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
© Getty Images

The top Republicans on three House committees urged President TrumpDonald TrumpNoem touts South Dakota coronavirus response, knocks lockdowns in CPAC speech On The Trail: Cuomo and Newsom — a story of two embattled governors McCarthy: 'I would bet my house' GOP takes back lower chamber in 2022 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 WaldenHere are the three GOP lawmakers who voted for the Equality Act Lobbying world Bottom line MORE (R-Ore.), Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulOvernight Defense: Biden sends message with Syria airstrike | US intel points to Saudi crown prince in Khashoggi killing | Pentagon launches civilian-led sexual assault commission Lawmakers line up behind potential cyber breach notification legislation Biden signs supply chain order after 'positive' meeting with lawmakers MORE (R-Texas) and Financial Service Committee ranking member Patrick McHenryPatrick Timothy McHenryOn The Money: House panel spars over GameStop, Robinhood | Manchin meets with advocates for wage | Yellen says go big, GOP says hold off House panel spars over GameStop frenzy, trading apps Robinhood CEO, regulators to testify at House hearing on GameStop frenzy 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.”


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.


“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 BarrMajority of Republicans say 2020 election was invalid: poll Biden administration withdraws from Connecticut transgender athlete case Justice Department renews investigation into George Floyd's death: report 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.”