DANIEL VAUGHAN: Biden Targets Chinese Influence At Ports, Many Other Vectors Remain

 February 21, 2024

The threats America faces directly from China and Russia are many these days. A few weeks ago, I wrote about how Russia and China were targeting infrastructure across the United States. Russian and Chinese hacker consortiums are testing weaknesses in electricity, water, and other utilities. The broader goal is simple: can they cripple the United States without firing a bullet?

There's evidence they can. We got an update this week on another critical part of the nation's infrastructure: ports of entry. Last year, The Wall Street Journal published a lengthy report on how the Pentagon feared cargo cranes at the nation's ports were being used as Chinese spy tools.

The cranes were either manufactured in China or made with critical components in China that could be used to spy on Americans. Pentagon officials called these cranes "Trojan horses," being used to "capture information about materiel being shipped in or out of the country to support U.S. military operations around the world."

National security experts believe China had the same capabilities in these cranes as in their cell tower networks built by Huawei. China uses these to spy on public, private, and government information.

It is telling that the Biden administration announced a $20 billion effort to increase port security and replace these cranes. The Journal reported, "The money, tapped from the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill passed in 2021, would support a U.S. subsidiary of Mitsui, a Japanese company, to produce the cranes."

The reasoning was directly related to The Wall Street Journal's reporting from last year:

"We felt there was real strategic risk here," said Anne Neuberger, U.S. deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technology. "These cranes, because they are essentially moving the large-scale containers in and out of port, if they were encrypted in a criminal attack, or rented or operated by an adversary, that could have real impact on our economy's movement of goods and our military's movement of goods through ports."

The Chinese claim these kinds of claims are anti-China paranoia. But aside from that, everyone interviewed across the partisan spectrum sees the same threat in the United States.

These steps are expensive but necessary, and the Biden White House deserves plaudits for taking this seriously.

It's curious that they aren't doing the same thing with the water supply. The Biden Administration also announced a $5.8 billion initiative to "clean up" American drinking water.

The cause fine: "Projects underway in that city -- including efforts to remove lead water pipes -- are among several across the country that are being funded through bipartisan legislation passed in 2021 that devoted $50 billion to improving the nation's water supply."

Lead, microplastics, and other things contaminate the U.S. water supply and deserve a focus. But we also should be updating the systems for these utilities to account for hacking groups. The United States needs to harden essential utility and infrastructure points across the country to prevent a catastrophic attack.

We know the Chinese, Russians, and Iranians are looking for these openings and have already tested them. If we're going to spend the money anyway, let's go ahead and eliminate two problems with one stone.

Last November, an Iranian-linked group attacked multiple water facilities in the United States. NPR reported, "If a hack like this can happen here in Western Pennsylvania, it can happen elsewhere in the United States," Sens. John Fetterman and Bob Casey, and Rep. Chris Deluzio, who all represent the state, wrote in a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland."

Cleaning up the water supply is important. But we also need to be ensuring we have a working water supply to work with.

Craig Singleton, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington think tank, gave Congressional testimony where he said, "Increasingly, the Chinese are not merely seeking access to our networks; they are pre-emptively positioning to compromise and control them."

Answering the crane issue is a step in the right direction. We're dealing with a potential threat to our national security. The problem is that it isn't the only critical area.

Mel Brooks once wrote a song that started, "Hope for the best, expect the worst / Some drink champagne, some die of thirst / No way of knowing which way it's going / Hope for the best, expect the worst!"

That should be American policy towards Russia, China, and Iran. No one wants direct or indirect conflict with them. But we know they're testing our defenses. We should take that seriously and provide a thorough response. It's impossible to be prepared for everything, but the obvious things should be dealt with.

America needs to understand that we're on a war footing now. We need to prepare like it. We cannot live idly, hoping that a larger conflict will be avoided. The experts have gotten the intentions wrong for Russia and Iran so far. China is next on the list. We need to prepare like the experts are wrong. Cranes are a first step, not a final stop.

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