Some of the most interesting recommendations deal with combating China’s role in cyberattacks, likely to rank among the most delicate subjects in Mr. Obama’s meeting with Mr. Xi. The commission argued that American companies “ought to be able to retrieve their electronic files or prevent the exploitation of their stolen information” by designing their computer files to self-destruct if they fall into the wrong hands. But the authors of the report also say that if the damage “continues at current levels,” the government should consider allowing American companies to counterattack — essentially taking cyberwar private.
“If counterattacks against hackers were legal, there are many techniques that companies could employ that would cause severe damage to the capability” of the Chinese or other groups committing computerized theft, the report said. But it added a qualifier: “while properly empowered law enforcement authorities are mobilized.” Many in the administration have opposed such ideas, fearing that they could lead to a cycle of escalation between the United States and other nations that could easily spin out of control.
The report also said that as a last-ditch measure, Congress could impose a tariff on all Chinese products, “designed to raise 150 percent of all U.S. losses from Chinese” thefts. That measure could easily run into challenges as a violation of international trade law.