National Public Radio Talks Chinese Digital Espionage

When an organization like National Public Radio devotes an eleven minute segment to Chinese digital espionage, even the doubters have to realize something is happening. Rachel Martin's story China's Cyber Threat A High-Stakes Spy Game is excellent and well worth your listening (.mp3) or reading time.

Rachel interviews three sources: Ken Lieberthal of the Brookings Institution, Congressman Mike Rogers (chairman of the House Intelligence Committee), and James Lewis from the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

If you listen to the report you'll hear James Lewis mention "a famous letter from three Chinese scientists to Deng Xiaoping in March of 1986 that says we're falling behind the Americans. We're never going to catch up unless we make a huge investment in science and technology."

James is referring to the so-called 863 Program (Wikipedia). You can also read directly from the Chinese government itself here, e.g.:

In 1986, to meet the global challenges of new technology revolution and competition, four Chinese scientists, WANG Daheng, WANG Ganchang, YANG Jiachi, and CHEN Fangyun, jointly proposed to accelerate China’s high-tech development. With strategic vision and resolution, the late Chinese leader Mr. DENG Xiaoping personally approved the National High-tech R&D Program, namely the 863 Program.

Implemented during three successive Five-year Plans, the program has boosted China’s overall high-tech development, R&D capacity, socio-economic development, and national security.

In April 2001, the Chinese State Council approved continued implementation of the program in the 10th Five-year Plan. As one of the national S&T program trilogy in the 10th Five-year Plan, 863 Program continues to play its important role.

1. Orientation and Objectives

Objectives of this program during the 10th Five-year Plan period are to boost innovation capacity in the high-tech sectors, particularly in strategic high-tech fields, in order to gain a foothold in the world arena; to strive to achieve breakthroughs in key technical fields that concern the national economic lifeline and national security; and to achieve “leap-frog” development in key high-tech fields in which China enjoys relative advantages or should take strategic positions in order to provide high-tech support to fulfill strategic objectives in the implementation of the third step of our modernization process.

There's more to read, but that gives you a sense of what the "letter" involves.

I hope this NPR story helps some of you realize that the China threat is not "hype." Consider Dr Lieberthal in relation to Chairman Rogers and Jim Lewis. You can decide to try to refute their positions by saying that the Chairman has "an agenda," and Mr Lewis is essentially too distant from the problem. I personally think Chairman Rogers is right on the money, but I sometimes question where Mr Lewis gets his information.

Dr Lieberthal, however, is one of the world's finest minds regarding China (Wikipedia entry), and he served in the Clinton administration. He even wrote a book on how to achieve corporate success in China (Managing the China Challenge: How to Achieve Corporate Success in the People's Republic). He is not a "China hawk" trying to start some kind of "war" with the Chinese, yet he takes the threat seriously enough to discuss the countermeasures he takes when visiting China ten times a year. Do those who doubt the China threat still believe it's all "hype"?


Ken said…
The threat from Chinese Internet space is two fold...

1) The current most "serious threat" which doesn't recieve much coverage is the large number of pirated OS, unpatched, infected machines in China which are happily serving as botnet zombies scanning the rest of the internet for more vulnerable hosts. A lot of these botnets are under the control of "bot herders" who reside outside China.

2) The more recently talked about threat is that of Chinese government sponsored "professional hackers". While this would also be a serious threat, there has yet to be any real concrete proof of any attacks by China's "cyber army". This means either "cyber army" is REALLY good at covering their tracks, or serves a more defensive role, such as USCYBERCOM.

Personally, I'm more worried about the unpatched machines serving as privately controlled botnets, capable of performing DDoS attacks at a moment's notice.


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