The US and China Trade Barbs On Cyber
Image Credit: DoD photo by Cherie Cullen

The US and China Trade Barbs On Cyber


As the much of the international media remained captivated by the unfolding drama over Edward Snowden’s search for asylum, on Sunday China and the U.S. began trading barbs on each other’s cyber activities.

China’s accusations came in the form of an editorial in the state-run Xinhua News Agency, which is often seen as representing the views of the Chinese leadership. Noting that, according to Snowden, U.S. intelligence agencies hack into China’s major mobile companies and universities—potentially collecting data on millions of Chinese—the editorial noted bluntly:

“These, along with previous allegations, are clearly troubling signs. They demonstrate that the United States, which has long been trying to play innocent as a victim of cyber attacks, has turned out to be the biggest villain in our age. [Emphasis added]”

The editorial goes on to say:

“Washington should come clean about its record first. It owes too an explanation to China and other countries it has allegedly spied on. It has to share with the world the range, extent and intent of its clandestine hacking programs.”

The U.S. seemed to answer these charges later in the day when Keith Alexander, the head of the U.S. National Security Agency, gave a rare interview on ABC’s This Week, one of America’s premier Sunday political talk show programs.

 In the interview, Alexander—who also heads the U.S. Department of Defense’s cyber command—came close to confirming the charges, while defending the actions and trying to place on the blame on China.

When asked about Snowden’s allegations by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, the host of the program, Alexander stopped well short of denying them. According to a transcript of the show, Alexander said:

“Well, we have interest in those who collect on us as an intelligence agency. But to say that we're willfully just collecting all sorts of data would give you the impression that we're just trying to canvas the whole world.”

“The fact is what we're trying to do is get the information our nation needs, the foreign intelligence, that primary mission, in this case and the case that Snowden has brought up is in defending this nation from a terrorist attack.”

He would go on to defend the actions later in the response when saying,

“Now we have other intelligence interests just like other nations do. That's what you'd expect us to do. We do that right. Our main interest: who's collecting on us?”

Later in the interview, Stephanopoulos returned to the issue of China, when asking if it would be fair to say that the U.S. and China are engaged in a cyberwar and America is losing it.

“Well, I think our nation has been significantly impacted with intellectual property, the theft of intellectual property by China and others. That is the most significant transfer of wealth in history,” Alexander responded.

He then returned to his earlier theme of seeking to frame U.S. cyber-espionage in China as merely a response to Beijing’s own cyber activities against the U.S.

“And it goes right back to your initial question: who's taking our information? Is one of the things I believe the American people would expect me to know. That's one of my missions. Who's doing this to us? And why?”

Alexander continued: 

“So when you asked your initial question, why, there's part of the answer. Who's coming after us? We need to know that so we can defend this nation.”

As previously reported, Alexander told Congress last month foreign cyber activities against the U.S. are worsening and the U.S. Department of Defense itself cannot protect its networks. During that testimony, he used the Chinese telecommunication company, Huawei, to illustrate the immense economic costs of failing to protect U.S. networks.

“If you look at Huawei and how they've come up so quickly, did they grow all by themselves or did they steal some of the intellectual property that led to it?,” Alexander pondered at the time.

Oro Invictus
June 26, 2013 at 04:12

@ Cody D

I’m going to assume you haven’t read any of my previous posts, otherwise you would realize you’re, for the most part, preaching to the proverbial choir. I am a universal socialist, a humanist, and an idealist; I would like nothing more than a world in which there are no governments, where all is shared (including thoughts), where mankind collectively governs themselves under the principles of equality, sustainability, and the greater good. But I am also a realist, in that I accept that mankind, under current physiological constraints and ingrained conditioning, is nowhere near able to achieve a world such as this. So, instead, I look for the lesser evils in things, try and chart courses which will make such a world more achievable; Eden will not precede those who are willing and capable of inhabiting it.

As such, were the PRC, as part of their economic espionage, freely distributing everything they learned to everyone across the world (as well as giving full credit to their creators), as well as their own secrets, I would support them on this matter. Were the PRC government truly composed of socialists, seeking to promote the equality of all peoples and support their personal rights, they would be heroes in my eyes. But the CPC are not heroes. They instead hoard the knowledge they steal away, all for their own benefit. They care nothing for the struggling masses of the world, they simply seek to improve their geopolitical position. They are not bringing about a world of equality among peoples, they are attempting to concentrate it in their favour for their own selfish gain.

The US government may see themselves as kings, but they do not deign to pretend themselves gods like the CPC. The US has caused their fair share of misery and, indeed, they must and will fall for humanity to progress. Yet the PRC has caused infinitely more suffering and (at least, in the PRC’s current form) must and will fall long before them, for the same reasons.  

Before there can be no kings, there can be no gods.  

June 25, 2013 at 20:19

"Simply put, China is trying to make itself and its people richer, while America is trying to find out where you live if they every feel the need to killl you with flying robots." Not really. China has hacked a large number of military programmes in the US including the F35, Patriot Missile programme, and has also hacked into NATO. If you don't believe me, google each of those. Also see 

Leonard R.
June 25, 2013 at 18:58

Message to US Government:

Stop whining. It is unseemly and annoying.



June 25, 2013 at 17:30

"The USA owe China their entire well being, and their economy would completely collapse if China decided to TAKE what should be considered rightfully theirs instead of attempting to SHARE with America!!"  Just like to remind you that China bought USTbonds just for the sake of holding down its RMB for its own export advantage over other competitors & also for its safest free-default investments not for helping fund the US as you thought! You should  throw this rubbish myth into the garbage for good. When all these USTbonds mature, they will be paid  in full, both principal & interest immediately (just a keystroke!). Actually, the US doesn't need China to buy its Tbonds (just 7% of its national debt). Other countries & the American individuals & institutions will pick up the slack. Bear in mind, China has been quite dependent on the US & EU markets for its exports for survival, otherwise its economy will collapse immediately.  So, don't say the opposite here! PRISM has helped save thousands of American lives from terrorist attacks after the 9-11 event in 2001. Hence, there's nothing wrong with it!

June 25, 2013 at 16:20

Edward Snowden appeared, or rather surfaced,  just in time to delay ( for the time being ) a cyber Iraq-style war getting prosecuted or waged ….. against the PRC. He is a HERO similar to great heroes like Stanislav Petrov.

Oro Invictus
June 25, 2013 at 15:16

@ Mishmael

You just sort of danced around the point; I never said the US wasn’t engaged in espionage, I was differentiating between the forms the US’ and the PRC’s espionage takes. Both are known to engage in widespread communications espionage, yet the PRC also engages in what is almost certainly the most widespread and pervasive economic espionage program ever performed; everyone may do these things, but the scale of the PRC economic espionage and domestic monitoring programs are, by all indications, many times more severe than what the US engages in. This doesn’t expatriate the US from guilt in any way, but it does make their wrongdoings a much less dire issue than that of the PRC on this matter.

Also, if going by the number of state-sponsored abductions and killings, the PRC leads the US by a wide margin; the only difference is that the PRC, for the most part, simply targets those within its borders. That’s what I love about entities like the CPC: They constantly try and convince others that a person being killed is somehow worse if the one who did it was from another country rather than the same one. Irrational but, then again, when the combined total death tolls incurred by the CPC’s arch-enemies/rivals, Japan and the US, are exceeded by a significant margin by those incurred just on the people of the PRC over the last 60 years by the CPC itself, rationality is clearly not a major concern.

June 25, 2013 at 14:23

Simply put, thanks to this PRISM system, thousands of American lives have been saved from terrrorist attacks since 9/11/2001. Unlike China, the US  has never cracked down on or arrested its dissidents.

Cody D
June 25, 2013 at 13:49

I find your opinions anti-humanitarian. While I'm not well versed in politics, the concept is simple: Get off of the track of selfish money-making, where profiteering and secrecy are the keys that only open the doors to self preservation. If the world would freely share information without assuming that every single person is out to destroy each other, then we'd all live much happier. As a Canadian, I find it rediculous that the government of the United States is waging a secret war against ALL free people's of the world, labeling every human being as a potential threat. The vast majority of the world is composed of average, hard working people, struggling to survive while the bankers and polititians run everyones lives for their own personal gain and the gain of their own families.

The USA owe China their entire well being, and their economy would completely collapse if China decided to TAKE what should be considered rightfully theirs instead of attempting to SHARE with America. Terrorism has long since won, as their goal was to turn the Western world in on itself. When  America has nobody to target or blame rightfully, it lashes out at it's own people and takes away all true freedom in an attempt to secure it's safety. It points fingers across the water at a weaker, less developed region of the world and calls them evil. They water down their educational systems to make their people easier to control, like hearding sheep, and any citizens smart enough to realize it are hired as sheep herders for the promise of riches, forcing them to forget about the fellow man around them.

In the end, while neither country is TRULY in the right, China is only attempting to take some of the ideas and technologies that America funded with CHINA'S OWN MONEY and put it back into it's own struggling country. Instead of costing needless lives in a bloody war that will only result in pain, they're trying to solve this in a less violent way.

America is the big kid with a big stick. This kid feels that just because it can beat anyone up, that it's always in the right, when this is far from the case. If China says 2+2=4 and America disagrees, America will swing it's stick, and when China is lying on the floor bleeding, America will proudly announce that the liar paid for their slander, then declaring that 2+2=5 and that anyone else who argues is wrong and must be dealt with until everyone knows that America is right.

The world is getting smarter, and governments cannot control everything forever. America will fall, just as will many great nations. Eventually, the world will unite under one banner, and people will look back at our part of history and cry at our stupidity.

June 25, 2013 at 13:44

Pleasae comment more now after the recent Edward Joseph Snowden exposure.

June 25, 2013 at 12:19

.".White House sources partly confirmed an alarming report that U.S. government computers — reportedly including systems used by the military for nuclear commands — were breached by Chinese hackers.

…Free Beacon claimed that the U.S. government’s most sensitive networks were breached in the incident, which took place early last month.

“One official said the cyberbreach was one of Beijing’s most brazen cyberattacks against the United States,” the report said.

( Washington confirms Chinese hack attack on White House Computer–By Jana Winter, Jeremy A. Kaplan – Published October 01, 2012–

This type of cyberattacts on the White House & the DOD (to steal US military secrets) is surely not for economic  but obviously for national security purposes!



June 25, 2013 at 11:29

"U.S. cyber-espionage in China as merely a response to Beijing’s own cyber activities against the U.S."

except, US hacking of china predate beijings cyber activities as an article at foreign Policy Points out

“If you look at Huawei and how they've come up so quickly, did they grow all by themselves or did they steal some of the intellectual property that led to it?,” Alexander pondered at the time.

except, to this day they still have Zero evidence that Huawei did anything Wrong Since when did fast growth equal Wrong doing? Guilty until Proven innocent when it Comes to the Chinese?

June 25, 2013 at 11:15

I deliberately avoided your analogy because it is not the same. What I actually said was that I, at this present moment, is in more danger from the United States than from China. What the United States does is also not "voyeurism," but "espionage." The deifference being that the United States is not deriving some sexual pleasure from watching me, but actually using information gathered on me or through me to conduct "kinetic operations" which I do not approve of and which may put my life in danger. I went on to discuss how I believed that everyone, including American citizens, are actually in my situation.

Nobody likes beling robbed, so in response I will simply point out that I do not accept America's argument that it is being "unfairly" targeted by Chinese industrial espionage. Everyone does it, including America. It is wrong all of the time, but when countries are competing against each other that is irrelevant.

Obama himself, in a clumsy attempt to protect himself from domestic opponents, declared unequivocaly that the PRISM system was directed at foreign nationals. Snowden also revealed that the United States has specifically conducted cyber espionage against Tshinghua University, one of China's oldest Universities and the point through which a great deal of CHinese internet traffic is routed. Chinese citizens do not deserve to be spied on by the United States, and the United States does not have the right to sacrifice other people's privacy in order to accomplish its own goals. When the day comes that the US shares intelligence with China which leads to the prevention of major terrorist attacks, I will change my mind on this. At this point however, I am much more inclined to believe that the United States does not have the best interests of Chinese citizens in mind.

On a final note, the PRC's foreign espionage has not lead to major and reprehensible crimes agains citizens of foreign countries. In contrast, the United States has used its foreign intelligence capabilities to conduct extra-judicial killings, kidnap foreign nationals and torture them at undisclosed locations, and topple elected governments. I must emphasize again that the PRC has not done any of these things, regardless of what you think of its government.

Oro Invictus
June 25, 2013 at 07:21

@ Mishmael

Right, well, somebody hasn’t read the reports.

Not only is that not at all what Snowden’s reports suggest (i.e. the US is just gathering data, there is absolutely nothing in the reports to suggest they are targeting foreign nationals like you suggest), but it’s fundamentally irrational, on several counts.

But, rather than get into an extended discourse, why not just take a different tact:

Tell me which you would rather have done to you: Be spied on by a voyeur or have your livelihood stolen?

… Indeed, that’s what I expected. There’s a reason why stealing patents and the like almost universally results in harsher penalties than voyeurism. One is a violation of privacy; the other is theft and undermining of another’s wellbeing. And don’t say that “PRC civil society takes a different view”, because it doesn’t: Voyeurism or otherwise unlawful observance is considered a minor crime by the PRC judicial system (unless it falls under the umbrella of state-sponsored espionage), whereas IP and trade secrets theft (especially if committed against PRC companies and/or government bodies) can result in execution (regardless of whether or not it falls under the umbrella of treason against the national body or is simply done opportunistically by the average fellow).

Mind you, that is all rendered almost irrelevant since the PRC also engages in widespread foreign and domestic communication espionage, with said domestic espionage (the kind which Snowden was most interested in exposing in his reports on the US efforts) being exponentially more pervasive. 

June 25, 2013 at 06:32

Theres a difference between what CHina is doing and what America is doing. China is seeking access to technology which will enable them to further develop their economy. America is seeking information which will enable its agents to more accurately target its enemies aborad. Simply put, China is trying to make itself and its people richer, while America is trying to find out where you live if they every feel the need to killl you with flying robots. The two things are, depending on one's nationaliy, pretty immoral. I however am much more concerned with the US, because I, like the vast majority of people, am not sufficiently invested in America trade sectrets to ever be personally affected by their theft, but I can be targeted as a potential "terrorist" for looking up certain websits, or talking to certain people, or (if I am ever in Pakistan) if I stand among a group of men

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