During her visit to China, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made an inexcusable public declaration. She stated that America and China were both “victims of cyber attacks” and needed to act in partnership.
Suggesting moral equivalence between America and China in the cyber realm is as preposterous as Elliot Ness asking Al Capone if they can work together to fight crime in Prohibition-era Chicago.
Clinton claimed that “both the United States and China are victims of cyber attacks. Intellectual property, commercial data, national security information is being targeted.… This is an issue of increasing concern to the business community and the government of the United States, as well as many other countries, and it is vital that we work together to curb this behavior.”
It’s regrettable when our leaders see a false equivalence between a manifest disregard for the rule of law (China) and being the victim of theft (America). It is true that some experts refer to China as the most hacked country in the world. That is because so much of the software sitting on Chinese machines is pirated and remains unpatched.
While they remain vulnerable, over the past five years, the Chinese have engaged in a conscious campaign to use cyberspace as a medium for theft of commercial data and national security information. Victims include RSA, Lockheed Martin, Google, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Jim Lewis of the Center for Strategic and International Studies once remarked that the Chinese needed to steal Google’s source code so they could more effectively sift through all the mountains of data they had stolen from everyone else.
It is irresponsible for the Secretary of State, who has reprimanded China for cyber misbehavior in the past, to now send a signal that will clearly say, “Go for it—there will be no accountability.” The real victims here are American companies and government entities whose intellectual property is being systematically siphoned off to fuel China’s economic growth and military modernization.
Instead of granting the Chinese a free pass, the Secretary should be pressuring China with both words and deeds to halt its malicious cyber activities.
Madam Secretary, now is not the time to go cyber wobbly. Cooperating with China in countering cyber threats means potentially inviting the fox into the henhouse.