WASHINGTON (AP) — Chinese hackers broke into the computer networks of the Office of Personnel Management earlier this year with the intention of accessing the files of tens of thousands of federal employees who had applied for top-secret security clearances, according to The New York Times.
Senior U.S. officials say the hackers gained access to some of the agency's databases in March before the threat was detected and blocked, the Times reported in an article posted on its website Wednesday night. How far the hackers penetrated the agency's systems was not yet clear, the newspaper said.
Accusations of hacking by China and counterclaims of such activity by the U.S. government have strained U.S.-Chinese relations. Chinese hacking has been a major theme of U.S.-China discussions this week in Beijing, though both sides have publicly steered clear of the controversy.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Thursday that both the federal personnel office and the Department of Homeland Security took steps to mitigate any risk as soon as they learned about the possible intrusion.
"We have no reason to believe that personal identifiable information was compromised," Earnest said from Austin, Texas, where President Barack Obama had events.
Secretary of State John Kerry was asked about the Times report after wrapping up meetings in Beijing Thursday. "At this point in time, it does not appear to have compromised any sensitive material," he said. "I'm not going to get into any specifics of the ongoing investigation."
Kerry said he did not discuss the specific case with the Chinese, but added, "We've been clear on larger terms that this is an issue of concern."
A Chinese government spokesman on Thursday reiterated Beijing's oft-stated position that it is "resolutely opposed" to Internet hacking and said there were parties who wanted to make China look like a cybersecurity threat.
"Some of the American media and cybersecurity firms are making constant efforts to smear China and create the so-called China cyberthreat," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a regular briefing. "They have never been able to present sufficient evidence. We are deeply convinced that such reports and commentaries are irresponsible and are not worth refuting."