China's government on Monday rejected President Donald Trump's suggestion that Chinese hackers might be behind a recent cyber espionage attack targeting the United States.
“The United States has politicised the issue of cybersecurity without conclusive evidence and continuously spread false information and thrown mud at China in an attempt to tarnish China's image,'' Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin was quoted by AP as saying.
As the ministry underscored that Beijing opposes cyber spying, its spokesperson added:
“We hope the United States will take a more responsible attitude on cyber security,'' Wang said.
In the wake of a recently reported massive hacking attack across the United States, when a handful of high-profile government agencies, including the Pentagon, Treasury, and State Department were targeted, Donald Trump earlier dismissed assertions by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other officials that Russia was the culprit.
In a Saturday Twitter thread, the sitting president said "it may'' be China, as he alluded to the cyber spying incident.
The Cyber Hack is far greater in the Fake News Media than in actuality. I have been fully briefed and everything is well under control. Russia, Russia, Russia is the priority chant when anything happens because Lamestream is, for mostly financial reasons, petrified of....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 19, 2020
....discussing the possibility that it may be China (it may!). There could also have been a hit on our ridiculous voting machines during the election, which is now obvious that I won big, making it an even more corrupted embarrassment for the USA. @DNI_Ratcliffe @SecPompeo— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 19, 2020
Thus, Trump’s take seemed to contradict comments made just a day earlier by Pompeo, who insisted the breach was “pretty clearly” Russia’s work, adding that an attempt had been carried out to use third-party software to “essentially embed code inside of US government systems”.
Massive Data Breach
As President Donald Trump downplayed Russia's alleged role in the recent cyberattacks on the US government, his stance was blasted by the chairman of the House Committee on Intelligence, Democrat Adam Schiff, in an interview with MSNBC.
"It [is] just uniformly destructive and deceitful, and injurious [...] to our national security", said Schiff.
The statements were echoed by similar claims espoused by the Senate Intelligence Committee’s head, Republican Marco Rubio. The latter asserted that the methods used to carry out the attack were “consistent with Russian cyber operations”.
The methods used to carry out the cyberhack are consistent with Russian cyber operations.— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) December 18, 2020
But it’s crucial we have complete certainty about who is behind this.
We can’t afford to be wrong on attribution, because America must retaliate, and not just with sanctions.
Neither he, nor Secretary of State Mike Pompeo presented any evidence to support their claims.
On 18 December Mike Pompeo claimed that private companies and governments around the world had been targeted using ‘third-party software’ to embed code in their systems.
"I think it's the case that now we can say pretty clearly that it was the Russians that engaged in this activity," said Pompeo.
This followed a Reuters report on 13 December that revealed a massive hacking attack across the United States, with authorities claiming the Pentagon, Treasury, and State Department were among the major high-profile targets.
On 17 December, Microsoft, which was involved in a response to the data breach, said it had identified over 40 government agencies, think tanks, non-governmental organisations, and IT companies infiltrated by cyber attack. Texas-based firm SolarWinds disclosed that up to 18,000 users of its Orion network-management software had been infected.
"The scale is daunting," James Lewis, vice president of the US Center for Strategic and International Studies, was cited as saying.
The US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) said intrusions had begun as early as March this year, and the actor behind them had "demonstrated patience, operational security and complex tradecraft." The breach was quickly blamed on Russia, with President-elect Joe Biden’s team allegedly weighing options "to punish" Moscow.
Russia has strongly denied involvement, with President Vladimir Putin noting during his major 17 December press conference that, as is customary with the "Russia did it" accusations, the new allegations are unsubstantiated and reminiscent of previously peddled groundless theories that Moscow had interfered in the 2016 US election.
‘Greatest Threat to America’
Western countries, spearheaded by Washington, have long accused China of espionage, including cyber-attacks targeting government and corporate systems. The US charged two Chinese citizens in July this year with carrying out cyber spying since 2009 aimed at stealing information about coronavirus vaccines, weapons and human rights activists.
In early December, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe wrote in an opinion article on the Wall Street Journal website:
“The intelligence is clear: Beijing intends to dominate the US and the rest of the planet economically, militarily and technologically.”
Ratcliffe said China posed “the greatest threat to America today, and the greatest threat to democracy and freedom world-wide since World War Two.”
Both these claims, as well as Trump’s recent accusations, feed into a long list of grievances that Washington has laid at Beijing’s door, as the sides clashed verbally over China’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak, its disputed claims in the South China Sea, and trade practices deemed detrimental to US interests.
The Trump administration's trade wars against Chinese tech firms, such as blacklisted Huawei and ZTE, were also ostensibly fuelled by national security concerns. The US deems Chinese tech giants a security risk over alleged ties to the Chinese Communist Party and military, slapping them with restrictions and urging allies to follow suit.
Beijing has continued to deny all accusations of spying and cyber-warfare.