Its something out of a spy movie. A foreign nation hacks into a secure US government network and steals the records of 22 million government personnel, including 5.6 million sets of fingerprints. CIA agents’ identities are compromised, millions of government workers and contractors may be at risk to blackmail and identity theft. Is this the latest Mission Impossible movie? No, China made the Office of Personnel Management the victim of such espionage this summer, and only now has O.P.M. realized the full scope of the attack. After the breach occurred, O.P.M. estimated it lost only 1 million sets of fingerprints; Thursday however, the agency announced the loss of an additional 4 million.
O.P.M.’s latest disclosure about the hack came just a day before President Obama met with Chinese president Xi Jinping. The leaders of the world’s two largest economies met to discuss climate and economic policies, as well as present a strong union between the two nations. U.S. agencies such as the F.B.I. and Department of Homeland Security have yet to officially make claims against the Chinese government, but once Obama and Xi’s meeting ends, we can expect talk of some form of sanction or penalty.
The data breach and Presidential meeting come at a crossroad in the two nations’ rapport. In the political realm, it appears we are making headway: China recently promised to institute emission cap-and-trade programs to cut pollution. Yet with China toeing the line between cyber-espionage and potential cyber-terrorism, our government must weigh the positives and negatives of this relationship. Foreign diplomacy tells us to maintain a healthy connection to our Asian counterpart, but at what cost? We cannot risk U.S. security in the name of diplomatic amicability.