Hackers with suspected links to China appear to have accessed sensitive background information submitted by intelligence and military personnel for security clearances, several US officials said on Friday.
It is the second such breach of federal records revealed in the last week.
The forms authorities believed to have been accessed require applicants to fill out deeply personal information about mental illness, drug and alcohol use, past arrests and bankruptcies.
They also require the listing of contacts and relatives, potentially exposing any foreign relatives of US intelligence employees to coercion. Both the applicant’s national identification number and that of his or her cohabitant is required.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the security clearance material is classified.
In a statement, the White House said that on June 8, investigators concluded there was “a high degree of confidence that … systems containing information related to the background investigations of current, former and prospective federal government employees, and those for whom a federal background investigation was conducted, may have been exfiltrated.”
“This tells the Chinese the identities of almost everybody who has got a United States security clearance,” said Joel Brenner, a former top US counterintelligence official. “That makes it very hard for any of those people to function as an intelligence officer. The database also tells the Chinese an enormous amount of information about almost everyone with a security clearance. That’s a gold mine. It helps you approach and recruit spies.”
The Office of Personnel Management (OPM), a central personnel database, which was the target of the hack, has not officially notified military or intelligence personnel whose security clearance data was breached, but news of the second hack was starting to circulate in both the Pentagon and the CIA.
Source: Punch Ng