Monday, December 6, 2010

US cable: China leaders ordered hacking on Google

Sources told American diplomats that hacking attacks against Google were ordered by China's top ruling body and a senior leader demanded action after finding search results critical of him, leaked U.S. government cables show.

The American Embassy sent a cable to Washington saying a source told diplomats the Chinese government coordinated late last year's attacks on Google under the direction of the Politburo Standing Committee.

It was impossible to verify the details of the cables, but if true, they show the political pressures facing Google when it decided in March to close its China-based search engine.

The cable about the hacking attacks against Google, which was classified as secret by Deputy Chief of Mission Robert Goldberg, was released by WikiLeaks to The New York Times and The Guardian newspapers.

It notes that it is unclear if Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao were aware of these reported actions before Google went public about the attacks in January.

Another source said in that cable he believed an official on the top political body was "working actively with Chinese Internet search engine Baidu against Google's interests in China."

Google's relations with Beijing have been tense since the U.S.-based search giant said in January it no longer wanted to cooperate with Chinese Web filtering following computer hacking attacks on Google's computer code and efforts to break into the e-mail accounts of human rights activists. Google closed its China-based search engine March 22 and began routing users to its unfiltered Hong Kong site.

Google's spokeswoman in Tokyo, Jessica Powell, said the company had no comment on the cables released by Wikileaks, and on the hacking attacks, referred to a January statement that said it had evidence that the attack came from China. Google did not release any details then.

A man who answered the phone at the spokesperson's office of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said no one was around to comment Sunday. Calls to the State Council Information Office and the Foreign Ministry rang unanswered.

A separate cable released by WikiLeaks showed a Politburo member demanded action against Google after looking for his own name on the search engine and finding criticism of him.

The May 18, 2009, cable did not identify the leader but The New York Times reported it was propaganda chief Li Changchun, the fifth-ranked official in the country.

The cable classified as confidential cited a source as saying the Chinese official had realized that Google's worldwide site is uncensored, capable of Chinese language searches and search results, and that there is a link from the home page of its China site, google.cn, to google.com.

The official "allegedly entered his own name and found results critical of him," and asked three government ministries to write a report about Google and "demand that the company ceases its 'illegal activities,' which include linking to google.com," the cable said.

The cable said American officials could neither confirm nor deny the details given by the source about the Chinese leadership's action.


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