U.S. President George W. Bush did not confront China’s president Hu Jintao Thursday over allegations that the Chinese military has hacked Pentagon computer networks, a national security advisor said.
Meanwhile, new reports have surfaced in the U.K. of Chinese-sponsored attacks and probes of government information systems there. On Tuesday, Bush had hinted he might bring up the hacking charges, which surfaced over the weekend in the Financial Times, during a scheduled face-to-face meeting with Hu.
In the Financial Times story, unnamed U.S. government sources claimed that Chinese hackers, backed by all or part of the People’s Liberation Army, had breached a network in the office of the Secretary of Defense in June. China vehemently denied the allegations, and the Pentagon, while it confirmed that an attack forced an unclassified e-mail network offline for several weeks, declined to name names.
When asked about the Chinese hacking reports on Tuesday, Bush hinted that he might risk a diplomatic rift. “In terms of whether or not I’ll bring this up to countries that we suspect may — from which there may have been an attack, I may.
“In this instance, I don’t have the intelligence at my fingertips right now. Whether it be this issue, or issues like intellectual property rights, I mean, if you have a relationship with a country, then you’ve got to respect the country’s systems and knowledge base. And that’s what we expect from people with whom we trade.”
The subject, however, never came up during the 90-minute meeting during which Bush and Hu discussed climate change, Darfur, religious freedom in China, product safety, and other issues. “There was no discussion of that,” Jim Jeffrey, the deputy national security advisor, said in response to a reporter’s question.
Reports, however, continued to appear Thursday of Chinese state-sponsored hacking.
In The Times, Whitehall sources said that Beijing leads the list of states hacking British government networks. “China is engaged in hostile intelligence activities, and instead of using the old-fashioned methods [recruiting agents and stealing blueprints], they are focusing on electronic means to hack into systems to discover Britain’s defense and foreign policy secrets,” the source told the newspaper. “And they are technologically pretty advanced and adept at it.”
In the past, MI5 — Britain’s security service — has warned the government that it faces the greatest danger of cyber attack from China and Russia.
Britain is the third Western country in the last two weeks to pin responsibility for hacking sensitive systems on Beijing. Last week, Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, raised the issue during her visit to China’s capital after the popular weekly Der Spiegel said networks at several government ministries, including Merkel’s own office, had been infected with spyware planted by Chinese hackers.