According to U.S. officials cited by the L.A. Times, China and Russia are cross-indexing the mountain of data stolen in the Office of Personnel Management hack earlier this year with other major data breaches, including stolen airline bookings and the Ashley Madison subscriber database, to identify intelligence officials, their agents, and assets.
By searching this cross-indexed data for certain patterns, it becomes possible to pick out individuals whose behavior and interaction with known intelligence agents suggests they might be spies, or contacts for secret agents. The enemy can also use this data to target American assets that could be susceptible to recruitment or blackmail.
“A foreign spy agency now has the ability to cross-check who has a security clearance, via the OPM breach, with who was cheating on their wife via the Ashley Madison breach, and thus identify someone to target for blackmail,” explained Peter W. Singer of the New America Foundation. Top-shelf spy agencies conduct this sort of data analysis all the time, but they do not usually have the sheer volume of information fed to them by the OPM hack – the Rosetta Stone that will help them interpret, and weaponize, the data exposed in many lesser breaches.
When the Times asked counter-intelligence chief William Evanina if these data-mining weapons had already been used against American operatives, he replied, “Absolutely.”
Other officials cited in the article stated that “at least one clandestine network of American engineers and scientists who provide technical assistance to U.S. undercover operatives and agents overseas has been compromised.”
It is also stated that some private engineering and technical contractors have been compromised by the cross-indexed data, interfering with their ability to provide vital support services for U.S. diplomatic and intelligence operations. A distinct increase in the volume of training materials to help government employees resist overtures from suspiciously friendly foreigners has been noted.
These officials are also said to have “seen evidence that China’s Ministry of State Security has combined medical data snatched in January from health insurance giant Anthem, passenger records stripped from United Airlines servers in May and the OPM security clearance files.”
The L.A. Times article quotes U.S. officials who say China and Russia are playing similar plausible-deniability games, using secretive black-ops cyber-warfare units who hire, or quietly sponsor and organize, “outlaw” hacker gangs to do their dirty work. The Chinese used private software companies to analyze the stolen data, keeping “the government’s direct fingerprints off the heist and the data aggregation that followed.”
The financial damage from the OPM hack is considerable, and could lead to further compromises for American intelligence and military efforts. Paying for credit monitoring and identity theft protection for 22 million people is going to cost a lot of money.
A post at the Defense One website recently noted that the cost for the Defense Department to provide such services for military personnel and dependent children is estimated at $132 million, with over 40 percent of the total coming out of the Army’s budget. The Defense One article further states that the Army will get its funding from “reductions in expected cost-of-living adjustments, separation payments and housing allowance payments,” so the cost of the Obama Administration’s negligence will come straight from the pockets of our troops.
Perhaps the most unsettling part of the L.A. Times article is the very first line, which states that “foreign spy services, especially in China and Russia, are aggressively aggregating and cross-indexing hacked U.S. computer databases.” Especially in China and Russia? Who else has been given this trove of dangerous data, and what are they doing with it?