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China invests in collecting open-source US intelligence

As relations between the United States and China have become more adversarial, both countries are investing more in their intelligence-gathering capabilities.

With Beijing’s investments in managing big data, exploiting publicly available sources of information could give China an advantage in gathering intelligence on the United States and its allies.

While autocratic countries like China hide information about their military, the United States — as a democracy trying to answer to its public — releases a plethora of information about its military capabilities, doctrine, and planning.

China can exploit this information, in search of material that it can use for its own military advantages. For example, the report details some of the work done by a major Chinese open-source intelligence firm to analyze publicly available information from the Office of Net Assessment, the Pentagon’s internal think tank. Recorded Future also explained how China attempted to collect information released by the Naval War College in Newport, RI

“The US Naval War College has an institute for maritime studies on China, and it produces a lot of open source research on China,” said Zoe Haver, threat intelligence analyst at Recorded Future. “It’s done in an academic setting, but ultimately foreign governments consider this valuable information.”

Military officials did not immediately comment on the report’s findings.

China’s secret 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 at the information the Chinese People’s Liberation Army intelligence agencies used to help them plan and develop the military.

Recorded Future examined contracts the military has with private Chinese companies to collect a range of open-source information, including information about the US military and its work in defense of Taiwan.

“The PLA assumes that the United States will intervene in some form in a conflict in Taiwan, and they are working very hard to prepare for that type of scenario,” Ms. Haver said.

Much of what Beijing is mining from open source data may well be available at one Chinese spy agency or another. But China’s intelligence agencies are isolated from each other and do not share information, according to analysts at Recorded Future. And it may be easier for parts of the PLA’s intelligence services to develop open-source information on US capabilities than to request classified information from a sister spy agency.

Recorded Future recognizes that there are security issues given the information the United States and its allies make public, but cutting off broad access to the data may not be the answer.

Instead, Ms. Haver said Recorded Future hoped that raising awareness of Chinese open-source intelligence gathering would help private sector companies, the military and other government agencies better manage this risk and make it more difficult for automatic crawlers extract information from databases or public websites. . She also encouraged private companies to do their due diligence on Chinese companies trying 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 the openness.


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