For more than a decade, a relentless campaign by China to steal valuable, confidential information from United States corporations flourished with barely a peep from Washington. And now it might never be stopped.
The secret online assault was well-understood by the last two administrations. The program's scope was confirmed in a 2009 classified inquiry that discovered Chinese hackers - many of them traced to facilities connected to the People's Liberation Army - had penetrated not only all of the corporate computer networks analyzed, but also every examined computer system used by state or federal agencies.
Still, the State Department warned - as it had for years - that publicly confronting China over its online economic warfare would damage relations with Beijing, so American government statements about the hacking did not disclose the scope of China's efforts. It was not until October 2011 that the Obama administration pulled back the curtain a bit on a single page of a little-noticed public report by the Office of the National Intelligence Executive. But that muted warning bell did nothing to slow the hacking or to create greater concern on Capitol Hill, and Washington's demands that China rein in its hacking continued to be delivered quietly in diplomatic tête-à-têtes.