Justice Department to announce indictments in international cyber-espionage case
WASHINGTON — The United States is preparing to announce criminal charges Monday in an international cyber-espionage case, an official said.
The indictments will accuse individuals of participating in cyber-espionage on behalf of a foreign government, the official said.
The identity of the targeted individuals and entities was not immediately clear.
This official described the prosecution as the first of its kind for the U.S. government.
John Carlin, recently installed as head of the Justice's National Security Division, has identified the prosecution of state-sponsored cyber threats as a goal for the Obama administration.
U.S. officials have accused China's army and China-based hackers of launching attacks on American industrial and military targets, often to steal secrets or intellectual property. China has said that it faces a major threat from hackers, and the country's military is believed to be among the biggest targets of the NSA and U.S. Cyber Command.
Last September, President Barack Obama discussed cybersecurity issues on the sidelines of a summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
White House spokesman Ben Rhodes said at the time that Obama had addressed concerns about cyber threats emanating from China. He said Obama told Xi the U.S. sees it not through the prism of security but out of concern over theft of trade secrets.
In late March, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel revealed that the Pentagon planned to more than triple its cybersecurity staff in the next few years to defend against Internet attacks that threaten national security.
Hagel's comments at the National Security Agency headquarters in suburban Washington came as he prepared to visit China.
"Our nation's reliance on cyberspace outpaces our cybersecurity," Hagel said at the time. "Our nation confronts the proliferation of destructive malware and a new reality of steady, ongoing and aggressive efforts to probe, access or disrupt public and private networks, and the industrial control systems that manage our water, and our energy and our food supplies."
The US Government Is Set To Charge China With Cyber-Spying On American Firms
According to the Wall Street Journal, the Justice Department will charge five individuals who allegedly worked for the People's Liberation Army with hacking into U.S. company systems.
The charges would mark the first time the U.S. has brought cyber espionage charges against a state actor.
"They used military and intelligence facilities to commit cyber espionage against U.S. companies," a U.S. official told NBC's Pete Williams.
The Justice Department has announced a 10 a.m. press conference, where Attorney General Eric Holder and three other officials will announce a "criminal indictment in a national security case." A spokesperson didn't immediately respond to a request for further comment.
The Obama administration has repeatedly clashed with the Chinese government over cyber spying, and the administration has long been privy to the threats China presents.
"Chinese actors are the world's most active and persistent perpetrators of economic espionage," the Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive, a U.S. government agency, in a 2011 report entitled "Foreign Spies Stealing U.S. Economic Secrets in Cyberspace."
"US private sector firms and cybersecurity specialists have reported an onslaught of computer network intrusions that have originated in China."
President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping have held meetings twice in the past year — last spring in Sunnylands, Calif., and last September at the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia — that focused on cybersecurity issues.
The two countries agreed to hold semi-regular talks on cybersecurity and espionage last year.
"The President underscored that we view this not simply through a security prism, but what we're focused on is concerns about the potential theft of trade secrets emanating from China," Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, told reporters last September while reading out the Obama-Xi meeting.