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Dec. 23, 2021
Notes from the Pentagon

China propaganda arm broadcasts in D.C.

By Bill Gertz
China’s global propaganda network is now broadcasting in the Washington area through a 50,000-watt radio station based in Leesburg, Va.

Radio station WCRW identifies itself as China Radio International’s English-language broadcasting arm. That is changing as the new broadcaster is the state-run China Global Television Network, successor to CRI.

“The programming provides global audiences with news, reports and feature programs with a distinctive Chinese flavor and an international perspective,” the radio notes on its website.

The owner of the station is listed on the radio website as New World Radio Group, which since August 1992 has been beaming the official Chinese government line into the Washington market.

However, a Justice Department Foreign Agents Registration Act filing this week states that the station is now owned by Potomac Radio Group, Inc., which purchased WCRW in January 2019. Brian Lane, a principal of Potomac Radio Group, said his company leases air time to the Chinese and is looking to sell the station as an investment.

“We are an investor group that acquired this station and another in 2019,” he said. “We have sold the one station and we are considering selling the other.”

Mr. Lane said WCRW has been broadcasting China Radio International content for almost 20 years.

“We are not agents of China,” Mr. Lane said. “We are like landlords that might lease office space to the Chinese government. We lease radio air time. We provide a service and they are our customer. We voluntarily registered under FARA given the broad reach of the act.”

FARA requires any group seeking to influence the United States on behalf of a foreign government to register with the Justice Department.

The radio’s programming is designed to broadcast Chinese Communist Party narratives into the capital region, in a bid to influence decision-makers. The station website bills its efforts as providing Washington-area listeners with “insight to the cultural differences and similarities and opens a window on China to view our shared experiences.”

The station is now the main local radio outlet for the Chinese government’s China Global Television Network.

In the Justice Department filing this week, the Potomac Radio Group, located in Falls Church, registered as a Chinese foreign agent and disclosed its relationship with CGTN.

The filing notes that CGTN is under the control of the propaganda department of the Chinese Communist Party and is financed by the government’s State Council.

The State Department designated CGTN as a foreign government in February 2020 as part of the Trump administration’s efforts to crack down on what it called Chinese propaganda outlets. The official Xinhua news agency and the Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily were also designated as government outlets requiring controls.

According to the Justice Department filing, the Potomac Radio Group has received more than $3.69 million from CGTN dating back to July 2019 prior to its registration as a foreign agent. The money was used for social media, radio broadcasting and production of a radio program called The Bridge.

William R. Hawkins, a former House Foreign Affairs committee staff member, stated in a recent article in American Thinking American Greatness that he was surprised to hear WCRW’s Chinese-oriented broadcasts while driving on the Beltway recently.

“Programming runs the gamut from how dogs ‘talk’ to their owners to Chinese-language lessons to dramatic readings from Sun Tzu’s ‘The Art of War,’” Mr. Hawkins said. “But entertainment is just a cover for the station’s real purpose — promoting Beijing’s foreign policy goals by disarming any opposition.”

One segment on the radio urged the European Union to reject alignment with the United States against Russia and China, and a Chinese economics professor relayed a report from the Beijing government extolling China as a “democracy that works.”

That report promoted China’s communist ideology dubbed “socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era” under current President Xi Jinping.

“For those concerned, and properly so, about foreign influence in American democracy and the recruitment of domestic activists to serve overseas regimes, there is no need to indulge in conspiracy theories,” Mr. Hawkins said. “One only needs to tune in 1190 AM when visiting the nation’s capital to hear the plot broadcast in the clear.”

CRS on use of force and cyberspace
Currently, there are no internationally accepted legal definitions on what is considered the cyber equivalent of an armed attack warranting a military response, according to a recent report by the Congressional Research Service.

“Self-defense and countermeasures for armed attacks are permitted in international law when a belligerent violates international law during peacetime, or violates the law of armed conflict during wartime,” the Dec. 10 report says. “However, the term ‘armed attack’ has no universally accepted definition and is still not well-settled with respect to cyberattacks.”

The U.S. view was outlined in a 2012 statement by Harold Koh, then-State Department legal adviser, who wrote that “cyber activities that proximately result in death, injury or significant destruction would likely be viewed as a use of force.”

Cyberattacks that could warrant a military response include triggering a meltdown at a nuclear power plant, causing aircraft to crash through air traffic control disruptions or opening a dam remotely to cause flood damage.

U.S. policy also recognizes that cyberattacks that do not cause “kinetic” damage or destruction can still be considered part of armed conflict in certain cases.

Mr. Koh wrote that cyberattacks on information networks during a war would be governed by principles of proportionality that apply to other actions under the law of armed conflict. Those principles include military or intelligence retaliation after a cyberattack with a proportional use of kinetic force.

Also, computer network attacks that are equivalent to armed attacks or an imminent threat of attack could trigger a nation’s right to self-defense under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter.

A 2011 International Strategy for Cyberspace states that “when warranted, the United States will respond to hostile acts in cyberspace as we would to any other threat to our country.

That strategy, which has not been updated, states that the United States is prepared to use all means necessary, including diplomatic, informational, military and economic methods, to respond to a cyberthreat.

The question of the use of cyberattacks in future conflict comes as potential conflict is increasing over Chinese military coercion of Taiwan and Russia’s massing of troops near Ukraine.

FBI access to digital media
An FBI report published online recently has revealed which applications are secure from federal government surveillance.

The report lists 10 applications and the level of legal FBI access to them. They include iMessage, Line, Signal, Telegram, Threema, Viber, WeChat, WhatsApp and Wikr.

For accessing iMessage texts, FBI access is described as “limited” and notes that subpoenas can produce basic subscriber information.

A search warrant can produce backups of a target device if the user uses iCloud.

Signal, a popular encrypted messaging and phone app, appears to be among the more secure applications and will not produce any message content for the FBI, but can reveal the date and time a user registered with the services. The FBI can also learn a user’s last date of connectivity to the service.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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