Hackers linked to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) breached the email accounts of Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns and Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Daniel Kritenbrink in hacks disclosed last week, according to a Thursday report by The Wall Street Journal.
The hacks of the two high-level diplomats preceded Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry’s four-day visit to Beijing to discuss green policy with CCP officials, according to anonymous sources cited by the WSJ. Though the extent of the hacks are currently unknown, it is believed that the hackers may have gained access to hundreds of thousands of U.S. government emails.
Burns and Kritenbrink are thought to be the two highest-ranking State Department officials targeted by the hackers, according to anonymous sources cited by the WSJ. The email accounts of the two diplomats are not believed to contain highly-classified information and documents.
Kritenbrink visited China a month ago alongside Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and Kritenbrink, Burns and Blinken all met with Chinese officials and the CCP’s leader, Xi Jinping, according to the WSJ. The hackers are not believed to have compromised the email accounts of Blinken or his closest advisers. (RELATED: US Power Grid Faces ‘Alarming’ Threat From Chinese Hackers, Expert Warns Lawmakers)
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Nonetheless, the compromised messages could have enabled the CCP-linked hackers to assess general U.S. strategies ahead of diplomatic talks between Biden administration officials and representatives of the CCP, according to the WSJ. The approximated number of compromised emails is preliminary, and the figure could grow larger as the probe into the hack progresses, according to anonymous sources cited by the WSJ.
The wave of hacks that compromised the two diplomats’ communications was first disclosed to the public last week, according to the WSJ.
Cybersecurity personnel at the State Department first found the breach, and Microsoft said that the breach was not discovered until sometime in mid-June, according to the WSJ. Blinken visited China on June 18 and 19, according to a State Department press release, and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen visited from July 6 to July 9, according to a Treasury Department press release.
Kerry attempted to cut a deal with the CCP on climate policy, but returned stateside with little to show for his efforts. Kerry said Wednesday that “nothing will get in the way” of the Biden administration’s desire to find common ground with the CCP on climate change-related issues and initiatives.
“For security reasons, we will not be sharing additional information on the nature and scope of this cybersecurity incident at this time,” a State Department spokesperson told the Daily Caller News Foundation in a statement.
The State Department “continuously monitors and responds to activity of concern on our networks,” the spokesperson continued, adding that “our investigation is ongoing, and we cannot provide further details at this time.”
The disclosure of the compromised emails follows the July revelation that CCP-linked hackers had gained access to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo’s email account. Tensions between the two world superpowers have been increasingly fraught in recent months, with both countries exchanging export restrictions to limit access to key technological products and parts.
The White House and the White House National Security Council did not respond immediately to requests for comment.
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