Commerce Secretary Raimondo plans outreach trip to China despite its cyberattack on her agency

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Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo is not letting a China-linked hack of her department prevent her from working with the communist regime and is preparing to make new overtures to Beijing later this year. 

Ms. Raimondo on Friday refused to say whether the China-linked cyberattackers breached her email but confirmed a major hack had disrupted her department. 

“I’m not in a position to confirm that my own personal email was hacked, but obviously there’s been a hack at the Department of Commerce which is very significant, very complex,” Ms. Raimondo told CNBC. “The FBI, Department of Justice and Homeland Security are actively investigating this so I’m not going to comment further since we’re in the middle of an active investigation except to say we take it incredibly seriously.” 

China-linked cyberattackers stole email data as part of a hacking campaign that hit the U.S. government earlier this year, according to Microsoft and officials at the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

Microsoft said the hack affected some 25 organizations. CISA said it learned the hackers took “unclassified Exchange Online Outlook data from a small number of accounts.”

Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Mark R. Warner, Virginia Democrat, previously said the hackers appeared to be connected to Chinese intelligence. 

China has several reasons to be interested in espionage against the Commerce Department, including because the agency maintains a blacklist of foreign people and entities that obstructs their work in the U.S. over national security issues. 

Ms. Raimondo said Friday her team is still planning a foreign trip involving outreach to China later this year where she planned to raise concerns.

“We’re planning the trip now, which doesn’t mean that we excuse any kind of hacking or infringement on our security,” Ms. Raimondo said. “What it means is that we need to be ferocious in the way we protect American national security but also de-escalate tension where we can and look for ways that we can work together.”

Under questioning from CNBC’s Sara Eisen, Ms. Raimondo defended the travel as a good idea because of her aspirations for future trade and her ambition to make a historic trip to Asia. 

“What are you hoping to accomplish on a trip?” Ms. Eisen said. 

“Well, it’ll be the first time a Commerce Secretary has gone to the region in years,” Ms. Raimondo said. “We need to put before them our really serious concerns about the way they’re targeting U.S. tech companies, about the way they don’t respect intellectual property, but also try to find lanes of commerce where we can do commerce which creates jobs in America.”

The China-linked hack hitting the Commerce Department is far from the first time China has hit the U.S.

Microsoft said in May it uncovered a China-sponsored hacking group seeking to develop capabilities to block communications between Asia and the U.S. in a future crisis.

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