Hacking the Chamber of Commerce

Instead of hacking into its computers, it might have been easier to snap a photo of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's main message, hanging from huge banners facing the White House. Photo by US Chamber.On the same day a Goldman Sachs economist described the Chinese Communist Party as a "chamber of commerce," a group of Chinese hackers were uncovered eavesdropping on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Fabled magazine publisher Henry Luce famously lamented the loss of China to Communists by noting "Communism is the most monstrous cancer which ever attacked humanity." Now it is just attacking computers.

ABC News reported the hackers, allegedly aided by the Chinese military, have been sneaking peeks of U.S. Chamber of Commerce computers for more than a year. Maybe they are looking for a blueprint of how to act more like a chamber of commerce.

Jim O'Neill, an economist with Goldman Sachs, told NPR that in his 21 years of observing the Chinese, he concluded that while it is a run by a "Communist Party leadership, it's almost more like a chamber of commerce than a political party."

Chinese governmental leaders, O'Neill said, "worry about a lot of major problems that they face, as much as foreign observers and investors." His experience teaches him, O'Neill added, that countries with policymakers who worry about big problems are "usually better places in terms of investing."

Of course, if the Chinese hackers had taken the time to fly to Washington, D.C., they would have noticed the four-letter, three-story word "JOBS" draped in banners on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce building, located just across Lafayette Park from the White House. That could have justified all that spending on big dams, high-speed rail lines and wind farms.

There may be other reasons for hacking. ABC News speculated Chinese officials could be looking for a copy of the U.S. trade policy playbook, which was probably sitting on the computer desktop of someone at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. It is easier to pong when you know someone else's ping.

However, Richard Clarke, a former White House anti-terrorism adviser, said, "I don't think the Chamber of Commerce has anything worth stealing, but it's part of a pattern of the Chinese stealing everything they can."

A source told ABC News there are hundreds of cyber-attacks aimed at U.S. businesses and government agencies every day. The economic toll could be as large as $50 billion. Some recent attacks have included a break-in to Google servers to spy on email accounts of human rights activists and the theft of design files for Ford's new hybrid engine.

Economic espionage, says Robert Bryant of the National Counterintelligence Executive, is a "national, long-term strategic threat to the United States."

O'Neill says the global recession has impressed on China and other rapidly growing economies such as Brazil, Russia and India that they cannot depend so heavily on foreign exports to prop up their domestic economies. "They've got to do things more and more to stand on their own two feet."

Before long, U.S. hackers may be snooping through Chinese files for ideas to get back on our feet.