WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – U.S. intelligence chief James Clapper said on Thursday that China was the top suspect in the massive hacking of a U.S. government agency that compromised the personnel records of millions of Americans.
The comments from Clapper, the director of National Intelligence (DNI), were first reported in The Wall Street Journal and marked the first time the Obama administration has publicly accused Beijing of the hacking attacks on the Office of Personnel Management.
“You have to kind of salute the Chinese for what they did,” given the difficulty of the intrusion, the Journal quoted Clapper as saying at a Washington intelligence conference.
In a statement, Clapper’s office confirmed that he had identified China as a leading suspect, although it said the U.S. government investigation was ongoing.
U.S. officials have previously blamed the attacks on Chinese hackers, though not publicly. White House spokesman Josh Earnest on Thursday declined to comment on any potential suspects.
OPM Director Katherine Archuleta told the Senate Homeland Security Committee on Thursday that personnel data of 4.2 million current and former federal employees was compromised in one security breach and that another attack, targeting those applying for security clearances, had affected millions more.
Some media have reported that as many as 18 million Americans could have been affected.
Clapper’s comments came a day after the conclusion of three days of high-level talks between China and the United States in Washington at which cybersecurity figured prominently.