US Indicts Five Chinese Military Officials for Hacking American Computers

The United States accuses China of economic espionage and stealing secret information from six American companies.
8:29 | 05/19/14

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Transcript for US Indicts Five Chinese Military Officials for Hacking American Computers
This is a special group. -- from the ABC. The we have consistently candidly raise these concerns with. By the Chinese Government and today's announcement reflects our growing concerns that this Chinese behavior. Has continued and. Hello I'm Susan -- me in New York that was white house Press Secretary Jay Carney. Speaking about the charges brought today by the Justice Department alleging top Chinese military officials with cyber spying on the United States. With more on that case and what it means for Chinese American relations going forward. We're joined now from Washington by ABC's Karen Travers Karen. Good afternoon season that Chinese hackers were targeting American metal and solar power companies many of which were based in Western Pennsylvania. Today the attorney general said that the United States government will not tolerate any nation's efforts to undermine American business. The charges are unprecedented. This is a case alleging economic espionage by members of the Chinese military. Today the Justice Department indicted five Chinese military officials accusing them of computer hacking and economic espionage. The US government says the Chinese used unauthorized access and emails to steal secret and sensitive information from six American companies including US steel. Westinghouse electric. The aluminum giant Alcoa. The US steelworkers union and solar world. It's the first time the US government has ever accused another nation of Internet hacking the range of trade secrets and other sensitive business information stolen in this case is significant. And demands an aggressive response. US intelligence officials believe for some time -- the Chinese Government is engaging in this state sponsored campaign. How can -- US business interest to gain an unfair economic advantage conducted for. For no other reason than to advantage state owned companies and other interest in China at the expense of businesses here in the United States. This case focuses on economic espionage but last week ABC's Martha Raddatz -- Defense Secretary talked -- If he was confident that US drones in warships will not be -- I'm not confident of anything in this business you can't be. The five Chinese military officials are now considered international fugitives but Susan it's unclear if they'll ever be taken into custody. One thing is certain the US government actions today it will strain relations with China season. Karen how -- China responded to the charges. Very strongly season the foreign minister there and has put out a statement and they called the charges. -- grounded an absurd and based on fabricated facts so basically -- saying this did not happen no matter what the Justice Department says. And they are denying everything season. Karen Travers thank you so much. For the latest on the arrest generous. -- won every ABC's Louis Martinez at the Pentagon. -- according these charges the Chinese army wasn't hacking the American government but private companies. How did Justice Department officials believe this -- been going on -- Isn't going on for years Susan and for years American officials have been discussing privately and publicly. With a senior Chinese leaders US concerns about this cyber espionage not cyber espionage in the national security sense. -- but any economic sense and how Chinese companies can get an unfair advantage. Because they're being handed this information this industrial -- craft that can help them in the marketplace. And this indictment that that you was released today kind of pushes provides information about that. Specifically the steel makers Alcoa a top US aluminum maker and all the details of that they lose and what Chinese companies might have. Benefit from. Through this kind of says cyber espionage. That's right not why the Chinese army focused on these particular companies or industries. Well it's not believe that -- is focusing only on these companies went to the belief is that this was an indictment to be brought in through the will as we heard from -- Karen's reports. Through the US attorney's office in western Pennsylvanian Pittsburgh. On the five companies -- name plus the union are all based in the Pittsburgh area. He's just matter of convenience on the belief is that the Chinese are doing this kind of espionage dad and -- all across the country. Through every spectrum the United States. Economic enterprise. Significantly here at depending on the -- concerns are about defense. We've been talking for years about how. And instead of acting penetrating America is secrets here is at the Pentagon. But the way the Chinese have gotten around it is they have gone through that American defense contractors and getting sensitive information about. Developing planes. New weapon systems just by going through their computer systems because they're more susceptible to attack. And the ones -- -- -- this is a wide ranging. It's effort on the part of the Chinese that the United States is now brought to 24 here with -- nine. Yeah. Not China also denying the charges and in response has accused the US governments of cyber attacks and surveillance. -- a given that country's spy on each other why tampering charges. And white house Press Secretary Jay Carney had this to say about why the president acted let's listen to that. The president. Has identified this is a challenge he has made clear all along that when there are threats. Posed to our cyber security to. Our government as well as our businesses that he expects action to be taken and and for there to be accountability. Now what's the likelihood that we will ever see the five individuals charged today in an American courtroom. I think it's safe to say -- -- basically because these are individuals who work for the Chinese Government they -- military officers. -- of appealing to people's liberation army of China. There's very little expectation on the part of the justice foreign officials that they'll have these -- let me be brought -- United States for trial. That said the reason that the United States pursued this -- -- because basically. They they don't have any other way sending a message they tried -- diplomatically they try to privately and publicly by calling them out. As much as they can without overstepping diplomatic limitations. And -- this way he sent a message to the world of the United States takes accountability. For cyber espionage for cyber theft. Very very seriously. Again it's kind of a symbolic message but at the same time making conveys the seriousness of -- the United States faces he heard -- -- talked there about how this is a challenge. A very big challenge for United States government how to deal of this this was the fact -- decide. Now China is the US's biggest trading partner how these charges change how the US might deal with China and going forward. Well it's getting very tricky situation you we've already heard how the Chinese foreign ministries are ready throwing it back at the United States. Saying that they call these charges absurd they say that -- fabrication. -- of their fictitious. They're not based on any merit and what they've done is they've called up the United States saying that hey you guys. Conduct this kind of as united yourself I'm going back to your earlier question. That doesn't everybody's fighting each other yet pretty much and as we saw with the snow and affair we -- United States. Roadways there is evidence of how -- -- -- Siemens -- and it's closest allies. And into the situation with Germany with chancellor Merkel. And how the United States -- her cell -- that is still delicate issue for both countries but in terms of how China responds officially be Yond. What they announced today will so far the only thing they've done is cut off. Cooperation. Or suspended activity of a joint US Chinese working group on cyber security. -- in mid may take it further. Of course -- an economic relationship they're both countries now intertwined. Significantly. So it is -- to -- interesting to see how much for in the Chinese take it. For now United States to sending this message -- kind of a symbolic message right now. ABC's Mary Martinez to thank you. This is been an ABC news digital special report keep up with this story in real time by downloading the ABC news -- and starring this story for exclusive updates on the go. For now I'm Susan solidly in New York.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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