WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States is preparing to announce first-of-its-kind criminal charges Monday against Chinese military officials accused of hacking into private-sector U.S. companies to gain trade secrets, a government official said.
Attorney General Eric Holder and other federal law enforcement officials were expected to reveal the new indictments later Monday, the official told The Associated Press.
The indictments will accuse individuals of participating in cyber-espionage on behalf of a foreign government, said the official, who revealed this information only on grounds of anonymity because this person wasn’t authorized to publicly discuss the case in advance of the official announcement.
The official described the prosecution as unprecedented.
The official said Chinese government officials are being charged in the United States with hacking into private-sector companies to gain trade secrets, adding that Holder and other top-level law enforcement officials were poised to announce charges that include economic espionage and trade-secret theft.
The Chinese to be named, the official said, are current members of Beijing’s military establishment. The U.S. official did not identify the companies or industries with which they were engaged.
John Carlin, recently installed as head of the Justice’s National Security Division, earlier this year cited prosecution of state-sponsored cyber-threats as a key goal for the Obama administration.
U.S. officials have accused China’s army and China-based hackers of launching attacks on American industrial and military targets, often to steal secrets or intellectual property. China has said that it faces a major threat from hackers, and the country’s military is believed to be among the biggest targets of the NSA and U.S. Cyber Command.
Beijing has in the past repeatedly denied allegations that its hackers have targeted foreign websites but says China is a major victim of cyberattacks and is opposed to any form of cyber hacking.
It says it wants to see global cooperation in fighting cybercrimes instead of allegations.
“China not only does not support hacking but also opposes it,” Premier Li Keqiang said last year in a news conference when asked if China would stop hacking U.S. websites. “Let’s not point fingers at each other without evidence but do more to safeguard cyber security.”
Earlier this year, China set up an Internet security group led by President Xi Jinping. State media have described the Internet as a battleground, where cyber safety is essential to state security.
Last September, President Barack Obama discussed cybersecurity issues on the sidelines of a summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
White House spokesman Ben Rhodes said at the time that Obama had addressed concerns about cyber threats emanating from China. He said Obama told Xi the U.S. sees it not through the prism of security but out of concern over theft of trade secrets.
In late March, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel revealed that the Pentagon planned to more than triple its cybersecurity staff in the next few years to defend against Internet attacks that threaten national security.
Hagel’s comments at the National Security Agency headquarters in suburban Washington came as he prepared to visit China.
“Our nation’s reliance on cyberspace outpaces our cybersecurity,” Hagel said at the time. “Our nation confronts the proliferation of destructive malware and a new reality of steady, ongoing and aggressive efforts to probe, access or disrupt public and private networks, and the industrial control systems that manage our water, and our energy and our food supplies.”