U.S. military routinely hacks into Chinese networks

Why wasn't that the headline on a "scoop" detailing Chinese infiltration of Pentagon computers?

Topics: China, Globalization, How the World Works, Pentagon,

John J. Tkacik Jr., a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, has a “sneaking suspicion” that the CIA is being pressured to downplay the “China threat.” Otherwise, why would the intelligence agency have hastily revised, downward, its estimates of the percentage of Chinese GDP dedicated to defense spending? Clearly, the Bush administration is going even softer on China.

But if so, someone’s sending mixed messages. Because a slew of unnamed U.S. officials are quoted in Tuesday’s Financial Times expressing alarm about an “incursion” by People’s Liberation Army “hackers” into Pentagon computer systems — “the most successful cyber attack on the U.S. Defense department,” according to the officials.

“The PLA has demonstrated the ability to conduct attacks that disable our system … and the ability in a conflict situation to re-enter and disrupt on a very large scale,” said a former official, who said the PLA had penetrated the networks of U.S. defense companies and think-tanks.

Sounds like the “China threat” is very much alive!

How the World Works doesn’t doubt that the dance between the world’s preeminent superpower, the U.S., and the No. 1 contender for the throne, China, could someday turn into an ugly showdown. But the Financial Times’ choice for a headline, “Chinese military hacked into Pentagon,” could be accused of rhetorical alarmism, and not just because most of the information accessed during the attack appears to have been unclassified.

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Later in the same article:

The PLA regularly probes U.S. military networks — and the Pentagon is widely assumed to scan Chinese networks — but U.S. officials said the penetration in June raised concerns to a new level because of fears that China had shown it could disrupt systems at critical times.

Scan? Scan? What does that mean? Is it the same as “probe”? Or could one even say, “The Pentagon is widely assumed to regularly hack into Chinese networks”?

Birds do it. Bees do it. The PLA and the Pentagon do it. An editorial in the Financial Times running along with its “scoop” even observes:

Yet it is probably also right to assume that the U.S. and other western governments are busy infiltrating the computer systems of foreign governments. It is therefore disingenuous to complain too vigorously when those same foreign governments become good at doing it back.

Infiltrating? Isn’t that the same as “hacking”? Or, to be semiotically precise, “cracking”?

If the editors of the Financial Times think it disinenguous to complain too vigorously about foreign military computer adventurism, why is one side accused of “hacking,” while the other just “scans”?

Andrew Leonard
Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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