Sunday, November 23, 2014

Threatening U.S. Interests Through Intelligence Requires Capital: China, Russia and Iran




            When Americans consider foreign states with intelligence capabilities that could possibly pose a long term threat to the United States, American interests and American children, the states of China, Russia and Iran frequently emerge for consideration although the threesome are not equal in capabilities.  The intelligence capabilities of China clearly present the greatest threat to United States interests, both internationally and domestically, and this is largely due to the global economic superiority that China possesses over Russia and Iran.  All faucets of intelligence capabilities, especially those that can challenge U.S. counter intelligence and overall U.S. interests, would require large-scale commitments of state resources and evolving technologies which can only be obtained, especially on a large scale, by accumulated capital equal to, or more dominant, than that of the United States.  In order to support the economic argument of Chinese intelligence dominance over Russia and Iran, each of the intelligence disciplines will be gaged to illustrate how economic conditions of the state either accelerate or debilitate intelligence capabilities.

            In the area of open source intelligence (OSINT), China, Russia and Iran each utilize disinformation dissemination and each state is “devoting increased resources, and particular attention, to improving the denial and deception tactics, techniques, and procedures” [1].  When it comes to dedicating resources in the area of open source intelligence, China possesses a strong economy that can dedicate the required resources, whether human or technological, to challenge U.S. counter-efforts.  Corruption and organized crime continue to weaken Russia as “state officials, the intelligence services, and business blurs the distinction between state policy and private gain” [2] and “Iran’s financial outlook has worsened since the 2012 implementation of sanctions on its oil exports and Central Bank” [3].  One prime example of the China’s economic dominance over Russia and Iran is the fact that China holds a monopoly over 95 percent of the world’s rare earth elements, which are extremely valuable and essential to technologies and the global economy. [4]

              In the field of geospatial intelligence (GEOINT), China is even more dominant than Russia or Iran as “Chinese satellite-reconnaissance and cyber espionage capabilities are expanding at an unprecedented speed” [5] and the military side of the Chinese intelligence machine operates “satellites for communications, navigation, earth resources, weather, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance purposes, in addition to manned space and space exploration missions” [6].  Russia and Iran are incapable of matching China in geospatial intelligence capabilities and this is greatly due to China’s healthy economic condition.  Russia possesses a space surveillance program and maintains satellite scrambling capabilities, but has endured recent failures in the space sector. [7]  Iran continues to attempt to “to modernize its air and air defense forces under the weight of international sanctions” [8], but under globalization will only fall further behind due to an inability to compete on a capitalist level.

            Even in the area of human intelligence (HUMINT) it is rational to consider China a greater threat to U.S. interests than Russia or Iran.  Not only should capital and available resources be considered in this area of intelligence gathering, but the current overall goals of the state being analyzed should also be considered.  While “according to analysts and officials, the communist-controlled People’s Republic of China operates the single largest intelligence-gathering apparatus in the world” [9], Russia and Iran has shown trends of focusing on regional human intelligence.  Russia clearly has a focus on Eastern Europe and neighboring post-Soviet satellite states such as Georgia and the Crimea while Iran “is active throughout the region and has increased its influence during the past twelve months in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Bahrain”. [10]

            The areas of signal intelligence (SIGINT) and measurement and signature intelligence (MASINT) are heavily reliant on technological advancements, which would again greatly favor China over Russia and Iran.  Russia has continued to struggle with “reinvigorating a military industrial base that deteriorated for more than a decade after the Soviet collapse” [11] while downgraded oil and gas revenues, budget inefficiencies, an aging industrial foundation, and rampant corruption has only slowed the process. [12]  Iran, under international sanctions, is constrained by worse economic conditions than Russia and does not possess the required technology to even come close to matching the technologies of the United States.  China, on the other hand, possesses the strongest signal intelligence program in the Pacific with more than a dozen ground stations monitoring signals from Russia to Southeast Asia which includes the U.S. military presence in the South China Sea and throughout Asia [13].

            China also leads the pack in Cyber intelligence due to holding a stronger economic base than Russia or Iran as “the reported scale of China’s hacking activities suggests terabytes of data may be finding their way to Chinese intelligence organizations” [14].  Russia has been previously accused of cyber warfare during the Russian invasion of Georgia and after a United States Department of Defense network infiltration, both occurring during 2008, but there is no official evidence to support these accusations or to provide evidence that Russian capabilities could match Chinese capabilities.  Iran certainly does not possess the organized capabilities, or the capital resources, of either China or Russia, which can be seen by the paltry one billion dollars Iran has invested in their cyber program since 2011 in order to close the “capabilities ‘gap’ that currently exists in Iran’s ability to carry out sustained and significant cyber-attacks against U.S. infrastructure.” [15]

            In conclusion, a state’s intelligence capabilities are no different than a state’s ability to dominate a region as a military hegemon or to compete internationally as a top military power.  In the world of capitalist globalization, capital is essential to developing the required technologies and devoting the required resources to operate and successfully maintain a top intelligence program capable of threatening the United States.  There is little doubt in the name of ugly international politics that China, Russia and Iran would each equally desire to damage American interests because international politics is a mere power struggle, but only China possesses the capital resources and is in an economic position under the current caste of capitalist globalization to engage the United States equally in the area of intelligence.


1. Michael Flynn. 2014. “Annual Threat Assessment Statement Before the Senate Armed Services Committee United States Senate on 11 February 2014” (U.S. Senate, District of Columbia, 2014), p. 15. http://www.dia.mil/Portals/27/Documents/News/2014_DIA_SFR_SASC_ATA_FINAL.pdf

2. James Clapper. 2013. “Statement for the Record: Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community Before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence” (U.S. Senate, District of Columbia, 2013), p. 6. http://www.intelligence.senate.gov/130312/clapper.pdf

3. James Clapper. 2013. “Statement for the Record: Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community Before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence” (U.S. Senate, District of Columbia, 2013), p. 6.
http://www.intelligence.senate.gov/130312/clapper.pdf  

4. James Clapper. 2013. “Statement for the Record: Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community Before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence” (U.S. Senate, District of Columbia, 2013), p. 11.
http://www.intelligence.senate.gov/130312/clapper.pdf

5. Alex Newman. 2011. “China's Growing Spy Threat,” The Diplomat, September 19, 2011, accessed on November 22, 2014 from http://thediplomat.com/2011/09/chinas-growing-spy-threat/

6. Michael Flynn. 2014. “Annual Threat Assessment Statement Before the Senate Armed Services Committee United States Senate on 11 February 2014” (U.S. Senate, District of Columbia, 2014), p. 14. http://www.dia.mil/Portals/27/Documents/News/2014_DIA_SFR_SASC_ATA_FINAL.pdf

7. Michael Flynn. 2014. “Annual Threat Assessment Statement Before the Senate Armed Services Committee United States Senate on 11 February 2014” (U.S. Senate, District of Columbia, 2014), p. 15. http://www.dia.mil/Portals/27/Documents/News/2014_DIA_SFR_SASC_ATA_FINAL.pdf

8. Michael Flynn. 2014. “Annual Threat Assessment Statement Before the Senate Armed Services Committee United States Senate on 11 February 2014” (U.S. Senate, District of Columbia, 2014), p. 20. http://www.dia.mil/Portals/27/Documents/News/2014_DIA_SFR_SASC_ATA_FINAL.pdf

9. Alex Newman. 2011. “China's Growing Spy Threat,” The Diplomat, September 19, 2011, accessed on November 22, 2014 from http://thediplomat.com/2011/09/chinas-growing-spy-threat/

10. Michael Flynn. 2014. “Annual Threat Assessment Statement Before the Senate Armed Services Committee United States Senate on 11 February 2014” (U.S. Senate, District of Columbia, 2014), p. 19. http://www.dia.mil/Portals/27/Documents/News/2014_DIA_SFR_SASC_ATA_FINAL.pdf

11. James Clapper. 2013. “Statement for the Record: Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community Before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence” (U.S. Senate, District of Columbia, 2013), p. 24. http://www.intelligence.senate.gov/130312/clapper.pdf

12. Michael Flynn. 2014. “Annual Threat Assessment Statement Before the Senate Armed Services Committee United States Senate on 11 February 2014” (U.S. Senate, District of Columbia, 2014), p. 31. http://www.dia.mil/Portals/27/Documents/News/2014_DIA_SFR_SASC_ATA_FINAL.pdf

13. John Pike. “Adversary Foreign Intelligence Operations,” Intelligence Threat Handbook, accessed November 22, 2014, http://fas.org/irp/nsa/ioss/threat96/part03.htm

14. Peter Mattis, “The Analytic Challenge of Understanding Chinese Intelligence Services”, Studies in Intelligence 56, No. 3 (September 2012), 53, accessed on November 22, 2014 from https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/csi-studies/studies/vol.-56-no.-3/pdfs/Mattis-Understanding%20Chinese%20Intel.pdf

15. Llan Berman. 2013. “The Iranian Cyber Threat, Revisited Statement before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection, and Security Technologies on March 20, 2013” (U.S. House, District of Columbia, 2013), p. 3-4. Accessed on November 23, 2014 from http://docs.house.gov/meetings/HM/HM08/20130320/100523/HHRG-113-HM08-Wstate-BermanI-20130320.pdf