Americans are Disturbingly ‘Ill-Informed and Naive’ on China, Navy’s Intel Chief Says
Recent balloon incident brought some attention to the possible threat, but not enough, says Rear Adm. Michael Studeman.
SAN DIEGO—The recent balloon shootdowns brought more attention to China’s potential threats to the U.S., but the American public is still disturbingly uninformed about those dangers, the commander of the Office of Naval Intelligence and director of the National Maritime Intelligence Integration Office, said Wednesday.
“It's disturbing how ill-informed and naive the average American is on China,” U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Michael Studeman said during a presentation at the WEST 2023 conference. But “China is pretty good about flying under the radar on things that are frankly, very alerting. It uses time and in a very adept way…creeping its way to its objectives,” he said. “This incrementalism that doesn't sort of alert you to something fast and red and blinking going across your sight line. It's the slow-moving other thing that doesn't get your attention.”
Additionally, China’s goal is to take on a “veneer of responsibility regarding all of their actions” by influencing the information domain.
The surveillance balloon the U.S. shot down earlier this month is a bit of a departure because it’s something the public could see, he said.
“It's surprising to anybody who's a China hand watching this thing—like the one of 10,000 ways that the Chinese actually do espionage or penetrate our society—they actually get to see it to believe it, to understand what the nature of the threat is.”
But while the media attention and public discourse of the balloon has helped “wake up people,” it’s been too narrow, when there should be a deliberate effort to connect the incident to a larger pattern, Studeman said.
“We should be connecting the Chinese view of how to use their capabilities to all the other areas where the Chinese have either ignored or they intend to subvert forms of international law,” he said. “So in this case, the Chinese aren't talking about it right now. But I guarantee you if they had been successful with operating all over the place, and they had been for quite some time, that they'd be talking about redefining what sovereign airspace really is.”
“They're going up into the 60,000, 80,000 feet and maybe beyond, right, because their intention is to go ahead and then use that access to do a variety of different functions to communicate, to sense, to have electronic warfare capability on those things, to have weapons systems on those things, right?” Studeman said. “Every place that they can get an advantage, they would, and it's tied to other areas where we see them essentially trying to bend or break, you know, international law.”
Studeman said to better educate and equip the public, the intelligence community should “downgrade some of the things that we see that are truly damning with regard to what the Chinese are doing and why they're doing it, and get those out into the public domain.”
But the admiral said getting the IC to do that has been a “struggle.”
“This is par for the intelligence community. It's not in our DNA to release things out in the public. We have to protect sources and methods—and there's a way to do that, while at the same time exposing what is really going on across so many different fronts.”