Months after the discovery of a massive breach of U.S. government personnel records, the Obama administration has decided against publicly blaming China for the intrusion in part out of reluctance to reveal the evidence that American investigators have assembled, U.S. officials said.
The administration also appears to have refrained from any direct retaliation against China or attempt to use cyber-measures to corrupt or destroy the stockpile of sensitive data stolen from the Office of Personnel Management.
“We have chosen not to make any official assertions about attribution at this point,” said a senior administration official, despite the widely held conviction that Beijing was responsible. The official cited factors including concern that making a public case against China could require exposing details of the United States’ own espionage and cyberspace capabilities. The official was among several who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal deliberations.
As a result, China has so far escaped any major consequence for what U.S. officials have described as one of the most damaging cyberthefts in U.S. government history — an outcome that also appears to reflect an emerging divide in how the United States responds to commercial vs. traditional espionage.
Over the past year and a half, the United States has moved aggressively against foreign governments accused of stealing the corporate secrets of major U.S. firms. Most notably, the Justice Department last year filed criminal charges against five Chinese military officers accused of involvement in alleged hacks of U.S. Steel, Westinghouse and other companies.
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