Director of National Intelligence James Clapper called China the “leading suspect” in the recent crushing cyberattack that has compromised millions of government employees’ sensitive data.
Clapper’s remarks are the clearest public indication that the Obama administration believes China is responsible for the digital assault on the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).
Previously, officials have only privately accused the Asian power.
“You know on the one hand, please don’t take this the wrong way, but you have to kind of salute the Chinese for what they did,” Clapper said, speaking at the GeoInt Symposium in D.C. “If we had the opportunity to do that, I don’t think we’d hesitate for a minute.”
When pressed to clarify whether he was naming China in the theft of potentially tens of millions of people’s data, the intelligence head added, “Well, I mean that’s the leading suspect.”
China has chastised the U.S. for jumping to conclusions, arguing that the government should present a credible link before making an accusation.
It’s believed China was going after government records as part of a broader scheme to construct a thorough database on U.S. government workers. The sensitive data accessed could be used to imitate officials, stage future cyberattacks or even recruit informants or blackmail administrators.