Troublesome China Bashing

The front-page headline of the December 11, 2023, Washington Post (WAPO) read, “China’s cyber army is invading critical U.S. services.” The sub-headline, “A utility in Hawaii, a West Coast port and a pipeline are among the victims in the past year, officials say,” impressed upon the reader that the Peoples Republic of China had wriggled its way into causing havoc in America’s industrial system. Carefully read the article and learn that nothing unusual has happened to critical U.S. services and there are no facts to indicate anything unusual will happen. The headlined article is a far-fetched opinion piece masquerading as an explosive investigation that urges critical attention to an exaggerated problem. Addressing this exaggeration may seem trivial but it tells the story of how the government gathers information to make faulty decisions and that is not trivial. Please excuse if the response to the article sounds sarcastic at times, but the article has comedic appearances that invite ridicule.

How do we know this is an exaggerated problem; a succeeding paragraph tells us nothing happened, and, after casually informing us there have been no disruptions, the authors take a five thousand mile leap to tie together a trivial hacking and the brewwwwwwiiiiing conflict in Taiwan.

None of the intrusions affected industrial control systems that operate pumps, pistons or any critical function, or caused a disruption, U.S. officials said. But they said the attention to Hawaii, which is home to the Pacific Fleet, and to at least one port as well as logistics centers suggests the Chinese military wants the ability to complicate U.S. efforts to ship troops and equipment to the region if a conflict breaks out over Taiwan.

Without citing a fact that relates some trivial hacking to a diabolical scheme or showing the hacking was more than a nuisance, the article informs us that the hacking, “suggests the Chinese military wants the ability to complicate U.S. efforts to ship troops and equipment to the region if a conflict breaks out over Taiwan.”

Did this read correctly: “Chinese military wants the ability to complicate U.S. efforts to ship troops and equipment to the region if a conflict breaks out over Taiwan?” Fellow Americans, do you know that our government intends to send troops to fight for Taiwan? Don’t be concerned, any war in Taiwan will be over before any ship left U.S. waters with battle-ready American soldiers ready to fight the yellow peril.

Who are these hackers? “Hackers affiliated with China’s People’s Liberation Army have burrowed into the computer systems of about two dozen critical entities over the past year, experts said.” ‘Affiliated’ is a vague word and, without having specifics, there is doubt that China’s People’s Liberation Army knew about the hacking.

The imagination of the government sources that provided the information for the article does not just leap continents, it reaches into the barren outer space with over-dosed suppositions.

Some of the victims compromised by Volt Typhoon were smaller companies and organizations across a range of sectors and “not necessarily those that would have an immediate relevant connection to a critical function upon which many Americans depend,” said Eric Goldstein, CISA’s executive assistant director. This may have been “opportunistic targeting … based upon where they can gain access” — a way to get a toehold into a supply chain in the hopes of one day moving into larger, more-critical customers, he said.

The hackers are looking for a way to get in and stay in without being detected, said Joe McReynolds, a China security studies fellow at the Jamestown Foundation, a think tank focused on security issues. “You’re trying to build tunnels into your enemies’ infrastructure that you can later use to attack. Until then you lie in wait, carry out reconnaissance, figure out if you can move into industrial control systems or more critical companies or targets upstream. And one day, if you get the order from on high, you switch from reconnaissance to attack.”

Lots of words that say the cyberattacks have accomplished nothing but could be a training ground for more advanced activities, similar to shooting ducks could be terrorist training for shooting down airplanes.

Adding zero information to zero information forms a mighty conclusion.

The disclosures to The Post build on the annual threat assessment in February by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which warned that China “almost certainly is capable of launching cyberattacks that would disrupt U.S. critical infrastructure, including oil and gas pipelines and rail systems.

The report, which shows some Chinese have basic knowledge of cyberattacks, leads to a conclusion of major capability ─ China “almost certainly is capable of launching cyberattacks that would disrupt U.S. critical infrastructure, including oil and gas.” To my knowledge, no strategic facility is on the Internet; they are all on private networks and cannot be hacked unless the hacker sets up transceivers around the facility that can intercept the communications, decode them, retrieve vital information, such as passwords, and transmit hacking messages into the networks computers. This is a complicated procedure and is difficult to shield from exposure. No revelations that “hackers affiliated with China’s People’s Liberation Army” have set up shop around the private networks have been mentioned.

This investigation of the investigation may sound trivial and provoke a big yawn and a “so what.” Don’t be fooled, the WAPO article reveals a major problem confronting Americans ─ U.S. foreign policies are not developed from facts and reality; they are developed from made-up stories that fit agendas. Those who guide the agendas solicit support from the population by providing made-up and exaggerated stories that rile the American public and define its enemies. This diversion from facts and truth is responsible for the counterproductive wars fought by the U.S., for Middle East turmoil, for a world confronted with terrorism, and for the contemporary horrors in Ukraine and Gaza. U.S. foreign policy is not the cause of all the problems, but it intensifies them and rarely solves any of them.

U.S. administrations have been involved in much of China’s internal affairs — Taiwan, Hong Kong, Tibet, South China Sea, Belt and Road, Uyghurs — without showing how China’s internal affairs affect the U.S. and why the U.S. and not Tanzania should be involved. What has this interference accomplished? Nothing! Absolutely nothing, and, except for the South China Sea disputes, nothing that arouses concerns seems to be occurring. If the U.S. administrations spent time, energy, and tax dollars on affairs more directly connected with U.S. operations, they may learn that their obsession with China’s affairs hindered acceptable resolutions and prevented attention to their own and more meaningful problems. Oh, and it might prevent World War III.

Dan Lieberman publishes commentaries on foreign policy, economics, and politics at  He is author of the non-fiction books A Third Party Can Succeed in America, Not until They Were Gone, Think Tanks of DC, The Artistry of a Dog, and a novel: The Victory (under a pen name, David L. McWellan). Read other articles by Dan.