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Rep. Don Bacon speaks to reporters on his way to a closed-door GOP caucus meeting at the US Capitol January 10, 2023 in Washington, DC.
Suspected Chinese hackers breached the personal and campaign email accounts of a Republican congressman who has been critical of the Chinese government, the lawmaker said in a social media post on Monday.
Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska is the first known lawmaker to have their email account hacked in an alleged Chinese espionage campaign. The hackers also breached the unclassified email accounts of senior State Department and Commerce Department officials, including the US ambassador to China and the Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, in a cyberattack that was launched in May, CNN previously reported.
The hackers had access to Bacon’s personal and campaign emails for a month, according to Bacon’s post on X,
the social media site formerly known as Twitter. Bacon sits on the House Armed Services and Agriculture committees, two issues of prime interest to Chinese policymakers.
“The only thing that they may have obtained is political strategy or information like fundraising calls … [and] possibly some personal banking information,” Danielle Jensen, a spokesperson for Bacon, told CNN.
The FBI told Bacon he was a victim of the hack on Monday, Jensen said. That suggests the federal government’s investigation into the hacks is ongoing.
Bacon’s vocal support for Taiwan, the self-governing island that China considers its territory, and his criticism of China’s persecution of the Uyghur minority group are two possible reasons the hackers may have been interested in Bacon’s emails, Jensen said. Bacon, a retired Air
Force brigadier general trained in electronic warfare, always operates on the assumption that “his email is being monitored,” she added.
An FBI spokesperson declined to comment when contacted by CNN Tuesday about the alleged hack of Bacon’s emails.
The Chinese embassy in Washington, DC, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Chinese foreign ministry previously responded to Microsoft’s assessment that China-based hackers were behind the campaign by accusing Washington of conducting its
own hacking operations.
The hacking campaign, which coincided with Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Beijing in mid-June, has raised tensions between US and Chinese diplomats. It has also raised questions about Washington’s ability to protect its diplomats’ emails from
foreign spies. The Biden administration believes the hacking operation gave Beijing insights into US officials’ thinking ahead of Blinken’s visit, CNN previously reported.
The intrusions began in mid-May, when the China-based hackers used a stolen sign-in key to burrow their way into email accounts, according to Microsoft. A State Department analyst in mid-June noticed unusual cyber activity on the department’s computer systems
and alerted Microsoft to the issue, according to multiple sources.
Lawmakers from both parties and chambers have called for investigations into how the breach occurred and how it has impacted federal agencies. The Department of Homeland Security said last week that it was investigating the root causes of the breach.