By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, September 13, 2007
BEIJING, Sept. 12 -- A senior Chinese official has accused foreign intelligence agencies of causing "massive and shocking" damage to China by hacking into computers to ferret out political, military and scientific secrets.
The charge was made by Vice Information Industry Minister Lou Qinjian in a Communist Party magazine and appeared designed as a response to recent reports that Chinese hackers had infiltrated high-security computers at the Pentagon, the British Foreign Office and the German chancellor's headquarters, among other targets.
Lou, writing in the September issue of the Chinese Cadres Tribune, did not specifically name the countries carrying out what he described as "external espionage activities against our core, vital departments." But he said 80 percent of the computers used to hack into other systems are based in the United States.
His comments were interpreted as a reflection of authorities' frustrations with the recent reports of Chinese hacking. The monthly magazine is published by the Central Party School, a Communist Party training facility for up-and-coming officials.
Surprisingly, Lou said the electronic espionage against China has met with success. It therefore needs to be addressed by President Hu Jintao's government, he added, with additional investment in computer security and perhaps formation of a unified information security bureau.
"In recent years, party, government and military organs and national defense scientific research units have had many major cases of loss, theft and leakage of secrets," he said, "and the damage to national interests has been massive and shocking."
When the reports about Chinese hacking surfaced early this month, the Chinese Foreign Ministry roundly denied them, saying China would never resort to such tactics. Foreign specialists recalled at the time, however, that the People's Liberation Army is believed to have an active information warfare program -- as do most advanced militaries -- as part of its effort to gain the ability to protect its own computer systems and disable those of adversaries.
The hacking recently alleged in Washington, London and Berlin -- and now Beijing -- was described as something different, an attempt to burrow into government computers to gain secrets. As such, it appeared to fall more clearly into the domain of espionage.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, asked late last month whether she had brought up the issue during talks here with Chinese leaders, said, "We must together respect a set of game rules." Premier Wen Jiabao, with whom Merkel had just met, said hacking is a problem faced by all countries and should be combated jointly.
Striking a different tone, Lou said China should also consider the Internet in a larger sense as a threat to its security. He said the United States and other Western countries use advanced technology "to create an information hegemony" and relay unfavorable news from China, raising the risk of social instability.
These countries "have made the Internet a very important channel to infiltrate our politics, strengthening the delivery of Western democracy and values," he added. "More and more frequently, they organize writers to create bad information, exaggerating things that are inharmonious with our development and raise the specter of the China threat on the international scene."
As examples, he listed foreign-based Web sites built by the Falun Gong, a spiritual movement banned as a harmful sect in China. More than 1,000 "negative reports" about the 2008 Beijing Olympics have been detected on those and other sites, he said.