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WikiLeaks, Google, and the Politburo

by Adam Segal
November 28, 2010

There are a good number of cables about China in State Department documents just released by WikiLeaks.  China is the fifth most often mentioned country, with 8320 records, trailing Iraq, Turkey, Iran, and Israel.  There are almost 4000 cables from the U.S Embasssy in Beijing, about the same from the American Institute in Taiwan, and slightly more from the U.S Embassy in Tokyo.

The cables posted online as of Sunday night deal primarily with China’s relations with Iran and proliferation concerns. The New York Times, however, is reporting on a cable that claims the Politburo directed hacking attacks against Google and other targets, including the Indian and U.S. Governments.  The Politburo relied on a mixture of patriotic hackers, criminals, and government agents for an effort that dates back to at least 2002.  The Guardian adds the piquant detail that the Politburo member who ordered the attacks “typed his own name into the global version of the search engine and found articles criticising him personally.”

The cable the Times and the Guardian are referring to is not online yet, but the reporting on their reporting seems to have closed the case a little prematurely.  The headline at TechCrunch is “WikiLeaked Diplomatic Cables Confirm China’s Politburo Was Behind Google Hacking Incident.” Confirm seems an overly strong word.  Certainly the method–a mix of government operatives and non state actors–is plausible.  But what about the certainty that is was the Politburo behind the attacks?  The cable cites a source who claims to know that someone in the Politburo ordered the attacks.  One source, and we have no idea who the source was, if they are in a position to know, and how seriously the embassy in Beijing took the information. All very interesting, but I would say we are a long way from confirming anything. Still, more documents are to be released, and maybe we’ll find out more.

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