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The United States government has explicitly accused China of carrying out cyberattacks against U.S. computer systems. The accusations were made in the annual Pentagon report to Congress on China's military capabilities. The U.S. has long intimated that China was responsible for such attacks, involving U.S. government and defense interests, but this report represents the first direct accusation (China has strongly denied the accusations).

I was struck by one particular aspect of David Sanger's story on this in today's New York Times:

Missing from the Pentagon report was any acknowledgment of the similar abilities being developed in the United States, where billions of dollars are spent each year on cyberdefense and constructing increasingly sophisticated cyberweapons. Recently the director of the National Security Agency, Gen. Keith Alexander, who is also commander of the military’s fast-growing Cyber Command, told Congress that he was creating more than a dozen offensive cyberunits, designed to mount attacks, when necessary, at foreign computer networks.

When the United States mounted its cyberattacks on Iran’s nuclear facilities early in President Obama’s first term, Mr. Obama expressed concern to aides that China and other states might use the American operations to justify their own intrusions.

"Missing," indeed.

That second graf is priceless. President Obama was simultaneously launching cyberattacks and "expressing concern" that Other States might operate under the naive and archaic assumption that rules apply, or don't apply, to all countries equally. It would be hard to find a more flagrant example of hypocrisy. The U.S. continues to project (though never state explicitly: more on this later) the belief that it - along with its client states - has a unique right to violate the laws and norms by which all other states are constrained. Presumably, U.S. officials (and our courtier press) would justify this hypocrisy around cyberattacks on the same grounds they justify everything, namely, the absurd concept of American Exceptionalism. There are many interpretations of this term, most of them utterly fatuous, but for the purposes of U.S. power, American Exceptionalism simply means the unique right to ignore various pesky inconveniences with which other states have to cope, such as international law, world opinion, territorial integrity, and so on.

The last few days have helpfully illuminated - in case anyone still doubted it - the guiding principle that the U.S. and its clients have the right to act in a way that other states may not. Andrew Sullivan has been writing about how this dynamic is at work in Syria, whose capital city was bombed by Israel in what was not, we are told, an act of war:

We are told this was not an act of war. Why? Er, because Israel did it and therefore it is not an act of war. It may have killed close to 100 Syrian army soldiers, among many others; it may have been the biggest single explosion in Syria’s capital city throughout the entire conflict; it may have required entering another country’s airspace and bombing its capital city; but this is not a war.
Imagine a foreign military bombing Washington. Would we not regard that as an act of war? At what point are we going to admit that, in our view, all the rules of international law apply to every party but the US and its allies?
The answer to that last question is "never." It's far more useful to make sweepingly Orwellian pronouncements about how we are actually the guardians of international law, instead of the most consistent violators of it. One can hardly expect the Last, Best Hope on Earth to be bothered by quaint notions of "law" or "honesty" or "consistency." Especially when We're At War.

(Originally posted at

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