President Trump’s trip to Europe was not a complete failure -- his speech in Poland struck me as reasonable and Presidential. But his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and their discussion on cybersecurity was not a shining moment. Following their meeting, President Trump tweeted
Putin & I discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 9, 2017
This is not the first time that U.S. leaders have suggested cooperating with our cyber adversaries. I am reminded that there is nothing new in the world, and that the appropriate response to President Trump’s suggestion is not new policy or analysis but rather, to respond as we did the the last time our leaders tried this approach. Below is a quote from a blog that I originally co-authored with one of my colleagues back in 2012 when then Secretary Clinton suggested the U.S. should collaborate with China. Its wisdom is directly applicable to this circumstance.
“During her visit to China, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made an inexcusable public declaration. She stated that America and China were both “victims of cyber attacks” and needed to act in partnership.
Suggesting moral equivalence between America and China in the cyber realm is as preposterous as Elliot Ness asking Al Capone if they can work together to fight crime in Prohibition-era Chicago.
Clinton claimed that “both the United States and China are victims of cyber attacks. Intellectual property, commercial data, national security information is being targeted.… This is an issue of increasing concern to the business community and the government of the United States, as well as many other countries, and it is vital that we work together to curb this behavior.”
It’s regrettable when our leaders see a false equivalence between a manifest disregard for the rule of law (China) and being the victim of theft (America). It is true that some experts refer to China as the most hacked country in the world. That is because so much of the software sitting on Chinese machines is pirated and remains unpatched.
While they remain vulnerable, over the past five years, the Chinese have engaged in a conscious campaign to use cyberspace as a medium for theft of commercial data and national security information. Victims include RSA, Lockheed Martin, Google, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
It is irresponsible for the Secretary of State, who has reprimanded China for cyber misbehavior in the past, to now send a signal that will clearly say, “Go for it—there will be no accountability.” The real victims here are American companies and government entities whose intellectual property is being systematically siphoned off to fuel China’s economic growth and military modernization.
Instead of granting the Chinese a free pass, the Secretary should be pressuring China with both words and deeds to halt its malicious cyber activities.
Madam Secretary, now is not the time to go cyber wobbly. Cooperating with China in countering cyber threats means potentially inviting the fox into the henhouse.
President Trump, now is not the time to go cyber wobbly. Cooperating with Russia on countering cyber threats means inviting the fox into the henhouse.