White House won’t name China in OPM hack

The Obama administration has decided against naming China in the massive hack that has rattled the government and exposed sensitive data on millions of people.

Despite privately accusing Beijing of orchestrating the attack, officials have decided against publicly blaming the Asian power for the incident, The Washington Post reported.

{mosads}“We have chosen not to make any official assertions about attribution at this point,” a senior administration official told the Post.

The hacks at the Office of Personnel Management compromised over 22 million people’s sensitive information, including personnel files and security clearance background investigation files.

It’s believed China was seeking this data as part of a cyber-espionage scheme to create a database on U.S. government workers.

But administration officials said they are hesitant to make a public accusation for fear of exposing evidence they have gathered during the investigation.

The White House is also trying to manage its tense relationship with Beijing ahead of a September visit from Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The decision will likely frustrate many who were pressuring President Obama to retaliate for what is thought to be the largest digital theft ever of government data.

Republicans, and some Democrats, were calling on the president to levy new sanctions on China for the hack or to at least encourage the international community to do so. Some on the right even urged the government to aggressively hack back at China.

But international cyber-policy experts have long predicted that the administration would not make any grand pronouncement of blame for the digital intrusion.

“I don’t know that frankly, in this case, in the absence of any independent evidence that doesn’t rely on [classified] intelligence sources, that it would make sense to do that,” Chris Finan, a former Obama administration cybersecurity adviser, told The Hill in June. “What do you get in return?”

Others noted the White House usually reserves such moves for commercial cyberattacks.

Last year, the Justice Department indicted five members of the Chinese military for hacking a variety of U.S. companies in the nuclear, solar and metals industries from 2006 through 2014.

The government also implemented a new round of sanctions on North Korea after fingering it for the destructive cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment.

The senior official told the Post that the administration may still impose sanctions on China unrelated to the OPM hack and “then send a private message that said, ‘Oh, and by the way, part of the reason for this is OPM.’”

But a public “name-and-shame” seems off the table for now.

“We don’t see enough benefit in doing the attribution at this point to outweigh whatever loss we might [experience] in terms of intelligence-collection capabilities,” the official said.


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