Pentagon Retracts Statement on Probe of QinetiQ Hacking

The Pentagon retracted statements that it’s probing the multiyear campaign of cyber-intrusions into defense contractor QinetiQ North America.

The Pentagon today reversed comments made to reporters May 3 by its press director that the U.S. Defense Department was investigating hacking by Chinese cyber-spies into the computer systems of QinetiQ. Bloomberg News reported earlier today that Pentagon spokesman Army Colonel Steve Warren had told reporters that investigators were “working very closely with QinetiQ to determine exactly the scope and breadth of this incident.”

Warren had said the Pentagon was looking into whether national security had been compromised.

“That’s an assessment we are not prepared to announce yet,” he had said. “We are looking closely at a number of different levels to determine exactly what happened and when.”

The Pentagon now says it “misspoke” and that it isn’t probing the cyber-intrusions into QinetiQ. Any such investigation would be outside its range of authority, said Damien Pickart, a defense department spokesman.

“While the reports of cyber intrusions against QinetiQ are disturbing, the Department of Defense is not in a position to investigate the security practices of a private company -- including cleared defense contractors,” Pickart said in an e-mail.

Secret Satellites

For three years, hackers linked to China’s military infiltrated QinetiQ’s computers and compromised most if not all of the company’s research, which includes work on secret satellites, drones and software used by U.S. special forces in Afghanistan and the Middle East, Bloomberg News reported May 2.

QinetiQ said it has properly disclosed all of the breaches to federal authorities.

“At the time of the original incident, QNA disclosed all of its breaches to the responsible government agencies and these were resolved to their satisfaction,” Jennifer Pickett, a spokeswoman for McLean, Virginia-based QinetiQ North America, said in an e-mailed statement. “QNA was, is, and will remain, vigilant in its commitment to protecting the national security assets with which it has been entrusted.”

The Naval Criminal Investigative Service, or NCIS, notified QinetiQ in December of 2007 that it was losing sensitive information, according to an internal report. NCIS and other federal agencies investigated the breaches, according to two people involved, who didn’t know the final outcome of the probes.

Ed Buice, public affairs officer for NCIS, declined to discuss the breaches into QinetiQ.

Pickart, the Pentagon spokesman, declined to comment on any NCIS work on QinetiQ.

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