Rasch said the indictments attempt to distinguish spying for national security purposes — which the U.S. admits doing — from economic espionage intended to gain commercial advantage for private companies or industries, which the U.S. denies it does. Classified documents disclosed by former National Security Agency analyst Edward Snowden described aggressive U.S. efforts to eavesdrop on foreign communications that would be illegal in those countries.
“These five people were just doing their jobs. It’s just that we object to what their jobs are,” Rasch said. “We have tens of thousands of dedicated, hard-working Americans who are just doing their jobs, too.”
Unlike in some countries, there are no nationalized U.S. industries. American officials have flatly denied that the government spies on foreign companies and then hands over commercially valuable information to American companies.
In recent months, Washington has been increasingly critical of what it describes as provocative Chinese actions in pursuit of territorial claims in disputed seas in East Asia. Beijing complains that the Obama administration’s attempt to redirect its foreign policy toward Asia after a decade of war in the Middle East is emboldening China’s neighbors and causing tension.
“If we were trying to make things smoother in this region, this isn’t going to help,” said Richard Bejtlich, chief security strategist at FireEye, a network security company.
Despite the ominous-sounding allegations, at least one of the firms minimized the hacking.
“To our knowledge, no material information was compromised during this incident, which occurred several years ago,” said Monica Orbe, Alcoa’s director of corporate affairs. “Safeguarding our data is a top priority for Alcoa, and we continue to invest resources to protect our systems.”
Last September, President Barack Obama discussed cybersecurity issues on the sidelines of a summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“China not only does not support hacking but also opposes it,” Premier Li Keqiang said last year in a news conference when asked if China would stop hacking U.S. websites. “Let’s not point fingers at each other without evidence, but do more to safeguard cyber security.”