Home > Foreign Relations, media > MIT Professor, “Open Sources and Information Laundering”

MIT Professor, “Open Sources and Information Laundering”

On November 29, 2011, the Washington Post cited on a page 1 story a study done at the Georgetown University that China’s nuclear arsenal was 10x as large U.S. government official (and experts) estimates. The study and the article drew a great deal of attention. The information was false. MIT Associate Professor of Political Science, M. Taylor Fravel, has done an excellent write up of this controversy, and his analysis also revealed exaggeration of Chinese troops bordering India.

On the exaggerated troop numbers, he wrote:

The seriousness of information laundering is evident throughout the Georgetown study. Glancing through the slides of the presentation, one claim caught my eye: that the Second Artillery had 12 launch brigades facing India, including eight in the Tibetan Autonomous Region. This was curious for two reasons. First, the Second Artillery has only about thirty brigades, the majority of which are located in either China’s hinterland or coastal provinces, not near India. Second, there are no confirmed reports of Second Artillery brigades inside Tibet.

After recounting the dubious sources, he made this important conclusion:

Open-source information holds great promise for the study of China’s rapidly changing military. But they must be used with great care, especially if the data comes from unofficial outlets such as blog posts and online forums. Just because a piece of information about the PLA is available on the Internet in Chinese doesn’t endow it with authoritativeness in the absence of verification and corroboration.

For those of us who actively blog, this is a useful reminder too of materials we try to obtain on the Internet on any other topic.

The Washington Post article is an example of what U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower tried to warn his fellow Americans of back in 1961, as he departed the Oval Office:

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the militaryindustrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
. . .
Another factor in maintaining balance involves the element of time. As we peer into society’s future, we — you and I, and our government — must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.

This warning is not all lost in the American public though. In fact, the most popular comment in that Washington Post article said:

11/29/2011 6:51 PM PST

From the article: “The Chinese have called it their “Underground Great Wall” — a vast network of tunnels designed to hide their country’s increasingly sophisticated missile and nuclear arsenal.”

REALLY? You mean like ours….why don’t you do a study on the DC area (MD, DC, VA, PA) and Colorado Springs (CO, NM, AZ, CA)……..or even our ever present navy patrolling the world like no other country in the world (more details below).

BTW- their arsenal pales in comparison to ours….just as every country in the world does.

Let’s take a look at the US Navy versus other Navies- (previous post)

Just to provide some details of how out of control our defense, security forces and intel is …..our navy has 11 carrier attack groups with approx. 20 support vessels in each group….all rest of world combined has four carrier attack groups- one each for russia, great britain, france and china ( bought & refurb’d russia’s second carrier) and NOT ONE of these can hold a candle to the firepower of one of ours and none has 20 support vessels….

And as if that isn’t bad enough- our navy presently has under construction THREE NEW AIRCRAFT CARRIERS and many support vessels …….. and 55 pirate catcher ships which if I recall correctly cost approx. $255 million each…..and now with overruns approx. $445 million each and that’s with no crew, provisions and munitions and fuel…..= a ridiculous waste of taxpayer dollars!!!!!!

End these endless and senseless wars and the killing and maiming of over 500,000 since 9/11 and helping to ruin our economy- there is NO WAY to justify the out of control taxpayer dollars wasted on military spending. STOP THE MILITARY MADNESS NOW!

  1. raventhorn
    January 13th, 2012 at 17:28 | #1

    Sort of relates to the sad state of US education system, which produces such “experts”.

    I guess it’s not “cheating”, if one just blatantly make up sh*t.

    and they call it “creativity”.

    How utterly shameless.

  2. January 13th, 2012 at 17:37 | #2

    Prejudice and misunderstanding basically comes from misrepresentation of fact. One could also say racism is a result of misinformation. The only way to distinguished the fact from the chaff is doing research with an open mind. However, with so much wrong information scattered about since the dawn of writing (the internet age simply make it worse) it is easier said than done. I, myself have fallen to misinformation, sometimes only knowing about the truth many years later.

    The biggest problem I see is people grow up with controlled information around them (the power to be, be it from early family influence to later government and corporate propaganda make sure of that). Few people can get out of this vicious cycle. Have anybody heard of how Washington cut down his father’s cherry tree?

  3. pug_ster
    January 13th, 2012 at 17:53 | #3


    Lol. I just love these American ‘experts’ on China touting their resumes and when reading their ‘research,’ probably based on creative imagination rather than research.

  4. raventhorn
    January 13th, 2012 at 18:06 | #4


    Yeah, and you know what they will answer?

    “Well, at least I own up to my errors”. Then they go on to the next set of “creative” imaginings.

    More I read about their “creative errors”, the more I thank my Chinese upbringing of “rote memorization” to help prevent making a “creative jackass” out of myself.

    *I keep asking, (and I never get an answer from the “creative” ones, *cough*expats), where do they come up with some of their ridiculous “facts”/”creative errors”.

    Now we know, the Western Education systems.

    Admittedly, I would give them “A++” for some of their “creativity”, because frankly, one would have to be INSANELY creative (and I mean creative to the point where your mind isn’t in this dimension any more) to completely ignore reality and go for blatant BS.

    Yes, FACTS are quite boring, and memorizing them is boringly honest, so what’s the point in reading them and talking about FACTS?!

    Oh, much better just make up sh*t (some in form of generalizations with the flimsiest basis) and PRETEND intelligence and integrity.

  5. zack
    January 13th, 2012 at 19:22 | #5

    so the question now is: will the Washington Post now put out a rebuttal and clarification on the front page so as to properly inform the public? or does it suit them and the powers that they serve to have the american public permanently fearful of China and effectively supportive of the American military industrial complex that profits from such fear campaigns?

    i’ll be expecting the resignations of the Georgetown faculty involved, but something tells me that they’re going to profit from a ready market of ‘China fear’, if the example of incompetant prophets such as gordon chang is anything to go by.

  6. January 13th, 2012 at 22:52 | #6

    I think as the U.S. tries to trim down the military (about $45 billion a year), we will see much more hyping of fear abroad by the military industrial complex. It is playing out exactly as Eisenhower was afraid it would.

  7. pug_ster
    January 13th, 2012 at 23:25 | #7

    The sad fact is that the findings of the MIT professor will not receive the kind of attention in the media compared to the Georgetown professor. Sound minded individuals are frequently drowned out in the Media by people who can create the most outrageous news to the point where they have to increase shock value in order to get people’s attention.

    I recall that during the Vietnam war, many people were outraged at the atrocities of it and many many people protest everyday. This week, we see US marines urinating on dead soldiers and this kind of outrage is just not there. I recall when Liu Xiaobo got the Nobel prize and many people protested in front of Chinese embassies while ignoring that kind of human rights abuses going around the world by the US. This kind of selective outrage is what I find kind of sad, that many Americans whom think that they are rational individuals can be manipulated so easily.

  8. zack
    January 15th, 2012 at 02:09 | #8

    it doesn’t help that obama and hilary clinton are very very clear about wanting a new cold war in asia; they’re trying to apply the ‘soviet union vs europe’ model to east asia so as to insert themselves into the fastest growing economic region on the planet. i’ve got to say, i’m quite impressed by the Chinese foreign department’s responses, they’ve chosen to be diplomatic and not engage with this confrontational game which anglos only seem to understand, whilst at the same time take action against the US asymmetrically by immediate currency swaps with japan and reminding the entire ASEAN and Australia how vital China’s economy is to their respective economies especially since we’re in the throes of a second recession.

  9. January 15th, 2012 at 22:46 | #9


    .. i’m quite impressed by the Chinese foreign department’s responses, they’ve chosen to be diplomatic and not engage with this confrontational game . . .

    I think so too. Chinese leaders are very long term thinking, and just as there are constituents within China very weary of the West as there are in the West feeling the same towards China, the key is not to feed these camps – or let them spiral the wider public in supporting their positions.

    During the Cuban Missile Crisis, the U.S. Navy harassed Russian ships and subs. It wasn’t known until later when the U.S. and Russians got together to talk about the crisis did the U.S. learned that Russian generals were given permission to use the nukes if they deemed necessary. It was also very much luck that a 3rd world war didn’t break out.

    In my view, the 2,500 marines rotating through Australia doesn’t amount to much at this point. I think it is symbolic, to signal a wider trend.

    I think there is a lot of pressure within Japan to get rid off the U.S. troops. Actually, Okinawans vs. the rest of Japan have an interesting dynamic. The longer U.S. stations troops on Okinawa, the bigger the rift between Okinawans and Japan.

    To satisfy the hawkish constituents of U.S. society, Obama hypes up threats in Asia, articulate a grand strategy shift in troop location and make up and alliances, and then says, oh, by the way, this new strategy is actually less costly. I think that’s how he is able to cut back on the military. And hopefully tackles the tension in Japan (and perhaps South Korea) at the same time.

  10. zack
    January 15th, 2012 at 23:30 | #10

    funny you should mention the cuban missile crisis; it demonstrates how vulnerable US foreign policy can be hijacked by pentagon chiefs, as was demonstrated when Gen. Petraeus (now current CIA director) waged a ‘leaking/PR’ war with Obama to pressure him into deploying more troops into A-stan in ’09-10. It really mirrors the experience the Kennedy admin. had with the JCOS who were as belligerant as obama is today.

    i am impressed by the Chinese foreign ministry in not giving the US State department/hilary clinton the oxygen she/it needs for the rather undisguised attempt to implant itself into Asia’s massive growth in an attempt to extend the American Empire for yet another century. i’ve noticed that a lot of australian newspapers were portraying the Chinese foreign minister’s rather level response as ‘angry’ and ‘fuming’; which was pretty strange considering the language used by the Chinese was anything but angry or ‘fuming’ yet that’s what the journalists at sydney morning herald/herald sun/The Australian conveyed with their choice of language and tone.

    i wonder how much longer Australians are going to keep this up before realising the american base is going to eat into Australian tax dollars as the experience with the okinawa base demonstrates; as the US wishes to cut spending they wish to pass on expenses to their vassal nations, and it’ll happen to Australia as well, mark my words. oh of course, the white elites’ll try to keep it hush hush but you can only fool the ppl for so long.

  11. LOLZ
    January 15th, 2012 at 23:37 | #11

    Around the new years, EastSouthWestNorth blog post a link to a blog where the author traced the source of the exaggerated arms figures. The figures were estimated by a US navy officer stationed in HK in the early 90s, and published in two very obscure anti-PRC magazines in HK. If someone could post that link it would be great.

    There are two types of researches, one is to first gather sound evidence, then to conclude based off the evidence. The other way is to first determine the outcome, then to find evidence to justify that outcome. The later is obviously unscientific, but unfortunately is the way how this research was done.

  12. jxie
    January 16th, 2012 at 00:20 | #12

    The biggest complaint on China’s annual defense white paper is the lack of some key numbers, such as the number of serviceable nuclear warheads. If the prevailing estimates (at least prior to the Georgetown paper) are believable — up to 400ish warheads and 40-60 land-based and sea-based missiles that can reach the US, China doesn’t quite have the 2nd strike MAD vis-a-vis the US especially considered that in the 1st strike a good chunk of those capabilities are expected to be wiped out.

    China certainly has the money and nuclear materials to bump those numbers up to a level of 2nd strike MAD, so even some mad man who longs for Dr. Strangelove’s 10-women-per-man arrangement, he won’t dare to pursue it. To any one of those who had been through the Cold War days, such as the key author of the Georgetown Paper Phil Karber, this seems to be a rather inexpensive existential insurance. If Karber were China, I guess he would buy that insurance.

    Well, for China it may not be a bad idea for others to think the warhead count is 3000 instead of 400. Granted, if the US and Russia are to reduce their warhead count each lower than 3000, for sure they will want to get China involved in the conversation.

  13. LOLZ
    January 16th, 2012 at 00:48 | #13

    Both WaPo and Fravel articles mentioned about Karber’s critic Kulacki. To understand why Karber’s numbers are off I think it’s the best to read Kulacki’s blog.


    The US is in economy trouble right now and federal funding is a game of musical chair. The defense industry are using people like Karber to scare US citizens into spending more of their tax money on building weapons.

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