Israel need not follow Obama’s lead and ignore China’s massive cyber-theft

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By Norman Bailey

The dysfunctional U.S. Congress is dithering about passing the so-called “shield law”, designed to protect the American power system from electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) attack, despite the fact that the cost of the program would be about what the U.S. gives Pakistan every year, the political profit from which is becoming less clear all the time.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Barack Obama at the Annenberg Retreat in California on June 8.  /Xinhua/Lan Hongguang
Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Barack Obama at the Annenberg Retreat in California on June 8. /Xinhua/Lan Hongguang

It is often said that neither North Korea nor Iran would attempt to attack the U.S. by nuclear-tipped missiles, since such an attack would bring immediate and totally devastating retaliation. Therefore, the argument goes, don’t worry about these countries having nuclear weapons, they are an empty threat.

Wrong. In the first place, a country with nuclear weapon capability can eventually miniaturize nuclear weapons and give them to terrorist organizations, which can introduce them with relative ease into almost any country.

Secondly, once such a rogue regime has the delivery capacity, it can explode a nuclear device over a continental-sized country such as the United States, and create the electro-magnetic effect, which will render the entire electrical grid of the country inoperable, thereby bringing modern civilization to an end.

By the time it was determined which country launched the attack, even if retaliation were possible from sites outside the country, there would be no society to protect and no government to order the counter-attack.

Recently, cyber-crime and cyber-attacks have become more common. The undoubted principal culprit, but by no means the only one, is China, engaged in a massive effort to penetrate computer systems to steal industrial and commercial secrets for its own purposes. U.S. officials have called the Chinese effort “…the greatest transfer of wealth in human history”.

It is estimated that the loss to the U.S. is about $340 billion annually and to the UK $44 billion. Nevertheless, the recent meeting between Chinese president Xi Jinping and U.S. President Obama resulted in exactly nothing on any important issue, including this one.

What could be done? Quite simply, the U.S. could retaliate in kind unless such activity stopped and payment was made for stolen patented technologies. The Stuxnet attack on the Iranian centrifuges is an example of what could be done, and given the recent Chinese military expansion into the surrounding areas, both on land and sea there would be plenty of potential targets.

The Chinese government directly or through its state-owned enterprises (SOEs), has turned itself into a criminal state and should be dealt with accordingly.

Instead of that, along with just about every other of the multiple crises spreading throughout the world, the U.S. government is largely absent. It is not even a question any more of “…kicking the can down the road…”; the administration is in denial that there is a can. Europe is just as bad or worse.

Luckily, Israel doesn’t have to worry about EMP, since such an attack would affect the entire region, including Iran itself, if it were the attacking country. North Korea would have no incentive to launch such an operation, as by doing so it would devastate at least one of its few allies in the world.

But cyber-attacks, both military and commercial, are another story. Israel is now at the cutting edge of both military and civilian technologies, and is thus a rich target for cyber-thieves and cyber-warriors. Both prevention and retaliation must be emphasized, and in this area, as in a remarkable number of others, Israel is in an excellent position. It is now the number two technological power in the world, after the U.S., having passed the UK.

It is within the capabilities of Israeli scientists and technologists, both government and private, to make the cost-benefit calculation of any potential hacker decidedly negative.

When I was director of national security planning during the Reagan administration, we negated the ongoing theft of Western militarily-useful technologies by the Soviet Union by facilitating their activities, but providing parts and blueprints that were just slightly off so they wouldn’t function. The program worked like a charm, even after it was discovered because the Soviets never knew whether what they were getting was the real thing or not. Perhaps something similar could be done in the case of cyber-theft.

Israel is a small country that is in some very important ways a great power.