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Snowden’s Disclosures Force US to Meet with Chinese Military Leaders to Discuss ‘Norms’ for Cyber Warfare

There has been plenty of writing about the positive effect that former National Security Agency contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden has had as a result of his decision to reveal information on a bulk phone records collection program, which has been collecting the records of all Americans. But there has been much condemnation for his decision to reveal information on how the United States is engaged in hacking or offensive cyber operations against China.

What has been generally suggested is that he had damaged efforts by the US to escalate the response to Chinese hacking. The disclosures on cyber operations revealed tactics or operations being used against China, which the country will now be able to potentially thwart.

Efforts to address hacking do not, however, appear to be all that damaged. The New York Times reports the following:

…[T]he disclosures changed the discussion between the top officials at the Pentagon and the State Department and their Chinese counterparts in quiet meetings intended to work out what one official called “an understanding of rules of the road, norms of behavior,” for China and the United States… [emphasis added]

US government officials realized that hypocrisy had been exposed. Both countries could now be said to engage in hacking. As one senior administration official said to the Times, “We clearly don’t occupy the moral high ground that we once thought we did.”

This forced President Barack Obama’s administration “quietly” hold “an extraordinary briefing for the Chinese military leadership on a subject officials have rarely discussed in public”—the Pentagon’s doctrine for “defending” against cyber attacks with China.

It was especially necessary because the government is tripling “the number of American cyber warriors to 6,000 by the end of 2016, a force that will include new teams the Pentagon plans to deploy to each military combatant command around the world.” And the US hoped, according to the Times, that by talking to the Chinese, their own military officials might share details on “People’s Liberation Army units that are believed to be behind the escalating attacks on American corporations and government networks.”

Obama administration officials like to argue that the US’s operations are uniquely different than Chinese operations, which are targeting “intellectual property from Silicon Valley, military contractors and energy firms.” Yet, how does one explain this focus of the NSA?

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Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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