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Jed Babbin: Obama's empty warnings to China won't stop hacking

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Opinion,Op-Eds,Jed Babbin,Barack Obama,China

A news report earlier this week said that Chinese cyberspies had stolen the designs for many of the United States' most advanced weapon systems. In response, the article said, the Obama administration had "...escalated its warnings to the Chinese government to stop what Washington sees as rampant cybertheft."

Those warnings have very clearly fallen on deaf ears. According to my sources (and open-sourced materials) Chinese cyber-espionage is attempted literally thousands of times a day against virtually all US government agencies and defense contractors.

Despite the Obama White House's warnings, there is no evidence that the Chinese are in any way reducing their effort. The Chinese have, consistently and bluntly, denied that they were conducting any cyber-espionage against the United States.

We don't know how many of these attacks - and that is what they are - succeed. But we do know that the list of stolen weapon systems' designs is very long. Though many of those that have been stolen may not have been disclosed, we know the list includes the F-35 and F/A-18 fighters, the Navy's Aegis and the Army's Patriot PAC-3 and THAAD (Theater High Altitude Area Defense) missile defense systems, and the Navy's Littoral Combat Ship.

We also know that many if not all of these weapon systems' designs are classified at levels up to and including top secret. China's theft of the designs benefits China in at least three big ways. First and foremost, they get to benefit from our mistakes and possibly can leapfrog our technologies, not just copy them. This saves them decades of time and expense in research and development.

Second, and almost as important, is the fact that our designs necessarily have within them the information that would make the weapon systems vulnerable to countermeasures. Knowing any missile defense system's design gives the enemy the information he needs to nullify the defense.

Knowing the design of a fighter aircraft may enable countermeasures that could jam them or even allow the enemy to transmit false information from them. The F-35, for example, is supposed to be a sensor "hub" that can retransmit all sorts of tactical information to other forces.

Third, and not least, is the fact that our weapon system are designed to carry out specific strategies and tactics. The more the Chinese learn about one, the more they learn about the other two.

That the Obama administration's warnings have been ineffective is too well-established to debate. What, then, shall we do?

What we should not do is to centralize computer defense in the government. It's already in the Department of Homeland Security and it's a failure. What we should do is tell the Defense Department to contract with a consortium of major defense contractors to engage in the continuously evolving defense of their own computer networks.

The effort will be expensive, but not nearly as expensive as the damage China is causing. The consortium contract should be managed by the Defense Department but with the knowledge that the contractors are vastly more capable, in imagination and brainpower, to do the job.

Second, we have to come to a decision on counter-cyberwar. The concept isn't hard to grasp. It was the ancient motto of the Scots kings: Nemo me impune lacessit. No man attacks me with impunity.

In short, any cyber attack that is attempted should be answered with a counterattack designed to immediately and automatically implant a damaging computer worm or some other kind of "malware" into the attacker's computers.

Warnings won't do anything to stop the Chinese or any other nation - or non-state actor - from attacking our computer networks and stealing the designs of our latest weapon systems. These actions just might.

Jed Babbin was appointed deputy undersecretary of defense by President George H.W. Bush. He is the author of such best-selling books as "Inside the Asylum" and "In the Words of Our Enemies."

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