Fighting the Next War

This isn’t directly about politics, but the implications will have an impact on the political landscape of the coming decade.

The United States is pretty good at fighting the last war, but has been increasingly bad at fighting the next. Case in point: China hijacked all US government Internet traffic for a while in April. Meanwhile, the US was focused on halting Muslim terrorists.

This is scary stuff, because our nation is more dependent upon the Internet working correctly than you may realize. If China is capable of intercepting large swaths of US Internet traffic, they are also capable of reading it or changing it. The implications truly cannot be overstated. This is the electronic equivalent of nuclear warheads aimed at our nation, but without any advance warning of an attack.

The focus on Al Qaeda and other Muslim extremists is all about the last war. China is uniquely positioned to be in control of the next.


About Michael Weiss

Michael is now located at http://www.logarchism.com, along with Monotreme, filistro, and dcpetterson. Please make note of the new location.
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44 Responses to Fighting the Next War

  1. Seriously, haven’t we as a nation passed the event horizon into the black hole of stupidity?

  2. shortchain says:

    The USA has never, in all its history, ever fought, let alone won, a war based on its intelligence (in either meaning of the word “intelligence”, which is also an oxymoron in either sense of the word when referring to war itself). The closest contender was Gulf War 1 — but that was begun through utter stupidity in diplomacy and only ended intelligently.

    So if America requires smarts to win, well, it will be a rough go.

  3. Mr. Universe says:

    From what I hear, Cyberwarfare is taken very seriously by the Fed. Check out the 60 Minutes clip I posted above

  4. shrinkers says:

    Speaking of fighting the last war, the Republicans are talking about killing the historic arms treaty that Obama negotiated with the Russians. Can’t have Obama get any victories at all, even ones that are good for our nation and for the world.

    These guys hate Obama more than they love America. That’s clear.

    But on a brighter note, it’s official. Murkowski beat Miller. A moderate Republican with a write-in campaign beat the Teabagger who had full party support. The next war will be an insurrection within the Republican Party.

  5. Bart DePalma says:

    Michael:

    The phrase “fighting the last war” means using outdated strategies to fight a current war. Not quite applicable here.

    The Pentagon is well aware that China has been a great power military rival for over a decade now. Our cyber warfare units were developed with China in mind.

    If China decides to throw down with the US, you can expect the internet to go down and well as most civilian GPS and perhaps telecommunications. The Pentagon war games anticipate a massive attack against US GPS and internet resources to be coordinated with an attack on our fleet in any face off over Taiwan. However, China cannot keep this up for more than a very short period of time without inviting a worldwide backlash against its export driven economy.

    If China wants to pressure us, it has far less provocative economic weapons – debt, currency manipulation and denial of access to their markets. See how the Chinese have essentially neutered Obama’s trade threats. It’s difficult to play hardball on trade while you are begging the Chinese to pay for your pet domestic programs.

  6. filistro says:

    @shrinkers … These guys hate Obama more than they love America.

    I think that’s true. It’s a level of hatred that’s never been seen before. Even Clinton wasn’t hated this much, this relentlessly, at a level that put hatred over country.

    Fortunately there are still a couple of actual statesmen within Republican ranks. But only a couple… and they’re leaving. Soon they will all be gone and the once-GOP will be nothing but a collection of petty grifters and squabbling factions grubbing for power and money.

  7. Bart DePalma says:

    shrinkers says: “Speaking of fighting the last war, the Republicans are talking about killing the historic arms treaty that Obama negotiated with the Russians.”

    I thought you progressives worshipped compromise? The GOP wants Obama to agree to modernize our nuclear arsenal and is using his pet treaty as leverage. If the Republicans had substantive problems with the treaty, you would be hearing them.

  8. Bart,

    What you described is precisely what I mean. This isn’t about Taiwan. This is about becoming to the 21st century what the US was in the 20th. It’s about being the nation that nobody can tell what to do. They learned well from the US foreign policy, but the cyber control is all about making sure the US won’t bother trying to stop them from doing anything.

    Here’s a few hints for you: you don’t have to attack a fleet that isn’t there, and you don’t have to worry about embargoes in a case of economic mutually-assured destruction.

  9. filistro says:

    Speaking of international terrorism… a terrorist escapes conviction on many of the charges against him because the court rejects the evidence against him that was obtained through torture during the Bush administration… and the Republicans take this as proof that civilian courts are ineffective!

    It’s a mad mad mad mad world.

  10. Bart DePalma says:

    Michael:

    The North Koreans can pull off economic attacks like massively forging our currency because they opted out of the world economy and are not exposed to economic retaliation.

    In contrast, the Chinese are heavily involved in almost every aspect of the world economy and are massively reliant upon their export economy (especially exports to the US) to keep the migration from the farms employed. That makes the Chinese very vulnerable to economic retaliation on a wide variety of fronts. Our only real vulnerabilities to China are our debt and our greed for access to their markets.

    If we get our insane Keynesian borrowing under control, China is at a severe disadvantage to the United States in an economic war.

  11. Bart,

    Currency forging as a means of economic attack against the US is harder to do than you realize. Not that forging the currency is hard, but it’s unbelievably hard to do it in a way that would cause a Weimar-like currency devaluation. Considering that North Korea has nothing to lose by trying that, why do you think we haven’t had another Weimar?

    The Chinese certainly gain a great deal by having such a big export economy. But China has a few significant differences from the US that makes that export economy less critical than you think. First, culturally speaking, China is still much more collective than individualistic. Their citizens will enthusiastically sacrifice in order to support the collective, given the right motivation. Second, politically speaking, China is still nearly totalitarian, and most Chinese are perfectly content with that.

    The US has many more vulnerabilities against China right now than you realize. The debt is but one, and far from the most important. If we could somehow magically make the debt held today by China disappear immediately, we’d still be at a severe disadvantage to them.

    What you may not realize is that Chinese culture is focused on the finesse, rather than the brute force. One reason the US and USSR were such well-matched opponents is that both nations are brute-force nations. It was easy to understand and predict the other country’s behavior. The US and China are fighting with completely different techniques. China understands the US technique far better than the US does China’s.

  12. mclever says:

    @filistro

    Yeah, Dick Lugar is one politician for whom I have reasonable respect. As you say, a statesman. I applaud him for this one.

    I can’t believe the Republican Party is playing penny-ante politics with nukes. It’s appalling! They are putting the scoring of domestic political points ahead of what’s best for the nation and the world. 😦 Hopefully, some will listen to their learned colleague, Sen. Lugar.

  13. mclever says:

    @Michael:

    What you may not realize is that Chinese culture is focused on the finesse, rather than the brute force. One reason the US and USSR were such well-matched opponents is that both nations are brute-force nations. It was easy to understand and predict the other country’s behavior. The US and China are fighting with completely different techniques. China understands the US technique far better than the US does China’s.

    Well said, and sadly true. Given their political structure, it’s also “safer” for the Chinese leadership to plan and implement strategies that have long-term payoffs, because they don’t have to worry about quick-fix politics to please a fickle electorate that wants results NOW! In the USA, such long-term thinking is derided or dismissed unless you can show that it’ll score political points in the next midterm.

  14. shortchain says:

    Mr. Universe,

    You have to learn how to interpret MIC-talk (MIC = Military-Industrial-Complex). When they say they’re “taking cyberwar very seriously”, they mean, “we think our contractor friends (who will be hiring us at high salaries when we retire from active military) will be making a lot of money out of this.

    And of course, the GOP’s interest in “upgrading our military arsenal” has little or nothing to do with the security of this country. It has to do with rewarding their friends in the MIC. It’s just your standard fear-mongering GOP at work. It’s the means by which the MIC and its congressional lackeys will convince the dim bulbs in the GOP base, i.e., the teapers, that you can’t cut defense spending (except in districts which vote democratic).

  15. Mainer says:

    Bart, how is it that you can almost make sense on an issue, put forth reasonable concepts that I was ven thinking wow I’m going to have to come down on Barts side on some thing and then you blow it out of the water with your constant carping about this administration and the president in particular. My god man how do you ever win a case in court. Learn when to shut up.

    We are most definetly in the hole to the Chinese but to listen to you it is all because this administration and their domestic programs. Bart other than being a lieing manure spreader you can not fathom that most of the debt we have with the Chinese was to fund pet wars and tax give aways brought on by the last gang in town. You do realize that right? We find ourselves in a difficult situation in terms of how we deal with China because your side gave away the freaking farm and now getting things back on an even keel is going to take years if not decades. You do realize that some of the advances the Chinese have been able to make in terms of technology that can now be used against us is because the last gang allowed US companies to transfer said technology there to appease their real god of the dollar.

    Now the new treaty being held up by Republicans and your protestations that “If the Republicans had substantive problems with the treaty, you would be hearing them.” is the entire point they are holding them up because they are more interested in attacking the president then they are worried that some one out side could attack us. One of the worst case scenarios is for a disgruntled/broke/Russian to grab a loose nuke and sell it or on a lesser scale get hold of enough material to make a really nasty dirty bomb and sell that. When we had inspectors there and we and the Russians were working together that was at some level less likely. But now there are no on scene inspectors, there have not been for some time. And the Republican answer is oooh oooh a time and place to make political points, screw having eyes on the scene. You clowns are rapidly becoming the least protective jerk offs of this country going. I do not much care for what you constantly espouse to have been the last saint but now it appears you are all such lieing pieces of crap that even that was a lie. Reagan couldn’t walk on water but even he got this one right. Trust but verify. Bart open your freaking eyes you and those like you are becoming a pox on this country.

    Oh and Bart how is that will of the people thing going? The people over whelmingly want the treaty, the people want DADT to go away…….yet screw the people there are political points to be made. You want governance by polling data then start reading the polls. Damn you are a bone head.

  16. Mr. Universe says:

    There’s a reason people regard the teachings of Sun Tzu so highly. He said (paraphrasing) why fight an enemy that is defeating itself?

    @Bart

    The ‘pet project’ of Obama with the Russkies is a continuation of the START trreaty initiated by none other than your hero, Reagan. Republicans are no longer just gambling away our futures to defeat President Obama; they’re stealing the family jewels to support their gambling addiction. There’s about to be an intervention.

  17. I have read that the Chinese are facing a pretty nasty real estate bubble. Could you comment on how that may effect the current and near future?

  18. Mr. Universe says:

    @shorrchain

    I think most of what Repubs object to in regard to funding the ‘MIC’ revolve around getting military contraqcts for their individual districts. Military spending has become a big part of the GDP. Too big, IMHO. F-35 airplanes are an impressive feat of technology but what good is that when our economy can be collapsed by a bunch of hacker in a basement in Bejieng? Or a bunch of cave dwelling Islamic fundamentalits in Pakistan?

  19. @fopplssiegeparty,

    Oooh, now that’s the sort of question I like to hear. China’s a really unusual country, economically speaking. There’s more economic freedom in the cities than out in the countryside. Much of the culture is, for reasons that I don’t viscerally understand, steeped in doublethink. I mention this because it makes it harder to apply traditional economic principles to the Chinese economy.

    That said, the cities are behaving more like traditional economies. And, assuming that continues, the Chinese government has two choices. They can leave things as they are, in which case the bubble will grow and ultimately pop like all of them do. Alternatively, they can put the brakes on the housing market and allow for the inevitable growth in real housing demand to catch up with the building oversupply.

    Right now, it looks like the Chinese government is not going to try to stop it. The reasons aren’t clear, but it could range from simple avarice, to graft, to ignorance or economic delusion (remember how many people in the 1990s talked about a permanent boom?).

    So if the bubble pops, many people will lose a lot of money. It will be very interesting to see what impact, if any, this will have on the current relationship between the city-dwellers and the national government. Popular discontent is usually in search of an outlet. In the US today, that discontent has been pointed mostly at Democrats in Congress. Given that the Chinese citizens don’t have ready access to that sort of an outlet, it is more likely that the government will attempt to direct it externally, probably at the US.

    I’m quite the ray of sunshine lately, aren’t I?

  20. Brian says:

    What would other countries do if China were to take part in cyberwarfare? Not just testing the waters like it appears they did, but a full on attack of our telecommunications. Would the NATO countries step up and help the US, or would they avoid a 3rd world war and just let the two superpowers duke it out? I don’t foresee Russia or India taking China’s side, as they aren’t very fond of them, but taking our side might have more deleterious effects.

  21. Mr. Universe says:

    I’m thinking about writing about China specifically because of their influence in green tech. Heck, I’m considering learning Mandarin.

    One thing I think is important to consider is political ideology. Capitalism is just now becoming vogue in China. That means they are going to make all the same mistakes we have during rhe past couple of centuries. It could be problematic for us. We’ll just have to wait.

  22. @Michael Weiss – Thanks a milion! I also liked your response to the ‘fiat currency’ question. Currency collapse is merely a by-product of governmental collapse.

    It seems to me that government, economy and civilization really are all smoke and mirrors.

  23. Completely OT:

    Are any of you going to short GM in the near future?

  24. @fopplssiegeparty

    It seems to me that government, economy and civilization really are all smoke and mirrors.

    In a sense that’s true, though in the end it doesn’t matter if it’s real or not if we collectively believe in it. That does make it all a house of cards, though, which I figure is why societies collapse pretty quickly when they do.

  25. @Brian,

    What would other countries do if China were to take part in cyberwarfare?

    That’s a tough one to answer. China has been developing a holistic approach to warfare, so they are prepared to address not only the telecom infrastructure, but also the other utilities, and economies, and more traditional weaponry as well.

    The US isn’t the only country that China has been looking at. It’s just the primary focus. So I’d imagine the other NATO countries would be equally wary of taking action.

  26. @fopplssiegeparty

    Are any of you going to short GM in the near future?

    Not me. Too many uncertainties.

  27. parksie555 says:

    We have been talking at work (I work in the process control engineering group of a large chemical company) recently about a similar topic. Apparently the Iranian nuclear program was targeted by some extremely sophisticated hackers that were actually able to use a targeted virus to take over control of computer controlled industrial equipment – specifically send speed commands to centrifuges performing isotope separation in a fashion that damaged or destroyed the centrifuge.

    http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2010/11/stuxnet-clues/

    This is truly scary stuff. Imagine the threats to nuclear plants with this type of control system… (although we are so backwards in regards to nuclear power in the US that most of our nuclear control systems are 1960’s vintage panelboard and relay systems not vulnerable to this sort of attack…)

    My bet on the identity of the hackers? Mossad.

    Although I don’t count out the CIA…

  28. Monotreme says:

    @fopplssiegeparty

    Are any of you going to short GM in the near future?

    I agree, many uncertainties. The main one for me is whether the Volt will take off and become a mold-breaking, paradigm-shifting car (sorry about the buzzwords) or whether it will their Nash Rambler, the last gasp of a dying company.

    I can’t honestly predict the way the American people will go on this, not to mention other large economies. My heart says the Volt is going to be a game-changer (there I go again), but my gut says, “I dunno.”

  29. Mr. Universe says:

    @treme

    I’m thinking Edsel but hoping for GTO

  30. shrinkers says:

    The problem with the Volt is that GM isn’t taking it seriously. I saw the CEO of GM in an interview a while back. He saw it as a fad and a sort of gimmick car. The electric car market is going to be taken over by the Japanese and the Koreans, maybe with Tesla taking the high-end performance slot. American companies are still thinking like Bart, and are going to miss it bigtime unless they come to their senses fast. Once more, short-term thinking will assist in shifting business overseas.

  31. Mr. Universe says:

    @treme

    oh yeah, thanks for thinking outside the box and being a shining city on the hill and a thousand points of light

    blah,blah,blah

  32. @parksie555
    Mossad’s not a bad guess. The best hackers in the world right now are from China, Russia (and some other former Soviet states), and Israel. The US has some of the best computer security defense knowledge, but the costs of implementation result in a huge gap between what we know needs to be done and what actually is done.

  33. Bart DePalma says:

    Michael Weiss says:

    Currency forging as a means of economic attack against the US is harder to do than you realize.

    I agree with you completely. I never said North Korea was successful in this attack. I merely noted that we have no real economic weapons with which to retaliate because NK has checked out of the world economic grid.

    The Chinese certainly gain a great deal by having such a big export economy. But China has a few significant differences from the US that makes that export economy less critical than you think. First, culturally speaking, China is still much more collective than individualistic. Their citizens will enthusiastically sacrifice in order to support the collective, given the right motivation.

    Given the new Chinese middle class’ embrace of western norms, I wonder how true that remains.

    Second, politically speaking, China is still nearly totalitarian, and most Chinese are perfectly content with that.

    I wonder how long that lasts if China suffered mass unemployment if the brakes are put on its exports.

    The US has many more vulnerabilities against China right now than you realize…

    Such as?

  34. Bart DePalma says:

    fopplssiegeparty says: “Are any of you going to short GM in the near future?”

    Given the wild card of government granting or withdrawing future subsidies, investment in GM is a complete guessing game.

    The problem with GM is that the company is still saddled with most of the UAW retirement liabilities and is not a sound company. Obama screwed over GM’s creditors and will waste half the tax payer money dumped into the company based on the current stock price simply to buy the UAW more time until judgment day comes.

  35. @Bart,

    Given the new Chinese middle class’ embrace of western norms, I wonder how true that remains.

    Given my firsthand experience with members of the Chinese middle class, I have yet to see any evidence that it has changed. I don’t really understand why it’s true, but I understand that it’s true.

  36. Mainer says:

    Yeah parksie that Stuxnet is scarry stuff. Don’t know enough to understand why it is especially deadly to Siemens controls. Here is the really off thing. It looks like China has taken the worst hit with it. Hard tho think they used it on themselves but who knows.

  37. Stuxnet is almost certainly not Chinese.

  38. parksie555 says:

    Actually Mainer, from what I understand the active part of the virus is very specific for a certain type of motor control equipment and application and will only cause harm if your control system is configured for such an application. Apparently it only looks for not only a certain type of drive but drives that are configured to run at extremely high speeds – found only in rare applications like isotope separation centrifuges. As for why it is specific to Siemens – my guess is that the hackers knew that the Iranian isotope plant was equipped with a Siemens control system and specifically built the software to target this system. If the plant had Honeywell, or Yokogawa, or another system the virus would have targeted that system.

    The other scary thing is that the plant system had an air gap between itself and the Internet – the virus was apparently implanted via a thumb drive, most likely by a system integrator (or an operative posing as a system integrator).

  39. Mainer says:

    Yeah parksie, you seem to be right which makes the fact that china has had several million hits with the virus even odder. Do most Chinese industry ten use Siemens controls or more likely Siemens knock offs?

    It also brings up another interesting question as most of us believe that the Chinese have the best hackers and cyber warfare programs would they not also assume that some one could do the same to them and build a really strong defense as well?

  40. Mainer,
    In a word, yes.

  41. Eusebio Dunkle says:

    @ Michael,

    It appears the original reporting of the “China Hijack” are way overblown.
    From http://tech.slashdot.org/story/10/11/19/1527217/Claims-About-Chinas-April-Internet-Hijack-Are-Overblown

    “Yesterday, we discussed what most of the world’s major media outlets were reporting on China’s April 2010 hijack of ‘15% of Internet traffic,’ including sensitive US government and defense sites. The alarm came following a US Government report (see page 244) on China / US economic and security relations released on Tuesday. Unfortunately, few bothered with fact checking or actually reading the report. The actual study never makes any estimate of Internet traffic diverted during the hijack — it only cites a blog post to suggest large volumes of traffic were involved. And curiously, the cited blog at the heart of the report never mentions traffic at all — only routes. You have to go to an interview with a third-party security researcher in a minor trade magazine to first come up with the 15% number (and this article never explains where the number came from). In a review of real data and actual facts, Arbor Nework’s Craig Labovitz has a blog post looking at the traffic volumes involved in the incident (only a couple of Gigabits per second, or a ‘statistically insignificant’ percentage of Internet traffic).”

  42. Mainer says:

    Also after some reading it seems odd that it was all attributited to having been rerouted by the Chinese Telecommunications company. Now I’m not any kind of spy or spook or cyber warrior but if a country was going to hack and redirect a chunk of the worlds Internet traffic wouldn’t it be logical that they would not have their own national system look like they did it? Odd just plain odd.

  43. Pingback: It’s Worse than You Think | 538 Refugees

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