DOJ's Tone Deaf Criminal Charges Against Chinese Hackers Helps No One, Opens US Officials Up To Similar Charges

from the what-is-the-point? dept

We already wrote about the DOJ's "ironic" decision to file criminal charges against Chinese hackers. Soon after that the actual indictment was released and it's more or less what you'd expect. While the DOJ's extremely smug announcement about the indictment made it sound like it would amaze the public, the reality is that it just describes some fairly standard spearfishing attempts to seek out information from some big American companies. It's clearly illegal, but it really doesn't seem that impressive, especially given everything that's been revealed about the kind of attacks the NSA pulls off.

And, in fact, people are already pointing out that by firing the opening shot with criminal charges, the DOJ may be opening the floodgates against the NSA, FBI and others for similar charges in other countries. Obviously, China will almost certainly hit back with charges -- possibly even trying to arrest some folks in that country. But the ridiculousness of the situation may also lead other countries to levy charges against specific individuals within US intelligence -- thereby making life a lot more difficult for US intelligence officials in the near future.

So, the downside to this indictment seems fairly high. And for what upside? It's difficult to see any real upside. The US is clearly never going to get its hands on the specific individuals named in the indictment. China certainly isn't going to hand them over. And for all of the DOJ's bluster about finally having "proof" of criminal activity, no one is that interested. Everyone already knew the People's Liberation Army did this kind of hacking. Instead, the only real impact of this indictment seems to be the backlash, as people compare it to the lengths that US intelligence has gone to to spy on the rest of the world (including the Chinese).

In the end, the whole thing seems incredibly tone deaf on multiple levels. It calls more attention to questionable US activities, opens up US intelligence employees to criminal charges around the world, and does nothing to harm the Chinese. Doesn't anyone at the DOJ think these things through?

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    That One Guy (profile), May 20th, 2014 @ 1:21pm

    There's a saying for this...

    Something about rocks and glass houses I believe.

    Really, if they were trying to defend their own spying by pulling the 'But he was doing it too!', they really should have thought that one through a bit more.

    'Chinese hackers are engaged in industrial spying efforts' might sound bad on it's own, but compared to what the NSA has been doing, it's not even remotely as damaging, and I imagine most will see this as nothing more than a desperate attempt to shift attention away from the USG sanctioned spying that it is.

     

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  2.  
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    silverscarcat (profile), May 20th, 2014 @ 1:32pm

    Do you want International Incidents?

    Because this is how you get International Incidents.

    Incidentally, I wonder if the Chinese are going to indict Mike Rogers or Dianne Feinstein over this?

     

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  3.  
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    rw (profile), May 20th, 2014 @ 2:54pm

    With any luck maybe China will indict Eric Holder and company!

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2014 @ 3:26pm

    What I would love to see, is a dry admission they did spy and give a detailed list of the security flaws they used, with the special touch of including proof that all were created by the NSA.

    That would be fun to watch.

     

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  5.  
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    madasahatter (profile), May 20th, 2014 @ 3:29pm

    DOJ = DOS(tupidity)

    US intelligence agency should be trying gain information from foreign governments and foreign companies. The information is not necessarily needed for commercial advantage but for an understanding of a potential adversary's technical capabilities. Indicting the Chinese agents, assuming they have their real names, only means the Chinese can do the same to US agents. Once indicted, the agent is fair game to be grabbed or extradited.

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2014 @ 3:31pm

    I am waiting with bated breath for the Chinese to file not only domestic [China} criminal charges but international arrest warrants and of course EU wide arrest warrants against the US officials on charge of [anything you can think up]. For good measures how about computer hacking against HSA officials, murder against Pentagon [drone strikes] et.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2014 @ 3:39pm

    Re:

    Forgot to include:

    Not trusting the info I went to the source, the FBI computer Most Wanted.

    Not only did they file charges against Chinese Intelligence Officers but they also files charges against Pakistan and Latvia [most like Russian] Intelligence Officials.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2014 @ 3:46pm

    Bush and Cheney already can not leave the US without fear of being served a subpena over War Crimes. Obama will join them as soon as he is out of office.

    We have political criminals running our country. Criminals that have violated the Constitution in their efforts to gain ever more power. This is not to mention the violation of their oaths of office.

    This is not going to be good. With their lack of foresight, China is subject to cash in all those government bonds they hold. Doing so would bankrupt the US officially as it already is unofficially.

    I am not very proud of what my government is doing in my name. In fact, I'm ashamed of it. It is not the country I put my ass on the line for in the military. I don't even recognize it from it's actions as being the same country.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2014 @ 3:50pm

    "Doesn't anyone at the DOJ think these things through?"

    But thinking is for criminals.

     

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  10.  
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    silverscarcat (profile), May 20th, 2014 @ 3:59pm

    Re:

    You'd be surprised how much the whole "cashing in the government bonds" all at once would screw China over as well.

     

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  11.  
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    avideogameplayer, May 20th, 2014 @ 4:16pm

    Let's see if China starts to execute U.S. officials in China over this spying stuff...

    That'd be interesting sight...

     

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  12.  
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    Jay (profile), May 20th, 2014 @ 4:49pm

    ... Really?

    The DoJ went full retard...

    Never go full retard...

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2014 @ 5:04pm

    Doesn't anyone at the DOJ think
    I doubt it.

     

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  14.  
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    Nicholas Weaver (profile), May 20th, 2014 @ 5:04pm

    It really mystifies me too...

    The US keeps making a distinction between economic espionage (where the data is stolen from a company and given to another company) and "national interest" (where the data is stolen from a company and given to US trade negotiators instead). Its one that they believe in, but the rest of the world doesn't.

    And otherwise, the NSA has proven to be as agressive (if not moreso) then the Chinese. After all, the NSA doesn't bother spearphishing once they started weaponizing the Internet backbone...

    So how are any high-up officials in the intelligence community ever going to visit, say, Brazil, which now knows that Petrobras was hacked by the NSA to gain information to the US's advantage? Or any DEA official in the Bahamas, now that its been revealed that the NSA, with DEA help, executed full-take of all cellphone calls?

    I think the reason for it is willful ignorance. The one group most ignorant of the NSA's activities is the US government itself: Because all the snowden slides are still classified, and reports often include the slides themselves, they are like a bunch of kids going "nah nah nah we aren't listening".

    Thus as a result they make stupid decisions, like starting a "arrest for hacking" legal war with the rest of the world, and are going to be facing a world of grief once everyone else goes 'hey, if the US does it to NATO allies, we can do it to them..."

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2014 @ 5:19pm

    Re: It really mystifies me too...

    Its one that they believe in, but the rest of the world doesn't.

    With Spy Charges, U.S. Draws a Line That Few Others Recognize” by David Sangermay, New York Times, May 19, 2014
     . . . The Chinese argue that the distinction is an American artifact, devised for commercial advantage. They believe that looking for business secrets is part of the fabric of national security, especially for a rising economic powerhouse. And while American officials are loath to admit it, Washington’s view has relatively few advocates around the world. . . . .

    The District of Columbia —inside the beltway— has it's own particular brand of insanity. No one else can quite figure out a world where the economy is not a cornerstone of national security.

    I mean, that one's hard for folks on Wall Street to figure out.

     

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  16.  
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    Nigel (profile), May 20th, 2014 @ 6:09pm

    Re: It really mystifies me too...

    Well stated. I very much enjoy reading your musings here and on the Popehat.

    Nigel

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2014 @ 7:15pm

    Here's why

    We (the informed) are not the target audience for pronouncements like these. Your grannie, mother, party brother is. It's really that simple.

    The government has their headline which is about as far as any of the aformentioned will read. They will then go about their daily routine believing that we're fighting the good fight against those chinese devils. And if they strike up a conversation with someone somewhere it may come up, and both participants can nod sagely about how those Chinese are stealing all our secrets but everything is now jake because Holder has their number and you don't mess with the US.

    The whole thing is nothing more than theatrical a dog and pony show, and while it may seem tone-deaf to those in the know, it is actually working as designed and intended.

    So the next time you interact with one of your clueless parents, family members, or gym acquaitenances, just stop and think for a minute about how manipulated and ignorant they truly are, then realize that the government has them right where they want them with headlines like these. It's an eye opening experience.

     

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  18.  
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    Charles (profile), May 20th, 2014 @ 8:24pm

    Re: Here's why

    Well said; I agree. For lack of a "Sad but True" button, I gave you an "Insightful" vote.

     

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  19.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2014 @ 9:15pm

    Re: Here's why

    … the target audience for pronouncements like these…


    Why Did the US Indict PLA Officers for Hacking, Economic Espionage?”, by Ankit Panda, The Diplomat, May 21, 2014
    In fact, the logic behind the indictment seems to begin and end with its utility as a signaling tool. In practical terms, the indictment appears to be wholly ineffective at actually addressing the root problem of cyber espionage originating in China. None of the defendants listed on the indictment will ever show up in the U.S. for trial and the indictment itself is unlikely to moderate China’s cyber espionage activities.

    Almost every observer agrees that indictment is meant, as prosecutors do so often like to say, “to send a message.”

    Observers disagree on whom exactly the message is meant for. Many recent articles have taken the intended recipients to be the Chinese government. The idea that the message is meant primarily for domestic consumption is a minority view, but does have respectable subscription.

    Almost no one believes the message was intended for, say, European consumption.

     

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  20.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2014 @ 10:37pm

    The only real answer

    We have a serious problem. The US has an open door to the rest of the world. This door is bi-directional; we can look out, but they can look in also. I guess the only real answer to this dilemma is to shut down all external internet links and close off our own internet to prevent spying and corruption. Now, where have I heard that before, I wonder???

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2014 @ 10:42pm

    Re: Do you want International Incidents?

    Only when they visit Beijing in the fall. They'll have the trial in absentia, of course, but then the damage has already been done.

    In addition, consider the possibilities of US soldiers currently in Afghanistan being indicted for stray shots, which, under this new legal paradigm, could be construed as assassination attempts.

    Good job, NSA! Not only have you made the Internet less secure for everyone, you've made reality less secure for everyone.

     

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  22.  
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    vilain (profile), May 20th, 2014 @ 10:57pm

    Just wait until they find those router hackers...

    The people depicted opening Cisco Router boxes to modify the equipment with a back door will probably be identified soon enough. The pics are probably in a publisher's safe or files and I doubt they'll be in a maximum security vault. It's just a matter of time before those people are found and "brought to justice" by the Chinese, along with the people they work for.

    What would Clapper do if a Chinese strike team showed up at his door, bagged him, and got him off shore to the Chinese mainland.

    The US has opened the door to all sorts of Tom Clancy styled story lines here. Some may actually happen.

    Time for popcorn.

     

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  23.  
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    haiku, May 20th, 2014 @ 11:28pm

    To my thinking it's simply the DOJ whining 'cos China has better hackers than the NSA ...

     

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  24.  
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    zip, May 20th, 2014 @ 11:30pm

    the real reason

    Isn't it an amazing coincidence that the US DoJ filed these criminal charges only days after news broke about China's major trade agreement with Russia? (Well, probably no coincidence at all.)

    Because of the US pressuring EU countries into cutting off trade to Russia, Russia's only way out was to create a trading block with China, and there's no doubt that China knew Russia's desperation and drove a hard bargain.

    Because China thumbed its nose at US strategic interests and instead took advantage of the US-engineered trade war that had Russia boxed into a corner, China had to get a spanking. But since the real reason for China's spanking -- trade with Russia -- is hard to justify, another reason had to be found.

    So then it becomes time to dredge up years-old accusations, dust them off, spit-polish them, and serve them up as something new. Chinese hacking accusations were the ideal choice because they serve as a shield to blunt the sting of international anger against the NSA's own egregious behavior.

     

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  25.  
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    zip, May 20th, 2014 @ 11:48pm

    Re: Re: Here's why

    "Almost no one believes the message was intended for, say, European consumption."

    Wrong. There are many target audiences of this propaganda campaign, whose timing might suggest an attempt to divert attention away from the US government's illegal spying on "our" European allies, in this case by creating an even worse villain .. or at least trying to.

    Next up, expect some new charges to emerge about spying/hacking by Russia. ... Or maybe even India ... or whichever country needs to be branded as a bad guy at the time. Anything to desperately divert attention away from the NSA's own spying as part of their pathetic "Hey, look over there!" defense strategy.

     

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  26.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 21st, 2014 @ 12:21am

    Re: Re: Re: Here's why

    Almost no one believes the message was intended for, say, European consumption.
    Wrong.

    Oh? Would you please point me to stories in the German-language press that conclude, in substance, “The Obama administration's indictment of the Chinese state hackers is primarily intended to send an emphatic message to the French.”

    I'd be curious about any stories like that.   Intensely curious.

     

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  27.  
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    TechNoFear (profile), May 21st, 2014 @ 1:24am

    Don't worry, once net neutrality is killed all foreign hackers traffic will be too slow to be effective...

     

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  28.  
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    mdpopescu (profile), May 21st, 2014 @ 1:55am

    Re:

    So that's what they meant by "Snowden's actions will endanger US citizens"...

     

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  29.  
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    known coward, May 21st, 2014 @ 6:14am

    you expect intelligence from eric holder ?

    fools

     

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  30.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 21st, 2014 @ 8:31am

    "Obviously, China will almost certainly hit back with charges -- possibly even trying to arrest some folks in that country."

    And they claim that Snowden endangered the lives and operations of US personnel working to keep the nation secure? WTF, are you thinking DOJ?

     

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  31.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 21st, 2014 @ 9:19am

    hey, come on. the nsa is just applying the chief tenet and watchword of this era: it's ok if i do it.

     

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  32.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 21st, 2014 @ 10:15am

    State department daily press briefing

    United States Department of State: Daily Press Briefing, May 19, 2014
    MS. PSAKI: China

    QUESTION: I want to start with the Justice Department’s announcement from this morning. I’ve got a couple questions about it.

    MS. PSAKI: Okay.

    QUESTION: But the first one is: Have you asked the Chinese – I realize that this is a Justice Department thing, but you guys – this building is the courier, as it will – if you will – for extradition requests, that kind of thing. I don’t believe there is a treaty. But have you asked the Chinese to hand over these five guys?

    MS. PSAKI: Well, as you would expect and you predicted in your question, for specific questions related to this announcement I’d refer you to the Department of Justice. As you know, we don’t speak to extradition requests regardless. But you may have other questions on this issue. Go ahead.

    QUESTION: Yeah. Well, I – was the State Department involved at all or consulted at all by the Department of Justice in – or the Treasury Department that you know of?

    MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any level of detail on that. I can check on that and see if there’s more to share.

     . . . .

    QUESTION: So you weren’t consulted or you were?

    MS. PSAKI: I will check and see if there’s more to say on that question, but this was a DOJ action. It is consistent with the concerns we’ve candidly raised with the Chinese Government on these issues. So today’s announcement reflects – is consistent with those growing concerns. At the same time we believe that dialogue around these issues is something that we should continue to have and we believe we can have with the Chinese.

     . . . .

     

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  33.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 21st, 2014 @ 10:26am

    Re: State department daily press briefing

    United States Department of State: Daily Press Briefing, May 20, 2014
    QUESTION: All right. Can I go back to something that was a big issue, a top issue yesterday?

    MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

    QUESTION: And I’m wondering if you got answers to the questions I had about whether or not there was coordination between the State Department and the Department of Justice on the indictments of these five Chinese computer – alleged computer hackers.

    MS. PSAKI: Well, the State Department did receive advance notice of the law enforcement action. The United States routinely approaches foreign governments prior to unsealing indictments to request their assistance. The State Department is involved in communicating with foreign governments on these matters. This case was consistent with that approach so it shouldn’t have come as no surprise.

    QUESTION: Okay. So in other words, what you’re saying is the Department of Justice came to you and said we’re going to do this, and you said – the building said okay, and then you went and told the Chinese – before the announcement? Is that --

    MS. PSAKI: That’s not – well, that is --

    QUESTION: Well, it --

    MS. PSAKI: -- about the timeline of things, yes.

     . . . .

    QUESTION:  . . . I just don’t understand how someone in this building didn’t say to the Attorney General: This is incredibly shortsighted. If we must announce indictments of people that we know is going – that we know are going to infuriate the Chinese and make them less likely to cooperate, and at the same time we also know that we’re never going to prosecute them because the Chinese are never going to turn them over – I don’t understand how someone didn’t say: Wait, this is not a good idea . . . .

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
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    GEMont, May 22nd, 2014 @ 4:00am

    Fodder for the Truth-Free News Networks

    The "Upside" for the SpyGuys is simple.

    While almost nothing about what the American Spy Networks are doing to other countries is ever reported on TV, the news that the US is laying charges against Chinese hackers will be aired on every channel repeatedly for weeks.

    The general US citizen will then see the NSA as the good guys catching Chinese bad guys, just the way the TV Spy shows have always depicted them. Most Americans still get their NEWS from TV.

    Its a propaganda win for the US Spy Teams.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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