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Why U.S./China cyber escalation could be good

May 21st, 2014
02:59 PM ET

By Mick Krever, CNN

A escalation of cyberespionage between the United States and China could be beneficial by forcing a change in actions, former U.S. counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Wednesday.

“I actually hope it does result in escalation and tit-for-tat, because we need this issue resolved,” he said. “And we can't go on the way it's been.”

“This first step by the United States will undoubtedly result in an escalation of this issue. And we need to do that. We need to have this issue resolved one way or the other. If the Chinese are going to keep hacking into our companies, then we're going to have to do something about it.”

Clarke, now out of government, has authored his third straight-from-the-headlines novel, “Sting of the Drone.”

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday accused five Chinese nationals of engaging in commercial espionage, hacking into American businesses including U.S. Steel Corp., Westinghouse, Alcoa, Allegheny Technologies, the United Steel Workers Union, and SolarWorld.

It is doubtful America would ever get its hands on the people it has accused.

Last April, the United States and China set up a cybersecurity working group to address the issue; why the Obama Administration chose to take this step now has been the subject of some debate.

“The United States has been trying for many years to get the Chinese to stop stealing corporate secrets and giving them to Chinese companies,” Clarke said. “We've raised it at the presidential level; we've raised it at the Cabinet level; we have talks going on. But they're going nowhere.”

It was, he said, “a good idea to escalate this.”

“It's not clear how it's going to be resolved. But for the United States government, we can’t go on having our companies pay for the Chinese companies' R&D and be losing American jobs in this process.”

The United States engages in widespread espionage around the world, but draws a distinction between spying for national security and spying for the advancement of domestic business.

In an interview with Amanpour on Tuesday, Chinese Ambassador to the U.S. Cui Tiankai challenged that argument.

“I don't know how they can make a distinction between such activities,” Ambassador Cui said. “How do they explain the attacks on Chinese companies, universities and even individuals? Is that for national defense? Or is that for other purposes?”

The Chinese ambassador may not like it, Clarke said, but a distinction does exist.

“If the Chinese embassy had spies here in Washington that went out and broke into buildings like Alcoa, broke into the safes in those buildings and stole research and development information, no one would see anything wrong with arresting those Chinese spies that were doing that.”

“Well, that's what this is, only the Chinese spies are staying back home in Shanghai and doing the spying remotely. Sure, the United States also hacked. It hacks for national security purposes.”

Click above to watch Amanpour’s full interview with Clarke, and hear what he has to say about Russia’s new gas deal with China and the ongoing debate over drones.

Filed under:  China • Christiane Amanpour • Drone • Latest Episode • Russia • U.S. Politics
soundoff (79 Responses)
  1. ash

    What kind of editors does CNN employ? First word in story should be "An" not "A"

    May 21, 2014 at 6:12 pm | Reply
    • DocJohnnie

      "Bad ones" is the simple answer.

      May 21, 2014 at 8:34 pm | Reply
    • duffy

      Look at the picture carefully.
      The picture's original mean is 'a big error occurr'.Because the lunar rover left without its astronaut.Does the editor implies US spacecraft unsafe?

      August 17, 2014 at 1:41 pm | Reply
  2. suasageon

    This man clearly has an agenda for heightened tension with China.
    He should be sacked immediately. He does not represent US interests, but a narrow section of the intelligence community that thrives on conflict at the expense of peace. These are the people that keep the US involved in one crisis after another.. This is why the US is losing status around the world.

    May 21, 2014 at 6:18 pm | Reply
    • John


      May 21, 2014 at 7:38 pm | Reply
    • Rick

      So, you believe the Chinese are NOT hacking into US company computers? Is that what you think? You're either vary naïve or you're Chinese.

      May 21, 2014 at 8:44 pm | Reply
      • Franksh

        You are clearly American, that's all.

        May 21, 2014 at 8:54 pm |
      • Renee

        We do. They do. That's it. But do not trying to position what we do is right and what they do is wrong so that they should be prosecuted. It does not make what we do is correct, especially doing it not only to them but on our own citizens.

        May 28, 2014 at 9:33 am |
      • Joe Schucks

        He's definitely an idiot. The Chinese have no intentions of being anything less than a hostile enemy. But unlike the USSR they deny it. Placating them won't help anything. They will just talk and talk and stall and stall. The only thing that will help is escalation.

        June 3, 2014 at 11:56 pm |
      • I believe

        I believe chinese didnt hacking US computers as I believe Americans didnt hacking china too.

        July 18, 2014 at 5:57 am |
    • mikeconstantin


      Troll – a silly troll, and for an abject cause –
      Yet, influencing the public opinion is important – and it is interesting to see how quickly the Chinese boiler rooms (be thei in China or in the USA), react, their position being presented as enlightened and good intended ...

      Just look on the thread bellow and you will see how they come with any possible arguments about how wrong is Clarke's position about the escalation of the cyber-war with China, how bad would be this for the US, etc....
      ... of course, the application of the old royal water "Cui prodest?" (Who benefits?) upon their positions immediately reveals that their urging for pasivity and appeasement doesn't benefit the USA al all, BUT CHINA –

      And also it is funny to see how the position of the pro-China posters is similar with the posts here and elsewhere of the trolls supporting Russia in the Crimea and Ukraine –

      Both Russia and China understand that neither alone, nor in a combination can they (yet) to get head in head with the USA –

      So, the shaping of the the public opinion about the issues which affects them is important, and both countries have set up Internet-slanting trolling systems which are ready to intervene immediately as "enlightened, concerned people" in the Internet-opinions, post-events/news fields, or, in the likely to be well-read opinion pieces like Clarke's –
      These Internet-slanting systems use pretty rigid "talking points", "or hymn page" systems which are promptly forwarded from the Internet/slanting systems centers of the interested parts –

      And here, in this thead you can see in many posts how this "boiler rooms" work –

      Remember – apply "Cui prodest?" (Who benefits?) test to any statement and you will find immediately whether the one behind it is an hourly paid Chinese troll or an honest poster –

      The "useful idiots" affair being their colleagues –

      May 21, 2014 at 9:04 pm | Reply
      • Joe Schucks

        The Chinese have no intentions of being anything less than a hostile enemy. But unlike the USSR they deny it. Placating them won't help anything. They will just talk and talk and stall and stall. The only thing that will help is escalation.

        June 3, 2014 at 11:56 pm |
    • Think_Dynamic

      There is no doubt of Chinese cyber spionage against US and presumably to other western nations. On military side, how do you think China advances in weapon development so quickly where it used to be dependent on Russian war vintage technology. Several Chinese working in highly classified weapon developers and manufacturers were caught passing technology to mother China.

      August 9, 2014 at 11:46 am | Reply
  3. Mike Amput

    "The United States engages in widespread espionage around the world", but draws a distinction between spying for national security and spying for the advancement of domestic business"

    Don't ever teach American kids per quoted above statement, you will make them silly and out of touch. Damn people like Clarke is really sick and meaningless.

    May 21, 2014 at 6:43 pm | Reply
    • tom

      coomunist china want to steal secret from US .Are you US citizen or chinese?

      June 28, 2014 at 5:06 pm | Reply
  4. rafael

    usa did spy all the world ..... now u are taste for the same poison...

    now u fell what we fell
    what all countries fell

    eye for eye tooth for tooth

    May 21, 2014 at 7:26 pm | Reply
    • Rick

      Get off on revenge, do you? Sick.

      May 21, 2014 at 8:46 pm | Reply
  5. Alex

    Since hacking is illegal, any individual hacker should be responsible and face the charge. Hacking victims have the right to ask for compensation from hackers. Hacking is a crime, legal indictment is an option to stop and punish it. Should support Clarke's response to this issue.

    May 21, 2014 at 7:35 pm | Reply
  6. Tot

    I agree with everything that Richard Clarke had to say, with one major exception: We can not point fingers at China for playing a dirty game, on the one hand, and try to romance them, and essentially keep building and sustaining their dirty economy, on the other! ... We need a coherent and sustainable Chinese strategy, or we'll continue dancing on thin ice.

    The Russia-China tag team, the odd bedfellows as they may be, are poised to pull the rug from under our feet.

    May 21, 2014 at 7:46 pm | Reply
  7. aurelius

    It would indeed be a good thing. The US spies to seek terrorists and to find out who's stealing secrets from our private industries and breaking into government network. The Chinese hack to steal, period. Why would the US, which is No. one in almost all high tech industries, steal from the Chinese who are still behind in most fields? Ironically, it is the US that still holds China in high esteem The rest of the world, especially Southeast Asian nations that know them best, are unanimous. Chinese are hypocrites and predominantly untrustworthy and thieves. And that's the sad truth.

    May 21, 2014 at 7:52 pm | Reply
    • Tom

      not including Cambodia ,Laos etc. my dear (+_+)

      May 21, 2014 at 9:26 pm | Reply
      • PAH

        Actually as a development aid worker in Lao and having travelled throughout SE Asia, your comment is not correct. Lao PDR is very unease with China and are trying to tiptoeing around being seemingly friendly while finding protection through economic ties with Pro-western countries such as Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, etc. Vietnam is currently in an open conflict with China but this has been brewing for about a decade. These countries just do not trust the Chinese because of their slow infringement on their territories. China has somehow received over millions of hectares of land concessions from SE Asian countries. Visiting Oudomxay province, Lao PDR, one can almost see Crimea Chinese version unfolding.
        Unbeknownst to the world because the media has not covered it, SE Asian countries are forming a coalition to deal with the Chinese threat. They know that it will escalate and they are trying to prepare themselves while seemingly looking accommodating to the Chinese. There has been many projects granted to the Chinese companies by SE Asian countries while others being cancelled simultaneously.

        Hope that helped.

        May 21, 2014 at 10:31 pm |
    • theknee55

      you are absolutely right !!

      June 28, 2014 at 7:49 am | Reply
  8. Wiseley Chong

    Stealing for "national interest" is right and stealing for other purposes is wrong. LOL

    May 21, 2014 at 7:58 pm | Reply
  9. Scott B

    Insanity. I hope anyone that agrees with this has no problem when their grandchildren get fleeced by other nations using the same playbook. It's still not too late to deescalate things. To set up rational international agreements and monitoring. To understand the vast damage this will cause to not just the economic system, but human society itself.

    May 21, 2014 at 8:05 pm | Reply
    • Rick

      Good idea, but I don't think the Chinese have an Ethics Playbook.

      May 21, 2014 at 8:50 pm | Reply
      • Scott B

        Then we unite the world against with those that do. With actual written rules and a process. Not the free for all being created.

        May 21, 2014 at 9:31 pm |
      • Scott B

        I honestly don't think they want to invest in that arms race if they don't have to.

        May 21, 2014 at 9:32 pm |
      • Peter

        Scott B, we help wrote many international laws in UN, how many did we actually comply with? Your "rulebook" only works if we also follow rules we wrote. We don't

        May 22, 2014 at 12:19 pm |
      • Renee

        Breaking or stealing other countries government, company or individual property is illegal, no matter in US, China, Europe or other places. Stupid logic trying to steal and position self at higher moral ground. LOL

        May 28, 2014 at 9:13 am |
      • daniel

        of course, US, the international policeman, enjoys every right to do anything with any reason at the cost of the interests of any other countries.

        June 1, 2014 at 1:26 pm |
  10. friendly foe

    No wonder US is a declining empire !!

    May 21, 2014 at 8:24 pm | Reply
  11. friendly foe

    What national security threat did Angela Merkel pose to US?

    May 21, 2014 at 8:25 pm | Reply
    • Renee

      Oh, forgot to mention the logic is that it is for our National Security, while other country's national security does not matter. Clark's logic could be spying on Merke is fine because it for national security while Germany spying on us would not be okay. There is a fine distinction! LOL

      May 28, 2014 at 9:18 am | Reply
      • Huh

        Obviously you are ignorant of what governments around the world do. All countries big and small spy on their neighbours, far or near, friendly or otherwise. They all want to know what other governments are thinking, or planning to do, and adopt the diplomatic strategy accordingly for the good of their own country. This is not a moral or ethical question. But China is doing more than that – China is stealing trade secrets from US corporations, this is causing massive losses for American industries and jobs for Americans. In addition, China is stealing US military secrets to build stealth fighter jets, missile-armed drones, war satellites, and so on. This is the problem. From the way you write, I think you are a Chinese, either you're second generation or your rich and corrupte parents sent you to study in the US and you now prefer to stay in the US and not go back to the uncivilised country that is China.

        September 3, 2014 at 1:56 pm |
  12. friendly foe

    The country is crying wolf which has the largest spying network of the world LOL

    May 21, 2014 at 8:26 pm | Reply
  13. DocJohnnie

    Wait just a doggone minute. How on Earth can China develop if access to foreign technology (only one copy or example, mind) is restricted?

    May 21, 2014 at 8:35 pm | Reply
    • Dan

      Simple: the total number of their gifted children is greater than the total number of all our kids. They graduate 12 time more engineer than we do. Go visit China,... Just learn about China, you will see. Unfortunately, we are at the end of a loosing battle...

      May 21, 2014 at 10:02 pm | Reply
    • Peter

      Just like how children learns, they see, they imitate, they improve, they innovate

      May 22, 2014 at 12:20 pm | Reply
    • Renee

      Stupid logic. China was the largest world economy for centuries before European countries then US became dominant. Do not underestimate the creativity from the world largest population. Yes, the country's economy was in trouble before late leader Deng Xiaoping opened up the society. Then the creativity of the people was unleashed.

      May 28, 2014 at 9:27 am | Reply
  14. Steve Grant

    poor poor Americans....haha..... bunch of babies. All because China and Russia signed a huge strategic and energy agreement today, signifying the beginning of BRICS nations. The American govt. makes the American people look ridiculous. When will they, the American people, wake up and do something about it. And not just vote the other baby in, it's time to clean out congress too.

    May 21, 2014 at 8:51 pm | Reply
  15. kelvin8048

    cyber espionage is not allowed by the chinese and rests of the world apparently because nsa has patented it...

    May 21, 2014 at 9:03 pm | Reply
  16. Steve Nicoletti

    Again with the mind-boggling hypocrisy! Snowden just revealed that the NSA has developed technology to literally spy on everyone and has been spying on God only knows how many of its citizens, and here they are, our leaders, moaning about the Chinese! Hypocrites! Makes me ashamed to be an American.

    May 21, 2014 at 9:03 pm | Reply
  17. jeng

    USA now cry mommy: "Mommy, China hack me. This is not fair, it should be only me can hack others"

    May 21, 2014 at 9:28 pm | Reply
  18. Don

    It is obvious USA is looking for trouble and pick a fight. No wonder every region USA poke its finger, the place turn to killing field. USA is the devil of this world.

    May 21, 2014 at 9:29 pm | Reply
  19. Don

    USA logic: I kill you, it is for world peace. You kill me it is terrorism. F USA

    May 21, 2014 at 9:31 pm | Reply
  20. BBC

    Hey Richard Clarke, I just do your daughter last nite.

    May 21, 2014 at 9:34 pm | Reply
  21. Hector

    liars, LIARS, L-I-A-R-S. Amanpour, BLACK WITCH !

    May 21, 2014 at 9:49 pm | Reply
  22. ShenZhenYhi

    stealing for national security versus economic gain....I didn't know there were standards for stealing.

    May 21, 2014 at 10:25 pm | Reply
  23. USNoIdea

    Is that so..Well read this. The USA is now seen as aggressive hypocrites . The NSA spied on Hauwei a Chinese company. I suppose they have something to do with the government much like Cisco..Or is there some other tiny difference. So the NSA spied on civilians, companies, universities and I am sure defense – as we know they had to spy to get the Chinese wanted list. THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE...Just that the USA is spying on everyone not just 141 companies...If this can at all be proven.
    Read this:

    Last question. If you knew you could be tracked would you allow any activity to lead back to a defence office in China. For all I know the Russians could have done this to the US and we fell for it. Yesterday China and Russia signed a number of deals that could change the balance of power on the earth and it could be due to our stupid aggression. Nice one!

    May 21, 2014 at 10:29 pm | Reply
  24. bash

    The Americans are JUDGMENTAL.....
    America was the first to use a WEAPON OF MASS DESTRUCTION, the Atom bomb in Hiroshima etc... They posses mass volume Nuclear weapons, what is the guarantee they wont use it again if they get a President with criminal intent.... George W Bush is a free man after messing up Iraq illegally, American value is "hypocrisy" and not reliable

    May 21, 2014 at 10:33 pm | Reply
  25. USNoIdea

    Here is another good one to read regarding spying on Chinese companies.

    May 21, 2014 at 10:37 pm | Reply
  26. Marky

    America los!t. Now China owns Crimea.! Just shut the hell up and deal with it. Stop trying to make it look like an American victory. I'm still trying to choke back my vomit from watching Pearl Harbor where the U.S. came into the war after Russia had already won it and nuked a crapload of asian civilians.

    May 21, 2014 at 11:06 pm | Reply
  27. YYJ

    The Chinese can't see the difference between the two because there is no separation between state and company. Even the companies that aren't owned by the state are deeply and heavily entrenched in the state. And the US is right. It has to be resolved one way or another. If China is going to continue then the US needs to put up a massive firewall that monitors ALL incoming and outgoing transmission. Sadly I don't know why China cancelled the workshop regarding this.

    May 29, 2014 at 12:03 am | Reply
  28. ariel

    It is China's national interest to steal data for the advancement of their local businesses and they really do not care on anything what you says!

    May 29, 2014 at 1:05 am | Reply
  29. Omsk.Россия

    Америка нация педрастов!
    Ваш президент ублюдок.

    May 31, 2014 at 11:58 am | Reply
  30. silvo

    kar naj kradejo kitajci podatke iz ameriških si američani tudi zaslužijo

    May 31, 2014 at 1:05 pm | Reply
  31. Inka

    Cant wait amiricans blast this communist chinise..

    June 4, 2014 at 1:16 pm | Reply
  32. marc

    Why China is dangerous? #1. They are communist. #2 The country is run by corrupt officials and generals.
    What is the reason why China is disturbing its neighbors and U.S.?
    Answer: China wants to go in to war so that the corrupt thugs can divert its peoples focus away from the real issue which is corruption. "War is only a facade for the corrupt Chinese officials and generals"... Corrupt official can easily hide their ill-gotten wealth when there is world war.
    When can we learn from history that its all about the money! tsk..tsk..

    June 6, 2014 at 8:37 am | Reply
  33. SLY

    I read a report that the USA loses 250 Billion a year to corporate theft. I really like this interview. Excellent questions and answers from Clarke. I feel I understand our problem is defense. We had always spent so much on offense but not defense.

    June 6, 2014 at 9:12 am | Reply
  34. oh ho ho

    The United States engages in widespread espionage around the world, but draws a distinction between spying for national security and spying for the advancement of domestic business.

    sure you do america. just like that norwegian fighter project a few years back right america?

    June 6, 2014 at 3:57 pm | Reply
    • Huh

      Every other country in the world spy on their neighbours, whether friendly or not. There's nothing unusual here. Only China is indulging in industrial espionage in a big way, stealing American corporations secrets to help their own state companies to compete. China has stolen top level military secrets that enable them to build their own version of the F35 stealth fighter jet, and drones which they have given to North Korea for testing (S Korea found one that came down from the sky, it didn't have any markings but we all know where that came from). If China had to buy all these technology, like how one company would pay for use of technology from another company, the US would not be trillions in debt, instead China would be dead broke.

      September 3, 2014 at 1:38 pm | Reply
  35. nochina

    China which aims at the hegemony in the world

    June 10, 2014 at 9:52 am | Reply
  36. Clement

    interesting!US hacks China is for national security, but China hacks
    is for companies' information and plan.Does it makes any sense?In my opinion, two governments should sit together to solve it,rather than criticise each other.

    June 14, 2014 at 3:31 am | Reply
  37. YYJ

    First of all, this is why the Cyber workshop shouldn't have been cancelled. The fact China cancelled it, it sounds like they just want to say "lalallalalalalala, we don't hear you". China wants good relations with the US, and contrary to what China may think, the US wants a good budding relationship with China. But just cutting off dialogue is not going to do it. And the US is right you can't just let it go on. Because you would need to seriously ask yourself, is this the precedent were going to set? Is it? That somehow China is allowed to play by a different set of rules then anyone from the US? And if no one can see the danger of that, then wow, this country is in real trouble.

    July 7, 2014 at 11:47 pm | Reply
  38. Paul

    I've been underestimating US ability to be a crybaby. Number 1 in technology? Place your firewalls, then....The bald eagle keeps whining....LOL.

    July 9, 2014 at 2:16 pm | Reply
  39. YYJ

    I know. Better yet. Let's send the message we will allow China to go after our citizens, steal from our citizens, and go after any whistleblowers of Chinese companies but we won't go after any Chinese law breakers, or any associated with China. Oh yeah that would be a great precedent to set. With the escalation if cyber espionage at least its taking the first steps to reverse such trends. Then again maybe I'm the only one that realizes how dangerous sending such a message to the world would be. For the US to admit or say, yeah anyone associated with the Chinese Govt is untouchable. Now let's all follow the rules though. By the way that wasn't criticism that was a hypothetical sentiment.

    July 18, 2014 at 9:12 pm | Reply
  40. YYJ

    Maybe what's important is releasing the sentiment that anyone that whistleblows on China will be severely punished. Maybe that would be a good idea instead. That way they (China) would be allowed to get away with even more detrimental activity much easier. Since any American with possibly damaging information on illicit Chinese activity would be too scared to speak out. Maybe the US government should help the Chinese Govt accomplish that. For the sake of good relations, you know. And ultimately to make it easier for specific arms of the Chinese Govt to infiltrate and steal corporate tech and other things much easier and now under the cloak of intimidation. Not a good idea? Well that's too bad because it's already being done. And somehow, our elected leaders actually believe this was a good idea. Now we have issues on an epic scale and level to deal with instead of only minor issues. And now, the problem has been magnified to such massive levels, dealing with it is going to be a problem. Not only dealing with it but now catching it and even discovering it will be difficult 100 times more difficult. Since the precedent has been established, making every American fearful of revealing or even hinting sensitive information of wrong doing. I'm not sure of how, who, or even when something or someone thought this would be a good thing but it isn't. All this is done is emboldened further and even more damaging activity against the US. Especially now, since they can operate under the cover of fear of being reported.

    August 5, 2014 at 3:33 pm | Reply
  41. Jim Em

    They do it, we do it.
    Whats the big deal?
    Just make it increasingly harder to do.
    There is your answer.

    August 11, 2014 at 4:05 pm | Reply
  42. Huh

    China is getting more aggressive and audacious towards USA because they see Obama as a weakling. They won't dare mug around with a George Bush, for example, because Georgie had the cojones to simply declare war without flinching – not that I agree or disagree with his justifications. China does not respond well to softly-softly-talk. They only behave if faced with the barrel of a gun. Obama is like a scholar, a philosopher. Thugs – that's what China are – don't respect scholars or philosophers, they're only fearful of bigger thugs or the Bruce Willis-Charles Bronson style policemen.

    September 3, 2014 at 1:47 pm | Reply
  43. Jimmy Bucker

    Wow I’m frustrated. I’m not pointing fingers at you though, really I think its everyone else that is responsible.

    December 20, 2020 at 5:39 pm | Reply
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