Review of Dragon Bytes Posted just posted my five star review of Dragon Bytes by Timothy L. Thomas. I'm posting the entire review here because it's the sort of content that I believe should get wide exposure.

A colleague introduced me to Dragon Bytes (DB) by Timothy L Thomas, and an expert on the Chinese hacker scene was kind enough to secure a copy of the book. I thank all of them for the extraordinary journey presented in DB. Published in 2004, DB is an historical review of key publications by Chinese information warfare (IW) theorists and thought leaders, as translated by the former Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) and other American translators. The author is an analyst with the Foreign Military Studies Office, and is a West Point graduate, a retired Army Lt Col, and a former Foreign Area Officer focusing on the USSR and Russia. DB covers Chinese IW thought from 1995-2003. Thomas' subsequent books, Decoding the Virtual Dragon, and The Dragon's Quantum Leap, cover later periods in Chinese IW history.

DB is really unlike any of the books I have reviewed before, because it summarizes the IW doctrine of another country. As a former Air Force intelligence officer, I helped develop our nation's IW plans in the late 1990s and have defended civilian infrastructures for the last 10 years. DB provides a view of a world that is plain to see if only the reader knows where to look and can read Chinese. Thanks to FBIS translations and Thomas' keen eye, Western readers can learn what the Chinese military says about IW.

I'd like to highlight a few concepts and excerpts that I feel are important to understanding Chinese IW theory.

The Chinese do not seek to simply copy Western IW concepts. Rather, they stress development of IW "with Chinese characteristics." They draw heavily on Marx and Engels for their military doctrine, including People's War, and believe Mao brought Marx's ideas to fruition in China. They feel that IW is a natural implementation of People's War, especially when individual Chinese citizens can participate simply by virtue of owning a computer. Unlike Western militaries and governments, China vigorously integrates civilians and reservists into their military framework, to include individual "hackers."

Traditionally China has pursued "active defense" as their military model, meaning they do not seek (or claim not to seek) conquest beyond their borders. Rather, they respond with People's War when attacked by aggressors. IW, however, does not lend itself to an active defense strategy because losing the initiative means losing the war. Chinese IW theorists increasingly abandoned "active defense" with IW and now promote active offense, which takes various forms.

Chinese IW theorists are advocates of proper thinking over force (p 101). Unsurprisingly, theorists channel Sun Tzu by seeking to "win without fighting" through IW. They devote a lot of energy to developing strategy and "strategems," sometimes considered to be "tricks" or "schemes" to overcome superior forces. They believe information is as important as energy and materials, and "warfare may be waged around the struggle for intellectual resources, such as the allegiance of a high-tech expert or the patented right to a piece of technology" (p 13).

The Chinese military sees Western culture, particularly American culture, as an assault on China, saying "the West uses a system of values (democracy, freedom, human rights, etc.) in a long-term attack on socialist countries... Marxist theory opposes peaceful evolution, which... is the basic Western tactic for subverting socialist countries" (pp 102-3). They believe the US is conducting psychological warfare operations against socialism and consider culture as a "frontier" that has extended beyond American shores into the Chinese mainland. The Chinese therefore consider control of information to be paramount, since they do not trust their population to "correctly" interpret American messaging (hence the "Great Firewall of China"). In this sense, China may consider the US as the aggressor in an ongoing cyberwar.

Dr Shen Weiguang, China's "father of IW," defines IW as "two sides in pitched battle against one another in the political, economic, cultural, scientific, social, and technological spheres," (p 32) or as "brain war" (p 40). Thomas reports Shen's views thus: "information control is the doorway to an opportunity to dominate the world" (p 33). Shen mentions "total IW" where "information aggression" involves "violating the information space of another country and plundering its information resources" (p 36). Shen recommends creating an "information academy" and believes "'attack in order to defend' is more effective than defense alone in many cases since advance warning is impossible and the effectiveness of defense is hard to predict" (p 45). However, Shen seems to believe IW should be constrained by international norms, since he also advocates developing a "set of information rules" to limit IW (p 48). Finally, academic Deng Xiaobao discusses "dwindling distinctions... between wars and non-wars (referring here to the lack of distinction between IW and times of peace, where an IW can start with an information assault and the side under attack may not be able to judge that it is a war)" (p 125).

I strongly recommend reading DB and Thomas' subsequent works if you want to better understand Chinese IW history and thinking.


Action Dan said…
Hello Richard,
Long time reader, first time commenter, Action Dan here. First, you have greatly inspired and influenced both my learning and my own blog writing. Now I must say, this is a fantastic post, especially the insights on how the Chinese respond to American culture. You tend to remain as objective as possible, but from an American perspective, I can't help but feel antagonized just because of my culture. I am an avid practitioner of Shotokan Karate, and I would really like to remind your readers of some core martial beliefs. Karate [or Security] is a life long training. Put Karate into everything you do. Do not think you have to win. Think that you must not lose. Move according to your opponent. Victory depends on your ability to tell vulnerable points from invulnerable points. When you leave home, think that millions of opponents are waiting for you. And finally, but spiritually paramount, "There is no first attack in Karate".

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