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Washington won't publicly blame China for OPM data breach

The breach on the federal Office of Personnel Management led to the exposure of private data of nearly 22 million people.

By
Elizabeth Shim
China has balked at the suggestion Beijing was behind the breach and has called Washington irresponsible. Photo by Duc Dao/Shutterstock
China has balked at the suggestion Beijing was behind the breach and has called Washington "irresponsible." Photo by Duc Dao/Shutterstock

WASHINGTON, July 22 (UPI) -- Officials in Washington said the Obama administration has decided against publicly blaming China for the June security breach that exposed the private data of nearly 22 million people, most of them government employees.

"We have chosen not to make any official assertions about attribution at this point," an unidentified senior administration official told The Washington Post.

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The Post reported Wednesday the United States is wary of revelations of its own espionage and cyberspace activities that may come about with a public case against Beijing.

Despite near-unanimous agreement in Washington of China's responsibility for the data breach, China has been able to avert any penalties, including a U.S. cyber retaliation.

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Washington's nonconfrontational stance has drawn concern from analysts, including Robert K. Knake, a former White House cyber official.

"We're effectively saying you can do in cyberspace a volume of spying that is far greater than we ever could have during the Cold War and there will be fewer consequences for it," Knake told The Post.

The breach on the federal Office of Personnel Management led to the exposure of Social Security data, performance evaluations, names of family members and acquaintances listed as references.

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China has balked at the suggestion Beijing was behind the breach and had called Washington "irresponsible," according to South Korean news agency Yonhap.

On Monday, former CIA agent Valerie Plame said the exposure of private data puts the personal safety of agents at risk.

"When you have access to information about the friends, family members and health issues of someone who works for the U.S. government, you can use that to try to get close to that person and gather intelligence," she told USA Today.

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Plame's identity was exposed 12 years ago, when she said the Bush administration was retaliating against her husband, who was critical of the Iraq war.

Plame said if China was the source of the attacks, it might try to exploit the family ties of U.S. government employees with relatives in China.

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