Senator to Obama: Warn China on Cyber Theft

The letter comes amid revelations that cyber spies from China compromised more than two dozen of the Pentagon's most advanced weapons systems, from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System.

The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee is pressing President Barack Obama to warn his Chinese counterpart that cyber espionage against the United States won’t go unchallenged.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., in a letter released May 29 urged Obama to raise the issue with Chinese President Xi Jinping when the two leaders meet next week at an estate in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Levin plans to push legislation this year that would allow the president to block imports that benefited from stolen U.S. technology.

“I thought you could refer to this bill in your meeting with President Xi as an example that the U.S. will indeed impose real costs on China should they continue to steal our intellectual property,” he wrote.

The letter came the same week the Defense Department defended its weapons systems amid a report that found many of the designs have been hacked by cyber spies from China.

“We maintain full confidence in our weapons platforms,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said May 28 in an e-mailed statement. “Suggestions that cyber intrusions have somehow led to the erosion of our capabilities or technological edge are incorrect.”

A classified section of a Defense Science Board report from January listed more than two dozen compromised systems, including the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, Littoral Combat Ship and Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System, according to an article in The Washington Post.

The platforms form the backbone of the Pentagon’s future weapons portfolio and are made by its biggest defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin Corp., based in Bethesda, Md., and General Dynamics Corp., based in Falls Church, Va.

China called the accusations “erroneous,” according to a May 31 article on the website of the state-run newspaper, People’s Daily Online. A spokesman for the Defense Ministry, Geng Yansheng, said the U.S. report underestimates the Pentagon’s security abilities and China’s engineering prowess.

“China already has the ability to build the weapons needed for national security,” he said. “China’s aircraft carrier, fighter jets, large transport aircraft and Beidou satellite navigation system have clearly demonstrated this.”

The Pentagon in its latest annual assessment of the People’s Liberation Army for the first time blamed China directly for targeting its computer networks. The attacks were focused on extracting information, including sensitive defense technology. China disputed this allegation, as well.

Levin said his bill, the Deter Cyber Theft Act, S.884, would require the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, to produce a report detailing a watch list of foreign countries that engage in economic or industrial espionage against the United States in cyberspace.

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Brendan McGarry
Brendan McGarry is the managing editor of Military.com. He can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.