FBI director James Comey sat down for an exclusive one-on-one interview with ABC News today during which Comey spoke at length about the charges announced against Chinese military officials for alleged hacking of U.S. businesses.
Asked why the United States decided to draw the line now, Comey said: "The conduct is so pervasive, and now so long-standing, that we thought it important to bring this tool to bear."
"We're not gonna stand for this conduct," he added.
Asked about the economic impact of hacking, Comey said, "The amount of theft that's going on is simply staggering."
"There's only two types of corporations -- big corporations -- in America. Those who have been hacked by the Chinese, or those who don't yet know they've been hacked by the Chinese," Comey said. "It is sapping the lifeblood of a lot of these companies, and it's about our ability to compete and about the ability of our people to get and keep good jobs."
Assistant Attorney General for the National Security Division John Carlin said members of unit 61398 of the Chinese military conspired to hack into computers of six U.S. victims to steal information that would provide an economic advantage to the victims' competitors, including Chinese state-owned enterprises.
"In the past, when we brought concerns such as these to Chinese government officials, they responded by publicly challenging us to provide hard evidence of their hacking that could stand up in court," Carlin said today at a press conference with Attorney General Eric Holder. "Well, today we are. For the first time, we are exposing the faces and names behind the keyboards in Shanghai used to steal from American businesses."
The Chinese government released a statement today saying the charges of hacking were a fabrication. But Comey said the evidence is clear.
"We don't bring criminal cases, we don't ask grand juries to indict if we don't have the evidence. So we would welcome the opportunity to offer these five Chinese military hackers their day in court," Comey said. "We would prove beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury of 12 who would agree unanimously that this conduct was done by these five guys."
As for the consequences of the criminal charges, given the accused are in China, Comey said the "the world is a lot smaller now than it used to be."
"So the practical impact is if these fellas want to travel out of China on vacation, they should be looking over their shoulder. But beyond that we hope this sends a message that this is conduct that civilized communities do not engage in," he said.
"I see it as an epidemic of crime that is coming from China," Comey added. "It's about stealing plain and simple. And to fancy it up with words like 'national security' frankly gives it more due than it's worth. It is criminal behavior."