Stumping Earnest: Say, why didn’t Obama eject China diplomats over OPM hack?

posted at 8:41 am on January 6, 2017 by Ed Morrissey

Call this the Question of the Week. ABC’s Jon Karl asked White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest on Tuesday about why Barack Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats for hacking the DNC but didn’t expel any Chinese diplomats for hacking an actual government agency and stealing the highly confidential records of 21 million government employees. Earnest … really didn’t have much of an answer. Via RealClearPolitics and our pal Matt Vespa:

JON KARL, ABC: So when the Chinese hacked OPM in 2015, 21+ million current and former government employees and contractors had their personal data stolen by the Chinese. Why did the White House do nothing publicly in reaction to that hack? Which in some ways, was even more widespread than what we saw here from the Russians?

JOSH EARNEST: These are two cyber incidents that are malicious in nature but materially different.

KARL: 20 million people had their personal data taken… fingerprints, social security numbers, background checks. This was a far-reaching act–

EARNEST: I’m not downplaying the significance of it, I’m just saying that it is different than seeking to interfere int he conduct of a U.S. national election. I can’t speak to the steps that have been taken by the United States in response to that Chinese malicious cyber activity–

KARL: But nothing was announced. There was not a single step announced by the White House.

EARNEST: It is true that there was no public announcement about our response, but I can’t speak to what response may have been initiated in private.

KARL: But no diplomats expelled, no compounds shut down, no sanctions imposed, correct? You don’t do that stuff secretly.

When this popped up on Twitter, one person responded that the disparity was because the Russians hacked the election. Actually they didn’t hack the election; they conducted a propaganda campaign boosted in part by hacks on two private political organizations, one of which refused to cooperate with investigators afterward. That’s certainly serious enough to merit some kind of a diplomatic response, but the Russians didn’t change vote totals or crash electoral systems — in fact, they didn’t penetrate any government systems in this effort.

However, the OPM hack in particular was much more damaging, and was conducted directly against the government of the United States. The hack went on for over a year and exposed the background-check files of anyone who applied for a security clearance. That included the raw data from those checks, which means that China’s intel agencies have their hands on a lot of very sensitive information they can use to potentially blackmail people in highly sensitive positions. At the very least, they know who all of those people are and where they and their families live, which is a huge head start on forcing people into becoming moles and double agents.

And yet, the Obama administration did nothing to publicly rebuke China, except scold them in a speech. How well did that work out? Not impressively, as Sharyl Attkisson pointed out:

Last March, China government hackers continued a malicious pattern of cyber attacks on U.S. government and private networks, according to U.S. Cyber Command chief Mike Rogers. China has been linked by U.S. intelligence agencies to wide-ranging cyber attacks aimed at stealing information and mapping critical computer networks for future attacks in a crisis or conflict.

Karl’s question, and Earnest’s inability to provide a coherent response, is the question the media should have been asking ever since Obama and the Democrats suddenly embraced Mitt Romney’s formulation of Russia as our #1 geopolitical foe over the last two months. That question should also be aimed at Congress as they ask for joint select committees to delve into the Russian propaganda campaign. The basic question is this: Why didn’t you do anything about China first?


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