THE US government believes the laptop of George Bush's trade secretary was hacked on a trip to Beijing.
Surreptitious copying of the computer's contents is thought to have occurred when a laptop was left unattended during commerce secretary Carlos Gutierrez's trip to Beijing for trade talks in December.
Gutierrez said he could not discuss whether or how the laptop's contents might have been copied.
"Because there is an investigation going on, I would rather not comment on that," he said. "To the extent that there is an investigation going on, those are the things being looked at, those are the questions being asked. I don't think I should provide any speculative answers."
It was not clear what information on the laptop might have been compromised. Modern copying equipment can duplicate a laptop's storage drive in minutes.
The report of the incident is the latest in a series of cyber security problems blamed on China and comes at a sensitive time, with trade issues looming between the countries and special attention on China because of this year's Olympic Games. Gutierrez returned just weeks ago from another trip to Beijing, where he noted he had "travelled here more than to any other foreign city during my tenure as commerce secretary".
In the period after Gutierrez returned from China in December, the US Computer Emergency Readiness Team – comprising some of the US government's leading computer forensic experts – rushed to the Commerce Department on at least three occasions to respond to serious attempts at data break-ins.