FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks about the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) during a media briefing at the State Department in Washington, U.S., May 6, 2020. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/Pool

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Thursday condemned attempts by China-linked “cyber actors and non-traditional collectors affiliated” to steal U.S. intellectual property and data related to coronavirus research, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.

“The PRC’s behavior in cyberspace is an extension of its counterproductive actions throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” Pompeo said in a statement.

“While the United States and our allies and partners are coordinating a collective, transparent response to save lives, the PRC continues to silence scientists, journalists, and citizens, and to spread disinformation, which has exacerbated the dangers of this health crisis,” he said.

Pompeo’s comments came a day after the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security issued a joint statement to raise awareness against what they called threats to coronavirus-related research from actors related to China.

It said the FBI was investigating digital break-ins at U.S. organizations by China-linked “cyber actors” that it had monitored “attempting to identify and illicitly obtain valuable intellectual property (IP) and public health data related to vaccines, treatments, and testing from networks and personnel affiliated with COVID-19-related research.”

The FBI-Homeland Security statement offered no further details on the identities of the targets or the hackers. The Chinese Embassy in Washington condemned the allegations as “lies.”

Pompeo has been among the Trump administration oustpoken critics of China, accusing it of covering up the earlier days of the outbreak and refusing to share information as ties between Washington and Beijing have sharply deteriorated.

Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Chris Reese and David Gregorio

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