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China is aiming at America’s soft underbelly: the Internet

Cyberattacks on Google might be just the beginning. America's former director of National Intelligence says the US should do what is necessary to defend itself before there is a catastrophic event.

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Google and the National Security Agency (NSA) are engaging in a cooperative investigation to determine who exactly from China was trolling through Google’s proprietary networks, including e-mail exchanges of Chinese dissidents. They are also joining together to develop new defenses against malicious intrusion and attacks on America’s cyberinfrastructure.

Though America’s cybervulnerability has long been a concern of intelligence agencies, the Google episode has catapulted it to a national security priority.

No one knows more about China’s cyberwar capacities than Mike McConnell, who was director of National Intelligence, the authority over all US intelligence agencies, from February 2007 to January 2009, and director of the NSA from 1992 to 1996. After attacks last spring on the Pentagon and the New York Stock Exchange, I sat down with him to discuss China, the chief suspect then also, and to get the lay of the cyberwar battlefield.

Here is an excerpt of what he had to say.

Nathan Gardels: Defense analysts say that 90 percent of the probes and scans of American defense systems as well as commercial computer networks come from China. Is China the chief culprit?

Mike McConnell: I don’t know if it is 90 percent. Probably the best in the world in the cyberrealm are the United States, the Russians, the British, the Israelis, and the French. The next tier is the Chinese, but they are determined to be the best.

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