Finally: Chinese cyber hackers are arrested on U.S. request

( In a first, the Chinese government has arrested hackers suspected of accessing U.S. government systems, at Washington’s request, the Washington Post reported Oct. 13.

The paper said that Chinese authorities “quietly” arrested a small group of hackers at the request of the White House, “an unprecedented step to defuse tensions with Washington at a time when the Obama administration has threatened economic sanctions.”

The arrests came in the weeks prior to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s state visit to the U.S. in late September, the Post reported. The hackers had previously been identified by U.S. authorities as having stolen commercial secrets from American firms to be sold or provided to state-run Chinese companies.

In addition, the arrests came amid signs that a potential change in the balance of power between the U.S. and Chinese governments is occurring in the realm of cyber espionage, one of the most contested issues between both nations.

For many years American firms have complained that China has done too little to crack down on the cyber theft of their intellectual property. Experts estimate that industrial cyber theft emanating from China costs U.S. industry tens of billions a year.

With that in mind, in the weeks leading up to the U.S.-China visit, U.S. intelligence and federal law enforcement agencies prepared a list of hackers American officials wanted arrested.

“We need to know that you’re serious,” was the way one individual familiar with the matter described the message to the Post. “So we gave them a list, and we said, ‘Look, here’s these guys. Round them up.’”

Merely arresting those on the suspect list isn’t enough, U.S. officials say. Now, the administration will be watching to see if the Chinese government follows through and actually prosecutes them. Officials say that a public trial will be important because it would not only be in accordance with established principles of criminal justice, but also because it would discourage others from hacking and demonstrate that the arrests were more than just an empty gesture.

The paper noted that White House officials are not sure if the arrests are part of a shift in China’s stance following the historic signature of a cyber theft agreement – in which both sides agreed to curb such activity – or because China fears U.S.-imposed sanctions.

“You’d want to see it sustained over time,” one U.S. official, who, like several others, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the matter’s sensitivity, told the Post. “And in a situation when there wasn’t a major state visit coming up. That will be the proof that the cooperation really is improving.”

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