While computer hackers in China were brazenly stealing sensitive information from congressional offices on Capitol Hill in recent years, al-Qaida operatives were busy hardening security on their internal communication system to the point where U.S. intelligence officials now admit it’s nearly impossible to penetrate.
Both developments have extremely ominous implications for our national security.
Cyber attackers traced to the Chinese mainland gleaned information from government computers, cell phones and BlackBerrys in both Congress and federal offices in the commerce, state and energy departments. Pentagon officials also confirmed that Chinese military hackers even got into the e-mail system within Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ office.
Meanwhile, the U.S. still can’t figure out how to shut down Osama bin Laden’s prolific propaganda network, which produces jihadist documentaries and iPod files. Gates was right when he said in a speech last November that this is just “plain embarrassing.”
Computers in the offices of Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., were targeted in 2006 after he began assisting Chinese dissident Rebiya Kadeer, who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize that year for her work in alerting the world to Beijing’s harsh treatment of Muslim Uighers, including her three imprisoned sons. Kadeer told The Examiner at the time that her daughter had spotted Chinese spies photographing their Fairfax City apartment. Now we know how they got the address.
To date, however, the House leadership has not followed Wolf’s advice to have FBI Director Robert Mueller privately brief Congress and Bush administration officials on the very real Chinese cyber threat — just weeks before many of them attend the Olympic Games in Beijing. What are Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi waiting for?
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang denied that his government was behind the hacking, claiming that China lacks the technical capacity to do so. That’s absurd. This is the same regime that recently demonstrated its ability to shoot down satellites in outer space.
The Chinese military hacking on Capitol Hill endangers more than political dissidents. Intelligence analysts believe the ultimate goal is to plant secret “trap doors” to allow Beijing — or another hostile power — to shut down or disrupt the U.S. government’s computer systems.
Preventing this from happening now is one of the FBI’s top three priorities. But after decades of transferring cutting-edge technology with well-known military applications to Beijing by allowing Chinese scientists and businessmen open access to our top government-funded universities and research labs, the sad thing is that in many respects we have only ourselves to blame.