Of pots and kettles in cyberspace
Radhika Desai
The National Innovation Demonstration Base of Northwestern Polytechnical University in Xi'an, China, September 5, 2022. /CFP

The National Innovation Demonstration Base of Northwestern Polytechnical University in Xi'an, China, September 5, 2022. /CFP

Editor's note: Radhika Desai is a professor of political studies at the University of Manitoba in Canada. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

The thousands of U.S. cyber attacks against China recently revealed by the Computer Virus Emergency Response Center (CVERC) and internet security company Qihoo 360 involved private sector, government and military infrastructure, educational, research and technology-related outfits and amounted to the theft of 140 gigabytes of valuable data. Like preceding revelations, it has exposed the U.S.'s hypocritical double standards. The U.S.'s accusations against China, of both defense-related and industrial espionage, are just another instance of "the pot calling the kettle black," that is accusing others, in this case, the shiny and clean kettle, of precisely what you, the blacked pot, are guilty of.

The U.S.'s hybrid war against China has been going on for at least a dozen years. Before then, U.S.-China engagement and cooperation led prominent historians to coin the term "Chimerica" to denote the many-faceted symbiotic relationship between the two economic giants. However, soon after the 2008 North Atlantic financial crisis, as the U.S.'s economic weakness and Chinese strength became clear to many, as soon as it became clear to U.S. authorities that China had no intention of subordinating itself to U.S. domination, the hybrid war started. Barack Obama's "pivot to Asia" was among the early signs.

Cyberspace became a key theater early on. Edward Snowden revealed in 2013 that U.S. cyber attacks had targeted hundreds of Hong Kong and Chinese mainland civilian targets since at least 2009. At the time, former U.S. President Obama tried to wiggle out of the sticky situation he and his government were in by claiming that Snowden had revealed only "routine" inter-state espionage of the sort all states indulge in against one another. China was still "the greater offender," he claimed, because such routine state espionage was "fundamentally different from your government or its proxies engaging directly in industrial espionage and stealing trade secrets, stealing proprietary information from companies. That we consider an act of aggression that has to stop."

Not only have the Chinese revealed that the U.S. does not respect the lines it draws itself, the tendency to claim that the U.S.'s formative international aggression and expansionism is only normal, something that all nations would indulge in if they could, has a long pedigree in the U.S. and even has a name – "realism." It's the belief that all states are fundamentally aggressive so that U.S. aggression not only gets normalized but can even be "admired" because it comes across as being more effective. This is a useful argument, serving as a fallback when claims about the U.S. spreading freedom, democracy and human rights are belied by the U.S.'s own actions, as they usually are.

Paul Nakasone, director of the National Security Agency (NSA), speaks during a House Intelligence Committee hearing in Washington, U.S., March 8, 2022. /CFP

Paul Nakasone, director of the National Security Agency (NSA), speaks during a House Intelligence Committee hearing in Washington, U.S., March 8, 2022. /CFP

Fed up with evidence-free U.S. accusations of both commercial and military technology-related cyber attacks against China multiplying, and its attempts get the U.S. to cease and desist through negotiations having been thwarted, Beijing has determined that it is necessary to expose U.S. hypocrisy and falsehoods with detailed reports of their findings of U.S. cyber attacks, not just statistics about them. In 2020, for instance, Chinese authorities publicized the anti-virus firm Qihoo 360's findings about the CIA hacking group (APT-C-39) attacks targeting several industry sectors including aviation organizations, scientific research institutions, the petroleum industry, internet companies, and government agencies, while also exposing earlier this year that U.S. internet aggression does not spare even its own allies and close security partners.

The organization named in the latest revelations is the National Security Agency's Office of Tailored Access Operations (TAO). Described as a "cyber warfare intelligence gathering unit," operating since the late 1990s, that is, more or less since the birth of the modern internet, the existence of this organization demonstrates clearly the U.S.'s intention to weaponize any sphere as soon as it emerges. By targeting what it calls "electronic data at rest," the TAO has become the NSA's most important component. Its efficiency is increased thanks to "the high-level cooperation it secretly receives from the 'big three' American telecom companies (AT&T, Verizon and Sprint), most of the large U.S.-based internet service providers, and many of the top computer security software manufacturers and consulting companies." So much for U.S. accusations against Huawei working with the Chinese government!

The contrast in the attitudes of China on the one hand and the U.S. and its allies on the other is remarkable. While China repeatedly underlines that "cyberspace is a shared homeland for humanity" and calls on all countries, including the U.S., to take a "responsible attitude and uphold peace and security in cyberspace through dialogue and cooperation with all parties," U.S. authorities boast about their cyber-aggression. Rather than waiting for someone to send you information, former NSA and CIA chief Michael Hayden says U.S. cyber intelligence agencies go "where the information is stored and extracting the information from the adversaries' network. We are the best at doing it. Period."

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