Rage – Violence and Espionage

Locally, everywhere I turn I see rage and the sorrow of domestic mass shootings. Violence is currently a prominent feature of a new America. And political violence is but just one element.

The head of Homeland Security Secretary commented, and echoed by the director of the FBI ”that domestic violent extremism is one of the greatest terrorism-related threats that we face in the homeland today.” The FBI director Christopher Wray testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee during the first week of August this year that political violence is becoming “almost a 365 day phenomenon.” “Many domestic terrorism cases now have an international component, as would-be killers are ‘egging each other on’ and drawing inspiration from racist or neo-Nazi attacks overseas,” the head of the FBI and his British counterpart M15 announced in a joint communique. “Travel and technology,” the FBI director said, “have really blurred the lines between foreign and domestic threats.” Their agencies have spent decades developing a concept called “tip-sharing systems” to handle international terrorism cases, and that “muscle memory” is now being applied to domestic terrorism investigations. The most currant attacks have taken on a new kind of definition along with an increased and new urgency, because attackers can mobilize quickly and more than often are not part of a known, identifiable well-established network. On the other hand, in many terrorism cases, Wray commented, the terrorist is a lone actor, with maybe one or two other people with a minimum of plotting and little financial resources. In the midst of this information, the top watchdog at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) dropped a small bomb when he said that the DHS “could do more to address the threats of domestic terrorism.” This admission, in a new 29-page report, followed an increase in mass shootings that have been jolting the country and prompting questions about how effective federal law enforcement responses are.

Which leads me to the conclusion that after many years analysis we can no longer be automatically compartmentalizing terrorism as either domestic or foreign. There must be a more nuanced approach in our analysis and clearly a more proactive stance by law enforcement.

Globally, constant hostiles and a profound lack humanity are being pushed to the breaking point. Today, although the headlines have become smaller, we remain frontpage focused on the Ukraine, as a war of attrition lingers on with civilians more often than not, being targeted by Russian missiles. What is not being presented to the general public, even in a slightest ripple, is China’s silent, some may say stealth, attack on the United States, and that is the focus of the remainder of this Commentary. I am not referring to its open aggression in the East China and South China Sea area, neither disguised nor denied by any of the parties — the United States included. This comes amid increasingly more aggressive military action by Chinese pilots, obviously on command from Beijing. Last month, in the East and South China Seas, a Chinese fighter jet had an “unsafe” and “unprofessional” interaction with a U.S. special operations C-130 aircraft in the South China Sea. There was no apology from the Chinese. There has been unmasked hostility by Chinese jet fighters in recent months involving Australian and Canadian aircraft. In February, personnel aboard a Chinese navy ship pointed a laser at an Australian P-8 maritime surveillance aircraft, and another Chinese jet cut off an Australian P-8 and released chaff that the Australian plane was forced to ingest into its engine.

After Pelosi’s visit to Twain, the Chinese fired 11 missiles that hit the seas surrounding the democratic island, and although the Chinese said they all hit their intended targets, some landed in Japanese waters. After protests by both the U.S. and Japanese Governments, the bombardment stopped and then restarted with a large armada of Chinese naval force on display. As it turned, out it was a good military exercise for the Chinese government in preparation for future hostilities against Taiwan. Equally important for the United States, it afforded us the opportunity to study the coordination of Chinese military services in a live military full scale exercise. In addition, our “education” in observing the reaction of the Chinese at home — the mood of the mainland population was not as expected: Chinese social media exploded in condemnation of its government’s weak response to Pelosi’s trip to Twain — “don’t put on a show of power if you don’t have power,” and “what a loss of face.” The Chinese government then announced, I assume to placate its population, that it would cease all conversations with the U.S. concerning significant issues of national security for each nation. The “silent” treatment.

It is China’s “silent war” against us, only slightly cover in the press, that has captured my attention because of its depth and the danger it poses to a wide swath of our national security. One is its espionage, and the second is China’s invasion into our economy. First is the FBI’s ongoing investigation to determine whether the Chinese-made Huawei equipment could disrupt U.S. nuclear arsenal communications. Second, is a new Senate report that Beijing has targeted the ranks of our Federal Reserve system, this nation’s central bank and probably the most powerful economic institution in the world, to gain access to nonpublic information. China, over a period of more than a decade, sought to enlist Federal Reserve employees to provide sensitive and classified information in exchange for money and other enticements, according to the investigation led by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

Pete Williams, in a very interesting article, alleges that Chinese intense spying in the U.S. has become so penetrating, concentrated and widespread that the FBI is opening two to three counterintelligence investigations daily. FBI Director Wray has said, on more than one occasion, that the “sheer scale” of the Chinese efforts to steal U.S. technology “shocked him” when he became FBI director in 2017. “This one blew me away,” with over 2,000 investigations presently in progress. “There is no country that presents a broader, more severe threat to our innovation, our ideas and our economic security than China does,” he said. “More brazen, more damaging, than ever before.” targeting a wide range of U.S. innovations — including Covid vaccines, computer chips, nuclear power plants, wind turbines and smartphones. More than mere worrisome, Wray said, China has no equal.

WSJ reported that China attempted to build a network of informants inside the Federal Reserve system. During their attempt to infiltrate the FED, they threatened to imprison a Fed economist during his trip to Mainland China unless he agreed to provide nonpublic economic data. This was not the first time the Chinese offered cash payment or the use of corrosion in detaining those with sensitive information concerning the nonpublic workings at the FED.

Last November, a Chinese intelligence office was convicted of trying to steal closely guarded technology developed by GE for making jet engines’ fan blades. At times a company’s technology is stolen by planting spies inside a targeted company. And this may, I add, is only the tip of the iceberg of their activity in and against the United States.

Wray has long accused China of using pressure tactics to block criticism from dissidents and members of the immigrant community in the United States, which he said amounts to Chinese officials exporting their well-known social oppressive tactics. “China may be the first country to combine that kind of authoritarian ambition with cutting-edge technical capability. It’s like the surveillance nightmare of East Germany combined with the tech of Silicon Valley,” Wray said. Wray cited the example of Zhihao Kong, who was a graduate student at Purdue University in Indiana in 2020 when he publicly praised student protesters who were killed in 1989 at Tiananmen Square. After doing so, Kong said China’s Ministry of State Security visited his parents in China to warn them about his activism.

Wray was quick to emphasized that the source of the trouble is China’s leaders, not its citizens, adding “I’m referring not to the Chinese people, not to people of Chinese descent or heritage,” he said. “What we’re talking about here is the Chinese government and the Chinese Communist Party.” I find this hard to accept considering the outcry on social media within China that criticized their government for their weak response to Pelosi’s visit to Twain.

Some Asian American groups have accused the Justice Department and the FBI of overreaching, especially with a Trump-era national security program called the China Initiative, created to address Chinese economic espionage in universities and research institutions. The groups have alleged that federal agents, much too often, go after academic researchers for paperwork offenses that have no effect on national security.

FBI officials, while acknowledging some missteps, said the bureau’s focus is on efforts to steal from American companies, not on academia. But both is true, and the scope of their intrusion into our economic well-being is immense, as discussed below.

While other nations, including North Korea, Russia and Iran, have carried out sustained attacks on American computer networks, Wray said China stands in a class by itself. “There’s just no other country that presents a broader threat to our ideas, innovation and economic security than China,” and here he has hit the center of the target. There has been a sustained invasion in our economy on more than one front. Aside from its intense espionage activities, China has “invaded” our economy on two fronts. Its purchase of immense tracks of farmland and its purchase of major food producing companies, among others, in a blatant attempt to control various aspects of our lives, including our domestic food supply. At the outset, it’s important to repeat that every Chinese company must take a loyalty oath to comply to any request by the Communist Party of China. That, in effect, makes all Chinese companies a potential extension of the Communist China government apparatus.

With headquarters in China controlling its policy, there are several iconic “American companies” that sound American and tout themselves as American but are not. Smithfield Foods, the largest pork producing company, along with its more than 500 farms and factories in the United States, is Beijing controlled and operated. AMC Cinemas, along with IBM-Personal Corp and Snapchat and a healthy chunk of Tesla, have their headquarters in China. So does General Electric. Along with these companies, there is a push by Chinese interests to buy immense tracks of farmland — its “One Belt One Road” aiming to control a greater and greater piece of China’s food suppl chain. By 2020, Chinese owners-controlled farmland was worth almost 2 billion dollars including land used for ranching and forestry. Members of the U.S. House of Representatives, both Republican and Democratic, have advanced legislation, warning that China’s presence in the American food chain poses a national security risk. A powerful China-based company that specializes in flavor enhances recently obtained a 300-acre farmland near Grand Forks, North Dakota. What made this purchase so unique and important to our national security is that the land is located a mere 20 minutes from our Grand Forks Air Force base that is touted to be the home of our most sophisticated military drone technology. The Chair of the very powerful Senate Intelligence committee has rung the alarm bell that this purchase is a counterintelligence threat posed by the Chinese government.

My thought: after a fruitless 10-year siege, in 1184BC, the Greeks of ancient times constructed a huge wooden horse and hid a select group of soldiers inside…and then seemed to sail away from battle. The besieged Trojans, to what appeared to them as a victory prize, pulled the massive horse into their fortress and went to sleep. The rest, as they say, is history., A trojan horse or an “American” corporation set at the gates of Washington. A real question for today and tomorrow and our national security is who owns Corporate America? And by this, I mean who realistically controls corporate America? This is not an issue of who is “migrating” to our shores. We are a nation of immigrants and hopefully that is where our future has always been. The question, urgently being raised in Washington, is Who, in What corporate office, will determine what or when our food chain remains viable or the movies we see or newspapers we read, and the list goes on. There is a silent stealth enemy in the United States and today it is China.

The Invitation You Don’t Want

Do you know that, if you care to, you can log on to Amazon and, in addition to purchasing your groceries, you can obtain: “The Hacker Playbook—A Practical Guide to Penetration”. Then I stumbled onto an article that described an incredible, worldwide cyber-attack, and realized I know minus zero about cyberspace security or even hacking. I can tell you what hacking causes because almost everyone I know has had their e-mail hacked at one time or another.

How awkward and uncomfortable I felt writing a security-bent Commentary, as I was preparing to purchase a new computer and moving at the same time. My learning curve took a dramatic turn that brought me to a slew of wonderful articles and reports that opened a new world of understanding and, above all else, caution and continuing concern.

In one extensive report, I learned that last year (2017) there was cyberattack on a power grid in the United States, and even though it was horrific in scope and import, it drifted by unnoticed by most of the people I know. It has been claimed that there are those who beyond mere curiosity but with criminal intent, have the ability to shut down all our generated power and throw us into total darkness. And by that I do not mean just the lights in your home but to affect our all aspects of our being from individual and national finance to healthcare and cooking dinner to our basic forms of daily transportation.

The scope of the breach, first reported by the cybersecurity company Symantec in September 2017, revealed much about the way these attacks work. So much was revealed in its report, that the U.S. government turned it into a high valued investigation that produced a 16 page document. A team of cyber specialists from the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Bureau of Investigation placed the hackers’ tradecraft under its investigatory microscope and then disseminated its findings in the hope that the information would help prevent similar attacks – and keep this one attack from generating further chaos.

Experts say cyberspace communication is at a crucially vulnerable time in an age when hackers, whether motivated by disruption or bent on conducting wide scale cyber warfare, are constantly finding ways to infiltrate, corrupt and weaponize whatever touches the internet – often bit by bit. As I type this page I suddenly wonder is there someone looking-in that I am unaware of and what will they do with the information learned.

“It’s important to raise awareness,” said Mark Orlando, chief technology officer for cyber services at Raytheon. “…. details, if taken by themselves, might not seem that impactful. When presented with the entire story, we can see it was part of a larger, sustained campaign, potentially causing a lot of damage.”

The prospective for that type of damage is sweeping, said Constance Douris, who studies cybersecurity for the Lexington Institute, a Washington, D.C. think tank that focuses on defense. She said hacking the power grid is essentially a newer way of attacking a traditional military target. Understand that a power grid is not merely a power vehicle for our individual and business life but constitutes a prime military target by any adversary.

“Everyone understands cyber is important, but they don’t quite understand why it needs to be protected,” she said. “Hospitals, banks, pipelines, military bases – all of these cannot operate without electricity. Protecting the grid from cyberattacks should not be neglected by any means.” Clearly, this is an understatement. Our cyberspace integrity is “crucial” to our national and individual wellbeing. It can be utilized as a silent massive attack against the United States. It is not as dramatic as three planes flying into well-known buildings but clearly and potentially more deadly.

Here’s how the cyber experts broke down the “work” of the hacker – and how businesses and by extension, individuals can protect themselves.

Hackers have the learned that the shortest distance between two points is not necessarily a straight line—thus instead of attacking the largest target (who are, by necessity and self-preservation on the alert) the hacker works his or her way through the “smaller, less secure companies” and networks. Jumping from one network to another and moving to larger networks one at a time. One of the attackers’ main strategies is to divide targets into groups. As one security expert put it: each of us must “manager our own systems and being as vigilant as you can.” And we have read in the press that the hacker can use misleading emails that will deliver malware right into your computer. Be careful of what mail you open, especially if you do not recognize the sender. The hacker knows who they are targeting by collecting as much information and intelligence that is available, so that the email received by the target is both reasonable and believable and therefore more likely to be opened. I recieve emails all the time from institutions with whom I have some business or professional relationship asking me to update information that they should not be requesting. I don’t open those messages. I receive telephone calls from people with far-east accents who tell me that I am having a problem with my computer and they can rectify the issue with a small payment and to allow them access to my computer.

Another method of crawling into your computer with malware is to corrupt a site that you visit often. When you log into that site which has been “altered to contain and reference malicious content,” the government investigation found that you will then be infected with the planted malware. Some refer to these sites as “watering-holes” where the malicious malware codes at planted. Common places are the information sites you generally turn to on a regular basis. As one person said to me: “You can catch a lot of fish that way.” Another method is by stealing the identity of an important member/employee of a target including their usernames and passwords. Here again that is usually accomplished through tricking that person with a false login page of an often utilized site.

The Department of Homeland Security and FBI uncovered yet another method of invading your computer: The hacker sends a document to its target, but it is sent in a manner in which it cannot be downloaded. The bait is to then to inform the target: “if you are having problems downloading this document”, to click “having trouble” — which takes the target to the program that contains the malware. Cleaver and destructive.

If your i-pad and i-phone are connected to your computer they are all invitations to the hacker to invade your world. Cancel those “invitations” with heightened awareness that “anyone” could be a target—anyone. And the results of those invitations can be catastrophic.

Richard Allan,
The Editor

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