Behind U.S.-China cyberwar debate

BY JEFF MACKLER

 We live in a society of law and order for sure! Indeed, the U.S. likely has more laws than any nation on earth. Many, if not most, are derived from the U.S. Constitution and its associated Bill of Rights, both of which have been subjected to endless revisions or re-interpretations over the centuries to meet the needs of modern capitalism, the present social order that prioritizes the rights of the one percent over those of the vast majority.

Perhaps the single most cited “law” that trumps all others in virtually all circumstances is the government’s invocation of U.S. “national security interests” against all who would infringe on it. Whether applied to military matters, civil liberties and democratic rights, trade, economic competition, or business more generally, the nation’s courts never flinch from subordinating the rights of individuals, unions, social justice organizations or even the health and well-bring of the entire nation to the fundamental needs of the capitalist ruling elite.

This includes spying on the entire population, deporting without legal recourse two million immigrants, interrogating hundreds of thousands of Muslim-Americans, banning or thwarting mass protests, and the murder and torture of accused “criminals” who have been denied their rights of due process. It also includes prioritizing the profits of trillion-dollar oil corporations to life itself, wiping out affirmative action in the name of a “colorblind” society, re-segregating and privatizing public education, obliterating pensions and hard won social programs at every level, banning access to legal abortion, criminalizing the poor and imprisoning the largest number and proportion of the population in the world.

In the name of “national security” or the associated “war on terror, or even in the name of “democracy,” the rights of all have been eroded faster and with greater intensity than at any time in the modern era.

In the name of this “national security,” the U.S. Justice Department on May 19 indicted five Chinese hackers—all members of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. The five were charged with 31 counts of espionage based on National Security Agency and FBI claims that they had employed cyber-war and related surveillance techniques to steal U.S. corporate secrets from Westinghouse Electric, the U.S. Steel Corporation, and other companies. The five were alleged to be members of the Shanghai-based and now well-known Unit 61398 of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, which the NSA had tapped into in order to steal what it claims are some 700,000 pages of evidence that they claim proves their case.

No one, according to two multi-page articles in the May 20 and May 21 New York Times, seriously believes that the U.S. government has even a slim chance of pursuing the matter other than for its propaganda value or to “shame” the Chinese government. Nevertheless, in John Dillinger-era style, the FBI printed the names and photographs of the five on old-fashioned “WANTED BY THE FBI” posters, presumably for public display in U.S. government buildings, as if a curious passerby might see the poster and subsequently turn in the accused.

U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder, according to The Times, “said that while nations routinely spy on one another for national security purposes, it was out of bounds for China to use state espionage operations to gain commercial advantage.”(!)

An accompanying “News Analysis” piece by David E. Sanger in the May 20 Times was entitled, “With Spy Charges, U.S. Draws a Line That Few Others Recognize.”Sanger wrote, “Spying for economic advantage,” says Holder, “is not U.S. policy. This is a tactic that the U.S. government categorically denounces. As President Obama has said on numerous occasions, we do not collect intelligence to provide competitive advantage to U.S. companies or U.S. commercial sectors.”

The Times analyst rejected, as did the Chinese government the following day, Holder’s distinction between what the U.S. government insists is spying to protect its “national security interests” and spying to gain economic advantage. Sanger wrote, “For example, the U.S. spies regularly for economic advantage when the goal is to support trade talks; when the Clinton administration was locked in a high-stakes negotiation in the 1990s to reach an accord with Japan, it bugged the Japanese negotiator’s limousine. At the time the chief beneficiary would have been the Big Three auto companies and a smattering of parts suppliers. It is also widely believed to be using intelligence in support of trade negotiations underway with European and Asian trading partners. But in the view of a succession of Democratic and Republican administrations, that is fair game.”

Sanger continued, “Companies can also be targets. Documents released by Mr. [Edward] Snowden showed that the American government pried deep into the servers of Huawei, one of China’s most successful Internet and communications companies. The documents made clear that the N.S.A. was seeking to learn whether the company was a front for the People’s Liberation Army and whether it was interested in spying on American firms. But there was a second purpose: to get inside Huawei’s systems and use them to spy on countries that buy the company’s equipment.”

The following day, May 21, The Times carried another front-page article, entitled, “U.S. Snooping on Companies Cited by China: A Response to Charges Against 5 in Army.” The article provided meticulous details on U.S. economic spy operations around the world, stating, “Now, every one of the examples of N.S.A. spying on corporations around the world  is becoming Exhibit A in China’s argument  that by indicting five members of the People’s Liberation Army the Obama administration is giving new meaning to capitalistic hypocrisy. In the Chinese view, the United States has designed its own system of rules about what constitutes ‘legal’ spying and what is illegal.”

There is no doubt among any of the leading capitalist nations that spying to gain economic advantage is the rule, not the exception. No serious capitalist competitor would expend millions or billions of dollars in research and development if the data or “intellectual property rights” could be obtained by sophisticated surveillance operations overwhelmingly funded by the state power that exists to defend and advance the interests of always competing industrialized nations. There are no exceptions to this iron law of competition—a law that in and of itself is testimony to the irrational nature of capitalism.

Were we to live in a truly civilized society—that is, a socialist world—the scientific and technical achievements of any nation would become the collective property of all. Indeed, research and development would be the collective and shared enterprise of the entire world. Today, however, it is the more often than not the prized and exclusive property of the nation with the largest armaments and associated surveillance apparatus.

Nineteenth-century German military theorist Carl Von Clausewitz, in his famous and often quoted work on war, stated almost 200 years ago that war is “a true political instrument, a continuation of political intercourse carried on with other means.” Today, “peaceful” capitalist surveillance/spying or its military-directed cyberwar variant employed to infect, alter or destroy opponents’ storage and communication systems is a leading instrument of corporate America’s politics—of its inherent drive for world domination. It is carried out in the modern era by the unprecedented surveillance of virtually the entire world, accompanied by ever more sophisticated and brutal means of warfare, including privatized death-squad armies, drone warfare, torture, and the ever-increasing production of new weapons of mass destruction.

The documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, reportedly 1.3 million, merely scratched the surface of what the U.S. military and economic war machine practices daily. Capitalist China and all other competitors in today’s crisis-ridden world order, ruled by the elite few in each nation, are third-rate players by comparison, but nevertheless compelled by the logic of their “profit above all” social systems to use whatever means available to remain competitive in the deadly game of never-ending rivalry for the world markets, resources, and the domination and exploitation of its peoples.

Edward Snowden was one among 1.4 million U.S. contractors with security clearance, which enabled him to open the door on the monstrous Orwellian truth that freedom in its truest meaning is increasingly illusory in capitalist society.

Civil libertarians and defenders of democratic rights learned, perhaps for the first time, that the Bill of Rights has been largely shredded in the name of “national security” and the “war on terrorism.” No one is free from government spying on their private lives and persons. But Snowden, as well as whistleblowers Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning, revealed an equally ominous threat to human existence—the threat derived from the fact that U.S. and world capitalism recognize few, if any, limits to the methods they employ to achieve world domination.

Unintentionally perhaps, the whistleblowers revealed that capitalism cannot be reformed. It must be replaced with a new social order that prioritizes human needs and the democratic and collective organization of society for the common good and not for the private profit of the one percent. This will be the first society in human history in which the majority truly rule in their own interests and through their own institutions. It will be a society free from the tyranny of the elite minority—a truly egalitarian society, within which the full potential of human beings can and will be fully realized. That social order is socialism.

Photo: “Wanted” poster for Chinese hackers published by the U.S. Justice Department. From CNN.