The Leaked Cable
The WikiLeaks release last weekend of secret diplomatic cables from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing adds a new complication to the already challenging U.S.-China relationship. Just as the Obama administration is trying to persuade the Chinese to take a firmer line with the North Korean regime, it has to deal with a report that a Chinese government source told the U.S. Embassy earlier this year a December 2009 cyberattack against Google operations in China was carried out on government orders.
Google reported in January 2010 that its computer infrastructure in China had been hit by a “highly sophisticated” attack that resulted in the theft of company secrets. Google also said it had evidence that a goal of the attackers was to gain access to the Gmail accounts of Chinese human-rights activists.
At the time, the company did not blame the Chinese government for the intrusion. But shortly thereafter, a U.S. diplomat in Beijing confidentially cabled Washington that “a well placed contact” was claiming the Google attack had been “coordinated” by the Chinese government “at the Politburo Standing Committee level.”
It was a serious charge. The Standing Committee of the Chinese Communist Party Politburo is made up of a handful of top party leaders.
“Those people do not act individually,” says Larry Wortzel, a former intelligence analyst and U.S. military attache in Beijing. “They only act [on an issue] after discussing it in concert and coming to a unified decision.”
The diplomatic cable from Beijing quoted just a single source, and it was not corroborated. Senior U.S. officials who follow China closely say they cannot be certain the Google attack was the work of the Chinese government.
But China experts say the report rings true. The cable only quoted the Chinese source as saying the government “coordinated” the Google attack, a point highlighted by James Lewis, a cybersecurity expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“The Chinese use private citizens for intelligence activities,” Lewis says. “So instead of having a government agent engage in the activity, they’ll have a private citizen — a hacker, a scholar, or a researcher.”
In fact, few experts who follow Chinese cyber-activities are surprised by the news of a secret cable pointing to a Chinese government hand in the Google attack. Wortzel, a longtime expert on Chinese cyber-espionage, told a congressional committee in March 2010 that he suspected the Google attack was a government operation.
No ‘First-Hand Knowledge’
A Google Inc. (GOOG) executive said Tuesday that the company has no firsthand knowledge of information in the cables gathered by the WikiLeaks website that allege the Chinese government had directed the hacking against Google, which caused the Internet company to move its search services out of mainland China earlier this year.
Alan Eustace, a Google senior vice president of engineering, declined to comment further at a Google forum in Beijing.
Via WSJ Online
China Is In The Heart
Google Inc., which threatened to pull out of China in a dispute over censorship, said its revenue in the country is growing as demand for display advertising and export marketing helps add customers.
“The last 12 months have convinced us about the revenue opportunities the Chinese market holds for us,” Daniel Alegre, the company’s vice president for the Asia-Pacific region, said in an interview today in Beijing. “Display advertising is a large opportunity.”
China is the “heart” of the Internet’s future, where Google can expand services such as maps and display advertising even without a search page, Alan Eustace, senior vice president of engineering and research, said separately today. Google this year fell further behind Baidu Inc. in China after diverting search users to a site in Hong Kong to avoid content rules in the world’s biggest Internet market.
“Not only are we in China, but we are investing heavily in China,” Alegre said. It is a market “we want to remain in.”
‘Symbol of the Internet’
A Chinese government-backed internet association has praised Google Inc.
The latest report has come as pleasing news to the search engine giant, as it has not received any positive feedback from the country since it stepped away from mainland China to Hong Kong, over the censorship issues and the hacking threats.
Hu Qiheng, president of the Internet Society of China, which is overseen by China’s information technology ministry, said that Google has become a “symbol of the Internet” and a “carrier of the Internet’s spirit and culture”. He added that “Google’s most charming aspect is its unstopping innovation. It has walked a road of extremely imaginative invention and creation.”