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Editorial: Spy versus spy

From crawling up a hill to peer over the top to see what that group of strangers are doing to infiltrating a city to get information useful to one’s own nation, spying has been around for as long as history. It may not be the world’s oldest profession, but it comes pretty close.

As life has evolved, so, too, have the methods used by agents and their governments.

So it’s not surprising to learn that China’s military has been involved in cyber-spying ... hacking into American computers to discern both military and commercial secrets. While no one wants to admit publicly that such activity is normal during the course of international affairs and diplomacy, China is just one of a long list of nations, including the United States, that use technology, people, brainpower and money to keep an eye on what others are doing.

From satellite surveillance to computer data analysis to email intercepts to cell phone eavesdropping, it’s an electronic spy-versus-spy world.

Just as important to these forms of espionage as collection methods is what nations are doing to keep others from gaining access to private information. Beyond developing better safeguards for computer systems, it means staying one step ahead of the competition.

The spy game also calls, as we’re seeing, for a public relations offensive.

This is the likely reason why the Obama administration has decided to go the route of bringing a criminal indictment against five Chinese military officers, charging them with economic espionage.

“This administration will not tolerate actions by any nation that seeks to illegally sabotage American companies and undermine the integrity of fair competition in the operation of the free market,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said. “This case should serve as a wake-up call to the seriousness of the ongoing cyber threat.”

It’s a wake-up call, to be sure, but also a public relations move. Obviously, the U.S. wants the Chinese to stop. But U.S. officials concede that the Chinese military officers named in the indictments are never going to stand in court on U.S. soil. China, meanwhile, denies that its military is involved with the hacking into the computer networks of U.S. Steel Corp., Westinghouse, Alcoa, Allegheny Technologies, the United Steel Workers Union and U.S. subsidiaries of SolarWorld.

And some China specialists say the public can expect a counter pronouncement by the Chinese government in time, perhaps connected to former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Again, not exactly surprising.

The snooping won’t stop, that’s for sure. And neither should American efforts to block access and prevent hacking.

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