Last August, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe announced that he would no longer provide in-person intelligence briefings to members of Congress. The Trump appointee is a former Republican member of Congress who was a relentless critic of the Russia probe. So it was not surprising that he justified the move by saying that Democrats were wrong to suggest that Russia is a greater national security threat than China. As I wrote, “Ratcliffe is telling us that the Trump administration doesn’t want Congress or the public to know what Moscow is doing…but instead wants to change the narrative to focus on the distraction they’re offering about the threat posed by China.”
What we now know is that, at that time, Ratcliffe was wrong or lying. Russia was engaged in hacking U.S. government and private industry computer networks on a scale that Frank Bajak of the Associated Press said “will rank among the most prolific in the annals of cyberespionage.”
It was first announced on Sunday that the Treasury and Commerce Departments had been breached. By Monday, the New York Times reported that the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, and parts of the Pentagon had been compromised as well.
While the scope of this attack is still being determined, the methods used indicate that it began in March and was not detected by U.S. officials until they were alerted by a private cybersecurity firm, FiveEye.
It will come as no surprise to anyone that Donald Trump hasn’t commented on this Russian attack. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, however, was asked about it during an interview with Alex Marlow of Breitbart News Radio on Monday. His response once again demonstrates how the administration downplays the Russia threat and talks up China.
I can’t say much other than it’s been a consistent effort of the Russians to try and get into American servers, not only those of government agencies but of businesses. We see this even more strongly from the Chinese Communist Party, from the North Koreans as well.
Pompeo warned that China is infiltrating our schools, government, and businesses—which may be true, but doesn’t prove his charge that, “the Chinese Communist Party presents the single greatest threat to the United States of America of our times.” Russia, not China, just pulled off the most massive cyber-attack we’ve ever witnessed.
We’re seeing similar allegations from conservative media. The day after the Russian cyberattack was first reported, the editorial board of the Washington Examiner unironically published a piece titled, “A Chinese espionage wake-up call.”
We are reliably informed that thousands of Chinese intelligence officers and agents are now present on our soil. Their specific missions vary between stealing high-value U.S. technology and research, infiltrating civilian and military agencies, and influencing U.S. politics in ways favorable to Beijing.
China is an adversary that must be dealt with firmly. But this ongoing attempt by Trump and his enablers to turn Beijing into the “greatest threat of our times” isn’t plausible. It is an obvious diversion meant to take our attention away from Russia and that government’s ties to the Trump administration.
This demonization of an enemy has become a pattern for Republicans. Ronald Reagan declared that the Soviet Union was an “evil empire” in 1983. As the Cold War ended, a new enemy emerged. Following the 9/11 attacks, George W. Bush identified an “axis of evil”—North Korea, Iran, and Iraq—in order to justify his “war on terror” and invasion of Iraq. Now we’re being told that China is our greatest threat.
The United States does, indeed, face some serious threats. But they come in the form of a pandemic, climate change, income inequality, gun violence, and a racist criminal justice system. Republicans are in denial about those issues—and have been for a very long time. Perhaps that’s why they are so intent on exaggerating a foreign threat that supersedes everything else.