It seems that the innumerable attempts to hack into US government computers - even seemingly innocuous systems - have had far-reaching consequences. When you put together information from several otherwise disconnected systems, quite often 2 + 2 = 4.
The CIA has concluded that their overseas espionage efforts have suffered long-term damage as a result of several hacking operations that obtained personnel records for most of the U.S. population. Large scale data thefts apparently began at least a decade ago and reached a pinnacle when the U.S. government personnel office, or OPM (Office of Personnel Management), had its entire database of detailed records on 22 million current and former government employees, including data on people who had applied for jobs and did not get one, copied by hackers in 2014. Intelligence agencies, especially the CIA, realized that could have a catastrophic effect on American espionage efforts overseas as well as counterintelligence (catching spies) in the United States. The damage has come to pass and has been worse than anyone imagined. The OPM hack was traced back to China although earlier large-scale data hacks may have been the work of Russians or freelancers who knew China would pay a good price for such data.
The OPM hack got everyone’s attention but when it was considered in light of the many other hacking events before and after 2014 that made off with large quantities of personnel data that, taken together, gave Chinese intel analysts a comprehensive picture of the American population. Not just currently but in the future. The Chinese soon had a better database on the American population than any U.S. government agency or commercial firm. The CIA was one of the first U.S. agencies to discover how damaging that was first hand. After 2010 the CIA not only began losing a large network of informants and operatives inside China, but eventually in all foreign nations. This was most visible in how the Chinese counterespionage agents would, after 2014, no longer go to great lengths to conceal their efforts as new American agents, including those whose CIA employment was unknown to anyone, even most family members, back home, were identified and monitored by the Chinese secret police as soon as the CIA personnel arrived. But the Chinese always knew and eventually they were flaunting it. This was an intimidation tactic and it worked. China was using George Orwell’s 1940 novel “1984” as a how-to manual rather than a cautionary tale.
There's more at the link.
The article also goes into detail about how China uses a network of its citizens studying abroad, and other individuals of Chinese origin, to spy on other nations. It's breathtaking in the extent to which it's been used - and succeeded. Effectively, China has made few or no technological advances of its own. It's simply stolen the work of others, adapted it, and used it.
Food for thought indeed.