WHITE HOUSE — The United States has filed charges against five Chinese military officials it accuses of stealing business secrets from American companies.
Obama administration officials say the criminal indictments – the first of their kind against foreign government officials – are meant to send a message that the U.S. wants China to stop stealing cyber secrets.
“We have consistently and candidly raised these concerns with the Chinese government, and today’s announcement reflects our growing concerns that this behavior has continued,” said White House Spokesman Jay Carney.
The U.S. accuses officials of a unit of China’s People’s Liberation Army [Department 61398 in Shaghai] of stealing secrets from U.S. metals, nuclear and solar energy companies to give Chinese firms – including state-owned ones – a business advantage.
Announcing the indictments Monday, the top U.S. prosecutor, Attorney General Eric Holder, said the thefts have provided significant information to Chinese companies.
China responded quickly, saying it will suspend participation in a China-U.S. Internet working group. It called the cyber spying allegations absurd.
Carney said the U.S. will continue to engage with China, but he said Washington needed to send a message.
“We believe there are ample and important areas where we can and should be able to cooperate with China on issues related to cyber security. But it is also very important that the rules of the road are established,” he said.
A U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the United States regrets the action taken.
“We regret China’s decision on the suspension of activities of the working group. We continue to believe that dialogue is an essential part of resolving these and other cyber security concerns,” she said.
Carney said there is no comparison between China’s stealing of business secrets for commercial gain and American intelligence gathering – which he said is done in the interest of U.S. national security, not money.
Six American companies, including United States Steel , Alcoa, Allegheny Technologies, Westinghouse Electric, SolarWorld, United Steel Workers Union were victims of Chinese hacking attacks, U.S. officials said. Also targeted were Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied-Industrial and Service Workers International Union.
Underscoring that this was “a real threat to our economy and security,” Holder said the Chinese hackers stole information that provides China’s competitors with insight into the “strategy and vulnerabilities” of American companies in key industries.
“The alleged hacking appears to have been conducted for no reason other than to advantage state-owned companies and other interests in China, at the expense of businesses here in the United States,” said Holder.
“Our economic security and our ability to compete fairly in the global marketplace are directly linked to our national security,” he added. “When a foreign nation uses military or intelligence resources and tools against an American executive or corporation to obtain trade secrets or sensitive business information for the benefit of state-owned companies, we must say, enough is enough.”
An American computer security company says the Shanghai unit at the heart of U.S. economic espionage allegations against Chinese military officers has been spying for years on companies around the world.
In a report earlier this year, Washington-based Mandiant said it found that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of workers at the People’s Liberation Army unit have hacked into the computers at 141 companies in 20 major industries since 2006, mostly in English-speaking countries. Mandiant says the Chinese military stole secretive information about their business operations and passed it on to Chinese companies, including state-run enterprises.