Army General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says American cyber snooping cannot be compared with its Chinese counterparts. Photo: AP
The top US military officer on Thursday dismissed comparisons of Chinese and American snooping in cyber space, saying all countries gathered intelligence on their potential adversaries but Beijing's problematic "niche" was intellectual property theft.
Army General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also said the US government was close to completing an update of its rules of engagement in cyber space and that Americans needed to understand a cyber attack could trigger a real-world military response.
"All nations on the face of the planet always conduct intelligence operations in all domains," General Dempsey told an audience at the Brookings Institution think-tank after he was asked about intelligence leaks showing the National Security Agency targeted Chinese institutions for cyber spying.
He rejected suggestions that the leaks by NSA contractor Edward Snowden demonstrated hypocrisy on the part of the United States, which has been sharply critical of Chinese hacking of US government and commercial computer networks.
"China's particular niche in cyber has been theft and intellectual property," General Dempsey said. "I've had some conversations about that with them. Their view is that there are no rules of the road in cyber, there's nothing, there's no laws that they are breaking, there's no standards of behavior."
That disagreement is a point of friction in ties between the two countries and was discussed earlier this month by Presidents Barack Obama and Xi Jinping at a summit in California.
General Dempsey said the two countries would have their first formal discussions next week to try to establish rules for conduct in cyber space "so we don't have these friction points."
The United States has become increasingly vocal about Chinese hacking, which officials say has cost the United States hundreds of billions of dollars in lost intellectual property and is helping US adversaries speed development of high-tech weapons systems.
The Pentagon's annual report on China in April for the first time directly accused the Beijing government and military of being behind the hacking.
General Dempsey, in his remarks on cyber security at Brookings, said the government could not completely prevent insiders like Mr Snowden from disclosing secrets if they were willing to break the law, but he said it could take steps to mitigate the risk.
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