Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said China is the “leading suspect” behind the Office of Personnel Management hack that resulted in the theft of millions of federal employees’ personal information.
Clapper also said the Chinese should be saluted and that the U.S. government would do the same thing if it had the chance.
He was asked if China has felt enough of a punishment for its cyber attacks against the U.S.
“On one hand — please don’t take this the wrong way — you’ve got to kind of salute the Chinese for what they did, you know, if we had the opportunity to do that I don’t think we would hesitate for a minute,” Clapper said at the GEOINT 2015 Symposium.
Clapper warned that cyber attacks are going to continue happening until the federal government creates the “substance and psychology of deterrence.”
“That has frankly been a struggle for us because of concerns of unintended consequences and other related policies issues,” he said.
Clapper said the government is struggling with enacting some sort of penalty for “reprehensible or onerous” behavior.
When asked if he was identifying the Chinese government as the perpetrator of the hack, Clapper said China is “the leading suspect.”
The OPM said this week that “additional systems were compromised” beyond those disclosed at the beginning of the month.
“These systems included those that contain information related to the background investigations of current, former, and prospective Federal government employees, as well as other individuals for whom a Federal background investigation was conducted,” the agency said.
“This separate incident – like the one that was announced on June 4th affecting personnel information of current and former federal employees – was discovered as a result of OPM’s aggressive efforts to update its cybersecurity posture, adding numerous tools and capabilities to its network.”
Clapper, an Obama appointee, also explained why he is more concerned about cyber threats from the Russian government.
“The greater cyber threat at least for me is Russia. They are very sophisticated. We know more about the Chinese because they are a little noisier. I worry much more about the Russians who are a lot more subtle about this and they have tremendous capability,” he said.
Clapper declined to specify what kind of advice he would give to President Obama in response to the OPM hack.
“That’s a policy call,” he said.
In a recent letter to the Senate, Clapper wrote that the intelligence community considers Iran the foremost state sponsor of terrorism. He was asked at the symposium if Iran could be trusted in the nuclear talks with the Obama administration.
“This is not a matter of trust,” Clapper said. “We’re not in the trust business at all. I think we go into this with eyes open.”