Wikileaks, Google and China

Buried inside the avalanche of documents released yesterday by Wikileaks is a tidbit that probably won’t get much notice amid all the noise: secret cables from the US embassy indicate the Chinese government may have directed the attack by Chinese hackers against Google:

The secret cables obtained by whistleblower site WikiLeaks said that China’s Politburo directed the hacking. It cited a cable from the US embassy in Beijing, which mentioned information from “a Chinese contact.”

“The Google hacking was part of a coordinated campaign of computer sabotage carried out by government operatives, private security experts and Internet outlaws recruited by the Chinese government,” the Times said, citing the cable.

Chinese operatives are also believed to have broken into computers of US and Western allies along with those of Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, it said.

That Chinese authorities were involved in the attacks is no surprise. The surprise is that US officials seemed to have had more evidence than we thought that this was the case. If it’s true, it confirms the worst fears that China was actively engaged in criminal activities.

These cables were secret, and the US embassy clearly did not want us to know about this. So you can’t argue that this is an attempt by the US to embarrass China. It’s the US that’s embarrassed, and I suspect the US embassy is working now to contain the damage and to assure Beijing that the US didn’t mean to antagonize them.

AFP ink via CDT.

Update: Gady Epstein helped make sure this didn’t get drowned out:

We don’t know whether that is true, of course, since sourcing anything back to China’s secretive nine-member Politburo Standing Committee is, to the say least, a mean feat: We do know that if any part of this tip is true — and maybe even if not — some sources may now be at severe risk of long prison terms, now that Beijing has been alerted to these alleged leaks.

It wouldn’t be a surprise to much of the world that the hack on Google had government support, whether or not it was “orchestrated” at a high level as the Wikileaks reporting suggests so far. Quite a bit of good reporting has been done in the last few years on the loose, quasi-state nature of hacking in China, including at least tacit support for officially unaffiliated hacking activities that likely involves the ability to put hackers in service of government directives.

Epstein makes the point that we may never know for sure whether it’s true or not that the CCP Politburo ordered the attacks. Read the whole thing, which includes a lot of good context.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 120 Comments

@Richard

–> “Wikileaks is so radioactive, such a hot potato that no US company will dare be affiliated with it, right or wrong.”

That is a huge problem and it’s indicative of the breakdown of the separation of powers and the civic spirit in the US. (Forget about respect for the Constitution…)

In a civilized country, the government may shout and stomp, but independent courts decide what’s legal.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20101206/tc_afp/usdiplomacywikileaksfrance_20101206213532

If the law’s not right, then have a national debate and CHANGE it, but until that point, respect it. Don’t trample on people’s rights just because Lieberman called you.

Oh right, sure, Wikileaks somehow went against the user agreement at Amazon, Visa, Mastercard, Paypal etc. etc.

Bollocks. The small print is designed precisely to take all rights away from the end user. Every single one of us is in trouble. Every single one of us has signed contracts that aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on for the leadership of banks, ISPs, etc. They can and will bump you at will.

We all make fun of Chinese shortcomings (me included)… but actually… we’re just in a bigger cage, that’s all. And man, I HATE being in a cage and I’m going to scream at the jail keeper till the sun don’t shine.

I’m not saying I don’t appreciate the powers that be for the extra space in my cage. I still wouldn’t want to be Chinese or Russian or God forbid Pakistani or Norkorean.

But these days even being Swedish isn’t all that’s cracked up to be.

December 8, 2010 @ 6:49 pm | Comment

We all make fun of Chinese shortcomings (me included)… but actually… we’re just in a bigger cage, that’s all.

More like a cage where the door is rarely closed – and we have a right to demand we be released by an independent party (i.e. the courts).

But these days even being Swedish isn’t all that’s cracked up to be.

Assange is Australian.

December 8, 2010 @ 9:48 pm | Comment

@Richard – I’m sorry, I was open-minded about the charges until I read the actual facts presented. The key matters in any trial of rape or molestation is firstly whether the act was committed, and secondly whether the person accused knowingly did so without the consent of the subject of the act. In both cases the subject acknowledges that consent was given, in neither case is there any evidence that it was withdrawn or limited.

In any case, both cases are of the type which no reasonable police officers in the UK would waste time investigating, which no reasonable person in the Crown Prosecution Service would waste the time of the courts on, and which, if they did reach court, would certainly be thrown out. This is because there is, so far as we are aware, no evidence whatsoever to corroborate the story of the Assange’s accusers, nor can there be, the acts having taken place in private.

December 8, 2010 @ 10:28 pm | Comment

… and the women threw parties for him and raved online about how great he was AFTER the alleged rapes. And bought him stuff like train tickets and food.

Yup, pretty typical victim behavior right there.

December 8, 2010 @ 11:30 pm | Comment

FOARP, you may be right. I don’t know. I admit, it sounds suspicious.

John Chan of World Socialist Web Site:

That is also the reason Richard can so confidently and self-righteously lashes out at the CCP and always makes the US look much better

Funny, I often get accused of being too soft on the CCP, and my to-the-right readers always accuse me of lashing out at the US. Can’t win. In terms of Web censorship, however, I believe the US is considerably better than the CCP. In fact, I know that, despite what we’re seeing with Wikileaks. To anyone who disagrees, I suggest they spend a day on China’s Internet and compare the number of blocked sites and searches to what they’ll find here. I don’t think this is a very radical or unusual observation. The persecution of Wikileaks doesn’t make the US government the CCP, even though it may take it down a big notch in that direction.

Poet:
The small print is designed precisely to take all rights away from the end user. Every single one of us is in trouble. Every single one of us has signed contracts that aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on for the leadership of banks, ISPs, etc. They can and will bump you at will.

We all make fun of Chinese shortcomings (me included)… but actually… we’re just in a bigger cage, that’s all. And man, I HATE being in a cage and I’m going to scream at the jail keeper till the sun don’t shine.

I would agree with you if I saw a pattern of abuse. Wikileaks is a situation in a class by itself, I hope. If it isn’t and this sort of pressure becomes endemic I’ll get more concerned. But we have Stormfront (the neo-Nazi site) and and countless other scary, ugly, evil sites out there and they never get touched, including sites calling for a new government, sites calling Obama horrible racist epithets etc. Wikileaks, on the other hand, distributed classified information and, in the eyes of most Americans, caused the country a lot of embarrassment and headaches, and now threatens to do much more. It’s no surprise that a site like this gets singled out and its business partners pressured. I didn’t say it’s right, I said it’s understandable. Most Americans don’t see this as a free speech issue the way we do, but as a step to protect state secrets, which is why there is relatively so little public outcry against the banishment of Wikileaks, even from groups that are traditionally hyper-sensitive to any impediment to free speech.

December 8, 2010 @ 11:37 pm | Comment

@Richard

Do you think most Americans might warm up to Wikileaks if it continues its institutional life with revelations about, say, the Russian mob or UN corruption?

I’m thinking of the “mainstream” American attitude towards France – a truly dramatic change from 2003 to now… Sure it’s about Sarkozy, but Americans sure seem to change their mind fast. (Going the other way, wasn’t Saddam Rumsfeld’s best friend in the ’80s and then you lot had him hanged?)

I wouldn’t be surprised to find a statue to Julian Assange’s glory in NYC around 2025. I also wouldn’t be surprised if all the congressional leaders took turns at electrocuting his balls until then, if he gets extradited to the US. (They’d sure think it’d help with their re-election campaigns.)

Tough to call it either way.

Still, “Julian Assange Ave.” or “Assange Bridge” are names with a nice ring to them. Here, here, I’ll drink to our newest hero; flawed, troubled, but a hero nonetheless, brave, defiant, even mad, and surely tragic. If our civilization still wrote great books he’d be a source of endless inspiration.

When Guy Fawkes did his thing, the punishment for such people was to be “put to death halfway between heaven and earth as unworthy of both. Their genitals would be cut off and burnt before their eyes, and their bowels and hearts removed. They would then be decapitated, and the dismembered parts of their bodies displayed so that they might become prey for the fowls of the air.”

Oh dear, how impressively FOARP’s native land has improved in the meantime. Even if dispatched to Sweden or to the netherworlds, Assange’s fate would surely have to be considered much better! And let us drink to that as well.

December 9, 2010 @ 12:29 am | Comment

It will be interesting to see whether his jailing makes him a sympathetic martyr. For the foreseeable future I don’t think most Americans will view him as a hero. I saw him as a hero earlier, but now I just see a troubled man who outraged nearly everyone he worked with for his narcissism and egomania, and who seems bent on embarrassing the US and others with no strategy for prodding his victims toward constructive change, the way Daniel Ellsberg did. If he proves himself more as an equal opportunity mischief maker, going after Russia and China and Israel and the UK the way he’s gone after the US it might change this persona. Those who worked with him say he’s obsessed with going after the US, and if that’s the case I don’t expect to see a lot of sympathy toward him among Americans.

One of the NY Times most competent reporters wrote a profile of Assange in October that should be required reading. A sample:

When Herbert Snorrason, a 25-year-old political activist in Iceland, questioned Mr. Assange’s judgment over a number of issues in an online exchange last month, Mr. Assange was uncompromising. “I don’t like your tone,” he said, according to a transcript. “If it continues, you’re out.”

Mr. Assange cast himself as indispensable. “I am the heart and soul of this organization, its founder, philosopher, spokesperson, original coder, organizer, financier, and all the rest,” he said. “If you have a problem with me,” he told Mr. Snorrason, using an expletive, he should quit.

In an interview about the exchange, Mr. Snorrason’s conclusion was stark. “He is not in his right mind,” he said. In London, Mr. Assange was dismissive of all those who have criticized him. “These are not consequential people,” he said.

“About a dozen” disillusioned volunteers have left recently, said Smari McCarthy, an Icelandic volunteer who has distanced himself in the recent turmoil. In late summer, Mr. Assange suspended Daniel Domscheit-Berg, a German who had been the WikiLeaks spokesman under the pseudonym Daniel Schmitt, accusing him of unspecified “bad behavior.” Many more activists, Mr. McCarthy said, are likely to follow.

Mr. Assange denied that any important volunteers had quit, apart from Mr. Domscheit-Berg. But further defections could paralyze an organization that Mr. Assange says has 40 core volunteers and about 800 mostly unpaid followers to maintain a diffuse web of computer servers and to secure the system against attack — to guard against the kind of infiltration that WikiLeaks itself has used to generate its revelations.

Mr. Assange’s detractors also accuse him of pursuing a vendetta against the United States. In London, Mr. Assange said America was an increasingly militarized society and a threat to democracy. Moreover, he said, “we have been attacked by the United States, so we are forced into a position where we must defend ourselves.”

I’m not sure he has the stuff of heroes. For stirring things up and creating incredible controversy I give him an A+. He strikes me as utterly brilliant and seriously disturbed, even though I agree with his philosophy that the US needs to be reined in and sometimes exposed. If he did this more strategically, going after real malfeasances, I’d admire him more.

December 9, 2010 @ 12:43 am | Comment

Well, it depends on everyone’s working definition of the word “hero”. I’m a bit of an old-fashioned person myself, by that I mean someone truly larger-than-life, with great courage, but not necessarily displaying moral excellence.

Case in point: Napoleon. Personally, I despise the dude. But was he a heroic figure? Absolutely. (And he’s actually done plenty of good stuff in his ego-maniacal way, like an essential revamping of the legal system – the Napoleonic Code, which was at the time light-years better and fairer than anything else in Europe).

Even if you go back to Hercules and Achilles, you’ll find that their biographies contain lots of gory murders. Not nice people by any means – but heroes par excellence!

I don’t know where the notion that you have to be lily white to be a hero comes from… This is a word that has been extensively re-defined through the years.

December 9, 2010 @ 1:10 am | Comment

Time will tell, of course. To many Americans Daniel Ellsberg remains a villain.

December 9, 2010 @ 1:15 am | Comment

Richard
“Most Americans don’t see this as a free speech issue the way we do,…”

Fact of the matter is that a growing percentage of individuals, mostly in Western societies, DO see this as a free speech issue and the traction is just beginning. Tied with their support of Wikileaks is disgust and rejection of the diplomatic politics practised by their own governments. Rudd got his yesterday (loved it), and Assange support protests are proliferating: two in my burg this week alone.

Aligning this development along a US-China continium is not as productive as examining this digital event on its own terms. How it is going to shape and organise democratic forms of governance and citizen participation in the future. At the moment post 9/11, there is not a lot of reciprocity between governments and their electorates. They have enacted wads of legistration to strip away all notions of privacy and subject rights….national security, blah blah. (Certainly wish I had the keyboard skills to join this new war of attrition.)

All this US chatter about treason, termination etc is just so much surface symptom spittle, and look at the political hacks leading the charge. Lieberman should be asphyxiated, stuffed and shipped off to Israel. HR Clinton lusted for political power like something on heat, so now it is poetic justice that she has to deal with the blowback of her stock in trade.

December 9, 2010 @ 5:20 am | Comment

As an example of free speech, here’s a major contributer to a broadsheet UK paper.
http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/johann-hari/johann-hari-this-case-must-not-obscure-what-wikileaks-has-told-us-2154109.html

December 9, 2010 @ 6:40 am | Comment

Something seems odd about the Assange arrest thing. From what I’ve read, it seems that the Swedish prosecutor merely wants to interrogate Assange over the allegations. Mr. Assange wasn’t fleeing Swedish jurisdiction since I don’t believe he’s actually been charged with anything. It seems the investigation itself has yet to be completed in order for charges to even be considered. So is it common for Interpol to issue Red Warrants for someone who is just wanted for questioning? Of course, the timing of all this makes it fishy, but I wasn’t aware of an Interpol arrest being used in this fashion.

December 9, 2010 @ 8:26 am | Comment

Fact of the matter is that a growing percentage of individuals, mostly in Western societies, DO see this as a free speech issue and the traction is just beginning.

I hope so, but I just haven’t seen it yet aside from some Glenn Greenwald columns and fringe groups of hackers. Why do you say this is gaining traction? My prediction is it won’t gain traction because mainstream America, never the brightest bulb in the tree, tends to see Assange either as a traitor at worst and a reckless rogue at best. I’m only talking mainstream America, not the activists and Ron Pauls of this world. The free speech issue has not seen any traction to speak of in the US mainstream media, and unfortunately most Americans see Joe Lieberman as a patriot for helping silence Assange.

December 9, 2010 @ 8:39 am | Comment

Paypal roaches squirm:

http://gawker.com/5709579/

The entire thing *is* about free speech. Julian goes down, we all go down.

Haven’t seen ecodelta around here in a while. He must be busy keeping up the DDOS attacks 🙂

December 9, 2010 @ 8:47 am | Comment

@ Richard. I should have noted that I posted from Australia where we are Foxnews plague free, and it is front and centre *the big issue*, and rapidly putting a supine govt on the backfoot. There are however a couple of big local backstories propelling the issue.

Reckless rogues hit a soft spot in the psyche here, which goes to show that we still have some soul and spirit, and if it makes the local politicians squirm, all the better.

The US is not the centre of the universe even thought its drivelling pundits think so. God, even counterpunch.org is not making much of a meal of this event.

Real commitment to free speech or however one likes to characterise wikileaks: All PD posters should club together and organise a collective DOS ping.

This is a target rich terrain and ample proof that the US is completely incapable of resilience and Founding Fathers democratic reconstruction. Recall all the US sneering a few years ago about Europe being the repository of Old World corruption and passe values. The irony!

December 9, 2010 @ 9:20 am | Comment

Mwaha. If we do that the FBI party van just might knock on Richard’s door, confiscate his computer and maybe even punch him in the face.

By all means let’s do it, but not talk about it here.

Here’s a starting point for you folk who don’t know what you’re doing:

http://partyvan.info/wiki/Main_Page

By the way, Richard, I do hope you try to erase whatever details you get from your site’s visitors. I got nightmares sometimes, thinking that one of the IP addresses I left around here just might be traceable to me.

Paranoid? Yeah. Should I be? Hell yeah 🙂

December 9, 2010 @ 10:10 am | Comment

@KingTubby
“This is a target rich terrain and ample proof that the US is completely incapable of resilience and Founding Fathers democratic reconstruction. Recall all the US sneering a few years ago about Europe being the repository of Old World corruption and passe values. The irony!”
Brings this blog to mind 🙂
http://fabiusmaximus.wordpress.com/2010/12/08/23804/

December 9, 2010 @ 10:58 am | Comment

Nice links and thanks. Lets be serious. The digital Sandinistas are not announcing their activities on a bridgeblog like this. If you want a good laugh, read the denial drivel being written on hidden harmonies at the moment, even if it is a small crowd, back scratching conversation of two.

December 9, 2010 @ 11:20 am | Comment

Why are there so many patriotic Americans so busy digging dirts out of China? What good does it contribute?
There are many issues in the US that need serious discussion, from education to infrastructure to debt to money politics. Are these not more important than busy minding Chinese affairs? …. See what you are all going to say when we have an “intellectual Sarah” as President.

December 9, 2010 @ 11:11 pm | Comment

Have you ever seen this blog go after Sarah Palin? You must be new here.

December 9, 2010 @ 11:13 pm | Comment

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