The CEO who caught the Chinese spies red-handed

  @FortuneMagazine July 8, 2013: 7:17 AM ET
MAN22 kevin mandia

Inside Harvard Business School's McArthur Hall, executive MBA student and CEO Kevin Mandia held a 60-page report in his hands and weighed a risky decision: Should he go public with the document, a detailed exposé of Chinese theft of American trade secrets, based on seven years of work for nearly 150 corporate clients? The report's allegations -- that a Chinese military unit was likely engaged in systematic hacking and surveillance of U.S. companies -- not only would make Mandia and his young cybersecurity firm a target for potential retaliation but would also test Washington's already strained relations with Beijing. The 42-year-old former Air Force intelligence officer had a high tolerance for risk, but as he pondered his options that February evening, he wasn't sure that disclosure was a smart move. "We'd have a gigantic bull's-eye on our back," he kept thinking.

As much of the world now knows, Mandia did go public with "APT1: Exposing One of China's Cyber Espionage Units." What hasn't been told until now is the story of Kevin Mandia: How he became one of America's top private cybersleuths, how he laid the groundwork for the report's release, and how he and his firm, Mandiant, are dealing with the subsequent political fallout. He spoke exclusively with Fortune amid an intensifying drumbeat of news around online spying, data mining, and espionage.

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