The U.S. Department of Justice is preparing to charge Chinese government officials with stealing American trade secrets through cyber espionage, according to multiple reports.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the Justice Department will charge five individuals who allegedly worked for the People’s Liberation Army with hacking into U.S. company systems.
The charges would mark the first time the U.S. has brought cyber espionage charges against a state actor.
“They used military and intelligence facilities to commit cyber espionage against U.S. companies,” a U.S. official told NBC’s Pete Williams.
The Justice Department has announced a 10 a.m. press conference, where Attorney General Eric Holder and three other officials will announce a “criminal indictment in a national security case.” A spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to a request for further comment.
The Obama administration has repeatedly clashed with the Chinese government over cyber spying, and the administration has long been privy to the threats China presents.
“Chinese actors are the world’s most active and persistent perpetrators of economic espionage,” the Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive, a U.S. government agency, in a 2011 report entitled “Foreign Spies Stealing U.S. Economic Secrets in Cyberspace.”
“US private sector firms and cybersecurity specialists have reported an onslaught of computer network intrusions that have originated in China.”
President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping have held meetings twice in the past year — last spring in Sunnylands, Calif., and last September at the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia — that focused on cybersecurity issues.
The two countries agreed to hold semi-regular talks on cybersecurity and espionage last year.
“The President underscored that we view this not simply through a security prism, but what we’re focused on is concerns about the potential theft of trade secrets emanating from China,” Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, told reporters last September while reading out the Obama-Xi meeting.
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