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David Wise is America’s leading writer on intelligence and espionage. His latest book, Tiger Trap: America’s Secret Spy War with China (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011) was published in June 2011[…]

Cyber warfare is one form of espionage that is currently being waged between the U.S. and China. In the event of a full-scale conflict, how would this war be fought, and who would win the war?

David Wise: There's a lot we don’t know about the digital warfare that’s going on.  Both sides have developed military plans to cripple, disable the internet or digital resources of a possible adversary.  That’s not a secret. 

It’s very difficult to say who has the upper hand in this battle because the United States is certainly well aware of the vulnerability of our infrastructure--our power grid, our electric grid, our communications grid, our aviation grid.  We're very vulnerable as a highly industrialized society, and China is becoming more and more of a global economic power, so they, in turn, are vulnerable. 

Right now, the focus seems to be hacking by China into Google, for example, and into, I think 34 American companies at the time that Google threatened to pull out of China, and not very much on what the United States may be doing, so we don’t know.  We don’t know because that hasn’t been publicized in the way that China’s activities have been publicized. 

There is this problem of attribution because when something is hacked, whether it be an individual or a company, and a Trojan Horse is put in or some kind of worm or virus, there’s always the question of, you know, is this being done by some high student in Sheboygan or is it being done from Estonia with someone pretending they are a server in China, or is it being done in Taiwan or is it being done in China?  And that problem of attribution makes it very difficult to say, “Yes, the Chinese are doing this.  The Chinese government is doing this and its policy of the Beijing leaders.”  We can’t say that.  We don’t know that even though all the signs point to that.