What is the greatest threat to U.S. national security? Some say it is our national debt and a weak economic recovery. Others assert that it is the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and long-range delivery means. There are those, including high-level defense officials, who believe it is this country’s vulnerability to cyber attack.
Now the Defense Security Service (DSS) warns of yet another serious and growing threat to national security: the illegal acquisition and even outright theft of critical advanced technologies. DSS’s 2012 report makes for some bleak reading. U.S. high tech commercial and defense are under increasing assault by governments, non-state actors and commercial rivals around the world. The goal is to acquire critical advanced technologies thereby undercutting America’s competitive advantages as both an industrial and military power. The report warns that this effort to acquire U.S. technologies illegally constitutes a serious threat to overall national security and to the lives of the men and women in uniform.
“Every time our adversaries gain access to sensitive or classified information and technology, it jeopardizes the lives of our warfighters, since these adversaries can exploit the information and technology to develop more lethal weapons or countermeasures to our systems. Our national security is also at risk in the potential loss of our technological edge, which is closely tied to the economic success of the cleared contractor community and the well-being of our economy.”
U.S. advanced technology has been the target of foreign agents for decades beginning with Moscow’s efforts to acquire the secrets of the atom bomb. Today, the threat is becoming more intense, global in scope and focused on a broad array of critical technologies. According to the DSS “During fiscal year 2011, the persistent, pervasive, and insidious nature of that threat became particularly noteworthy, and the pattern became even more firmly established.” While it appears as if countries, governmental entities, corporations and groups still conduct their efforts independently, there is growing evidence of collaboration among some of the most sophisticated and determined adversaries. Not surprising, the interests of these technology thieves appears to be focused on technologies with the highest commercial and military value: information systems; lasers, optics, and sensors; aeronautics systems; electronics; armaments and energetic materials, and marine systems. According to the DSS report, there is increased interest on the part of would-be thieves to acquire technologies in space systems, industrial processing and manufacturing, and directed energy systems.
Methods employed to acquire technology run the gamut from commercial discussions, academic exchanges and trade shows to more classic forms of espionage. Increasingly sophisticated attacks are being conducted across cyber networks. The best defense companies such as Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems are targets for hundreds and even thousands of cyber attacks every day. However, these companies have developed the most sophisticated and extensive defensive capabilities. In fact, their efforts to protect their own networks and data have resulted in the creation of advanced cyber security divisions that are selling their know how to the U.S. government and other private companies.
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