It’s not hard to imagine what happens when an American company pays for research and a Chinese firm gets the results free; it destroys our competitive edge. Shawn Henry, who retired last Friday as the executive assistant director of the F.B.I. (and its lead agent on cybercrime), told Congress last week of an American company that had all of its data from a 10-year, $1 billion research program copied by hackers in one night. Gen. Keith B. Alexander, head of the military’s Cyber Command, called the continuing, rampant cybertheft “the greatest transfer of wealth in history.”
Yet the same Congress that has heard all of this disturbing testimony is mired in disagreements about a proposed cybersecurity bill that does little to address the problem of Chinese cyberespionage. The bill, which would establish noncompulsory industry cybersecurity standards, is bogged down in ideological disputes. Senator John McCain, who dismissed it as a form of unnecessary regulation, has proposed an alternative bill that fails to address the inadequate cyberdefenses of companies running the nation’s critical infrastructure. Since Congress appears unable and unwilling to address the threat, the executive branch must do something to stop it.
Why won’t congress do anything? Generally, it doesn’t want to rock the boat. It wants to maintain a good business relationship with China. Apparently, China doesn’t care, hence the massive hacking.
Congress’ Weak China Hand | New Leaders Forum
Major Washington-based think tanks that influence Congress have tended to be generally aligned with the administration’s pragmatic efforts to sustain a business-like relationship with China and to manage differences diplomatically. Indeed, many have staff experts who have played important roles in the engagement policies toward China pursued by previous U.S. administrations. Nevertheless, some former Republican administration officials criticized President Obama’s decision not to sell F-16C/D fighters to Taiwan, and some have taken a strongly negative view of China’s military and other national security policies and practices. Think tanks associated with organized labor have tended to call for tougher policies against perceived unfair Chinese trade and economic policies.
Ultimately, the path ahead promises continued congressional debate that will slow forward movement in U.S. relations with China, but Congress hasn’t yet demonstrated the unity and resolve to force change in the president’s policy.