From IntelliBriefs: The recent discovery of Chinese cyber warfare attacks on foreign computers, on communication computers of visiting dignitaries, and espionage activities to assist a friendly country is building weapons of mass destruction (WMDI) has refocused international attention on the developing spectrum of China’s military doctrine. Espionage is a tool used by almost every country. Cyber warfare is not a tool of the Chinese only. But there are limits to which trust between countries are violated with impunity, followed by denial, something which is the hallmark of Chinese authorities. Entities of permanent members of the UN Security Council, who continue WMD proliferation even today, must be condemned in no uncertain term.
Earlier this month (April 04), a U.S. District Court indicted a Chinese metals trading company on 118 counts for shipping prohibited and dual use metals and alloys to Iran, using US banks fraudulently. The Chinese company, LIMMT Economic and Trade Company was sanctioned in 2006 by the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control for providing material support for Iran’s missile programme. In this case the LIMMT used eight shell or front companies to transact finances for Iranian companies. Most of these banks have excellent filtering process to detect commodities transacted, but in this case certain critical identification and descriptions of the material were stripped, circumventing detection.
Among the material shipped by LIMMT to the Iranian Defence Industries Organization were 15, 000 kgs of an aluminum alloy used almost exclusively to make long range missiles. Other material shipped could be used in the nuclear industry. The US court is also moving to extradite the LIMMT manager, Li Fangwei from China for trial.
China backed, howsoever reluctantly, three UN Security Council sanctions against supply of certain sensitive material to Iran.
The question is not whether Iran has the right to make long range missiles or not. It is that China, a responsible member of the international community violated the very document it signed. This, of course, is nothing new. It always denies when caught, claiming its foreign transfers and activities in the military field are responsible acts. There are credible reports to say that Chinese nuclear weapons entities may still be assisting Pakistan in miniaturizing nuclear warheads.
The Australian media revealed recently that Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and his delegation were under constant Chinese cyber attacks when they visited China last August. The Australians have now tightened communication security for their official delegations visiting China.
Australian government officials say that they were alarmed by this blatant attack by Chinese cyber spies. They say this is now a serious concern, and the country’s security agencies, the ASIO and the Defence Signals Directorate are spending huge amount to further secure government networks.
The point to note here is that Prime Minister Rudd, who speaks Mandarin fluently, has been very friendly towards China. Mr. Rudd and some of his colleagues have demonstrated strong pro-China inclination both in trade and strategic issues. Australia withdrew from the Japan-proposed quadrilateral security co-operation between Tokyo, Washington, Canberra and New Delhi, which was perceived to contain China. This proposal was not destined to take off, but Australia took the first step out.
The Kevin Rudd government went overboard to grant China lease in iron and coal mines, sale of uranium ore and other benefits. It has now come to light that Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon is embroiled in a controversy over free trips to China, paid by a Chinese-Australian businesswoman Helen Liu. Cases of Chinese espionage agencies using expatriate Chinese is legend. Descendants of overseas Chinese continue to nurture strong ties with their erstwhile motherland.
The sad lesson that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd may have learnt is that the Chinese have no friends. They only have interests.
In another instance, a group of researchers at Canada’s Information Warfare Monitor (IWF) discovered that Chinese cyber spies have been entering government and banking computers all over the world. The IWF report stated that 1,295 computers in 103 countries have been compromised. The intrusions were not aimed to only deface websites or ‘phishing’. The intruders were ‘whaling’. In computer language, that means procuring specific information. Since the IWM was tasked by the Dalai Lama’s office for this job, the Chinese authorities described this discovery as the Dalai Lama’s propaganda. But independent researchers at other places have come up with similar findings. The Chinese would be embarrassed because government and defence computers of their closest ally and friend, Pakistan, have also been whaled by the Chinese cyber spies.
The Chinese actions are deniable since there are more than three million citizens in the country, and enthusiastic nationalists could be attacking on their own. This is a possibility. But some investigation have led to a military signals establishment in Hainan Island province. Other investigations have led to the location of operators in Beijing’s military district. According to IWM, Hainan is the base of the Lingshui Signals Intelligence facility and the Third Technical Department of People Liberation Army (PLA). The Second Department of the PLA deals with human intelligence and the Third Department with technical intelligence.
Computers in Indian Embassies, the Indian Foreign Ministry, the Defence Ministry and even the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) have been attacked from locations in China. The issue was apparently not raised by the Indian government because the Chinese will flatly deny. Instead, the government took action to further secure the sensitive computers and communication networks. In cyber warfare, however, the technologies in attack and security are in constant competition and no security can be said to be 100 per cent safe at any time.
A brief look at the Chinese information/communication companies with large presence overseas becomes necessary. One of them is the Huawei Technologies started by a former PLA telecommunications officer, Ren Zhengfeio. There would be nothing wrong with this since many former military officers went on to start their own ventures. Except for the fact that the company was started in 1998 with seed money from the PLA General Staff Department’s Telecommunication Department. This information does not figure in Huawei’s company profile which is, otherwise, quite exhaustive. This information comes from the CIA’s unclassified reporting quoting ‘clandestine reporting’, and Taiwanese sources. The effort by Huawei to hide the information naturally raiser questions, since the PLA owns many companies quite openly.
It is now known that Huawei was involved in Saddam Hussein’s communication network when Iraq was under international sanctions after the first Iraq war. It was also involved with the Afghan Taliban government’s telecommunication set up till the US bombing of Afghanistan in 2001. ZTE is another Chinese information technology company working in the same mould as the Huawei Technology.
It is also reported, and not denied by the Chinese, that Huawei engineers handle classified communication of top Chinese leaders visiting abroad. It, therefore, goes without question that the company with high expertise would be involved in intelligence activities given its international reach. Huawei has been proved to be in the business of intellectual property theft, for example with the US Company CISCO. The company has presence in India.
Huawei is not the only Chinese company involved in this business. There are other Chinese companies and expects under cover of students or researchers in the USA and Europe.
According to some Hong Kong media reports in early 1990s, then Chinese President Jiang Zemin, who was also the Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), China’s highest military body, had directed agencies to concentrate on Europe to collect military technology and cutting edge civilian technology intelligence. The emphasis was on computer, communication, stealth weapons including satellite, radiation, and radio frequency technology.
It is well known that China’s civilian sectors and the military work in tandem whenever necessary. With the emphasis on Informationalization Warfare, there is a growing concern that entire communication networks in potential enemy countries could be bugged to be activated remotely when the need arises. These silent, no contact strategic weapons is known as “Assassin’s Mace” weapons.
As the recent revelations suggest, in such no contact silent warfare strategy, China does not differentiate between friends and foes. This is China’s silent ‘Great Game’, in which the objective is to control all in the quest for world leadership.
Peace time is the blest time to prepare for such warfare and place the “Assassins” in position. India’s strategic planners and business sectors will have to review these developments forthwith.
(The author is an eminent China analyst with many years of experience of study on the developments in China. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)