- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 12, 2008

Two Republican congressmen revealed Wednesday that China-based hackers had broken into their office computer networks, stealing files and data that included information on dissidents critical of the Beijing regime.

Northern Virginia Rep. Frank R. Wolf and Rep. Christopher H. Smith of New Jersey said they believed they were targeted in the cyber-attacks in 2006 and early 2007 because of their long records of criticizing China’s human rights record.

Both lawmakers said the hacking incidents targeted aides who worked specifically on China and human rights issues. Mr. Wolf said a FBI investigation pinpointed the attacks as coming from China, but could not determine whether Chinese government agents were involved.

“My suspicion is that I was targeted by Chinese sources because of my long history of speaking out about China’s abysmal human rights record,” said Mr. Wolf, who called the August 2006 hacking of his office computers a “very, very sophisticated operation.”

Mr. Smith added, “I have every reason to believe that the Chinese government was behind this, given its obsession with political control.”

Mr. Wolf, in a “privileged resolution” introduced on the House floor Wednesday afternoon, said he knew of other lawmakers and at least one House committee that were subject to cyber-attacks. The resolution called on the House chief administrative officer and the FBI to brief members and staff “on how to protect themselves, their official records and their communications from electronic security breaches.”

The resolution comes just days after U.S. officials acknowledged they were investigating charges that a government computer laptop belonging to Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez was compromised on an official trip to Beijing in December, and that Commerce Department computers were later hacked.

In one sign of mounting U.S. concern, Congress late last year approved a bill requiring the Pentagon to report on China’s growing computer-warfare capabilities when producing assessments of Chinese military power.

Wang Baudong, spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, denied Wednesday his government engaged in cyber-warfare.

“We are consistent and clear that China has never engaged in such activities against any other country,” said Mr. Wang, adding that China itself has been the target of hackers.

The embassy spokesman said the Chinese Internet address used by the hackers did not even mean the attack came from his country.

“It is very easy for these people to make up anything,” Mr. Wang said. He added the Chinese government was willing to work with other governments to counter cyber-attacks.

Mr. Wolf said he knew of the hacking of his office’s computers for a long time, but he was pressed not to go public by U.S. government officials whom he declined to identify. “A lot of people urged me not to do this,” he said.

But he argued that U.S. lawmakers, government officials and staffers needed to know the security threats from cyber-snoops in an age of laptop computers, cell phones and communicators such as the BlackBerry.

Mr. Wolf said he decided to air his concerns on the floor of Congress because, “by not talking about this openly, we are making a national security problem worse.”

Rep. Peter Hoekstra, Michigan Republican and ranking minority member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said the foreign cyber-attacks targeting Capitol Hill underscored the Bush administration’s argument for enhanced U.S. counterespionage and surveillance efforts.

“The changes in technology and capabilities in how the world communicates mean we still have to update our foreign intelligence surveillance capabilities,” Mr. Hoekstra said.

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