22 Years On, Is the US Ready for a Next Big Attack
22 Years On, Is the US Ready for a Next Big Attack

By Terri Wu

If 9/11 were to happen again, it would not take the same form. The United States has evolved, and so have our enemies.

When the most significant terrorist attacks on U.S. soil occurred 22 years ago, communications were grounded to a halt. Cell towers were destroyed, and so were switching equipment for landline phones. People formed long lines outside pay phone booths in New York City, hoping to connect with their loved ones.

Today, America’s infrastructure has grown robust enough to survive similar attacks as 9/11, but there are new vulnerabilities.

“Imagine what is possible if the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] hacks our grid,” House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) asked, referring to the electricity network, during a hearing in July.

The congresswoman asked the question based on an earlier report (pdf) by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that identified China as “almost certainly capable” of launching cyberattacks that could disrupt U.S. critical infrastructure services.

“They could shut down power to key national security facilities, like military bases; they could prevent power from getting to hospitals, cause widespread blackouts, and prevent critical energy resources from getting to the people who need them most,” Ms. Rodgers added.

The hearing happened just a week after Chinese hackers breached the email accounts of a group of senior U.S. officials, including Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, whose department has curbed the CCP’s access to advanced semiconductor equipment and technology—a key gateway to Chinese communist leader Xi Jinping’s ambition for global dominance—via a series of export controls.

Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers assembling during military training at Pamir Mountains in Kashgar, northwestern China’s Xinjiang region, on Jan. 4, 2021. (STR/AFP via Getty Images)

Space Wars and Earth Wars

The attack on 9/11 was an example of unconventional warfare. Before that, the United States considered protecting from invasions outside the border, such as a bomb or nuclear missile, said Antonio Graceffo, a China analyst and an Epoch Times contributor. Instead, 9/11 revealed that lethal threats could be launched from within the country, he added.

While new defense fronts might be opening on the grounds of cyberattacks, artificial intelligence, and other means that can “cause general chaos and havoc in the United States,” he said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine showed the world the danger of conventional warfare hasn’t subsided.

“People always thought once we start having space wars, there won’t be Earth wars,” Mr. Graceffo told The Epoch Times. “Well, no, there’s going to be both of them, and we have to be prepared for both. And it’s incredibly expensive.”

Immediately after 9/11, the United States launched a “global war on terror,” or GWOT, including two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. President Barack Obama officially retired the GWOT designation in May 2013. The Iraq war ended in October 2011, and the U.S. military completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021.

While the United States focused on Islamic extremism, Russia recovered and China rose.

Mr. Graceffo said that the United States was “distracted” from a security perspective, adding that it has to monitor three tracks: China and Russia, Islamic extremism, and Iran and North Korea.

A man works at a construction site of a residential skyscraper in Shanghai on Nov. 29, 2016. (Johannes Eisele/AFP via Getty Images)

A China in Economic Slowdown May Turn More Dangerous

“The regimes in China and Russia are arguably terrorist regimes, though much more powerful economically, in possession of weapons of mass destruction, and with broader goals of territorial expansion that leads to global hegemony,” Anders Corr, a principal at Corr Analytics and publisher of the Journal of Political Risk, told The Epoch Times. Mr. Corr is also an Epoch Times contributor.

It’s a common concern that, with China’s economic slowdown, the CCP may resort to global geopolitical aggression to divert a domestic crisis and substitute prosperity as the legitimacy of its ruling with nationalism.

The structural problems of China’s economy took center stage after a lackluster recovery since Mr. Xi ended his zero-COVID control on society in December. Consumer confidence has tanked as both growth engines—property and export sectors—experience a severe slowdown.

Foreign direct investment inflow is at a 26-year low at $4.9 billion in this year’s second quarter versus the all-time high of $334 billion in 2021. The CCP’s raid of American due diligence firms doesn’t help. In addition, a new Chinese anti-espionage law has alerted multinationals, leading to some companies, including Sequoia Capital, separating their China operations.

The lowered return on investment in China, coupled with much higher interest rates in the United States, has made the risk of dealing with the CCP while doing business in China increasingly unjustified, China economy expert Christopher Balding told The Epoch Times previously.

Since April, China has delivered lower-than-expected economic data consistently, and the CCP stopped reporting the youth unemployment rate in August.

Mr. Xi has called for “patience from a historical perspective” from the Chinese population. CCP officials urge China’s youth, experiencing over 20 percent unemployment rate based on the last reported data, to “seek out suffering” or temper themselves through hardships. Such requests may not sit well with Chinese households.

China’s problem with the debt-fueled property sector and local governments has existed for at least a decade.

Yet the CCP didn’t implement the Western advice of transitioning its growth to a consumption-led one because doing that would involve structural changes that weaken its grip on power, wrote senior leaders of the Long Term Strategy Group, a Washington-based defense consultancy. Instead, the authors argued that the CCP seemed to address the economic issue by investing in its military.

America’s military expenditure as a percentage of GDP is very low, just 0.4 percent above the historical low point of 3.1 percent before 9/11, according to the World Bank.

While the World Bank’s data shows that China’s military spending consistently hovered below 2 percent of Chinese GDP for the past 20 years, the Long Term Strategy Group said that the spending level and China’s military development don’t reconcile.

“We estimate that from 2015 through 2019, China’s military spending grew nearly twice as fast as China’s official GDP in real terms,” the group’s leaders wrote.

Mr. Corr advocates stronger alliances among democracies to address the threat “comprehensively through diplomatic, economic, and military measures.”

“Russia and China should be cut off from global trade to starve their economies and, therefore, the expansion of their military power—which depends on taxes,” he said, adding that G-7 countries should take the lead in such a global campaign and democracies should have the “latest and most powerful weaponry” that includes “an independent nuclear deterrent for both Taiwan and Ukraine.”

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