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Spy services in China and Russia, among others, are collecting and scrutinizing hacked United States computer databases to target American intelligence agents and officers. Foreign spies have penetrated government websites and emails, social media accounts and massive data troves containing personal information on millions of Americans, including medical forms, Social Security numbers and airline records, the Los Angeles Times reported Monday.
These data files are used to identify and track — or even blackmail and recruit — U.S. undercover operatives and agents overseas. The foreign spy services employ sophisticated software to reveal “who is an intelligence officer, who travels where, when, who’s got financial difficulties, who’s got medical issues, [to] put together a common picture,” William Evanina, the top counterintelligence official for the U.S. intelligence community, said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.
Evanina declined to say which countries were involved, but other U.S. officials speaking on condition of anonymity said Chinese and Russian adversaries in particular were aggregating and cross-indexing vast U.S. computer files for counterintelligence purposes. The Russian Embassy did not respond to requests for comment, but Chinese Embassy spokesman Zhu Haiquan said Friday China’s government “firmly opposes and combats all forms of cyberattacks in accordance with the law,” the Los Angeles Times reported.
The White House is considering applying sanctions against Chinese companies and individuals who have benefited from the Chinese government’s alleged hacking of U.S. trade secrets, which China has denied doing. U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration has said China is the top suspect in the hacking of a U.S. government agency that compromised the personnel records of at least 4.2 million current and former government workers, the Washington Post reported Sunday.
The Obama administration has scrambled to boost cybersecurity mechanisms for federal agencies and vital infrastructure. American intelligence officials have urged Obama to express concerns about Chinese hacking during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to the White House on Sept. 25. U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said the military also needs to increase its cybersecurity systems.
“We’re not doing as well as we need to do in job one in cyber, which is defending our own networks,” Carter said Wednesday, according to the Los Angeles Times. “Our military is dependent upon and empowered by networks for its effective operations… We have to be better at network defense than we are now.”