Why it matters: Beijing’s open source intelligence gathering could give it an edge.
As the relationship between the United States and China has become more adversarial, both countries are investing more in their intelligence gathering capabilities.
With Beijing’s investments in big data management, mining publicly available sources of information could give China an edge in gathering intelligence about the United States and its allies.
While autocratic countries like China withhold information about their military, the United States – as a democracy seeking to respond to its audience – publishes a plethora of information about its military capabilities, doctrine and planning.
China can mine this information by looking for material it can use to its military advantage. For example, the report details some of the work a major Chinese open-source intelligence firm has done to analyze the publicly available insights of the Office of Net Assessment, the Pentagon’s internal think tank. Recorded Future also outlined how China has been trying to glean intelligence disseminated by the Naval War College in Newport, RI
“The US Naval War College has a China Maritime Studies Institute and produces a lot of open source research on China,” said Zoe Haver, threat intelligence analyst with Recorded Future. « This is done in an academic context, but ultimately foreign governments view this intelligence as valuable. »
Military officials did not immediately comment on the report’s findings.
Background: China is mining information about the US military.
China’s covert intelligence-gathering capabilities have grown by leaps and bounds over the past few decades, and Beijing’s investment in open-source information has intensified over the past decade.
The definition of open source intelligence is broad, but Recorded Future looked into the information that the intelligence agencies of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army were using to help them make plans and develop the military.
Recorded Future examined contracts the military has issued to private Chinese companies to collect a variety of open-source information, including material about the US military and its work on Taiwan’s defense.
“The PLA strongly assumes that the United States will intervene in some form in a Taiwan conflict, and they work very hard to prepare for that kind of scenario,” Ms. Haver said.
Much of what Beijing is extracting from open source data may be available in one Chinese spy agency or another. But Chinese intelligence agencies are isolated from each other and do not share information, according to Recorded Future analysts. And it may be easier for parts of PLA intelligence to develop open source information about American capabilities than it is to request classified information from a sister spy agency.
What’s next: The open source collection presents a challenge for democracies.
Recorded Future acknowledges that there are security concerns given the information the United States and its allies make public, but disrupting widespread access to data may not be the answer.
Instead, Ms Haver said Recorded Future hoped awareness of China’s open source intelligence gathering would help private sector companies, the military and other government agencies better manage that risk and make it harder for web crawlers Automatically collect information from databases or public websites. . She also encouraged private companies to conduct due diligence on Chinese companies seeking to buy access to their information.
« At the end of the day, we don’t expect Western countries to shut down their information environments, » Ms. Haver said. “That wouldn’t even be a good thing. We appreciate openness.