Flashback: China Hacked Obama, McCain Campaigns in 2008

January 5, 2017 Updated: January 5, 2017

While there are currently claims from the U.S. intelligence community that Russia hacked the 2016 election on behalf of Donald Trump, it wouldn’t be the first occurrence by a state actor.

Internal government documents show that cyberattacks linked to the Chinese regime targeted the campaigns of Barack Obama and John McCain in 2008.

In 2013, NBC News first reported on a Chinese-backed hack that stole a significant amount of data from computers linked to the Obama and McCain campaigns.

“Based on everything I know, this was a case of political cyberespionage by the Chinese government against the two American political parties,” Dennis Blair, who served as President Obama’s director of national intelligence in 2009 and 2010, told NBC at the time. “They were looking for positions on China, surprises that might be rolled out by campaigns against China.”

“There’s been successful exfiltration of data from government agencies (by the Chinese) up and down Pennsylvania Avenue,” added Shawn Henry, the chief of the FBI’s probe of the 2008 attacks.

After the spate of hacking carried out by Chinese state actors, it doesn’t appear any sanctions were levied against China or its leadership.

However, just last week, less than a month away from leaving office, President Barack Obama announced new sanctions against Russia and kicked out 35 Russian diplomats from the country.

James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, held a conference on Thursday, saying that Russian President Vladimir Putin sanctioned the hacking of Democratic Party emails—charges Russia has denied. “I don’t think we’ve ever encountered a more aggressive or direct campaign to interfere in our election process than we’ve seen in this case,” Clapper said, as reported by the Wall Street Journal.

In 2015, Obama announced that he and Chinese leader Xi Jinping spoke during talks, saying that they would agree to halt economic cyber espionage for commercial gain. “I raised once again our very serious concerns about growing cyber-threats to American companies and American citizens,” Obama said at the time. “I indicated that it has to stop.”

In October 2016, the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission said that Chinese intelligence frequently hacked U.S. national security agencies and email accounts belonging to American officials. Its spies targeted data on nuclear weapons, war plans, and investigations.

“Chinese intelligence has repeatedly infiltrated US national security entities and extracted information with serious consequences for US national security, including information on the plans and operations of US military forces and the designs of US weapons and weapons systems,” the report for 2016 said, the Washington Free Beacon reported.

The Chinese also attempted to hack into secret data of the MQ-9 Reaper drone, which is used by the U.S. to conduct airstrikes in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

“Among the information extracted were 5.6 million fingerprints, some of which could be used to identify undercover US government agents or to create duplicates of biometric data to obtain access to classified areas,” the report added.

In the NBC article, it cited a report from a U.S. commission headed by former Intelligence Director Blair and former U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman Jr. as saying that the theft of intellectual property in the United States costs the country about $300 billion per year. The report named China as the chief actor.