Online industrial spying by China and Russia presents a growing threat to the US economy and its national security, the top counterintelligence agency said on Thursday, abandoning the caution American officials typically display when asked to name the countries they believe are most responsible for cyber-economic espionage.
Billions of dollars of trade secrets, technology and intellectual property are being siphoned each year from the computer systems of US government agencies, corporations and research institutions to benefit the economies of China and other countries, the Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive said.
Its report to Congress was released on Thursday.
The hackers come from many countries and range from foreign intelligence services to corporations to criminals, according to the report, but the report — titled Foreign Spies Stealing US Economic Secrets in Cyberspace — leaves no doubt as to who are the most intent on stealing secrets.
“Chinese actors are the world’s most active and persistent perpetrators of economic espionage,” the report states. In addition, it says, “Russia’s intelligence services are conducting a range of activities to collect economic information and technology from US targets.”
Both China and Russia have routinely denied such charges, and a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy expressed outrage at the report by the counterintelligence office, whose focus is intelligence threats to the United States.
“We are opposed to willfully making unwarranted allegations against China as firmly as our opposition to any forms of unlawful cyberspace activities,” embassy spokesman Wang Baodong said in an e-mail.
A senior US intelligence official, who conducted a media briefing about the report Wednesday on the condition of anonymity, said the government’s unusual candor in naming particular countries was prompted by the severity of the threat.
With the domestic and world economies lagging, and US unemployment above 9%, cutting-edge technology is key to US economic growth. But it is that very technology that is being targeted by countries such as China, as part of a broader strategy to build its own economy and become a global powerhouse.
The threat is not just to the economy but also to national security, the report states. The illicit transfer of technology with military applications to a hostile state such as Iran or North Korea could endanger the lives of US and allied military personnel.
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