United States Of Common Sense

Show Them the Gun

Chinese government hackers
Chinese government hackers
A boiler room of government sponsored hackers. | China, Hacker, Cyberterrorism, Threat,

There Need to Be Consequences for Chinese Cyber Attacks

Many years ago, when I was nineteen and home from college for the summer, my parents and my younger brother went off to visit relatives in Maryland for a couple of weeks and left me to watch the family home and property in a small town in Western Pennsylvania. Almost immediately after my folks departed, I began to notice that someone was stealing gas out of the pickup truck left sitting in the driveway.

My suspicion fell naturally on a "friend" who lived a short distance away in the same small town. Joey, as we'll call him for the purposes of this story, was one of those guys who skirt just along the edges of the law most of their lives. We were friends after a fashion, but I didn't trust him as far as I could throw him. I knew he had siphoned gas out of other people's cars before when he was short on cash, and I figured he was "borrowing" from my family's truck now to keep his own vehicle moving.

One day when Joey stopped by the house to shoot the breeze, I mentioned to him, without making any accusations, that I had noticed that gas was being stolen from the truck. I then showed him the rifle I had propped up next to my bedroom window overlooking the driveway and told him how I was going to sit up at night and wait to get a shot at the thief. Joey nodded. Nothing more was said. We moved on to talking about other topics.

No more gas was stolen. Ever.

Let's be clear. I wasn't really going to shoot anybody over a few gallons of gas. The rifle in question wasn't even loaded when I showed it to Joey. After he left that day, I took the gun back and secured it with all the other weapons we kept in the house.

It didn't matter. The point had been made. Joey got the message.

I didn't arrive at this strategy as the result of some long, complex thought process. It simply seemed common sense to me. Joey needed to feel that there would be consequences for further thefts. If he did, he'd modify his behavior.

Perhaps, though, these days, that kind of common sense is no longer so common.

Take for example, the recent announcement that we will henceforth hold regular meetings with the Chinese at which we will discuss the threat of cyber espionage and ways to control it.

Let's recap for a moment the state of play between the United States and China on this front.

The Chinese are waging cyber war on our defense establishment and our major defense contractors. They are, at a national level, robbing us blind. They are not stealing bits and pieces of information. They are not compromising peripheral programs. They are stealing wholesale the most sensitive technology we have.

In fact, according to press reports, a Defense Science Board report released earlier this year identified at least 37 major defense programs that had been compromised. These included the Joint Strike Fighter, the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, the FA-18 fighter, the F-22 fighter and the Aegis missile defense system. Should be go to war with China in the future, Americans will lose their lives as a result, and we may find that our key technological edge has been lost.

We would do well to remember as well that the Chinese are currently providing military assistance to other nations, which are hostile to our interests. Iran, for one, receives substantial quantities of military aid from China. Technological advances by the Chinese, made possible by cyber espionage, may come back to haunt us in any future confrontation with the Iranians in the Persian Gulf. Once the Chinese have stolen our technology, they can give to whomever they want.

The Chinese are also waging cyber war on American companies and corporations. Again, this is a massive, coordinated effort, which is having an impact on a global scale. The advantage being gained by the Chinese is not minor or incidental. They are stealing from us our competitive advantage, putting major corporations out of business and putting them in a position to emerge as the dominant economic power on the planet in the not so distant future.

Despite the scale of this strategic cyber offensive, and despite the flood of reports from private and governmental sources worldwide, which have documented it, the Chinese continue to deny outright that any of it is happening. They, in fact, not only claim that all such accusations are false, but have the audacity to then claim that they are, in fact, being victimized by unidentified cyber actors.

This is the context in which we have agreed to meet with the Chinese to discuss, apparently, "standards of behavior".

What exactly is that supposed to mean? Is there some inference here that perhaps the Chinese are not aware that stealing our defense secrets and proprietary technology is frowned upon? Are we assuming that if we simply educate them regarding norms and acceptable behaviors that they will agree to modify their behavior and play nice? Do we believe that this is all some sort of giant misunderstanding? Do we expect that if we lay out our expectations the Chinese will issue some sort of apology, hand us back all our stolen files and promise never to do it again?

Chen Guangcheng
Chen Guangcheng

Chen Guangcheng (born 12 November 1971) is a Chinese civil rights activist who works on human rights issues in rural areas of the People's Republic of China. Blind from an early age and self-taught in the law, Chen is frequently described as a "barefoot lawyer" who advocates for women's rights and the poor. | Photo: |
The Chinese, of course, know exactly what the "standards of behavior" are. They also know full well by this point that there are no meaningful consequences for anything they do. We may pout. We may convey our displeasure. We may stomp our feet and hold our breath. We have demonstrated time and again, we will do nothing that actually means anything to them.

The Defense Science Board has defined the threat posed by cyber warfare as being equivalent in severity to that posed by nuclear weapons at the height of the Cold War. It has defined it, in fact, as an existential threat to our national security. We may not simply feel a negative impact in future conflicts; we may lose. Our weapons may not fire. Our communications may not function. We may lose the capacity to exercise command and control over our troops or even to govern the nation

We cannot continue to ignore the impact of the war being waged against us. Neither can we afford to continue to indulge delusions that the Chinese will voluntarily agree to modify their behavior if only we talk nicely to them and discuss our expectations regarding their behavior. It's time to make clear to the Chinese that there will consequences. It's time to show them the gun.

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Updated May 10, 2017 12:30 PM EDT | More details

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