The More Things Change
US Counterintelligence Warns of State Hacking

US counterintelligence warns that Russia and China are stealing American technology by exploiting the web. Should Israel worry?

Amiel Ungar , | updated: 02:41

Anna Chapman
Anna Chapman

The office of the National Counterintelligence Executive released its report on foreign economic and industrial espionage.

The two countries topping the list are Russia and China whom the report identifies as the "world's most active and persistent perpetrators of economic espionage." The report claims that the two countries are using the Internet to mine sensitive US economic information and technologies. The U.S. Congress had already received the report last Thursday.

While these charges are not new, the New York Times noted that government officials who briefed journalists were keen to impress upon them that China and Russia were named as the chief culprits.

Earlier this week, the FBI, in response to an Associated Press request under the Freedom of Information Act, divulged materials and videos on the "Ghost Stories" case involving a network of Russian sleeper agents who assumed the identities of deceased persons and were tasked with penetrating the American elite.

The ring, that included Anna Chapman, was arrested in 2010 and exchanged for American spies imprisoned in Russia. One member of the ring succeeded in attending the John F. Kennedy school of Government at Harvard, a training ground for the American elite. Another agent had gotten chummy with one of Hillary Clinton's top fundraisers prior to the 2008 campaign.

While some dismissed the Russian operation as retro-Cold War and old-fashioned, the FBI claimed that the Russians had been making progress in their objectives before the spy ring was rolled up.

Perhaps a pattern is emerging. One can add to it the report by the Berlin-based NGO Transparency International, which monitors corruption worldwide. It reported that Russia, followed by China, was the most likely to use bribery to secure an advantage in international economic dealings.

The common denominator is that Russia and China are using dishonest tactics and the United States has found that it is increasingly victimized as a result.

Why are the reports of these activities coming at us with increasing frequency and with copious information?

There are several possible explanations, not all of them mutually exclusive:

The most straightforward reason is that the counterintelligence agencies that include the FBI are warning the United States government, as well as science and industry, that they confront a serious problem and must practice increasing vigilance to counteract it.

The US is firing a shot across the bow of Russia and China to proclaim enough is enough.

The reports make the counterintelligence agencies look good for doing their job and justify increasing their budgetary allocations

In addition, the reports partially explain why Russia and China have achieved economic success while the US is floundering. As such it could be in the interest of the Obama administration to shift part of the blame for economic failure to unfair Russian and Chinese practices.

A completely opposite possibility is that the reports represent an attack on the Obama Administration's multilateral and "reset" policies,  based on the hope that Russia and China can act responsibly  in places such as North Korea and Iran. The thrust of the reports is that China and Russia cannot be trusted and therefore the Obama administration is being naive.

This is particularly true when Russia appears to be headed back to Soviet practices past with the return of Vladimir Putin to the presidency.

Israel has not publicized any information on recent attempts to steal its technological expertise, although it is certain that protective measures are an essential part of its counterintelligence.