What can the U.S. do to limit the damage to people with clearances and national security? One inevitable consequence is that U.S. intelligence and law enforcement will enhance the monitoring of Americans with security clearances, including their digital and telephonic communications. Millions of patriotic Americans entrusted with national secrets are going to lose much of their privacy because their government was unable to protect their confidential personnel records.
That loss of privacy dwarfs the hypothetical risks from the NSA that have dominated the headlines about intelligence and surveillance in recent years. The Edward Snowden leaks distracted Washington from the pressing challenge of using intelligence better to prevent foreign hacking of Americans—a challenge only the NSA has the range of tools to meet.
The Obama administration passively endured years of cyber attacks leading to these most recent hacks. It only reluctantly named North Korea as the culprit in the hacking of Sony Pictures. A federal prosecutor indicted five Chinese military hackers, but the defendants remain safe in China. Mr. Obama got authority to order Treasury Department sanctions against anyone involved in a cyber attack that poses a “significant threat” against the U.S. or an American company, but he has not used the power.