On Chinese "Spy Trains"

The trade war with China has reached a new industry: subway cars. Congress is considering legislation that would prevent the world's largest train maker, the Chinese-owned CRRC Corporation, from competing on new contracts in the United States.

Part of the reasoning behind this legislation is economic, and stems from worries about Chinese industries undercutting the competition and dominating key global industries. But another part involves fears about national security. News articles talk about "spy trains," and the possibility that the train cars might surreptitiously monitor their passengers' faces, movements, conversations or phone calls.

This is a complicated topic. There is definitely a national security risk in buying computer infrastructure from a country you don't trust. That's why there is so much worry about Chinese-made equipment for the new 5G wireless networks.

It's also why the United States has blocked the cybersecurity company Kaspersky from selling its Russian-made antivirus products to US government agencies. Meanwhile, the chairman of China's technology giant Huawei has pointed to NSA spying disclosed by Edward Snowden as a reason to mistrust US technology companies.

The reason these threats are so real is that it's not difficult to hide surveillance or control infrastructure in computer components, and if they're not turned on, they're very difficult to find.

Like every other piece of modern machinery, modern train cars are filled with computers, and while it's certainly possible to produce a subway car with enough surveillance apparatus to turn it into a "spy train," in practice it doesn't make much sense. The risk of discovery is too great, and the payoff would be too low. Like the United States, China is more likely to try to get data from the US communications infrastructure, or from the large Internet companies that already collect data on our every move as part of their business model.

While it's unlikely that China would bother spying on commuters using subway cars, it would be much less surprising if a tech company offered free Internet on subways in exchange for surveillance and data collection. Or if the NSA used those corporate systems for their own surveillance purposes (just as the agency has spied on in-flight cell phone calls, according to an investigation by the Intercept and Le Monde, citing documents provided by Edward Snowden). That's an easier, and more fruitful, attack path.

We have credible reports that the Chinese hacked Gmail around 2010, and there are ongoing concerns about both censorship and surveillance by the Chinese social-networking company TikTok. (TikTok's parent company has told the Washington Post that the app doesn't send American users' info back to Beijing, and that the Chinese government does not influence the app's use in the United States.)

Even so, these examples illustrate an important point: there's no escaping the technology of inevitable surveillance. You have little choice but to rely on the companies that build your computers and write your software, whether in your smartphones, your 5G wireless infrastructure, or your subway cars. And those systems are so complicated that they can be secretly programmed to operate against your interests.

Last year, Le Monde reported that the Chinese government bugged the computer network of the headquarters of the African Union in Addis Ababa. China had built and outfitted the organization's new headquarters as a foreign aid gift, reportedly secretly configuring the network to send copies of confidential data to Shanghai every night between 2012 and 2017. China denied having done so, of course.

If there's any lesson from all of this, it's that everybody spies using the Internet. The United States does it. Our allies do it. Our enemies do it. Many countries do it to each other, with their success largely dependent on how sophisticated their tech industries are.

China dominates the subway car manufacturing industry because of its low prices­ -- the same reason it dominates the 5G hardware industry. Whether these low prices are because the companies are more efficient than their competitors or because they're being unfairly subsidized by the Chinese government is a matter to be determined at trade negotiations.

Finally, Americans must understand that higher prices are an inevitable result of banning cheaper tech products from China.

We might willingly pay the higher prices because we want domestic control of our telecommunications infrastructure. We might willingly pay more because of some protectionist belief that global trade is somehow bad. But we need to make these decisions to protect ourselves deliberately and rationally, recognizing both the risks and the costs. And while I'm worried about our 5G infrastructure built using Chinese hardware, I'm not worried about our subway cars.

This essay originally appeared on CNN.com.

EDITED TO ADD: I had a lot of trouble with CNN's legal department with this essay. They were very reluctant to call out the US and its allies for similar behavior, and spent a lot more time adding caveats to statements that I didn't think needed them. They wouldn't let me link to this Intercept article talking about US, French, and German infiltration of supply chains, or even the NSA document from the Snowden archives that proved the statements.

Posted on September 26, 2019 at 6:21 AM • 52 Comments

Comments

twka90September 26, 2019 9:10 AM

Of course CNN would complain. Where would our high moral ground be if everybody knew we were indiscriminately spying on them?

Bruce SchneierSeptember 26, 2019 9:34 AM

@twka90

I don't think it's "of course." CNN covered the Snowden documents. I wrote about the Snowden documents for CNN. This is the first time I have encountered this reluctance. I'm not sure what's going on.

meSeptember 26, 2019 9:42 AM

@Schneier

> I had a lot of trouble with CNN's legal department with this essay. They were very reluctant to call out the US and its allies for similar behavior

sad to hear that a journalist is reclutant to write the truth, after Snowden we saw that US alone probably spend more in surveillance than the rest of the world.

We are sure that china spy because they do openly
We are sure that US and UK spy because of Snowden
but i think that literally every country, my included, does the same.
limited only by the money thrown in.

Noam ChomskySeptember 26, 2019 10:24 AM

This is a classic example of the propaganda model in action. CNN is a large corporate entity and making money comes before the truth.

The real question is whether Mr. Schneier will have the integrity to end his relationship with CNN in order to punish them for their bias and distortion.

parabarbarianSeptember 26, 2019 10:26 AM

The subway trains would not have to be used for surveillance of passengers to be a threat. They could, for example, be used to transmit data uploaded by a Chinese spy during his normal commute. In effect a rigged car would become a dead drop. That would be a more useful use of the resource and much more difficult to detect.

PatriotSeptember 26, 2019 11:51 AM

CNN has lost its credibility. What just happened to Mr. Schneier just makes things worse, and it's strange.

Some very weird things are starting to happen. For example, that Mr. Ross Anderson, such a distinguished figure in information security engineering, was denied entry into the U.S.--he is a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering--this is jaw-dropping bad. I don't know what really went wrong there, but it does not bode well.

Money is money. If CNN now insists on positive remarks about certain U.S. governmental entities--no matter what the truth is--we can make a reasonable guess as to what is really going on.

If CNN were to become increasingly bizarre, to couple attacking the president with flag-waving allegiance to certain organizations with three letters, that would be interesting to watch and not entirely surprising.

Stay tuned folks. RT no longer has to come to work. They have CNN to spread misinformation and try to destabilize the executive branch of the U.S. Government (Goldstein), all the while saying nice things about... you know... our heroes on the Malabar Front. Just think what they must be going through.

That CNN filters true things out of your news so that you get a skewed view--that is exactly their bread and butter--should be enough to dump them.

PatriotSeptember 26, 2019 12:13 PM

Vilifying China does no good for anyone. It's a competitor; South Korea is too. Japan is too.

In fact, the U.S. could learn a lot from China, especially because much of what they do is so successful.

I am waiting for the day when the Chinese diplomats who talk to U.S. officials actually speak English better than the Americans do. I am quite sure it already happens once in a while. Remember Jen Psaki?

It has dawned on me that a likely outcome is that this will be China's century. There are many reasons for thinking this. If you look at the incredible scale of growth in China and the creation of wealth, along with advances in key technologies, especially artificial intelligence, the big picture starts to look like China will not only become a leader in the world, but it will be the biggest and most powerful country that has ever been seen on earth.

America does not want to buy Chinese trains. Fine. But those trains are already moving across the landscape towards Iran and Europe, Thailand, etc. Their focus on hard work, education, and business is paying off for them.

Don't worry about Chinese trains spying on you if you live in the U.S. That's already being done very nicely indeed.

AlSeptember 26, 2019 12:17 PM

Previously, imports of steel from Canada was deemed a Section 232 national security threat. Now, magically, Canada is no longer deemed a threat, although I don't see a difference in Canada's military or political situation.

And thar's the problem. When national security is used frivolously to justify trade policy, it destroys credibility. It's like the boy who cries wolf. We can't differentiate the false claims from the true ones. So, it's difficult to swallow the train rationale being used by the U.S.

https://www.cato.org/publications/policy-analysis/closing-pandoras-box-growing-abuse-national-security-rationale

"The Trump administration has raised tariffs under a variety of pretenses, but one of the most controversial has been the invocation of national security under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962"

AnonSeptember 26, 2019 12:23 PM

@Bruce

I've published opinion and think pieces at a number of news outlets as a side gig several years ago. I experienced the same reluctance and editing that you describe here - sounds like a bit more often.

As for why you've run into trouble in this piece rather than others - the language in this article is very different than your other publications. It puts the US and its allies in the same "moral right" as its enemies, characterizing the competition as power competition rather than "right versus wrong". I bet the caveats that CNN wanted to add to your article were to explain why China's espionage wasn't justified and how the US's espionage is - and how reluctant it is and careful and legal it is. Those kinds of edits change the moral narrative.

I've actually found the same kind of behavior online at scale: comments on forums, tweets, news sites and social media are "suppressed" (downvote brigades, moderation, shadowbanned, reported, etc) if they don't characterize the US as justified as a moral champion - even if the commentary is otherwise factual, relevant, fair and contextual. It sounds as though as an "influencer" you may not directly experience this on a regular basis. I have for years and years and its been getting worse over time.

For what its worth, I think this is one of your better articles in recent years. It's clear, it describes problems as they are, and it does so in a way that outlines sober forums for where solutions will have to be found.

SteveSeptember 26, 2019 12:51 PM

Perhaps I'm naive, but when the US spies on China, no US companies gain access to data that wasn't their own.

Whereas when China spies on the US, any data found goes directly to state supported companies.

That's a fairly large difference, at least to me.

Clive RobinsonSeptember 26, 2019 1:10 PM

@ Bruce,

Whether these low prices are because the companies are more efficient than their competitors or because they're being unfairly subsidized by the Chinese government is a matter to be determined at trade negotiations.

It's most probably neither.

It's most likely "the cost of labour" which in part is driven by "standard of living".

Depending on who's figures you look at the US average for standard of living is 10 times that of the world average.

Likewise some say the Chinrse average for standard of living is around 1/4-1/2 that of world average.

Thr 20-40 times differential has to be paid for some how. The biggest driver on it is the cost of labour, skilled or otherwise.

I've been pointing out for years on this blog that "out sourcing" is very bad for several reasons.

But one of which very importantly is you "export your skill base and IP" which in not even the long term has a very detrimental and self defeating effect on the home economy, especially when you consider the effects of economic churn.

One of the things about a global economy is that like entropy it tends to take the coherent centers of wealth and spread them out. In the process the "hidden knowledge" of the market deliberatly created to "rent seek" fees by faux markets and instruments gets diluted and thus any hidden knowledge becomes more and more rapidly worthless. Thus the ability to rent seek on each transaction diminishes to the point where a faux market or instrument can no longer support their creators in the traditional sense.

One way around this is to create as much market churn as possible, we see this with "High Frequency Trading" where billions of dollars are being spent on shaving nano seconds (nS) of transaction times. As light travels about 1ft in 1nS this "information highway" is probably the most expensive ever created on this planet...

You can also see it as a measure of desperation to despite the laws of nature in the speed of light and the effects of entropy to some how carve out a tiny bubble of space and time to have faux markets and instruments survive such that centers of wealth can remain at best on life support.

The odd thing is this turning of financial markets into dinosaurs started with market deregulation in the 1980's and twenty years later it was barerly alive on mortgage fraud. However the two banking crises and "too big to fail" followed by the robbery of quantitive easing still does not appear to have got through to peoples heads.

The standard of living difference in the US is subject to the laws of world wide entropy. There is little outside of significant oppression leading to genocide that can be done to stop it. Because currently we live in a closed system of finite resources. Which means the alternative is to get new sources of resources.

The funny thing is that whilst the financial industry has not realy taken this on board it appears many in silicon valley have.

vas pupSeptember 26, 2019 1:31 PM

I agree with this statement:
"Like every other piece of modern machinery, modern train cars are filled with computers, and while it's certainly possible to produce a subway car with enough surveillance apparatus to turn it into a "spy train," in practice it doesn't make much sense."

@parabarbarian provided very smart point.

@Clive mostly agree except when referring to average for standard of living. It is like in a hospital when you compute average temperature in the autopsy and in intensive care, you may have very good average temperature in the hospital.

Average of 1 and 999 is 500. Right? But average of 490 and 510 is 500 as well. Do you see the difference? So, I'd like always to know max and min values when average is provided to see real picture.

@Bruce: we often hear from our politicians when attempting to support their own agenda reference to "American people". First of all, do politicians ever conduct valid sociological research/survey on that subject? Do they provide results of such research as basis for their statement?
You and all respected bloggers know the answer.

Ross SniderSeptember 26, 2019 1:39 PM

@Steve

Ahh, this is a misunderstanding.

US Spy agencies share strategic technology and economic information with US companies. Take for example the Petrobras spying incident disclosed as part of the Snowden Documents. NSA was spying on Brazilian oil companies in order to provide private US companies advantages in international oil bidding auctions.

If you look internally how the NSA is organized, they have an entire apparatus for serving various parts of the state and private sector - from information to provide ambassadors, UN envoys, and private partnerships.

Clive RobinsonSeptember 26, 2019 1:50 PM

@ ALL,

Can we take it as a given now that "all who can spy will spy"?

But also accept there is a "Surveillance Economy" that covers a broad spectrum.

We have accepted for the last half century or more there are advantages in IP theft even if it's what R&D paths did not pan out. The French Government SigInt agency admited as much back in the 1980's. We have had the term "Industrial Espionage" followed by "Economic Espianage" when the old Soviet Union back in the 1960's spyed on Wall St traders to manipulate favourable grain prices to try and feed their starving populous (supposadly due to "central planning" but could as well have been nepotism or fear of purges".

Industrial espionage becaise it ettects a nations economy is rightly looked on as being a national security issue.

At the other end we have the breaches of privacy commited by the likes of the likes of Sillicon Valley supposadly for marketing and advertising. But it's become clear it's also useful for "social scoring" where your opportunities in life are controled by algorithems that we now know rather than remove bias tend to enforce it quite often strongly.

Thus we as individuals should take responsability for our own privacy because one thing is certain neither big corporates or Law Enforcment are going to want to give up their drug of choice. And surveillance is a drug altogether more addictive than any recreational drug. Because whilst recreational drugs tend to effect an individual negatively, spying brings the sort of power that the likes of Stalin and Hoover could only dream of. Worse that power has become available to whoever has a few dollars so they can become stalkers and worse. Employers can find excuses to get rid of employees to make others more compliant to any abuse an unhealthy mind can think up.

Thus surveillance is also a way of population control, and I'm sure you can imagine what would happen in the hands of those who covert it for the power it would give them.

Thus the question arises, we who are just ordinary citizens seen as a necessary but expendable commodity by those seeking power by surveillance, how do we roll back what is stealing from us yet still remain a part of society?

In Europe some politicians and legislators see such surveillance as an "evil to far" and are pushing forward legislation to protect their citizens privacy. Even whilst their IC and LE entities having been repeatedly "secretly briefed" by the likes of the FBI and US IC and thus scream "think of the children" or similar to maintain if not enhance their "fix".

Unless we as citizens push back realy hard the IC and LE will get the powers they demand. We have faught Crypto Wars One back in the Clinton era, but it was not realy a war, at best just an opening skirmish. We have many battles yet to win before this war is over.

lurkerSeptember 26, 2019 5:00 PM

@Bruce

China dominates the subway car manufacturing industry because of its low prices­ ... Whether these low prices are because the companies are more efficient than their competitors or because they're being unfairly subsidized by the Chinese government is a matter to be determined at trade negotiations.

Of course they're subsidized by the govt. As part of the the push to be a modern nation, subway development is written into the 5 Year Plans, and the cities will thus expect help from central govt.
But think also of economies of scale: Wikipedia won't be far wrong when it says 8 of the world's 15 longest subway systems are in China; adding up the lengths in W's table of systems comes to 5830 kilometres; the MetroMap app on my phone lists 39 Chinese cities with subway systems, and most of those have been built in the past 15 years. Every subway I've ridden in China has 4G connectivity for the pax, and a separate system for drivers and train control. So wiring in the odd camera or mic for a customer would be simple.
Except if that customer(USA) wants to install their own, the systems interconnect kerfuffle would be a trade war on its own...

Lawrence D’OliveiroSeptember 26, 2019 5:10 PM

China doesn’t domainate 5G because of “low prices”, but because of the quality of its products. Which it was able to develop pretty much unimpeded while US companies were hamstrung by the anticompetitive behaviour of incumbents in their own market.

As a result, Huawei now owns the majority of patents for 5G.

ProhiasSeptember 26, 2019 5:33 PM

@Clive Robinson - I enjoy reading your comments and perspective. If you don’t mind me asking, are the spelling errors in your comments intentional and if so why? Not being a grammar nazi here; if they are inadvertent/typos, my apologies.

Petre Peter September 26, 2019 7:22 PM

It seems that spying is what countries do in peace time. This is done to obtain an advantage in trading. Questions of war capabilities only come to the table after the trade agreements have failed. Trusting your supply chain is a massive problem relying more on history than rumors. This is why reputation attacks are so dangerous in a century when business is war.

ThinkSeptember 26, 2019 7:36 PM

It’s fairly simple to embed hidden or hard to detect ‘chips’ within circuit boards with special code or build physical hidden cores within processors or other devices that lie dormant until activated by the correct signal. A magic packet in the old parlance.

If you don’t make it how would you know your systems are what you designed? Fuzz it? Like a complex crypto system, do you have the time and resources to be sure?

Even if you do make it, are you sure it is what you designed if you outsource it?

You have to check your chip or chip systems to make sure there isn’t more features built in then you looking for.

https://www.battelle.org/government-offerings/national-security/cyber/microelectronics-trust-and-assurance/barricade-nondestructive-IC-verification

Prevent supply chain risk.

Backdoors:

https://github.com/xoreaxeaxeax/rosenbridge

Re China — we all remember this one.

https://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-news-from-elsewhere-24707337

Unsure if it was Russian Spin or a truthful report.

By the way Chris D has a very funny presentation if you are into Black Hat humor.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=HlUe0TUHOIc

This may be China’s century or start of several. They have made it a state priority to procure IP in many ways, legal, not legal, or ways considered grey, reverse engineer and improve on the rest of the world’s top engineering designs.

@Clive - thanks for your insight.

@Bruce - Neo McCarthyism?

Strange that England is leaving the Euro at the same time the US is enraging it’s source or low cost labor and one of its larger trading partners - Mexico — while rattling China’s bells. Democracy at risk on several fronts. Almost frightening.

https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.economist.com/briefing/2018/02/22/russian-disinformation-distorts-american-and-european-democracy


DenisSeptember 27, 2019 6:58 AM

@Clive Robinson I'm betting China's standard of living is much closer to the "world average" than you imagine. After all, your "world" probably only comprises USA which is mere 4% of Earth's population while China is 19%. China IS the average; USA (and EU) are merely outliers that don't represent the average even remotely.

PatriotSeptember 27, 2019 7:35 AM

@Clive Robinson

"We have fought Crypto Wars One back in the Clinton era, but it was not really a war, at best just an opening skirmish. We have many battles yet to win before this war is over."

Well said!

@Denis

China is the 2nd most wealthy country in the world. The creation of wealth in China is absolutely staggering to witness.

------------------------

I would like to correct a misconception that some people might have about the contrast between life in China and the West. On any train in New York, the people who are spying on you very well indeed are Google, Facebook, your ISP, and the national government (which is mostly for the sake of security). Who could do that with more agility and freedom? No one.

If you live in Great Britain, you are one of the most spied upon human beings in the history of human existence on earth. If you think a serious effort is not being made to control you, then open your eyes and see the ads, or turn on your phone, or read the "news".

The big misconception about China is that the people live in a police state like North Korea. It is just not true at all folks. If you talk to Chinese people and ask them how they feel about the government and government surveillance, they think both are very, very good. They feel protected. If you go to China and you look around and talk to people, you see that they are optimistic. They work hard. China is growing. It is not fake in any way. It's normal, and it's real.

To my mind, if you want to see something fake and doomed, go to Sweden or London. The intensity of the surveillance has to be extraordinary due to the lack of border controls and general security. China controls its borders like any sane country does.

Recently I read an article in the Daily Telegraph that said 9 out of 10 British teenagers did not have any reason to live. Quite shocking. In China, there is the optimism that is based on security, tradition, family, and hard work.

meSeptember 27, 2019 7:55 AM

"If there's any lesson from all of this, it's that everybody spies using the Internet."

Considering things like Social Credit System and Chinese hate for free speech and freedom itself, I'd rather stay away from ANY Chinese technology. China is mostly low security prison with a very nice lobby and visitor's room.

anonSeptember 27, 2019 8:02 AM

This is my opinion.
Someone in the Chinese civil services looked at its major exports and determined that a majority of its train cars were destinied for major cities around the world. That civil servant put two and two together and decided that if you can spy on hundreds of conversations at a time, in a setting that a majority of people use twice a day, that you can't lose.
It may not be 'spying on foreign governments' or 'spying in boardrooms' but I believe that if you want to know what a people thing, listening to them directly can be a great way to do it. You don't have to pay pollsters and you don't have to publish articles and read the comments.

As to why you got pushback from CNN. It seems to me that they were either trying to prevent you from contradicting a report they'd already written, or were trying to prevent you from antagonizing President Trump via their platform thus raising his ire even higher.

Quite a few of the posters above have stated that all governments spy, and this has always been true; however, its only a recent phenomena that US news outlets report on successful US spying or failed US spying, putting our government on the same level as every other.
As for the reporting, there are some things that can't be reported. One of those are the identifying information about children who are victims of crimes, or, in fact, are perpetrators of crimes. This only changes for the accused when the charges are filed in court. So there is precedence for not reporting factual information.

When I was 10 I believed a whole lot of things that I've since decided are bullshit. One of those things was that our spying was patriotic and that their spying was criminal. I believed everything I read because I had started with A is for Apple, Z is for zebra and I know both of those are still true today.

With all of this being said, I think the FISA court documents need to be published in PACER and then the court needs to be shut down. I think that NSLs are bullshit and also need to be published in PACER(I also think Carl Malumud needs to be put in charge of PACER but thats a separate issue) I think that executive/congressional oversight of the 3-letter orgs needs to be performed with an axe: starting at the top, if they don't think that they have to obey all of the same laws as the rest of us, then we execute them on the spot. Eventually we'll have smaller organizations whose members are dedicated to doing the right things for the right reasons.

Trung DoanSeptember 27, 2019 8:34 AM

The spying allegation distracts from the main game. It is undisputed that China uses its companies as strategic econopolitic weapons and impedes foreign companies as geopolitical foes.

K.S.September 27, 2019 8:54 AM

@Noam Chomsky

"The real question is whether Mr. Schneier will have the integrity to end his relationship with CNN in order to punish them for their bias and distortion."

I don't think Mr. Schneier integrity is in question. I also don't think lack of integrity within CNN is that much of a question. The question is what is value of providing accurate information to CNN readers and how much compromise is acceptable in order to do so. I have no doubt that CNN would be able to replace Mr. Schneier with a yes-man "expert", as such the only people to suffer from your suggested punishments would be CNN audience.

Who?September 27, 2019 10:22 AM

"There is definitely a national security risk in buying computer infrastructure from a country you don't trust."

In which country do we trust? It seems chinese technology is not acceptable. Is it better U.S. technology then? What about french technology? German computers? South Korean devices perhaps? Our own country technology?

The key is not if technology of a given country can or cannot be trusted. We should ask ourselves what can we do about the huge amounts of untrusted technology we have.

Who?September 27, 2019 10:24 AM

A second question... what technology is *not* chinese these days? Even if a computer is assembled in the United States most components have been manufactured in China or South Korea.

Who?September 27, 2019 10:32 AM

A question targeted to someone working at the intelligence community: does your organisation (CIA, NSA, DHS, DIA...) really trust on the computing technology used? Even if it has been assembled in the United States?

I guess the answer is NO.

Who?September 27, 2019 10:38 AM

...and we should then start talking about corporations like Fortinet, that do not only have a poor history of security on its devices (e.g. backdoors implanted in FortiOS) but also sell Chinese-made devices to the U.S. Government mislabeling them as Trade Agreements Act compliant ones.

The world is a nightmare.

SpaiSeptember 27, 2019 10:42 AM

@bruce wrote:

"while it's certainly possible to produce a subway car with enough surveillance apparatus to turn it into a "spy train," in practice it doesn't make much sense."

This is not true. All you have to do is make the train car "IOT" plus "cloud-based" in some way... and presto! spy train! I think you're sorta getting at this with the next paragraph, but not strongly enough. As long as the spying is part of a "known feature" that is then secretly hijacked by others, it can easily happen... and the frustrating part is few people seem to care then.

Clive RobinsonSeptember 27, 2019 12:25 PM

@ Denis,

After all, your "world" probably only comprises USA which is mere 4% of Earth's

A curious assumption on your behalf.

You can go and look the figures up in various places however be carefull which you pick.

Look out for "Purchasing Power Parity" PPP it's a little political trick to make things look rather more favourable on the individual basis. Instead you should rather look for the much harder to find dollar before deductions basis which is what the bean counters look at when talking labour costs.

So on the GDP PPP the US gets about twice that of Europe, their GDPs are about the same but the population in Europe is around double that in the US. China has a not to disilimilar GDP but they are worse way worse than their three times population would suggest. The simple fact is the wealth in China is being used rapidly thus innefficiently hence double or tripple the CO2 and energy usage[1]. The reason is China is trying to do two things, firstly become a major industrial player, secondly buying up what it can in existing "Western Nations" to interweave the economies to give stability and lower the risk of war. Depending on your view points that may be good or bad.

But when you start looking at the non PPP adjusted Dollar in hand --after deductions-- you see a vastly different story.

But you have to watch out for another trick. In the US a monthly salary (not wages) which is "middle class incomes for semi-professionals" is considered to be 3300 after tax etc and China 850 but the size of the middle classes as a percentage in the US is way higher than it is in China and the tax systems are quite different.

However you can see from this set of 2009 PPP figures which has three figures for China that 3263/656 ~ 5:1 is still well skewed due to PPP the real figure is likely to be nearer 10-15:1

https://1-million-dollar-blog.com/average-monthly-salary-for-72-countries-in-the-world/

So even when people think they are talking about real in hand Dollar value they usually are not.

I can go on about these little tricks but the reality is much of the worlds population will never be worth 1000USD at any point in their lives in 2010 terms.

[1] Oh and when looking at other ways of measuring equivalent standard of living by Energy use or CO2 emmissions and one or two others, watch out for two things. Firstly they paint the whole country the same colour which is way way of for a country like China as night time satellite images show. Secondly the scales are usually not linear or they "top and tail" in the places that make the worst look not as bad you can see this quite often in Wikipedia graphics...

Fellow on a train on a roadSeptember 27, 2019 12:30 PM

ask them how they feel about the government and government surveillance, they think both are very, very good. They feel protected.

Heartwarming to see there are folks who understand and appreciate the benefits the detailed minute care of a strong ruler of a properly organized totalitarian state can provide. People under Hitler and Stalin, at least some people, said the same things. Who wants that political freedom stuff, with its chaos and sense of vulnerability? Nobody in their right mind!

Clive RobinsonSeptember 27, 2019 1:18 PM

@ All,

Some are objecting to @Bruce's comment of,

    while it's certainly possible to produce a subway car with enough surveillance apparatus to turn it into a "spy train," in practice it doesn't make much sense.

How many of those objecting actually travel on a subway / metro / underground train?

The one thing that's mostly absent when "strap hanging" is people talking and their faces are obscured by arms etc. Even when you are lucky enough to get a seat next to your friend conversation is usually difficult over the noise. These days as back in 2005 when Jean Charles de Menezes was slaughtered on the London Underground reported at the time because he had wires hanging out from his pocket, "personal entertainment" with wired "ear buds" is very common as is reading or even watching a film or playing a game.

Also on the few occasions when people do have conversations most times it's of no real use to anyone, because you have to raise your voice so you know it's far from private.

JonSeptember 27, 2019 2:20 PM

I was wondering if anyone would mention this, and as far as I can tell, nobody did, so here goes:

BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit, San Francisco, USA) trains have always had cameras and microphones in every car (although I'm told many of the boxes are empty and/or the equipment broken).

They're also fairly obvious, mounted in the roof at each end. So "train that spies on you" is nothing new at all. Are the differences that "Well, these ones are hidden" and "Well, this time it's not the BART Police, this time it's China!" really all that different?

I don't believe any Chinese agents have ever shot a man in a BART station.

Point to @Clive Robinson : Spies are gonna spy, be they local police, corporations, FBI, CIA, et cetera.

Jon

Sed Contra September 27, 2019 5:44 PM

Well, it would add a whole new meaning to “traffic analysis”. And maybe that is what it’s for. But personally I think they would do better to instrument the electronics in disco venues.

lurkerSeptember 28, 2019 1:33 AM

@Patriot: If you talk to Chinese people and ask them how they feel about the government and government surveillance, they think both are very, very good. They feel protected.
I know I felt safe in the big cities and subways because of all the PBS[1} cameras. It's out in the lonely countryside where bad things happen to people out of sight of Big Brother.
@Fellow on a train on a road: Who wants that political freedom stuff... ?
That's a good question. I've been reading a number of Chinese commentators recently, both inside China and others who sought the western way of life, and they are saying that if you give the Chinese democracy tomorrow, they will elect a despot, because that is what tradition demands. [1} Public Security Bureau, who are something more than just cops.

Sancho_PSeptember 28, 2019 6:52 AM

@topic:
So we are worried that we can’t understand what standard cars, delivered by foreigners, have built in?
How they function? How to service?
Seriously?
Goodbye, western supremacy.
Welcome Chinese technology!
We are doomed anyway.

DavidSeptember 28, 2019 8:21 AM

Modern trains have cameras everywhere. But..
The monitoring network is closed and NOT on the Internet or Cloud.
The backhaul involves WiFi, usually provided by Western companies, so potentially backdoored by the usual TLAs

KenSeptember 28, 2019 1:05 PM

@Bruce

I'm puzzled by your conclusion in the last sentence of this article that:

And while I'm worried about our 5G infrastructure built using Chinese hardware, I'm not worried about our subway cars.

Because it appears to directly contradict the last sentence of your article in the September 25, 2019 NY Times:

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/25/opinion/huawei-internet-security.html

The risk from Chinese back doors into our networks and computers isn’t that their government will listen in on our conversations; it’s that they’ll turn the power off or make all the cars crash into one another.

Imagine if power to the subway - all lines - were cut during rush hour on a sweltering hot day. No movement, no light, no air conditioning, and fully packed trains. Wouldn't you worry about that?

Now imagine that instead of cutting the power, all of the trains were set to full speed ahead, braking systems disabled, and routing changed to create maximal damage. Wouldn't you worry about that?

KenSeptember 28, 2019 1:13 PM

@Ken (erratum)

Sorry, not the "last sentence" in the NY Times article - it's the last sentence of the 4th from last paragraph.

Wesley ParishSeptember 29, 2019 2:37 AM

As a nearly life-long fan of a 1930s British author Olaf Stapledon (I never would've noticed him if I hadn't been a prior fan of Arthur C. Clarke, who had nice things to say about Olaf Stapledon in the foreword of Against the Fall of Night), I'm reminded of the way in which he ends his 20 century in his novel Last and First Men, with the US facing off against a revived China, and neither making any headway against each other, but with massive collateral damage. It isn't pleasant knowing that my region in the South Pacific was WMD collateral damage in the book, and more than likely to be collateral damage in real life, if the drums of war, discretely muffled at the moment, ever become strident.

I myself think that the main reason why the current US federal government considers the Chinese trains to be a threat to US national security, is that if they do include backdoors, those backdoors won't be immediately obvious and accessible to the US "Intelligence" community.

Overall I agree with @Bruce that

Like every other piece of modern machinery, modern train cars are filled with computers, and while it's certainly possible to produce a subway car with enough surveillance apparatus to turn it into a "spy train," in practice it doesn't make much sense.

The ticketing system's much more productive for tracking someone's movements and if you're interested in listening in to cellphone traffic, why make a subway car's electronic signature so obvious when you can subvert the relay stations? Pretend a given set of Stingrays are an unforeseen "gift" from a treasured ally, and everybody'll look (rather hurriedly) the other way.

JonSeptember 29, 2019 9:27 AM

Bit late, but let me add to the dogpile on @Steve again:

Recall that at the time Edward Snowden was collecting his incriminating documents, he was not working for the NSA. He was working for Booz Allen Hamilton, a separate corporation. The NSA didn't have a problem sharing documents with them...

J.

Whistling in the DarkSeptember 29, 2019 1:07 PM

With apologies to the O’Jays

to the tune of Love Train

People all over the world
Cuff hands
Ride a spy train, spy train

The next stop that we make will be Boston
Tell all the folks in New York, and DC, too
Don't you know that it's time to get on board
And let this train keep on spying, spying on through

People all over the world
Cuff hands
Ride a spy train, spy train

All of you brothers over in London
Tell all the folks in Paris, and Berlin, too
Please don't miss this train at the station
Cause if you miss it, we won’t be able to spy on you

... etc.

JackOctober 1, 2019 5:32 AM

@Mark,

Interestingly. Negative posts or posts that question Soros' past seem to disppear for no apparent reason in this blogosphere.

MarkHOctober 1, 2019 11:42 AM

@Mark:

The fact-check links you kindly posted rate the sources' factual reporting as "High" and "Mostly Factual" respectively.

People who lack the discernment to understand their biases in choice of stories to cover, and in non-neutral language, had best avoid them.

For everybody else, they can be useful sources of factual information.

@Jack:

Ignorant conspiracy theories about (((Jewish))) financiers have a bad odor, for some reason.

If you'd like to learn more, study world history for years 1933 st seq.

Wesley ParishOctober 7, 2019 2:41 AM

@Bruce, re:

EDITED TO ADD: I had a lot of trouble with CNN's legal department with this essay. They were very reluctant to call out the US and its allies for similar behavior, and spent a lot more time adding caveats to statements that I didn't think needed them. They wouldn't let me link to this Intercept article talking about US, French, and German infiltration of supply chains, or even the NSA document from the Snowden archives that proved the statements.

Well, lookee what I found! A much shortened and heavily revised Statement of Randolph Carter

Early last year I received an emergency phone call from my boss, the man everybody calls Uncle Sam, though as a matter of fact he isn't related to me, and thus is not my uncle. He required that I put him up for the night as his flight had been delayed due to bad weather. So I got all the eiderdowns I could possible get hold of, from everyone I could loan them from, and laid them on the bed in the guest room. They reached the ceiling - and underneath them all I laid a single soft mushy pea. He was hospitalized in the morning, looking black and blue all over, and complaining of massive internal injuries; I was arrested for assault and battery. I beg the court to note that I was aware that Uncle Sam had a exceedingly thin skin, and a very delicate constitution: I was not aware just how thin and delicate they were.
It saddens me to say Randolph Carter was not believed, and although it is now widely known that Uncle Sam has an exceedingly thin skin and excessively delicate constitution, people still put peas at the bottoms of eiderdown mountains just to cause him massive internal injuries.

Clive RobinsonOctober 7, 2019 4:51 AM

@ Wesley Parish,

With regards "The Statment of Randolph Carter" it appeared shortly after the Great War (which later became known as World War One). According to a written retrospective acount, apparently it was thought by some that Randolph Carter was guilty of the murder of his good friend Harley Warren. In the written account Carter claimed to have be a falsely accused person, and to have suffered a nightmare existance after giving his original statement of the strange events. Some of which involved large slabs of granite hiding a mysterious crypt entrance and strange unworldy voices that emitted from there via the use of the then modern military equipment of the type used for the surveillance and reporting on the enemy in and around the battle fields of WWI.

Thus one can only conclude that someone wanted to keep certain things out of public view, whilst others do not. With events unfolding as with other old testament writings of David -v- Goliath style struggles.

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