Critical Infrastructure – the Crucial Role of Counterintelligence (Part 2)

This discussion is a continuation of the previous post, “Critical Infrastructure – the Crucial Role of Counterintelligence (Part 1).”

China’s Africa Presence

While the U.S. has had a growing presence in the region for the past decade, China has several decades lead on them. China has an enormous quest for natural resources and has been working toward a strategic partnership with Africa since 1996. In the past few years, Sino-African trade has grown with breath-taking speed and accounts for over $70 billion (USD) making China Africa’s second largest national trading partner after the U.S. Almost two-thirds of China’s imports from Africa consist of oil from Angola, Congo-Brazzaville, Equatorial Guinea, and Sudan. In 2004 China obtained 25 percent of its oil from Africa; in 2008 the amount was 33 percent.

China provides African countries with trade deals, assistance to build key infrastructures, such as roads, railroads, and power plants. China has been building more then 3000 km of roads and railway, 20 hospitals, 300 schools, 20 energy plants, and other infrastructure and the number is increasing, in exchange for energy and raw material. They have vowed to double development aid to Africa, as well as offer soft loans and export credits. China’s policy of non-interference in domestic affairs and its close relations with the governments of Zimbabwe, Sudan, and Cameroon, as well as others puts them in good standing. They had to adopt policies in Darfur, but otherwise continue along a path of seemingly mutual cooperation with their African partners although pursuing a different model of development.

Setting the Infrastructure Stage

So, what is behind all the aid besides the resources? Getting the resources shipped in a more efficient manner. China has had generally good relations with Cameroon since about 2002 and is attempting to build much better relations with Djibouti, offering to rebuild their 1-m rail to the standard gauge size. Today, 60% of the world’s railways use a gauge of 1,435 mm (4 ft 8+12 in), known as standard or international gauge. It would appear that the intent would be to help build a transcontinental railroad on the west from Cameroon to the east in Djibouti or optional, Port of Sudan. This is entirely likely and feasible, but at great expense.

The current railway from Djibouti extends to about mid-country in Ethiopia, but would need great improvement. The rail way in Cameroon extends into the northeast regions of the country almost to the border of the Central African Republic. However, Sudan has a railway that extends to near the borders of Chad and the Central African Republic. Connecting existing rail lines (in black on following map) with those would make it much easier to construct rail lines from Cameroon or Niger spurs (likely route in red on following map). Like the railroads of the U.S. it would require feats of engineering, but could be accomplished.

Existing (black) and Likely (red) North Africa Rail Routes


Constructing the rail lines from Cameroon to the Sudan spurs would appear the most likely for two reasons: (1) the lines would be much shorter and cost effective and (2) the relationship of China with Sudan is strong. For example, China needs access to the oil reserves in Sudan; Sudan enjoys China’s veto power in The United Nations Security Council. The long-term strong relation between these two countries and Africa generally is as follows:

  1. Chinese relations with Sudan began in 1969 with the sale of arms to the Nimeiri government
  2. China’s African Peacekeeping Force: more than 1500 soldiers with 315 in Darfur – these numbers are likely to grow
  3. Chinese relations with Africa date back to the Ming Dynasty
  4. China has attempted to build an image as advocate for human rights protection in Sudan
  5. China is the largest supplier of arms to Darfur

Observance of the U.S. railway history and its role in economic development of the U.S. undoubtedly helped spur China’s interest in resource extraction from Africa. And, considering rail transit infrastructures importance, cost, and economic effects on development any country that builds such an extensive infrastructure will surely desire to protect it. The Chinese have shown their hand in this regard – through a series of general actions, but there are hidden ones as well.

On January 6, 2009 China’s anti-piracy naval fleet sailed into waters off Somalia, starting a three-month mission to protect passing ships against pirates. The Ministry of Transport has also started accepting escort requests from Chinese vessels. The Chinese convoy, alongside other international warships, will patrol the area near the Gulf of Aden, a busy shipping lane leading to and from the Suez Canal. Chinese mainland registered or invested ships set to sail through the Gulf of Aden can now hand in applications for escort to the China Ship Owners’ Association, which will pass on the request to the Ministry of Transport. Vessels from China’s Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan can also seek escorts from the warships. The arrival of the Chinese fleet was welcomed by Hong Kong ship owners, facilitating the protection of Hong Kong-flagged vessels. The open goal of the Chinese flotilla is to also protect ships carrying humanitarian relief supplies for international organizations, such as the World Food Program. Foreign ships can also apply for escort.

The convoy, consisting of two missile destroyers and a supply vessel, departed on December 26, 2008 from Sanya in south China’s Hainan Province. It is the country’s first naval deployment on a potential combat mission beyond its territorial waters in recent history. Additionally, the U.S. Defense Department reported in early 2009 that analyst’s project that China will not have an operational, domestically-produced carrier and associated ships before 2015. However, changes in China’s shipbuilding capability and degree of foreign assistance to the program could alter those projections. Taiwan indicates (head of Taiwan’s National Security Bureau told parliament) China has started building its first aircraft carrier; analysts project a 2012 completion date. However, based on personal experience with the Chinese, completion dates will likely be much sooner than analysts predict because they will likely attempt to build a less robust and more functional carrier as a first attempt – not a Nimitz-class carrier. Additionally, China bought the unfinished Soviet aircraft carrier Varyag in 2001 from Ukraine, supposedly to turn it into a floating casino. Pictures taken while in port suggest this plan has been abandoned and show work is being carried out to maintain its military function. There is no conclusive evidence as to what role it would play in the Chinese Navy. In late December 2008 and early January 2009, there were multiple reports of China building two conventionally powered aircraft carriers displacing 50,000–60,000 tons.

China’s navy is developing a new generation of warships and aircraft to give it much longer-range capabilities. Admiral Wu Shengli told the state-run China Daily newspaper (April 16 2009) the Chinese navy wanted to develop hardware such as large combat warships, stealth submarines with abilities to travel further and supersonic cruise aircraft. More accurate long-range missiles, deep-sea torpedoes and a general upgrade of information technology were also in the pipeline, according to Wu, “The navy will establish a maritime defense system that corresponds with the need to protect China’s maritime security and economic development.” It is not a far stretch to surmise that the referred to economic development, at least a portion of it, is in Africa.

Consequently, while there is much chatter about the Chinese desire for a naval base around the Gulf of Aden region, a fleet of carriers would also afford them good protective capability roles for both infrastructure and African allies until or if such a base is constructed. With staunch support from Sudan, Chinese ships would likely be able to use the Port of Sudan as necessary with supplies arriving via Hong Kong flag vessels. There also is no reason to suspect China could not build an airbase in Sudan, supported by that government, if they were so inclined. China’s engagement in Africa is not driven by philanthropist considerations, but by raw resources.

The rail system China desires to develop in Africa will allow quick passage of resources to likely the Port of Sudan and then the Chinese homeland. At the same time it will create rapid economic development within and across the countries bordering the rail, much like the rail in development of the American West. Goods will flow from north and south to the rail. Without a full analysis here, we can see a great deal about how infrastructure affects the economy, sustainability, regional development, and many other factors, especially politics – a comparative analysis to U.S. rail construction mentioned previously and its resulting effects is a good model.

The nature of what has developed from infrastructure clearly demonstrates the necessity to protect it; the African rail system is but a small example. But, it goes much further. Counterintelligence issues need to deal with some level of trust. In terms of making deals, considering how China has treated its African allies and what it has already done in terms of infrastructure improvement, roads, and hospitals and so forth, who would be the more trusted business partner with these countries? It is entirely probable that China would get the nod. This makes it imperative that counterintelligence be very successful. And, it is not only necessary for U.S. interests to know what is going on within the Chinese services, it will become as important for the Chinese in order to protect the huge infrastructure investment they are putting into African countries, or likely will be. While the Chinese may have collaborative relations with their various Allies, they will not be able to control terrorist activities and attacks, thus resulting in the same problems as the U.S. has in this regard. Consequently, they too will be required to resort to CI to adequately protect the vast expanse of rail transit otherwise they will fail to meet their objectives.

The Counterintelligence Stage

It should be obvious given the nature of infrastructure, its cost, benefits and expanse that protection must require counterintelligence and HUMINT processes. The complexities and vulnerabilities are simply too great to ignore the potential consequences. If the U.S. is to know what Chinese goals and objectives are in Africa, they must consider the overall scope of the problem, not just at politics, but what China is doing there, how they accomplished it, and forecast where they are going. Most of China’s goals appear obvious if one avoids looking at the narrow niche of involved parameters. And, the knowledge we need cannot be obtained by using long-range technologies; it must all be coupled together. China has long been developing strategies to achieve these objectives, as well as strategies to protect critical infrastructure once in place in Africa.

China’s growing presence in Africa has intensified competition between external powers for Africa’s natural resources. Japan has recently doubled its aid to Africa, Europe is in search of a role and the U.S. has re-engaged. Securing energy supplies and checking China’s influence are factors that have contributed to this, as well as the prevalence of terrorist bases. U.S. imports of oil from Africa have increased 65 percent since 2000 and are growing. This will help reduce dependency on the Middle East, but a fierce competitor is challenging.

To combat African-based transnational terrorism and terrorist activities the U.S. has begun training African military officers and troops, as well as providing military supplies and assistance. The primary task of U.S. troops in Djibouti is to disrupt terrorist activities. An initiative called the Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism initiative, in conjunction with other governments in the region is to prevent terrorist safe havens. The U.S. has also established bilateral military and intelligence programs with multiple governments in the region of which counterintelligence plays a primary role. AFRICOM, the unified military command for Africa is running the show, but also has a strong civil component to provide a more comprehensive approach.

The goal of terrorists has always been, generally, to overthrow or disrupt. The multiple terrorist groups operating from countries in Africa will surely make critical infrastructure a primary target as economic development surges ahead. Due to the vastness of the area and expanse of the infrastructure as it develops, counterintelligence – studying the organizations and their goals and discovering their tactics – will play the most important role in protecting these vital resources and, discovering China’s full intent. All of their activities in the region are indicators of the smaller pieces.

Flash Back to U.S. Critical Infrastructure

Given the size of the U.S. and its well developed infrastructure, the comparison of China illustrates what must occur within the private and government cooperation level for CIP within the U.S. and other countries. Counterintelligence processes used by the military should be applied to CIP in any country. The key is to learn what is intended by the target group, whether they are transnational terrorists, gangs, militia, or organized crime. The principles would be able to be applied unilaterally – assuming we have context and principles in place. Hardening a critical node cannot prevent collapse of an infrastructure or economy. We must look further into the interdependencies – we are not just flicking a light switch here – the complexities go far beyond that.

Regardless of the group, like a unified intelligence union across multiple agencies, so too must be the operational base, principles and theory that are the building blocks of CI. This will work for law enforcement, gang units, and domestic and foreign intelligence groups. In actuality, it is not unlike a target-centric approach to intelligence collection. We need a framework for universal understanding, methods to ‘connect the dots’ and identify knowledge gaps, and a way to determine metrics, i.e., a model-based approach to test against real world scenarios.

Mohammed Atta was stopped and questioned four times by law enforcement prior to 9/11, but we could not fill the knowledge gaps – the rest is history. Likewise, the Christmas-Day Bomber was apprehended, but not before it was almost too late despite the likelihood that the correct information was passed along, but the priority was ignored by those in authority. This infers that various agency and government leaders overlooked the information and the contribution that came from CI and viewed it merely as a law enforcement issue, not an internal matter for the CIA, FBI, or DHS. This has consistently been the case – credible counterintelligence was not acted upon until it was too late because either policy makers or managers could not connect the impact that could occur to U.S. interests. Thus, there are significant ramifications in the economics of counterintelligence, both in terms of effects within the CI industry, but also in terms of consequences of the inability to fill knowledge gaps that will prevent catastrophic terrorist attacks such as 9/11.

Critical infrastructure protection will require extensive counterintelligence and will require us to move far away from single focused, narrow niches, whether a field operative or policy maker. What we know is inconsequential to what we do not know – we must carefully consider the latter. As an example, I could teach one the history of war, but will that history allow imagining the impossible? Will history enable one to estimate opportunities, reduce risk, and simplify?

We should be able to predict outliers, but cannot if focused on the narrowly specific. For example, the French constructed the Maginot Line (critical infrastructure at its finest) because they were great students of history; Hitler almost effortlessly went around it. The experience, demonstrated that simply knowing history, failed the French because they were locked into the past, unable to predict, adapt, or imagine the more improbable. Thus, conventional wisdom and history can be and often are inapplicable to our complex, modern, and increasingly recursive environment. Counterintelligence can help us extensively in this process.