Two US congressmen, both longtime critics of Beijing’s record on human rights, said computers that had been allegedly hacked by people working from China contained information about political dissidents from around the world. One of the lawmakers said he had been discouraged from disclosing the computer attacks by other US officials.
Republican Representative Frank Wolf said four of his computers were compromised, beginning in 2006. Representative Chris Smith, a senior Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said two of his computers were attacked, in December 2006 and March last year.
Wolf said that after one of the attacks, a car with license plates belonging to Chinese officials went to the home of a dissident in Fairfax County, Virginia, outside Washington and the occupants photographed it.
During the same period of time, the House International Relations Committee, as the Foreign Affairs Committee was then known, was targeted at least once by someone working inside China, committee spokeswoman Lynne Weil said.
US authorities continued to investigate whether Chinese officials secretly copied the contents of a government laptop computer during a visit to China by Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez and used the information to try to hack into Department of Commerce computers.
The US Department of Defense acknowledged last month at a closed House Intelligence Committee meeting that its vast computer network is scanned or attacked by outsiders more than 300 million times each day.
Wolf said the FBI had told him that computers of other House members and at least one House committee had been accessed by sources working from inside China. He suggested that Senate computers could have been attacked as well.
Wolf said the hacking of computers in his Capitol Hill office began in August 2006, that he had known about it for a long time and that he had been discouraged from disclosing it by people in the US government, whom he refused to identify.
“The problem has been that no one wants to talk about this issue,” he said. “Every time I’ve started to do something, I’ve been told ‘You can’t do this.’ A lot of people have made it very, very difficult.”
The FBI and the White House would not comment.
The Bush administration has been increasingly reluctant to discuss or acknowledge cyber attacks publicly, especially those traced to China.
In the Senate, the office of Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Humanitarian Affairs, asked Senate officials to investigate whether Senate computers had been compromised.
Wolf said the first computer hacked in his office belonged to the staff member who works on human rights cases, and that others included the machines of Wolf’s chief of staff and legislative director.
“They knew which ones to get,” said Dan Scandling, who is on leave of absence from his job as Wolf’s chief of staff.
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