formal independence from Beijing and stated that if Taipei continued on that course, “Beijing will have to intensify crackdowns on the Taiwan secessionists and use non-peaceful means to safeguard national sovereignty and security.”

Two days earlier, a military spokesman at the Chinese Defense Ministry criticized a Taiwan overflight by a U.S. Air Force C-40 transport, a militarized Boeing 737. Senior Col. Ren Guoqiang said the June 9 flight “grossly violated China’s territorial sovereignty and seriously undermined peace and stability of cross-strait relations, which was extremely wrong and dangerous.”

The spokesman said the PLA has “sufficient capability to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity, protect the common interests of compatriots on both sides of the strait, maintain regional peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, and resolutely thwart any attempt to create so-called ‘one China, one Taiwan.’”

Separately, satellite photographs revealed that the PLA has constructed a full-scale replica of Taiwan’s presidential palace at a Chinese military base identified in state media as the Zhurihe Combined Tactics Training Base. The model is said to be used by PLA troops preparing to take control of Taipei in a future military conflict, The Drive news outlet reported.

A state-run video from 2015 also showed live-fire exercises by PLA troops, tanks and artillery storming the palace mock-up. Previous satellite images revealed similar replicas in China of Taiwanese military bases and airfields that also are used in assault training.

Increased Chinese pressure on Taiwan comes amid growing tensions in other locations, including Beijing’s announced plan to impose new security laws on Hong Kong, in violation of a 1997 Basic Law agreement guaranteeing the former British colony’s autonomy for 50 years.

Further east, tension also heightened after PLA and Indian troops clashed in a disputed border region, a confrontation that led to the deaths of some 20 Indian soldiers and an undisclosed number of Chinese troops.

A Trump administration official said, however, that the hottest of the hot spots appears to be Taiwan, and within the White House there is high-level concern that some type of military action against Taipei could take place in the future.

Under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, the U.S. is committed to preventing the forcible reunification of Taiwan with the mainland. To bolster ties with Taiwan, the Trump administration has stepped up arms sales and increased military contacts and activities near Taiwan.

The most recent sign of support was the passage through the Taiwan Strait on June 4 of the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Russell. The date was significant because it was the anniversary of the 1989 Chinese military-led massacre of unarmed protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

In a further show of U.S. force, two Air Force B-52 bombers on Wednesday conducted long-range training flights from Alaska near Taiwan, passing through the Sea of Japan, East China Sea and South China Sea.

A declassified 2017 report by the CIA’s WikiLeaks task force provides new details on a major leak of cyberweapons used by the agency.

The report stated that the “Vault 7” documents obtained by the anti-secrecy website were stolen by a CIA employee in the spring of 2016. The theft compromised 180 gigabytes to 34 terabytes of sensitive data — or 11.6 million to 2.2 billion Microsoft Word document pages.

The breach took place at the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence (CCI) in Northern Virginia, and the report’s authors said tracing the origin has been difficult because of poor security on the center’s computer networks.

“We cannot determine the precise scope of the loss because, like other mission systems at that time, [the software development network] did not require user activity monitoring or other safeguards that exist on our enterprise system,” the report said.

The stolen software was among the agency’s cyberweapons used to conduct cyberattacks and foreign penetrations to obtain intelligence.

“Most of our sensitive cyber weapons were not compartmented, users shared systems administrator-level passwords, there were no effective removable media controls, and historical data was available to users indefinitely,” the report said.

“Furthermore, CCI focused on building cyber weapons and neglected to also prepare mitigation packages if those tools were exposed. These shortcomings were emblematic of a culture that evolved over years that too often prioritized creativity and collaboration at the expense of security.”

The report said the publication of the cyberweapons by WikiLeaks exposed “multiple ongoing failures,” including a lack of computer audit capabilities, poor security management, and a failure to recognize that a person with access to classified information — a so-called “insider threat” — posed a risk to national security.

WikiLeaks obtained secret cybertools from two programs code-named “Confluence” and “Stash” but did not obtain more complete information from a folder called “Gold,” which contained all finished tools and source code.

Federal prosecutors charged former CIA engineer Joshua Schulte with stealing the cyberweapons in 2018. A jury could not reach a verdict on the case in March, and prosecutors have said they plan to retry the case. Mr. Schulte pleaded not guilty to the espionage-related charges.

The redacted CIA document was made public during Mr. Schulte’s trial and was released this week by Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat.

Air Force F-22 jets intercepted two Russian bombers and Su-35 escort jets near Alaska on Tuesday night, marking a sharp increase in military missions along the air defense identification zone.

“For the eighth time this year, Russian military aircraft have penetrated our Canadian or Alaskan Air Defense Identification Zones, and each and every time NORAD forces were ready to meet this challenge,” said Air Force Gen. Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, commander of the Northern Command as well as commander of the U.S.-Canada North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).

The Russian aerial incursions have been taking place regularly for years under Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Defense analysts say the bomber flights usually are part of practice nuclear strikes on the United States during military exercises, or are designed to test U.S. and Canadian air defenses — to monitor how NORAD responds to various flights near their territory.

Along with the F-22s, KC-135 refueling tankers and an E-3 airborne warning and control aircraft took part in the two intercepts. The first Russian formation included two Tu-95 Bear bombers, two Su-35 jets and an A-50 airborne warning and control plane. That was followed by two more Bear bombers and an A-50.

“The Russian military aircraft came within 32 nautical miles of Alaskan shores; however, [they] remained in international airspace and at no time did they enter United States sovereign airspace,” NORAD said in a statement.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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