U.S. government officials have for the first time confirmed Chinese spying on senior U.S. intelligence officials. Chinese government hackers intercepted email exchanges of Obama administration officials in attacks that date back to at least 2010. The intelligence officials clarified that it was not the government emails of administration personnel that were compromised, but the private emails. In addition, the address books of those officials were also acquired. The instance is one of many rumoured yet first to be officially confirmed as coming from the Chinese state. The revelations continue to illustrate the constant threat of cyber espionage to the American government.
America’s own NSA is known to engage in similar spying on foreign governments as well as U.S. citizens in what is a massive data dragnet. In a document published by the Washington Post, a FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) court was shown to have approved NSA surveillance of 193 countries, excluding four that were a part of a no-spy agreement: Britain, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia.
Some government officials acknowledge that they are probably being spied on, such as current U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who commented that “Unfortunately, we’re living in a world where a number of countries, China and Russia included, have consistently been engaged in cyber-attacks against American interests, against the American government. It’s very possible, and I certainly write things with that awareness…”
With the unprecedented level of surveillance engaged in by the NSA following the revelations of Edward Snowden and Wikileaks, it would seem naïve if nations like China and Russia, with whom we often differ, would not also be engaging in their own efforts.
One question that is not easy to answer: to what degree are the efforts of the NSA at odds to the principles of American society, and are they more or less damaging than the current cyber threats from foreign governments? We may not have arrived at an answer to this yet, but we should not give up the pursuit for one as it could be our own tactics are merely encouraging foreign actors.