House GOP members criticize administration's response to cyber theft

Reps. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) and Tom Marino (R-Pa.) made similar comments during the hearing.

"I do not see any actual repercussions being implemented ... that would cause the Russians or Chinese to stop it or curtail [the cyber theft]," Marino said.

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When testifying before the subpanel, Christopher Painter, the top State Department official on cyber issues, noted that President Obama raised the cybersecurity concern during a phone call with China's new president last week. He added that the president's national security adviser, Tom Donilon, called on China in a speech this month to investigate the cyber theft and take serious steps to stop it.

Donilon's statements were the strongest response yet from the administration about reports of China's massive cyber espionage campaign.

"We want China to understand the scope and space that this is [coming] from," said Painter, coordinator of cyber issues at the State Department, adding that the U.S. wants to engage in a "sustained dialogue" with China about the problem.

He echoed Donilon's comments about the need for China to take steps to curb trade secret theft, but also warned that the U.S. needs act cautiously when it comes to considering a retaliatory response to cyber theft and other types of online attacks.

Rohrabacher quipped sarcastically that the sharper rhetoric from the administration "is terribly frightening to the Chinese."

In his opening comments, Painter also warned that "attribution is difficult in this area" and that it takes time to identify who is behind a cyberattack.

Painter noted that the president's executive order on cybersecurity is aimed at curbing attacks against key American infrastructure, but added that Congress needs to pass legislation that will strengthen the public and private sector's ability to work together to combat cyberattacks. He said in the past few years the government has made "tremendous progress" in making cybersecurity a top economic, national security and foreign policy issue.

The Obama administration also released the first-ever international strategy for cyberspace that said the U.S. will use all the tools it has at its disposal to deal with cyber threats, including diplomatic and military tools, he added.  

But Rohrabacher was unconvinced by Painter's statements.

"People have got to know overseas whether or not there's going to be a serious consequence, not just raising ... words," he said.