Wednesday, October 14th, 2015

Is the U.S. stepping up Internet control push over unproven hacking allegations?

Barry Grey
February 26th, 2013


The Obama administration is utilizing unsubstantiated charges of Chinese government cyber-attacks to escalate its threats against China. The past two days have seen allegations of hacking into US corporate and government web sites, hyped by the US media without any examination of their validity, employed to disorient the American public and justify an expansion of the Obama administrationā€™s drive to isolate China and prepare for an eventual military attack.

The accusations of hacking against China will also be used to justify increased domestic surveillance of computer and Internet communications, as well as an expanded use of cyber warfare methods internationally.

TheĀ New York Times, functioning once again as a conduit for the Pentagon and the CIA, has taken the lead in the latest provocation against Beijing. On Tuesday it published a bellicose front-page article headlined ā€œChinaā€™s Army Seen as Tied to Hacking Against US,ā€ and carrying the ominous subhead ā€œPower Grid is a Target.ā€

The article drips with cynicism and hypocrisy. It is well known that the United States is the worldā€™s most ruthless practitioner of cyber warfare. The article itself acknowledged that the US worked with Israel to disrupt the Iranian nuclear program by introducing the Stuxnet virus into Iranā€™s computer systems. That bit of sabotageā€”itself an illegal act of aggressionā€”was accompanied by a series of assassinations of Iranian scientists carried out by Israel with Washingtonā€™s support.

The sprawling front-page article, which continued on an entire inside page of the newspaper, was based on a 60-page report released that day by a private computer security firm with close ties to theĀ Times, as well as to the US military and intelligence agencies. The report by Mandiantā€”founded by a retired Air Force officer and based in Alexandria, Virginiaā€”provides no real evidence to substantiate its claim that a unit of Chinaā€™s Peopleā€™s Liberation Army based in Shanghai is directing hacking attacks on US corporations, organizations and government institutions

In its report, Mandiant claims to have tracked 141 cyber attacks by the same Chinese hacker group since 2006, 115 of which targeted US corporations. On the basis of Internet footprints, including Internet provider addresses, Mandiant concludes that 90 percent of the hacking attacks come from the same neighborhood in Shanghai. It then notes that the headquarters of Unit 61398 of the Peopleā€™s Liberation Army is located in that neighborhood. From this coincidence, Mandiant draws the entirely unwarranted inference that the cyber-attacks are coming from the PLA building.

As theĀ TimesĀ admits in its article, ā€œThe firm was not able to place the hackers inside the 12-story [PLA Unit 61398 headquarters] buildingā€¦ā€ The newspaper goes on to report that ā€œMandiant also discovered an internal China Telecom memo discussing the state-owned telecom companyā€™s decision to install high-speed fiber-optic lines for Unit 61398ā€™s headquarters.ā€ One can only assume that Mandiant ā€œdiscoveredā€ this memo by carrying out its own hacking of Chinese computers.

Chinese spokesmen have denied any involvement by the government or the military in hacking attacks and dismissed the Mandiant report as lacking any proof of its charges. The Chinese Ministry of Defense released a statement Wednesday pointing out that Internet provider addresses do not provide a reliable indication of the origin of hacking attacks, since hackers routinely usurp IP addresses. A Foreign Ministry spokesman pointed out that China is constantly being targeted by hackers, most of which originate in the US.

The Chinese position was echoed by Dell Secureworks cyber-security expert Joe Stewart, who told theĀ Christian Science Monitor: ā€œWe still donā€™t have any hard proof that [the hacker group] is coming out of that [PLA Unit 61398ā€™s] building, other than a lot of weird coincidence pointing in that direction. To me, itā€™s not hard evidence.ā€

The Obama administration followed up theĀ TimesĀ article, which sparked a wave of frenzied media reports of Chinese cyber-attacks, by announcing on Wednesday that it would step up diplomatic pressure and consider more punitive laws to counter what it described as a wave of trade secret theft by China and other countries. The Associated Press reported that the administration was discussing ā€œfines, penalties and tougher trade restrictionsā€ directed against China.

The latest propaganda attack points to an escalation of the US offensive against China that went by the name ā€œpivot to Asiaā€ in Obamaā€™s first term. That policy included whipping up territorial disputes in the East China and South China seas between China and a series of countries in East Asia, including Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines.

It has also included the establishment of closer military ties and new US installations in a number of countries, including India and Australia, to militarily encircle China.

TheĀ TimesĀ concluded its article by reporting that ā€œThe mounting evidence of state sponsorshipā€¦ and the growing threat to American infrastructure are leading officials to conclude that a far stronger response is necessary.ā€ It cited Rep. Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, as saying that Washington must ā€œcreate a high priceā€ to force the Chinese to back down.

In an editorial published Wednesday, theĀ TimesĀ noted that the administration has decided to give US Internet providers and anti-virus vendors information on the signatures of Chinese hacker groups, leading to a denial of access to US networks for these groups. It also reported that President Obama last week signed an executive order authorizing increased sharing of information on cyber threats between the government and private companies that oversee critical infrastructure, such as the electrical grid.

TheĀ Wall Street JournalĀ in its editorial called for ā€œtargeted sanctionsā€ against Chinese individuals and institutions.

The background to this new salvo of anti-China propaganda underscores that it is part of an aggressive expansion of US military capabilities, both conventional and cyber-based. Obama raised the issue of cyber war in his February 12 State of the Union address, accusing US ā€œenemiesā€ of seeking to ā€œsabotage our power grid, our financial institutions, our air traffic control systems,ā€ and insisting that action be taken against such attacks.

In the same speech, he defended his drone assassination program, which is based on the claim that the president has the unlimited and unilateral power to order the murder of anyone anywhere in the world, including US citizens.

Last October, Obama signed an executive order expanding military authority to carry out cyber-attacks and redefine as ā€œdefensiveā€ actions that would previously have been considered acts of aggressionā€”such as the cutting off of computer networks. Around the same time, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta gave a bellicose speech in which he warned of a ā€œcyber Pearl Harbor.ā€ Panetta toldĀ TimeĀ magazine: ā€œThe three potential adversaries out there that are developing the greatest capabilities are Russia, China and Iran.ā€

At the end of January, theĀ New York TimesĀ accused Chinese authorities of hacking into its news operations, a charge that was quickly seconded by theĀ Washington PostĀ and theĀ Wall Street Journal. That same week, theĀ Washington PostĀ reported that the US military had approved a five-fold increase of personnel in its Cyber Command. Days later, theĀ Timesreported on its front page that the Obama administration had concluded that the president had the power to authorize pre-emptive cyber war attacks.

This bellicose posture toward China and expansion of cyber warfare methods goes hand in hand with growing threats to democratic rights at home. The cyber war plans include options for military action within the US. TheĀ TimesĀ reported earlier this month that the military ā€œwould become involved in cases of a major cyber-attack within the United Statesā€ under certain vaguely defined conditions.

Efforts to increase government control of the Internet and surveillance of Internet communications are being stepped up. Just last week, Rep. Rogers of Michigan and Democratic Senator Dutch Ruppersberger of California reintroduced the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA). The bill died in the Senate last year in the midst of protests over provisions allowing the government to spy on emails and other Internet-based communications.

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Contributed by Barry Grey of

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  • mijj

    the US is working hard to create a public hate target of an aggressive, empire lusting China. Ie. projecting onto China the qualities of the US.

    If the authorities want to crack down on some area of free expression or free exchange of ideas, it’ll create a false flag or a hyped pseudo- threat that’ll require close authoritarian scrutiny of all activities.

    This is just another example. We should expect many more.

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