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The Drums of US-China Cyber War

With his recent testimony warning of the dire threat that China supposedly poses to US infrastructure, FBI Director Christopher Wray was telling congressional Republicans and Democrats exactly what they wanted to hear. A dangerous anti-China agenda has become the one thing that unites America's political class.

NEW HAVEN – FBI Director Christopher Wray recently upped the ante in America’s anti-China campaign. In congressional testimony on January 31, he sounded the alarm over intensified Chinese hacking activity and warned that US infrastructure – telecommunications, energy, transportation, and water – is acutely vulnerable to the Chinese state-sponsored hacker group Volt Typhoon. Front-page coverage by the New York Times added to the sense of urgency.

A few days after Wray’s testimony, a joint report from the FBI, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), and the National Security Agency (NSA) provided detailed documentation of the Volt Typhoon threat. More front-page coverage by the Times duly followed. And then came the outage of a major cellular network on February 22. Suddenly, cyber fears have taken on a life of their own.

Largely ignored in this frenzy is an important conditionality to Wray’s warning. China, he alleged, was “prepositioning” for future conflict. That is not the same as Russian President Vladimir Putin massing troops on Ukraine’s border in late 2021 and early 2022. In Wray’s words, Volt Typhoon could be expected to attack US critical infrastructure, “If or when China decides the time has come to strike” (my emphasis).