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Google threatens to leave China after attacks on activists' e-mail
China is among a handful of countries considered to have impressive cyber-offensive capabilities, but U.S. officials have refrained from publicly accusing the country because of the difficulty of determining with certainty who is behind an attack.
Attacks on China rights activists have been growing, however, and suspicion has fallen on the Beijing government.
China -- or its broad army of proxies -- has been the suspected aggressor behind a series of attacks on U.S. and other countries' computer systems dating from the late 1990s. Those events include Titan Rain, a campaign of cyberattacks against the Pentagon, nuclear weapons labs, NASA and defense contractors from 2003 to 2005; penetrations of the Commerce and State department networks in 2006; and GhostNet, a widespread spying operation targeting supporters of Tibetan independence in 2008.
When Google set up a subsidiary in China in 2005 and purchased servers hosted in the country, it agreed to censor its search results. But the company and the government officials trolling the Internet have continued to clash over what content should be blocked.
The conflicts escalated in June when Beijing blamed Google for smut on the Internet, saying that some search results could be considered pornographic. China temporarily blocked Google.com and Gmail in what was believed to be a punishment.
The State Department has set aside funds to help companies get around Internet firewalls put up by China and other countries. One potential recipient is run by the Falun Gong sect, which is banned in China, but it has yet to receive any such funding. "The Chinese would go ballistic if we did that," said one U.S. official.
Mufson reported from Beijing, Nakashima from Washington. Pomfret, traveling with Clinton, reported from Honolulu. Staff writers Ariana Eunjung Cha and Cecilia Kang and staff researcher Julie Tate in Washington contributed to this report.