Since 9/11, America has been absorbed by a full-on hysteria over terrorism, a panic that has taken the form of overt and covert wars in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, and elsewhere, with billions of dollars spent and very little to show for it. Every day the press produces new articles about the ISIS boogyman, throwing a new spin on a well-worn topic. In reality, terrorism has never been an existential threat to the United States.

Over dinner with a retired operator I served with during the heyday of time-sensitive targets in Operation Iraqi Freedom, I said, “We join the military seeing ourselves very much in the tradition of the soldiers who scaled the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc or stormed Omaha Beach, but the reality is that our war just isn’t as important.” ISIS represents America’s darkest fears about Arabs, Muslims, and the Middle East in general, but at the end of the day they are little more than a farce—inept jihadis running around with rusty AK-47s.

Contrary to media reports that there were 500 ISIS terrorists holed up in Ramadi, my military sources reported that there were “100, tops” when the Iraqi Army moved in. When Sinjar was invaded by ISIS, it was with only 50 pickup trucks, meaning that about 200 fighters forced the retreat of the Peshmerga and the evacuation of a city with a population of around 100,000 people. ISIS is a joke, a threat largely of our own imaginations. Meanwhile, America’s real enemies have yet to emerge from the shadows.

The most dangerous threat to American national security is not terrorism, but rather the People’s Republic of China.

China: A revisionist power

Previous articles on SOFREP outline how China conducts espionage against the West, how they attempt to gain information dominance, and detail their near-term goal of being able to fight an offensive anti-access/area-denial war in the South China Sea using tactics and weapons that penetrate America’s weaknesses.

There is a fundamental difference in occidental and oriental thinking and it might make all the difference in a battle that impacts both economic and national security.” —The Rooster and the Dragon, David Scott Ph.D

The mid- and long-term goals of the People’s Republic of China involve nothing less than replacing America as the sole global superpower, shaping the rest of the world in their less-than-democratic image. Say what you will about the failures of American foreign policy, the United States largely seeks to promote pluralism, whereas China would like to “harmonize” their country and the world into a new paradigm in international relations.

The main vehicle China’s communist party will use to do this is not military, but economic. Like the Chinese approach to intelligence gathering, China’s economy cannot be compared to other countries and certainly is not a mirror image of America’s. While the U.S. State Department and CIA are not allowed to go around the world securing business for American corporations, the Chinese have no such qualms. In fact, it is a feature of the state and their command economy.

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The above image details the Chinese commercial-military-industrial complex, as well as the vectors in which it interfaces with American technology firms. Some of these interactions are completely aboveboard, a legal way for China to tap into American innovation and secure dual-use technologies, which are noted above. These are then funneled into Chinese military endeavors via a shared system of information exchange. In the media, cyber espionage gets a lot of coverage, but in reality, China’s 100-year plan to supplant the United States is largely focused around library science.

The tale of how China hijacked American commercial and military technology, and is in the process of leap-frogging ahead of America, is something so unbelievable that most people would not take it seriously even if they read it in a science-fiction novel. Now is the time to wake up, because America is currently obsessed with muscle-bound, high-speed, low-drag, MultiCam-clad, sniper-qualified special operators who they think are going to save America. Sorry folks, they’re not.

The techniques, the tactics, and the procedures 

As described in previous articles, units such as x and y, led by a and b, conduct cyber-espionage against the United States and other nations for the purposes of industrial and military espionage. The very fact that China is compiling massive databases of anyone employed by the United States government should give one pause.

After World War II, China pursued a similar strategy with Russia as it now uses against America, namely pretending to be our friend while reaping a harvest of technologies needed to modernize their economy and military. What America and Europe won’t sell, China steals or buys from Iran, Israel, and Russia. The military hardware is just a portion of it, though, as the Chinese government wants everything they can get their hands on. Eventually, both the industrial espionage and foreign arms transactions will come to a halt, as in the coming years China will no longer need them, having reached a point where they are surpassing currently developed military and industrial technology.

“China now relies on balancing among foreign technology, acquisition of key dual-use components in addition to focused indigenous research and development (R&D) to advance military modernization,” writes David Scott in his white paper titled “The Rooster and the Dragon.” There is no distinction between business and intelligence in China, and so it goes for their commercial enterprises and military research and development think tanks, as they are mostly one and the same. Dual-use technologies are developed and processed by dual-use organizations that serve both the military and the commercial sector.

The Chinese gather as much information as they can through open-source means, and then get the rest using illegal means. Take exhibit A: a Chinese agent sent to gather industrial secrets at the SHOT Show in Las Vegas. Federal employees were all over her in one of the casinos, and although I had a nice chat with “Summer,” she wasn’t getting anything from me.

Summer is emblematic of the amateurish spies used by Beijing. With a country of over a billion people, they can afford to put quantity over quality.

Another technique is to use spin-offs from foreign direct investment (FDI), which means overseas corporations investing directly in the Chinese economy for commercial gain to further develop projects of their own designs. Ironically, the World Bank helps China set up a lot of these and other programs, which is no mistake at all. This reverse brain drain also helps the government by giving the Chinese access to American universities, databases, academic panels (which are highly regarded by Chinese student spies because they can ask the panel their questions), scientific journals, and more, bringing this knowledge home with them.

The CIA is shifting emphasis away from terrorism and back toward nation-level foes

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Merely pointing this out has been enough to have this author branded a racist in the past. This is also a familiar tactic, as the Chinese have studied our culture well and know where our soft spots are. Currently, the Chinese are crying racism as the FBI attempts to investigate cases of Chinese espionage. Naves such as former U.K. information officer-turned-Huawei patsy, John Suffolk, support this narrative.

Back on the mainland, “China‘s defense industries are pursuing advanced manufacturing, information technology, and defense technologies. Examples include radar; counter-space capabilities, secure C4ISR, smart materials, and low-observable technologies,” David Scott wrote. The focus of C4ISR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) raises very interesting questions in regards to Erik Prince, the former CEO of Blackwater and alleged CIA non-official cover operative, and his recent relationship with the Chinese Ministry of State Security, the chief intelligence service.

Meanwhile, Chinese computer network operations (CNO)—a cute acronym for computer hacking—plugs away at American digital infrastructure. Some of these hackers are state employees assigned to military units, but others come from places like Wuhan University in Shanghai. Universities like this basically run hacking courses for Chinese students, and then host job fairs to recruit them straight into the People’s Liberation Army, working with one of the organizations listed below.

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More threatening from a military and industrial espionage standpoint is the Beijing North Computing Center (BNCC) and the 3rd Department, 2nd Bureau, as well as the technical recon bureaus.

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Beijing North Computing Center (BNCC) officers

In the next installment, we will get into how these collection methods and knowledge-transmission vectors are allowing China to overtake the U.S. economy, and precisely what this means for our future. This is not some far-flung distant threat; the Chinese intend to have accomplished this over the next decade, thus completing their “Hundred-Year Marathon.”

The good news is that the media has finally begun to catch on to the threat, but it may be too little, too late.

Featured image courtesy of