WASHINGTON – The Obama administration is considering more assertive action against Beijing to combat a persistent cyber-espionage campaign it believes Chinese hackers are waging against U.S. companies and government agencies.
As the New York Times and Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that their computer systems had been infiltrated by China-based hackers, cybersecurity experts said the U.S. government is eyeing more pointed diplomatic and trade measures.
Two former U.S. officials said the administration is preparing a new National Intelligence Estimate that, when complete, is expected to detail the cyberthreat, particularly from China, as a growing economic problem.
One of the former officials said the NIE, an assessment prepared by the National Intelligence Council, also will cite more directly a role by the Chinese government in such espionage. The former official said the NIE will underscore the administration’s concerns about the threat and will put greater weight on plans for more aggressive action against the Chinese government.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in an interview with reporters as she wound up her tenure, said the U.S. needs to send a strong message that it will respond to such incidents.
“We have to begin making it clear to the Chinese – they’re not the only people hacking us or attempting to hack us – that the United States is going to have to take action to protect not only our government’s, but our private sector, from this kind of illegal intrusions,” Clinton said.
“There’s a lot that we are working on that will be deployed in the event that we don’t get some kind of international effort under way.”
Although the administration hasn’t decided what steps it may take, actions could include threats to cancel certain visas or put major purchases of Chinese goods through national security reviews.
To date, extensive discussions between Chinese officials and top U.S. leaders – including President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta – have had little impact on what government and cybersecurity experts say is escalating and technologically evolving espionage.
The Chinese deny such espionage efforts.