By exposing the names and addresses of foreign relatives, the cyber theft of private information on US security clearance holders by hackers linked to China will complicate the deployment and promotion of American intelligence professionals with special language skills and diverse backgrounds, current and former US officials say.
Officials fear that China will seek to gain leverage over Americans with access to secrets by pressuring their overseas relatives, particularly if they happen to be living in China or another authoritarian country.
Over the last decade, US intelligence agencies have sought to hire more people of Asian and Middle Eastern descent, some of whom have relatives living overseas.
The compromise of their personal data is likely to place additional burdens on employees who already face onerous security scrutiny. China denies involvement in the cyber attack that is being called the most damaging national security loss in more than a decade.