A LOT OF HOT AIR IN BEI­JING

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics -

Se­nior Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials this week trum­peted bi­lat­eral cli­mate change talks with the Chi­nese in Bei­jing — one of the world’s most pol­luted cities.

How­ever, one lit­tle-no­ticed ini­tia­tive is cre­at­ing se­cu­rity con­cerns that China may gain ac­cess to strate­gic data on U.S. elec­tri­cal grids that could be used in a fu­ture cy­ber­at­tack against the U.S. in­fra­struc­ture.

As with pre­vi­ous meet­ings of the lat­est U.S.-China Strate­gic and Eco­nomic Di­a­logue, both U.S. and Chi­nese of­fi­cials of­fered vague state­ments on the cli­mate change talks this week.

Todd Stern, the U.S. spe­cial en­voy for cli­mate change, told re­porters that “good meet­ings” were held along with lots of “ac­tive co­op­er­a­tion” with China on the sub­ject.

Said Mr. Stern: “The joint ses­sion that was held to­day on cli­mate change, I think, was, over­all, quite pos­i­tive.” In diplo­matic-speak, that is the rough equiv­a­lent of “we talked a lot but agreed on lit­tle.”

China’s air pol­lu­tion is epic, with chok­ing smog a per­sis­tent prob­lem es­pe­cially in the cap­i­tal, Bei­jing. Com­mu­nist au­thor­i­ties eu­phemisti­cally re­fer to the smog as “bad weather.”

Chi­nese Vice Pre­mier Wang Yang said dur­ing the talks that China plans a “war” on pol­lu­tion.

One trou­bling as­pect of the talks, how­ever, was Mr. Stern’s ref­er­ence to one of eight projects an­nounced Tues­day — co­op­er­a­tion be­tween China and the United States on “smart grid” elec­tri­cal net­works.

No de­tails were pro­vided in the State Depart­ment’s “key points” of the talks, and a spokes­woman did not re­turn emails seek­ing com­ment.

The smart grid is the ap­pli­ca­tion of dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy to bet­ter man­age elec­tric­ity through the net­work of trans­mis­sion lines, sub­sta­tions and transformers that deliver elec­tric­ity, ar­guably the coun­try’s most im­por­tant en­ergy source. China also is de­vel­op­ing its own smart grid. Se­cu­rity an­a­lysts say the dig­i­ti­za­tion of the elec­tri­cal power grid will cre­ate new vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties for cy­ber­at­tacks — a Chi­nese mil­i­tary war­fare spe­cialty that is a grow­ing con­cern.

The Jus­tice Depart­ment in May in­dicted five People’s Lib­er­a­tion Army hack­ers for cy­ber­at­tacks on U.S. businesses. The in­dict­ment prompted China to can­cel a cy­ber­se­cu­rity work­ing group at the lat­est round of talks in Bei­jing.

China’s mil­i­tary re­cently high­lighted its view of the role of cy­ber­at­tacks in war­fare. A PLA re­port, “Strate­gic Re­view 2013,” pub­lished in April stated that “the in­ter­na­tional strug­gle for cy­berspace dom­i­nance has be­come in­creas­ingly fiercer.”

“Ma­jor pow­ers in the world have put their pre­mium on de­vel­op­ing their own mil­i­tary forces in cy­berspace and on scram­bling for the dom­i­nant po­si­tion in cy­berspace,” the re­port says. “In­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion over cy­berspace has dis­played a new ten­dency of stress­ing the abil­ity to de­ter, to at­tack and to reg­u­late.”

China al­ready has mapped out the U.S. elec­tri­cal grid and planted covert soft­ware that could be used for sab­o­tage — to de­stroy in­fra­struc­ture com­po­nent — in a fu­ture cri­sis or con­flict.

“The Chi­nese have at­tempted to map our in­fra­struc­ture, such as the elec­tri­cal grid,” a se­nior in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cial told The Wall Street Jour­nal in 2009. mem­bers of Congress on the drive by the Is­lamic State of Iraq and the Le­vant to seize con­trol of Iraq.

De­fense Sec­re­tary Chuck Hagel and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, out­lined for sen­a­tors the sit­u­a­tion in Iraq, where ISIL has seized a large cen­tral sec­tion and has de­clared that is leader, Abu Bakr al-Bagh­dadi, is now the head of a “caliphate” stretch­ing across Iraq and Syria.

Mr. Hagel and Gen. Dempsey out­lined the pos­si­ble mil­i­tary op­tions, which cur­rently are limited to de­ploy­ing 740 troops to as­sess the threat posed by ISIL and whether the U.S.-trained Iraqi forces can counter it.

Sen. John McCain, Ari­zona Repub­li­can, emerged from the clas­si­fied brief­ing with harsh words for the ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“It’s a clas­si­fied brief­ing, so I will not pro­vide any de­tails of that brief­ing, ex­cept to say very clearly, there is no strat­egy for coun­ter­ing the largest en­clave of ter­ror­ism in his­tory on the Iraq-Syria bor­der,” Mr. McCain told re­porters Tues­day. “They have no strat­egy, nor could they ar­tic­u­late a strat­egy to counter what our in­tel­li­gence es­ti­mates are over time will be a di­rect threat to the United States of Amer­ica.”

Asked about the se­na­tor’s com­ments, Pen­tagon press sec­re­tary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby de­clined to com­ment but de­fended the De­fense Depart­ment’s ap­proach to the re­newed con­flict.

“I’m not go­ing to talk about what was dis­cussed in a clas­si­fied brief­ing on the Hill,” Adm. Kirby said. “What I would tell you is that we’re tak­ing a very mea­sured, de­lib­er­ate ap­proach here to a very com­pli­cated prob­lem in­side Iraq.”

The cur­rent mil­i­tary mis­sion is twofold — pro­vid­ing se­cu­rity for diplo­mats in Bagh­dad and fa­cil­i­ties at the air­port, and dis­patch­ing six as­sess­ment teams, mostly around Bagh­dad, to gauge the co­he­sion of the Iraqi Se­cu­rity Forces.

Two joint op­er­a­tions cen­ters have been set up — one in Bagh­dad, the other in Ir­bil.

Adm. Kirby said the op­er­a­tions cen­ters are “de­signed to help us get a bet­ter sense of what’s go­ing on, on the ground, be­fore any fol­low-on mil­i­tary de­ci­sions are made.”

Gen. Dempsey last month said he was pre­par­ing additional op­tions for Pres­i­dent Obama, in­clud­ing tar­get­ing “high-value” ISIL lead­ers and pro­tect­ing crit­i­cal Iraqi in­fra­struc­ture. Ad­di­tion­ally, U.S. mil­i­tary forces could be used in the fu­ture in “blunt­ing at­tacks by massed groups of ISIL,” the four-star gen­eral told NPR June 28.

“That’s the mis­sion that we’ve been given. That’s the strat­egy that we’re pur­su­ing,” Gen. Dempsey said.

Adm. Kirby said Tues­day that the mil­i­tary teams will com­plete the ini­tial as­sess­ments “very soon.”

“It’s al­most done,” he said, adding that “the as­sess­ments will come up and then lead­er­ship will get a chance to take a look, and we’ll go from there.”

Both manned air­craft and drones are con­duct­ing up to 50 flights over Iraq ev­ery day.

Cur­rently 640 U.S. troops are on the ground in Iraq for the as­sess­ment teams and op­er­a­tions cen­ters.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

U.S. cli­mate change en­voy Todd Stern said re­cent talks with China were “pos­i­tive,” but also said the two na­tions “talked a lot and agreed on lit­tle.”

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