Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, the nation's first Homeland Security chief, told the Tribune-Review on Tuesday that he considers the recent federal indictment of five Chinese military hackers to be merely a publicity stunt.
U.S. Attorney David Hickton, Western Pennsylvania's top federal prosecutor, joined U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder last month in Washington to announce charges accusing the hackers of stealing trade secrets from U.S. companies, including several in the Pittsburgh area and the United Steelworkers union.
“I frankly thought indicting five Chinese military officers was a public relations stunt,” Ridge said after a fundraising event Downtown for his archives at Mercyhurst University in Erie.
“They're not going to be extradited, and we're not going to try them, so what's the value? I guess there's a public relations value, but I don't think there's an American alive who thinks the Chinese are just going to extradite those folks. I don't see the strategic value of it,” Ridge said.
Hickton, whose office last week charged Russian hackers with infecting as many as 1 million computers worldwide and stealing more than $100 million in online attacks, has defended the indictments.
“I believe it will be harder to (bring the hackers to justice) than if they lived in Western Pennsylvania; I accept that. But it is not futile. And it's an effort we're going to undertake,” Hickton told the Trib last week. “By bringing the criminal charges, we've signaled that we're escalating our effort to protect people from cybercrime.”
Ridge attended a luncheon at the Duquesne Club to raise money for his archives at Mercyhurst, where the school's intelligence studies program is named after him.
Marlene Mosco, who chairs Mercyhurst's board of trustees, said the Ridge Collection is expected to be ready for researchers in about a year. Organizers have set a $1 million fundraising goal; they have collected about one-third of that amount to date, Mosco said.
The collection will mainly span Ridge's tenure as governor, though Ridge said he hopes to include items from his time overseeing Homeland Security, first when it was a White House office from 2001 to 2003 and then from 2003 to 2005 after it became a Cabinet-level department.