Amid growing tension between the United States and China over cyberattacks, lawmakers are proposing legislation to protect critical American technology from being stolen by hackers. The legislation is part of a broader focus by the United States government to combat the Chinese hacking and boost American cybersecurity.

Sens. Marco Rubio R-Fla., and Mark Warner, D-Va., introduced a bill Jan. 4 that aims to combat the pilfering of information from American companies and officials. The proposed legislation would create a new office in the White House that tackles the theft of state-sponsored technology and secures the American supply chain through a new national strategy and promotion of better cyber hygiene.

“We need a whole-of-government technology strategy to protect U.S. competitiveness in emerging and dual-use technologies and address the Chinese threat by combating technology transfer from the United States,” Warner said in a statement.

“The United States needs a more coordinated approach to directly counter this critical threat and ensure we better protect U.S. technology,” Rubio added.

The Chinese embassy in Washington D.C. did not return a request for comment.

The proposed legislation addresses some of the gaps exposed by a 2017 Government Accountability Office report, which criticized the federal government for a lack of leadership in critical technology protection. The report also described the lack of coordination between the exports enforcement community, which monitors banned equipment, and the intelligence community.

American officials say the swiping of commercial and military secrets by Chinese backed hackers represents a national security dilemma.

“The Chinese government is attempting to acquire or steal, not only the plans and intentions of the United States government, but also the ideas and innovations of the very people that make our economy so incredibly successful,” Bill Priestap, an assistant director of counterintelligence at the FBI, said during a Dec. 12 Senate hearing. “We are being exploited by China, so we are right to shore up our defenses against this.”

In recent months, the Pentagon has also identified protecting critical technologies as a national security priority. Patrick Shanahan, now the acting secretary of defense, is leading a data-exfiltration task force.

The proposed legislation comes during a broader cyber tensions between the United States and China. Some analysts have been frustrated the White House has not been more aggressive in deterring Chinese hackers, specifically with the sanctions.

Instead, the American response has been largely forged by the Department of Justice, which has indicted a slew of military officials and hackers backed by Beijing in recent years. In December 2018, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein accused Beijing of breaking a 2015 agreement not to use stolen data for commercial advantage, which analysts and former intelligence officials say was not effective.

Justin Lynch is the Associate Editor at Fifth Domain. He has written for the New Yorker, the Associated Press, Foreign Policy, the Atlantic, and others. Follow him on Twitter @just1nlynch.

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