In the two weeks since the Obama administration, with fanfare, accused five Chinese military officers of hacking into American companies to steal trade secrets, they have yet to be placed on Interpol's public listing of international fugitives, and there is no evidence that China would even entertain a formal request by the U.S. to extradite them.
Short of the five men flying to the U.S. for a vacation, for example, there's no practical way they could be arrested outside China without help from foreign governments. It's also unclear whether the charges levied by the U.S. are accepted internationally as a crime. No country so far has publicly expressed support for the groundbreaking criminal charges.
The Obama administration described the unusual indictment on May 19 as a wakeup call for China to stop stealing U.S. trade secrets. The FBI published "wanted" posters with pictures of all five Chinese military officers. Attorney General Eric Holder said such hacking defendants "will be exposed for their criminal conduct and sought for apprehension and prosecution in an American court of law."
Now, weeks later, that's looking less likely than ever, illustrating the complex legal and diplomatic issues posed by the unprecedented indictment. There may be no viable options for Holder to make good on his word.
"The next step needs to be us, here in the U.S., saying this is not just a U.S.-China issue," said Shawn Henry, former cyber director at the FBI and now president of CrowdStrike Services, a security technology company. "This is a China-versus-the-world issue."
So far, the U.S. does not appear to have the world on its side.
Neither officials in China nor the United States said they would comment on any efforts by American prosecutors to arrest the Chinese military officers. The White House and State Department directed inquiries to the Justice Department, where spokesman Marc Raimondi said, "Our investigation is active, and we are not going to comment on specific actions to locate the individuals charged in the indictment."
A federal grand jury charged the five Chinese military officials with hacking into five U.S. nuclear and technology companies' computer systems and a major steel workers union's system, conducting economic espionage and stealing confidential business information, sensitive trade secrets and internal communications for competitive advantage.
The U.S. and China have no extradition treaty. And China's laws preclude extraditing its own citizens to countries where there is no treaty.
China has denied the hacking allegations and wants the U.S. to revoke the indictment. A defense ministry spokesman, Geng Yansheng, said last week that the case ran counter to China-U.S. military cooperation and had damaged mutual trust. Citing the suspension of dialogue on computer security, Geng said further responses from China would depend on Washington's attitude and actions. (continued...)
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