Richard Clarke, a former cybersecurity and cyberterrorism advisor for the White House, was a U.S. government employee for 30 years: between 1973 and 2003. He worked during the times of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and even George W. Bush. He may not be working under current U.S. president Barack Obama, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have something to warning about. He says state-sanctioned Chinese hackers are stealing R&D from U.S. companies, threatening the long-term competitiveness of America. We’ve heard this before, but the way Clarke puts it makes the situation look even more dire.
“I’m about to say something that people think is an exaggeration, but I think the evidence is pretty strong,” Clarke said during an interview with the Smithsonian. “Every major company in the United States has already been penetrated by China. My greatest fear is that, rather than having a cyber-Pearl Harbor event, we will instead have this death of a thousand cuts. Where we lose our competitiveness by having all of our research and development stolen by the Chinese. And we never really see the single event that makes us do something about it. That it’s always just below our pain threshold. That company after company in the United States spends millions, hundreds of millions, in some cases billions of dollars on R&D and that information goes free to China….After a while you can’t compete.”
Clarke notes that while the U.S. government is involved in espionage against other governments, it doesn’t hack Chinese companies and then hand over intelligence to their American counterparts. He argues that the same cannot be said for the Chinese government.
Clarke’s most famous warning came 10 weeks in advance of the events of 9/11: on July 5, 2001. The FAA, the Coast Guard, the FBI, the Secret Service, and the INS had gathered at the White House, where Clarke stated that “something really spectacular is going to happen here, and it’s going to happen soon.” For the sake of the U.S. economy, let’s hope his warning about China doesn’t eclipse the one from over 10 years ago.