Fresh concerns over Chinese espionage are gripping Washington as lawmakers fear Beijing is gaining sensitive details on U.S. technologies.
Lawmakers are scrutinizing the Pentagon over its efforts to keep military secrets safe from hackers, after Chinese actors allegedly breached a Navy contractor’s computer and collected data on submarine technology.
U.S. officials stepped up warnings that China regularly steals American intellectual property and technology, through cyberattacks and other means — allegations Beijing denies.
The issue took center stage at a congressional hearing Thursday, as lawmakers on the House Armed Services Committee pressed Trump administration officials on their efforts to protect U.S. military assets from Chinese spies.
The Washington Post reported earlier this month that hackers linked to the Chinese government had penetrated computers used by a contractor working for the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in January and February. The hackers stole over 600 gigabytes of data, including information on a secret submarine technology project.
Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, did not explicitly reference the incident, but noted a recent briefing on a cyber breach had left him concerned about the military’s protections against foreign-aligned hackers.
“It was shocking how disorganized, unprepared and quite frankly utterly clueless the branch of the military was that had been breached,” Smith said. “Even in this day and age, we haven’t figured out how to put together a cyber policy to protect our assets, in particular with our defense contractors we work with who store our data but not with adequate protection.”
Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), a member of the committee, confirmed to The Hill after the hearing that lawmakers had been briefed on the incident, but declined to offer further details.
“The Armed Services Committee is engaged and we are meeting with [the Defense Department] to understand who was breached and what was taken,” Langevin said. He agreed that the government is not adequately addressing threats to the military supply chain.
“I’m going to be pressing to make sure that we rework and redo our contracting authority to require stronger cybersecurity protections,” he added.
The concerns over Chinese espionage are not limited to military technology.
Last Tuesday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers led by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) asked Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to investigate research partnerships between Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei and U.S.-based universities. They suggested the partnerships could provide Beijing an avenue for stealing technologies being developed in America, posing a threat to national security.
Huawei declined to comment on the letter Friday.
Officials and lawmakers are trying to address the scope of the problem.
At the hearing Thursday, officials described a multifaceted effort by China to acquire information on U.S. technologies, particularly those developed for the government and military.
BY MORGAN CHALFANT – 06/24/18