The CIA recently pulled out staff from the U.S. embassy in Beijing in response to increased worry that China potentially holds stolen data that could expose U.S. agents.

 

A large scale data breach on the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) in April was responsible for the stolen information of about 21 million federal employees. There were cyber footprints that led many to believe the hackers resided in China, which caused some distrust for the Chinese government. In the stolen data, there wasn’t any information about CIA employees. However, the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, believes that some of the data taken could be used to uncover the identity of CIA agents in other countries.         

 

It comes as a surprise that the CIA has chosen to withdraw staff from the embassy. In late September, President Barack Obama announced that the United States and China agreed that both country’s government would no longer conduct or support data breaches of intellectual property.

 

“The United States government does not engage in cyber economic espionage for commercial gain, and today I can announce that our two countries have reached a common understanding on a way forward,” said Obama.        

 

Chinese President Xi Jinping believes that the understanding both countries have reached is a victory for the United States and China. While some believe the Chinese government was behind the OPM data breach, Xi has stated that China “strongly opposes and combats” the cybertheft of commercial secrets.      

 

Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks at a podium

Chinese President Xi Jinping says China strongly opposes the theft of cyber intelligence. (financialbio.com)

“China and the United States are two major cyber countries, and we should strengthen dialogue and cooperation. Confrontation and friction are not the right choice for both sides,” said Xi.

 

The CIA’s decision to withdraw U.S. embassy staff in Beijing could cause friction, if China views this move as a strong lack of trust towards their country. While this move could be seen as distrustful, CIA officials have stated that this was just a “precautionary” measure to protect intelligence employees from potential exposure.    

 

Did the CIA make the right call pulling out the embassy staff? Could this in any way hurt relations with China by showing a lack of trust? Leave a comment or talk to me on Twitter @Karbowski_Devon.