The Obama Administration reportedly has readied an unprecedentedly broad raft of sanctions against Chinese companies and individuals determined to have benefited from the theft of intellectual property belonging to U.S. companies. Officials say that the secrets stolen include everything from nuclear power plant designs to source code for search engines to the confidential negotiating positions of various energy companies. According to the Washington Post, the final decision on unleashing the sanctions hasn’t yet been made, but could come within the next two weeks—ahead of President Xi Jinping’s official visit to Washington.
The case for rolling out the sanctions could get an assist from the intel world, where evidence is growing that both China and Russia are aggressively cross-referencing the data from the massive OPM hack that compromised the identities of millions who have U.S. government clearances with the hacks of private companies like the health insurer Anthem, United Airlines, and the e-adultery website Ashley Madison. At least one U.S. clandestine network of support engineers has been rolled up due to these initiatives, according to two Obama Administration officials.
After the OPM hack, reports were swirling that the Obama Administration was looking for a way to retaliate. Given that both Chinese and Russian spy services often partner with criminal hackers to get access to information, the ability to clearly pin down responsibility is limited. A hefty set of sanctions for intellectual property theft may therefore have to do double duty.
Earlier today, we wrote that, “every time you venture onto the internet, you are entering a wilderness as full of predators and dangers and powerful actors as any Enchanted Forest in any fairy tale ever told.” Here are two of the malefactors. Those who focus only on the domestic side of digital privacy discussions often have predicted a libertarian backlash, but the efforts of foreign bad actors online is one of the things that likely will militate against this. In the 21st century, adventurism does not just mean that Chinese agents will be subsidizing Sub-Saharan African countries, but that state-sponsored hackers will be looking into your health insurance, your travel arrangements, your extra-marital affairs. And Americans will likely demand to be protected—even from that last one.