China Accuses U.S. of Hypocrisy on Cyberattacks

  • Share
  • Read Later

Edward Snowden’s revelations about the U.S. government’s extensive online-surveillance programs have been a propaganda boon in China, and Beijing has raced to paint the Obama Administration as hypocritical for admonishing the Chinese government for cyberattacks while apparently committing plenty of its own.

On Thursday, Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Colonel Yang Yujun lashed out at perceived American double standards on cyberespionage, saying:

The Prismgate affair is itself just like a prism that reveals the true face and hypocritical conduct regarding Internet … To, on the one hand, abuse one’s advantages in information technology for selfish ends, while on the other hand, making baseless accusations against other countries, shows double standards that will be of no help for peace and security in cyberspace.

Chinese officials have been complaining about U.S. hypocrisy on hacking even before they knew about the existence of Prism. On June 5, a day before the National Security Agency’s program was revealed, China’s top Internet security official stated that China possessed “mountains of data” on American cyberattacks against the People’s Republic. Now that Prism is out in the open, these types of complaints have echoed from across the international community, and the Obama Administration has been scrambling to debunk them.

(MORE: Does a Purge of Senior Officials Mean China’s Serious About Its Corruption Problem?)

So does the U.S. have two sets of rules when it comes to cyberspying? Not really, but it can look that way.

First of all, China likely does have mountains of data on U.S. hacking attacks because the U.S. has been doing mountains of hacking. In addition to collecting billions of pieces of metadata from around the world (and China ranks high on the U.S. priority list), a recent exposé in Foreign Policy magazine revealed that the NSA has a secret hacking army of its own.

Described as the “wunderkind of the U.S. intelligence community,” the Office of Tailored Access Operations (TAO) has been breaking into China’s computers and telecommunications systems for 15 years. With 600 techies (backed up by hundreds more support staff) working around the clock on rotating shifts, TAO does everything from stealing passwords, data and text messages to analyzing foreign communication infrastructure for weaknesses that could be exploited by actual cyberweapons. And speaking of cyberweapons, Obama has even asked his national-security and intelligence staff for a list of potential cyberattack targets.

However, the U.S. apparently sees this sort of intelligence gathering as par for the course in the game of international espionage. While the Obama Administration certainly isn’t happy that China uses hacking for normal intelligence gathering, U.S. officials have rarely complained about it, reserving their ire for state-sponsored intellectual-property theft.

(MORE: Snowden in Hong Kong: The Legal Complications of ‘One Country, Two Systems’)

The New York Times quoted a senior American official, briefed on upcoming hacking talks between the U.S. and China, as saying the meetings would primarily focus on IP theft. “Our concerns are not limited to that,” said the official, “but that’s what needs urgent attention.” The Times reported that other experts have expressed similar sentiments, saying that neither country wants to discuss military espionage.

Obama himself has also made it clear that he sees IP theft as the primary difference between American and Chinese hacking. “Every country in the world, large and small, engages in intelligence gathering, and that is an occasional source of tension, but is generally practiced within bounds,” Obama said in an interview with PBS’s Charlie Rose in June:

There is a big difference between China wanting to figure out how can they find out what my talking points are when I’m meeting with the Japanese, which is standard fare … and a hacker directly connected with the Chinese government or the Chinese military breaking into Apple’s software systems to see if they can obtain the designs for the latest Apple product. That’s theft. And we can’t tolerate that.

According to experts and U.S. officials, the theft Obama is referring to has been conducted on a grand scale. The Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property, headed by Jon Huntsman (a former ambassador to China) and Dennis Blair (former Director of National Intelligence), has said hacking costs the U.S. $300 billion dollars a year, and China has been behind 70% of intellectual property and trade secrets stolen. This has led General Keith Alexander, NSA director and head of the U.S. Cyber Command, to call the hacking of the American private sector “the greatest transfer of wealth in history.”

(COVER STORY: The Geeks Who Leak)

China seems to be at least somewhat aware of the distinction the U.S. is making, and at times has sought to conflate American intelligence gathering with industrial espionage. Wang Changqin, a professor at a Chinese military academy, has accused the U.S. of “yelling themselves hoarse to cover their own thievery” of Chinese secrets. “How much Chinese property did they steal?” asked Wang. “America is slipping from being a hacker empire to being a stealing money empire.”

Yet there is little evidence that the U.S. has stolen Chinese secrets for the benefit of private industry. One American official told the International Herald Tribune that the U.S. does not engage in such activity for both moral and practical reasons, saying, “I can tell you with absolute certainty the U.S. government does not pass on technological secrets obtained through [strictly speaking, as a by-product of] espionage to U.S. firms, both as a matter of principle and because there is no fair way to do it [in regards to how the stolen property would be distributed to the private sector].”

But while the U.S. may see an obvious difference in where the two nations draw the line on cybersnooping, it appears unlikely that it will affect the international hacking debate. “[China] deliberately targets foreign technology for military and commercial purposes, so this is apples and oranges” said the same official quoted above, “but in the propaganda war, that fact won’t matter.”

MORE: Obama Approaches Chinese Cybersecurity Issue With Carrot, Not Stick

15 comments
trygor
trygor

SInce when did Time become the mouthpiece of the US government? 

AazobaYuzuki
AazobaYuzuki

every country who has hacking skills hacks! snowden is just a tool by the russians and the zillion chinaman ...

cuadmirers
cuadmirers

go jake go go. also great article xoxo cu debate

mgarvey123
mgarvey123

This article is really well written. A fine piece of journalism! We need more of this.

lambda
lambda

All gov are hypocritical... 

duduong
duduong

American propaganda must be really desperate right now. Their key point in this latest piece is on "Chinese military breaking into Apple's software system to...obtain the designs for the latest Apple products!" Unless Apple has a secret plan of getting into the ICBM business, this just plainly makes no sense.

Chinese hacking is done by amateurs in the private sector for commercial profits or plain mischief; American hacking is done by a well funded army of professionals on other nation's military secrets on by far the largest scale in the world. The world's most sophisticated malware, Stuxnet, is just the tip of the iceberg. Given these known facts, American government and media are still trying sling mud on others. Their shameless hypocrisy has truly reached epic proportion.

Anon_J
Anon_J

After some solid facts cannot be "debunked" anymore, these guys are awkwardly making up another hilarious excuse for US misdeeds.  Still trying to draw "distinctions" between China behaviors and US behaviors? Still trying to brand US as the "morally cleaner", "just" one and China as the "filthy"? Ridiculous. There is really no difference between what all governments do, no matter it's China, US, India, or whatever. This article, instead of words by the Chinese spokesman, is propaganda, and it's a really awkward one.

tony11
tony11

The U.S. government claims that it doesn't hack IP data, even though it hacks ALL data, and that it doesn't pass it on to private industry, even though its hacking is done in collaboration with private industry, and the entire complaint on this issue is an instance of the U.S. government acting on behalf of U.S. corporations. The same corporations that fund the political campaigns of U.S. politicians who are raising the issue. The question is, why should China or anybody believe what the U.S. government says?

j.villain1
j.villain1

What a load of bunk. The US has been seizing and searching laptops within 100 miles of the border for as long as laptops have been around and the US govt has been open that the primary purpose if for economic gain so it is more than a little disingenuous for the president to be playing dumb now.

PaulJoseph
PaulJoseph

Formal Complaint Filed Against NYS Employees for Illegal Wiretapping

“At some point in time shortly after 9/11, and by methods not addressed here, these individuals improperly utilized access to, and devices of, the lawful operations of the Joint Terrorism Task Force (the “JTTF”). These individuals completely violated the provisions of FISA, ECPA and the Patriot Act for their own personal and political agendas. Specifically, these NY state employees essentially commenced “black bag operations,” including illegal wiretapping, against whomever they chose- and without legitimate or lawful purpose.

To be clear, any lawful act involving the important work of the JTTF is to be applauded. The herein complaint simply addresses the unlawful access- and use- of JTTF related operations for the personal and political whims of those who improperly acted under the color of law. Indeed, illegally utilizing JTTF resources is not only illegal, it is a complete insult to those involved in such important work.

In fact, hard-working and good-intentioned prosecutors and investigators (federal and state) are also victims here, as they were guided and primed with knowingly false information.

… It is believed that most of the 1.5 million-plus items in evidence now under seal in Federal District Court for the Eastern District of New York, case #09cr405 (EDNY) supports the fact, over a ten-year-plus period of time, of the illegal wiretapping of New York State judges, attorneys, and related targets, as directed by state employees.” http://ethicsgate.blogspot.in/2013/05/phone-record-grab-started-before-obama.html

junkwarhead
junkwarhead

@duduongIs "Chinese hacking is done by amateurs in the private sector for commercial profits or plain mischief" really a known fact? Could you point me to a source on that?

duduong
duduong

@junkwarhead @duduong 

Sure, they are in the public domain. 

There have been dozens of complaints about Chinese hacking activities in the US over the past few years. The targets are inevitably either industries (commercial) or lately media (mischief). 

There have been 3 or 4 interviews with the supposed hackers or ex-hackers. They are all script-kiddies who wait for hire.