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Eyeing spies in the sky, US launches strike force to safeguard intel

Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco announced the multiagency security operation only days after military fighter jets shot down a third unknown object this month.

WASHINGTON (CN) — The United States launched what it framed as a disruptive technology strike force Thursday, citing the need to protect the country's advanced technologies assets from foreign adversaries.

“Today, autocrats seek tactical advantage through the acquisition, use and abuse of disruptive technology: innovations fueling the next generation of military and national security capabilities,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said in prepared remarks from London where she spoke at the Chatham House this afternoon. “They want to acquire technology by any means possible — not only to fuel surveillance and repression at home and abroad, but to gain strategic dominance.”

The strike force comes as the American public awaits details on the three unknown objects that military fighter jets shot down in recent weeks over U.S. and Canadian airspace. It is remains unclear what relation the subsequent objects have to the spy balloon whose debris contained active sensors from the Chinese military.

"China leads the world in using world in using surveillance and censorship to keep tabs on its populations, repress dissent, and counter perceived threats abroad,” Monaco noted Thursday, crediting U.S. intelligence assessments.

"And the Chinese government is not just hacking to gather our data,” she continued. “China’s doctrine of 'civil-military fusion' means that any advance by a Chinese company with military application must be shared with the state.

"So if a company operating in China collects your data, it is a good bet that the Chinese government is accessing it."

Apart from China, the attorney general emphasized, the task force will focus on those who transfer sensitive U.S. technologies to Russia, North Korea, Iran and other adversarial foreign governments.

Highlighting how the U.S.-U.K. partnered last year in operation “Cyclops Blink” to disrupt a global botnet controlled by Russia’s military intelligence agency, GRU, Monaco warned that the criminal groups are increasing acting in concert with nation-states to form a “new blended double threat — engaging in more sophisticated, brazen, and dangerous attacks."

Bolstered by “cyber armies and proxies," America's adversaries can target core public institutions, including hospitals and schools, as well as critical infrastructure across the country, Monaco said.

The strike force is only the latest tool from the Justice Department among cybersecurity initiatives and enforcing sanctions.

Monaco said Thursday that the joint task force will use real-time intelligence and 21st century data analytics to combat illicit actors, enhance public-private partnerships to harden supply chains, and identify early warning signs of potential threats to critical assets, like semiconductors.

The government's press release on the strike force notes that nation-state adversaries are able to increase military capabilities or support mass surveillance programs when they get control of sensitive U.S. technology like exascale computing, artificial intelligence, advanced manufacturing equipment and materials, quantum computing, and biosciences.

Citing a few examples, the U.S. says the stolen tech can lead to more enhanced weapons design calculations, help with military or intelligence decision-making, and break or create unbreakable encryption algorithms that protect classified information.

Last fall, President Biden signed the CHIPS Act to restrict transfers of chips to China and other adversary nations that pose a national security risk. The Commerce Department meanwhile enacted new export controls on advanced computing and semiconductor components in an effort to tamp down on China’s ability to obtain certain “high-end chips.”

The joint task force will be co-led by Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division and Assistant Secretary for Export Enforcement Matthew Axelrod of the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security. It will draw resources and personnel from the FBI, Homeland Security investigations and other government entities.

Operations will run in 12 metropolitan regions, with oversight from local U.S. Attorneys’ Offices in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, San Jose, California, Phoenix, Portland, Oregon, and the Washington, D.C., region.

Categories: Government National Technology

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