The United States recently indicted five Chinese military operatives for cyber espionage. The grand jury charges bring about 31 different counts that could result in sentencing the individuals to 227 years in prison combined (by my count). Many are calling the U.S. Justice Department’s latest move to punish Chinese citizens for cyber espionage an unprecedented step (a Google news search brings up an amusing number of articles that seem to basically copy each other). While this goes a bit too far in that the U.S. Government has punished individuals for state crimes before, this move to charge five Chinese military officials with espionage is clearly an escalatory step that also at the same time represents doing the least that can be done beyond doing nothing.
A strong reaction is likely. Jon Lindsay, notes that “it [the charges] does broach new ground by fingering Chinese military personnel actively serving in China. Retaliation by China, perhaps even outing US intelligence personnel serving at the NSA, is probably inevitable, although accusations are sure to be more rhetorical than evidence-based.”
In fact, China has taken the first step by calling the charges preposterous and charging the U.S. with double standards. They have called in the ambassador to launch a formal complaint and canceled cooperation on a cyber initiatives for the time being. Further action in private or in public is clearly forthcoming. China has also taken the step to ban Windows 8 on all government computers. A strong step in that Windows XP was so popular there and it was assumed that Windows 8 would be just as prevalent in the future. They are reacting both to these moves but also Microsoft’s abandonment of the XP operating system leaving current Chinese systems vulnerable.