House Intelligence Committee Chair Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said it was "beyond a shadow of a doubt" that the Chinese government and military is behind growing cyber attacks against the United States, saying "we are losing" the war to prevent the attacks.
"They use their military and intelligence structure to steal intellectual property from American businesses, and European businesses, and Asian businesses, re-purpose it and then compete in the international market against the United States," Rogers said this morning on "This Week."
"It is unprecedented," Rogers added. "This has never happened in the history of the world, where one nation steals the intellectual property to re-purpose it - to illegally compete against the country…and I'll tell you, It is as bad as I've ever seen it and exponentially getting worse. Why? There's no consequence for it."
American businesses have been hesitant to complain about Chinese cyber espionage due to fears of losing opportunities in the growing economic power, according to ABC News' George Will.
"They're dealing with a very difficult, frankly a gangster regime in China right now," Will said. "And no one wants to make them unhappy."
While Will noted that the U.S. also engages in cyber espionage, citing attacks against the computer systems running Iran's nuclear facilities, Rogers said that the difference is the U.S. does not seek economic gain as the Chinese have.
"This is an important difference. The United States does not participate, use its military intelligence services for economic espionage," Rogers said. "We do not do it. It's prohibited."
Rep. Eliot Engel, D-NY, ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said that there have to be greater consequences for Chinese cyber espionage, calling for sanctions and indictments against those responsible, as well as limiting access to visas.
"I think we have to make it very clear to them that they - this cannot be business as usual," Engel said. "If they're going to continue to do this to the extent that they're doing it, there's a price to pay."
Rogers agreed that the U.S. should pursue criminal action against cyber espionage to send a message to China that "if you want to be an international player, you can't act like a thief in the night."
"If someone comes into your office and steals your sensitive intellectual property and walks out the door with it, that's a crime," Rogers said. "What difference does it make if I do it in person or I do it through my computer?"
Beyond economic concerns, the cyber attacks have increasingly focused on areas that may become a national security threat.
A report in The New York Times last week outlined links between the Chinese military and cyber attacks against the U.S. focused on companies tied to American infrastructure, including the power grid and oil and gas lines.
"Here's the scary part of this. It's already part of military planning for the Russians, for the Chinese, and here's where it gets interesting. Now, the Iranians," Rogers said, citing a sophisticated attack on a Saudi company by Iran.
Will said that such attacks may be seen as a way for China and other nations to compete with the U.S. militarily.
"What if China is thinking, look, we can try and compete with the United States. Build a big blue water Navy and aircraft carriers and all the rest, or maybe we can just learn how to disable the massive infrastructure of our potential… adversary," Will said. "There's an intellectual blank slate right now on which the international community needs to write rules and laws about a new form of weapons."
But Rogers warned that the U.S. is not yet prepared to deter such cyber attacks from continuing.
"If you're going to punch your neighbor in the nose, best to hit the weight room for a couple of months," Rogers said. "We're not ready yet, we are completely vulnerable to this."
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- cyber attacks