Chinese Army Pushes Cyberwar
Barbarians at the Gate

Village Voice November 24 - 30, 1999

The Chinese army's political newspaper, the Liberation Army Daily, is calling for a major new propaganda offensive to wage war over the Internet. "It is essential to have an all-conquering offensive technology and to develop software and technology for Net offensives so as to be able to launch attacks and countermeasures on the Net, including information-paralyzing software, information-blocking software, and information-deception software," reads the article, entitled "Bringing Internet Warfare Into the Military System Is of Equal Significance With Land, Sea and Air Power" and published recently in the newspaper, the official publication of the People's Liberation Army General Political Department.

"Some of these are like bombs, they are electronic bombs which saturate the enemy's cyberspace," the article says. "Some are like paintings, they are electronic scrawls which appear and disappear on the enemy's pages in chaotic fashion. Some are like phantoms and electronic flying saucers which come and go on the Net and disrupt the enemy's systems, and it is also possible to develop masquerade technology to steal the Internet command power."

When reporters asked Vice Admiral Thomas Wilson, the new head of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, about Chinese cyberwarfare plans, he appeared a bit undone. "It's a big part of this asymmetric threat, and it's probably bigger than all of outdoors in terms of trying to get your arms around it," he declared.

Still, the seriousness of the Chinese cybercampaign is debatable. "I am skeptical [that these kinds of] 'offensive information operations' can be anything more than seriously annoying," said John Pike, a defense analyst at the Federation of American Scientists. He thinks it's more of a nuisance than anything else—and that part of the trick of this sort of warfare is to keep it at such a level so the enemy doesn't get serious and embark on a bombing campaign. "That said," Pike continued, "the U.S. is more dependent on network systems than any other country in the world. . . . If you want to be a nuisance to the U.S. without provoking us to nuke you, this is one way to do it."

Over the last several months, the Chinese have proposed employing a range of guerrilla warfare tactics to undermine the West in a "dirty war." That can involve terrorism, biochemical warfare, environmental damage, and computer viruses designed to throw the West into crisis—hacking into Pentagon computers, rigging the stock market, tricking banks with phony transactions. Chinese military writers think that cyberwar is necessary because it can't hope to stand up to the West's military apparatus.

One recent book, written by two PLA air force colonels, lists 24 ways to knock off the U.S. and its allies. They write enthusiastically of George Soros's attack on the British pound in 1992. One article suggests China should set aside $100 billion to throw its enemies into economic ruin. Colonel Qiao Liang, the author of another book, argued in an article, "All strong countries make rules, while all rising ones break them and exploit loopholes. Barbarians [a Chinese term for foreigners] always rise by breaking the rules of civilised and developed countries, which is what human history is all about."

Recently Chinese government hackers tried to destroy Web sites maintained by the Taiwan National Assembly, and while they caused enough damage to close down the sites for three days, they never did wipe out data in the computers. Taiwanese hackers struck back, forcing Beijing to disconnect computers from the Web until a new protective "wall" was put in place. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

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