China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is stepping up open-source spying on the U.S. military and other foreign militaries that will utilize artificial intelligence means.
According to a procurement notice from China’s Central Military Commission, the new database is a six-month project to set up an “Open Source Intelligence Database on Foreign Militaries.”
The revealing notice was published by the commission’s PLA Equipment Development Department, whose director, Lt. Gen. Li Shangfu, was slapped with U.S. sanctions this week for buying arms from Russia.
The database will likely benefit from China’s theft of 22.1 million records on American federal workers, including those with security clearances, from the Office of Personnel Management in 2015. Chinese hackers also stole an estimated 80 million records on Americans from health care insurance giant Anthem.
U.S. officials believe the mass data collection by China is being used with artificial intelligence software as part of both cyber and human espionage operations.
“In light of the diverse sources, complex varieties and huge quantities of open-source intelligence coupled with its high collection costs and the existing issues of scattered [collection] resources and low utilization efficiency, an open source intelligence database on foreign militaries and national defense is to be established,” the online notice said.
Open-source intelligence “on major countries and regions’ militaries and defense industry are to be collected; and intelligence and data processing is to be prosecuted to provide services and support to relevant work.”
The targets of the collection program are publicly available defense information from the U.S., Russia, Britain, France, Japan, India and other major military powers. Categories of information will include personnel, organizations, conferences, documents, special operations and military basing, all of which will be cross-referenced.
The Chinese military is going after information on “key personnel in national defense establishments, including high-level military officers, important civilian personnel, important military researchers and other relevant information.” Armed forces and combat units, policy and national defense think tanks, military research groups and higher education research also will be spied on.
For institutions, the PLA will seek intelligence on national defense and strategic research conferences as well as research, equipment and technology conferences. The document database will be made up of reports from foreign militaries and defense yearbooks, and military technical documents other resources.
A multimedia open source intelligence database will be filled with electronic journals and defense-related video, audio, graphics and other multimedia.
For bases, the PLA is targeting foreign military airports, piers, command and control centers, radar, fixed ballistic missile bases and other critical facilities.
To staff the database, the PLA is hiring experienced military personnel with data resources development and application experience.
The notice was published in the weapons and equipment procurement information network, an online portal that openly solicits bids for weapons and equipment research, production and maintenance.
CLAPPER ON THE WASHINGTON TIMES
A new book by former Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper takes a shot at reporting by The Washington Times on Iraq that, on closer inspection, reveals the former spy chief was off the mark.
In his book “Fact and Fears: Hard Truths From a Life in Intelligence,” Mr. Clapper recounts what he calls an off-the-record breakfast with reporters in October 2003 that included a question from this reporter about vehicles fleeing Iraq into Syria and whether they were carrying weapons of mass destruction ahead of the U.S. invasion that year.
Mr. Clapper stated that “it was impossible to determine who or what was in them,” adding that he should have noted that it was “a stretch” to think Iran-aligned Syria would help the Sunni-led government of Iraq hide weapons.
“The following morning, I was amazed to read the Washington Times headline: SPY CHIEF SAYS IRAQ MOVED WEAPONS: SATELLITE IMAGES BEFORE WAR SHOW HEAVY VEHICLE TRAFFIC INTO SYRIA,” he wrote.
Mr. Clapper did not say why the story and headline amazed him, even though a review of stories about his meeting with reporters included a New York Times story with a similar headline and story: “THE STRUGGLE FOR IRAQ: WEAPONS SEARCH; IRAQIS REMOVED ARMS MATERIAL, U.S. AIDE SAYS.
Contrary to Mr. Clapper’s book, the meeting with Mr. Clapper, who at the time was director of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, was on the record. A review of the transcript reveals that the stories and headlines accurately reported what he said.
After making some initial comments about the movement of materials and documents out of Iraq, a reporter asked Mr. Clapper, “Does that include evidence of dispersing of actual weapons and equipment, or are you just talking documentation?”
“I think it is both,” he said.
“And any moving out of the country?” the reporter continued.
“There is no question that, I mean, the borders of Iraq are long and porous and there is unquestionably, had to have been and was traffic across the borders,” he added.
Mr. Clapper was then asked if weapons materials were moved to Iran, and he declined to comment.
Asked then about Syria, Mr. Clapper replied, “Oh yeah. There is no question about that.”
Question: “No question that weapons were moved there?”
Answer: “There is no question that there was a lot of traffic, increase in traffic up to the immediate onset of combat and certainly during Iraqi Freedom. Looking at trucks or vehicles which you may or may not be able to see inside of. But certainly inferentially, I think the, you know, the obvious conclusion one draws is the sudden upturn, uptick in traffic which may have been people leaving the scene, fleeing Iraq and unquestionably, I’m sure, material as well,” he said.
Mr. Clapper, through a spokesman, had no immediate comment.
CHINA BUILDING HARDENED ICBM SILO
Satellite photos of a Chinese intercontinental ballistic missile base reveal Beijing is constructing a super-hardened silo for its new DF-41 multi-warhead missile.
Retired Indian Army Col. Vinayak Bhat, a satellite imagery specialist, disclosed the new hardened silo at the Taiyuan Space Launch Center in northeastern Shanxi province.
“China is working feverishly to safeguard its nuclear weapons from a possible first strike by the United States,” Col. Bhat stated in the New Delhi website The Print.
“It is focusing on the development of super-hardened silo technology for various basing concepts, which requires research on nuclear hardness and survivability of each basing,” he stated.
The silo was spotted in commercial satellite photos about three-quarters of a mile from another missile silo at the base. Construction began in 2013 and is nearly complete. The size of the silo — around 7 meters in diameter — is a sign that it is meant for the new DF-41.
Evidence for the hardened silo includes the placing of almost all of its support facilities underground.
“During the entire construction process, the main silo door was covered with a semi-permanent shed, possibly to hide overhead observations,” Col. Bhat said. “The entire system seems to be fully automated, with all expected support facilities compatible and interconnected with some artificial intelligence command and control system.”
Col. Bhat estimated that the silo could be between 60 meters and 100 meters deep.
“In creating such a deeply buried, super-hardened silo system, China’s aim seems to be a prompt response while ensuring survivability,” he said. “The new silo system seems to be impregnable for American earth-penetrating weapons, although only a comprehensive engineering study can possibly prove its technical feasibility and vulnerabilities.”
The U.S. nuclear arsenal contains only one warhead with limited earth-penetrating capability — and none capable of penetrating deep into underground bunkers like the DF-41 silo.
• Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz.