One day in the summer of 2003, Shawn Carpenter, a security analyst in New Mexico, went to Florida on a secret mission. Carpenter, then thirty-five, worked at Sandia National Laboratories, in Albuquerque, on a cybersecurity team. At the time, Sandia was managed by the defense contractor Lockheed Martin. When hundreds of computers at Lockheed Martin’s office in Orlando suddenly started crashing, Carpenter and his team got on the next flight.
The team discovered that Lockheed Martin had been hacked, most likely by actors affiliated with the Chinese government. For several years, operatives tied to China’s military and intelligence agencies had been conducting aggressive cyberespionage against American companies. The problem hasn’t gone away: in 2014, the Justice Department indicted five hackers from the People’s Liberation Army for stealing blueprints from electrical, energy, and steel companies in the United States. Keith Alexander, the former National Security Agency director, and Dennis Blair, the former director of National Intelligence, recently wrote in the Times that “Chinese companies have stolen trade secrets from virtually every sector of the American economy.”