- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Cyberattacks purported to have been waged against American targets from China and Russia have prompted the Obama administration to seriously consider implementing new sanctions against Beijing and Moscow, officials say.

Several administration officials told Reuters and The Washington Post this week that the White House is weighing whether to respond to a rash of network intrusions with sanctions — a potential first for the U.S.

The Post reported that the administration is “developing a package of unprecedented economic sanctions” that could be implemented against companies and individuals in China that are believed to have benefited from cyberespionage campaigns waged against American entities.

Russia could face similar penalties in addition to those already implemented in response to the Kremlin’s policies regarding Ukraine, Reuters reported.

If the sanctions are implemented, President Obama would evoke an executive order he signed in April that authorizes him to cut deals between the U.S. and any foreign party perceived to have engaged in “cyber-related activities” that may contribute to a significant threat to national security, foreign policy or America’s economic health and financial stability.

All of the sources who spoke of possible sanctions did so on condition of anonymity, and White House spokesman Josh Earnest declined to confirm any potential actions when asked by Reuters.

“It would be strategically unwise for us to discuss potential sanctions targets because that would only give the potential targets of sanctions the opportunity to take steps that would allow them to evade those sanctions,” he said, adding that the April executive order provided “an additional tool in the toolbox to confront this particular challenge.”

The U.S. has not formally blamed China for the cyberattack waged against the Officer of Personnel Management earlier this year, but Beijing or actors working on the government’s behalf have been widely accused of cracking into the Office of Personnel Management and accessing personally identifiable information pertaining to millions of Americans who have undergone background checks.

China has been accused of similar large-scale attacks against the networks of American entities, and last year the Justice Department brought charges against five five members of the Chinese military alleged to have launched cyberattacks in order to steal trade secrets from a nuclear technology developer, an integrated metal company and the computer system of a major steelworkers union, among others.

The Los Angeles Times reported this week that security services in China and Russia have both scoured stolen data hacked from American networks in hopes of outing secret agents and have already compromised the identities of one undercover group of scientists and engineers. As in that case as well, however, the scoop came courtesy of U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“The Chinese government staunchly upholds cyber security, firmly opposes and combats all forms of cyber attacks in accordance with law,” Chinese Embassy spokesman Zhu Haiquan told Reuters.

The Russian Embassy declined to comment.

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