Congress Taking Steps to Address the Biggest Technological Threat of Our Time

June 23, 2023

By Larry Clinton and Sarah Harmon

This past week, the House Armed Services Committee approved amendment language for the proposed 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to bolster our country’s cybersecurity and emerging technology programs next year. These changes aim to improve the U.S.’s ability to compete with China across several technology sectors, with a renewed emphasis on cyber-defense applications.

For years, the ISA has highlighted that the CCP’s use of cyber espionage for intellectual property theft has been a significant arm of the government’s industrial development and China has gained invaluable intelligence from these campaigns. China’s sophisticated and strategic approach to the digital age, compared with a far less strategic approach by the U.S. is a main theme of the recently published Fixing American Cybersecurity: Creating a Strategic Public-Private Partnership. The language in the new NDAA bill is an important step in rebalancing our efforts to make us more competitive with our adversaries and assuring systemic cybersecurity.

Over the past decade, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has stressed the importance of maintaining an edge in emerging technologies, leveraging private industry applications for national security gains, and bolstering economic competitiveness through digital transformation. Today, the CCP’s emphasis on these areas is paying off tenfold. Some of the data that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) collected has even been noted as a resource that enhanced the CCP’s ability to become a world-class leader in cutting-edge technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Fifth Generation (5G) wireless communications. The CCP has also substantially subsidized its tech giants, which has allowed companies like Huawei to provide sweetheart deals and secure the rights to provide internet infrastructure to nations worldwide. These contracts are giving the CCP access to information traveling across international networks to exploit for their national security interests and future cyber operations. China’s digital policies are strategic, sophisticated, integrated, and comprehensive, and the U.S.’s programs by comparison have been lack-luster in recent years to say the least.

What we have desperately needed is to develop our own creative cybersecurity approach that leverages our country’s strategic goals with economic incentives and public policy solutions. The new NDAA language indicates that Congress is finally beginning to address these concerns and the CCP’s capabilities across digital domains. While many of the NDAA amendments would enhance Congress’ reporting on the CCP’s development of AI applications and 5G telecommunications programs, some of the amendments also scrutinize the effectiveness of the U.S.’s existing cyber initiatives and highlight areas for improvement. One such example is an amendment proposed by Representative Mike Gallagher to study the resiliency of the Cyber Mission Force under the U.S. Cyber Command, which coordinates cyber operations pertinent to national security.

These changes to the NDAA come at a crucial time when the U.S.’s next steps regarding cybersecurity and technological innovation could have significant implications for our country’s national security in the years to come. While the amendments currently under review by the House Armed Services Committee are a first step to addressing the monumental threat posed by China in cyberspace, we hope that these changes serve as a catalytic shift in the U.S.’s digital strategy in the coming months.

NB For additional detail on this issue see Fixing American Cybersecurity: Creating a Strategic Public Private Partnership Chapter 2 “Dangerous and Effective: China’s Digital Strategy” by Larry Clinton and Carter Zheng (Georgetown University Press 2023).