China, United States, Theft discussed on All Things Considered


I'm ari. Shapiro chang. Chinese cyber theft costs the US economy at least fifty seven billion dollars a year. That's what top government officials tell NPR and that feft means lost jobs and lost wages for Americans. Three successive administrations. Have known about this problem and tried to deal with it. Their efforts have been largely unsuccessful the cyber attacks have continued for nearly fifteen years NPR and the PBS show frontline have been trying to figure out why it's so hard to stop the theft. We found that one of the biggest hurdles is in China. It's the victims US businesses. They've kept the US government from acting against China and they've made millions playing both sides of the fence NPR's. Laura Sullivan reports. High above Pittsburgh on the twenty fifth floor of an old gothic revival building. Former US attorney David Hickson sits at his desk under the photographs of five men who once worked for the Chinese government does the wanted poster for the China case when hick took over for the western district of Pennsylvania in two thousand ten he'd only been on the job of few weeks when he said he started getting called from local companies, they told him they thought China might be inside their computer systems. I literally received an avalanche of concern and complaints from companies and organizations who said we are losing. Our technology, drip, drip, drip, and we don't have any apparatus in place to deal with it. Hit an open investigation and set his sights on a particular unit of the Chinese military unit. Six one three nine eight Hickson and others watched. How unit officers sitting in an office building? And Shanghai broke into American companies computers at night. They stopped for an hour break at lunch and continued in the afternoon. They really were using a large rake think of a rake, you rake leaves in the fall, they were taking everything they were taking personal information. They were taking strategic plans, then they just figured out later how they were going to use it. It had been going on for years when I learned that we could actually pin the tail on the cyber donkey cyber donkey being unit six one three nine eight it just meant that we had a chance to actually bring the case. But when he went to the companies eager for them to be plaintiffs an odd thing happened. None of them wanted any part of it. The same companies have been complaining and new companies that had no idea they have been stolen from didn't want to be involved. Hick says they told him they had too much money on the line in China. Even today five years later hick and still won't name most of the companies involved, and they have never come forward. Eventually he was able to convince a handful of Pittsburgh based companies to join the case mostly he says because he grew up here and went to school with a lot of the managers. How many other companies do you think you could have included in this case, how high can you count know how high can you count? We've made a terrible mistake. By being so secret about our cyber work. We have not fairly told the people we represent what the threats are for years that threat remained largely underground government. And business leaders say that wasn't an accident. US companies have demanded secrecy. Even in the face of outright theft in interviews with NPR US company said they had too much money at stake and said they had a responsibility to shareholders to manage theft problems quietly. But now the impact of that secrecy is coming to light companies face hundreds of millions of dollars in future. Losses by keeping a secret that hand tied US officials and alternately failed to hold China to account. It wasn't supposed to be this way. US officials had high hopes when China joined the World Trade Organization in two thousand one there was one honeymoon period. In the first six or seven years, a desire to try and make things work. Michael Wessel has been a Commissioner on the US government's US China economic. Security review commission. He says starting around two thousand six businesses began coming to him saying, China had stolen their designs or ideas or pressured them into taking partnerships and taken their technology, but just like with David Hickson Wessel says they wouldn't come forward business community wanted the administration to come in hard without anyone's fingerprints being on the reasoning behind it. They wanted the prophets. But they also didn't want the possible retribution also says that was never going to work the US could've brought criminal cases forward enacted. Sanctions are open domestication's. If a company would let them Wendy Cutler was veteran negotiator at the office that could have done some of that enforcement, the office of the US trade Representative. She said it wasn't just that US businesses were hesitant to come forward. In specific cases. She says the businesses didn't want them to take action in any cases. US enforcement officials were not as effective if we. Don't really have the US business community supporting us. But also providing us the information, you know, looking back on it in retrospect, I think we probably should have been more active and more responsive. We kind of lost the big picture of what really was happening core cases. And documents from recent years offer, a clue into what experts believe was happening. The Chinese government has been accused of stealing everything from vacuum cleaner. Designed to solar panel technology to the designs of Boeing c seventeen aircraft. China has broken into gas company steel companies and chemical companies not long ago. Chinese government companies were indicted for stealing the secret chemical makeup of the color white from DuPont Chinese hacking made occasional headlines, but none really grabbed Americans attention until January two thousand ten. Finally tonight, Google China threat. When an American company did come forward the world's leading search company announced yesterday it had discovered what it called a highly sophisticated and targeted attack Google decided to do what no other company had done. They announced the theft and publicly blamed the Chinese government thirty four other well known American companies had also been hacked, but to this day. Most have kept it a secret NPR tracked down eleven of the company's. None of them will comment on the hack James MacGregor is the former chairman of the American Chamber of commerce in China. And was there at the time. He says the company's even kept the business organizations from speaking out with a should have done is held a press conference and said, we thirty five businesses have been hacked, and you put it right back on China. Instead, they all hit under a rock and pretended didn't happen. Mcgregor says their silence left little room for punishment and worse. He said it hit the extent of the problem too. Mitry? How para vich was one of the first to see it. He was working at a security firm in Atlanta during the Google one afternoon. Google called said they needed backup. I'll pair of a well-known cyber-sleuth. He says when he took a look he was stunned. I knew pretty much right away that this is something very different for the first time ever. We were facing a nation state and intelligence service that was breaking into companies knocked government's not military's, but private sector organization where was the US government on all this. The US government was nowhere to be seen ever. Medeiros was on staff at the national Security Council at the time and atop China specialist under President Obama. He says they didn't turn a blind eye. Obama signed an agreement with China to address the hacking, but he says the administration also had other priorities North Korea. Iran, the economy climate change direct confrontation with China does not usually results in lasting solutions. It seems like not confronting China did not provide. Any solutions either? I mean, if you want big structural change. It takes time. The question is you wanna play checkers? Do you wanna play chess? But without repercussions the attacks continued in the year after the Google Demitrio, para vich, uncovered two more serious intrusions into American companies in the fall of two thousand eleven he went to the White House to warn officials about what he had found. He sat down in the situation room with half a dozen top administration leaders. I got the distinct impression that none of. This was news and wanna press them on why they were not taking stronger action against China. Their response was it's.

Coming up next