Asian Spying Said to Focus on U.S. Radiation-Hardened Electronics

from The Pentagon has documented a sharp increase in
military espionage from the Asia-Pacific region that focuses on
specialized electronics designed to withstand radiation
, such as that
caused by nuclear warfare or accidents, according to an official review
released last week.

For a number of years, foreign entities from East Asia and the Pacific
“have demonstrated a strong interest in obtaining export-controlled U.S.
rad-hard circuitry,” states the report by the Pentagon’s Defense Security Service, referring to radiation-hardened electronics.

Radiation hardening
is a process by which electric components are made to withstand the
effects of ionizing radiation released in a nuclear explosion, by
commercial atomic reactors or the sun.

These strengthened circuits “have applications in nuclear weapons,
aerospace vehicles, ballistic missiles, and other electronics used in
environments subject to radiation,” the review reads.

A number of Asia-Pacific nations with growing space programs could be
motivated to seek out information about radiation-resistant technology.

The fiscal 2012 DSS report did not specifically single out China as the
principal culprit behind this type of spying. However, it is generally
understood that Beijing is the biggest perpetrator of digital espionage in the region and is also keenly interested in improving its own strategic military capabilities.

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army is believed to be concerned about
the possibility of an atomic electromagnetic pulse attack — that is,
one aimed at neutralizing its nuclear deterrent
or other strategic assets that rely on electronics to operate.

Additionally, China could be developing EMP weapons of its own,
according to a declassified 2005 U.S. Army intelligence report.

North Korea may similarly take an interest in protecting its ballistic
missiles from an EMP strike; however, the isolated nation is not
believed to conduct weapons espionage to the degree that China does.

In a strike optimized for electromagnetic pulse, a nuclear warhead
would be detonated far above a country. The attack could send out large
amounts of radiation with the intention of confusing or simply frying
the electrical systems below, including those used to run weapon
systems. Some U.S. lawmakers worry about the possibility of the United States coming under this form of disruptive assault.

An alternative explanation for the intense Asia-Pacific interest is
that a number of nations there with developing space capabilities likely
would be interested in making sure their space-based systems are built
to withstand things like solar flares and cosmic rays, according to the
report. Australia, China, Japan, and South Korea all have space programs
of varying size and ambitions.

The Defense Security Service, which works to limit unauthorized access
to U.S. weapon system details, found that rad-hard electronics “will
very likely remain highly sought after” in the future.

More broadly, the Pentagon organization has seen a major uptick in
espionage efforts by Asian nations aimed at gaining backdoor knowledge
of U.S. missile systems. 

From fiscal 2011 to fiscal 2012, defense contractors working on U.S.
missile programs self-reported an 86 percent increase in instances of
attempted foreign espionage. Of these attempts, more than half came from
organizations connected to the Asia-Pacific region, the Defense
Security Service said.

“Foreign entities, especially those linked to countries with mature
missile programs, increasingly focused collection efforts on U.S.
missile technology, usually aimed at particular missile subsystems,” the
report found.

Among the U.S. missile systems targeted in fiscal 2012 by intelligence
collectors in this region were the submarine-launched Trident ballistic
missile, the tactical Tomahawk missile, the Standard Missile 3
interceptor, the Patriot Advanced Capability 3 interceptor and the
Ground Based Interceptor, according to the DSS report.

In its tracking of foreign espionage efforts, the Pentagon branch cites
a number of espionage efforts under the umbrella of “collection
activities.” These methods include cyber spying, attempts to acquire
technology, outright requests for technical information, and foreign

For the first time ever in fiscal 2012, cyber sleuthing — termed
“suspicious network activity” in the report — was the No.1 collection
method used by foreign organizations. It supplanted in rank both
attempted acquisition and requests for information, which were the first
and second most preferred methods, respectively, in fiscal 2011.

What is particularly troubling to the U.S. military about this change
is that it has become more difficult to detect spying when it occurs;
cyber espionage is harder to track than the more traditional spying

“These changes meant that more direct and transparent methods were
increasingly displaced by more indirect and opaque methods,” the DSS
office found.

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