18 February 2021

How China is Wooing the Muslim World

by Georgia Leatherdale-Gilholy

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the largest multilateral body claiming to represent the global Ummah, hosted a virtual meeting in honor of Kashmir Solidarity Day last Friday. In it, representatives from Pakistan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Niger and Azerbaija expressed their “unwavering” support for movements for Muslim self-determination in the Himalayan region where four of the most populous regions out of the six are disputed by India and Pakistan.

Somehow, they neglected to denounce the government of China. Beijing is responsible for the administration of Kashmir’s easternmost provinces and is currently busy interning over three million Uyghurs in concentration camps.

When it comes to the pertinent issue of China’s extreme policies toward Uyghur Muslims, now designated as a genocide by the U.S. administration, the OIC regularly offers direct praise and deference to the state responsible. In fact, in a July 2019 statement, over a dozen OIC member states co-signed a letter which “commended China’s achievements in the field of human rights.” Yet Uyghur exiles are being arrested and deported across the Middle East, and Turkey is currently waiting to finalize the extradition treaty it struck with China in December, which would put its 100,000 Uyghur diaspora at high risk of deportation and death.

It’s easy to spot one factor behind the OIC’s dangerous double standards: money. The “Belt and Road’’ Initiative (of which the attempt to decimate and subjugate the Uyghurs is an unofficial component) is set to invest over $8 billion in a transcontinental “belt” of overland economic corridors. This “belt” and its corresponding maritime “road” will incorporate a vast chunk of the world’s Muslim-majority nations from Sudan to Indonesia. With the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic brewing, paired with long-term political instability and patchy development throughout the Muslim world, many states are predictably eager to get their share of the BRI pie, no matter the moral cost.

Afghans—Not American Troops—Must Fix Afghanistan’s Problems

by Ethan Kessler

In a recent press conference, Pentagon officials signaled hesitation on the part of the United States to adhere to last year’s peace deal with the Taliban, blaming the group for Afghanistan’s recent streak of violence and saying such actions jeopardized the planned U.S. troop withdrawal. At the bottom, this signals a continued belief in Washington that Afghanistan’s internal state of affairs can justify a U.S. troop presence.

Given the failure of the U.S. war effort, however, this belief deserves closer scrutiny. Should Americans choose how other nations are governed?

For much of the foreign policy community in Washington, the answer is obviously yes. But, upon closer inspection, this “nation-building” argument fails to hold water. It follows that President Joe Biden should stay the course with the peace deal and meet the May 1 deadline of withdrawing all U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

The main reason the U.S. invaded and occupied Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks was to punish the Taliban for hosting Al Qaeda and deny the international terrorist group a safe haven. Just last summer, the Pentagon reiterated that “The vital U.S. interest in Afghanistan is to prevent it from serving as a safe haven for terrorists to launch attacks against the U.S. homeland, U.S. interests, or U.S. allies.”

This is only half of the argument for staying in Afghanistan, however. That the Taliban may harbor terrorists like the ones behind 9/11 is what motivates the United States to want a say in Afghanistan’s political future; that the United States thinks it can have a say is what keeps U.S. troops in Kabul. Since safe havens are outgrowths of weak governance, the thinking goes, states like the United States should cut to the root of the problem and build better governance in weak, violent states. This is how the initial U.S. invasion to decimate Al Qaeda leadership and punish the Taliban for accommodating them metastasized into an effort to “nation-build” in Afghanistan.

Moving Beyond “China, China, China” in the Indo-Pacific

This piece is part of the CSIS International Security Program’s Transition46 series on Defense360.

The Biden administration is signaling the United States will return to a more traditional foreign policy in Asia: one that will prioritize allies and partners, call out autocrats, and be a vocal advocate for human rights and democracy. The approach suggests that the United States will move away from its current, largely singular, focus on defense policy that prioritizes “China, China, China.”

As the new team begins to shape the administration’s policy and strategy, it is important to consider where we are as a country, and what has been missing from U.S. foreign policy over the past four years.

Q1: Is “China, China, China” the right approach?

A1: No. A single-minded focus on any one country is bound to be unsuccessful for the United States, its global interests, and its global security commitments. U.S. security does not hinge solely on one threat: combating climate change, reducing nuclear proliferation, preventing conventional conflict, and promoting alliances and partnerships are all important. A singular focus on only one of our security interests will distort U.S. strategy.

However, though a singular focus on China is unsustainable over the long term, the Trump administration's narrow, almost exclusive prioritization on China has revealed a serious U.S. security vulnerability: across nearly every measure, the Department of Defense (DoD) is unprepared for the range of possible demands that may be placed on it to deter China, defend our allies in the region, or defeat the People’s Liberation Army in a confrontation where U.S. interests are at stake.

Inside China's Quiet Flex On Myanmar Coup

Bruno Philip

China, with its propensity to cover up the truth, has reacted with surreal moderation to the coup d'état perpetrated on Feb. 1 by the Myanmar army. Global Times, the English-language daily paper of the Chinese Communist Party, simply described it as "a majorministerial reshuffle."

Earlier, immediately after the coup, the spokesman for the Foreign Ministry of the People's Republic of China, Wang Wenbin, issued a more terse but significant diplomatic statement: "All concerned parties in Myanmar should settle their differences" in order to "maintain social and political stability."

Here's the reality behind this hollow statement: Everything that happens in Myanmar, which has an extensive border with China, is of paramount importance in the eyes of Beijing. For China, political stability in Myanmar is essential to guarantee China's economic investments in the country will continue without hindrance. What do the rulers of the Forbidden City hate most of all? Unexpected, sudden changes — even if it is possible that Beijing had been informed in advance of this "reshuffle."

For both nations, geopolitical imperatives and economic necessities are combined in the framework of a complex, strategically important and longstanding Sino-Myanmar relationship.

But who benefits from the coup? How will China be able to best protect its interests at the dawn of this new age in Myanmar's turbulent history? Will China benefit from the military returning to the forefront, if only because this event symbolizes a setback in the United States' Asian policy? Since the Obama era, this policy has been dependent on a strategy of supporting democratic countries that can balance the rise of China in the Asia-Pacific region.

Up to this point, Beijing had been courting Aung San Suu Kyi, the former dissident who became the leader of Myanmar. This courtship caused General Min Aung Hlaing, the leader of the Feb. 1 coup, to worry about Beijing's persistent double dealing: China needs to guarantee a solid relationship with any Myanmar leader, but there is always an "at the same time" clause in its strategy because the Middle Kingdom always keeps two irons in the fire.

It’s Easier to Become a Chinese General Than an American or Russian One

by Michael Peck

Here's What You Need to Remember: Nonetheless, the Russian and American scandals only involve theft and kickbacks. Damaging as those are to military efficiency, China’s promotion scandal suggests that senior offices are obtaining their positions not on competence, but on their willingness to pay.

When dozens of senior officers are punished for bribing their way into promotions, you know that the Chinese military has a corruption problem.

More than 70 serving and retired senior People’s Liberation Army officers have been demoted for pay-for-promotion, according to the South China Morning Post. The list includes a full general and two lieutenant generals.

The officers were connected to former PLA chief of joint staff Fang Fenghui. Fang was convicted in February of taking bribes, and sentenced to life in prison. In turn, Fang was connected to Guo Boxiong and Xu Caihou, former vice-chairmen of the Central Military Commission, which oversees China’s military on behalf of the Communist Party. Guo and Xu had been earlier punished for corruption.

Most of the demoted senior officers were political commissars or held logistical positions, a retired naval officer told the Post. “The latest penalties were lenient,” he said. “None of them were sentenced to jail because they were seen as underlings of Fang, who was Guo and Xu’s protégé.”

How China Stole and Copied Its Way Into Creating a Highly-Networked Military

by Kris Osborn

Here’s What You Need to Remember: China’s visible effort to steal specs, copy U.S. platform designs and in many instances closely replicate U.S. weapons systems is both well documented and widely known. However, a less visible yet equally significant aspect of this phenomenon may well be found in apparent Chinese efforts to mirror U.S. military tactics and modernization strategies.

The United States has for many years now been developing and emphasizing multi-domain operations with a mind to how new technologies are creating synergies, opening up data sharing networks and inspiring fast-moving and sweeping tactical adjustments to modern warfare preparations. U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force multi-domain task forces have been operating in the Pacific for several years now, exploring new realms of joint combat interoperability, tactics and strategies.

During Project Convergence in the Fall of last year, U.S. Army ground forces succeeded in exchanging key targeting specifics with overhead F-35Bs in what was a breakthrough air-to-ground and ground-to-air multi-service connectivity demonstration.

Now, surprise surprise a Chinese newspaper is reporting that the PLA is now linking its Army and Air Force units into a single, unified combat alert duty in an effort to connect air defense radar and communications with PLA ground brigades.

Will the Biden Administration Push Russia and China Closer Together?

By Natasha Kuhrt and Marcin Kaczmarski

With a new U.S. president in the White House facing strong pressure to be tough with both Russia and China, could this test the robustness of the Sino-Russian partnership – or strengthen it?

Many policymakers and commentators in the West interpret the Sino-Russian relationship as predominantly shaped by the pressure put on those two states by the United States. Following this logic, we should have expected an acceleration of Sino-Russian collaboration since Washington termed both China and Russia “strategic competitors” in the 2017 National Security Strategy, and since the U.S. National Defense Strategy in 2018 warned that the United States might have to fight a war on two fronts.

A RAND paper from 2018 spoke of Russia as a “rogue state” whilst describing China as a “peer” in relation to the U.S. – the implication being that Russia could be more easily discounted, while China remained too strong a geoeconomic force to ignore. Biden has echoed this description, describing Russia as an opponent and China as a serious competitor.

The shift in U.S. policy toward China – away from engagement and towards neo-containment – has potentially increased the value of closer cooperation with Moscow for Beijing. However, Sino-Russian cooperation for the last couple of years has had mixed success.

In some areas, such as political and normative opposition toward the West, energy, or security, the relationship has flourished. The anti-American rhetoric of Xi Jinping has begun to resemble that of Vladimir Putin’s 2007 Munich speech. Russia and China have improved their positions within the U.N. system, including getting elected to the Human Rights Council.

SolarWinds and the Three Rs

There is a folktale about a band of monkeys who get soaked by rain every night and loudly promise they will build a better shelter. When daylight comes, they forget this and go about their business. The next night, there is more rain and more promises, and no action in the morning. This cycle resembles the discussion of cybersecurity.

There are many precedents for the sweeping SolarWinds hack. In 2010, Google and at least 80 other major companies were hacked by China (many never admitted publicly), and there have been other similar cases. An attacker finds a vulnerability in a widely used software, crawls the net to see who is using it, and harvests those of interest. One cyber researcher said a decade ago he could find as many as 10 such programs running globally in any given year, simultaneously targeting dozens of human rights activists, Tibetans, embassies, government agencies, and companies.

Capturing the updater is also an old trick. There are complaints that the government should have detected the malware embedded in SolarWinds software. Some go so far as to say that this shows the private sector is better at defense, but if that is true, why did the hundreds of commercially available cybersecurity tools also fail to detect the hack? We were “pwned” and blame can be shared equally.

The scale of the SolarWinds hack is impressive, but this probably is the result of better data management and data analytic tools now available. These let intelligence agencies manage huge pots of data, which is the way intelligence works now. Agencies can manage and exploit the collection from many more targets. Russia is not alone—all major intelligence agencies do something like this.

There were signs of improvement in the immediate response to the SolarWinds hack. In a 2008 incident where multiple federal agencies were hacked, some learned of it only after reading the newspaper. This time, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) did quite well, getting a notice of the vulnerability and countermeasures out within a few days of discovery. But much of SolarWinds, from the cries of outrage and finger-pointing to the promises to do better, is tediously familiar.

The U.S. and Its Allies Must Ensure Taiwan Doesn’t Fall to Beijing

By Malcolm Davis

There are growing signs that a military crisis could erupt across the Taiwan Strait this year as China flexes its military muscle to strongarm Taipei into accepting unification.

ASPI’s Peter Jennings notes that Beijing is also seeking to test the mettle of the new US administration.

It’s vital that the United States stand firm against any Chinese provocation. A failure to defend Taiwan would be an abdication of US international leadership. It would seriously damage America’s credibility in the Indo-Pacific and would invite China and others to become ever more aggressive. Thankfully, all indications suggest that President Joe Biden is set to continue strengthening Washington’s relationship with Taipei.

Jennings argues that it’s equally important for Australia to stand with the US in any Taiwan Strait crisis. If China decides that military adventurism, timed to exploit the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and political turmoil in the US, is a way to further its goal of ending America’s strategic primacy in the Indo-Pacific, the worst thing Australia could do is look the other way.

Principles matter. As Australia enjoys all the benefits of a free and open society in a stable and functioning democracy, our principles and values must extend to supporting the survival of Taiwan as a vibrant democracy of 24 million people with a successful market economy. The examples of Hong Kong and Xinjiang suggest a dark future for the Taiwanese people if China decides to force unification with the mainland.

Gaza Shows How Tough Future Wars Will Be

by Michael Peck

Key point: High-tech armies do not always win, especially in protracted land wars. Here is the warning of how a cheaper, weaker foe could still achieve victory.

What can the U.S. military learn from Israeli military operations in Gaza a few years back?

Plenty—and yet not much, according to a new study by RAND Corporation, which examined Operation Cast Lead in 2009 and Operation Protective Edge in 2014.

For starters, smart weapons are no panacea. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) attempted to destroy Hamas rocket launchers and tunnels with airpower alone (surprising in light of the failure of such an approach in the 2006 Lebanon War). Lack of success meant ground troops had to be sent in.

The failure of airpower meant the revival of artillery. The IDF barely used artillery in 2009, but used lots of big guns in 2014. “On a technical and tactical level, the IDF’s use of artillery support was impressive,” RAND noted. “It increased its use of precision artillery from earlier campaigns and reduced the minimum safe distances for providing fire support. Artillery fire often proved quicker and more responsive than other means of firepower, such as CAS [close air support].”

The next frontier in drone warfare? A Soviet-era crop duster

By Benjamin Fogel, Andro Mathewson 

In September 2020, on the second day of the six-week war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, the Armenian defense forces published a video of one of their units deploying a surface-to-air missile system to target a low-flying, slow-moving object—a drone. But what the soldiers shot down was no cutting-edge autonomous weapon: They had destroyed a propeller-driven, single-engine biplane first produced in the 1940s by the former Soviet Union for agricultural monitoring and management—a crop duster.

Azerbaijan had evidently converted multiple Antonov An-2 piston-powered light aircraft into uninhabited aerial vehicles. During the conflict, they were repeatedly dispatched on munitions-laden suicide missions used to bait Armenian air defenses. Deployed as a so-called “bait drone,” the An-2 from the September video forced the Armenians to fire their anti-aircraft weapons at its uninhabited fuselage, a ruse which revealed their defensive positions to Azerbaijani commanders searching for vulnerable targets. In doing so, Azerbaijan showed the world that even legacy hardware like the An-2 could be repurposed and used effectively in drone warfare—another example of how militaries continue to find innovative ways to employ increasingly autonomous systems.

Others will likely imitate Azerbaijani bait-drone tactics in future conflicts. These types of drones can be effective tools for exposing an adversary’s locations and capabilities while simultaneously diverting attention from a mission’s primary objectives. They are also cost-efficient, considering that the price of using a bait drone could amount to simply losing an aging clunker like the An-2. Importantly, by repurposing what had been an inhabited plane into a semi-autonomous vehicle, Azerbaijan has also highlighted a weak point in international efforts to slow military drone proliferation.

America’s Other Forever War

By Peter Beinart

“It is past time,” Joe Biden pledged last year, “to end the forever wars.” He’s right. But his definition of war is too narrow.

For decades, the United States has supplemented its missile strikes and Special Operations raids with a less visible instrument of coercion and death. America blockades weaker adversaries, choking off their trade with the outside world. It’s the modern equivalent of surrounding a city and trying to starve it into submission. Wonks call this weapon “secondary sanctions.” The more accurate term would be “siege.”

America launched its first post-Cold War siege in 1990, after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. For the next 13 years, Iraq — which before the war had imported roughly 70 percent of its food and medicine — needed United Nations approval to legally import anything. Claiming that everything from water tankers to dental equipment to antibiotics might have military use, Washington used its muscle at the U.N. to radically restrict what Iraq could buy. In her book, “Invisible War,” the Loyola University professor Joy Gordon notes that between 1996 and 2003, Iraq legally imported only $204 per person in goods per year — half of the per capita income of Haiti. After resigning to protest sanctions in 1998, the U.N.’s humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, Denis Halliday, warned, “We are in the process of destroying an entire society.”

How the British Army Plans to Join the Drone Game

by Peter Suciu

Here's What You Need To Remember: Beyond scouting, the drones could be used to ambush the enemy. The tracked X3 isn't armed, but it is fitted with speakers on the front and could be employed in a deception effort.

Earlier this month, the UK's Chief of Defence, Gen. Sir Nick Carter suggested that the British Army could fill out its ranks with "robot soldiers." The deployment of robots could address the recruitment shortfalls that the UK has faced in recent years, but could also give its forces an edge in combating the enemy.

One area where small autonomous vehicles could potentially play a large role is in being force multipliers.

Last month the UK's Ministry of Defence showcased new high-tech equipment including the Nano Bug mini drone that can fit in the palm of a soldier's hand. It can travel at speeds of up to 50mph and provides the troops on the ground with a bird's eye view of the battlefield.

It can send information to the soldiers on the ground but also link to the larger ground-based X3 unmanned autonomous vehicle, which has a speed of 12.4mph and a range of 1.2 miles. The X3 can be linked with other vehicles and drones, which can share information along a chain up to 15 miles long. This could ensure that infantry as well as armored vehicles avoid entering a battlefield until it has been properly scouted.

Acting as forward scouts these drones can utilize lasers in the cameras, which can allow soldiers to accurately measure the distance to a target that they can't even see.

Deception Tactics

Beyond scouting, the drones could be used to ambush the enemy. The tracked X3 isn't armed, but it is fitted with speakers on the front and could be employed in a deception effort.

New Long-Range Weapons (Like These) Could Change Warfare Forever

by Kris Osborn

Here's What You Need to Know: There are many new, cross-domain technologies that are improving the ability of the Army to wage war.

Yuma Proving Grounds, Arizona - There are many now-underway tactical adjustments being pursued by the Army as it adapts to new technologies and seeks to transform into a new era of warfare. Among these are the drones, lightning-fast sensing and shooting, air-ground-sea-space attack coordination, and lots of networked weapons systems.

“I think what you are going to see is really the depth and range of the battlefield. It will be a joint-forces fight across hundreds and thousands of miles,” Gen. James McConville, Chief of Staff of the Army, told me during Project Convergence 2020 at Yuma Proving Grounds, Ariz.

The live fire event, which included drone-to-drone networking, AI-enabled sensor-to-shooter pairing in seconds, satellite targeting, drone-fired missiles, direct-fire armored vehicle attacks and long-range destruction of enemy air defenses, was intended to experiment with transformational forms of nearly instant targeting and multi-domain networking.

“We believe we are going to be contested in every single domain which will change how we operate, not just on land but in the sea, air, cyber and space. We will be operating cross-domain. If you look at some of the systems we have, they are going to operate on the ground, they are going to operate in the air and some of them are going to be dependent upon space to get the effects that we need,” McConville said.

The U.S. Navy: Soon a Drone Navy?

by Kris Osborn

Here's What You Need To Remember: Drones have several key advantages over manned ships - the largest of which is the ability to function non-stop. Drones don't need to eat or sleep and can stay on a mission remotely for months at a time.

A massive expansion in the number of drones is emerging as part of a U.S. Navy plan to add as many as twenty-one medium and large-size drone boats over just the next five years.

The Navy just released its thirty-year shipbuilding plan which, among many other things, reflects the well-known growing emphasis upon unmanned systems, autonomy and drone-human connectivity when it comes to maritime combat.

Between now and 2026, the Navy hopes to acquire twelve Large Unmanned Surface Vessels (LUSVs), one Medium Unmanned Surface Vessel (MUSV) and eight Ex-Large Unmanned Underwater Vessels (XLUUVs), making a total of twenty-one new drones over the next five years. The Navy plan calls it an “acceleration.”

“Significant resources are added to accelerate fielding the full spectrum of unmanned capabilities, including man-machine teaming ahead of full autonomy. These systems are now included in wargames, exercises and limited real-world operations,” the plan states.

When Allies Go Nuclear

By Chuck Hagel, Malcolm Rifkind, Kevin Rudd, and Ivo Daalder

The year is 2030. Seismic monitors have just detected an unforeseen underground atomic explosion, signaling that yet another country has joined the growing club of nuclear-armed states. There are now 20 such countries, more than double the number in 2021. To the surprise of many, the proliferation has come not from rogue states bent on committing nuclear blackmail but from a group of countries usually seen as cautious and rule abiding: U.S. allies. Even though they had forsworn acquiring nuclear capabilities decades earlier when they signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), these allies changed their minds and withdrew from the agreement, a move that triggered yet more defections as nations across the world raced to acquire the bomb. And so the number of nuclear decision-makers multiplied, raising the odds of a terrifying possibility: that one of these powerful weapons might go off.

We Must Reorient US Cyber Strategy Around the Only Safe Assumption


This oped is adapted from Dmitri Alperovitch's Feb. 10, 2021, testimony to the House Homeland Security Committee.

Almost half a decade ago, I coined the phrase: “We do not have a cyber problem; we have a China-Russia-Iran-and-North Korea problem.”

Cyberspace is not a separate virtual world, immune from the forces that shape the broader geopolitical landscape. Instead, it is an extension of that landscape, and the threats we face in cyberspace are not fundamentally different from the threats we face in the non-cyber realm.

China, Russia, Iran and North Korea are the four primary strategic adversaries whose malignant activities in cyberspace we try to counter on a daily basis, as we do their more traditional tactics in the physical world. Often, these battles are joined by non-state actors, such as the most well-organized cybercriminals. These actors inflict enormous damage on our economy by launching ransomware attacks and stealing financial data from our businesses and citizens, and it is no coincidence that they operate with impunity from the safety of their homes in these very same countries.

These countries conduct a variety of cyber operations against us on a daily basis, ranging from cyber-enabled espionage against our government to the theft of intellectual property from our companies to destructive attacks that shutdown business operations to the interference in the foundation of our democracy: our elections.

Against Great Power Competition

By Daniel H. Nexon

In his first days in office, U.S. President Joe Biden has worked to signal a clean break with his predecessor. He rejoined the Paris climate accord, offered to extend the New START nuclear weapons treaty, and reversed the “Mexico City” policy curtailing overseas abortion access. His appointees have repeatedly emphasized that the administration will prioritize diplomacy and multilateralism over former President Donald Trump’s “America first” nationalism.

But the fate of a central plank of Trump’s foreign policy remains uncertain: the focus on great-power competition, which according to his administration’s National Security Strategy has “returned.” In a major address at the U.S. State Department, Biden underscored his intention to “work with Beijing when it’s in America’s interests to do so,” but days later noted the likelihood of “extreme competition” with China. This rhetoric may reflect either pragmatism or that great-power competition is on its way to assuming a dominant place in Biden administration policy. Even if Biden aims to de-emphasize competition in certain areas, though, Republicans are certain to criticize the administration for being weak and ineffective in the face of international challenges. Absent some major change in the global threat environment, great-power competition will remain a focal point in debates over U.S. foreign and national security policy.

Microsoft asks government to stay out of its cyber attack response in Australia

By Asha Barbaschow

Microsoft has taken the opportunity to remind the federal government of the issues it takes with the proposed critical infrastructure legislation by flagging several aspects of the Bill that it believes could unintentionally make Australia's security posture less secure.

The draft legislation in question, the Security Legislation Amendment (Critical Infrastructure) Bill 2020, was published by the Department of Home Affairs in November. It was then introduced to Parliament in December, with Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton labelling it as a significant step in the protection of critical infrastructure and essential services that Australians rely upon.

The Bill seeks to amend the Security of Critical Infrastructure Act 2018 to implement "an enhanced framework to uplift the security and resilience of Australia's critical infrastructure" that would extend the application of the Act to communications, transport, data and the cloud, food and grocery, defence, higher education, research, and health.

If passed, the laws would introduce a positive security obligation for critical infrastructure entities, supported by sector-specific requirements and mandatory reporting requirements to the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD); enhanced cybersecurity obligations for those entities most important to the nation; and government assistance to entities in response to significant cyber attacks on Australian systems.

SolarWinds: How Russian spies hacked the Justice, State, Treasury, Energy and Commerce Departments

Bill Whitaker

President Biden inherited a lot of intractable problems, but perhaps none is as disruptive as the cyber war between the United States and Russia simmering largely under the radar. Last March, with the coronavirus spreading uncontrollably across the United States, Russian cyber soldiers released their own contagion by sabotaging a tiny piece of computer code buried in a popular piece of software called "SolarWinds." The hidden virus spread to 18,000 government and private computer networks by way of one of those software updates we all take for granted. The attack was unprecedented in audacity and scope. Russian spies went rummaging through the digital files of the U.S. departments of Justice, State, Treasury, Energy, and Commerce and for nine months had unfettered access to top-level communications, court documents, even nuclear secrets. And by all accounts, it's still going on.

Brad Smith: I think from a software engineering perspective, it's probably fair to say that this is the largest and most sophisticated attack the world has ever seen.

Brad Smith is president of Microsoft. He learned about the hack after the presidential election this past November. By that time, the stealthy intruders had spread throughout the tech giants' computer network and stolen some of its proprietary source code used to build its software products. More alarming: how the hackers got in… piggy-backing on a piece of third party software used to connect, manage and monitor computer networks.

Bill Whitaker: What makes this so momentous?