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House Republicans urge Trump to take action against Chinese hackers targeting coronavirus research

House Republicans urge Trump to take action against Chinese hackers targeting coronavirus research
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The top Republicans on three House committees urged President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden team wants to understand Trump effort to 'hollow out government agencies' Trump's remaking of the judicial system Overnight Defense: Trump transgender ban 'inflicts concrete harms,' study says | China objects to US admiral's Taiwan visit MORE Monday to crack down on efforts by Chinese government-backed hackers to target and steal health data and research related to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

House Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenHillicon Valley: Leadership changes at top cyber agency raise national security concerns | Snapchat launches in-app video platform 'Spotlight' | Uber, Lyft awarded federal transportation contract Lawmakers urge FCC to assist in effort to rip out, replace suspect network equipment OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee | Forest Service finalizes rule weakening environmental review of its projects | Biden to enlist Agriculture, Transportation agencies in climate fight MORE (R-Ore.), Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulOvernight Defense: Pentagon prepping for Trump order to draw down in Afghanistan, Iraq | Questions swirl after DOD purge | 10th service member killed by COVID-19 Former VOA producer sues US global media agency over termination Record number of women to serve in the next Congress MORE (R-Texas) and Financial Service Committee ranking member Patrick McHenryPatrick Timothy McHenryMaxine Waters says Biden win is 'dawn of a new progressive America' McCarthy: 'I would think I already have the votes' to remain as House GOP leader Ex-RNC, Trump fundraiser Elliott Broidy charged in covert lobbying scheme MORE (R-N.C.) detailed their concerns in a letter, raising the idea of levying sanctions against the hacking efforts by the People’s Republic of China (PRC). 

“For many years, the PRC has perpetrated cyber-attacks on Americans, our financial institutions, and even the U.S. government itself,” the GOP members wrote. “The response to this orchestrated malicious activity was always muted, however, with hopes that leniency toward PRC aggression would foster greater economic cooperation and deeper diplomatic ties.”

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The Republican leaders noted that the previous strategy had the “opposite effect” of discouraging malicious Chinese cyber activity, instead allowing Beijing “to proceed down another path, which threatens U.S. and global security.”

The letter was sent after the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency warned in May that Chinese government-backed hackers were targeting U.S. groups working on vaccines and treatments for COVID-19. 

The agencies warned that the hackers had been “observed attempting to identify and illicitly obtain valuable intellectual property and public health data related to vaccines, treatments, and testing from networks and personnel affiliated with COVID-19-related research,” noting that these actions could endanger the ability to fight the virus. 

Federal agencies in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada teamed up last week to warn that Russian hackers were also targeting groups tied to COVID-19 research. 

The Republican lawmakers pointed to this warning in calling on Trump to take action, arguing in favor of the Treasury Department levying sanctions on Chinese-backed hackers that target Americans through cyberattacks.

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“These actions must have consequences,” they wrote. “If we do not utilize our sanctions strategically in response to bad acts, our sanctions regime loses its deterrent effect, and we will only see these cyber-attacks from the PRC further escalate.”

The letter asks the Treasury and State departments to provide classified briefings around how the Trump administration plans to respond to an increase in Chinese cyberattacks, including how the U.S. would hit back against the individual hackers involved.  

The Trump administration has stepped up efforts to push back against the Chinese government in recent weeks, with both FBI Director Christopher Wray and Attorney General William BarrBill BarrMerrick Garland on list to be Biden's attorney general: report DOJ dropping charges against ex-Mexican defense minister DOJ watchdog finds Louisiana inmates with coronavirus were not isolated for a week MORE both giving speeches warning of dangers posed by Beijing's actions, while Trump has repeatedly assailed China over its handling of the pandemic.

Wray warned earlier this month of Chinese counterintelligence threats, noting that Chinese espionage cases opened by the FBI have increased by 1,300 percent over the past decade. 

He said that “at this very moment, China is working to compromise American health care organizations, pharmaceutical companies and academic institutions conducting essential COVID-19 research.”