I was hooked on a spy novel set in England and France, prior to and just after, the D-Day invasion of Europe. Much of the story is based upon now verifiable facts. A good portion of the novel reinforces the depth of our understanding of French complicity with their invaders, after being occupied by German forces. Over the decades since 1945, no matter how much the various governing forces in Paris might try to sugar coat their so-called WWII resistance, the truth shines thru and it is more than shameful. In particular, most evil were the French police who directed and operated the first of “round-ups” under occupation that occurred on July 16-17(immediately after Bastille Day in 1942) so not to upset the general population). Unaided by the occupying German army, the French police began its first rounded up– 13,000 Jewish men, women and children, and sent them to their ultimate extermination. Those sent in the cattle cars to their death didn’t encounter one German soldier until they arrived at the infamous death camp. Obviously, our information gathering technique – spying–has moved light years in its sophistication since WWII or the “hot & cold wars” that followed. Today, after decades of ferreting out Russian spies and holding congressional investigations—some infamous, our eyes-on-spies have turned west to China. And rightfully so.
It has been noted by some commentators, that after gunpowder and the ongoing development of nuclear weapons, the “third revolution” in the art of warfare is artificial intelligence (AI). I respectfully disagree. Before the first rock was hurled, before we migrated out of Africa, across continents and open sea, after the dinosaurs ended their reign, we spied upon our enemy– that other creature also hobbling on its two hind legs, or that animal we required for the warmth of its skin and food. And today, as I research and write this Commentary, I am forced by necessity with all the noise surrounding me to ask: “What’s all this Tik Tok business?” So off I went in search of what all “young people” are craving and raving about. I had seen headlines in the financial columns of last year, of Trump getting involved (why is that?), and the Chinese government flexing its muscle every time Tik Tok is mentioned. Now I learned that you can get it free. What could be better? And from a country whose exports last year rose to their highest level notwithstanding the pandemic, and while the rest of the world faced economic downturn. Then I read that Tic Tok, known as Douyan in China, is a “free social application for creating, editing ad sharing videos” all developed in China by ByteDance initially for the Chinese market. While it steadily gained in worldwide popularity, the Americans became involved. This all sounds perfectly innocent to me — a place for all that unspent young energy creating and editing while sharing your videos for all that music and dancing. There are 14 million TikTokkers in the U.S. alone. It now embraces sports and the NFL with all their celebrities.
When I was a kid, there were bars all over the city that had right next to the open front door –opposite the bar — a food table with steaming slabs of meat. A sign in the window said: “Free Lunch!” Staring at it one day with the corn beef smell wafting across the sidewalk, my father looked at the sign, the gleam in my eyes and said: “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” It was one of the most important lessons of my life.
Let’s work backwards for a moment.
It is now 70 years since Beijing was fully engaged with us in Korean War, and in acknowledging that anniversary, the Chinese announced that they are, although always willing to negotiate with Washington, they prepare for war on a moment’s notice. They have just announced that they are seeking thru genetic manipulation, the ability to create a “super” soldier for combat. China is reported to be among the biggest traders, funders and infrastructure builders, along with being the preferred lenders to Africa, Central and Southeast Asia. And moving to consolidate its political and military reach, it is crushing Hong Kong’s democracy. The absorbing of Twain into its control would be its next logical target, along with it hostile grabbing of assets in the vast seas spreading out from mainland China. In very rare instances does China succumb to international criticism. And it has signaled that it doesn’t intend to stand down in the current crises in the China Sea.
To carry out its influence in activities abroad, the Chinese government employs two units , the first—the United Front Work —directs “overseas Chinese work,” which seeks to co-opt ethnic Chinese individuals and communities living outside China, while another unit of the government’s strategy seeks to influence targeting foreign actors and states.
Beijing “is engaged in a highly sophisticated malign foreign influence campaign,” FBI director Chris Wray ( who will stay on in the Biden Administration) said in a July 2020 speech: these efforts involve “subversive, undeclared, criminal, or coercive attempts to sway our government’s policies, distort our country’s public discourse, and undermine confidence in our democratic processes and values,” One year later Avril D. Haines, President Biden’s nominee for director of national intelligence, took questions from senators (1/19/21), during his confirmation hearing, and revealed that in espionage as in other aspects of our relationship, China is clearly an aggressive and dangerous adversary. The intelligence community, he testified, has to work to counter “their aggressive and unfair actions, in including the glaring problem that we do not having enough Mandarin-speaking analysts.” Haines said she recognized that “China is focused on a very long-term horizon, where the United States frequently is not.” There are presently 25,000 Chinese intelligence agents embedded in the United States. Not including about 15,000 recruited agents. This is not hyperbole. It is more than disturbing. Starting in 2010, the CIA began to lose its imbedded agents in China. Keep this in mind as we learn that China has launched more satellites than any other country this year. This puts China on track to win the space launch race three years in a row.
All this in light of the economic relationship between China and the United States– two overt adversaries: the U.S. national debt has grown during the covid attack, and so today it is around 25-26 trillion dollars with most of it owned by United States players—of that amount, China owns around 1.1 trillion dollars. But its fingers, in our financial wellbeing, must also take into account that Hong Kong ( now under China’s thumb) is the fifth largest holder of our financial debt and that China buys U.S. Treasury securities thru custodial accounts in Belgium (the 10th largest holder of U.S. debt) ,among other nations. China, while actively seeking inroads in our security, holds a heavy hammer on our financial wellbeing.
It is claimed, in multiple law suits that when you log onto Tic Toc, not the only “company” employed by China to make headlines ( i.e., Huawei, China National Offshore Oil Corp) as they intentionally worm their way into our security systems, you are opening your device to a complete invasion of your cyber-system. Read the terms of your acceptance of Tic Toc -–but first I suggest you go to law school so that you can begin to understand their overwhelming claim of rights. Then set aside a day to be able to read the entire document. In one class action it is claimed: “TikToc clandestinely has vacuumed up and transferred to servers in China vast quantities of private and personally-identifiable user data that can be employed to identify, profile, and track the location and activities of users in the United States now and in the future,”
With the new Administration, sanctions will be imposed; there will no longer be unrecorded conversations with Putin and Moscow. The Biden Administration will aggressively investigate Russian hacking and election interference as part of its elevation of cybersecurity issues in U.S. national security policy. There will be a greater show of force and “push back” by the United States to reign in China’s overt and covert hostile moves. And there will be a more concerted effort to stop and roll back China’s spy network in the United States and in cyberspace.