London, May 31 : Though there is no official word from the American authorities, Chinese officials are suspected to have stolen secret data from the laptop of American Trade Secretary Carlos Gutierrez during his Beijing visit last December.
The Chinese then used the information copied to try hacking into US government computers.
In the past two years, the Pentagon, the US State Department and the US Commerce Department have all been hit by widespread computer intrusions blamed on China. The Chinese would be particularly interested in information possessed by Gutierrez's delegation because of its potential usefulness in world trade talks, reported The Telegraph.
Gutierrez refused to discuss how or whether the laptop had been breached because an investigation has been launched. "To the extent that there is an investigation going on, those are the things being looked at, those are the questions being asked. I don't think I should provide any speculative answers," the paper quoted him as saying.
But, US government agencies refused to discuss the incident. Their silence on the issue reflects the sensitivity of current relations with China, which are complicated by trade disagreements between the two countries and the imminence of the Beijing Olympics, added the paper.
Following the incident, US security agencies, such as Homeland Security, routinely provide US officials travelling overseas with "sanitised" laptops. Former Commerce Department officials said they were careful to keep electronic devices with them at all times during trips to China.
In March, the US State Department issued a fact sheet for Olympics visitors to China warning them that their privacy might be at risk. "All hotel rooms and offices are considered to be subject to on-site or remote technical monitoring at all times. Hotel rooms, residences and offices may be accessed at any time without the occupant's consent or knowledge," it said.