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Oct. 22, 2020
Notes from the Pentagon

Defense Policy Board and China

By Bill Gertz
The Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board, an influential advisory panel of former officials, is dominated by experts who do not reflect the hard-line policies toward China put into place under President Trump, according to analysts.

Chief among those on the board with views that clash with Mr. Trump is former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, architect of the conciliatory U.S. policies that argued in favor of unfettered economic and diplomatic engagement with the communist regime.

The Kissinger policy has been rejected by the Trump administration, which regards China as the United States’ chief strategic competitor and rival.

Mr. Kissinger, 97, did not take part in two recent meetings of the policy board, but his influence is said to remain strong among Pentagon leaders and others in the Trump administration.

William C. Triplett II, former chief Republican counsel for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said at least two-thirds of the board’s members should support the vision of the administration in power, with one-third reflecting from previous administrations.

“But the one-third should be distinguished persons who are not known for high and active partisanship,” Mr. Triplett said.

“The present composition of the board does not appear to meet that standard,” he said. “For example, certainly Dr. Kissinger is entitled to his opinions on China, but they are the antithesis of the Trump administration, and former Secretary of State [Madeleine] Albright is an active Democratic partisan.”

The board was briefed recently on China by David Helvey, principal deputy assistant defense secretary for Indo-Pacific security affairs. Mr. Helvey is viewed by critics as favoring past polices of engagement with China, especially military-to-military exchanges that were curbed by Congress over concerns that Beijing was gaining valuable war-fighting data from the exchanges.

One policy board member is David McCormick, CEO of Bridgewater Associates, a hedge fund with extensive ties to China. Bridgewater China Investment Management is a unit of the hedge fund based in Shanghai.

Mrs. Albright is a partisan Democrat who during the Clinton administration helped push through Chinese entry into the World Trade Organization, based on promises of reforms in Beijing that critic say never took place.

Another Democrat on the board is Jamie Gorelick, a liberal deputy attorney general during the Clinton administration who was responsible for erecting the disastrous bureaucratic “wall” between intelligence and law enforcement agencies. Critics say the wall hindered federal agencies from sharing information that could have prevented the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Ms. Gorelick recently circulated a legal analysis for the board on the idea of “decoupling” the United States from the close economic integration with China. No details of the paper could be learned.

Clinton administration Deputy Defense Secretary Rudy deLeon is also on the board. Mr. deLeon is currently an Asia analyst with the liberal Center for American Progress.

Former Rep. Jane Harman, a California Democrat, also is on the policy board. Ms. Harman was a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and was widely expected to be given a senior post had Mrs. Clinton won.

Former Adm. Gary Roughead, who also is on the board, was in China for a military exchange program with the People’s Liberation Army in 2006 when The Washington Times reported how a Chinese submarine was able to surface undetected within torpedo range of the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk.

The incident was widely seen as an embarrassment to the Navy and a sign of hostility from the PLA.

As reported earlier in this space, Adm. Roughead, Mrs. Albright, Ms. Gorelick and Ms. Harman were added to the policy board in 2011 during the Obama administration as part of an effort to slant it in a Democratic direction.

Conservatives currently on the board include J.D. Crouch, a Pentagon and White House official in the George W. Bush administration; Reagan and Bush administration official Paula Dobriansky; and Robert Joseph, a State Department official in the Bush administration.

Moderate Republicans on the board include former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia and former Sen. Jim Talent of Missouri.

“While the current membership of the Defense Policy Board is comprised of very well-known names, the board’s current overall membership, save for a few exceptions, fundamentally represents the ‘engagement’ policy’ that is largely responsible for ignoring, even abetting, the People’s Republic of China’s militaristic and aggressive expansion in Asia over the past decade,” said retired Navy Capt. Jim Fanell, a former Pacific Fleet intelligence chief.

“It seems clear the membership of the board does represent the U.S. government’s policy towards the PRC as espoused in the 2017 National Security Strategy and the 2018 National Defense Strategy.”

A spokesman for Defense Secretary Mark Esper had no immediate comment.

The National Security Agency this week issued a warning about Chinese state-run cyberattacks against defense networks.

“One of the greatest threats to U.S. national security systems, the U.S. defense industrial base, and Department of Defense information networks is Chinese state-sponsored malicious cyber activity,” NSA said in a technical notice to network administrators.

“These networks often undergo a full array of tactics and techniques used by Chinese state-sponsored cyber actors to exploit computer networks of interest that hold sensitive intellectual property, economic, political and military information.”

The Chinese hacking targets known vulnerabilities in software. The NSA has warned computer operators to take steps to apply security patches and other mitigation efforts.

Chinese hackers follow well-known attack procedures used by other sophisticated cyberoperatives.

“They often first identify a target, gather technical information on the target, identify any vulnerabilities associated with the target, develop or re-use an exploit for those vulnerabilities, and then launch their exploitation operation,” the NSA said.

The advisory did not identify the Chinese state-run actors involved in the cyberattacks. China’s main cyberunits include hacking units of the Ministry of State Security, the civilian spy service and the PLA military cyberunits.

The agency said computer systems should be updated as soon as possible after patches are released. But the NSA also noted that after a system has been hacked, a patch will not protect compromised systems.

“Expect that data stolen or modified (including credentials, accounts and software) before the device was patched will not be alleviated by patching, making password changes and reviews of accounts a good practice,” the advisory said.

Chinese hackers have used at least 26 vulnerabilities to penetrate defense networks.

“NSA is aware that national security systems, defense industrial bases, and Department of Defense networks are consistently scanned, targeted and exploited by Chinese state-sponsored cyber actors,” the advisory said.

“NSA recommends that critical system owners consider these actions a priority, in order to mitigate the loss of sensitive information that could impact U.S. policies, strategies, plans and competitive advantage.”

China has deployed a new hypersonic missile that state media reports say would be used against the United States in a future conflict over Taiwan.

The Communist Party newspaper Global Times reported Monday that the DF-17 hypersonic missile would be used against “foreign military intervention” in a battle for the island state 100 miles off the southern Chinese coast.

The South China Morning Post, owned by Chinese interests, reported that DF-17s were deployed to the southeast coast for use in a possible invasion of Taiwan.

The Global Times quoted Chinese military experts as correcting the Morning Post report, noting that the ultra-high-speed maneuvering missile will not be used against targets in Taiwan because of the proximity to the mainland.

“The military targets on Taiwan are totally within the reach of the PLA’s rocket launchers and air-launched missiles carried by military aircraft, so using advanced missiles to strike against Taiwan would be a waste,” a Beijing-based military academy official told the Global Times.

“If the PLA deploys missile like the DF-17, that would be a weapon for striking foreign military force’s military bases or fleets in the West Pacific region if those ‘foreign forces’ dare to intervene in the PLA operation to reunify the island.”

Tensions have been raised over Taiwan in recent weeks as Chinese warplanes have stepped up flights near the island.

The Navy sent the guided-missile destroyer USS Barry through the Taiwan Strait on Oct. 14, said Cmdr. J. Myers Vasquez, a Pacific Fleet spokesman.

“The ship’s transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” he said. “The U.S. Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows.”

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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