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Pentagon declares Chinese cyberespionage the cause of all woe

Well, not exactly. But if you were reading the news Monday, specifically the New York Times, you might have thought this was the case.

Formally, according to the Times and reporter David Sanger, the Obama administration had seemingly chosen to allow the Pentagon to take the lead in describing the threat of Chinese cyberwarriors:

The Obama administration on Monday explicitly accused China's military of mounting attacks on American government computer systems and defense contractors, saying one motive could be to map "military capabilities that could be exploited during a crisis."

While some recent estimates have more than 90 percent of cyberespionage in the United States originating in China, the accusations relayed in the Pentagon's annual report to Congress on Chinese military capabilities were remarkable in their directness. Until now the administration avoided directly accusing both the Chinese government and the People's Liberation Army of using cyberweapons against the United States in a deliberate, government-developed strategy to steal intellectual property and gain strategic advantage.

"In 2012, numerous computer systems around the world, including those owned by the U.S. government, continued to be targeted for intrusions, some of which appear to be attributable directly to the Chinese government and military," the nearly 100-page report said.

The report, released Monday, described China's primary goal as stealing industrial technology ...

The Pentagon report is here.

Whether or not these Pentagon statements on Chinese cyberespionage are "remarkable in their directness," as New York Times reporter David Sanger writes, is open to interpretation.

Chinese cyberwar/cyberespionage capabilities comprise somewhat less than two pages in the entire thing. More space is devoted to China's conventional warfare capabilities and hardware, its ballistic missiles programs, it's preliminary moves into aircraft carrier aviation through the refurbishment and equipping of the old Varyag -- now renamed the Liaoning, its naval modernization and other subjects.

In fact, the Pentagon can say little about Chinese cyberespionage other than it exists and much material, from the US private sector devoted to supporting the US military, is being copied.

What benefit this has been the Pentagon does not know and cannot or will not say. No one knows. It's impossible to put a finger on the value of it to China, or precisely what losses this country directly suffers. It is an argument that has no meaning for the majority of Americans. It is something only the top most cares about.

And that's because they can only be made to care about things they suspect may make them slightly less wealthy. They also care about how to redirect more taxpayer dollars for defense against threats that mean zero to the middle class while doing nothing about the major economic fail that plagues the country.

As everything having to do with public spending in 2013, the cyberwar/cyberespionage has taken on a moral issue, one hardly anyone who covers the issue will discuss. They just ignore the fact that these types of public relations maneuvers have much more to do with private sector/government rent-seeking than defending the country against anything, or even improving it.

The issue is about stealing. And it's much more about systemic stealing of money that would be better spent repairing American lives and building the future for the middle class than Chinese theft of terabytes of data.

Rent-seeking, in case you have not seen the term before, is the abandonment of providing a good product or service to customers (or one of even slightly minor social benefit) for the sole pursuit of wealth through private sector/government collusion.

And that is exactly what is happening inside the topic of cyberwar and the alleged peril of digital attack on the national infrastructure.

This snapshot, taken a few weeks ago is rent-seeking disguised passed off as news.

Check the key line: "Intelligence officials said last month that cyberattacks and cyberespionage have supplanted terrorism as the top security threat facing the United States, and military officials sounded the alarm as well."

The top security threat faces the majority of Americans is economic failure in this country. It's austerity, a stumbling economy, and the stunning growth in inequality leading to ever great social polarization and division.

Now, back to the Pentagon's new report on China. What about the benefits of all that cyberespionage?

In terms of what's actually happening, for example, China has not made any obvious great leap in generating a carrier battlegroup-centered navy.

On the other hand, we certainly do know that the US private sector, our multi-national corporations, are intimately involved in business relations with China. That's hardly news.

Indeed, it is safe to say that the strapped American middle class would have next to nothing if all its household consumer electronics and dry goods of Chinese origin were taken away.

If, for example, Chinese cyberwarriors are stealing Apple's secrets, what does it matter? Is Apple stopping its majority manufacturing through China?

America's electric guitar and rock amplifier companies make the majority of their mainstream goods in China. If Chinese cyberwarriors have stolen plans from Fender Musical Instruments or many other American companies, so?

The entire American industry of pop music instrumentation manufacturing, excepting custom shop artisan work, was sent to China and other countries to increase profit margins and decrease labor costs.

American business ceded its property to the Chinese industrial base for immediate profit in pursuit of the very cheapest unprotected manpower. Quite frequently, it gives property away just for access to lucrative foreign markets and labor.

This was done long before Chinese espionage became an issue the national security megaplex decided to exploit for the purpose of rent-seeking.

Who are you going to find on the street who cares if Chinese cyberwarriors from a building in Shanghai are into American businesses? They've already lost their jobs or much of their earning power. And their access to the Internet is a smartphone made in China.

Take a day off from the propaganda and the memes. Corporate America isn't hiring, haven't they heard? It's not because of mass Chinese cyber-spying.

And here's one more figure from the direct American experience, furnished to again put Chinese cyberespionage/cyberwar efforts in perspective:

You can really tell how Chinese cyberespionage/cyberwar is taking away our futures, right?

Of course, cybersecurity and management of its risk globally, is a huge problem. But it is far from the United States' most pressing security issue. The most pressing things are on the pages of the news everyday. It's national decline brought about by profound failure in economic policy and practice. That failure directly impacts hundreds of millions of Americans each day.

And cyberespionage has nothing to do with it.

Here's one of the now daily examples of the looming national cyberdisaster meme, all wrapped up in less than 120 words from the wire:

We'll lose power, then we'll drown:

U.S. intelligence agencies traced a recent cyber intrusion into a sensitive infrastructure database to the Chinese government or military cyber warriors, according to U.S. officials.

The compromise of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' National Inventory of Dams (NID) is raising new concerns that China is preparing to conduct a future cyber attack against the national electrical power grid, including the growing percentage of electricity produced by hydroelectric dams ...

The database contains sensitive information on vulnerabilities of every major dam in the United States. There are around 8,100 major dams across waterways in the United States.

Take a day off from the memes. Corporate America isn't hiring, haven't you heard? It's not because of mass Chinese cyber-spying stealing industrial secrets and getting into things.

One last figure, furnished to again put Chinese cyberespionage/cyberwar efforts in perspective, as they relate to the American experience ...

Here's another meme -- cyberwar allows small nations to punch above their weight, on repeat play.

First, at Scientific American:

Why launch missiles if you can switch out the lights and turn off the water. It's cheaper too. So much so that this form of attack has become a great leveller, allowing small nations to potentially punch well above their weight.

Next, the same person saying the same thing, for the Irish Times:

"The North Koreans have been blamed for interrupting websites run in South Korea by banks, newspapers and TV companies in "a show and tell" warning about what they are capable of during a conflict, warns Sally Leivesley of Newrisk. The South Koreans have taken the warning seriously, upgrading security at their nuclear plants - including disabling every USB port in every computer at the plants lest they be used to breach defences.

"States initially used internet hacking for espionage, or intellectual property thefts, but warns Prof Woodward, they are using it for "aggressive" attacks: "This is the cool war, as some people have put it, not the cold war. Why invest in bombs and bullets when, potentially, in a shooting match you can turn out the lights, turn off the water. Some countries are really punching above their weight. They don't need a huge nuclear weapons programme."

And from some yob nobody knows at the Huffington Post:

"Cyber terrorism. Terrorist groups and states will make use of cyber-war tactics, though government will focus on information-gathering than outright destruction. Stealing trade secrets, accessing classified information, infiltrating government systems, disseminating misinformation -- traditional intelligence agency ploys -- will make up the bulk of cyber-attacks between states.

"Virtual statecraft. States will be wistful for the simpler days of foreign and domestic policy. Power in the physical world is no assurance of power in the digital world. This disparity presents opportunities for small states looking to punch above their weight."

Cyberwar allows small nations to punch above weight -- that's the new received wisdom.

Here's how to use it in an national security essay for your public nuisance defense think tank:

North Korea demonstrated it could punch above its weight when it quietly took its missiles off the launch platform this week it turned off all the electricity in Los Angeles County by cyberattack.

What went to China and the national effect, effectively explained in less than two minutes.

Published originally at Dick Destiny blog. About the author.

The opinions expressed in this article and the SitRep website are the author's own and do not reflect the view of

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