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Latest On Marriott Hotel Records Hack


U.S. officials now believe the attack on Marriott hotel records was conducted by China. Five hundred million guest records were exposed, and The New York Times now quotes officials who traced that hack to a Chinese intelligence agency. U.S. officials suggest it could be part of a broad spy campaign to amass Americans' personal data. Glenn Thrush of the Times is one of the reporters on this story, and he's on the line.

Good morning.

GLENN THRUSH: Good morning.

INSKEEP: To the extent that you're able to say, what evidence points to China?

THRUSH: Well, there has been a long investigation, Steve. I mean, this is something - the hack itself took place two to three years ago. And this was something I think the Obama administration started investigating. But this has clearly been something the National Security Agency, our lead agency in terms of cyber, has been looking at for a long time. And we have seen hints of this in public pronouncements. For instance, Bob Lighthizer, the U.S. trade representative, last month, as part of this ongoing monitoring of China's compliance with fair trade rules, popped in this entire section on cyber that had not previously been in trade reports. So this has been something that been on radar for a while.

INSKEEP: Well, let's hear from another U.S. official. We had John Bolton, the national security adviser, on the program the other day. It's in the middle of these big trade talks over tariffs, of course, but intellectual property and theft of information is a big part of it from the U.S. side. And John Bolton said something then that seems to take on greater meaning now. Let's listen.


JOHN BOLTON: As I say, as the negotiations proceed, I think we're going to see a lot about what Chinese companies have done to steal intellectual property, to hack into the computer systems not just of the U.S. government - although they've done that - but into private companies as well.

INSKEEP: Glenn Thrush, when John Bolton made that remark, my first thought was - wow, there may be news stories soon, like the one you now have. Do you think that we're learning about this now in part because there is this broader conflict between China and the U.S.?

THRUSH: Oh, absolutely. I mean, we're at this very critical moment in terms of the negotiations. We have a 90-day ticker on trade negotiations before the new tariffs to kick in. And Steve, I got to tell you, I'm not used to seeing a lot of synchronized swimming in this administration. Right? And you don't see tight coordination along a lot of agencies, but this seems to be bucking that trend. The question that I have - and I think a lot of other reporters have - is, when did the White House know that this was coming up the pike? And what kind of coordination are we seeing between the Department of Justice, which has been looking into this for quite some time - Jeff Sessions said he made it a priority - and agencies like the National Security Council?

INSKEEP: So we might be hearing about this now because of the broader trade talks. It would be a way to pressure China. But still, there are these specific allegations. And flesh out the other part of this, Glenn Thrush. Your story says that stealing these hotel records would allegedly be part of a broader pattern of gathering data. What else are Chinese officials doing, and what do they want the information for?

THRUSH: Well, what's really interesting about the Marriott hack in particular - I think a lot of us are Marriott Rewards (laughter) people is that it tends to be a vendor that is used by an awful lot of government employees, particularly high-level government employees, this huge chain. So what they are attempting to do, in some instances, is to obtain passport numbers so that they can track suspected agents or even U.S. officials across borders to determine where people are at any given time.

INSKEEP: OK - and a lot of other information as well.

Glenn Thrush, thanks very much for the update. Really appreciate it.

THRUSH: Great talking to you.

INSKEEP: He's a reporter for The New York Times and one of the reporters who broke a story about alleged Chinese involvement in the giant Marriott hack. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.