The Associated Press

FILE - In this April 22, 2015 file photo, House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. When hackers broke into a database filled with the private information of U.S. security clearance holders, ... they likely got access to the names of foreign relatives of some of those officials who are living abroad. "It may be the single biggest breach of data that our government has ever had," said Chaffetz on teh C-SPAN Newsmakers program, calling the stolen data "the most sensitive information we have." (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File) (The Associated Press)

Cybertheft of personnel info poses special risk to intel officers with relatives abroad

Industries Associated Press

When hackers broke into a database filled with the private information of U.S. security clearance holders, they likely got access to the names of foreign relatives of some of those officials who are living abroad.

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U.S. officials say the breach will complicate the deployment and promotion of American intelligence professionals with special language skills and diverse backgrounds.

Officials fear that China will seek to gain leverage over Americans with access to secrets by pressuring their foreign relatives, particularly if they happen to be living in China or another authoritarian country. China denies involvement in the cyberattack.

Over the last decade, U.S. intelligence agencies have sought to hire more people of Asian and Middle Eastern descent, some of whom have relatives living overseas.